Monday, June 23, 2008

If a consultant makes a mistake on billable time, who pays for it?

Chip Camden has a provocative column on his Tech Republic blog this morning, “Should IT consultants pay for their stupid mistakes?” The link is here.

He gives an example that happens in a Unix or Linux environment (the command structure and sequence makes this all too easy), but I am quite aware of how this could happen in a mainframe environment. He also gives a cogent description of the work situation where the client hadn’t gotten around to securing the intermediate results of his work.

However, in the mainframe world, production files are usually protected from “inadvertent” deletion or change by programmers by RACF or “Top Secret” or some similar product. The same concept can be set up in any shop on any major operating system. With test and QA regions, there is usually no protection, but programmers generally develop foolproof strategies for working that prevent these sorts of disruptions.

I can remember some close calls from the past. Once (around 1991), I accidentally reserved a name another programmer was using for a module, and we didn’t have an adequate means to prevent this the way we had implemented our test library procedures with Roscoe RPF’s. That was changed.

Back in the mid 1970s, on a general ledger system at NBC on a Univac 1110 mainframe (advanced in its day) we used high level qualifiers to distinguish test from production versions of the same files. (In IBM MVS JCL, one uses nodes or high level qualifiers in procs to do the same thing). To start a new accounting month, a null file would be copied onto the voucher register accumulation file. But there was absolutely nothing to prevent the qualifiers to get mixed up in a copy statement entered on a terminal, and no one would have caught it until a closing ran. This never happened, thank goodness.

Camden offers a poll to see whether the consultant should reimburse the client and admit his mistake (which is somewhat a separate part of the problem -- can he afford to admit it?). Try his poll, the results may surprise you.

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