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Unplanned Obsolescence

Unplanned Obsolescence

In Two Minds

Jinfonet corporate vice president John Gularson, who specializes in business intelligence (BI) systems, says he typically encounters two different mind-sets when dealing with legacy BI systems. In many cases enterprises are employing a large-scale, stand-alone BI platform that offers a wide breadth of features, most of which are going unused by the majority of end users, while those that are used are frequently insufficiently functional because they were designed to be just a small part of a larger system.

Even though new technologies exist that are solely focused on the most common needs of end users, like Java-based embedded reporting solutions, managers and executives are sometimes reluctant to replace their stand-alone solutions, Gularson says, arguing "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

However, there are also organizations, working off a platform that was developed in-house, that are too emotionally attached to the platform to let it go easily. "Developers and managers spent so much time and effort building the platform that they just can't let go . . . and as a result, growth sputters because evolving reporting requirements are not met efficiently or at all," Gularson says. "More than anything, it's a reluctance to admit that what was once conceptualized, designed and built isn't the best solution any more."

For instance in one government organization Jinfonet began working with, the department was working off a self-built business intelligence platform that was more than a decade old. Management realized a new, streamlined solution was necessary to meet their current reporting and presentation requirements, but the development team, many of whom had spent their entire careers building and maintaining the original system, opposed the idea. Once egos were assuaged and the new tool was implemented, the group immediately noticed that more projects were being successfully completed on time and that decisions were being made, Gularson says.

Rigour Required

Andy Mulholland, group CTO, Capgemini, says fewer and fewer people will be locked into old mind-sets the more time passes, because the rising young managers and executives see the role of technology in a different way from their elders. "As those guys rise up through the ranks - and some are already running business units - their pressure on the way IT functions in the business becomes more acute. Their expectations are higher; their knowledge even of what they think IT should be is very different."

While no CIO can afford to wait for this new generation to take over, it will play a very important role, because if there is no support for change inside a business the business dies, Mulholland says. If you have rising support for change coming from the young Turks - and these people are almost invariably in jobs that are promoting change in the way the company does business - change will come much easier, he says.

"There is something that is going to break the cycle and that is called compliance. Put very simply, compliance breaks the mould because there is no such thing as a compliant application," Mulholland says. "Legacy thinking is fundamentally based around applications that are linked to a department's functional requirements. As soon as you start talking about compliance you are actually talking about trading threads through the business functions that you need to have a view on.

"I actually think compliance is going to be the thing that provides the legitimate reason for changing the way we do things," he says.

Above all though, Capgemini's Freeman says, modernizing organizational thinking requires some rigour and a strong CIO or CEO prepared to understand the services they have to offer the business and to determine the best way of delivering those services, either within the existing infrastructure or a new infrastructure. But he concedes finding the time to take a pause and see what the new world will look like is difficult.

"The challenge we see across all industry sectors is that technology organizations are hard pushed to deliver their operational effectiveness right now. They do not often have a lot of thinking time," Freeman says.

For this reason, organizations would be well advised to give one or two people full responsibility to address those issues. Even technology strategists and technology architects tend to get buried in today's world instead of looking out two to three years, and it can require a leap of faith to say changing the organization's thinking will lead to better service and a lower cost environment long term. It takes a bit of courage to do that, Freeman says, which is probably why few Australian companies, he believes, are heading in the right direction.

"The message we like to give is that small is good," Freeman says. "You can do things incrementally, you can publish services incrementally, and you can start getting that service layer visible to everyone. That is the way to start changing that legacy thinking. That does not require three years of study; it requires that you almost immediately start to understand that services are critical to making those changes visible and making those services visible as soon as possible.

"Our mantra is that an architecture is a bunch of pieces that need to come together. It does not need to be built in one piece: the more nimble you are in using the process tools and the development tools that are available now the more likely you are to end up with a lower cost architecture and less of a new legacy that you going to build for the future."

However, Freeman also believes a general educational program across the organization, designed to make everyone familiar with XML and other new technologies, is very useful. "They do not necessarily have to have an in-depth knowledge of them but should know a bit about them. It's better to educate much more broadly so that they really try to bring everybody up to the same sort of basic level," he says.

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