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If only enterprise IT worked like my iPad ... or at least my car

Architects and biz chiefs still not talking

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Opinion Do you remember when computers were hard to use?

Not so long ago our collective opinion was neatly summarized by the apocryphal GM press release which asserted that if they developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars that for no reason at all, would crash twice a day, shut down and refuse to restart.

Since then Apple has showed Microsoft the way, and we all use smart phones, tablets and PCs that are genuinely easy to use and remarkably resilient.

Because of this great leap forward in personal device usability the smart phone user on the proverbial Clapham Omnibus might reasonably expect that enterprise systems should be similarly easy to use and resilient. Unless of course she was a customer of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), in which case she will have painful memories of last year’s high profile failure caused by the core banking system crash which corrupted tens of millions of accounts.

Once upon a time banks in general were regarded as leaders in the use of information technology. Yet last year several high profile systems failures signalled that banking systems, far from being leading edge, are in rapid decline. Banks aren’t the only culprits. Along with the banks, insurance companies, retailers and others are starting to offer their customers smart phone apps, notwithstanding that behind the scenes their enterprise systems are frequently held together with sticky tape and sealing wax.

The reason many enterprise systems are in such a poor state is commonly because there are three parties involved in managing the enterprise systems that have widely divergent goals and objectives. The line-of-business manager typically views the systems as support to the business process and a cost to be managed. The IT Architect views the enterprise systems as a set of capabilities that must be progressively modernized to support business innovation. The IT Project Manager is focused on delivering projects to time and cost.

These views are of course diametrically opposed. And under cost and time pressure the Architect is frequently the lower ranking player. In consequence the immediate needs of the business overrule longer term objectives of modernization, reduced complexity, flexibility and even cost of ownership.

The real issue is that the three parties do not have a shared view of the business problem. The line-of-business manager’s business process view does not correlate at all to the delivery project. The Architect should be the evangelist for business innovation but he or she is too easily squeezed in the cost and time discussion. And the Project Manager typically does not share the detailed technical project view with the line of business manager, and argues for a solution specific architecture that reduces project risk. The result is the existing enterprise systems get more complex and slower to respond to change. And the IT industry has been doing exactly this for as long as anyone can remember!

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