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Amy and I spent the week in Miami with our friends Warren and Ilana Katz. Warren runs a very successful software company called MaK Technologies that builds software simulation tools that are widely used within the military. Warren is on a holy quest for acquisition reform and we had several discussions about how government procurement of software works (or doesn’t work), what needs to change, what Warren is doing about it, and several reasons why I should actually like Donald Rumsfeld.
Ironically – and sadly – MaK’s biggest competitors for their products are DoD funded projects to create custom versions of the COTS (“Commercial-off-the-shelf”) products that MaK sells – a blatant violation of numerous government regulations and a huge waste of money. Government programs competing with COTS products is apparently a deep and well known problem within the government. Warren pointed me to a great, short book called “Quotations from Chairman David” which is “a brief and humorous examination of some issues related to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products in DoD and government systems.” The author – David Carney – a senior member of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon – used the “Little Red Book” popular in China in the 1960s to discuss COTS related issues.
Interestingly, the ideas in “Quotations from Chairman David” are applicable to any software development / system integration effort. As the boundaries between custom software, system integration activities, and packaged software continue to shift around, one would be well served to meditate on Chairman David’s thoughts.