Published on in Reshaping Business

The TV show ‘Great British Bake Off’ has been a massive hit, attracting viewers from all walks of life.  There are valuable lessons to be learned from the show: to be successful and deliver your knockout ‘showstopper’ requires meticulous planning, just the right amount of ingredients and measured, ongoing care and attention.

Try to take shortcuts and your soufflé will sink or your buns will bounce!   These are lessons that carry over into the IT industry…

I’m sure this story will be familiar to many CIOs. Your boss calls and tells you that your annual CapEx budget to keep your IT systems current – the so-called ‘currency’ budget – has unfortunately had to be reallocated to deliver a more ‘strategic’ project in-year.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, it’s happened most years for the last decade. Never fear though; you’re not alone. In fact in many corporates, currency budgets have been abandoned altogether, with the minimum required funding put aside to keep the lights on, and CapEx spend almost exclusively aligned to ‘sexy’ new projects.

Having worked in and supplied to the IT industry for the last 30 years, I’ve always believed this approach to be a false economy.  Typically what happens is that the ‘sexy’ project requires integration or building on top of legacy systems that have not been kept current.

All of a sudden, the full cost and time of doing the upgrades that have been ignored for the last 5 to 10 years become the project’s problem.  As a result the new project runs over budget and time, has to be de-scoped or, quite often, aborted altogether.

The other common related problem is when eventually one critical element of the IT landscape becomes end-of-life, having never being upgraded. This forces a major upgrade to both itself and many linked components that are no longer supported by the new version of the end-of-life component. This is usually at great cost and for very little perceived business value.

In the end, the lack of these currency budgets contributes to corporate IT departments being labelled as slow to respond and burdened with old and complex legacy systems.  This is when we start saying “welcome” to Shadow IT.

Potato BreadHow can this be addressed? Well, new IT systems & platforms are certainly designed to be easier to be upgraded.  Abstraction – the well-established concept of moving away from ‘hard-wiring’ the building blocks of IT systems – is designed to make it easier to upgrade one layer without forcing the next up, down or sideways, to also be upgraded.

Abstraction, however, can only go so far – new functionality cannot easily be introduced without abstraction layers needing to be changed, and major security upgrades frequently necessitate the abstraction layer to be changed anyway.

We could turn to consumer-originated approaches to business IT, as they are seen to offer massively accelerated design, deployment and innovation of systems i.e. a quick speed to market. But even here we are beginning to see the challenges this pace can bring.

For example, the Apple iOS marketplace has expanded from nothing in 2007 to now encompass a comprehensive range of device form factors, improved functionality and what could be considered ‘legacy’ hardware and software.  Each new iOS update has to support a broad array of new technology and functionality, alongside older technology, and millions of apps.

With every iOS update comes more and more news of things not working, with typically at least 2 fast-following incremental updates released to fix what doesn’t work first time out.

Equally, some major iOS gaming application vendors have suggested that they cannot keep up with updating their apps in line with new iOS releases, and consumers are feeling the effect as their paid-for apps no longer work.   Let’s hope that this never happens in the corporate world, although I suspect it already is…

In light of this situation, all of us in the IT industry can take a lesson from Bake Off. To be a winner you need a good recipe, the ability to think on your feet, and the right ingredients to work with.

Rather than eggs and flour, in IT we need the right up to date hardware, applications, and support services to thrive.  Don’t half-bake your budget and deprioritise ‘currency’, it leads to more pain later. After all, no one wants their sponge with a soggy bottom.

 

Photo credits Kelly Hunter, Susanne Nilsson and Bart Everson on Flickr. 

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