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Originally published January 17, 2013
IT is in crisis. IT organizations cannot deliver solutions at the speed demanded by changing business conditions, new regulations, and operational innovations. CIOs recognize this: the majority of them say they “can’t implement fast enough to meet business goals”1 – their top obstacle for IT support of the business. This reflects the impatience of CIOs and their business partners with the current level of IT performance.
IT is too slow, too complex, and too far behind in introducing new technologies that can help the business meet its objectives. Business units are responding to IT as an obstacle by relying on their staffs to process information, reducing their need for IT support. The Corporate Executive Board reports2 that “IT employees will account for a smaller percentage of total employees .... and that more IT is being done, formally or informally, within the company but outside [the] IT function.” Shadow IT in business units bypasses IT, grows at the expense of IT, and provides departmental rather than enterprise solutions.
Business unit shadow IT work adds to the already large number of information silos, conflicting values and definitions of data, and ever-more-complex data manipulation and integration challenges that exist in every business. In other words, shadow IT, including SaaS solutions, adds more and more software and information silos that increase IT complexity.
It does not need to be this way! This article will describe the core problem driving the crisis in IT and explore the nature of the IT crisis and the challenges it presents. Part 2 of this series will describe how IT can overcome the IT crisis and become a business enabler.
The core problem of the IT crisis is the way IT solutions are built, installed, and modified: application by application, with little regard for simplifying information silos and resolving associated data issues and inconsistent rules. This application by application approach uses methods and tools that are not much evolved from what they were decades ago. Yes, today we have the Internet, mobile devices, smart devices, and new programming languages and IT tools. But the way an IT solution is developed for any technology, old or new, is the same: software architects, engineers, and programmers are tasked to design, build, install, or modify an IT solution or business application. Unlike much business work, IT tasks have not changed for decades.
Two major challenges, and several supporting factors, must be addressed for IT to cease being an obstacle to the business. These are:
The supporting factors that contribute to these challenges and help make IT an obstacle to the business are:
This, then, is the IT crisis: the inability of IT to implement business solutions quickly with the resources available. For IT to stop being an obstacle to the business, IT must rethink and change the way it operates. But first, IT must confront what I call the IT "hodge-podge" – the IT operations resulting from the challenges and factors discussed above.
Consider the operational and technical complexity IT deals with today – a wide variety of applications that duplicate functions, data, and business rules, written in a variety of programming languages that employ a range of transaction and data management technologies to integrate application operations and information.
I call this accumulated complexity the IT hodge-podge. A driving factor in this complexity is the way that technology evolves when new technologies get incorporated into business processes and business operations. New technology coexists with legacy technologies already in place. Consider this technical framework representing the range of solutions, applications, technologies, and more that IT supports and uses to support business processes and operations:
“No company sets out to create convoluted processes supported – sometimes thwarted – by layers of overly complicated technology. But too often, that's what we face. Applications that require days of training but still generate streams of calls to the help desk. Databases and tools too old for vendors to support, but too vital for CIOs to shut down. Data centers choked with servers and wiring, connected to more just like it.” 4CIO Magazine calls this accumulated complexity Moore’s Flaw, recognizing that accommodating technology change is not simple and does not occur at the rate of change described by Moore’s Law, popularly interpreted as a doubling of technical capability (processing power, data storage density, transistors per integrated circuit, and so forth) every 18-24 months. For IT, “Keeping up with this flood tide [of technology] quickly becomes too difficult (and costly) for anyone to manage.“5
A business design that is complete and consistent is equivalent to an IT solution. Using technology, a well-defined business design can be used to generate business application software and eliminate the time and effort required for application architects, software engineers, or programmers to deliver the solution. In other words, it is possible to have IT solutions delivered instantly! This means a business design is congruent with its application software when this is enforced by technology. Another way to think of this is that the documentation, when implemented by technology, is the software.
The business design does not tightly couple the IT solution to the business it supports. However, while the IT solution does remain coupled to the underlying technology platforms it uses, this coupling is not problematic because the application software can be computer generated instantly. Therefore, a change in underlying technology can be performed easily by regenerating the application for the new platform, without significant manpower, time, or cost. This means programming is disposable and easily redone rather than maintained. Maintaining a business design keeps IT involved with the business rather than with programs, technology platforms, databases, and so forth.To succeed with this new paradigm requires technology that allows IT to capture business designs, validate them for completeness and consistency, and generate complete applications, including database schema, application software, and management and governance. New technology can replace the common IT tools used to support management and control of infrastructure, databases, applications, and application work products produced by architects, engineers, and programmers.
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