Most of the major organizations that I work with have little idea of how fragile their IT architecture is. Most have large numbers of aging core applications that they lack the guts (or resources) to replace. Like the bridges that unexpectedly give way under loads tens of times more than they were designed to carry, these systems are subject to unpredictable behavior. Moreover, the thousands of applications in large organizations are networked in such ways that no one — absolutely no one — can understand the domino effect of any specific failure.
But there is good news: The current depression we’re in means that IT groups in most large organizations are going to have limited funding over the next couple of years. Right now, organizations everywhere are paralyzed and are laying people off, reducing contract help, and so on, so not much new is being done, and many of the projects underway are being put on hold. What to do? Well, one of the things that we have to play with is the available inhouse time of architects, designers, and users who normally would be otherwise employed.
This is a time during which all we can do is think, scheme, and plan. Take a long view and break those huge projects we never get a chance to do right — like replacing aging core applications — into lots of little projects over 5-10 years. It’s not elegant. It’s not exciting for people with a short fuse. But it can have enormous impact for our organizations over time.
Good planning has an enormous beneficial effect on organizations, especially in bad times. Once upon a time, there was an English general battling the French in Spain. As winter approached, it was clear that the army was not going to be able to fight its way into France before the snow set in. The general, who had been winning against the French, suddenly began a long retreat. The troops were despondent. Finally, after a long painful retreat, the troops found themselves in a broad, well-fortified winter quarters with plentiful supplies, and they realized that the general had actually planned his campaign nearly a year ahead. The general had concluded that if the army wasn’t able to break through before winter set in, they would need a well-fortified, well-provisioned winter camp. How many of us do that kind of planning? Well, now is the time.