About four months ago, I helped a client put an application into production. This client has a mix of internal and external customers, and those customers are essentially captive (they have little choice about using this application). As with any new application, there are infrastructure headaches, customer questions, training issues, and the like.
I was talking with someone today about a support issue, and I asked how they client was tracking calls, issues, and so on. "Oh, we're not tracking them." Ah. And we talked about their customer service staff. "Well, they're not so much customer service as they are department secretaries that take customer calls." I see. "But there's a help desk downstairs - I've seen it," I said. It turns out that the help desk isn't staffed all the time.
Why? No money. And all the while, the customer calls are coming in, and the secretaries are doing what they can to help these poor customers, who don't have a choice but to keep soldiering on.
This organization is probably closer to the norm than we'd like to imagine. It's pretty common, in fact, to look at the development price for an application and completely ignore the ongoing cost to maintain the system.
Purchased software is no less immune to this problem. I've helped customers implement CRM systems, for instance, and a critical success factor is the ability an willingness for the customer to invest the time of their employees in the care of the system. A CRM system is only as good as its data, and even the best systems require data maintenance and cleanup. Duplicate records need to be merged, assignments need to be fixed, and dead data needs to be scrubbed. Failure to invest in these activities will doom your system to obsolescence.
When your son or daughter wants to bring home a pet, most of us are comfortable explaining the responsibility of pet ownership. "If you want a dog, you're going to have to take care of it."
But how many people apply this to their applications?
By the way, if you like the picture at the beginning of this post, check out http://www.imagechef.com/ - you can choose from dozens of stock photo backgrounds and add your own stylized text - pretty cool.