Sunday, April 27, 2008

Whom to hire: Requirements Engineers or Lawyers?

I just learned about the Waste Management versus SAP lawsuit from a Chris Balavessov´s post. If you Google over the issue you will see that this topic did produce lots of reactions. Mine is one of them.

I strongly recommend everyone interest in Requirements Engineering to read the original petition in the civil case brought to the courts of Texas. It is an amazing document.

It is incredible how industry still make the same mistakes over and over again. More than 10 years ago the audit report on the London Ambulance System (LAS) was made public. Several researchers, including myself, did study that amazing report. The LAS report made clear the need for requirements engineering.

Waste Management is suing one of the largest software vendors because the software it was expecting to work in a promised date did not work even more than one year late. The lawyers, in the petition, decided to follow an argument of fraud, saying that the software vendor deceived the client. If you read the petition, it seems that the lawyers do have a strong case, but this is just one side of the story.

At same point the document says: "but instead merely a fabricated "mock-up" of the actual software." and "was demonstrating fake software at the Palo Alto meeting". These two fragments are there to convince the courts that SAP was acting perpetrating fraud. However, one could argue that a “mock-up” is just what is necessary for helping customers to clarify what they want, and is a good practice in early validation. It is interesting that using the lawyers’ argument a prototype may be named “fake software”.

ERP systems have been discussed widely over the trade press and by scientific research as well (see here and here). SAP is a huge success because businesses need that type of solution. However, what seems to be forgotten is that even when buying a COTS system (an ERP is a big COTS), you do need the expertise of requirements engineers.

It may be that the plaintiff supposed that buying an ERP was possible without a proper elicitation and analysis of possibilities. If that was the case, the plaintiff was too naïve, but, as we have seen in the LAS case, this does happen.

In any case, this civil action may work as one more evidence of why we need software transparency.