The Nine Horsemen of the Apocalipstick

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When I was a kid in North Idaho, we didn’t have many neighbors. So when our cousins came to visit, it was a big deal. Suddenly, there were kids our own age to play with! Kids with exotic ideas on what to do, new games to play, new ways to get in trouble. Ideas imported all the way from Oregon, for goodness sake! That was the edge of the universe in Idahoan terms.

I still remember the first time we played Kick the Can with our cousins. It was loud, frenetic, vicious, competitive fun. We played far into the evening, until you could barely see the can and ran the risk of running into another player and requiring the tender mercies of a North Idaho dentist. When we were finally called in by our moms, we went reluctantly. We really wanted to keep kicking that can.

IT teams today face that exact problem. They keep kicking the can down the road, hoping they can keep their old portfolios running just one more year. They do some interface revamping and a few system replacements, but it’s the smaller, easier-to-change systems (the non-core ones) that usually get this attention. Sure, IT spends money on mobility, but it’s done with a new interface on a system that was written in 1985.

IT is, understandably, afraid to tackle the real monsters: the BOHAs (big old hairy applications). These are the applications that were first codified by their companies  because they were critical to the core business processes of the enterprise. The BOHAs lurk on our oldest hardware, running our oldest DBMSs, and they can taste our fear.

To be fair, IT teams face a daunting set of pressures. I call them the Nine Horsemen of the ApocalipstickTM, since most IT teams aren’t facing them head on. Instead, they’re putting lipstick on their application portfolio, hoping to get by for one more year. In other words, kicking the can down the road.

The Nine Horsemen include pressures from competitors:

  • Constant pressures on cost and price
  • Agile attacks by new digital companies trying to disrupt the business
  • Increasing pace of new products and services being introduced to the market

Pressures from internal business and service units:

  • Pressure to increase innovation with creative solutions
  • Pressure of joint planning/goal setting for team-based success with units competing for IT resources
  • Calls to shift IT spending to creating digital-enabling solutions

And pressures from the IT team itself:

  • Need to reposition IT as a value creator instead of a cost center
  • Pressure of resources being drained by the large legacy-application portfolio
  • Requirement to move applications to a more flexible, scalable environment

All those pressures mean that today’s IT teams must make some tough calls. Which applications need to be frozen to free up expertise and manpower to rewrite the BOHAs? Which projects need to be prioritized? How can calls for reduced IT spending be used as a setting to discuss IT’s ability to help defend the business and attack the competition?

All good questions—and ones that must be dealt with realistically. In the shadows of your portfolio are the real monsters. Fear them, but deal with them.

And call your mom. She saved you from that dental visit.

Post Date: 6/19/2016

Brad Rucker - NTT DATA Brad Rucker

About the author

In 1981, Mr. Rucker spent his entire monthly salary on a TRS-80 Color Computer, taught himself to code and never looked back. Since then he has been a programmer, DBA, system designer, project manager, CIO, CTO and COO. Currently he serves as SVP of the Digital Applications & Information Management Practices at NTT DATA Services.

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