Getting Paid

This is one of those posts of frustration, so take it for what it is worth.

I have been doing development work since the very early eighties, and a trend has been becoming more notable in those many, many years. Part of it is probably that the industry has devalued itself with the pretence that software is an entertainment-focused industry. You flop Facebook into place, for example, and it becomes the superficial representation of the industry. That it is a poorly designed consumers-as-products farce is irrelevant. Businesses see it, become distracted by it, and suddenly everything must connect, or be like it, or, worse, become some extension of it. This changes expectations in a way that makes it harder to sell the idea of functional software as a business helper, or at the very least changes how people value what is built to support their operational requirements.

The actual trend though is purely financial. A vast number of businesses seem to consider good, focused development of software as a nickel-and-dime extra. Getting a fair contract price for required software development is tough, and even when possible getting paid is sometimes nearly impossible. It means that custom (and consequently effective) solutions are fast becoming less common. It isn't lack of need , or even lack of recognized need, but that businesses just don't feel like paying for a proper solution when they can get something "close enough" without paying. And I'm not talking about open-source here, either, but the far more problematic application of poorly-fit tools to clearly defined problems. 

A recent client (who shall remain nameless, but is an enormous distributor of entertainment wares) proves the nature of the end-result of devaluing the idea of proper-fit software solutions. They essentially managed a multimillion dollar warehouse system via CSV files, and spreadsheets. Now, I have nothing against either, but the idea that this is a suitable platform for big enterprise management and operations is nonsensical. It creates latency, reporting issues, and data quality concerns when you have to manage across such transport forms. Of course, now the problem is that to change is costly, and scary, so more putty gets lodged into more cracks -- and there is no apparent cohesive approach to solving the real problem, which is the lack of responsive integrative systems on the operational front. 

But again the real issue isn't the poor thinking so much as that even with it there is an apparent sense that there's no need to actually that the provision of software services with any respect. The same client base who will carp about solutions being late (not a problem I've made any of them face) are not so conscientious as to make their payments to their service providers on time. It is as if there is some new level of self-centred entering the world of business, and it seems irrelevant whether the provider is good or indifferent. It seems like there is a new rule that reads, "pay as late as possible, and well past due if possible; screw whether we need this service again." And it is that last part that confuses me.

My clients have universally praised me for my focus, my solutions, and my concerns about their businesses. And yet, of late, I spend an inordinate amount of time chasing them for payments. That providing quality service costs something seems, to many, a foreign concept. Maybe they believe I have a money tree, and it will support the family so well that I will always be present when needed?

I know I'm not the only person in this industry who is experiencing this trend toward indifference about quality of service, quality of solution, and general quality. I talk to many each week who say the same thing, which is that many of their clients are well behind the curve in paying for what they received. And while some lag is always forgiven, it reaches a point where all of them have said the words, "I can't continue in an industry where the quality is irrelevant, and the pay is unreliable." For the world this represents a serious problem, because while the young dogs may provide the next new iPhone app, it is the seasoned developers who provide the applications no one sees, but everyone uses. This squeezing of that talent pool is a critical mass issue the industry will eventually face in a bad way.

Now, I will return to fishing for cash, since my money tree has not bloomed this year...yet.

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