The Tolstoy Principle in Action

This is what failure looks like: 50% one-star reviews. The other half is five-star reviews. Assuming these are not all from the app developers themselves, the app apparently can work. It just didn’t work for me, nor for many others.

I call this the Tolstoy principle: All successful apps are alike; each unsuccessful app is unsuccessful in its own way. The end-user does not care that 98% of your back-end infrastructure is running. They care that they can complete their task. And if one critical component fails, your app is a failure. Like this one from my local supermarket chain.

When you build systems, is all the attention lavished on a cool front-end app? Unsexy back-end services are equally important.

Are You Monitoring Your Automated Systems?

It is hard to anticipate the real world. I’m sure the wet concrete on the road in Japan looked just like solid ground to the delivery robot. Consequently, it happily trundled into the urban swamp and got stuck. The story does not report whether the delivery company managed to get their robot out before the concrete hardened…

This is why you need careful monitoring of all the fully automated systems you are deploying. The first line of defense is automated metrics and their normal interval. For a delivery robot, the distance covered over a minute should be greater than zero and less than 270 (if you have limited the robot to e.g. 10 mph). The second line of defense consists of humans who will evaluate the alarms and take appropriate action. The third line of defense are developers who will fix the software and the alarms.

Too many automated systems are simply unleashed and depend on customers to detect that something is wrong and complain. You want to figure out you have a problem before the image of your robot encased in concrete starts trending on Twitter.

Are you Releasing Sub-Standard Systems?

Out of a sample of 5,000 apps, 80% did not live up to a reasonable standard. Are you releasing sub-standard apps or systems?

A company the reviews healthcare apps for the UK National Health Service found many bad examples, including apps that provided complex medical advice without any expert backup, or apps without security updates for several years. They’ve been though 5,000 apps, but there are 370,000 health-themed apps out there.

As a CIO, look in your systems list for information about applicable regulation. For every system, you should see a list of what regulations (GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA etc.) apply to that system, and the name of the person who has certified that this list is complete. For every regulation, you should also see the name of the person who certify that the system complies. If you don’t have that information in your systems list, you are probably releasing sub-standard systems.