The ‘Nutritional Value’ of your IT Diet?

 

I’m not sure how you feel, but I love cupcakes.  There has been a boom of small, artisan cupcake providers that are incredibly creative and create delicious and beautiful treats.  Yet somehow I don’t eat many cupcakes – I love to peer in the window when I see one of these shops and marvel at the creations, but I can’t actually bring myself to buy them.

The concept of nutritional value has changed my thinking about what I eat and what I avoid.  Without this concept I would quite likely exist on a diet consisting of mostly red velvet cupcakes.

So, since we really have no method of discerning a quality IT diet from that of the IT equivalent of a cupcake – what do you think we’re eating?  Sadly, I think most businesses are eating junk food:  small, quick, fast solutions with very little long-term value or basis for future growth.  These projects taste great and satisfy the need of the moment but they don’t anticipate the next needs and nor are they robust enough to satisfy the deeper requirements that lie under the immediate concern.

The good investments (think vitamins and fibre) are those that contribute to long term flexibility and require less rework when things change.  Bad investments (think sugar and fat) often look good but will be short lived and require even more investment in total.  As these short term investments build and are integrated together the landscape bloats and it becomes sluggish to change or add new features.

Imagine if every IT investment came with a small nutrition guide showing how it contributed or reduced sprawl?  What if there was an indicator that showed how a solution to a business problem contributed to business agility or inflexibility in the longer term?

The difference between decisions that will be appreciated in the long term and the ones that the organization will regret can be difficult to explain and seem esoteric while the cost difference between the two is material to all parties.  By bringing some of the hard to describe longer term benefits into the decision it makes it easier for all parties to understand the long-term implications of the short-term decision.  Suddenly that cupcake while certainly delicious seems less appealing.

This thinking is the basis of a complexity measurement framework that I have been developing – since organizations won’t improve what they are not measuring I developed a set of key complexity indicators and can then screen solutions or parts of the landscape against these indicators to provide a perspective of relative complexity.  With food information helping people think in terms of implications, the same might be true with IT solutions at some point.

Now I’m not saying that cupcakes are evil or that organizations should always be thinking in terms of long term outcomes – what I am advocating is clarity in decision making and visibility of long-term implications.  So have that cupcake, enjoy it – but also try to take in some spinach and fish on occasion.

 

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  1. Kris,
    Great observation, great post.
    Most of the institutions are going for what I call band-aid fix rather then going for long term fix.
    The whole concept of NPV is changed by this short term solutions.

  2. It would be great if organizations kept this in mind, at all levels during projects and operation support. I believe others have coined this as Technical Debt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_debt), which is an accurate description as eventually it has to be paid back and should be tracked just as loan on a balance sheet.