The need to Educate your Client
On August 9, 2016 the Australian Bureau of Statistics launched the first ever “eCensus”, calling on over 15 million Australian households to complete their census online. The results were catastrophic, with the failed site allegedly DDoS’d and taken offline for over 48 hours in what is probably the first failed census in modern Western history.
Many have blamed the technology. Certainly, this is true. But in this post I am interested in how those poor technology decisions came to be when they were so obviously and completely inappropriate for the solution required.
In two weeks since, tech pundits have spewed forth vitriol and disgust at how overwhelmingly under-prepared the Bureau was for an entirely predictable volume of traffic. I myself have taken part in many of these conversations, and have enjoyed working with friends and colleagues as we hypothesised how we would have ‘gotten it right’.
As many have rightly pointed out, the challenges that the Bureau faced were solved problems. Scalability, resilience in the face of denial of service attacks, not using SSLv3, these were all old problems, and frankly boring problems that are too easily solved.
Spending Money in all the Wrong Places
So how then, did they get it go so thoroughly and completely wrong? Were the engineers responsible for building this hardware simply incompetent? I cannot say, but I’m certainly prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.
What we can say with certainty is that this particular client certainly wasn’t tight-fisted. Over $350,000 was spent on load testing software licenses alone, so they clearly had money to spend.
So for the sake of argument, let us assume that the engineers on the project saw the potential for calamity, and tried to warn their client (the Bureau) of their impending embarrassment.
Technology isn’t the problem
Okay, so clearly technology was the problem. But my point is that technology was chosen - ultimately by the client - based on education that would hopefully have been received by the agency designing and delivering the solution. But if that education was poorly delivered, then poor decisions will result.
Nonsense in. Nonsense out.
I would argue that much of this poor decision making came down to a resistance to cloud technology, with many of it’s scaling and security benefits swept aside in favour of better-known, more trusted solutions.
Consider that you advise your client that: ”We need to auto-scale up to very high levels, let’s put this in the cloud”
To which the client righty objects: ”Heck no. This is precious, highly personal data. We must put it in systems we own”
No cloud then. End of story, right?
Address the problem, not the objection
If you accepted this on face value, you are accepting the objection, not the problem. The problem in this example is that the client needs to be certain that the underlying provider of the infrastructure cannot access the data they store within it.
By taking on the objection that they must own the infrastructure, you are left with very few options. By shifting the focus of discussion back to the underlying problem, you can work through solutions to data security, rather than who owns the hardware.
I hope that at this point, you can see that solutions to the problem, and the objection, are significantly different.
Educate your client, it’s what they pay you for
So if you were the agency working with the Bureau on a project that you knew was doomed - as many others have already pointed out was highly likely - how then can you manage communication with your client to have them see that risk and take action?
I would argue that the solution is to educate. You can simply tell your client what to do and they will either agree or disagree. But if you take the time to sit down and educate your client and have them understand how you arrived at your recommendation, they will likely follow your logic and agree.
At the very least, if your client understands your reasoning, you can have a more informed discussion about which solution is the right solution, leaving both of you feeling more informed and more confident.