Several weeks ago, on June 22, MC Press Online hosted a Webcast presented by Extol International entitled "Seven Ways to Deliver Business Results Through Integration." The speaker was Jim F. O'Leary, Vice President of Extol and a well-known IT educator. If you are a programmer, a program manager, a systems analyst, or someone in charge of managing the development team, no doubt you've encountered the dilemma of communicating with your upper management.
The IT Resource Dilemma
Upper management is looking at the organization's requirements and leaning on IT to make substantial changes to systems to meet those challenges. Most often, these requirements are coming from outside the organization, in the form of supply chain and customer relationship mandates, often dictated by larger organizations that are key to the company's success. Other requirements are specific compliance mandates that originated with SOX, HIPAA, and a slew of other legislative initiatives. These upper management focal points on external requirements are not trivial: They are essential for the business to move forward.
Meanwhile, line-of-business managers are too often kept waiting for important modifications to existing systems, modifications that could substantially improve the efficiency and the bottom line of the organization if only IT had the manpower to analyze and implement them.
How We Grow Connective Tissue Between Systems
These system enhancements—often called systems integration—represent the connecting tissue between the packaged and custom information systems that are being used within the organization. Too often, they are the last pieces of an information system to be implemented because they require custom coding, sometimes in unfamiliar languages and frequently across multiple operating system platforms.
The delay to implement systems integration causes line-of-business personnel to connect the dots and fill in the missing pieces manually with make-do processes that are error-prone and slow to respond to the changes in the business cycle. The inability of IT to respond to the integration requests of these line-of-business managers makes the IT department look inept, inefficient, and unproductive.
What IT Is Doing About It
An analysis of what IT is doing quite often reveals the genesis of the problem. As new systems move from development into production, the weight of maintaining existing code becomes an increasing burden that slows IT's ability—and the ability of the entire organization—to implement future positive change.
For example, if 25% of IT's efforts are spent maintaining existing code, then within any given week, no new programming requests are addressed until Tuesday morning. If 50% is spent on maintenance, nothing new is accomplished until Wednesday afternoon. Add new systems, and the workload for maintenance will increase appropriately.
The Lure of Packaged Software
In the 1990s, the IT industry responded to the problem by creating the term "legacy code" and focused its efforts on bringing in new, more resilient packaged systems and a slew of utilities to make information more accessible to line-of-business managers. But, ultimately, this merely added one more layer to the overall workload, and those new tools were never fully integrated either.
Is it any wonder that IT postpones system integration requirements? Following the 80/20 rule, it doesn't make financial sense to complete the back-end integration processes. The conventional wisdom said it was better to focus on the 80% solution than to worry about the 20% that requires substantial back-end integration. But if you were to ask financial managers where the greatest gains in productivity and bottom line performance can be found in existing systems, they would ask, "Why are you throwing away that 20%?"
Furthermore, a look at how these organizations are approaching systems integration also reveals an interesting underlying problem. In a recent survey, 60% to 80% of respondents reported that their IT departments find themselves addressing the requirements of integrating systems with custom-written interfaces. This requires significant analysis of the existing systems, custom coding, and often a lot of redundant effort that creates considerable maintenance exposure.
Lost Cause or Lost Opportunity?
These dynamics have severe ramifications on IT and the organization as a whole. First of all, they suppress the organization's ability to increase productivity within the business by denying the line-of-business managers the integration between systems that they need. Second, they increase the pressure on IT to find knowledgeable experts to implement the technical integration, often pushing IT to look outside its own pool of talent to costly consultants. Third, they increase the pressure on IT to investigate the economic potential of outsourcing or offshoring basic IT services to free up in-house personnel to work on systems integration.
These solutions are neither long-term nor advantageous to the company, yet, because of IT resource constraints, this is precisely what is happening today in many IT shops.
Is there a better way? Perhaps!
What You Missed!
In the presentation "Seven Ways to Deliver Business Results Through Integration," O'Leary breaks apart the dynamics and the mechanisms of IT integration to reveal the elements that are negatively impacting the manner by which IT is attempting to integrate disparate systems. He points to the requirements of the line-of-business manager and highlights the pitfalls in which organizations too often find themselves: lack of resource, lack of knowledge, lack of bandwidth. Then, masterfully, he demonstrates how introducing an architecture of integration—using advanced tools—can radically reduce the redundancy and the maintenance of custom interfaces, bringing order and productivity back to the organization.
Reassembling Our Mindsets
For my part, I too have looked at systems integration as the nitty-gritty of patching together disparate information systems: custom code; unfamiliar syntax of new programming languages or services; long, fruitless hours of delving through poor documentation looking for simple answers; or daydreaming of that "silver bullet"—the fully integrated, fully customizable, "soup to nuts" solution. After 30 years in the business, I now know there is no silver bullet. However, what "Seven Ways to Deliver Business Results Through Integration" showed me is that there is a better way to envision an architecture of systems integration. Moreover, it showed me that some organizations are actually achieving positive results using tools designed with this architecture in mind.
How to View the Presentation
If you missed this important Webcast on June 22, I suggest that you take an hour of your time to review it now. MC Press recorded the Webcast, and it's free for you and your managers to review. I recommend it not only to IT staff, but also to line-of-business managers and CIOs/CFOs. The presentation opens up the mysteries of the IT bottleneck in a manner that management will understand and in a way that can lead to a positive discussion within your organization about changes that your IT department can consider.
To view "Seven Ways to Deliver Business Results through Integration," click here or visit webcasts.mcpressonline.com. You'll be asked to register and be sent a link to the recorded presentation. Again, there is no charge for reviewing this Webcast, and I would not suggest it if I did not personally think it was worth your time and your management's time.
It's About Time: Your Department's Time!
Isn't it about time we really addressed the issues of the IT bottleneck in a way that doesn't point fingers or lay blame? Isn't it about time to realistically look at what we're attempting to do with IT integration and how we might learn to do it better?
I think so, and I think you'll agree that this is one of the most important Webcasts that you'll see this year.
Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press Online.