Make a change, and get more money to spend on new development initiatives
Why is it important to join forces around your development initiatives, your application management and your long-term business direction? Why do care about enterprise architecture and why should your management bother?
In this article I want to share some of my experience from connecting long-term strategy with day-to-day business to get control of the evolution of your application landscape. I will add some more perspective and thoughts further on in coming articles.
Successful application management is linked to the company’s long-term vision
Application management or system administration is often an essential part of a business or organization’s IT operations. Often the management activities could constitute of 70-90% of the overall IT cost and that is an important reason to secure proper management operations. It’s usually in the context of application management we identify new opportunities and discuss development needs. This often happens when representatives from the business meet up with the IT department and work together to enhance or create better IT solutions to the users.
This is one of the reasons why it is important to make use of your organization’s overall vision and business strategy ensuring the transparency and traceability to both development and application management. Many companies has not yet succeeded to coordinate their development, their application management and their long term need of evolution. Development activities working in the time perspective of the project lifecycles, Application management often works with one year plans for individual applications or maybe for a group of similar applications. We need something that could glue everything together and support the overall picture of where we want to go in a couple of years. Additional success factors are that the business is deeply involved and business people are in the driving seat managing the application management work to ensure that we do the right things based on goals, needs and priorities.
Many companies and organizations are struggling with challenges around changing their existing IT landscape. They have from historical reasons mainly landed in different steep pipe solutions, which often are heavily technology oriented. Today and tomorrow their current As-Is and To-Be application landscape will meet a set of new requirements that includes a lot more collaboration within and beyond organizational boundaries and with a shift to a more process and customer oriented approach. This creates greater opportunities to collaborate and share common ways of working while making it possible to clearly separate the business rules, information, and applications.
This leads to a greater need for the ability to manage and dealing with change to allow for example rapid modification of applications based on new business rules or regulations. The demands in general are to thrive with faster implementation of new/enhanced IT solutions but with unchanged or less cost. We need to be much more agile but we lack many times the qualifications.
One of the key elements in dealing with complexity and controlled change over time is to make use of Enterprise Architecture. For example by creating clear goals which are spread over a couple of years together with an overall description and plan regarding how the business will move to that To-Be situation. This plan should cover Why, What and When. It´s usually in this field your overall enterprise architects have an important role to play, guiding the planning activities that have to be done. My experience points out that there are often gaps between the organizations overall plans and the day-to-day operations. The result is a fuzzy organization with a number of challenges and with a heavily load on the local IT “fire patrol”. The situation is recognized by its many short-term decisions based on fragmented facts and no chance to consider the whole picture. The tactical plan is simply unclear or missing.
You need maps of your city structure so your peers find the way forward.
This is one of those situations in which an organization has a great value in documenting the current situation in the form of a so-called city map. In other words visualize what your landscape look like right now to give your stakeholders the chance to understand and get valuable insights. The next valuable step is to interpret and understand where your company is heading and what that means for your future application landscape. I suggest and hope that you and your management team agree on working with a city map as the next guidance tool for your organization. Let the map point out the direction and visualize how the future landscape will evolve and when – this should end up in a concrete expression of the company strategy. It is these plans that provide the necessary framework and guidance for how the organization should develop their services, their information needs and their need for support of IT in the form of applications and technical infrastructure.
The city map and city plan guides various development initiatives and provide directives to the application management to maintain and further develop their IT soultions. The map gives long-term directives for application management that otherwise often only plan ahead for one year.
- Which of all the organization’s applications nearing retirement?
- Which systems overlap each other and make sense to consolidate?
- How many and who are in the beginning of its life cycle and will continue to evolve?
- Where and when will we get completely new applications and opportunities?
These examples of questions are information that has to be known for spending your money right and they are usually impossible to correctly answer or find at a “lower” level of the organization. It is now the need for having a good central guidance rises. We need a framework and solid ground for being able to make decisions and start the right initiatives. It is usually difficult to find incentives for consolidation and termination of old systems at the lower organization level. This creates often the situation where almost all IT spendings are used to keep the legacy systems alive and no money will be left over for new development. It is also in these situations, organizations tend to develop an ever-larger so-called “technical debt”. This happens when the overall long-term development responsibility is unclear.
As a consequence of a more clearly vision expressed in various city plans we get a better understanding of how different applications may belong together. They may make sense to treat them as a group of applications instead of manage them separately. Logically they may share a lot of attributes, may serve the same user needs or may be based on the same technical environment. If we put them together and make decision upon a better overall understanding we will earn a lot of positive effects. We could share knowledge and competence, we could spend less money and get more needs satisfied through a better collaboration and consolidation. We will have better facts for being able to make the right prioritizing and spend our money on the right stuff. We could put similar application under a common ownership and plan for the future in a much more effective and better way.
That’s when you see the synergies and economies of scale which over time helps the business to manage a sensible balance between operational / management and the opportunity for continuous development. In other words, securing more money and better opportunity to expand your business.
Many large and middle sized companies and administrative public authorities have begun to embrace the above approach. They have started to invest in creating an architectural function or similar that can support the organization to interpret the needs, goals and current capabilities. So far it seems that too many still focusing on manage the development needs but miss the fact that most of your money is spent on your old decisions, the application management activities. If this is true for you, make sure that you pay enough attention on connecting your long-term goals to your ongoing daily maintenance. This will give you better chance to get more money to spend on new development in the end. This is crucial for creating the foundation and being able to both manage long term objectives described in city plans and manage the often one year maintenance plans for all the current applications. This foundation gives the management the missing link for being able to make the right decisions when we for example have contrarious or similar demands. It creates the basis for how they could develop their business in the right way and make prioritizing. (What are doable and when for example)
Don’t bother with the above if your top management shows no or little interest.
I see a clear trend, and many good examples at different levels, where these kinds of transformation journeys have begun and are well underway. These examples include the merging of strategic planning with the architecture function and thus had effective control of what to do and when to do it.
The value of enterprise architecture in general is not in the deliverables itself, it is in the degree of commitment and ownership from business and management. If this lacks then you may have a beautiful piece of paper but if we should be frank, pretty useless. There will be not guidance and less value to business.
I think all good examples in this hood share the same success factor: It is clearly a subject that has to be decided at the CEO level and clearly be supported by the whole executive management team. It is not an “IT question” that could be delegated. It is an important business issue and opportunity, and has to be driven by the business and supported by the management. Enterprise Architects needs to be in a support mode and guide a team of business and IT representatives to be able to create the city-maps and to guide both application maintenance and development activities around the organization. The architects have to support different portfolio initiatives and or program/project offices in the decision and planning activities.
During my 17 years of experience in the field of Enterprise Architecture I have so far never seen a successful overall management of a large application landscape without a close involvement and support from top management and people working and collaborate in a humble way between the business and IT representatives. The good examples often share the fact that the business also has the main responsible for the outcome. Unfortunately, I can’t find these good examples as often as I would like.
What are your experience and opinion about the subject?
Lars Axell, Principal, Senior Certified Enterprise Architect and part of the Capgemini Global Expert Connect team.