Archive for August, 2010

How did banks’ IT get in such a mess?

Friday, August 27th, 2010

The Economist has an interesting article on UK banks and the problems of historic systems development causing a lack of co-ordinated, fully integrated, customer focussed IT.  Of course, it would be great (although pie in the sky) to migrate to a greenfield IT architecture, but only brand new companies (like Metro Bank) truly have that option.

The lack of integration in banking has been caused by a combination of build and buy, the need to address regulatory changes, the launch of new products (yes, I remember the launch of credit cards, never mind ISAs).  But you might assume that, because banks have been around since IT was invented, and have been perpetual early adopters, that it is only old industries that suffer this problem.

It got me thinking about newer industries, take Telecoms and Media for example.  Why didn’t they have the opportunity to greenfield their IT?  My take is that it is the opposite of the banking scenario.  That is, the industry exploded so fast the ability to keep up with the pace of change meant that systems had to be cobbled together on the fly.  To grow a company from almost nothing to £80Bn in a few years must put enormous pressure on the CIO.

So despite the provocative headline of this post, the mess is entirely understandable and it is difficult to envisage any other result than the one we have.  We now must learn how to live with it, both in the short term and the long term using a combination of strategic and tactical initiatives targeted at the nirvana offered to new entrants.  However, if Metro Bank experiences the sudden growth it expects, I wonder how long before it suffers the same integration problems as everyone else?

Integration is so easy, IT can’t do it!

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

I stumbled across Mike Vizard’s post, Managing Borderless Applications.  Mike’s contention is that IT is facing a support headache caused by integration that they don’t know about.  Integration carried out by business users using web based tools integrating web based applications.  Integrations and automations that will ultimately become mission critical, and then break, at which point the business will stare over at IT and ask for help.  And, as web apps race for ubiquity, this problem will inevitably increase.

It is an interesting conundrum that we spent a lot of time thinking about at Blue Prism.  The reason business users run off and do their own integration, is because IT takes too long to deliver in the context of the speed of business today. So the business gets its solution quickly, but this type of end user computing carries a high risk of failure in the medium term due to lack of documentation, security, maintenance and support.

We realised that end-user integration and process automation, whilst technically possible, needs controlling.  The trick is to find the balance between IT discipline and user freedom and flexibility.

We found that this works best if IT sets out a corridor of governance within which the business users can operate.  Some of the components of this approach need to be built into the integration/automation technology.  Some need to come from a new “light touch” governance methodology that both IT and the business subscribe to.

The business gets an agile response to rapidly changing business requirements, but IT knows about the computing initiatives and helps the business to deliver them within a supported environment.

Not easy to resolve, but worth the effort for the competitive advantage that comes from agile operations.