Wednesday, September 28, 2011

ICT Maturity

When working for a large consulting company you have the opportunity to see a lot of different client sites, which is on the whole a good thing. In the last couple of years though, I have been involved in clients that are seriously lacking in ICT process maturity, and it is causing significant issues when trying to produce the best outcomes for the clients.

My current client site is possibly the worst example of this I have ever seen, with the issues stemming from both the top and bottom of the organisation. From the top there is no ICT governance for project analysis and no architectural analysis for ICT projects and how they fit into the enterprise. From the bottom there is no standard process for source control, development standards, standard development tools/frameworks, or project planning. Then in the middle there is a complete lack of Business Analysis and Project Management to bridge the gap between business expectations and actual delivery.

As a senior developer I have seen these bottom-up flaws to varying extents over all the clients I have worked for.
These issues stem from a lack of technical leadership driving the adoption of better practices, and is common in small development teams with isolated project silos. This lack of "maturity" works fine as long as each developer stays within their own silo, but as the teams build and the projects become more complex, this lack of maturity begins to show. It is at this point (preferably before) that a technical leader needs to step in and set the standards, guidelines, and processes for the entire development team.

In working towards a technical and enterprise architecture position I have also started to get a much better understanding of some of the failures at the top and mid level of the clients ICT department.
Again the issues stem from a lack of maturity in the enterprise. While there is a vision for the delivery of individual solutions, there is no review of how individual solutions fit the enterprise as a whole, how solutions can be delivered across the enterprise rather than as stand-alone silos, and how solutions interact with other areas of the organisation.
This leads to the same underlying issues as the developers face at the bottom level, where each project becomes an independent silo, with ad-hoc dependency and management, and communication strategies.
As the enterprise grows, each business unit begins to see the need for shared information and the reduction of process duplication, however it is often too late at this point to implement a strategy for consolidation of existing systems as integration of the multiple silos becomes too complex and time consuming. My current client is at this point now, where they have a number of duplicate systems, data, and processes, and are beginning to see the need to consolidate this duplication, but there are no enterprise or technical guidelines in place to ensure that the projects are designed in a way that will enable the requirements of the enterprise, not just the silo.

I have noted that ICT maturity is often driven by the needs of a growing business outstripping the capabilities of the independent silo's of business processes that are the hallmark of immature enterprises. This is an issue that affects these business from the bottom up, as well as the top-down.

I have concluded that enterprise architecture is a fundamental step in the maturity of both a business and its ICT needs, and the sooner a business implements an effective enterprise architecture, the more agile and less wasteful ICT becomes in delivering business improvement. Unfortunately business often sees the cost of enterprise and technical architecture as being too high, discounting the late gains in productivity due to the early cost of the architectire. In the long term however, the cost of developing and maintaining the silos far outweighs the cost of a proper enterprise architecture.

At TechEd this year there was a discussion on "Disposable Architecture" and when it is best to use a Silo'd approach rather than a full-blown enterprise architecture. While the arguments for this were compelling, it is wise to note the following point he made, "if a system needs to communicate with other systems, then use an appropriately architectured solution". This is becoming more evident the more experienced I become, because maintaining communications between multiple silos becomes far more work in the stability and maintainability of applications than implementing an appropriate architecture and building your solutions to meet that architecture, even if the time to introduce and then integrate that architecture exceeds the cost of building the individual silo solution.

So, the more I know, the more I need to learn, le sigh.

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