The Configurator’s Story

A close friend of mine reported the following true story several years ago.

Selection of Syntactic Media Within PeopleSoft

Several years ago, she was working as a consultant installing the PeopleSoft human resources package at a bank. This application would allow, among other things, the bank to keep track of the locations of employment for all of its employees.

As part of the effort, the bank wanted to salvage the data contents of its existing system. In that existing system, the bank had captured the locations not just of where its employees worked, but also of every ATM location that it owned, and had stored this entire list in the same set of data structures.

The bank wanted to keep this information, so when my friend asked them to provide values for PeopleSoft’s “location” table, it included all of these ATM locations, even though no persons were assigned to work at these places. If she had agreed to load all of those locations, then the user interface would have presented too many locations in the drop down component used to assign an employee’s location. With only a dozen or so actual work locations, and hundreds of ATM locations, most of the entries in the drop down window would have been unusable. Finding the right one to assign would be difficult for the users, and lead to mistakes.

The solution was to have the bank reduce the list of locations to be loaded into PeopleSoft to just the core set where employees might be assigned. To accomplish this, she had to convince the bank to find another application to act as the repository to hold the ATM locations. She then to work with them to select the actual work locations out of the list of hundreds of locations.

From this example, it should be recognized that the packaged application might impose limits on the meaning of data its structures can or should be assigned. The fact that the locations were used in the user interface following the operational rule that any record in the location table could be assigned to an employee as a work location, presented a constraint on the allowable values of the data structure. In other words, it forced a particular definition on the structure, and could not be stretched in the manner the bank desired.

This was in obvious contrast with the system the bank was moving from, which had allowed them to keep ATM locations in the same structure as employee locations without unintended consequences.

(One would presume that in the example, the bank probably had written additional custom software to separate the two lists. That’s just a guess of course.)

This example also suggests the real value of having an experienced “configurator” to guide the organization in the establishment of the application. Configurators become familiar with the variations that the syntactic medium  presented by the application can sustain. The more complicated the syntactic medium, then the more capable it is of supporting variation of semantic content. But also, then, the more critically important to success becomes the expertise and experience of the configurator.

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