IT Has Become a Business Obstacle Part 1 of a two-part series on the IT crisis
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.
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.
The Core Problem
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.
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.
The IT Hodge-Podge
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.
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CIO Magazine considered the problem of IT complexity and the challenge IT faces when attempting to simplify it:
“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
As an example, consider a recent technology change confronting IT: mobile devices. The paradigm a user of mobile devices operates by is: “Present the data I need when I need it, no matter where I am, where the data is, or what application I’m using.” This includes, as an example, the seamless integration between apps on the mobile device, such as linking directly into a map, phone, or browser application. Like it or not, the mobile experience is setting user expectations that contrast with the often frustrating experience users get from existing IT solutions.
This frustration is a consequence of the past 50 years of IT in business: a focus on applications, a focus that has driven IT away from enterprise data governance and information management. We now live in a world where one can ask, “Why can’t IT make my business applications as easy to use as those on my smartphone or tablet?”
Smartphones, social media applications, and more are transforming the way we live our lives. Yet in business we are stuck in the remnants of our past, as short as that past might be, and its legacy of numerous fragmented business applications and data. This cannot go on if we are to transform IT and make IT into an organization that enables the business.
Changes IT Must MakeIT cannot continue down the never-ending path of increasing and ever-changing technical complexity. “Business today requires rapid responses to changing business needs” according to Bruce Moore, Global Managing Principal of Business Consulting, RCG Global Services. “These rapid responses require quick assessment of the impact of change on the business and the systems that support it. Unfortunately, business processes are not well documented and existing documentation’s alignment with the business and its systems leaves much to be desired.”
Fundamental changes are required to transform IT:
There is a new technology that eliminates problems with eliciting business requirements by using computer-aided software to capture complete and consistent business requirements in business terms that can be validated for completeness and consistency. Complete and consistent specifications can then be used to computer-generate and deliver a custom IT solution instantly.
Think of this as instantaneous electronic outsourcing that reduces the time from a specification to a usable application from months to minutes. This technology builds on BI principles such as clarity of data definitions to avoid semantic confusion, consistent application of business rules, governance and oversight, and more, and is available from InfoNovus Technologies ( www.infonovus.com ).
Focusing so completely on the business, how it operates, the data it uses, the business rules, the user interface, and so forth, rather than existing applications and platforms, will be a major change for IT professionals. The biggest change, however, will be this: delivering a business design is all that IT will need to do to deliver an IT solution.
A New Paradigm for ITAchieving a transformation is not simply a matter of performing the work of delivering IT solutions differently. It is focusing on business operations completely and using technology to perform technical tasks. IT can focus on business design rather than software development.
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.
The time it to begin this transformation to a paradigm of business design is now. Part 2 of this article will describe how IT can transform itself, overcome the IT crisis, and become a business enabler.
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