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Archive for the ‘Enterprise Software’ Category

Is There Something Inherently un-Agile About ERP Software?

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A reader of the post Make the Hairs on the Back of Your Neck Stand Up posed the following question:

I wonder if there’s something inherently un-Agile (and thus, unable to change fast enough to meet new business demands) about older enterprise software, or just ERP software?

The answer IMHO is size. To quote Capers Jones:

Since defect potentials tend to rise with the overall size of the application, and since defect removal efficiency levels tend to decline with the overall size of the application, the overall volume of latent defects delivered with the application rises with size. This explains why super-large applications in the range of 100,000 function points, such as Microsoft Windows and many enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications may require years to reach a point of relative stability. These large systems are delivered with thousands of latent bugs or defects. 

The phenomenon described by Jones is often exacerbated through the “ship more infrequently” syndrome. IMVU’s Timothy Fritz describes it as follows:

While this may decrease downtime (things break and you roll back), the cost on development time from work and rework will be large, and mistakes will continue to slip through. The natural tendency will be to ship even more infrequently, until you aren’t shipping at all. Then you’ve gone and forced yourself into a total rewrite. Which will also be doomed.  

You might choose to reduce your technical debt instead of trying total rewrite. Chances are you will struggle to find Elbow Room for Handling Technical Debt. My hunch is that once >50% of development resources are assigned to maintaining the software on an on-going basis, it is time to get into refactoring big time. If you don’t, sooner or later you are likely to find you can’t afford the software you developed.

Make the Hairs on the Back of Your Neck Stand Up

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Cote sent me the recent CIO Magazine article entitled ERP’s Paralysis Problem and the Repercussions for Business Everywhere. The article discusses the findings from a December 2009 study conducted by IDC and sponsored by ERP vendor Agresso, as follows:

A couple of verbatim responses from respondents should make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up: “Capital expenditure priorities are shifted into IT from other high-payback projects” just to perform necessary ERP changes, noted one respondent. Said another: “Change to ERP paralyzes the entire organization in moving forward in other areas that can bring more value.”

To make doubly certain the message gets across, the article finishes with the following “nocturnal” paragraph:

As the sun finally sets on the first decade in the new millennium, it’s high time we say good night to ERP. A new day will be starting soon, and the blemished legacy and failings of ERP’s nearly four-decade-long reign will be a distant memory.

Maybe. While ERP systems no doubt have their own particular twists, the sorry state of affairs described above is true of various industries that have developed complex software systems over prolonged periods of time. Just in the past few months I have witnessed such situations in banking and health care. In previous life I had been exposed to more of the same in other industries. The software decayed and decayed but technical debt had never been reduced. Consequently, the cost of change, any change, today is horrendous. As Jim Highsmith‘s chart below indicates, “once on the right of the curve, all choices are hard.”

in-can-you-afford-the-software-you-are-developing

In Estimating Software Costs, author Capers Jones quantifies five-year cost of software application ownership (for the vendor). He examines three similar applications, each of nominal size of 1000 function points, as a function of the sophistication of the corresponding projects. The respective life cycle costs are as follows:

  • Lagging projects: $2,316,000
  • Average projects: $1,860,000
  • Leading projects: $1,312,000

Jones goes on to issue the following stern warning:

All known compound objects decay and become more complex with the passage of time unless effort is exerted to keep them repaired and updated. Software is no exception… Indeed, the economic value of lagging applications is questionable after about three to five years. The degradation of initial structure and the increasing difficulty of making updates without “bad fixes” tends towards negative returns on investment (ROI) within a few years.

Enough, indeed, to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up…

Your Investment in Enterprise Software – Guidelines to CIOs and CFOs

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The overall investment associated with implementing and maintaining a suite of enterprise software products could be significant. A 1:4 ratio between product investment and the corresponding investment over time in related services is not uncommon. In other words, an initial $2M in licensing a suite of enterprise software products might easily balloon to $10M in total life-cycle costs (initial investment in perpetual license plus the ongoing investment in associated services).

I offer the following rule-of-a-thumb guidelines to assessing whether the terms quoted by a vendor for an enterprise software suite of products are right:

  1. Standard maintenance costs: Insist on a 1:1 ratio between license and standard maintenance over a 5 year period. If standard maintenance costs over this period exceed the corresponding license costs, chances are: A) the vendor is quite greedy; or, B) the vendor’s software accrued a non-negligible amount of technical debt. Ask the vendor to quantify the technical debt in monetary terms. See Technical Debt on Your Balance Sheet for an example how to conduct such quantification.

  2. Premium customer support costs: Certain premium customer support services could be quite appropriate for your business parameters. However, various “premium services” could actually address deficits or defects in the enterprise software products you license. If the technical debt figure is high, the vendor you are considering might not be able to afford the software he has developed. Under such circumstances, “premium services” could simply be a vehicle the vendor uses to recoup his investment in software development.
  3. Professional services costs: Something is wrong if the costs of professional services exceed licensing cost. Either the suite of products you are considering is not a good fit for your business parameters or the initiative you are aspiring to implement through the software is overly ambitious.

To summarize, the grand total of license fees, customer support fees and professional services fees over a 5 year period should not be higher than 3X license fees. Something is out of balance if you are staring at  a 4X or 5X ratio for the software you are considering.

One final point: please do not forget to add End-of-Life costs to the economic calculus. Successful enterprise software  initiatives can be very sticky.

Technical Debt: Refactoring vis-a-vis Starting Afresh

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Only three options are available to you once your technical debt overwhelms the development and customer support teams:

  1. Continue as is.
  2. Start refactoring in earnest to pay back your debt.
  3. Switch to a new code base, either by launching an unencumbered development project or through acquiring new software from another company.

The first option, obviously, does not solve any problem – you simply continue a struggle that becomes more and more difficult over time. As indicated in the post Elbow Room for Handling Technical Debt, the second option is quite difficult to carry out if it is exercised at a late point in the software’s life cycle. This post examines the third option – starting afresh.

The attraction of starting afresh is always tempting. The sins of the past, hidden in layers over layers of technical debt and manifesting themselves in low customer satisfaction and poor customer retention, are (sort of) forgiven. The shiny new software holds the promise of better days to come.

Trouble is, your old sins are there to get you in three nasty ways:

  1. New technical debt: Even if the shiny new software is very good indeed, it will decay over time. Unless you transformed your software engineering practices to ensure refactoring is carried out on an ongoing basis, sooner or later you will accrue new technical debt.
  2. Migration: Good that the new software might be, it is not likely to provide all the functionality the old software had. Migrating your customers will require a lot of hard work, particularly if your customers developed elaborate business processes on top of your old software.
  3. Critical race between old and new: For a period of time (say a couple of years) the old software is likely to run alongside the new software. Any significant new regulatory requirement will force you to update both the old software and the new software. Ditto for security. Any nifty new technology you might want to embed in your new software is likely to be equally desirable to customers who still use your old software. You will be pressed to incorporate the new technology in the old software, not just in the new software.

Before opting for new software (in preference to refactoring the old software), I would recommend you compare the economics of the two option. My rule of a thumb for the calculus of introducing new enterprise software to replace legacy software is straightforward:

For a period of about two years, assume the run rate for dev/test/support will be 150% of your current investment in development, test and support of the old software.

Please note that the 150% figure is just the expected run rate for running the new software alongside the legacy software. You will need, of course, to add the cost of acquiring/producing the new software to the economic calculus.

You might be able to reduce the ‘150% for two years’ investment by applying some draconian migration measures. Such measures, of course, will affect your customers. In the final analysis, your decision to acquire new software must be viewed as the following simple question:

What value do you place on your customer base?!

“How do we move towards an agile procurement or agile development methodology?”

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Colleague and friend Annie Shum sent me the following excerpt from  U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra’s Friday keynote talk at the University of Maryland’s CIO Forum:

Questioned on whether service-oriented architecture still is an emphasis in a federal cloud computing paradigm, Kundra said SOA “absolutely” still matters. “Look at the Social Security Administration and what it’s done with SOA and local government,” he said. “They can build lightweight applications to interact with databases elsewhere.” That embrace of modern development practices extends beyond just SOA or upgrading programmers’ skills from COBOL. “How do we move towards an agile procurement or agile development methodology?” asked Kundra [highlighted by IG].

The {SOA –> agile procurement –> agile development} connection is intriguing. Obviously, Kundra gets the nature of the next revolution in productivity. My hunch would be that Business Service Management, particularly in its Agile BSM flavor, would soon be added to the mix.

Open Source Software and Agile Software Development: Parallels and Lessons for Enterprise IT

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Cutter Consortium has published the Executive Update entitled Open Source Software and Agile Software Development: Parallels and Lessons for Enterprise IT by Sebastian Hassinger (“Seb”) and me. Here is the abstract:

The phenomenon of open source software (OSS) is a recognized and mature aspect of the global IT market with profound implications for enterprise IT. A newer trend emerging is the various disciplines and methodologies that fall under the rubric of agile software development, which has a number of interesting parallels with and similarities to OSS. With the adoption en masse of OSS projects, such as Linux and Apache, by the mainstream enterprise customer, there is a track record of more than 10 years with which to gauge the extent and the nature of the impact on the enterprise. While agile has not yet reached the level of adoption that OSS enjoys, all indications are positive for that occurring in the near future. By examining its parallels with OSS, one can make inferences about the nature of the long-term potential impact of agile.

I am honored to co-publish with Seb!

(If you have not yet “e-met” Seb, here is his bio:

Sebastian Hassinger has worked in the IT industry for more than 25 years in large firms and as an entrepreneur. He founded two ISPs, helped launched several startups, and held senior strategy and business development roles with Apple, IBM, and Oracle. Mr. Hassinger created the first customer support Web site for Apple Computer. At IBM, he helped create a new business unit in the Tivoli subsidiary to address the needs of system management in the Internet era; worked on special projects for Tivoli’s CTO, including defining an Internet protocol for management of dynamic services; and was Senior Strategist for IBM’s Pervasive Computing initiative. At Oracle, Mr. Hassinger is Director of Market Development, where his specific responsibilities include developing the financial services market worldwide and the Asia-Pacific horizontal market. He holds MBAs from Columbia University and London Business School, is a published author, and holds more than a dozen software and business model patents. He can be reached at shassinger@gmail.com).

Role of the Agile Leader in Reconfiguring the Business

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Click here for the slide deck from my Agile 2009 presentation. 

Abstract: The presentation applies Agile thinking to critical aspects of strategy and execution at a time of uncertainty and disruption. The essential point is simple and logical: Agile values and principles are indivisible. To succeed, they must be applied not just to R&D, but also to customer and company, simultaneously. This requires reconfiguration of customer relationships, employee policy, software development, and the relationship that binds the three. The resulting paradigm shift could lower the cost of software and produce prosperity similar to the one induced by ultra-cheap oil in the 50’s.

Perspective: In addition to being a ‘think-piece,’ the presentation offers pragmatic recommendations for the Agile champion in three critical areas:

  •  It explains how the Agile champion can cross three chasms that tend to form in the course of large scale Agile rollouts.
  •  It explores how to apply Agile priciples to software deployment and operations.
  • It shows how earned value management can utilize ‘real time’ customer feedback in companies that embrace end-to-end Agility.
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