Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Working Around Software

For the project I am currently working on, there is a large document that defines what software is allowed to be used for what tasks. (It also defines what the other companies working on sub-parts of the project must use, what they can use, and what they can pick independently of the main project.) There are certain programs that have been specifically banned from that list. In many cases, there are good reasons to keep certain kinds of software off the list; the inability to put the documents created by the software into a revision control system, inability to maintain appropriate security infrastructure, or simply cost of the software.

What is interesting though, is that there is a relatively simple way to get around this restriction. There are already a fair number of home-grown applications on the list, some of them built on top of existing software. This provides the way to get around the restrictions. The underlying application that is wanted (e.g. MS Access) is packaged into a larger application with a new name (e.g. "OPTIK"). There's an interesting blurring here between an application, customization, and the documents produced. In many ways, it reminds me of legacy systems, where the dividing line between the application and the data was often fuzzy.

I'm interested if similar sitations happen in other tightly controlled environments. I know Zuboff talked about "deviant" use of existing technologies, but this isn't so much deviant use as actually introducing banned technologies in an effort to get the job done. I'm trying to figure out appropriate places to look for this kind of behavior. My current best guess is medical environments may provide similar examples of this kind of technology usage.


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