What computer professionals call \"software hell\"
A look at the private sector reveals that software debacles are routine. And the more ambitious the project, the higher the odds of disappointment. (...) Research by the Standish Group, a software research and consulting firm, illustrates the troubled fates of most big software initiatives. In 1994, researchers found, only 16 percent were completed on time, on budget and fulfilling the original specifications. Nearly a third were canceled outright, and the remainder fell short of their objectives. More than half of the cost overruns amounted to at least 50 percent of the original budget. Of the projects that went off schedule, almost half took more than twice as long as originally planned. A follow-up survey in 2003, however, showed that corporate software projects were doing better; researchers found that the percentage of successful projects had risen to 34 percent. (...) What happened between 1994 and 2003? The Internet boom went bust. Stung by wasted investments in complicated software systems, business executives began taking a more skeptical view of such projects. They scaled back their expectations, pursuing more modest software enhancements with narrower goals - and far higher chances of success. Equally important, they stopped trying to be creative. Rather than try to customize their software, they began looking for cheaper, off-the-shelf programs that would get the job done with a minimum of fuss. When necessary, they changed their own procedures to fit the available software. Old, generic technology may not be glamorous, but it has an important advantage: It works.
It may well turn out that the FBI's biggest problem was its desire to be innovative - to build a new wheel rather than use an old one within easy reach. When it comes to developing software today, innovation should be a last resort, not a first instinct.