George Brady, vp-sales at PDS Software in Blue Bell, "was appalled" two different ways when he read Paul Nussbaum's eye-opening Philadelphia Inquirer story on a consultant's report that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission paid Colorado contractor Ciber Inc. $58 million -- for what should have been a $10-15 million software implementation job -- if it was even needed:

"As a taxpayer and tollpayer," Brady says that was way too much to pay any installer -- and as a boss at a previous Turnpike software vendor, he says he knows there was a much cheaper way.

In 2008, the Turnpike Commission hired Ciber to put in an enterprise-planning resource (ERP) system purchased separately from SAP Americas, the giant Newtown Square software maker that competes with other Big Software giants like Oracle and IBM. That SAP system replaced a 10-year-old human-resources and payroll system pruchased from PDS -- which cost just $300,000 back in 1998 and could have been maintained, instead of replaced, for just $80,000 a year, Brady says.

"We were disappointed to lose them as a customer," says Brady. True, he said, that "some companies, mostly in the public sector, perceive tremendous value in licensing an 'integrated' solution from one vendor" like SAP, rather than a "best-of-breed approach" of buying specialized software from firms like PDS, a 60-person company founded 40 years ago by Navy veteran Steve Brody, and still owned and run by his widow, corporate software veteran Patricia Palmer, and by CEO Charles Jefferies.  

Longtime PDS clients include Wawa markets and Philadelphia's Inglis House; more recent signings include Five Guys Burgers & Fries, NVR Homes, the big Texas law firm Fulbright & Jaworski.

But it's tougher to keep public-sector clients, unlike frugal private enterprises, Brady laments. "That's just the big difference, the way people in government spend money," Brady concluded. "We don't compete against SAP or Oracle. We're comfortable in our own skin. People who want the 'Big Bang," are welcome to it." Though, too often, the extra millions "are not about usability, just perception. Or foolishness."

The result, too often, is Big Software cost overruns: "SAP in Los Angeles, Oracle in San Francisco, tens of millions, it's unbelievable. Like SEPTA, trying to put together their own Smart Card from scratch," instead of an off-the-shelf solution like the BART Card that seems to work pretty well for San Francisco. (Nussbaum notes that Septa, unlike San Francisco, New York and other mass-transit systems, is trying to implement a card that will also work on its turnstile-free suburban trains, along with buses and subways.)