Beating the IT Backlog

Run the Tests that fail first…

In a previous blog we explored the operational challenges that IT organizations face – in this blog we’re going to dive into the one of those operational challenges, IT Backlog.

Micro Focus has introduced IT backlog before (looking at the ‘lights on’ burden, and the true cost of it). However what the beleaguered CIO or IT manager really wants to hear is some practical solutions to address their concerns and their growing IT backlog.

Let’s explore some practicalities to help beat the IT backlog.

Once upon a time

This is a true story. A conversation took place at a software engineering lab, nearly 20 years ago. The engineering team, part of a UK software vendor, had a backlog of important client deliveries to make, each of them comprising bespoke, tailored software products.

The commercial manager was responsible for collecting payment for orders shipped and would therefore, around month-end, he would spend a lot of time in engineering. He was greeted by busy software engineers and quality assurance staff running, reviewing and reporting test activities as they sought to complete QA and meet release criteria.

In the software engineering world, testing is a vital, unavoidable and significant effort. Accepted wisdom based on notable research is that anything up to 50% of the duration of software projects will be spent in some form of testing.

This engineering shop was no different. Complex technology required exacting testing and thorough review. There would be no compromise on quality. Our commercial manager was frustrated. Why does it take so long to test?

The engineering team would point to the variety of test cases. While they might be fully automated, investigating test fails takes time and potentially involves software corrections, which require re-testing. These “fails” might not be found until the end of the testing phase. The commercial manager reflected and then offered “Why don’t we run the tests that fail first”?

Alas, it was no easier to predict what might fail than to have determined without testing that the software was error-free.

Meanwhile…

Here in the data centre of 2014, things have evolved. The applications have grown beyond recognition, serving a host of new business needs. Their composition and complexity is unprecedented. For mainframes, extrapolate this by ten. The issues, the backlog, are all on an enterprise scale.

Whether one determines this as ‘progress’ is entirely a matter of perspective. What is unarguable is that even after two decades of technological advancement, a number of factors remain constant.

They’re the rules

First, IT cannot compromise on quality. Compromising makes bad things happen, as big name brands, including Target, Co-op, and RBS know to their considerable cost. Even a small flaw in quality tends to become big news pretty quickly.

Second, IT is as busy as ever. With up to a third more workload outstanding than even this time two years ago, pressure remains as high as ever to deliver, fast. Yet the environment hasn’t necessarily expanded to meet that demand. For example…

  • Availability of staff (some organizations effectively sub out QA which needs to be booked; these are shared services but which are booked by the day way ahead of time). Worse still these guys have to know tons of stuff about the environment they are meant to be testing. These skills aren’t just lying around waiting to be used.
  • Or servers. Some testing “resource” is again rented as a shared service. This time is at a premium… whether that’s mainframe test regions, QA machines, software chargebacks, there is often a usage cost for all but the most commoditised technology.
  • Finally, IT expenditure is only just emerging from the long dark shadow of economic gloom –discretionary IT operating budgets may not cover the extra resource now required.

So the problem persists – how do we get more done with the current limitations on time, budget and resources? And how can the ‘tech deficit’ gap be reduced to allow an organization achieve what they set-out to do while tackling the IT Backlog head-on?

While the workload grows, thanks to all these modern new applications, the fixed relationship between time, resource and quality remains, regardless of underlying technology or methodology.  When demand outstrips supply a backlog is created. It’s pretty simple, when you think about it.

Hang on. I’ve got it!

What would our commercial manager have said? Something along the lines of…

  • What if we could enable more staff – when needed – to get up and running in our testing environment
  • What if we could add more testing horsepower when we need it and remove any restrictions our current environment has?
  • What if we could add these extra resources, flexibly, without incurring additional cost?

Essentially he’s looking to resolve his backlog issues with the power of positive thinking. He’s positive that by ticking these boxes, he can make inroads into his IT backlog.

A Micro Focus client – a major FS organization – tried to reduce their backlog by solving the issues the hard-thinking commercial manager had identified.  They were looking to establish greater flexibility, without incurring additional cost, and without compromising quality, to accelerate IT deliveries in their mainframe-based IT environment.

Like the commercial manager, they needed…

  • Flexibility – improved time-to-delivery by eradicating delivery bottlenecks
  • Quality – Improved application quality without consuming additional costs
  • Cost efficiency – Better cost management by testing more in less time with cheaper resources

Sound familiar? Fine sentiments, and a good idea, but how does it actually happen?

It’s just crazy enough to work

Micro Focus can provide all the key components of the mainframe test environment without consuming additional, busy system resources. With this totally flexible, scalable and co-operative testing environment, there’s no waiting for a testing time slot, no waiting to set up a test region. The test environment is always on. And there can be as many instances as are required by the project.

Micro Focus provides this enterprise scale environment for testing, based on commodity servers, to streamline the delivery of core mainframe applications.

Enterprise Test Server takes the pressure off. There will always be testing that needs to be completed on the target platform, for example security and performance tuning, but by enabling test cycles to be conducted on a low cost commodity platform the major bottlenecks are eradicated. Any risks previously associated with not running enough testing can be fully mitigated as test capacity is no longer an issue.

And this approach can scale out for as much testing as IT needs to do. It will cope with requirements for extra releases and extra test cycles without an additional testing charge. This makes it the most cost efficient means of evolving testing processes to support today’s demands.

Customers using this have actually saved testing costs overall, and shortened their time to delivery by 50%. Our commercial manager would have loved it. We can run all the tests first, we could have said. But whether you are a commercial manager, a delivery manager, a QA manager, or responsible for mainframe systems, this flexible approach to delivery could be transformational.


Often applied generically instead of case-specifically, the phrase ’IT Debt‘ is as widely-used as it is misunderstood. We prefer the term ‘IT Backlog’ but by any definition this represents a major operational challenge and, according to a recent study, an $11m hole in the IT budget of many organizations.

You can’t have innovation without adding to it and only innovation can address it. But what does that IT innovation look like?

Any solution, innovative or otherwise, is only as good as the people working at the coalface of IT – the development team. Because the reality is that although the format of a developers’ working day seems far removed from that of the company CIO, the development environment reflects many of the challenges of the wider organization. So, meet the daily challenges and you address the wider issue. Sounds good. But how does that argument stack up?

From a developers’ perspective….

For example, the developer firing up their computer every morning is faced with many strategic, rather just task-based challenges to overcome. These may include:

–          Heavy workload – including ‘keeping the lights on’ activities

–          Frequent internal change driving regular redirection

–          Old and outdated technology and environment

–          Limited budget and resource

While these are fundamentally boardroom agenda items and genuine strategic, long term challenges, the developer is only concerned with the day’s tasks – and the tight deadlines dictating their delivery.  And, naturally, development is laden with its own unique complexities. Developers will readily explain how there is much more to their craft than just edit, compile, debug and test. So who sees the bigger picture?

The development manager’s view

He or she will be looking beyond the molehill of the day’s workload and peering up at the backlog mountain. It’s big, continually growing and the best efforts of the development team are never enough.  While limited resources and a complex IT environment are not just development problems, they represent major obstacles in this environment. Especially when adding in the challenges of inflexible architectures and the pressure of not returning value to the business fast enough …

The key, then, is to optimise the developers’ working environment. Because the less time projects spend in development, the more teams can focus on addressing the backlog. The problem is that ‘lights on’ work isn’t as sexy as, say, BYOD, ‘going mobile’ and the like, so securing additional budget for simply maintaining what the organization already has is a problem. So what’s the solution?

Nine pages. One answer

Our whitepaper, A step change in development efficiency, called out many of the benefits and solution points that developers, development managers and beyond are looking for. The Micro Focus Enterprise Solution has all the tools needed to achieve them.

If Step One for improving efficiency and productivity is choosing a contemporary development environment, such as Eclipse, then Step Two is to leverage the power of Micro Focus Enterprise Developer.

This robust and unrivalled technology will boost development efficiency, blending contemporary tooling with current mainframe processes and third party tools. Incomplete integration can mean inadequate developer adoption and lost productivity gains, which is why Enterprise Developer majors on ensuring all the hooks are in place between the developer and the trusted, working mainframe processes and technology, but all from a more modern, efficient IDE.

So use the Application Workflow Manager, pre-loaded with the software, to create a user interface and directly integrate current tools, such as source control, either on the mainframe or the workstation. This customization matches the development environment you want with the development workflows you have giving you full control over customization without incurring any costly plugin development.

This is where you start to mine the benefits of application modernization.

Supporting mainframe workflow is just one example though, Enterprise Developer’s 3rd party integration, it’s flexible approach to developing off or on the mainframe, it’s unrivalled support of the z/OS and subsystem environments, and it’s use of the latest Eclipse capabilities ensures that developers will be up and running quickly with a the very best mainframe application technology, as a result productivity and efficiency gains will be realized sooner.

IDECustom

Customizing the IDE to develop on and off the mainframe

This is where you start to mine the benefits of using the best in mainframe application development technology from Micro Focus. The benefits to the development team include:

–          Full control over customization

–          Better mainframe integration

–          Swift development acceptance

–          Faster productivity gains

Big talk. Any small print?

No. These are achievable benefits and we have the case studies to prove it.  One customer achieved a 40% cost reduction and improved development efficiency by 25%.

Enterprise Developer, as part of the Enterprise Solution, increases productivity and improves efficiency to achieve a faster time to market and free up more time to work through that backlog, or work on that innovation project that will ultimately deliver real value to your business.

Because in almost every organisation, from the coalface to the top floor, everyone is affected by the IT Backlog – it’s just that not everyone knows it. But add the right tools to the right part of the process and you’ve found the solution. See how for yourself.

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