A few weeks ago I was in a department store and found some expensive dinnerware that was on a half price sale. I also noticed that some of the items were priced quite differently to the advertised 50 percent discount. Several were much cheaper than this, while a few others were actually 10 times more expensive than the regular price. In addition I had two personal discounts that I could apply to any purchase. After picking out the dinnerware items that were the best buy, I went to the checkout. The mispricing and my personal discounts layered on top of the special sale were more than the terminal could handle. "But don't worry," said the sales clerk, "I can get round it." Indeed she could. I watched as she used a series of manual overrides and what she called "special ways of doing things" to input a long series of transactions. The clerk warned me that my receipt would look a bit odd, but the final figure was the cost that I had calculated. That was what I paid, and I walked away happy.

This incident reminded me of something all IT professionals have come across at some point, which is "gaming the system." This can roughly be defined as using a computerized system to process data or yield a result for which the system was not designed. Users, especially system operators, usually engage in this kind of behavior to get their work done in what they would call a more efficient or effective manner. Occasionally, there may be more sinister motives, but I have never personally encountered instances of fraud, although we all know that it can occur. Whatever the motives, gaming the system deeply offends the sensibilities of most IT professionals. The reason is that IT professionals spend a lot of time and effort getting the logic of systems right. Whether using traditional programming or business rules engines, IT professionals strive to get what they consider to be the correct set of business rules implemented in a system. When users game the system it seems as if all this hard work is being repudiated.

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