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Technology Committee Meeting Takeaway

I managed to get an earlier flight to New Orleans this morning and made it in time to attend the Management Technology Committee's open meeting. I would estimate there were about 60-70 members there, including most of the Board of Directors, in addition to the 10 members of the committee. After a brief introduction of the committee and its members, the floor was opened up to the audience for questions.

My biggest takeaway is that the formation of this committee has changed the fundamental thinking in Horn Lake in a positive way. In July, when the decision to abandon the ACBLscore+ project was announced, management was singing the praises of ACBLscore. Today, the committee declared a unanimous opinion that ACBLscore is at the end of its life, and any plans going forward must be to support ACBLscore and add some modular features to it during a transition to a new system. What exactly that system will look like is still a matter of debate -- the committee is still reviewing the product that was delivered by Hammond Software and evaluating the options going forward. In this direction, the Board's Technology Oversight Committee made changes to the technology budget for 2015, reducing it significantly and focusing spending only on improvements that can be used with the current system but also could be moved to a new system once that is created.Basically, money can be spent to support ACBLscore, but not to add features to it that could not be used in a new system. The $600K originally budgeted for technology upgrades in 2015 has been reduced to about $113K.

In the past, management has expressed an interest in creating software itself -- "controlling its own destiny." Today, the outside members expressed a desire to see a more open environment that could draw on the talents of the membership base, and management fully supported this direction.

So I think the existence of the committee is moving management's thinking about technology in the right direction.

I was still disappointed by the lack of answers on some issues, particularly about the initial review of ACBLscore+ in April 2014. Roughly $150K was spent on this evaluation, but they cannot specify how much the various aspects of that evaluation actually cost. They said they would try to get this information for me. The evaluation process included building an installer (because the code Hammond Software delivered did not include one) and building a prototype system to test the Rails concept and its functionality. No one could answer how much this cost or why it was done. Or why Nic wasn't involved in the review. It seems to me that they got something from Nic, didn't know what to do with it, tried to install it, saw stuff that wasn't working, didn't ask Nic about it, and instead built their own thing and said, "eh, this isn't great."

To me, that seems like buying a chair from IKEA, getting it home and trying to put it together and struggling because it seems like a piece is missing.And instead of calling IKEA to ask if you're doing something wrong or there is a part missing, you try to make what you have work, eventually get frustrated, and decide to go out into the woods, chop down a tree, and build a chair yourself. And then your chair isn't comfortable and you say, "Man, IKEA sucks."

I don't think ACBLscore+ got a fair trial in April/May 2014, and we have not been given very good information about the process and the results of their evaluations. Greg and the committee seem committed to giving it a more thorough look now.

A question was asked about accountability. The answers were mostly platitudes about how assigning blame isn't productive and that everyone takes these issues seriously and does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. The only tangible actions they could point to were the formations of the two Technology Committees. There was also some discussion about the new CIO position that is being filled and what that person's job will be. But I did not hear anything that reassured me that there has been sufficient learning from this disaster to prevent this from happening again. I am very worried that any plan going forward will be doomed to the same fate unless some significant changes are made in the ACBL's personnel and culture.

Other interesting revelations. Mr. Hartman confirmed that the contract with HS was such that the ACBL paid in full when the contract ended, regardless of the state of the final product and before an evaluation of that product took place. The ACBL Live improvements for New Orleans include mid-event leaderboards. There is a disparity in the ACBL's version of who owns the code to ACBLscore+ (them) and Nic Hammond's (HS). Ultimately, both seem to agree that ACBL has full rights to the code that was delivered as part of the contract and can make changes to that code as desired.

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