The CIO Who Admitted Too Much

It has been said that CIOs at large companies today have limited direct power and—more than almost any other C-level executive—need to push the IT/business agenda by persuasion and by maintaining good relations with other stakeholders.

Taking that to heart, the CIO of Overstock.com recently sent off a note to key business partners taking the heat for a wide range of technologies that weren’t working out.

The letter from CIO Shawn Schwegman—which was signed “Humbly”—did not mince words.

“I’ll start by saying that the vast majority of system problems we have are problems related to updates,” Schwegman wrote. “These update problems have been manifesting themselves as inventory update failures, missing orders, missing images, incorrect status synchs, etc.

“At the end of the day, all of these problems boil down to Overstock’s failure (read, my failure) to architect a system that can handle real-time updates properly,” Schwegman wrote.

“I cannot apologize enough for both the number of problems you all have had to deal with and for the length of time you’ve been plagued with these problems. I consider this one of my greatest failures over the last two years and I am terribly sorry.”

Schwegman went on to describe problems with the interactions of the Oracle database and a Vcommerce database, an effort that he labeled “horribly architected.”

“In the current system, inventory updates, orders, image data, status changes, etc., are all written to small files which are then sent back and forth between systems.

“The sending system writes and sends the file and automatically assumes that the receiving system processed the file,” he wrote.

“This ‘fire and forget’ approach is killing us. In reality, a file might not send properly, become corrupted in transfer or produce errors when the receiving system attempts to process it. In most cases, we don’t know when we have problems. The architecture is horribly architected.”

Click here to read more about Overstock.com’s upgrade efforts and the kind of improvements it is seeking.

Schwegman then said the one thing every company wants to hear from its distributor’s CIO.

“It’s critically important that I prepare you for the worst,” he wrote as he described a major Oracle upgrade and added that he “expects it to get worse in the short term,” and better eventually.

Next page: The truth will (leak) out.

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