Going Over the Fence


Software, we know, can be outsourced like sneakers, rubber balls, and helpdesks. That will put a damper on us in the career field of software configuration management. In the immortal words of the governor in Blazing Saddles, “We need to save our phony baloney jobs!” But what if we weren’t just managing software? What if we could apply the same principles to other products? Could we evolve into something more? Something bigger? Dare I say profitable?

As we stare off into the murky fog of the future, some shapes are readily visible. Lower salaries and reduced employment opportunities are not difficult to see as the economic world becomes flatter. Many of us ponder our own fates amidst the uncertainty. Will my company be next? My job? Does that mean I’ll have to move (again)? What about my spouse’s job? I have talents but can I use them in the era of the ‘global worker’ and still pay the bills? The thought of an SCM or IT union even flickers through the mind.

Certainly this has happened before. Occupations faded away as tradespeople sought different employment due to technological increases in efficiency. Software made it possible for robots to run the factory lines, process payrolls, and check you in at the airport. And still, the current unemployment rate is still below six percent. Given that the average worker spans 40 plus years, we know they went somewhere. Perhaps the unfortunate ones moved into IT. But the point is they found work. They still put food on the table.

So where do we go? How can we use the talents and skills garnered over years to prepare ourselves for this future? Perhaps our fate will not be in real estate or happy meals.

As an SCM, it really doesn’t matter to me what the product does. Various code I’ve managed has controlled televisions, processed mortgages, kept 401k accounts straight, run set top boxes for satellite dishes, sorted data for the Census Bureau, and many other things. In each case, I used some methodology and tool to keep track of my configuration items and changes. It didn’t matter what the code was either: embedded C, Visual Basic, J2EE, SQL; what mattered where the pieces. So why should we limit ourselves to software? I believe this kind of thinking has real merit in the current economic environment.

Two major contributors to a company’s economic stability are profitability and risk management. Companies need products that sell with enough margin or quantity to ensure continued operation. And they can’t do that without product consistency. They also need to reduce the liabilities that inherently come with serving the marketplace. We live in a litigious society that exposes the weak points in product delivery and operation.

I believe this is where we can transport our roots into healthy soil that is less likely to erode under us. Consider the following questions. In a law office, what’s the current version of the boilerplate for wills or pre-nuptials? In that architectural firm, which standard documentation is going out with the proposals? How do we make and control the organizational changes that those absurdly expensive business consultants suggested? There should probably be a change control process for that. We have six writers contributing to the text on this manual. How do we merge those pieces together?

There are probably tens of thousands of opportunities conceptually similar to what we do, going on around us. More than likely, they don’t occur at the scale of work we currently do. While it may not be cost effective to put in place all the things we take for granted in SCM, we can probably adjust the concepts to something that nets profitable gains. Should an ice cream store use a Change Control Board? That’s probably not viable for a single store. But perhaps at three or five stores, it becomes critical enough to weigh options within functional areas. There might be freezer room but not enough room on delivery trucks or retail space. Release management processes may warrant formalization to

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