Friday, January 14, 2005

GESTION and its damage to humanity.

In Canada there is a small province called New Brunswick. It is not the smallest province and it is not the poorest area in Canada but it is not for lack of trying. New Brunswick relies heavily on Federal money because the economy there is not healthy enough to support the taxation rates that are necessary to support our "workers paradise".

New Brunswick is very rural compared to the rest of the continent and like other underdeveloped regions (and like Canada in general) we rely heavily on resource industries and agriculture. Farming, forestry, fishing, and a small number of family empire businesses employ most residents, with government jobs, unemployment checks and a few brave entrepreneurs filling out the rest. Different provincial government administrations have, over the years, tried to diversify our economy to only modest success.

Why is this little region of the planet important? Because of what has been discovered there.

In this little province is a phenomenon that baffles, horrifies and most importantly, lays plain the fundamental flaw in all human organizations and government in particular. The phenomenon is called GESTION.

The beginning of GESTION is shrouded in the mists of history, the early 1990s to be precise. Folklore tells us of a time when computers were beginning to be adopted even in government offices for word processing and other simple tasks.

One day, an employee of one small school district office who's name seems to have disappeared from history, looked at the way that the payroll system worked and thought to himself "This does not all need to be done manually." He asked the government of the day if they would consider developing a computerized payroll system. It would increase efficiency, save money and allow employees to do the jobs they had trained for instead of copying data from one form to another for most of any given day. Naturally, the government said no. If the radio and newspapers found out that the government was spending Education Department money on administrative software (at a time when most people didn't know what "software" was) there would be hell to pay.

If that unnamed man had been less innovative, if he had been the kind of person to take no for an answer, all would have been well. If only he had not been a computer programmer... If only.

He decided that if the province would not computerize the payroll system, he could at least create a program to input some data and print out one kind of the many forms that must be sent to the Department of Education every two weeks. It was just a simple tool, a form printing device. It should have been a great idea. It should have increased productivity with no expensive contracting, investment; a brilliant in house solution. It was named GESTION.

GESTION is written in all capital letters because, as a home-grown, DOS based program it could not accept lower-case letters. The program would not allow mistakes either. A missed key stroke would mean that you have to input information until a form such as an employee time sheet was finished because it would not accept null fields, then you would have to go back several menus, erase the form you had inputted and re-enter the form. As bad as it was, considering that it was the early 90s, home-grown and DOS based it was a miracle and many older employees who remember the manual way still as think it is pretty slick.

The following events occurred and like clouds of a storm, their order of arrival is not known or important:

() The author of the software left the governments employ under circumstances which would not encourage him to be available to answer questions about his creation.

() Someone in higher office saw the program, liked it and decided to implement it in all school districts in the province.

() Over the next few years more code was added to increase the "functionality" of the software. In effect they attempted to make a payroll/human resources system out of a home -grown, DOS based word processor/patchwork quilt/spaghetti code monstrosity.

() Since desktop computers are cheaper to replace than software systems, and since desktop speed and efficiency increased and new versions of Windows emerged from wherever they emerge from, the government one day discovered that the nightmare that is GESTION could not be run on Windows 2000 or XP and our fancy new desktop computers were now too fast to run Windows 98. Necessity is the mother of abomination so the government licensed Virtual PC for all Payroll and Human resources department computers. Virtual PC allows our super fast machines to emulate slow machines that can run Windows 98 and thus keep GESTION in a state of living death needed to function. A clever solution if you are willing to poke out your brain's frontal lobe to accept the futility of it all.

I.T. departments at both District and Department of Education levels kept telling those in government with the power to do something that this was nonsense but nonsense is the only thing politicians understand. The administration that created the problem ignored the GESTION beast even as it grew stronger.

At one point their conscience must has given them a nudge because they brought together some I.T. folks and Payroll employees to look at software products on the market. They soon discovered that nothing could handle all of our different collective agreement subtleties and provide the functionality (HA HA HA! Oh mercy!) of GESTION. No one would ever want to produce anything with the functionality of GESTION but that is beside the point. The government was faced with a choice: invest in a new computer system before it was too late or close their eyes tight, click their heels together three times and say "pour me a double".

While the powers that be retired to their bars, taverns and respective graveyards, secure in the knowledge that they had saved a chunk of money now, only to cost the province a fortune later on during someone else's administration, and successfully avoided having to explain concepts like "investing in productivity" to a slack-jawed, irrational and emotionally unstable public the civil service went back to their desks. They all had their own ways of coping with the situation. Some remained faithful to the system by remembering the bad old days of manual input. Little did they realize that even worse was yet to come. Others took a "practical" approach telling everyone that complaining was useless because this is the system we have and we just have to accept it. I guess accepting gross incompetence by our elected officials and waste of public money comes easy to some people. The rest of us just went quietly insane and dreamed of moving to some land far away where careers in the private sector could be obtained.

One day the Province had an election and a new administration was issued in. Someone in the Department of Education who had first hand Experience with GESTION was given a job where it was possible to convince the new government to cut the thing out by the roots and a bidding process started, a contractor was chosen (a good one too!) and payroll, H.R. and I.T. workers from various districts were brought together to discuss the replacement system. Replacement system. Those of us that had struggled to stay sane after years of exposure to the GESTION began to live again. Money was set aside in the budgets, this was really going to happen!!

We were regaled with tales about how the Teacher's Certification system would be tied in so that when a supply teacher got there certificate their pay rate would change them having to come in to us, without us having to pull out a form and send it by courier to the department and without the supply teacher waiting three weeks for an adjustment to be made. We would not have to go back and count their days of work to see how much we would need to request for them in back pay. Information that was entered in payroll could create reports for accounting (without printing it out and typing it back in.) Payroll information, once put in the system would not need to be printed out, couriered down to the provincial capital city and typed into their system by a sweat-shop of data input clerks. The payroll employees would not need to spend weeks in the summer checking and correcting the computer's math for recording teacher's seniority. We could start doing our jobs during work hours instead of playing catch up during unpaid overtime! We might even be able to take a vacation day now and then without dreading it.

This all took a few years and as the time to begin standardizing our data between district for the great day, an election crept up. The project was put on the shelf. When all the gunslinging was over the government survived but with such a slim margin that they had to start explaining and justifying their budgets to their own back benchers, who are just as pathetic as the general public. Somewhere in the post election horse trading the shelf that the replacement project got put on was turned into wood pulp. GESTION was back and decided to make everyone pay for the attempt to destroy it.

By the time I lost contact with the situation the system was spending more time in a non-functional state than actually working. Data was often spontaneously deleted, sometimes by large amounts and often without any notice. People would try to print out information (generally to type it back in to another part of the system) only to find that two days of work had disappeared. To my knowledge no one has committed suicide or gone postal over the working conditions yet but to this day no one has tried to fight GESTION again. Also, while everyone working in the schools thinks that it would be great to get a district office job, no one takes one in Payroll. That is where GESTION lives.

I have gotten on with my life. I know that there are hundreds of GESTIONs around the planet. (The F.B.I. has huge numbers of GESTIONs and their attempt to replace them is coming back to bite them in the ass. I pray that their GESTIONs don't destroy them. Only time will tell.) GESTIONs drink money; they eat time, they destroy dreams and they prove that there is no future for human civilization.

The people get the government they deserve. GESTION is the product of human ignorance not just by those in power but by those who pressure them, the lowest and greatest common denominator. Some of them may read this post one day. To them I can only say: One day you will find yourselves touched by a GESTION and I could not be happier about that. I hope it destroys you as it nearly destroyed me.


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