Governmental company goes mental



  • Hello everybody. I have been reading this site for a few months now and this is the first time I'm posting.

     

    This is a story some, maybe even most, of you can relate to.

    In Israel, it being a rather small country in terms of space (yet huge in world media attention), the electric company, henceforth referred to as IEC,  is still government-controlled. That means that even though several reforms have been implemented, as a whole it is a huge and sluggish beast, and its IT guys especially don't seem to follow any known procedure, unless it's called: "Wait, I have to call department X to do this."

    I work for a small company who has, amazingly enough, won a large contract to implement an interface between the call-center and the technician's scheduling mechanism (I'm not calling it a program on purpose). During the course of trying to implement our solution, we have experienced everything from "Who the heck are you?" to a complete about-turn of the requirements. The whole place is run by worker's unions. I have even noticed that some of the bigger big-wigs don't even know what their job-title is.

    The latest WTF we have to face is this:

    After finally having managed to test and debug the data streaming back and forth part (please excuse my English) from our app to their mainframe app (and I freely admit that some bugs were caused (and later fixed) by me personally), we have reached the point where all of us are ready to begin testing with real users, on IEC's testing domain.

    Having already installed our app on several computers, I thought we were all set and only needed to call in the users, sit them down, and let them comment on how bad and totaly against their normal working process our solution is (And these are my nicer expectations). Of course, first we needed another department to check that everything is in place.

    I followed Big Z, as I'll call him, to the basement of the building, where the department dealing with the Citrix (ouch) environment, which encompasses all systems in IEC, is based (good positioning, I say). Big Z sits down at his station and asks where the database is located. The answer he got almost knocked me off my chair.

    Apparently, we have been operating and testing in the PRODUCTION environment the whole time!!! Sweat starting to pour, thinking of what I might have done to their mainframe with my bungling code, I ask: "Well, can't we just call the DB department" (having gotten a hang of the process) " and tell them to move it to the test environment?"

    "OK, I'll get right on it," Big Z said. And he did. He told someone else, from a different department, that this needs to be done.

    A month later, I call in to check what the latest news about The Big Move is. Answer: "Well, the DB department guys decided they need a special authorization to move the database."   From production to test.

    Now I will probably have to wait till after the holidays (another month at least) for the DB department guys to get the proper authorization from the proper department. Oh, the fun of working alongside Big Government Companies.

     

    I just need to point out that there are several really good and efficient IT people there, who opted for job security rather than good practices and less bureaucracy.



  • @danko said:

    I just need to point out that there are several really good and efficient IT people there, who opted for job security rather than good practices and less bureaucracy.
     

    How the heck does that correlate with the adbove?



  • @danko said:

    In Israel, it being a rather small country in terms of space (yet huge in world media attention), the electric company, henceforth referred to as IEC,  is still government-controlled. That means that even though several reforms have been implemented, as a whole it is a huge and sluggish beast, and its IT guys especially don't seem to follow any known procedure, unless it's called: "Wait, I have to call department X to do this."

    I'm sorry to disillusion you, but that has little to do with government control; that's just how big companies are. I'm in the U.S., which has been transformed (under Bush) into free-market heaven, and the only noticeable effects on big companies are that they now (a) charge more -- even adjusted for inflation -- to do the same stuff, or else give worse service for the old prices, (b) pay higher executive salaries but at the same time decrease/halt worker benefits (bye bye middle class, it was nice to know you), and (c) go bankrupt too easily for comfort because they are no longer forced to maintain good accounting practices. Go look up "Enron"; it should be an eye-opener. And it sounds like this is the only electric company you have, meaning it's "too big to fail", which -- as we in the U.S. are seeing -- translates directly into "once our executives have driven us into the mud, the government will have to bail us out". Be careful what you wish for.



  • @The Vicar said:

    @danko said:

    In Israel, it being a rather small country in terms of space (yet huge in world media attention), the electric company, henceforth referred to as IEC,  is still government-controlled. That means that even though several reforms have been implemented, as a whole it is a huge and sluggish beast, and its IT guys especially don't seem to follow any known procedure, unless it's called: "Wait, I have to call department X to do this."

    I'm sorry to disillusion you, but that has little to do with government control; that's just how big companies are. I'm in the U.S., which has been transformed (under Bush) into free-market heaven, and the only noticeable effects on big companies are that they now (a) charge more -- even adjusted for inflation -- to do the same stuff, or else give worse service for the old prices, (b) pay higher executive salaries but at the same time decrease/halt worker benefits (bye bye middle class, it was nice to know you), and (c) go bankrupt too easily for comfort because they are no longer forced to maintain good accounting practices. Go look up "Enron"; it should be an eye-opener. And it sounds like this is the only electric company you have, meaning it's "too big to fail", which -- as we in the U.S. are seeing -- translates directly into "once our executives have driven us into the mud, the government will have to bail us out". Be careful what you wish for.

    None of this has anything to do with how big a company is.  Most of the heavily bureaucratic private companies either started life as heavily bureaucratic public companies or have government-backing and special privileges that make it impossible to compete with them, resulting in a stagnant market.  Not much has been privatized under Bush, actually.  Honestly, I can't think of any large organizations that were.  However, we have seen the largest nationalization of private industry under Bush.

     

    I'm not sure how Enron is much of an "eye-opener" or even all that relevant to this discussion.  Enron was in the shitter before Bush even took office.  They made a lot of cash by exploiting arbitrage situations that sprang up as a result of the half-assed "de-regulation" of the energy industry.  Even while they were doing this they were sinking deeper and deeper into the red because of bad investments.  However, they kept the red off of their balance sheet by exploiting accounting rules established and approved by the government.  The entire "scandal" seemed pretty ridiculous because the SEC and Enron's accounting firm both approved of the method they were using to write-off liabilities as assets.  If anything, the SEC should have been punished for failing to do their job, not Enron.

     

    The "too big to fail" theory is utter nonsense.  It's just a flimsy justification for propping up companies that need to fail.  Meanwhile, the actors who created most of the mess and without whom such catastrophes could not occur are given even more authority to screw things up the next time.  What do we get for all of it?  Some poorly-run companies that needed to fail held together with spit and twine, more power than ever before in the hands of the corrupt and moronic Congress, Fed and Treasury, further regulations that will form the basis of the next failure and a bill for several trillion dollars handed to the taxpayer.



  • @The Vicar said:

    I'm in the U.S., which has been transformed (under Bush) into free-market heaven
    That's an interesting theory.  Just not the kind of interesting that's true.

    @The Vicar said:

    ..."once our executives have driven us into the mud, the government will have to bail us out"
    Of course, the government, through regulations and other actions, have been at least as responsible as any executives.

     



  • This seems to be a problem after a while in companies that employ the method of promoting to incompetence.



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    Not much has been privatized under Bush, actually.  Honestly, I can't think of any large organizations that were.

    Oh, really? Here's a summary of big-ticket privatization (and a few unsuccessful attempts at privatization) of government under Bush:

    • The U.S. military has had nearly all its support services (such as food supply and laundry, functions which traditionally were undertaken by the soldiers themselves) and some of its semi-combat presence privatized (that's where Halliburton and Blackwater have been making money in the last 5 years or so). This has caused extra problems in Iraq (aside from the massive expenses) because many of the 190000 contract employees are not obligated to provide services in battle conditions. (To give some idea of the scale of the problem: at the height of the surge, there were only 166000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.) (It's also causing problems because the contract employees are not behaving well, but the army has no authority and can't get them to shape up.)
    • The totalitarian-sounding Department of Homeland Security is also being privatized.
    • Transportation infrastructure in the U.S. is being privatized -- it's hard to summarize, so just read the article. (It would be interesting to see how the current financial crisis is altering those plans.)
    • The 2008 federal budget includes incentives to privatize local water utilities, despite the fact that world consensus is increasingly leaning away from privatization of water because it doesn't really work
    • Bush has attempted to privatize public education via the use of vouchers every year since 2001. (I had a link for that written this year, but now I can't find it. If you doubt it, just use Google for a bit.)
    • In 2003, Bush made an attempt to outsource as much as 70% of the National Park Service to private companies. This was apparently eventually stopped by massive public outcry, although I can't find proof one way or the other.
    • One of the stated goals of the Bush administration was the outsourcing of most of FEMA to private companies. This was accomplished during the period between 2001 and 2004, largely by Bush appointee Joe Albaugh, and has a great deal to do with the poor performance of FEMA in subsequent disasters such as Katrina. (At the beginning of 2001, FEMA had a plan for the possibility of a force-5 hurricane hitting New Orleans. When FEMA functions were privatized, this plan was discarded.)
    • The Bush administration pushed to outsource 800000 FAA jobs (mostly in air traffic control) to private companies in 2003, and was opposed by Congress. In 2005, however, Lockheed Martin received a contract to take over these positions.
    • In 2006, an estimated 70% of the U.S. intelligence budget went to private companies. The number is estimated because the amount spent on intelligence is not known for sure by the public, but there are some scary figures out there, such as in this book. (For example, the CIA has admitted that more than half of its recruiters overseas are contractors.)
    • With McCain's support, Bush is currently attempting to privatize provision of veterans' medical benefits. Because, you know, it worked so well at Walter Reed...
    • And he's pushing for privatization of Medicare. Again. Even though California tried that a decade and a half ago and it failed. (Interestingly, I had a better link for that one, from The Nation, but it was only visible if you clicked through from Google. Otherwise, you get a subscriber login. Not, perhaps, worthy of a sidebar post on its own, but worth mentioning.)
    • ...and, of course, there was the big push to privatize Social Security by putting the money into the stock market. It's funny that the Cato Institute (which is the organization which has been used to make the idea intellectually respectable) basically assumed that the stock market would always go up, and as early as the end of 2001 it was pointed out that this just isn't true, and that privatization of Social Security would be a disaster for anyone who retired during a downturn. And now, the downturn is here, and we're lucky we had the AARP around to stop it from happening.
    @morbiuswilters said:

    However, we have seen the largest nationalization of private industry under Bush.

    If you're talking about the recent bailouts, those aren't nationalization. Nationalization is when the government takes over a business/industry, not when it assumes the liabilities of a failing business. It isn't nationalization when the U.S. bails out a bank unless the government has ownership of the bank afterwards. Do you have any examples of actual nationalization? @morbiuswilters said:

    I'm not sure how Enron is much of an "eye-opener" or even all that relevant to this discussion.  Enron was in the shitter before Bush even took office.  They made a lot of cash by exploiting arbitrage situations that sprang up as a result of the half-assed "de-regulation" of the energy industry.

    That was my point -- deregulation leads to shaky practices. In the particular case of Enron, the deregulation happened in California during the 1990s-- sorry if you thought I was implying that particular bit of idiocy was Bush's fault, although it may have been partially Dick Cheney's -- we may never know for sure. (Incidentally, there's this myth that California is a liberal haven, but somehow all the major political moves which take place there and make nationwide news are conservative ones. They tried privatizing Medicare and it was a disaster, they turned their governorship into a circus, they deregulated their energy markets... That these conservative moves are all thunderingly moronic is just coincidence, I'm sure.) The deregulation responsible for Enron was largely orchestrated by Phil Gramm, who is of course one of McCain's advisors, and a major proponent of deregulation.

    (In fact, if you think that current gas prices are so high because of speculation, then you are in fact blaming Phil Gramm for allowing them. Personally, I go back and forth on the issue. I don't doubt there's speculation, but I don't claim to know whether it's really enough to drive such a rise. And anyway, the price of oil is going to skyrocket sooner or later -- supply and demand requires it, as light sweet crude runs out and we have to turn to harder-to-extract varieties -- so maybe it's a good thing if it happens sooner, while the inflated price is artificial, rather than when it is a serious emergency.) @morbiuswilters said:

    The entire "scandal" seemed pretty ridiculous because the SEC and Enron's accounting firm both approved of the method they were using to write-off liabilities as assets.  If anything, the SEC should have been punished for failing to do their job, not Enron.

    By that reasoning, if your child puts your dog in the dishwasher and turns it on, it's your fault for not specifically saying "do not put the dog in the dishwasher" instead of just telling your kid to behave. At some point, executives have to take responsibility. Enron was miles beyond that point and accelerating -- the executives were actively encouraging investors to hold on to stock, and even continue to buy more, even while they (the executives) were engaged in selling off their own stock because they knew disaster was imminent. No matter how you twist your interpretation, you can't claim that as permissible behavior. @morbiuswilters said:

    The "too big to fail" theory is utter nonsense.  It's just a flimsy justification for propping up companies that need to fail.

    No, that's what the phrase "too big to fail" means every time it's used. Nobody ever uses it to mean "this cannot possibly fail because there is simply no chance that it could go wrong", they use it to mean "this cannot fail because failure would mean disaster to the public, so the public will prevent it from failing no matter what it takes, including bailouts." I'm against bailing any of these companies out; if anything, I'd like to have them broken up into smaller units so that the "too big to fail" argument can never be applied again. (If Reagan could do it to the phone company, we can do it to the banks.) But the phrase is being thrown around, and that's what it means in the end. @morbiuswilters said:

    Some poorly-run companies that needed to fail held together with spit and twine, more power than ever before in the hands of the corrupt and moronic Congress, Fed and Treasury, further regulations that will form the basis of the next failure and a bill for several trillion dollars handed to the taxpayer.

    Um, you're showing your ignorance. The Treasury is part of the executive branch, the Fed is independent from the federal government but partners with the Treasury (and is therefore closer to the Executive branch than anything else), and the bailout proposal submitted by Paulson was written specifically to have no Congressional oversight. (It said in Section 8, and I quote: Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.) The only corrupt and moronic part of the government involved in the proposed bailout is the executive branch. Which is, of course, firmly in the hands of conservatives.



  • You know what? Who cares. We're not here to discuss politics, just Curious Perversions in Information Technology. And coming from someone who has lived in both the U.S. and Israel, it may be that there are similar problems, we just love to complain about them constantly in Israel 🙂 (and trust me, there is a difference when it comes to dealing with these monstrous excuses for companies, at least on the customer support end).



  • Locating TRWTF...@danko said:

    Apparently, we have been operating and testing in the PRODUCTION environment the whole time!!!
    @danko said:
    "Well, the DB department guys decided they need a special authorization to move the database."   From production to test.
    TRWTF located. Restarting discussion...



  • @TwelveBaud said:

    Locating TRWTF...@danko said:

    Apparently, we have been operating and testing in the PRODUCTION environment the whole time!!!
    @danko said:
    "Well, the DB department guys decided they need a special authorization to move the database."   From production to test.
    TRWTF located. Restarting discussion...

    We once had to do all QA testing in the development environment, because the test environment had some weird bugs that screwed up PreparedStatements.

    So we also had to do a "pre-production" testing, that is, deploying the app on the production environment just to know if this "bug" was only in the test environment. Fortunately, this was the case.



  • @The Vicar said:

    The U.S. military has had nearly all its support services (such as food supply and laundry, functions which traditionally were undertaken by the soldiers themselves) and some of its semi-combat presence privatized (that's where Halliburton and Blackwater have been making money in the last 5 years or so). This has caused extra problems in Iraq (aside from the massive expenses) because many of the 190000 contract employees are not obligated to provide services in battle conditions. (To give some idea of the scale of the problem: at the height of the surge, there were only 166000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.) (It's also causing problems because the contract employees are not behaving well, but the army has no authority and can't get them to shape up.)

    These have been outsourced since long before Bush.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    The totalitarian-sounding Department of Homeland Security is also being privatized.

    It sounds like it has always been privatized.  Besides, using outside contractors is a pretty flimsy definition of privatization.  In a lot of cases, the government itself simply cannot provide the services.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    Transportation infrastructure in the U.S. is being privatized -- it's hard to summarize, so just read the article. (It would be interesting to see how the current financial crisis is altering those plans.)

    I thought it was clear we are talking about national privatization.

     

    I'm ignoring the next 5 since none of them have actually succeeded, which was clearly what I said.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    In 2006, an estimated 70% of the U.S. intelligence budget went to private companies. The number is estimated because the amount spent on intelligence is not known for sure by the public, but there are some scary figures out there, such as in this book. (For example, the CIA has admitted that more than half of its recruiters overseas are contractors.)

    Um, so?  100% of my grocery budget went to private companies.  Also, what proof do you have that this is in any way a recent development?  Finally, it's well-known that intelligence agencies frequently make use of "contractors" just to keep certain aspects of their operations more secretive.  So I wouldn't be shocked if a good deal of that was actually going to the CIA anyway.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    With McCain's support, Bush is currently attempting to privatize provision of veterans' medical benefits. Because, you know, it worked so well at Walter Reed...

    Once again, hasn't happened yet and probably won't.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    And he's pushing for privatization of Medicare. Again. Even though California tried that a decade and a half ago and it failed. (Interestingly, I had a better link for that one, from The Nation, but it was only visible if you clicked through from Google. Otherwise, you get a subscriber login. Not, perhaps, worthy of a sidebar post on its own, but worth mentioning.)

    ...and, of course, there was the big push to privatize Social Security by putting the money into the stock market. It's funny that the Cato Institute (which is the organization which has been used to make the idea intellectually respectable) basically assumed that the stock market would always go up, and as early as the end of 2001 it was pointed out that this just isn't true, and that privatization of Social Security would be a disaster for anyone who retired during a downturn. And now, the downturn is here, and we're lucky we had the AARP around to stop it from happening.

    Both of these programs are massive failures that have been insolvent for decades and are rushing towards complete loss of all liquid assets in the next 20 years.  The DJI is definitely higher than it was in the mid-to-late 90s and what it was after the dot-com bubble burst.  Not saying dumping the fake Social Security dollars that don't really exist into the stock market is a good idea, but it's surely no more destructive than anything else we've done with the fake Social Security dollars that don't really exist.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    If you're talking about the recent bailouts, those aren't nationalization. Nationalization is when the government takes over a business/industry, not when it assumes the liabilities of a failing business. It isn't nationalization when the U.S. bails out a bank unless the government has ownership of the bank afterwards. Do you have any examples of actual nationalization?

    It's nationalization for now, Einstein.  Sure, it could reverse one day.  Sure.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    That was my point -- deregulation leads to shaky practices.

    Wow, complete reading fail.  My point was that Enron had nothing to do with deregulation.  It was essentially re-regulation of an industry that was built around large, bureaucratic, government monopolies.  When some of the private companies got into the business they realize the parts that were still government-controlled were basically susceptible to rape and pillage and they proceeded to do just that.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    In fact, if you think that current gas prices are so high because of speculation...

    Wow, you clearly have no clue what "speculation" means.  I'm sorry you lack a fundamental economics education, but I'm sure not going to give it to you.  I will say, however, that speculation really only serves to even out price over a range of ups and downs.  Speculation prevents mass shortages and production overruns and without it we would be in even worse shape than we are now.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    By that reasoning, if your child puts your dog in the dishwasher and turns it on, it's your fault for not specifically saying "do not put the dog in the dishwasher" instead of just telling your kid to behave.

    No, I'm saying that if your kid asks to put the dog in the dishwasher and you say "Sure!" coming back later and saying "It turns out this whole dog-in-the-dishwasher situation was wrong" is bullshit.  The SEC is supposed to prevent this kind of bad business practice but it explicitly sanctions it.  That is always the end result of government oversight and regulation.  It can be shown time and again.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    No, that's what the phrase "too big to fail" means every time it's used. Nobody ever uses it to mean "this cannot possibly fail because there is simply no chance that it could go wrong", they use it to mean "this cannot fail because failure would mean disaster to the public, so the public will prevent it from failing no matter what it takes, including bailouts."

    Where in the hell did you get the idea that I didn't know this?  I know what the phrase means, but as I clearly stated the theory behind it is wrong.  Propping up failures is stupid whether it's the lemonade stand down the street or an international bank.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    I'm against bailing any of these companies out; if anything, I'd like to have them broken up into smaller units so that the "too big to fail" argument can never be applied again.

    Hmm..  it seems lots of different, separate banks are failing just fine without being a single entity.  In fact, the only banks that are doing "okay" are the massive ones like JPMorgan, Citigroup and Bank of America.  The fact is, size has nothing to do with possibility of failure.  Small businesses fail more frequently than large ones because they tend to have less "cushion", but failure is failure.  If you don't let it happen you just further undermine the already immensely hampered market and piss more wealth away and all you get is a pile of worthless mortgages.

     

    @The Vicar said:

    Um, you're showing your ignorance. The Treasury is part of the executive branch, the Fed is independent from the federal government but partners with the Treasury (and is therefore closer to the Executive branch than anything else), and the bailout proposal submitted by Paulson was written specifically to have no Congressional oversight. (It said in Section 8, and I quote: Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.) The only corrupt and moronic part of the government involved in the proposed bailout is the executive branch. Which is, of course, firmly in the hands of conservatives.

    This problem has been brewing for decades because of idiotic policies of Congress, the Treasury and the Fed with the aid of the Presidency.  Democrats and Republicans are to blame, but obviously you are the same kind of narrow-minded idiot who subscribes to "us vs. them" partisan politics rather than trying to understand even the tiniest shred of what is going on outside of your empty, pampered head.   The Fed is no more independent from the executive branch than my leg is independent from my body.  Meanwhile, this bailout would not happen without support from Democrats in Congress.  The problem wouldn't have happened without decades of poor monetary policy, culminating in the Clinton/Bush plan of infinite made-up money.  It also wouldn't have happened if banks had been allowed to take things like credit history and income into account for all mortgages.  Unfortunately, Fed policy in addition to regulation enacted by a Democratic Congress and President in addition to pressure by Congresspeople (primarily Dems) on Fannie and Freddie to back more bad loans in addition to retarded mandates set by the HUD director under Bush resulted in banks being required to take in a bunch of bad loans.  This has been a bi-partisan effort at gaming the housing market and monetary policy for decades.  Blaming it on any one person or party would be foolish--although Greenspan is a possible candidate--but given the rest of your post, you aren't too concerned with appearing thusly.



  • I don't see this settling down any time soon.  Morbs and The Trollcar are going to set a record for the longest page in only 50 posts.



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    These have been outsourced since long before Bush.

    Pfft, that doesn't mean it isn't his fault.  Bush broke the military and the banks and electricity just like he broke my screen door and the passenger door lock on my '87 VW Golf.  Also I'm pretty sure he gave me syphilis somehow.  It's just a matter of figuring out how.



  • @belgariontheking said:

    I don't see this settling down any time soon.  Morbs and The Trollcar are going to set a record for the longest page in only 50 posts.
     

    Close run thing. Thought for a second that the vicar had managed to slam old Morbs down so hard he wasn't going to get back up. Thats what I would recommend Wilters mate, just take the write down as a loss against your karma points and concentrate on the TRWTF.

    What I want to know is when you say "PRODUCTION" do you actually mean like the real actual production that people were using to schedule  jobs and you know try to do stuff? Isn't the more important thing, not rolling back all your dev code from production to test but rather rolling forward the last known good backup to live again? Think of the users man!



  • @utunga said:

    What I want to know is when you say "PRODUCTION" do you actually mean like the real actual production that people were using to schedule  jobs and you know try to do stuff? Isn't the more important thing, not rolling back all your dev code from production to test but rather rolling forward the last known good backup to live again? Think of the users man!

    I'd be even more concerned about the data that they already put there during testing. Some time ago, I read somewhere about a girl who was found to have a record ... until someone actually checked the info out, and the "trial" concerned Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. Whoops, test data!

    One of the best WTF's I remember happened in a bank. As these guys were doing their test runs using their boss' account number, when they accidentally did their tests on the production environment, it translated into FREE MONEY for their boss. Fortunately, they were able to roll back those transactions, before their boss (or themselves) got into trouble.


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