Delivery Velocity – cutting through the fog

As global IT faces the new digital era, how is this affecting their workload? Recent studies make interesting reading, as Derek Britton discovers

How do IT Departments ensure delivery keeps pace with unprecedented levels of demand?

I read Joe McKendrick’s article “It may be the age of cloud, but IT workloads just keep growing” (ZDNET, November 2014) with keen interest. The article draws on recent industry survey data to conclude that “development workloads are growing to the point [where] IT shops are being crushed by the demand”.

Let’s look at some of the report’s findings in more detail.

zdnetfordb

Beating the IT Backlog

First, the article explores how “output isn’t keeping pace [and] backlogs are growing”, citing a “lackluster” industry-wide IT delivery performance. The survey mentioned in the article (conducted by Mendix), is reported as stating that 89% of respondents were unable to reduce their [IT] backlog year over year. This is consistent with other industry reports, including one published by Vanson Bourne, where respondents reported an actual increase in IT backlogs of 29% within an 18 month period. IT estate complexity, accelerating business requirements, additional regulatory and compliance challenges are simply compounding the task of meeting deadlines and delivering value to the business.

Don’t Cloud the view

The promises of the Cloud appearing not to make any difference. First in defence of the Cloud the comparison (made deliberately this way I think) is nonsense. Just because you have more launch pads, it doesn’t make it any easier to build a rocket. As much as it is anything else, Cloud is a deployment platform, and fundamentally it doesn’t necessarily change the process of building, testing and delivering applications in a materially significant way.

Lacking a Cutting Edge?

Another issue reported is the tooling being used. Mendix reported many developments lacked “key elements to enable rapid, iterative and collaborative cycles”, fundamental to accelerated application delivery. Only six percent of respondents were able to deliver applications in a matter of weeks, and change requests take a month or longer in most shops. Efficiency development tooling clearly has an important part to play in effective workload delivery.

So What?

The Mendix report went on to suggest possible solutions, including implementing an application strategy, promoting and empowering development staff and modernizing the development environments.

Quite Right Too

The article touches on a number of major challenges facing the application development organization today. Where it focused specifically on newer, digital applications, the topics broadly cover appdev across a variety of technical disciplines, including core, back-end business applications. In support of business application development and delivery, Micro Focus has taken steps to support organizations looking to tackle precisely the same kinds of challenge with innovative technology:

  • Backlog Management hinges on process efficiency. Collaborative, productive and efficient tools that remove hesitancy, mistakes and unnecessary delay will enable a more streamlined delivery process. Automated knowledge transfer, rapid development IDEs and flexible, scalable testing models enable core enterprise application delivery to be accelerated by up to 50%.
  • Opting to adopt Cloud technology as a development or deployment platform is, for core enterprise application development, as simple as switching to another (fully compatible) environment. Micro Focus offers support and certification and a highly portable application environment, so that adopting a Cloud model is just a simple technical switchover.
  • Modernizing the development process also requires a more enlightened view of tooling, to support the task at hand. Collaboration across language types, unification into an industry standard, and full control by the developer over their own workspace are just normal attributes for today’s enterprise application developer.
  • An “application strategy” is supported through an automated collection and analysis process of all application artefacts, to enable key strategic questions (application value, quality metrics, cost, defect analysis, etc.) to be taken early in the cycle.

blog_images.10timesvalue

Today’s application development workload continues to challenge many organizations, and the path forward is shrouded in mist. For the core business systems, smarter technology does at least provide many of the answers facing those looking to improve their delivery velocity.

 

 

A Call Centre Christmas Carol

Helen Withington from Micro Focus emulates (pun intended) a classic seasonal tale. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or Terminal, is purely coincidental. Call Center Managers and Operatives read on.

Stave 1: A yearning to modernize

ChristmasCarol4

As heavy snow covers the streets of London, Steve Crooge dozes noisily in his office, brandy in hand, dreaming of outbound call targets and a happy boardroom. Crooge, the manager of a call center, built his business from the ground up, using the very latest mainframe system – at the time.

Despite his cold personality and solitary nature, Crooge is respected and even admired by his call center staff for his ‘no nonsense’ attitude. At least you know exactly where you stand, even if it means your ego ends up a little bruised…

Every year, his hopeful IT support engineer, Bob Cratchit, asks if he can modernize their user interfaces. They’re looking more and more outdated with the tired green and black display and more and more customers are ‘bearing’ with an increasingly bear like Caller squinting at the screen and switching between applications. Training costs are spiraling too and Cratchit has a bothersome IT backlog to deal with. He’d like to crack this modernization task easily without cutting any new code or breaking the bank. Unfortunately, this Christmas Eve is no different to any other. All Crooge does is yell at Bob (and the call center staff to work the phones and screens harder to meet those sales projections.)

That night, Crooge’s former business partner Jacob Marley visits him as a ghost. Marley’s spirit has been moping around the server room aimlessly as punishment for keeping the business the way it’s always been, and disagreeing that he should be providing his call center staff with what they really want and need by keeping up-to-date. With a cumbersome 3270 green-screen monitor chained to his ankle, Marley has come to warn Crooge and try to save him from the same fate. He tells him Three Spirits will come to him over the next three nights.

ChristmasCarol7

Stave 2: Haunted by ‘change’

Crooge falls asleep and wakes up to find the Ghost of IT Past floating over him. He shows Crooge scenes from the past that his career from a happy young lad , to a cranky old-fashioned call center manager. “The only constant is change”, says the ghost of IT Past. “The way you do business has changed. Your application needs have changed. Your customers have changed. Even your staff have changed. Change is unavoidable, you either embrace it, or you fail.” Crooge had never been spoken to so bluntly before. He is used to doing the blunt talking.

The Ghost of IT Past tells Crooge that by embracing change, his ‘green screens’ can be invigorated to better suit the digital age. Outdated terminals are inefficient and new starters don’t stand a chance of learning the system quickly. These older technologies don’t readily integrate with the latest generation of devices and interfaces which today’s business users’ demand.

“Your staff want modern, clear interfaces which will improve customer service efficiency. ‘34% of senior IT leaders believe that green screen applications negatively affect staff retention’”, the ghost says. “So, easier navigation through a single screen view will improve speed, efficiency and productivity”.ChristmasCarol5

Stave 3: An important realization

Crooge nods off again only to be rudely awoken by a freezing snowball being thrown at his face. It’s the Ghost of IT Present.

Laughing insanely like a Grinch in a barrel of eggnog, the ghost shows him his call center staff, frantically fumbling with multiple screens and key stroke commands, meter-long telephone wires, and irritated customers. The Ghost informs Crooge that unless the future is changed, his crippled call center will be no more – and Crooge will be snowed under with an avalanche of backlog, chaos and complexity.

Finally, two ragged telesales trainees crawl out from the Ghost’s robes. The Ghost calls them Mr Price and Lacey Bones leaving Crooge with the warning that they will drag his company down, with poor productivity and customer service.

The ghost explains how modernization will help. “This is what happens when green screen apps meet smart, modern interfaces. Staff gain access to core business processes through a modernized user interface. In your call center, it’s all about efficiency, productivity and great customer service. Rumba+ reduces the need for multiple keystrokes across many screens eliminating clumsy look-up functionality to improve the efficiency of your teams. What I suggest you do is have a look at this demo to see what I mean.”

After a productive, pain-free demo day, without a single “bear with me one moment”, the call center staff happily leave work on time for the first time in months and decide to celebrate with a relaxing tipple or two of mulled wine.

ChristmasCarol8

Stave 4: A better user interface for greater productivity

Interrupting his realization, a silent Ghost of IT Yet To Come replaces the other ghost. He shows Crooge several scenes of people discussing the company’s tragic downfall; no-one seems pained by it, and most are happy about it. However,  Crooge doesn’t know which company it is at first.

He foresees that the call center staff are all long gone, having moved on to more efficient, productive call centers which have embraced change and brought their systems right up-to-date. Crooge finally realises that it is his company which failed because he didn’t invest in the code-free modernization solution from Micro Focus that could have helped his staff handle more calls, reach desired targets and smile more.

Micro Focus Rumba+ is efficient. Instead of switching from screen to screen, staff are able to gain instant access to all the information they need in just one screen. This boosts productivity and improves customer service.

Rumba+ offers mobility. Users have the flexibility to work from home on the web, on their office desktop, or remotely with an iPad. They can easily gain web access through extending mainframe applications quickly and easily to web initiatives, just like Aviva has.

Finally, Rumba+ provides simplicity. With a wealth of functionality, it makes your business apps easier to use and understand. As it’s more intuitive, your staff will find it easier and quicker.”ChristmasCarol1

Stave 5: Green screen modernization – the core of happiness!

With a somewhat theatrical rush of enthusiasm, Crooge now realizes what he needs to do. Provide an intuitive interface for his staff, with single screens which are easy to navigate around. Applications are available 24/7 via web, mobile and desktop interfaces, for high operational flexibility.

Grinning like a snowman with a few too many pieces of coal for its mouth, he finally gives his team the gift they have longed for: modernization. Crooge’s deluge of happy customers speaks for itself – as does the immense improvement in his staff’s efficiency and customer service. With a glass of brandy in everyone’s hands, Crooge declares a toast: “To modernization!”

ChristmasCarol3

 

Start your journey to better business efficiency now.

Rumba+

Untangling the web: modernizing complex legacy application systems

Kadi Grigg from Micro Focus introduces the Enterpise Analyzer product and dicusses the critical role ‘application intelligence’ tooling can play in complicated Federal legacy application modernization projects.

Modernizing complex legacy application systems

For the past six months, the trade press has been busy talking about a variety of government agencies’ data consolidation initiatives, the need to update the DoD’s MOCAS application and the issues around the launch of healthcare.gov.

However, amid the idle chatter of federal IT acquisition strategy, one thing remains clear: the modernization of mission-critical, so-called legacy systems is key to furthering the success of many federal agencies.  But after years of editing, modifying and staff turnover the portfolio of business applications has become a tangled web of 1’s and 0’s. While they meet economic, commercial, operational, and technical challenges of the agency, the longer these programs have been in use, the more complex these systems have become.

So the question becomes, how do I modernize a system that is rich in undocumented complexity?

tangledweb

Prior to making changes, the key to unlocking complexity lies in understanding the application environment. Agencies must understand and appreciate how the current applications operate to avoid the creation of a primary obstacle – that is, determining what to change and how to change it.

I have noticed that many agencies in the federal space are purchasing tools based not only on the usefulness of the product, but more importantly the longevity. This is perfectly understandable in a climate of cost-cutting and high-profile IT failures. So what can tick all those boxes?

Where to start: Enterprise Analyzer

Enterprise Analyzer represents the smart choice. Not only is it a great tool to use in an application development scenario, but also in application maintenance mode. Enterprise Analyzer is the foundation for your application modernization, mapping out your entire IT environment.

If you think about it, Enterprise Analyzer (EA) is like a blueprint for a house. It tells you where the walls should go, where the electricity wires and the plumbing should run. Of course, there are other blueprints at your disposal. But do you really want to build a house with misplaced wiring, slanted walls, or poorly-designed rooms due to vague plans? If you don’t I recommend an investment in EA for the modernization of your IT mission-critical applications and their ongoing maintenance.

It certainly acts as a blueprint in the application maintenance scenario, making it easy to find portions of code you may need to update due to regulation or other regular maintenance routines.

A variety of vendors within the market space offer tools that provide the capabilities to run reports and provide analysis at surface level only. By this I mean that their tooling is limited in depth and cannot demonstrate to the developer the potential impact across the application of a single change in code.

Developers working with Enterprise Analyzer begin by mapping the applications. This provides a solid foundation – but understanding does not stop at tabular and graphical visualizations. With this solution the developer can access application decomposition analysis, systems analysis that provides insight into applications and their subsystems inter-relationships, field change analysis and much more.

Using a mature tool such as Enterprise Analyzer enables developers to locate specific instances of code or undertake simple tasks, such as locating certain directories. It is these features that help to increase developer efficiency by 40%.

For the budget-conscious Federal agency, then, the question is not so much why use Enterprise Analyzer, as why not…?

Learn more

Enterprise Analyzer is all about discovery, and finding out more about the inner complexities of your application portfolio. The journey begins here – by learning more about Enterprise Analyzer itself. We have created a number of useful assets to assist you. This whitepaper, this demo and this product overview are all good starting points. Or find me on Twitter if you want to talk more.

 

 

Low-risk Modernization – an Insurers best policy?

Big business faces big challenges and embracing future needs and customer demand is no easy thing, especially with so much complexity within IT. A recent article in the insurance industry press introduced the possibility that organizations should consider abandoning current core IT systems and starting again. Derek Britton on the risks and alternatives.

Information Week’s Insurance and Technology ezine carries “The Rocky Road of Modernization” a thought-provoking piece from Kelly Sheridan which discusses some important considerations around systems renewal or modernization in the insurance sector. Sheridan’s view of customer focus and operational efficiency doubtlessly represent the cornerstone elements of an effective, modern IT strategy for many insurance firms.

The article then attempts to outline possible IT strategies for effective change, including the assertion that “systems produced today” are “better able to handle the modern … environment”. This is unsurprising, as old IT systems are much derided. After all, how can decades-old systems serve today’s organizational needs? Even the taxonomy “legacy systems” is viewed within IT as a largely pejorative term. When organizations set out to replace their so-called legacy applications, removing a decades-old working system can be difficult. Even if the effort succeeds, a lot of money is being spent for very little in return. What replaces it is – fundamentally – merely a like-for-like equivalent. Yet extensive budget, resource and upheaval is consumed on this venture.

Replacement: Too risky for insurance companies?

And in reality, the viability of system-wide replacement carries considerable risks. Swapping out one system for another compels the organization to cope with significant changes, including functional equivalence, data integrity, user acceptance, training, hardware and software commissioning, among others.

The new system is untested, the system being replaced is undocumented – and the possibilities for error are huge. Studies undertaken by industry commentators and analysts talk about “failure” rates of between 40% and 70%, depending on the nature of the project, where implementations are excessively late, over budget or just never delivered. The IT press is littered with examples – just Google the words “IT failure”. The vast majority of these are new implementations.

Furthermore, a question arises around the article’s assertion that older systems are “expensive to operate” and rely on “outdated” skills, such as COBOL programming. This attempts to capture a nuanced argument in a general statement and should be challenged. Core systems such as COBOL are, from a maintenance perspective, easier to understand and manage than more equivalent languages. In terms of available skills, interestingly most developers in 2014, with their knowledge of IDEs such as Eclipse or Visual Studio, can easily pick up COBOL, the latest versions of which also work within these environments.

Keep it COBOL

Any concerns around the availability of current, incumbent skills, are also worth closer scrutiny. COBOL, the building block of most insurance applications, has gained an undeserved reputation as uncool and outdated relative to where high-paying developer jobs are trending – a perception that might explain why only 27 percent of Universities teach COBOL.

However, demand creates supply and greater dialogue between employers and academia can help correct the issue. Furthermore, Micro Focus is working with over 300 universities and colleges today to provide up-to-date COBOL training and technology to support both industry and universities alike and give tomorrow’s developers a future-proof career. After all, who else will maintain the applications that underpin the insurance houses’ core processes?

Another assertion made here that systems produced today are “less expensive to maintain” is, again, not necessarily the case. Take Java, for example. While it performs well for mobility requirements, it can lead to higher “technical debt” – the Gartner-coined term that defines the eventual consequences of poor system design, software architecture, or software development within a codebase. That’s a lot more than COBOL. According to CAST Software’s CRASH report, the estimated technical debt of Java is $5.42 per line of code, compared to $1.26 per line of COBOL.

Anyone planning to implement a modernization project should assess risk, cost, competitive advantage and time to implement as key considerations. Reusing current, working, trusted systems, then defining appropriate strategies to modify them, requires lower-scale change which delivers value improvements quickly but without undue risk. Interestingly, the same reuse strategy helps tackle issues around compliance and IT Backlog, concerns which also beset the insurance sector.

Newspaper Headlines

Many well-known insurance brands, including Nationwide, Aviva, Allianz, HCL, SCFBMIC and United Life have successfully repurposed older systems and interfaces by reusing core COBOL applications, saving time and effort which can then be devoted to other customer-facing initiatives. Meanwhile, similarly risk-averse organizations in the banking sector have also recently chosen Micro Focus technology to support their core IT modernization strategies.

In conclusion

The market expects insurers be cost-efficient and – naturally – risk-averse. Embarking on a modernization strategy based on reuse is a low-risk route to better customer service and operational efficiency. Sticking with the programming language that has successfully underpinned the core application since it was created is not “outdated”, but common sense.

As we have discussed, with a little fine-tuning, these applications can deliver the future innovation required to meet the requirements of tomorrow without compromising what is there today. Micro Focus technology protects the intellectual property of core applications, and enables the system transformation needed to embrace new technology and meet new market requirements. We believe that for our insurance clients it really is the best policy.

 

Godfrey