James Miller


Saturday, October 16, 2004


Computer Costs

Mike Gray in The Times makes a lot of interesting observations on the cost of computing.

As a reasonably successful computer programmer, whose software has been used for the last thirty years to manage a fair proportion of major projects all over the world from North Sea Oil to the Space Shuttle and truck and car plants to the Jubilee line, let me enlighten him.

In the sixties it was said by a senior man in ICL, that if it takes one man, one year to write a computer program, then it will take two men two years and two hundred and fifty six men, two hundred and fifty six years. It may be a bit of an exaggeration but if you look at all the successful software, then you will often find that in many cases, the team that actually did the programming is very small and often a single person of perhaps strange habits.

And where the system was successful, they were generally rewarded with large amounts of money.

This is anathema to most that commission computer systems and especially to civil servants, who would never allow someone to earn more than they do.

So they persist in using the failed policy of appointing large consultancies, rather than small innovative companies to produce the systems they need. They never apply the common sense rule of perhaps asking three or four people to design and build competing critical modules, that any production engineer at Ford, BMW or BP would think second nature.

Hence they get locked into spiralling costs and late delivery that are in the suppliers’ rather than the taxpayers’ interest.


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