Protecting your Software Investment from… your own Software!

Tell me if you have this problem: a business’ critical IT system cannot be upgraded to a current revision or replaced, because it has been heavily customized, or surrounded by other complex customized IT systems?

For such comfort as there is in misery shared, you are not alone! I have seen this issue at a Fortune 100 technology industry leader, and in go-ahead SME services companies. If an IT system is useful, you will try to exploit the information in it to it’s fullest extent, and will want to leverage it’s value by integrating or extending it to other systems and uses. Integration is a topic I cover frequently — most recently in our “Why is it Still so Hard to Integrate Your Business?” series.

Problem customization comes in a range of forms and degrees:

  • Something as simple as an accumulation of home grown Crystal Reports.
  • Maybe someone thought it would be a good idea to create “views” of the database to speed up reporting/analysis?
  • You have modified the database to add some useful information.
  • Scripts, macros and stored procedures have been ‘wired in’ to the system.
  • All the way up to where executable programs have been replaced/added into the system to change its behavior.

Now the consequences of changing the base system have become large, risky and very difficult to quantify, predict or control.

How did we get here? What was the fundamental mistake that lost control of this system?

Well first, what was not a mistake?

  • Exploiting the system to its fullest extent;
  • Encouraging Staff to make the most use of the valuable information in it;
  • Integrating it with other IT systems to supercharge the business.

These were not mistakes. Information empowers Staff and enables the right decisions to be made more quickly by a broader range of Staff and skill levels. Banning that will choke your business.

As with so many things in life, it’s not what you do, but how you do it that determines whether you will have trouble down the road, so I have three watch-words for you for system customization and integration that we will explore over the next few weeks:

  • Separate
  • Control
  • Document

Will these cost more initially?
Yes — though not a lot more: it’s more about organization and management.

Will they save in the long term?
Definitely– from experience, I estimate a 10-fold lifetime ROI.

Looking forward to exploring this more with you over the next few weeks.