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12 June 2012

Back to basics: Proactive IT management

By Andrew Clifford

The only way out of the mess of IT is to manage IT proactively.

We understand the term "legacy". As IT gets older it loses its structure, becomes harder to work with, does not keep up with new technology, and does not comply with new standards and regulations.

To me, legacy is the biggest issue in IT. Legacy makes IT difficult to work with and adds hugely to the cost of change. But most significantly, most IT change exists to replace legacy, not to meet new business requirements. Think about the major IT projects in your business. Are they totally new, or is a large part of their purpose, and the majority of their workload, to replace old, difficult, non-compliant IT? Legacy is the greatest driver of demand for IT. But it is value-less demand – IT demanding IT. To get closer to minimal IT, and to significantly reduce IT costs, we have to tackle legacy.

Tackling legacy is not a technical issue. We know what to do. We need to upgrade, refactor, replatform, maintain documentation and tests, manage bugs, and so on. For a small amount of investment, we can keep IT running smoothly without the huge costs and disruption of major legacy replacements. So why don't we?

There are two reasons. First, it is very hard to identify what needs to be done. How can you keep track of everything on all of your IT all of the time? It's almost impossible keeping things on supported versions of operating systems, let alone subtler issues such as ensuring effective business ownership and keeping documentation up-to-date. Second, even if we do identify what to do, how can we possibly justify proactive maintenance? How can it ever take precedence over business-driven change?

I think there is a solution to this problem, using a method which I call "system governance". This gives visibility and justification for proactive maintenance, without incurring a significant management overhead.

If you want detail, follow the links from System Governance for white papers and a process manual. But in summary, to tackle legacy you need gather the right body of information that:

  • Presents IT as a set of systems, (see last week's newsletter) because this provides the best management view of IT.
  • Is sufficiently high-level to be relevant to management, and sufficiently low-level to connect to the detail of IT.
  • Covers everything that is important about your IT: how it is used, service and support, risks, development, technology, and breaks these down into meaningful high-level questions. The business value of each question needs to be expressed.
  • Assesses each system against each question, capturing enough narrative to provide context to the assessment.
  • Applies consistent calculations to identify what needs to be done, with links to question definitions and narrative to provide justification.

Whether you use exactly this approach or not, you need something like this to tackle legacy. You can not build your way out. If you do not have the information to manage IT, all your new projects, systems, architectures and technologies will themselves be legacy in a few short years. The only way out of the mess of IT is to manage IT proactively.

Next: Back to basics: Systems development

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