Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Just to keep the business functioning?

Last week I drove from Boulder to Southern California and stopped by Las Vegas. The week before I had spent several days at the Mandalay Bay convention center participating in the HPTF event, so I was taken aback when I walked into the Mandalay Bay to find another corporate event in full swing. This time it was the “Cisco Live” developer’s event – and I had to smile as the audience of the HP’s premier event and the audience of the Cisco event looked alike – as if they were the very same community.

Lanyard strung around their necks, the ubiquitous black back-packs laden with laptops and brochures, and lengthy lines trailing from the only Starbucks to be seen as you entered the convention center it was just a reminder of how many IT events are held each year and how popular events focused on computer technology have become. In today’s economy, it’s not a surprise to see how intense the demands on IT have become – do more with less, innovate while maintaining everything deployed on the cheap, just to keep the business functioning, and just wring everything you can from investments already made!

Among the messages participants heard at HPTF was how important it was to “Converge! Transform! Innovate!” and wrapped within this message was the story of how much energy was going into “maintaining everything deployed just to keep the business functioning!” Today, 70% of budgets are being consumed in support of legacy systems and applications with only 30% left to innovate. However, I saw more in this message than just rationalizing down to fewer middleware products.

It’s hard not to miss the waste that can come from running multiple database management systems, more than one transaction and / or application server, and with educating operations staff on multiple network and security management platforms. For much of the late ‘80s on through the ‘90s and into this decade, powerful messages were constructed around empowering the business unit, the regional division, and the geo – so much so, that the redundancy and incompatibility that it created may take almost as long to unwind. The headlines being generated by HP (and even IBM) from the decisions taken to aggressively pursue data center consolidation strategies all highlight the disadvantages that have come from pursuing these earlier, decentralized, initiatives.

What are the options, though? Locked away within legacy business logic is so much critical information about how the business keeps functioning – the risk of simply throwing it away and replacing it with something “modern” is way too high for the majority of CIOs. In the past, taking a risk of replacing existing technologies may have been a lot easier to do (and the consequences of failures less likely to end careers), but the tight integration that is present today between businesses, their customers, and their partners represent an ecosystem that often is all-too-fragile and unlikely to survive any service disruption. Customers have choices and can simply elect to go elsewhere, and business partners continue to be only a click away from your company’s competitors!

However, reducing the amount spent on maintaining legacy solutions can still be addressed and pursued in small, incremental steps. As the ’90s and our current decade recede, we began to see some early steps being taken as companies explore moving from simple terminal “green-screens” towards graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and, more recently, to browsers. With better awareness of the protocols and services supporting the web and the browser interfaces, standards emerged for ubiquitous (and inexpensive) web services.

The “services” model evolved and, very quickly, astute companies realized that adding web services powered front-ends to legacy applications bought them time to selectively upgrade business solutions while facilitating modern usage of solutions that kept the business running. Web services turned out to be a lot more than simply applying lipstick on otherwise unattractive legacy applications and became an effective way of externalizing a wealth of applications to audiences that hadn’t even existed back in the early ‘90s – the business could now go “on-line” and compete globally essentially for free, thanks to the easily accessible internet!

Recently I spent time on the comForte web site. It was clear that, for many years, modernization has underpinned much of what comForte has provided to the NonStop community – from simple emulators to green-screen transformations to complete web services product suites that can be deployed today. Through every phase of the business transformation, comForte has developed products and the portfolio has become extensive (the comForte web site contains the tab for products and the link to “modernize” where the product offerings can be viewed). Check it out!

In today’s changed global economic marketplace that is struggling to recover, companies have to compete for every business opportunity. And aggressively! Freeing-up more of the IT budget has become a priority for every CIO. Fortunately, products exist that can help with the modernization process and it’s not necessary to discard the wealth of business logic already accumulated.

Where IT may be still uncertain about web services and the future for externalizing applications as web services, it’s time to start checking vendor web sites! Web services are not a panacea, much less a silver bullet, and there remains a need to be judicious over when to deploy web services, but for companies looking to reverse the 70 : 30 ratio, web services represent the best place to start on a path leading to the type of transformation, and innovation, business is so anxiously looking for!

1 comment:

  1. You make a good point of needing to modernise. More companies need to review their exisiting environment and update where necessary whil they still have the skills and knowledge available. All too often companies have let go employees that understood their environment and are now left with crossing their fingers hoping that it doesn't break!

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