I heard this story from another programmer when I was at Volkswagen Canada. I hope it’s true:
In the early 80s, Volkswagen AG’s IT department was trying to figure out how to get updated price lists from their mainframe to computers in dealerships in Germany. The transfer rate between the mainframe and the dealerships was pitiful by today’s standards and it would have taken days or weeks to send these files.
The IT department reviewed their options but the choices all involved massive equipment changes with fabulous costs. Installation and leasing fees for workable transfer rates would have bankrupted most dealerships. The IT folks were stumped.
One of the IT folks was sharing some idle chit-chat with one of the Operations folks and mentioned the problem. The Operations person, let’s call him Jürgen, asked if the list could be put on something portable and shipped. The IT person, how about Klaus, said “Sure. But shipping would be too slow and too expensive.”
Jürgen said “Not if we put the files on the parts truck. The truck already goes from HQ to every dealership every day. You can have daily updates and practically free shipping.”
I liked this solution. It was neat and tidy and was implemented with a minimum of fuss.
The moral that I got from this is that IT problems don’t have to have IT solutions. When I look at a problem, I try to review where the starting point is and where I’m trying to get to. This helps me avoid situations where I’m so focused on getting past a locked front door that I don’t check the other doors.
Years later, someone invented a box for people to think outside of. This was one of those.