Deep thoughts around IT Sprawl (or light thoughts I haven’t decided yet)

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Yea though I enter the valley of complexity I will not fear. Well actually I am a little scared. There is a fine line in which fear becomes terror.

Stranded in an island of technology you find confusion more often than you find clarity. Imagine if you will a world of the future – where the IT Sprawl we have today continues, year after year (layer after layer). It becomes like paint archeology. Digging below the surface layer of paint to find other colors layered on year after year. Layers that in fact are similar but only a little different.

That is the future of IT Sprawl. Layer upon layer of organizational capabilities that in the end aren’t used or leveraged or worse aren’t even touched. Department heads going around IT and  buying their own software and managing it directly. We head back into the pre-dark ages of no IT.

You see IT does so much more than applications it is scary. But of course you wouldn’t know that from the Sprawl that is around. Capabilities that the organization desired and then in the end never uses.

IT was created as a business enabler (and we can argue the great gulf between the business and IT – I suspect there is less gulf and more bluster in that issue). Frankly IT has been very successful in adding capabilities to the enterprise. I am typing this blog on a machine that is connected to the internet easily and effectively I don’t worry about connectivity when I am at my office. I have a phone, pc, monitors and a printer in my office that all work. I have the majority of tools I need – (I would like Mindjet’s Mind Manager on my work PC) to do my job.

I suspect in my job I “actualize” the software I use more than other folks. In my previous job I had everything under the sun installed on my work PC. Now I only have the tools to do my job and frankly it changes how you use your PC. I’ve reduced my IT Sprawl by focusing machines on various tasks. I have a computer in my house that focuses on backups. I have an “Audio” computer and a game computer. I have a media computer (my Macintosh) and an RSS focused computer. I could do all the functions with one computer but the reality of my job is that I am supposed to be looking to the future, so I segregate the tasks. One PC could do all of those things however quite easily.

The next reality of computers I suspect will be the ability to have multiple machines on a single machine – partitioning solutions so that they are setup to be optimized. This would also allow people to have optimized solutions that are effective based on what they need at the time.

Imagine a future with no IT Sprawl and its “little friend” Solution Confusion – I can!


Seriously–Occupy Wall Street you guys are missing a great opportunity…

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The concept of IT Sprawl and its child Solution Confusion is one that will plague IT for the next few years. Why? Well first off we have quite a few vendors that will sell against the concept itself. Because their solutions fit into both Sprawl and Confusion.

The Great Vendor Change

Software (and I wrote this before as the Internet policing agency) should be a regulated industry. Why? There are a number of solutions out there today that can kill people. There are a larger number of “smart” organizations that sell that software. The reality is software isn’t solving as many problems as it could today.

The five limiters:

  • The software industry
  • Old solutions that no longer solve the problem they were installed for but now have all the data and because of no PORTABILITY they sit on desktops year after year
  • The Telco’s – come guys it really isn’t that expensive to move data around. So you are making money in the wrong way.
  • The various architecture groups – simply confusing people more rather than helping move towards an overall solution.
  • IT Sprawl

Those five limiters will take 2-5 years to work their way out of the system. The first problem being there are a lot of very profitable companies in the business of selling IT Sprawl. It isn’t one – but all of the top ten software companies. Each selling solutions that are driven by their software not the actual right answer.

The middle one – Telco’s remains a mystery to me. With the occupy Wall Street movement sitting outside of financial institutions protesting what the 1% is doing they completely ignore the following:

  • The government can listen to your cellular conversations
  • The Telco;s let them
  • The Telco’s are overcharging you for service and data.

As bad as the software vendors are today – they are only part of the problem. Occupy wall street should also be in front of the corporate headquarters of the various Telco’s (AT&T and Verizon to start).

The reality of IT Sprawl and Solution Confusion is that mobility to remove them from the world fairly effectively and reasonably fast. The mobile platforms work towards the concepts of the cloud much better than the vendors do.

Perhaps the US government should nationalize the software industry – or break the 5 largest vendors into their various market pieces.


More on solution confusion and the cost to the business (and therefore IT as well)

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Yesterday I wrote about the concept Solution Confusion which is the outcropping of the broader concept of IT Sprawl. Too many applications in your portfolio in the end results in two specific problems.

  • Helpdesk calls (how do I)?
  • New applications introduced to the environment

The first one is a hard dollar cost that IT has to bear by not managing the overall IT portfolio. The average helpdesk call (this data is roughly 3 years old) costs $40 according to an HDI (Helpdesk international) study. So if a user has to call 2 times a year there is a cost of $80 per user per year that IT Sprawl costs.

The other side of that equation is the reality that solution confusion causes people to go out and buy a solution they know rather than using the provided solution. Of course this becomes a circular argument (or Chicken and the Egg) as the problem results in the problem getting worse.

One does in fact cause the other. You can in many cases have the issue of Solution Confusion without IT Sprawl, but in the end that is rare. You can have IT Sprawl without solution confusion but that is also rare. The tight controls that eliminate solution confusion in the end will also remove IT Sprawl.

The reality of IT Sprawl is that it has become self perpetuating. You can’t stop it just because on a Monday afternoon you decide your IT org has had enough. You have to go build a portfolio and then train users on the applications in the portfolio. Otherwise you can fix the problem for today and end up with a same problem in a year.

Analysts say portfolio projects are huge. So are helpdesk costs when you consider in the end you are wasting a large number of calls every single day. Solution Confusion layers are additional costs to consider.

  • How do I do this (unfunded training)
  • What should I use (time spent seeking a solution that could have been productive work time)
  • Solution arrogance (this is THE ONLY WAY to do it – IT doesn’t know what they are talking about)

It becomes less and less of a cost when you consider the potential loss. IT Sprawl can be managed and eradicated by simply building a portfolio of organization capabilities and mapping the capabilities to an organizational training program.


IT Sprawl and Solution Confusion…

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A number of years ago now, I visited a customer who said they had more than 800,000 applications. Now their definition of an application as a database in Lotus Domino so it was a little on the lighter side of applications but still more applications than people. In fact while at Microsoft I compiled statistics of “notes db’s or applications” to users and over the 4 years I kept the stats I found roughly .25 unique notes databases per users in shops that have Lotus Domino Deployed (the same is true by the way for SharePoint sites, I surveyed a few customers with 2 and 3 SharePoint sites per user).

So IT Sprawl is first and foremost exactly the problem of both cost and confusion. We could (and I have a number of times) argue that confusion adds additional cost beyond what you are paying for the maintenance of the overall solution today.

Confusion represents someone having to make more than 2 or 3 decisions about what and where to look for. In the book Transitional Services there is an IP management system outlined called Document Lifecycle Management or DLM©. the goal of a KM system like DLM© is to answer questions. A single source of reliable structured information that focuses on building and harvesting IP with the intention of providing an authoritative answer to problems or questions.

However the more places users have to go to get the information they need the more confusion sets in. This brings about an affect of IT Sprawl that I call Solution Confusions. Or to put it in a small easy to remember phrase “where do I go to find out what I need to know.”

The other side – the more applications anyone has to know the more confusing the IT environment is. The end result of IT Sprawl is the reality of “Solution Confusion.”

Now the reality of marketing sets in. All of the various vendors that are running around selling stuff to you, are going to tell you that they have in fact solved the problem of IT Sprawl with their latest and greatest application.

Microsoft Office has a number of features and functions that users don’;t even know exist. Why? Well you are argue the reality of training budgets and deployment schedules and variances between versions of software but the biggest reality? IT doesn’t always know what is deployed.

Sure they know that they have deployed the Swiss army knife Microsoft Office. But what does and can office do? The reality of the functional world is that IT doesn’t always know the features that are deployed.

So we end up with Solution Confusion and IT Sprawl working together to make it harder to do your job.

No wonder people get frustrated and throw their computers out the window…


It’s everywhere I tell you–as far as the eye can see…

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Is that a server farm I see before me? From here to there no matter where you look the blinking lights are there…everywhere. The problem with IT Sprawl is first of all its not evil. Its not a horrible disease that causes a telethon to spring up. It is however a delaying problem.

What do I mean by a delaying problem? A delaying problem causes one of the two great conversations to occur which delays all IT projects.

  • What will this cost?
  • Do we have to change or upgrade anything users have to use?

The second one is really a variation of the first one (it costs money to make changes – but there is a time cost that is greater with the second one).

This conversation delays any upgrade or system change every time. IT Sprawl is hopefully going to grow into an exception. The overall reality of IT Sprawl is that in fact it will cost money.

Our initial assessment process has a cost associated with it. That is immutable. Even if a vendor were to “give away” the assessment there is still cost with it. I played that game for years helping Lotus Domino customers (a free assessment is never free – you pay for it eventually.)

There is also an initial consolidation cost that will occur. In many cases the automation and management functions required to run a viable managed portfolio of applications doesn’t exist. In fact, other than a couple instances, I have only seen vendor specific management and automation consoles (again there are a couple of exceptions). The vendors of course argue that they manage their stuff better than anyone else could, but is that really what the overall solution needs? The cause of IT Sprawl was the inflexibility of vendors overall. The lock in and end state NON-Portability of their overall solutions.

In the end however the reality of IT Sprawl programs (or you can also call them Application or Enterprise Portfolio Management programs is that they will save money.

  1. You won’t be locked into a long term specific platform or solution.
  2. You have solutions that are flexible and meet your users needs today and tomorrow.
  3. You won’t have large enterprise transitions occurring as often
  4. You will only run and manage the compute power you need when you need it
  5. Agnostic management solutions will allow you to effectively manage across all solutions not then requiring the best of breed vendor specific solutions.

The great exodus from mainframes resulted in less control for IT. The consumerization of IT may be the chance to reign all of this back in and control IT Sprawl under the guise of making it all work together.


Reducing Power Cord Sprawl…

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I am taking a break from IT Sprawl for a day to recharge a little. Plus my friends email still has me laughing and I want to reduce the idea sprawl on the internet. So I am reducing idea sprawl by not posting about IT Sprawl today.

For the past two days I have been charging electronic devices. Mostly because I probably have too many of them but also because they each require a certain type of charging cable or a usb connection to complete the charging process.

I’ve posted in the past about this – improving charging.  Recently I purchased the “multiple” USB chargers the ones that support 4 or more devices. The problem right now for me is that everyone uses different adapters for the actual device. (well nto everyone, but a lot of the devices I use).

Apple has two types (Mac and Ios), Windows PC’s vary even within family’s (most Lenovo’s use the same, but some are different) and of course a Lenovo adapter doesn’t work with a Dell laptop and vice versa. My video camera (Sony) and my blogging video camera (Sony) both have different adapters. My good canon camera has a pull the battery out to charge it charger.

There has to be a better way. Possibly an induction plate or simpler way to charge the various devices we have. Wait I’ve even got a consistent naming system for the new power supply system “Let’s reduce Power Cord Sprawl.” (sorry about that I had to do it).

Seriously I test and use a lot of gadgets and frankly remembering who uses what charger is confusing at times. I would love to reduce the Power Cord Sprawl that my office has become. It would actually be nice to have oh say 10 or 12 less power cords. It would also make it easier when I lose a specific power cord and have to go find it. Or give up and buy a new one, only to find the old one the day the new one arrives.


How many more steps to reduce IT Sprawl?

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We’ve done three so far – heading down the path of IT Portfolio management. A number of companies over the years have dived into the process and so have a number of consulting organizations. I’ve heard from several high end business consultants that portfolio alignment engagements are huge.

So organizations don’t do them. They don’t follow the simple process of asking users what capabilities they need for their jobs (and by the way when do they need them) mapping that to the capabilities offered and then going back again and simply asking does what we have fill what you need.

Part of IT Sprawl is big IT projects. Portfolio management is simply like keeping good records for your taxes. If you do a good job it will cost you less later to do your taxes.

The first problem and the first step of step 4 is documenting what the software you have does.

Does is a funny word. There is a lot of software in the world that does a lot of things. However there are few software solutions that actually do everything they say well. Its as a friend once told me a long time ago “the Swiss army knife affect.” A tool that can do a lot of things but can’t do all of them well.

Of course the other side of that argument in portfolio management is that you can’t get the best of breed solution for every piece of functionality/capability you need in your organization. That would be the infinite chaos of sprawling IT Sprawl.

You have to make some hard choices which actually can mean shutting down vendors and instead determining in your case what are the capabilities that are critical and need full functionality and what aren’t as critical and can live with a good enough solution.

The second part of building a portfolio is understanding the plumbing of your organization today. What is the total capacity of your network. What would be the cost of moving to cloud solutions (would it kill your network? Most networks are designed for “a %” of inbound connections and a much larger “%” of outbound connections today. What happens if you reverse that? What happens to your network if you change the balance overall.

The other side of course of capacity is how much are you using your deployed servers today. I spoke with a customer about their solution recently. “We have 46 servers we wish to move to your cloud solution.” “cool.” we replied. We could handle that type of migration. “How many virtual machines do you believe you will need with your new solution?” We asked. “46” they answered. OK so to reduce sprawl you have to consider these quick things:

  • How much server horsepower do I really need to run all my solutions?
  • If I have burst periods (those are periods where I need more compute but only for a short time) how long and how often are those?
  • How utilized are my servers today. Do I have more capacity then I need overall anyway?
  • How many versions of applications am I running in my organization today?
  • How many duplicate tools (two software apps doing the same thing) do I have today?

As we end Step 4 we are close to our initial view of the organization. Its painful more from the fact that we have to look at the ignored reality of the IT environment around us. But its good to purge sometimes.


Step 3 for reducing IT Sprawl

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Got an email the other day (Saturday) that made me laugh. The person said that 3 straight blogs on IT Sprawl on three consecutive days was a great example of idea and blog sprawl. I got the blog sprawl reference but I had to ask what idea sprawl was.

She replied – anytime you take an idea focused on consolidation and stretch it out. I have to say it made me laugh.

Step 3 in reducing the IT Sprawl has to do reviewing and planning. The first thing you do in this phase is step back and review step 1 and step 2. The next step is simply to walk to the office of the Enterprise Architect and begin the process of mapping what you know to be the capabilities within the IT Portfolio and comparing that to what the EA team believes that set of capabilities should be. I’ve found over the years many interesting stories as to why the list the EA team has isn’t the list deployed.

This mapping exercise can be very painful if the organization doesn’t really know what they are doing with their software portfolio long term.

It can be a more painful experience if you start with the expected reality (what the EA team believes to be deployed) and the reality of what really is deployed.

That reality check process is the next step in our reduction of IT Sprawl…


Step 2 for fixing IT Sprawl

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The second step is actually harder than the first. Its easy to build a mix and match portfolio of the capabilities your IT organization has, compared to the go to the end users and ask them what capabilities they really need.

There are a number of issues with the concept of capabilities that IT offers that cause problems. The first is the got to have it syndrome. You hit that syndrome in IT fairly often the conversation usually start with “I sat next to a CIO on a plane from Company X, he was able to brush his teeth and dry clean his shirts with his cell phone. Why can’t we do that? I spend millions of dollars on IT, I should be able to easily do that.”

  • First Capability rule:: this one is my grandfather’s rule “just because you can, should you?”
  • Second Capability Rule: if you can do it, will it generate revenue

The question you ask is how much money do you make from any one application. The reality is no one knows. Does a new solution exist because someone wrote a one page functional specification in word? Or does it exist as a generated idea in someone’s head and therefore resulting in a product. Or is it some combination of idea, technology and capability that results in a new product. No matter how to work that equation its hard to figure out the value of technology in your organization. Its even harder once you take the technology away.

So we go back to the two capabilities rules. There has to be an effective way to evaluate how much money you make or how much value is generated by a single application in your IT portfolio. No one would have a stock portfolio that they didn’t know the absolute value of every stock in the portfolio (or know someone who does). Assets are critical components of and for IT.

Step 2, apply the capability rules to your portfolio.


Step 1 to fixing IT Sprawl

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I started this argument a few years ago. Given that every organization with a computer has deployed solutions why is the following not true.

  1. How much revenue (or for non-revenue based organizations – direct value) does your organization attribute to a specific application?
  2. Tell me how many users actually use the application in question.
  3. How many of your users really need all of Microsoft Office today? How many have even opened Excel in the past year?
  4. What do users, who are using applications today really need from the applications they are using?

The answer I’ve gotten for question one in the end is the consolidation driver. If an application doesn’t benefit the group or organization using it, stop using it. You can also look at applications in the data center and take a more top down view. In that scenario yo look at applications as assets in all cases.

  • How much of the X resource is Y application using.
  • Is the value of Y application greater than the cost of Y application or of using X resource?

Years ago at Microsoft I published a guide for customers who were considering moving off of Lotus Domino Applications. Called the Application Analysis and Environing process (AAEP) you can still download it at simply search for AAEP. In this process we talk about the process for mapping the capabilities of an organization if we are able to capture the value of any application set and map that to the overall capabilities needed by the organization we in fact can being to solve the problem of IT sprawl. It is however, only the beginning…