Duty bound

It's 1999, and this programmer pilot fish gets a new assignment: create software to help recover the import duties for some of the components in products his company manufactures.

"This 'duty drawback' process is quite involved," fish says. "It requires tracking every foreign purchase of components, what items each component was used in, if it was scrapped, where the final product shipped and if it was shipped out of the country -- in which case we could claim 99 percent of the import duties we paid on all foreign components.

"This was all being done manually by a woman in the shipping office who reported to the shipping manager."

Fish travels to several meetings to learn more about the requirements he has to implement. Then he works for months and months with the shipping-office user as he implements the process in Cobol for the mainframe.

And at last it's finished: The final reports that fish's software generates will just need to be copied to the government forms and submitted to Customs for the drawback.

But just before the software is to be moved into production, the user learns that the information can be filed electronically -- and she promptly insists that fish change the reporting process and create the files for electronic reporting instead.

Fish talks with his boss. They decide the forms are easy enough to fill out with the reports from fish's software right now, and doing the electronic reporting is something that can be revisited later.

The user isn't happy, and refuses to fill out any forms for drawback. Fish and his boss refuse to create the files for electronic transfer.

And there it stands. "We went to many executives in the company to try and get her to fill out the forms, but somehow she was able to convince the shipping manager that it was too difficult," grumbles fish. "It was a lot more difficult before I created all the reports, because she was doing the entire process manually.

"In 2002, our company was purchased by a local competitor and we switched from the mainframe to a midrange server. All my work was lost -- and she never filled out a form to get the drawback."

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