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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Calling Out Pesky Pachyderms

A roadmap that enables business objectives is the crown-jewel of an Enterprise Architecture (EA) team; however there is a big, white elephant sitting on the key to delivering one. I'm going to call out that elephant; I hope that stating the obvious will help get him out of the room:  Delivering a roadmap to the future cannot be done without transparency and accountability for technology costs  expressed in terms of applications.  The elephant is the the political challenge. This is a simple thing that working-level EAs instinctively know but it appears to get lost in the ether of organizational politics.

Why is this so important? What's more, why is this so difficult?  EA is challenged to create architectures that enable more business delivery while holding down technology annual maintenance costs. Without a clear picture of IT run-the-business costs this cannot be effectively done; these costs may be allocated to per-seat variable, fixed infrastructure and applications. Understanding infrastructure and per seat spend for storage, servers, software maintenance and desktop technology is generally not difficult; companies take depreciation on much of this. The real trick is agreeing to application cost allocation.

Many large organizations that have grown by acquisition and then moved toward IT centralization have an enormous inventory of legacy applications and history of departmental spending on very large applications characterized by low user count, aging technology and point-to-point integrations. Monster ERP applications may have been implemented as part of the effort to centralize. Throw enough of these old and new applications on the pile and you've got a mound of expensive spaghetti. A major component of the enterprise roadmap is the application modernization plan  to 'de-spaghettify' the environment by retiring, replacing, and consolidating - key drivers behind the popularity of SOA, Cloud computing and out-sourcing.

"Let's have a look at the roadmap" says the CIO as architecture slides the application modernization price across the table face down on a piece of paper (with breath held). You can see where this is going. We all know by now that application modernization and consolidation is hugely expensive; organizations cannot get over their gut instinct that it's a game of whack-a-mole - costs eliminated in portfolio A will just pop up over in B. Assigning costs to applications and getting business accountability is absolutely critical to selling the roadmap. When accountability for application costs accepted by the business, board conversations shift from, "why is IT so expensive" to "why do we need all these applications?" Wow, talk about turning a conversation on its head - why is this difficult? Ah, let's get back to the elephant.

Assigning cost accountability to applications forces transparency and leads to board-level attention on individual investment decisions that may cause angst.  All those applications are there because or or more business executives wanted them. When the executives were part of an acquired company or previous management regime, this is not an issue.  When the executives who sponsored applications are still part of the management team and highly vested, you see the problem. Also tested is the political will to over come department noise resulting from discussing the retirement of sacred-cow applications. Don't know how much more plainly to say it - that's the simple truth.

Oscar Wilde said,  "The plain and simple truth is rarely plain and never simple". Couldn't be more true in this situation. The organizational tightrope that must be walked by management to identify and overcome obstacles to application cost allocation can be staggering. The reward for getting the elephant out of the room is business accountability for the hard decisions needed to simplify the application environment despite paranoia about the whack-a-mole game and the 'not my application' syndrome. Making these decisions will fund the roadmap, which is a very good thing.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting perspective. I like your background...I was a system scientist at TRW, Inc. before they were purchased by Northrop Grumman. I was also a Trusted Agent at NORAD keeping track of submarine positions, among other things.

    I invite you to treat the elephant differently. Perhaps, it may work for you as it has for me during my tenure as an EA for Xcel Energy. Consider the tact of positively "stroking" the white elephant with words of comfort and reassurance of his value to the organization and elaborate on his obvious beauty as an excellent white elephant, vice challenging him with overtures prescribing a lowfat diet, and intense cardiovascular regimen.

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  2. Also as with all elephants they should not be eaten in a single sitting. The roadmap has to provide a convincing menu that will assist the digestion and the seating plan for those other that could be invited to the meal.

    To stretch this even further - the diners need to be reminded that the bits of the animal that they all felt individually are actually when seen together the very elephant being presented to them.

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Brian has 21 years of engineering and technology leadership including 12 years as an IT professional. As an Enterprise Architect, Brian has been a leader in establishing Enterprise Architecture Practices in both the Financial Services and Defense industries. He has led the development and implementation of information management strategies, established architecture governance processes, and led multimillion dollar, multiyear program teams. In addition, Brian has extensive experience with web interoperability and data exchange standards established by the W3C and OASIS.