The Interpretation of Dreams: John Weinshel and Russ Kohn

When should the computer make a decision and when should the user? The business rules around propagating changes in a complex system, for instance, can become so subtle as to best be left to humans. But when is that point reached? Or, how we choose between tightly defined validation at the field level, fully locked down dev efforts, and in implementations that, say, allow nearly anything to be entered and then validate at various milestones, and on different types of milestones such as order status promotion vs pre reporting?

The common ground here is, how do we talk to the client about these subtle problems? Some developers prefer to tightly lock down the system and then back off, as the client asks for more control, sort of like tuning a stringed instrument down a hair too far and then bringing it back up to the desired pitch. That approach is likely to produce a lot of pushback ('why can't we just enter the dollar amount right on the view page?'). John and Russ will briefly present a couple of case studies that illustrate these issues, and then turn to the room for help and suggestions.

'Propagation of changes' here means 'how do you handle a change made in one place that may or may not affect other things, both upstream, downstream, and sideways?'

An example from a system for travel industry: users attach up to 3 photos to a hotel record. These images are used in countless places-- online, proposals, custom itinerary forms, scheduled itinerary forms, final itinerary forms, letters sent to sold and prospective passengers, etc. Now the owner of one of the images rescinds their license. Or a manager decides to use a different image. Or change the existing order. Someone has to decide (too subtle for a computer to do it) to where the changes should be passed, and the developer has to build an interface that gives them the information they need to make intelligent choices, allowing both zooming in on 'maybe' cases and one-click mass propagation to checked targets. In any of these targets, the images may have already been changed for local use reasons. That doesn't rule them out as a target; it just means they require more attention.

Or, a solution for a school or other institution: a vendor to the cafeteria changes the ingredients of a product they supply, adding or removing something that would trigger a health/religious based restriction (nuts, pork, wheat, etc.). Someone has to decide whose menu should change, how the appropriate people are notified, and how those notifications are confirmed to make sure someone doesn't eat what they oughtn't, as well as whose responsibility that first bite is.

These aren't particularly difficult or sexy technical issues; the problems revolve more around getting the interface to reflect the client's business rules in the most economical (of space and clicks) yet comprehensive manner.


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