In the game “Sim City,” players start from an underdeveloped green field—completely unencumbered by existing constructs such as buildings, power lines, roadways, and that 100-year-old tree you can’t cut down because of what it represents to the local townspeople. If only the path for the new CIO were so open-ended! The reality is that the CIO’s vision will only become a reality if he is able to quickly understand the existing state of the technology landscape he has inherited and develops his plan around it.
This is no easy task, considering the complexity of today’s IT environment, and even less enviable in the current context of the typical “needed it last month” requirements from the business. To chart their course, CIOs need to get insightful, objective data to shape and substantiate their plan.
[Disclaimer: No CIO succeeds because of one specific reason, just as no CIO has a single cause for failure. This is not intended as the definitive guide to success for the CIO, rather it is intended to shine a light on one critical ingredient—detailed insight into the current state of the organization’s complete application portfolio. Without this information, CIOs risk a dreaded outage or major system failure that can cut their tenure short, before they even have a chance to implement their plan. So, we will assume that the new CIO already meets many of the things you find on “top 10” lists of what makes a great CIO, such as a strong understanding of the business and the right agenda and vision as well as the ability to function as a collaborative and strong leader.]
DEVELOPING THE PLAN: THE THREE KEY CHALLENGES TO OVERCOME
We have all heard of the “project iron triangle”—the triple constraint that every project faces between time, cost, and scope. The CIO faces his own opposing constraints of speed, insight, and measurement when developing his plan. A great plan delivered too late is worthless (at least to the existing CIO). And a plan that is delivered quickly but only represents a catalogue of application assets has some value, but certainly lacks the depth necessary for real success. As important as it is to develop the plan, overcoming these three opposing constraints is vital to the plan’s survival.
A new CIO inherits the pressing systems issues of his predecessors, so it is crucial to quickly get an understanding of the entire IT landscape of hundreds, if not thousands, of critical applications. But a simple inventory is not enough—the CIO must have objective insight into the current state of these applications. The typical process of gathering data from disparate sources, coupled with time-consuming manual analysis and reporting, only leads to subjective information that is unverifiable and won’t stand up to scrutiny from business leaders.
To make decisions on the applications that need to be retired or modernized, to determine the projects that are too far gone to rescue, to decide if upgrades can or should happen, and to identify the systems most likely to fail or suffer severe performance issues, the CIO needs to measure the risk, quality, and stability of the entire enterprise portfolio.
So how can a new CIO overcome these obstacles to develop and implement a successful plan?
STEP ONE: START WITH THE BASICS
The only way a new CIO is ever going to get a handle on the IT landscape is through fact-based reporting on the makeup of the application portfolio. Prolific use of many different technologies makes this a challenge, especially since the CIO is up against the clock.
To get the transparency needed to build a credible plan, the CIO is required to:
- Inventory the entire application portfolio.
- Determine the technology mix of each application.
- Understand the complexity of the applications.
- Identify the risk hot spots that can derail initiatives.
- Evaluate the overall quality of applications being delivered both in-house and by external vendors.
STEP TWO: KNOW YOUR APPLICATION ASSETS
With this objective insight into the application portfolio, the CIO has the baseline data needed to move to the most critical component in developing his plan (and also his biggest dilemma)— getting the true state of the company’s application portfolio health.
Much of the portfolio is bound to be cluttered with obsolete systems that no longer deliver full value to the business, so portfolio rationalization is a must. Consequently, nearly every action the CIO takes will involve some combination of leveraging existing technology/ platforms, implementing new technology, migrating to the cloud, and shutting down or extending systems.
To do this effectively, CIOs must be able to:
- Benchmark the applications for quality, maintainability, reliability, and security.
- Calculate a bottom-up view of technical debt.
- Quantify application portfolio risks.
- Access real-time, repeatable data.
For a CIO to build a convincing business case that further establishes trust between IT and the business, he’ll require this quantitative baseline of the technical quality and risk of the application landscape.
STEP THREE: SET PRIORITIES
No CIO is going to be able to make all of the changes he would like in the time frame he desires—so it is crucial to identify the most effective changes and transformations that can be achieved in the near term within the timing and cost constraints that exist.
With little room in the typical IT budget, and much of it sucked up by application maintenance costs, the actionable insight gained from evaluating the health and architecture of the application portfolio gives the CIO the objective data needed to establish these priorities. Ideally, it will also free up money and resources that can be reallocated toward innovation and building new applications to support business growth.
NOW TAKE ACTION!
Now that there is a meaningful and actionable plan based on the existing application portfolio, what the CIO does with the plan, well, that is a story for another article. The business has little tolerance for failure—the new CIO needs to integrate the power in IT with the strategic business tactics that have been mapped out, while avoiding risks hidden in the application portfolio.
For a CIO to enable business in this way and be successful, he must have unquestionable insight into the performance of his architecture and critical business applications. Any CIO without it is going to be challenged to see the successful implementation of his plan before “game over.”