Some of the customers who read these posts are working to do as much of the actual work on their system, as possible, to include LIMS/ELN/LES System Administration, configuration, programming, etc… Others have decided that they don’t need to build some or all of these skills in-house and are asking their software vendors or other outside consulting firms (such as the premier GeoMetrick Enterprises*) to do the work, instead. In doing this, while you do avoid having to build the skills in-house, you do not abdicate yourself from the potential issues that can come from this.
1: The Problems
If you don’t know much about certain aspects of your system, it seems difficult to manage to oversee those people who would do that type of work. However, this is a skill that people do acquire, where they manage other people doing tasks they don’t always have hands-on experience with, themselves.
Without this ability, anything could happen. I’ve heard of so many customers who have put money out to buy services to put new features into their system and ended up with something that barely worked and was not maintainable. Sometimes, after spending a significant block of money, customers end up throwing away the new features because they don’t work properly, aren’t appropriate to the needs, and a variety of other reasons. In rare but too-often occasions, it’s the entire system that was built improperly and can never be used.
Even worse, I’ve run into projects where nothing was delivered. I’m serious when I tell you I’ve run across customers who have spent money for new features and actually gotten nothing out of it. I don’t mean they got something that didn’t work that well, I mean they got nothing, at all. As crazy as that sounds, it’s just one of the “truth is stranger than fiction”things that happen on projects.
Overall, though, customers usually get at least something, even if it’s late, not complete, not documented, full of issues, and the services group delivering it runs off like maniacs before they spend time explaining what they did (so that your people can support it) or in fixing the problems.
And then it sometimes comes to a combination of issues. I can think of one project where the customer bought a block of modifications, they weren’t done, properly, didn’t have all the features quite correct, had lots of bugs, and wasn’t documented. Meanwhile, they lost their LIMS system administrator. They made the code live and ran it for a couple years and there was no-one to address the bugs except to go right into the database to fix things for those couple of years, no-one to have the understanding to work through the features to report back the bugs, no-one to work with the services group to try to understand what was built and how to maintain it, and the system was a bit hacked-up during that time that there was no-one to properly manage changes. Most of you might be a bit shocked to read this story but I’m guessing it’s more common than we think and that most people just wouldn’t admit this much to the rest of us.
2: Even if They are Experts, You are Responsible
For those of you who are regulated, it doesn’t matter who builds your system – you’re responsible. Even if a services group wrote every line of code and did every configuration for you, it’s your responsibility. It doesn’t matter whether the services group is from your software vendor or some other consulting group, it’s still your responsibility.
3: See #2
I just want to stress that, if you’re ended up with a non-compliant system out of all the money you spent that, if you run it and you’re running something non-compliant, it then becomes your responsibility, not the people you gave all that money to who didn’t build it the way you needed them to.
With that, to those of you who have made these systems live even with the issues that make them non-complaint, you’re playing a dangerous game. While I can understand the frustration of spending so much money and having nothing to show for it, running a non-compliant solution too often will later come back to bite you harder than you’ll expect.
4: In the End
Getting outside assistance is not as easy as picking someone and just dropping the tasks in their lap. You have to have some idea what you want and need, understanding of how to make the budget work out for what you need, and a way to at least loosely monitor what they’re doing.
We throw around terms such as “project management” and talk about “milestones” not because we love them so much but because they’re ways of trying to keep some control over what is going on. To stay on top of the work being done, you have to find ways to “keep it in control” and you’ll notice that I used a term that is used to described some of the regulated systems. Because if the entire process isn’t in-control, then the system, itself, isn’t in-control, and it’s not compliant.
* My marketing department requires me to add this statement. 😉