COTS vs Bespoke
COTS (commercial off the shelf) puts the bars around accessible Mathematics: leads to crying babies
Our philosophy is to make the power of mathematics accessible. Why? Because we think it isn’t currently very accessible, this limits the number of people who can use it to get value and reduces the value derived by those who do use it, and that’s a crying shame in a world that desperately needs efficiency.
We have all seen it multiple times in multiple organisations. It’s the hard to use (probably ugly), not really fit for purpose (lots of workarounds), complicated IT (n tier, client/server, VM, Citrix, Oracle thing) approach to providing optimisation software.
So how did it come into being? Here’s how I see it:
“I’m unique; give me your shrink wrapped product!” – and other amusing procurement stories
Let’s assume requirements are done, I’ll save organisational scope bloat for another time. The next question is build or buy? How will we best get something that is a close match to need/requirements?
So a market search ensues only to discover that the requirements are pretty unique. So a custom/bespoke solution is required! That makes sense but most organisations quickly discover that bespoke = expensive (time and money), just like buying a tailor made suit is more expensive than buying off the rack.
It’s for this reason that hard core mathematics/optimisation solutions have mainly been consumed by capital intensive industries where spending a few million to save tens or hundreds of millions made the business case stack up.
Therefore organisations often seek a COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) solution (often after an expensive run in with a bespoke approach), with the expectation that if they specify what they need and buy something “off the shelf” that fits then it should be low risk (time and money). It appears to be quite an entrenched view with Australian CIOs, and in some cases is justified, particularly in back office functions that don’t offer opportunity for differentiation. A point Wesfarmers Insurance CIO David Hackshall and DoD CIO Peter Lawrence make in an article by Brian Corrigan on itnews.com.au titled “How COTS became Australia’s default software setting”.
In the world of mathematics, optimisation and advanced planning and scheduling it would be a very rare occasion with a simple set of generic requirements where COTS really worked. Take one of the classical problems where mathematics are applied, vehicle routing. This is a well picked over area and sounds simple enough. Nonetheless, vendors fill niches within this niche in order to provide a match to requirements. As the Vehicle Routing survey in February 2014 issue OR/MS Today says “VR customers are different, and so are their routing needs and problems, which require flexible, innovative answers”.
Vendors react to this COTS centric procurement environment in a predictable way, and of course say they sell COTS because otherwise when they get evaluated on the inevitable RFX criteria they would fail miserably. The solution? They will (and I’ve been there) include “configuration” or “installation services” as ways to mask software development. The result? You get something that wasn’t a great fit with lots of add on development to meet your requirements. It’s hard to use, slow and doesn’t really provide the solutions you were hoping for. In many cases you end up with the worst of both worlds, the cost of bespoke but the poor fit of COTS.
As the aforementioned itnews.com.au article says “The middle ground between buying readymade software and building bespoke solutions is to customise a COTS package. Yet as many CIOs have discovered at great cost to their budgets and mental health, this can be a painful experience.”
This COTS/bespoke paradox is the problem we saw and it is what we aim to address. So what does Biarri do differently? We take the benefits of bespoke and make it cheaply and quickly. You could say we aim to provide the best of both worlds.
Do the math
How do we do it? First of all, we do the maths first! Prove you can solve the underlying problem and that’s it is worth solving before investing in the delivery mechanism. Once you know there is value in the maths, make sure people can digest it via a well-designed solution. The Biarri Workbench is our SaaS platform that allows us to very quickly develop easy to use, custom applications with unique workflows with an iterative/agile and light deployment.
Who says B2C owns good UX?
Easy to use means designed with the user in mind. In the consumer world (B2C) this is the natural order of things (thanks Apple). In the business world (B2B) this has taken a back seat, and that’s where our industrial designers come in. Working with users to really understand how they do their job and will interact with the system. Producing mock-ups/concepts and getting early feedback before a line of code is written.
So now we’ve proven the maths will provide value and designed a solution that users will love to use.
Mock up example
Rinse and Repeat
What comes next is turning this into reality quickly, cheaply and iteratively. Quickly and cheaply are thanks to the Biarri Workbench providing security, common database, existing UI components, libraries and widgets that enable a custom built application to be constructed very quickly. And “iteratively” is thanks to being web delivered which means we can provide early access to users to start providing feedback. Agile development takes on real meaning as users see the mock-ups they helped design come alive in their web browser mere weeks (or even just days) after designing them. Engagement and user buy-in are huge as feedback is provided, incorporated and delivered instantly. Australia Posts CIO Andrew Walduck understands this approach, “The number of times I’ve seen operating models where you start with requirements on one side, you dump it into operations on the other, and it fundamentally misses the point”.
Tool UI Example
It takes different strokes to move the world… yes it does
Do you remember the late 70’s early 80’s TV series “Different Strokes”? I use to love the theme song.
Everybody’s got a special kind of story
Everybody finds a way to shine,
It don’t matter that you got not alot
They’ll have theirs, and you’ll have yours, and I’ll have mine.
And together we’ll be fine….
When you start looking for your next optimisation, analytics or advanced planning and scheduling solution and your CIO/CFO says “budgets are tight and you can’t buy bespoke, you have to go COTS”, remember “it don’t matter that you got not a lot… you’ll have yours” because Biarri has a special kind of story.