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Business Drivers for Transformation

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Because of the atmosphere of comfortable inertia around legacy ABL applications, they often experience a sort of benign neglect – small, short-term, immediate projects get attention and larger scope issues never quite make it onto the table. A developer might bring up one of these more general issues in response to something in an on-line forum or conference. Or an astute manager might be aware of the issue from prior experience or reading. But, even when such issues surface, the pressure of immediate work or the uncertainly of the correct response or the absence of a budget often causes them to be neglected. While the specific stimulus that triggers a company to consider some form of transformation varies from company to company, in most companies there are other issues lurking below the surface which may or may not be currently visible. Some of these are specific to the business of the company and others are likely to be present in many similar companies.

Before making transformation … or replacement … decisions, it is important to make all issues about the existing application visible because looking at the whole can easily change the decision. For example:

  • Looking at all issues might reveal that the triggering stimulus isn’t the most important issue in terms of business need;
  • There are often synergies with other needs that will substantially alter the ROI from any given change or lower costs over the long term; or
  • One transformation strategy might seem to be indicated based on the main stimulus, but another one might be preferred if a larger set of issues is considered together.

Occasionally, a company will have a well-documented list of these other issues, but all too often the needs and issues are not visible, if only because one has to have some expectation of action to bother putting them on a list. If a need seems vague, or difficult to address, or expensive, it may never make it to such a list.

As a part of this review of business drivers, it is important to examine the hopes and needs and opportunities for the future. Knowing a requirement will exist one or two or even five years into the future allows present decisions to be made with that need in mind. This allows more knowledgeable selection among alternatives, searching for synergies, and planning for incremental change which can be both less disruptive and less expensive. Thinking about the future isn’t just about what one is going to have to do, but also about what might be possible. It is quite common for there to be opportunities to do something new which have far greater impact on the business than the things which are mandatory.

Thus, the first step in any transformation process is really an analysis of how the existing software is and isn’t supporting the business and what opportunities exist for changes in the software that would benefit the business. While this analysis has technical implications, it isn’t really an analysis about technology, but an analysis of business issues and opportunities. The results of such an analysis can be quite surprising, especially if the company is not used to thinking this way.

For example, if the trigger was dissatisfaction with the legacy ChUI interface, one might find that there were actually few good business reasons to pay for a change to GUI or WUI beyond making people “feel good”. That doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t look at ways to transform the interface, but it may mean, especially if budgets are limited, that there is another area which is more important in the short term. It might also mean that, instead of focusing on changing the UI, one might adopt an overall strategy such as a gradual move to a service-oriented architecture (SOA) because there are multiple projects with short term ROI that can benefit from SOA … and … moving to SOA will gradually make it easier to change the UI.

This is an example of how looking at the whole set of business issues together can lead to a strategy that is different and better than one would adopt focusing only on the initial trigger issue.

UPCOMING: Next time I will talk about some of the kinds of issues which may be discovered by a review of this kind.