In the December 23rd issue of CIO magazine, there is a great article on “The Case for Enterprise Architects” by Kim S. Nash. Clearly, this type of article catches my eye because I am an Enterprise Architect but it is important to note that in tough economic times, the role of the Enterprise Architect becomes more valuable. Instead of simply slashing staff to reduce costs, an Enterprise Architect can help the CIO save money by “cleaning out the junk drawer.” The average corporation has tens and sometimes hundreds of business applications, databases, one-time-use programs and other junk cluttering up their environment and, more importantly, wasting valuable maintenance dollars and personnel resources.
The Enterprise Architect can look at this mess and begin to organize it with an eye to reducing complexity and gaining better alignment with business needs. The process is called an application rationalization or, you’ll love this, an App-Rat. It isn’t a complicated process to develop an inventory of all of the good stuff and the junk, but the real skill comes in the analysis process. With the inventory in hand, the EA then maps which applications that deserve continued investment, which need less investment (stop paying maintenance, etc.), which applications need to be retired and where applications are simply missing. While it sounds like a simple process, it can become difficult in organizations that have grown by merger and acquisition to track down the information and get it organized for the decision-making process. It is clearly worth the effort when the latest statistics show that over 70% of an IT budget is spent on maintenance of existing applications. The big benefit is simply freeing up some of those maintenance dollars to retain key personnel and spend it on new, more aligned applications.
It is sometimes humorous when cleaning out the junk drawer of business applications and databases. Invariably, there are one or more applications that have become what I like to call “black boxes.” Data goes into the black box and the right answer comes out. However, no one in the IT department knows how the application was built and certainly would only maintain it under extreme duress. Programmers know how difficult it can be to follow breadcrumbs left by a long departed developer. The truth is that these applications represent very real risks to organizations and a dangerous hidden cost if they break. The skill set necessary to properly maintain these applications may not exist in enough depth in the current IT staff. The application rationalization process can identify these applications, the related skill gap and lay out a road map to resolve this risk, and more importantly, help remove this high risk and hidden cost.
It’s clearly time to clean out the junk drawer by bringing in the enterprise architect to organize, simplify and help with your budget pressures. One of the big benefits is that it demonstrates to your organization that IT can be focused on making sound investments and caring about managing costs. It will provide your IT staff with a sense of accomplishment to improve the alignment of IT with the goals of the business. Finally, it will reduce complexity in an area (IT) of the organization that struggles to cope with constant complexity.