Albert Einsteinonce said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Think about this for a minute and ask yourself, does this apply to the way you deliver your IT projects?
The CIO community is rife with debates about the importance of improving project delivery success rates and becoming more aligned with the business. Despite this, remarkably little is actually improving. According to the latest figures from the Standish Group’s “CHAOS report”, over the past two years IT project success rates declined massively. Key figures include:
• Just 32 per cent of IT projects were considered successful;
• Nearly one in four were considered failures, having been cancelled before completion or delivered but never used;
• The remaining 44 per cent were considered challenged: they finished late, over budget, or with fewer than the required features and functions.
The bottom line is that IT projects in large enterprises are complex and it’s difficult to get IT delivery right on a large scale. IT project failures result in frustrated end users and IT teams but I believe we professionals are the ones who need to change first; after all, it is our area of expertise.
Consider how a startup business with limited funding would create a new product or service: it would be creative, get it done as quickly and cheaply as possible, but still produce a robust product that’s attractive to customers. If the product is a success then the startup will reap the rewards and can then invest further in product development. Also, consider that experienced entrepreneurs have a 30 per cent success rate, so they are only going to invest the minimum amount required to get the business up and running.
The objective of a Fast Track Architecture project is to adopt a similar approach: implement solutions in weeks or months rather than months or years and at a low cost. A number of technology developments have made the rapid implementation of robust solutions possible. These include:
• Business process automation and management tools that can be configured rather than requiring the writing of extra code to implement business logic;
• Integration tools that don’t require back-end system changes;
• Mash-up technologies;
• Cloud computing: Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS);
• Infrastructure virtualisation solutions for corporate datacentres.
A step change
Fast Track Architecture projects can be considered stepping stones to strategic solutions. These projects achieve quick wins and are subsequently replaced by longer-term strategic solutions if the project is successful. The Fast Track approach doesn’t apply to all business problems but a high percentage of projects will gain significant benefits by prioritising the speed of implementation over other design criteria such as long-term scalability.
In my experience, business executives have sound reasons for expecting IT projects to be delivered rapidly. The pace of business has sped up over the years due to market forces, most notably globalisation, and the people at the ‘pointy end’ are under increasing pressure to hit KPI targets set for very short timeframes. So, the five key benefits of Fast Track Architecture are:
1. Optimised return on investment:The earlier a solution can be implemented the faster the ROI will start to be realised. The cost savings or extra revenue generated by a stepping-stone project can in turn be used to invest in the strategic solution.
Furthermore, by having a system early, the business has more time to learn how the opportunity can be fully exploited to maximise the cost savings, increase revenue or enhance customer service.
Finally, if an initiative is found not to be viable, this can be discovered early. Traditional IT projects often run on for a long time before the business opportunity is found to be unviable.
2.Reduced IT project delivery risk:A common problem with IT projects is that business requirements are often difficult to capture; end users don’t really know what they need until a project is in delivery when they can see what they’re going to get. By then it’s often too late to change.
During a Fast Track Architecture project the business end users will find out what the live system is like at an early stage. This increases the likelihood of understanding and delivering what end users really need.
Furthermore, if a subsequent strategic project is implemented the delivery risk is reduced because the requirements and constraints will be well understood.
Finally, by delivering a Fast Track Architecture solution the business will be receiving the benefits which get executive leaders off your back so that you can concentrate on delivering the strategic project without regular demands to bring the timescales in, or to reduce the costs.
3. Higher executive confidence:By delivering Fast Track Architecture projects, executive leaders will have a sense of confidence that the project team can deliver. Building trusted relationships with key executives at the beginning of a new working relationship or for a programme is essential to success.
4. Improved business-IT relationship:Business users often complain that IT takes too long to deliver solutions and is inflexible. Fast Track Architecture demonstrates that you understand your customer’s agenda and are dealing with their key concerns. By demonstrating this empathy you are more likely to achieve buy-in to long-term strategic projects.
5. Reduce operational risk: The aim of Fast Track Architecture projects is to provide robust solutions that can operate for many years if required. There are many scenarios where a Fast Track Architecture project can be delivered where an End User Computing (EUC) solution would probably have been used before.
POCs, pilots and Agile
This approach may appear similar to delivering a Proof-of-Concept (POC) or pilot. It has some similarities but the difference is that a Fast Track Architecture solution is a full-production system that may run for several years and, if it’s a stepping-stone solution, it may actually use different technologies to the strategic solution.
This approach may also sound similar to Agile and although concepts from Agile will be useful for Fast Track Architecture projects, the former is concerned primarily with software development whereas Fast Track Architecture projects are concerned with deploying a working system with as little development work as possible.
Not all business problems are suitable for Fast Track Architecture delivery. You’ll need your architecture team to understand the requirements and assess whether it’s feasible or not.
The solution design of Fast Track Architecture projects is critical to their success. Many architects still insist on working to standards of purity and perfection. We architects should take an honest look at ourselves and ask how we can do things differently without compromising integrity. Consider the following four design principles that are important for Fast Track Architecture projects:
1. Don’t deploy new infrastructure: New infrastructure typically takes weeks or months to be deployed in a corporate datacentre. The fastest way to implement your infrastructure requirement is to use existing hardware, which means using existing virtualised hardware, cloud IaaS or, in some cases, desktop PCs.
2. Use system-to-system integration tools that don’t require back-end system changes: Many modern applications will have the interfaces that you need for integrating your new application. If legacy applications are a part of the solution then the interfaces may not exist. If you need to build new interfaces you should avoid the development work this will require; it can take many months to implement and there is often a queue of existing change requests for the system. For legacy systems there is often a lack of the required skills. A number of ‘integration at the glass’ tools exist which allow you to implement ‘non-invasive’ integration through user interfaces. This reduces the implementation time to days or weeks.
3. Only use software tools that require configuration: Avoid writing code. You may need a small amount of software development, but ensure it’s not the bulk of the project. This is where SaaS offerings and tools such as business process management (BPM) that can be configured come into their own.
4. Only deliver critical business needs: Spend time with your business sponsor to understand what requirements really are critical to deliver the desired outcomes.
A key requirement from a delivery perspective is that you will need to use highly skilled subject matter and technical experts; the type of people who can implement something in a fraction of the time a less experienced person would take. The day rate may be higher for these people but on the other hand you will be using them for a lot less time.
Fitting a Fast Track Architecture project within your organisation’s delivery life-cycle may pose some challenges but with the right sponsorship it should be possible to overcome these issues.
Your enterprise will need to maintain a coherent IT landscape and deploying too many tactical solutions will become a maintenance issue if they aren’t replaced in the medium term. In many cases you will need to implement a ‘strategic’ project and use Fast Track Architecture projects as stepping stones towards this.
As an architect I believe we are the IT professionals who need to change the most and should consider experimenting with new approaches in order effect real change. If we don’t, our business colleagues are likely to just get on with it anyway. As the pace of business has sped up over the years due to market forces, most notably globalisation, the businesses we serve have long since abandoned the ideal of artistic perfection in their day-to-day work. Given this current business context I’ll sign off by leaving you with another famous quote to consider:
“It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin
Matthew Wood is an accomplished Lead Architect, currently working for Lloyds Banking Group, with 15 years experience shaping and delivering enterprise IT programmes for FTSE 100 organisations spanning finance, telecoms and government sectors. He welcomes relevant feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org