If it’s not Enterprise Class, it won’t cut it

All kinds of organisations are struggling with resilience of core systems and applications.

©iStock.com/Svetlana Polushkina 

©iStock.com/Svetlana Polushkina 

When our clients are looking to develop a major new business technology asset that will be used across the organisation, and especially by their customers, they’re looking to make it ‘Enterprise Class’.

The same is true when they’re enhancing or replacing any mission-critical system their business is dependent on. In other cases, they’re looking at their systems as a whole, and wanting to design a program to make them more resilient, flexible and supportable, rather than an ongoing cost burden and drain on their ICT budget and resources.

So I thought it would be useful to analyse just what makes such a system Enterprise Class – and why, unless it meets these requirements, it just won’t cut it in today’s disruptive business environment.

What does Enterprise Class mean?

Enterprise Class of an organisation’s core systems is measured in terms of reliability and accuracy, maintainability, efficiency and flexibility. It is fundamental to enable any business to be successful in a very competitive and demanding market.

Resilience is key to being Enterprise Class because, today, when your core ICT assets are offline, your business cannot function. Think of transactional services: toll road operators, airline ticketing and check-in, bank ATMs… your own services might not be quite as critical, but if they’re down for too long, you will lose revenue and cause untold damage to your brand.

If you’re offering online services, downtime at the wrong time can be diabolical. An industry example is the retailer whose website bombs out on Boxing Day.

A key measure of resilience is availability. Many large organisations aim for (and achieve) 95% availability – but is this level still acceptable? I’d say not. Clients I work with are looking to move to 98% or even 99%. Even at 99% you’re looking at nearly zero planned outage when upgrading to a major new application release, or less than 4 hours per month. Nowadays, a 36-hour outage for a major upgrade is untenable.

The big challenge when mounting a business case for upgrading to Enterprise Class is estimating the costs to the business of not doing it. Even if downtime only affects your own employees, the costs mount every minute – but it can often be hard to quantify.

It’s a faster, more flexible world

Speed is another critical factor. To be Enterprise Class, systems and applications must also be easily, rapidly and cost-effectively supported, maintained and enhanced. Otherwise, the business will be beaten to the post by more agile competitors.

Large organisations managing complex legacy infrastructure and applications are sluggish compared to their younger competitors, especially those ‘born digital’. This doesn’t set them up for winning in a disruptive environment. eBay, for example, aims to be never offline although it continuously upgrades its core systems –being offline would be catastrophic within its business model.

One of the largest IT costs for traditional enterprises is the maintenance of legacy applications. Any initiative that can simplify and speed up support and enhancements will help you better compete in terms of cost burden, agility and speed to market. Agile development and DevOps offer light at the end of the tunnel – but it often requires a more fundamental change.

On the flip-side, frequency should be assessed when long-standing service provider arrangements contribute to infrastructure management costs. Just because a supplier conducts (and you’re paying for) monthly synchronisation of code bases, what could you save by working off the one code base in the first instance. Or better still, reducing the number of vendors working with a particular code base?

Set metrics to justify change

Advanced ITOs have metrics to rate their business technology assets according to their ability to manage and support them – as well as their value to the business. For example:

  1. Unsustainable
  2. Difficult/costly to support
  3. Manageable/usable
  4. Excel in meeting current business expectations
  5. Leader/future-ready

Having assessed your mission-critical systems against similar criteria, you can then determine just what you need to do to bring them up a level or two. In this example, an asset rated at 1 or 2 would warrant upgrading to at least 3.

Keep an eye on the bigger picture

Too often, when large organisations are engaged in multi-projects to upgrade their core systems to Enterprise Class, they have to juggle a range of different business imperatives and scopes. In the process, they can become obsessed with getting parts of the program ‘over the line’ and lose focus on the end game.

Think of a marathon runner. It’s no good winning a particular event, if you drop dead on the finish line. Your objective must be to survive and be ready to run more marathons… If your transformation program exhausts the ITO and the organisation early on, you’ll never get to where you need to be!

This means very careful planning; bite off what you can chew and retain the energy and willpower to set off yet again to see the transformation through and achieve all the benefits. Part of this is selecting ‘quick wins’ that will buoy the enthusiasm of your people and users, and help them focus on the bigger picture.

Having a ‘bigger picture’ is essential – as well as assuring that everyone across the organisation can visualise it, understands the pain and gain, and that the right resources are allocated as required to accomplish it. Only then you’ll be prepared for the long haul – and have the stamina to see the program to fruition.

Getting to Enterprise Class

The first step is to fully assess your existing core ICT assets. This involves gaining (and documenting) a full and honest picture of current business objectives – as well as allowing for the foreseeable capability within your longer-term strategic planning. It also requires considerable expertise and knowledge of best practice across infrastructure, security and applications – to understand to potential for them to help you meet or exceed these objectives. It is critical that this be done in conjunction with the business. It is no good doing this as pure ICT assessment; after all, the asset is critical to delivery of business outcomes.

The next step is to scope up the ‘gap’. What level do you need to achieve in your transformation to Enterprise Class? What is your timeframe for getting there? Which are your priorities, in terms of current pain or unnecessary costs? What metrics will you use to measure effectiveness?

The final step is to assess your internal development, operational and support capabilities. How will they need to be supplemented to achieve your endgame? Assess your budgetary and capital resources too: how will you finance the initiative over what timescale? You must factor in the ‘opportunity cost’: what is the cost to the business of doing nothing or only going part the way?

Having completed these steps, you’ll have a plan, along with a solid business case for ‘pressing the button’.

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