Thursday, 17 July 2014

How I Know Curzon Cinemas Can't Develop Computer Systems

Some background first. The Curzon Cinema chain has a streaming product called Curzon Home Cinema. It was introduced about three years ago, I think, and re-vamped about three-four months ago. I know one thing about the Curzon management, and one about the developers they used. The Curzon management has nobody in it who knows the first thing about commissioning, specifying and testing software. The developers are pretty much, well, missing some tricks.

How do I know this? Read this…

"Are you referring to the Curzon Home Cinema website? Your membership number on our system was actually preceded by a number of zeroes, so your 'true' number was 000000XXXXX. I've removed these zeroes now and the Home Cinema website should recognise XXXXX."

I know. You don’t understand why the programmer next to you is a) rolling on the floor laughing, b) rolling his eyes with an unbelieving expression. He’s thinking what I did.

They stored the membership number with leading zeros? For real? Leading freaking zeros?

"Leading zeros” is what you do when you add 0’s to the front of a number - like a membership number - so that it is the right “length”. Like all bank accounts must be eight digits long, so some of the older ones look like 00123456. The real account number, as stored in the computer as often as not will be 123456, but what gets printed is the ’00’ version. There are reasons why people do this on manual forms. There is no reason why you do it on a computer.

It takes more to store ‘00123456’ than ‘123456’. The first is a string, the second can be stored as a long integer. Strings take longer to process (such as compare to each other) than integers. And furthermore, the number on the back of my membership card is written as a number, not with leading zeros. Nobody who followed the usual development practices would store the membership number with leading zeros, anymore than you would drive on the right in the UK. Seriously.

Anybody who tested the system would ask “Why do I have to enter all the zeros at the front? My customers don’t want to do that. Half the time, they’re going to be drunk and won’t count the right number of noughts. Change it so it’s just the number.” That’s how I know nobody at Curzon knows how to specify and test a computer application.

Anybody who wrote the system would say much the same thing, unless they were user-insensitive dolts. Even then, they will not have worked on any major system that insisted on leading zeros for at least, oh, ten years. Maybe twenty. They must have thought it up all by themselves. Which is why I say they are missing a few tricks.

The entire world moved to the Web a few years ago now. The standards are set by Amazon, who now tell me my orders are ready to collect from my post room sometimes before my post room does, by You Tube, Google, Netflix, iTunes Store and so on. These sites have deep-pocketed parents and set a standard for performance and usability that very few organisations can come close to matching. Organisations like Curzon need to think very carefully before trying to do You Tube for money, because the users are going to have very high expectations for it. Many of which can be met right at the start by having a decent spec ready for the developers. Which is the management’s job.

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