Build it and they will come
It's time to set your organization's technology standards, policies, and disciplines
In the New Enterprise, IT departments must become central service organizations once again. IT must initiate standards, guidelines, and processes all while appeasing users. This article outlines the steps for achieving this goal. (2,100 words)
The New Enterprise Information Technology (IT) needs to return to its roots as a true service organization, where users approach IT for help willingly. But it won't be easy. Over the past few years, IT busied itself with doting on mainframes and minicomputers while baby-sitting a few mission-critical finance and payroll applications. Consequently, IT ceded control of the desktop and local-area-network (LAN) to business units and ambitious users. Local managers became technologists, shunning central IT.
Times change, and it's time for IT to bring users back into the fold. Why? Technology choices are becoming more complex, separate departments are ever more interdependent, and standards are becoming critical to the success of today's flat, communications-dependent organization chart. Someone needs to set an organization's technology standards, create policies, and form disciplines. IT must step to the forefront.
For years, Sun argued, "The network is the computer." A phrase no pundit, Web surfer, or any other sane person aware of the Internet would argue with today. Except us. We believe the network is really the data center, a point we made in our July, 1995, column "Supporting the glass closet."
IT should provide services from the wide-area, metropolitan-area, campus-area, and local-area network down to the desktop where end-users should be able to access an application through an icon or GUI front-end and not care where it resides. The application could be on the LAN, somewhere over the WAN, or even across the Internet. This includes mainframe applications as well. Since the mainframe will never go away, It should become just another large application server on the network.
To support this kind of service, standards must be in place throughout your network. And who understands standards, guidelines, and processes better than IT! We've been doing it for 30 years. But it isn't easy, as we said earlier, especially since IT gave up control of the desktop to end-users. Once you give up control, it's very difficult to get it back.
First we defined the organization model (Sunworld Online, January, 1996) Then we built a service-based infrastructure that included standards and guidelines. Over time, we gained end-user support. "If you build it, they will come." Build an effective infrastructure that provides service and allows end-users to perform their jobs better (without worrying about technology), and they will come back.
The infrastructure Infrastructure consist of services that support your internal corporation: networking, data center(s), and desktop (end-user) support. Recalling our model of centralized control, the New Enterprise IT should own and provide these services as well as develop standards for them. Base types of standards and guidelines are on your corporate culture allowing for some diversity -- how much depends on that culture.
The three main issues focus on the desktop, application platform, and network, but what about the database? In most cases the database is supported on any of the application platforms. (For more about supporting distributed databases, see our September 1995 column "Supporting distributed databases".) Now, think about all of the operating environments currently installed at your corporation for each of the three. (The following figure offers an example.)
Desktop Application Network Platform ------- ----------- ------- DOS MVS SNA Windows VM IPX Windows-95 VMS DECNET OS/2 Unix IP NT NT Ethernet Unix Token Ring
It's tough to create and support networked-based applications without standards. When you implement an application (and make it reliable) you must know which operating environments will require integration and support. For example, say you implement a client/server-based set of financial applications which resides on a server somewhere in the network, and it's going to be accessible by many clients over the WAN. The challenge will be on the client side given a variety of desktop operating environments. If your clients include Windows, DOS, and NT, then a GUI interface to the application would be required for each. This involves a lot of extra work and testing in order to provide the high RAS users expect.
We think operating environments should be as standardized as possible. In this heterogeneous world, you may not be able to standardize one, but you can, at least, keep it to a minimum. Just think how much easier it would be if all three were Unix! If the desktop environment is Windows, then it should be documented as the supported environment. The same goes for Unix and MVS as the application platform. The network can be all TCP/IP and Ethernet. Users shouldn't have to worry about the technology, just the applications they need to run their business. Remember, the more standardized you become the easier it is to provide effective service and lower the cost of support.
Other areas you should consider standardizing are third-party software and e-mail. IT should provide standard suites of third party software and a corporate e-mail standard. We prefer IT be responsible for licensing third party software and implementing new version/releases. This goes for e-mail too.
Here are two examples of what we call "low hanging fruit" for cost reduction. Think of the cost savings from having corporate-wide licenses for software tools like spreadsheet, publishing, and even Windows rather than having each department/business unit negotiate its own. There's also the cost savings of providing one e-mail environment versus each business unit implementing its own. Guess who will be asked to provide gateways and support between the many e-mail environments for "corporate e-mail." You got it! And that just adds to the total cost of IT when you are being challenged to reduce cost.
Users should concentrate on applications to run their business. They should not deal with third party tools, e-mail, or the operating environments that support their applications. As part of the marketing and sales function, IT must meet with end-users on an ongoing basis to get input and inform them of standards. The dictate could be: "As long as the application runs within our operating environment, IT will support it." This allows diversity, makes end-users feel like they have some control, and helps define standards, procedures, and guidelines. And if it is well communicated and documented, everyone will know the costs associated with diversity. Also remember to inform an organization of additional cost burdens. We never say we can't support more requirements, we only want executives to understand (and agree to) any added IT costs.
The network is the key infrastructure supporting our model of network-based computing and applications. In our vision, you must first implement the enterprise-wide network, and design it for high availability. Keep the end-user's perspective in mind: Applications are located on the network, and end-users shouldn't care where the server actually resides. Think in terms of an investment where you are spend money to save money. Investing in a standardized, world-class network will help reduce overall support costs.
We've seen the proof: One organization built an enterprise-wide network that grew from eight locations to more than 100 without increasing network support staff. If you use a metric of number of network hubs per network support engineer, you can see the drastic productivity improvement for this company.
Many vendors, suppliers, and partners that make your business a success need access to your critical applications and data. We think an appropriate solution is the Internet. Just imagine having one of your major business systems connected to the Internet (highly secure of course) accessible by your suppliers, vendors, partners, and even customers while keeping your organization's internal operations private. Providing this kind of functionality will attract the best in the business and improve your competitive advantage. Now that's service and partnering!
The application platform
The next key piece, the application platform, is a critical service issue in the New Enterprise IT. The platform must be flexible enough to provide an environment that will support most of the business requirements when implementing a network computing model. Flexibility gives customers control over their applications. The platform must support applications (purchased or built) the department needs to support its business model. Otherwise, customers will feel that IT is not providing the right services, and they will want to "do their own thing" once again. There must be standards, however. The standards must be aligned with your company's culture, diversity model, and support requirements/costs.
Since you already have existing platforms that have new or legacy applications on them (see the example in figure x) like MVS, VM, VMS, and others, the next step is to define the application platform architecture for the future. Again, we feel standards are required.
If you pick a network application platform like Unix, then most of the department diversity issues can be addressed. Studies have indicated that up to forty percent of all new business applications are being developed for Unix. If your strategy is to buy versus build, and your platform is Unix, most of the business problems can be solved.
You may, on the other hand, end up with a hodge-podge if you let the departments pick the platform. And big problems will consequently arise in the network computing model. Complications will come when you are asked to manage, support, and integrate the environment. How will you support operational policies like backup and recovery, job scheduling, change control, disaster/recovery, and operating system maintenance? And just wait until one department needs to integrate applications and/or data with another. You'll be spending a lot of time and money on the middleware to support this integration.
If you have the ability to define this standard architecture up front you'll keep IT costs in line and support the new IT services model. If required, market and sell the concepts to your end-users. It does work...eventually.
Standard desktop environments are tough to implement, especially with users in control. This is probably going to be the toughest sell you'll have in implementing your New Enterprise network computing model. Remember, the desktop should be seen as a corporate asset and must be treated as such. Desktops are for business productivity improvements, not games!
Start by using IT as the test environment. Set with a model that defines the desktop configurations by job function. Define the standard desktop and desktop operating environment whether it be Windows, NT, DOS or Unix. Build a software server environment that provides standard versions of supported desktop software and then put in the processes to support them. This involves change control, automated software distribution, and help desk support. Once you have built this environment and learn how to support it, it becomes easier to sell to others.
Why do you need standard desktops? Again, it goes back to our network computing model. If you are deploying client/server-based applications in the network, concentrate on the interface between the client and the server. Each different operating environment at the desktop will require a separate interface to the application server (i.e., one for Windows, one for NT, and one for Unix). Testing, deployment, and support becomes more difficult. If this kind of interface is required, you'll also need to set up what we call "a one-of-a-kind network." It includes one of every operating environment deployed in your company. This is required to effectively test, quality assure, and deploy new or revised applications. If this testing effort delays the deployment life cycle, then IT gets the blame for "not providing effective service." But they'll say the same thing if you deploy an application in "production," and it breaks because you haven't tested that particular desktop environment.
So standardize as much as possible and sell it to your users. Be patient. It can take a year or two to get everyone converted because of the need to retire existing assets and the need to market and sell the concept. Remember, if you build it, they will come!
Harris Kern (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Sun's Open Systems Migration Consultant for NAAFO Market Development. Randy Johnson (email@example.com) owns R&H Associates, a full-time rightsizing consultancy in Boulder Creek, CA. R&H Associates helps people worldwide in implementing and supporting client/server infrastructures based on their proven methodologies. © 1996 Harris Kern and Randy Johnson. All rights reserved.
Pick up a copy of their book Rightsizing The New Enterprise: The Proof Not the Hype SunSoft Press/PTR Prentice Hall, ISBN# 0-13-132184-6 or their new book Managing The New Enterprise: The Proof Not the Hype by Kern, Johnson, Hawkins, Law, and Kennedy, SunSoft Press/PTR Prentice Hall, ISBN# 0-13-231184-4. SunSoft Press has a URL at http://www.sun.com/smi/ssoftpress
If you have technical problems with this magazine, contact firstname.lastname@example.org