William Kent – Data & Reality
Chapter 1 – Entities.
The book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy should be required reading for both business and information technology professionals. Although this is a science fiction book. I believe parts of it are based in reality. At the point in the book, citizens on a planet millions of miles away from Earth decide to build the smartest computer. When they are done building this computer, it occupies the space of an entire city. After they turn on this computer, called Deep Thought, and it boots up, the first question they ask Deep Thought is, “What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?” The computer responds in a monotone voice, “I will get back to you on that one,” and then seven and a half million years later, spits out the number “42.” The rest of the book, and the subsequent books in the series that followed, are all about trying to uncover why “42” is the answer to the meaning of life.
“What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?” is a lousy business question! Where are the business requirements? What do these citizens want to know? It is not clear. Even Deep Thought responds, after announcing the number 42, with the comment, “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what question is.”
We do this all the time. Instead of taking the time to understand the business requirements, we throw hardware and software problems. “Let’s see, we have a large integration issue, let’s buy this Enterprise Resource Planning system to solve it for us.” The software doesn’t solve the problem for us – We still have to do the hard part of resolving the integration issues, and then the ERP system can store this integrated state for us. Instead of finding out the business requirements for a business intelligence application, we search for existing reporting tools, thinking this may solve the problem. The solution, however, is to do the very difficult task of eliciting requirements from the business and figuring out what really needs to be built! So on your projects, continuously as yourself what Kent asked us several paragraphs back: “Do we have a good grasp of the semantic problems involved?”