Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Long tail of IT apps
For most companies that got started with their IT journey in the era of the mainframe, their journey through the evolution of technology created problem of the plenty. Client-server was a favourite for department apps, and the browser made proliferation easier beyond the department. With X-base it was easy to create small specific purpose apps; even users could churn some code that soon turned mission critical. The ERP attempted to consolidate all processes and apps, but most survived the onslaught citing unaligned ERP processes or mission critical status. The cloud now adds to the complexity by making it easier for new apps to flourish.
Every company thus maintains consultants (sometimes ex-employees who developed the apps or maintained them before retiring), vendor relationships, or deadweight to sustain the process these apps enable. Esoteric technologies requiring some antiquated infrastructure continually escapes the axe whenever renewal is discussed. Proportionately, larger the company, bigger the number of apps it has. Examples that I have observed include more than 40 instances of core ERP; another proclaimed build-up of 8000 apps over a 25 year legacy. Many did the same thing for different people using different technologies, but neither wanted to change to the other.
How do these apps defy all attempts at eradication and survive even the strongest attempt to weed them out ? Their patron saints are strongly entrenched in the corporate labyrinth and any change is touted as disruptive to the business. The CIO after a few attempts gives up in favour of bigger battles to fight with higher business impact thus leaving the long tail of applications wagging the IT function more often than pleasant. Thus many people within the enterprise continue to exist to keep the machinery chugging despite options of a better way of life.
An interesting phenomenon was recently narrated to me by a much acclaimed CIO of a well-known and progressive company when his users started defending a not so good a system. This app was a sore point with the functional owner as well as the IT folks with an unusable interface and complex execution of processes. Everyone hated it and it attracted jest and ire in every management meeting. With no change being pushed from the function, the CIO finally decided to do something about it and started an initiative to replace the solution. This is despite the fact the new app offering a significantly superior experience and ease of administration.
Is this only about change management or is the issue much larger ? I believe that the CIO should task some of his/her team members to systemically go behind the hidden long tail apps to wipe them off. When they are working, no one is complaining; they give sleepless nights to IT when they fail. Is there an easy way out ? No, so keep on pushing, nothing good came out of staying put and maintaining status quo. Change is always difficult, but change is the only constant.
If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.