by Christine Hodgson

Small is also beautiful

Apr 11, 20124 mins

Looking at my own company’s current assignments list, it is apparent that some clients still perceive a need for big, transformational IT projects.

In pursuit of various objectives

– Cost efficiency – Customer responsiveness – Flexibility – Regulatory compliance

many organisations in sectors from manufacturing to local government, banking to police are rethinking every aspect of how every operation across the business can best be transformed by IT.

As my colleague Didier Bonnet said “Major technologies that developed in isolation are now maturing at the same time. This presents a major strategic opportunity for large firms in all industries. Forward-looking executives are beginning to envision possibilities that cross organisational and technological silos, letting the possibilities drive technology and organisation rather than the reverse.”

Nonetheless two major changes are under way in IT development, both of which give credence to those who believe that small is beautiful.

First, there is the clamour for instant apps from specific groups of people in your organisation to meet a specific requirement not met by your corporate IT.

The demand is inevitably for a solution delivered in days or weeks rather than months or years.

Sometimes it emerges to fulfil a temporary need, perhaps during or just after an acquisition, or the launch of a new product, or the opening of a new office.

Business driven Often it comes from people of above-average technical savvy. These are people who know all about smartphone apps and tablet computing, and who don’t or won’t understand about IT backlogs.

They might be tempted to take a DIY approach, using their company credit card to download cloud SaaS applications from the web.

CIOs are increasingly aware of the risks this poses to security, integration and control. And the more forward-looking ones are taking positive action in response.

They are setting up internal app shops running in parallel with their heavyweight corporate development teams.

In my view that’s an entirely healthy shift of focus and an inevitable one for those CIOs who want to retain the confidence of all their users and not see more and more of the IT deployed in their company slipping out of their control.

The second major change in IT development is in my view potentially even more significant. It relates to large projects and the way they are managed.

A fast-growing minority of big companies have found effective ways to split mega-projects into a sequence of bite-sized chunks, with each chunk completed in a timescale of 10 to 12 weeks and clearly delivering immediate value to the business.

For example our Business Process Management (BPM) team is currently working with a UK retail bank to reduce 200 of its key processes to 120.

The solution chosen was to start with five processes, then verify the effectiveness of the results, then move on to a further ten, and so on.

Not only is this series of short, sharp projects delivering rapid results, it is also ensuring future adaptability by using technology that is built for change.

The end-result will be enterprise-wide change, but without waiting three years to see benefits.

I have said two major changes, but a third option is proving interesting to many CIOs. It involves a combination of the small-scale app with the mega-project in the so-called situational application.

Another client (also in retail banking) is embarking on a multi-year programme to implement new ERP across the business.

But it had a problem that needed solving on a pressing timescale. Having entered two new geographies, it urgently required efficient recruitment to staff the new offices.

Legacy IT couldn’t cope, and neither could the new ERP in the timescale required.

The solution that worked was to build the situational application in twelve weeks, using screen-based code-generation tools, in a separate technology layer from the new ERP, but with later full integration with ERP as a prime necessity.

Model driven The practicality of this approach depended upon deploying Model-Driven Development, a technique which exploits new code-generation tools and which brings the business experts together with your IT development professionals to build models quickly that can be reviewed, tested and refined before being finalised and going live.

The models generate the code and the bulk of the effort is spent on validating the model rather than writing codes or producing specifications which will never be read.

The world of IT development is changing. Big projects haven’t gone away, but there are new ways to manage them.

These ways that make a lot of sense in an environment that increasingly demands business impact from its IT now, not in years time.

Large-scale projects increasingly need to co-exist with smaller, specialised solutions from the apps shop which, if you don’t already have, you might soon find you must have.

Christine Hodgson is Chairman of Capgemini UK

Pic: Steve Parkercc2.0