I love an unexpected analogy. So I was taken with one made by Gartner analyst Yvonne Genovese, who in a presentation at this week's PegaWorld conference compared application management to architecture. She wasn't far into it when she mentioned Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart Brand's book "How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built." Based on Amazon reviews, it's found a following among software developers. It's not hard to see why. From one of the reviews:
... Brand's starting point is the observation that most architects spend most of their time re-working or extending existing buildings, rather than creating new ones from scratch, but the subject of how buildings change (or, to adopt Brand's metaphor, how buildings learn from their use and environment) is ignored by most architectural schools and theorists. By looking at examples (big and small, ancient and modern), Brand teases out patterns of re-use and change, and argues (very convincingly) that since buildings are going to be modified many times, they should be designed with unanticipated future changes in mind. ...
"... since buildings are going to be modified many times, they should be designed with unanticipated future changes in mind." Sounds like a smart strategy for software development, yes? I have heard software development likened to architecture before. But Genovese's presentation focused more on how organizations manage applications after they are created.
Three different kinds of enterprise apps - systems of record, differentiating and innovative - require different approaches to governance, data integrity, integration and overall strategy for the app. Because core systems of record often contain legal or financial data, for instance, they must be highly stable and demand a high level of data. As Genovese pointed out, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires CFOs to stake their careers on information contained in them.
Innovative apps allow companies to explore new ideas and are often called "disruptive." Genovese used social media as an example. Somewhere in the middle of those two types of apps are differentiating apps, which often facilitate improvements by taking information from systems of record and doing something new with it.
IT organizations must adapt their development and management strategies to the different paces of change associated with these applications rather than using a cookie-cutter approach to application management. That may be difficult, given the challenges many experience with more basic aspects of application management such as retiring unused or duplicative apps. It's complicated further by the fact that applications can shift from one category to another. A differentiating app may become a system of record.
And there are interdependencies between the different application types. Companies may use an innovative app to attract folks to a website. They will then need differentiating apps and systems of records to nudge prospects toward a sales interaction and fulfill any orders that may result from those interactions. "Your ERP and BPMs must work together to get the information from the system of record to the sales system," Genovese said.
So what's the answer? Not surprisingly, Gartner suggests more conversations between IT organizations and business units to better determine the expectations and specific needs for enterprise applications. Genovese suggested IT organizations must also remain focused on the elements that should cross all of the application categories, such as a common security architecture, process and data integration, and a common services repository.
A new approach is needed now more than ever before, Genovese added, because of the escalating pace of change at most companies. Noting that a Gartner study showed a "huge" increase in ad hoc changes within companies between 2008 and 2010, Genovese said:
Business leaders now expect this. So the conversation between IT and the business needs to change.