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Posts Tagged ‘Mobile Applications

How Technical Debt Ties to Cloud, Mobile and Social

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:West_Side_Highway_collapsed_at_14th.jpg

Many years ago, when I came to the US, I was shocked to the core seeing the collapsed West Side Highway in New York City. I simply could not believe that a highway would be neglected to that extent amidst all the affluence of the city. The contrast was too much for me.

Nowadays I often have a deja vu sensation in various technical debt engagements in which I find the code crumbling. This sensation is not so much about what happened (see The Real Cost of a One Trillion Dollars in IT Debt: Part II – The Performance Paradox for an explanation of the economics of the neglect of software maintenance during the past decade), but about the company for which I do the assessment giving up on immense forthcoming opportunities.

Whether you do or do not fully subscribe to the vision of the Internet-of-Things depicted in the figure below, it is fairly safe to assume that your business in the years to come will be much more connected to the outside world than it is now. The enhanced connectivity might come through mobile applications, through social networks or through the cloud. As a matter of fact, it is quite likely to come through a confluence of the three: Cloud, Mobile and Social.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Internet_of_Things.png

In the context of current trends in cloud, mobile and social, your legacy software is like the West Side Highway in New York City. If you maintain it to an acceptable level, it can become the core of two major benefits of much higher connectivity and connectedness in the not-too-far future:

  • Through mobile and social your legacy software will enable you to flexibly produce, market and distribute small quantities of whatever your products might need to be in niche markets.
  • Through cloud it will enable you to offer these very same products and many others as services.

Conversely, if you consistently neglect to pay back your technical debt, your legacy code is likely to collapse due to the effects of software decay. You certainly will not be able to get it to interoperate with mobile and social networking applications, let alone offer it in the form of cloud services. Nor would you be able to wrap additional services around decaying legacy code. Take a look at the warehousing and distribution services offered by Amazon to get a sense of what this kind of additional services could do for your core business: they will enable you to transform your current business design by adding an Online-to-Offline (O2O) component to it.

What is the fine line differentiating “acceptably maintained” code from toxic code? I don’t think I have conducted a large enough sample of technical debt assessments to provide a statistically significant answer. My hunch is that the magic ceiling for software development in the US is somewhere around $10 per line of code in technical debt. As long as you are under this ceiling you could still pay back your technical debt (or a significant portion of it) in an economically viable manner. Beyond $10 per line of code the decay might prove too high to fix.

Why $10 and not $1 or $100 per line of code? It is a matter of balancing investment versus debt. An average programmer (in the US) with a $100,000 salary would probably be able to produce about 10K lines of Java code per year. The cost of a line of code under these simplistic assumptions is $10. Something is terribly wrong if the technical debt exceeds the cost per line. They call it living on margin.

Action item: CIOs should conduct a technical debt assessment on a representative sample of their legacy code. A board level discussion on the strategic implications for the company is called for if technical debt per line of code exceeds $10. The board discussion should focus on the ability of the company (or lack thereof) to participate in the business tsunami that cloud, mobile and social are likely to unleash.

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Considering modernization of your legacy code? Let me know if you would like assistance in monetizing your technical debt, devising plans to reduce it and governing the debt reduction process. Click Services for details.

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Consumerization of Enterprise Software

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ross/3055802287/

Figure 1: Consumerization of IT

The devastation in traditional Publishing needs precious little mentioning. Just think about a brand like BusinessWeek selling for a meager cash offer in the $2 million to $5 million range, McGraw Hill getting into interactive text books through Inkling or Flipboard delivering “… your personalized social magazine” to your iPad. This devastation might not have gotten the attention that the plight of the ‘big three’ automobile manufacturers got, but in its own way it is as shocking as a visit to the abandoned properties in Detroit is.

As most of my clients do enterprise software, many of my discussions with them is about the consumerization of IT. From a day-to-day perspective this consumerization is primarily about six aspects:

  • Use of less expensive/consumer-focused components as infrastructure
  • ‘Pay as you go’ pricing (through Cloud pricing mechanisms/policies)
  • Use of web application interfaces to monitor IT infrastructure
  • Use of mobile and consumer based devices for accessing IT alerts and interfacing with systems
  • Use of the fast growing number of mobile applications to enhance productivity
  • Application of enterprise social networks and social software in the data center

From a strategic perspective, IT consumerization IMHO is all about the transformation toward “everything as a service” [1]. The virtuous cycle driven by Cloud, Mobile and Social manifests itself at three levels:

  • It obviously affects the IT folks with whom I discuss the subject. Immense changes are already taking place in many IT departments.
  • It affects their company. For example, the company might need to change the business design in order to optimize its supply chain.
  • It affects the clients of their company. Their definition of value changes these days faster than the time it takes the CIO I speak with to say “value.”

© Copyright 2010 Israel Gat

Figure 2: The Virtuous Cycle of Cloud, Mobile and Social

Sometimes I get a push-back from my clients on this topic. The push-back is usually rooted in the immense complexity (and fragility) of the enterprise software systems that had been built over the past ten, twenty or thirty years. The folks who push back on me point out that consumerization of IT will not scale big time until enterprise software gets “consumerized” or at least modernized.

I agree with this good counter-point but only up to a point. I believe two factors are likely to accelerate the pace toward “consumerization” of enterprise software:

  1. Any department/business unit that can get a service in entirety from an outside source is likely to do so without worrying about enterprise software and/or data center considerations. This is already happening in Marketing. As other functions start doing so, more and more links in the value chain of enterprise software will be “consumerized.” In other words, these services will be carried out without the involvement of the IT department.
  2. Once the switch-over costs from legacy code to state-of-the-art code are less than the steady state costs (to maintain and update legacy code), the “consumerization” of enterprise software is going to happen with ferocious urgency.

If you are in enterprise software you need to start modernizing your applications today. The reason is the imperative need to mitigate risk prior to reaching the end-point, almost irrespective of how far down the road the end-point might be.  See Llewellyn Falco‘s excellent video clip Rewriting Vs Refactoring for a crisp articulation of the risk involved in rewriting and why starting to refactor now is the best way to mitigate the risk.

Footnotes:

[1] The phrase “Everything as a Service” has been coined by Russ Daniels.

‘Super-Fresh’ Code

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21560098@N06/3636921327/

Misty Belardo published a great post/video clip on Social Media in which she describe the effect of the ‘Super-Fresh’ web on brands:

…  millions of people are creating content for the social web… the next 3 billion consumers will access the Internet from a mobile device. Imagine what that means for bad customer experiences! The ‘super-fresh’ web will force brands to engage with its customers…

I would contend we are also going to experience ‘Super-Fresh’ code in not too long a time. Such code is likely to emerge as the convergence of two overarching trends:

  1. Continuous Integration –> Continuous Deployment –> ‘Super Fresh’ Code. Sophisticated companies are already translating velocity in dev to competitive advantage through Continuous Deployment. ‘Super-fresh’ code is a natural next step.
  2. Open-sourcing –> Crowd-sourcing –> Expert-sourcing. Marketplaces for knowledge work expertise are becoming both effective and efficient. For example, uTest indicates “… 25,000+ testers in more than 160 countries.” A  marketplace for mobile application developers could probably be organized along fairly similar lines.

No doubt, complex software systems of various kinds will continue to be produced through more conventional processes for many years to come. However, ‘Super-Fresh’ code will establish itself as a new category. Code in this category will owe its robustness (and creativity!) to millions of people creating software and fixing it in extremely short time, not to process rigor.

In case you are still wondering about the premise, I would like to point out two corroborative facts:

  1. It is a small step from content to code.
  2. Various mobile applications are already developed and tested today in a different manner from the way web applications have been done.

A fascinating link exists between ‘Super-Fresh’ web and ‘Super-Fresh’ code. The dynamics (“Imagine what that means for bad customer experiences!”) Misty discusses in her blog post are a major driver for the evolution of knowledge work marketplaces and for the production of ‘Super-Fresh’ code.