Monday, October 4, 2010

Farm Credit Canada / Financement agricole Canada

This made interesting reading while looking at
Canadian Crown Corporation Farm Credit Canada: "50% cost savings through Canoo!"

Farm Credit Canada was able to develop an entire financial application in less than 6 months, based on UltraLightClient. Canoo provided training and consulting.
  But Canoo is in Basel, Switzerland, not Fredericton or Waterloo.  So here we have Canada's farm lender -(farmers, so heavily subsidized by Canadian tax-payers for generations) - going to a questionable Swiss firm even for the training on their financial system.  And the risk management?  Well, Canoo also lists UBS as a customer ... but Intuitive AKA Pillar1 is also a customer of Canoo. 
Here is the Canoo PDF for FCC/FAC. Here is the video. At one time Saskatchewan politics would have determined that the contract go to CDSL or the like (happily, those days are gone) - but Basel?
Canoo are also the Swiss language experts whose bogus "article" on the topic of ultra-light clients at is repleat with Teutonic grammar.
Here is a quote from the PDF:
Loan Renewal Process

Farm Credit Canada (FCC), a Canadian agricultural lender, has developed its new Loan Renewal Process (LRP) using Canoo's UltraLightClient library. LRP is a system designed to guide users through the process of renewing a loan and to provide all the necessary information, which is retrieved from multiple systems, at the users' fingertips.

The application was originally coded with JSF technology, however multiple problems caused FCC to explore alternatives. ULC proved to have many benefits in addition to solving some of the key problems FCC had found with JSF. One of the most obvious benefits was fast development; FCC developers were able to learn ULC and rewrite the entire application in less than 6 months. The application was rolled out to over 800 employees across Canada starting in March 2006.

This project has significantly improved the speed and efficiency of employees performing this function. It was implemented and rolled out as part of FCC's information portal.
What I now wonder is who messed up with the JSF if indeed this was just "renewal" - not unlike renegotiating a mortgage ...

Jargon: ULC is "UltraLightClient" and JSF is JavaServer Faces.
But with so few small farmers left in Canada, the risk management issues are not quite those of predatory mortgage lending.  All the same, was there no Canadian firm - not even in Kelowna - who bid on this?  And to fly in trainers and consultants from Basel? (Don't get me wrong, I love Basel as much as Berne.)
Ever since the medical software fiasco this past year in Minnesota, tax-payers should take note of systems failures in government and crown corporations.  Where is the IT Ombudsman?  Who audited that 50% savings claim?

An interested journalist might start with the mail list.  Here is an interview with the senior developer in Regina, an old-hand from CDSL, Greg Hutchinson:

The article and the mail provide some dates (there are none at the Canoo site and none in the PDF other than the 2006 rollout to 800 employees.)  The news article is dated 07/25/2006.

So here is what we are to believe: Hutchinson or his superiors could find no North American shop to write Java Swing apps on the desktop - let alone train the users ( I suspect Canoo is exaggerating and only "trained the trainers" or "trained the dev team mentors.")  And what "consulting" could be required for Swing app's on the desktop with someone as experienced and talented as Hutchinson using a Java library?

Here is Hutchison on YouTube.  The oddest claim is that the "prototype" could be "switched" to Canoo. So the prototype was in JSF?  But since when does one do anything other than "switch" to an implementation after a prototype? Well, bear in mind, they are using eXtreme Programming and Hutchinson comes out of Cobol + Smalltalk in IBM banking.  In Smalltalk, it was notorious that the prototype would go on to be the basis of the application.  In the 2008 promo video, Hutchinson claims that the Regina team is "twice as productive" with Canoo - is that the 50% savings that independent auditors could validate?  And the long-term cost to the losing CDN bidders?  Or was there no bidding? If it is true, that for 1499$ USD per developer, your IT s/w team can be twice as productive in RIA with Java, then move over OSI, burn those GPL's, this is the silver bullet.  Ah, yes, those training and consulting fees for those, uh, lill' issues along the way ... Or is that "Twice-as-productive as-if stuck in JSF+portal in it's-early-days-yet mode" ? And it true as claimed - look out off-shore critics as Canoo is paired-up with none other than Tata.  And some of those Mumbai/Hyderabad/Chenai consultants could learn Smalltalk with just time for a nap in Amsterdam Schipol on the way to the mid-west ... so this will be a snap ...

Here's a 2006 manager advert on NetworkWorld

So where does this place Java software development in Canada after years of "design patterns" and "agile development"?  Unable to provide a desktop Swing client for farm loan renewals (the prototype took 6 months, but implementation would only have 5 months ... hmm.  Was this a JSF + portals issue or a project issue?)

I spent about 18 months watching one of these portal projects as the "legacy Smalltalk" guy out in L.A. during this same time-frame, so I feel confident that there is a story here that could be told - if only in confidence to the CDN tax-payers' IT Ombuds,er,person.

Page 1: at the time undertaken (c. 2005), the "prototype" was being built on "the bleeding age" ( or, as I prefer, "just a tad too close to the bog".)  But Swing on the desktop dates to Java 1.2 - and here is where you have to hope that any tax-payers IT Ombudsperson would also have a graduate degree in modern history and a liking for documents.  This is not just applied science in its electrical engineering variant or mere "sociology of IT."  Questions of evidence and documents and the sceptical scrutiny if not rejection of post-hoc verbal reports are unavoidable.

But how many IT pundits have a graduate degree in history? 

We are told that after three years the users report that they are happy: but were the users told of the 5 months constraint and the choice of the tiny Swiss firm over any Canadian bidder?

Page 2: I am by no means a nationalist. But we are talking about a Canadian Crown Corporation with board members from almost every Canadian province.  As if there are no subsidized farmers near Kelowna, Waterloo, Kenata or Fredericton renewing those loans ... Now lets go take a look at farm subsidies over there in Europe ...

Page 3: What is the case for GPL or at least OSI software with taxpayer-owned corporations if one cannot make a case for requiring Canadian bids?  Does Canoo have a Eurpean software patent? A Swiss patent?

One possibility is that audit by the federal Office of the Auditor General would determine that FCC/FAC got good value in the Ultralightclient library and attendant fees.  But that might be without looking at the public monies thrown at "high tech" in the name of "Canadian" software development in Kelowna, Kanata, Waterloo, Fredericton and perhaps even Regina. But then there is the global success of firms such as RIM and the BlackBerry and the QnxOS to be found next year in the RIM mobile "pad".  Software is global. Or is it really?

What would be the Swiss or Indian equivalents of FCC and where are their software library purchases?  What is the cost to Canadian tax-payers that no Canadian ISV has bragging rights to this loan renewal success at a federal Crown Corporation?  Was Canoo the beneficiary of Swiss government largese?

Some clarity can be gained by remembering the slogan, "Free as in speech, not as in beer!"  The problem is not in paying for software.

Here is a quote from the Canoo web pages:
"swiss made software" is the new label of the Swiss software industry. International software companies such as Google, IBM or Microsoft have discovered the Swiss values - quality, reliability and precision - in software development and have established important research and development centers in Switzerland.

And to what extent did Canoo leverage their experience on this Canadian project?  And where is their Canadian office planned location - in Fredericton or in Waterloo? You can bet the family farm it will not be in Regina.  But Canoo are also linguistics experts in Switzerland, so if we ever have government documents to translate ...

Here is that red-and-white Swiss logo.