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William Ulrich on 'IT Transformation' -- Routes to modernization

You may or may not change languages. You may or may not change platforms. The routes to modernization are various as discussed in this Q&A.

As part of our ongoing coverage of modernization and transformation issues, we spoke with expert William Ulrich, author of recent books on the subject. In the first part of the discussion, we spoke with Ulrich about ''Business Architecture: The Art and Practice of Business Transformation.'' Here we speak with Ulrich on ''Information Systems Transformation: Architecture-Driven Modernization Case Studies,'' co-written with Phillip Newcomb.

We asked Ulrich about his intents in writing ''Information Systems Transformation.'' He said the purpose of the book was to focus on real-world case studies showing a variety of paths to software transformation. William, the new book centers on user studies. Is business architecture discussed as in your other recent book? Also, in ''Information Systems Transformation,'' what were the case studies telling you?

William Ulrich: There's some cross fertilization between the two books. There's an introductory section of the book that goes through the details of what is encompassed by information systems transformation. That part touches on the role of business architecture within that context. It also lays out the standards, framework and so forth for doing the work.

The case studies themselves come from all over the world and there are a lot of different approaches. There are a lot of different ways to go about transforming your portfolio.

One of the case studies is from a US government agency and it was a very incremental, capability-by-capability approach to transforming the portfolio, so that we could de-couple, create new services, create interim structures, and so forth to accomplish [transformation].

Other approaches (including an Italian government case study) took it as a much bigger project and applied multiple approaches to move a highly diversified portfolio. And still others were highly automated platform migrations that occurred.

So we look at a wide variety of transformation approaches. The key concept of the book was to communicate that transformation of your application and architectures is not really just one thing, it can be many kinds of things depending on what you want to accomplish and how innovative you are and how well you've done your job at business-IT mapping. Can you detail the kinds of transformations we are seeing?

You may or may not change languages. You may or may not change platforms. You may totally refactor an application and leave it in place.

You may just shrink a particular set of applications or consolidate three applications into one. You may move to services, which of course is the ideal for many architectures, and you may do that incrementally. Or you may decide to take a system as a whole.

In many cases you want to view the overall portfolio from a planning perspective so that you can figure out how to piece meal it, do the business for IT mapping, and then figure out what’s the best approach for which pieces. In one case study in the book, there were many approaches applied in the context of a single transformation effort, because some of it they could salvage and move and some of it they replaced in toto with a third party off the shelf package. Some of it they decided to rewrite, some of it they modernized, refactored and transformed. So there are actually many approaches applied just in the context of a particular case study. Understanding business capabilities seems important, but at the same time, there is a growing focus on the customer – looking outwardly.

Ulrich: Yeah. Customer facing issues are extremely important. Historically, organizations have been looking to become more streamlined, more efficient, save more money, do it with a potentially reduced workforce, and so on. And that is a very inward-looking view of things. It says 'squeeze as much as we can our of our current workforce, make ourselves more efficient, put more workflow through the organization, increase our profit margins' and so on. That’s been the historic view, but right now what’s happening is organizations are starting to realize they need to be more outward looking, more external.

In order to do that, you have to look at your business in a different way. While business capabilities tell you what your business does, they don’t really tell you whether or not that particular capability is being leveraged internally or externally.

So a different view of the business is something called the value stream. Value streams can be both internally and externally facing. Normally an organization will focus in on the six, seven or eight value streams that have a direct and positive impact on their customer, constituent, or patient base, whatever you want to call it. A value stream exists to show an end-to-end view of an internal or external stakeholder.

Given that an organization might have hundreds of products or services they deliver to the customer, this takes a very customer-centric view and it says, ‘as a customer coming in, I don’t care what service or product that they procured from us in the past, I just need to know that they have procured a service or product and if they want to now procure another service or product.' So it’s a very, very customer-centric view of the world, as opposed to an internally-facing view, which is still what a lot of the service-bundling concept that they used to have in the old days.

So you say 'I have these value streams, and in order to deliver better value I have to streamline them.' That provides the automation view needed to deliver end-to-end value. And you can put your business vision around that.

The value stream allows you to say what capabilities you use to deliver each stage of the stream. That is what prioritizes the capability requirements which are then turned into back-end services.

The value stream sort of mirrors the concept of case management or work flow automation. The capabilities underneath the value stream mirror the evolution of all the underlying business services and middleware services that are required. There is a direct corollary in the IT architecture world.

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