The puzzle that finds us

The ultimate puzzle in Information Technology?

My grandmother hooked me on puzzles during my childhood with crossword and word search games. We bought the word game booklets for the car ride to vacations in St. Petersburg Florida. We also worked on them after school when I spent time at her house waiting for my mom to pick me up after work. Those were some good times.Puzzle

Now, some forty years later, I still love to solve puzzles. Finding or building solutions is what energizes me at work and it is one of the reasons why I chose Information Technology as a professional career. Every week is a new adventure. Systems and hardware will fail. There are business workflows to automate. There are new solutions sold in the marketplace. For me, it’s like that word search game just became tougher to solve!

Perhaps the ultimate IT puzzle is to retire and consolidate aged applications in the enterprise portfolio. Productions applications have roots that run deep into the organizational framework. Applications have embedded logic for business rules, process flows, and client customizations. But over time, applications become outdated based on the underlying support platform, the user-interface, or the knowledge of the technology staff. Additionally applications become repetitive as organizations grow through mergers and acquisitions. Seemingly overnight, the business is faced with decisions about how to best retire and consolidate applications to keep costs in check and systems reliable.  This is the puzzle that finds us at some point. All of us.

Keep the car moving!

Shutting down a production application is tough stuff. It can be disruptive to the departments that rely on the workflow. It can also be disruptive to the clients that rely on the application. My experience is that businesses don’t look to simplify or improve the workflow during an application change, but instead they place requirements that the new application should do everything the older application did. This equates to more complexity. Clients that have large number of customizations on the systems are deeply rooted as well. Business owners usually doesn’t want to inconvenience a client with an application change because there is often no value-add for the client. It’s a risky endeavour!   To retire the application is analogous to changing tires (applications) on a car (business) still running.

My general approach to application retirement.

There is no single answer on how to retire and consolidate applications in the enterprise. Factors could include a wide range of criteria including integrations with an ERP, compliance, the knowledge of support staff, licensing fees, client usage, and order volume.

The high level approach that project teams I have been on have used are:

  • Pick the surviving application based on the criteria most important to the business.
  • Bring the surviving application  online in parallel with the system(s) it is replacing. In the case of an acquisition, it may already be online.
  • All new clients to the business are added on the surviving application.
  • Migrate existing clients or business processes to the surviving application.

The most difficult step is usually the last one. This is the part of the puzzle that requires creativity, patience, and gamesmanship.

Onward and upward!

Photo attribution: Greg Gunn under Creative Commons.