How To Match Modernization Projects and Business Strategy
April 12, 2010 Dan Burger
You may know it as application modernization, but depending on who’s doing the talking, you might also find terms like application rationalization and enterprise modernization used to describe similar IT projects. Everyone agrees, however, that success incorporates a business plan. Whether your business runs on an IBM i (iSeries and AS/400 terminology preferences accepted), Microsoft Windows, Hewlett-Packard HP-UX, Oracle Solaris Unix, or any other platform makes no difference. Modernization is not something only one set of platforms have to cope with. They all have issues.
“One of the first things I try to dispel,” says Tim Hahn, IBM’s chief architect for enterprise modernization tools, “is that enterprise modernization is not a euphemism for replacement or re-hosting or retirement. It’s looking at the overall enterprise application portfolio, understanding what your strategic business goals are, and then applying the appropriate attention to the application portfolio with respect to the business goals you have. It is looking at your software and systems portfolio, understanding where you want to make investments, and then making appropriate investments relative to where you want to take the company.”
Hahn, a keynote speaker at the recent SHARE conference in Seattle, strongly believes in the alignment of IT goals with those of the business’ bottom line. SHARE is a user-focused, professional networking and education-oriented organization primarily consisting of IBM mainframe customers. In many respects, it functions as COMMON does for the Power Systems users. The average corporate member, however, more closely resembles the AS/400 Large User Group. These are huge enterprises.
From Hahn’s perspective, questions about platform choice and strategic direction face every customer no matter what platform they are currently using.
“The first thing you have to address is not how your teams are doing things, but what they are working on that is strategic to your business,” Hahn advises. “If you can show the IT group is helping the CIO be agile and innovative and quick to respond to change, they are an asset and not a liability.”
The reason Hahn prefers the term enterprise modernization is because it goes beyond application modernization. Application modernization plays a huge role in enterprise modernization and is the single aspect that attracts the most attention, but it is short-sighted to stop there.
Beyond the applications there are factors such as enterprise architecture assessments dealing with the systems that support the applications. Certain applications are going to be critical to the business. Others are going to be ancillary. Architecture assessments are designed to take this into account, but also to consider many additional factors. What is almost assured is that it will seldom, almost never, make sense to eliminate systems that run critical apps.
Before any conclusions are reached, the list of considerations will include the skill sets of the current staff and what might have to be acquired, the organization’s structure in terms of departments and geography, business alliances and partnerships, business goals, the capabilities of the current computing systems relevant to the power needed to meet current and future business objectives, and understanding the value of past investments in the existing systems.
Application portfolio assessment will take all these factors into account. And when the applications themselves are analyzed, the details will include code analysis; the feasibility for redesign and reuse of existing software; and the potential for managing existing software across multiple apps in a repeatable, structured manner. It helps if you can identify who is using which applications, so the modernization project can move forward in a coordinated fashion.
Another thing about application portfolio assessments worth mentioning is that they are not a one-shot deal. Because what’s new today is legacy tomorrow, and more importantly, because businesses need to be flexible enough to change strategies when circumstances call for it, modernization is a continually moving target. Application assessments should be performed regularly so the development process stays in step with business planning. Organizations change strategies, so portfolios must change accordingly. The same questions need to be asked and answered over and over again.
Another red flag that Hahn raised while having a discussion with IT Jungle last week concerned the frequently occurring disconnect between organizations’ business departments and IT department. Getting everyone on the same page is a common problem in most companies, not just in reference to modernization projects, but in almost any projects involving business units and IT. Requests tend to be unrealistic and expectations can put IT in a position of over-promising what it can deliver.
“The struggles are something I hear about in almost every organization I talk to,” Hahn says. “They point to something that is probably the most critical element in making enterprise modernization work–improving communication so people can work together.”
Facilitating collaborative efforts is one of the most popular topics in IT. Not surprisingly, IBM’s Rational tool division has already targeted this issue and offers software designed to confront the communication breakdowns that swamp numerous business/IT “cooperative” ventures.
“When goals are written and checked frequently, there’s a better chance to deflect what might be short-term, squeaky-wheel projects from deferring progress on strategic goals,” Hahn says. “Without writing down goals, it’s also very hard to assess progress. Tools are available to help facilitate discussions and get the appropriate investments focused on the right elements of the application infrastructure.”
Two products in the Rational toolkit that Hahn mentioned are Rational System Architect (RSA) and Rational Focal Point (RFP).
RSA helps organizations understand their overall enterprise architecture, by diagramming the architecture, indicating the dependencies that exist between elements of the infrastructure, and providing a record of where applications reside. It allows these characteristics to be visualized in a platform-independent manner.
RFP is used to construct an information model of an application portfolio. It provides information about each of an application’s elements. For example, that info might include the amount of development resources spent each year on a specific application, which could point out the relative importance of an application to strategic business goals. RFP can also be used to map the complexity of the application and certain metrics defined by user-selected criteria. The information gathered can be used to better understand which applications most need to be updated relative to business goals.
Because past modernization projects frequently have been handled in a hodge-podge fashion–perhaps on a department-by-department basis without attention to an enterprise-wide plan or an overall business strategy–hurdling this obstacle is one of the keys to success.
“It’s never only a question of rewriting or retiring applications,” Hahn says. “It’s more important to understand the right solution and the right approach for the set of apps that you focus on. It’s about investing appropriately in a set of applications or components to address the business goals.”
Replacement is not the only answer and is not always the right answer.
“It could be the appropriate answer once you understand the relationship of the app to the strategic business goals,” says Hahn. “Make that decision with enterprise architecture and strategic goals in mind, and invest in things that are driving the business forward. Every organization, regardless of the particular set of hardware infrastructure that is currently deployed, is faced with decisions about where they want to go in the future. Where they want to take strategic applications is common to all.”