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Keep to Good Faith

I was going through a box of textbooks last week and stumbled upon a copy of the Enron Code of Ethics. I have another one stored away with a form, signed by Ken Lay, that states I have read and will comply with the Enron Code of Ethics.

I was employed at Enron from 2000 through 2002 and was there when the wheels came off. Our department was left intact. Otherwise, whole floors of the Enron building were vacated. It really was a shame, because Enron was a great place to work. Several friends and acquaintances lost most of what they had because of the malfeasance of a greedy few.

This had to be the most blatant example of unethical conduct in the workplace I encountered. There were others, that appeared seemingly minor, ended up costing companies money and talent. Most of these losses were mostly the result of mismanagement and not outright unethical behavior. But, then again, is mismanagement itself unethical?

I book I read recently entitled “A Small Treatise of the Great Virtues, The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life” by Andre Comte-Sponville (Metropolitan Books), talks about truth as “Good Faith”.

He states on page 196, that “at the very least that one speaks the truth about what one believes, and this truth, even if what one believes is false, is less true for all that. Good faith, in this sense, is what we cal sincerity (or truthfulness or candor) and is the opposite of mendacity, hypocrisy, and duplicity, in short, the opposite of bad faith in all its private and public forms.”

In my position at a major hardware/software developer I was told that I “didn’t need to know about a product to sell it.”

At another position, I found that a few fraudulent claims by a contractor caused a company to fork over three quarters of a million dollars for custom software when a fifteen thousand dollar piece of hardware would have an enabled an already existing piece of commercial software to do the job. With a more accurate accountability of the data, I might add.

In fact, the whole program was completely mismanaged, to the detriment of the company, not the contractor. In fact, he was ready for the next program as he had one of his engineers hired in to head up that project. An engineer who didn’t have the slightest idea about our system, much less its theory. Thankfully, we got him transferred out of there and back to design where he belonged.  The contractor was kicked out of the company.

These are straight-forward examples of bad faith. The following are a little harder to classify.

Beware the ulterior motive, especially if the new system you are proposing will impose on someone’s fiefdom.

Data analysis for the existing program consisted of placing a request with the a data analysis group and waiting up to 3 days for results. The system proposed (and later deployed) would give each and every engineer access to an analysis application that they could use to inspect the data one and a half hours after a particular test cycle was completed. A little training and they were ready to go.

Countless hours were spent in useless meetings defending the system. Everybody shut up when the system came up on day one and stayed up through months of testing.

This test/record/analysis cycle fits perfectly into the Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) cycle of genomics research. A successful LIMS implementation in one lab aroused the ire of yet another lab attempting to develop their own solution. Let’s just say a lot of bad faith erupted.

The real loser in the above examples is the company. Money is wasted and talented people go elsewhere.

Biotechnology is a hot commodity right now. Stimulus funding bringing fresh capital to many projects. Companies are leveraging existing corporate products by repackaging them as biotech ready.

National Instruments LabView is one of these. I used it a lot in engineering. Now it’s a big player in the lab, incorporating interfaces for research lab instrumentation.

What is a LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System)? Is it an inventory management system? Is it a data pipeline? Can one size fit all?

Some companies have taken existing Inventory Management Systems and relabeled them as a Laboratory Information Management Systems. (At least the acronym fits.) Most of these systems don’t distinguish between research and manufacturing environments. They also don’t support basic validation of the LIMS application for its intended purpose. No wonder some 80% of LIMS users are dissatisfied.

At a recent conference I talked with researchers from various pharmaceutical companies and they were thoroughly dissatisfied with their LIMS systems. One scientist stated that they had a problem with their LIMS. When they went to report the problem, they found the company was no longer in business.

The latest IT (Information Technology) trends – SaaS, Cloud computing – may work in a business environment , but they won’t translate well to a pharmaceutical research area where they want everything safe behind the firewall.

There are many, many factors that go into developing biotechnology applications. Getting the right people, controlling the political environment, finding or developing the right software – it’s a jungle out there.

Keep to Good Faith and please be careful.

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