Thursday, May 03, 2007

Working under constraints

This lunchtime I answered a question on the OTN PL/SQL forum asking how best to do something without using triggers, when using triggers was patently the best way to satisfy the task at hand. As I occasionally do in these cases, I asked whether the ban on using triggers was a OuLiPo thing. Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle was a school of literature in which arbitrary constraints are used to drive creativity. For instance La Disparition by Georges Perec is a novel which contains no words with the letter e. One OuLiPo site features this quote from Igor Stravinsky.
"The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit... the arbitrariness of the constraint only serves to obtain precision of execution."

In a neat piece of synchronicity, Sean McGrath over at IT World wrote about design constraints in this week's E-Business column. He ponders the relative merits of writing baroque code to implement a business process exactly versus simplifying the business process in order to make it easier to automate.
"If your sense of an existing process is that it needs to be changed before it is computerized ... then you need to be careful what tools you put in the hands of those looking at the problem. Tools with constraints that focus attention on simplicity can be excellent catalysts for change."

A few year back Oracle had an interesting idea as part of its managed services proposition to Oracle eE-Business Suite customers. Don't bother customising Apps to fit your business. Instead, let Oracle use its consultants to migrate your business processes to fit "vanilla" Apps workflows. In return for which Oracle would guarantee a 5% year-on-year reduction in management charges for five years. Apaprently it was cheaper for Oracle to do BPR for free than to maintain and support heavily customised code. And as customised code is also likely to be more error-prone than factory standard code, the customers ought to have got more reliable systems for less outlay.

Oracle seem to have been quiet about this recently, so I don't know whether it's still in effect. Probably it's been swamped by the various Fusion initatives. I would be interested in knowing whether there was any great take-up of that offer. TUSC have an paper on the feasibility of "vanilla" E-Business Suite, which suggests that even very the simplest implemenations get complicated very quickly, especially in the area of data mapping and data conversion. Another beautiful idea killed off by an ugly reality?


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