Ben Fry and David Rigler, from SQS Software Quality Systems explain how businesses can take the pain out of IT change by ensuring the quality of their IT architecture and taking a more agile approach to managing transition.

Whether obtaining a bank balance, insuring a car, communicating with friends and family, trading stocks or booking a holiday, it’s clear that software reaches into all aspects of our lives. It has become a critical enabler for organisations wanting to reach out, communicate with and sell to their target markets.

Developing correctly functioning software is, however, not a straightforward undertaking. With the rise of increasingly complex IT systems, the speed of technological change and the potentially damaging effects of a software ‘glitch’, the need to assure quality is more important than ever.

In a bid to keep up with business, consumer- and compliance-led IT change, many organisations rely on an IT architecture made up of a static legacy backend, complex process-heavy middleware and constantly evolving function-rich front-end. Often, this IT architecture is crippled with technical debt, unnecessarily complex and very slow to change.

Today’s unprecedented rate of change

Greater access to and trust in technology is having a significant impact on consumer behaviour. Not only do consumers have more choice than ever before, they are also better informed and, with it, more demanding. Gartner identified the power customer who has ‘unprecedented access to the information they need to make more-informed decisions about switching between brands’.

As consumer behaviour evolves, so does an organisation’s use of technology. Not only do organisations interact and transact with target markets in more ways than ever before, there is now constant pressure to meet demand for enhanced functionality, keep up with market trends and react quickly to competitive ‘topping’.

Organisational agility is key

To further complicate matters, through cloud-based technologies most organisations are, to a greater or lesser extent, on a technological par. Historically, technological advantage was dependent on an organisation’s IT budget, although this is less the case now since many SMEs currently have access to the same powerful technology as larger multi-national conglomerates. The main difference is, in the majority of cases, the SME can identify a gap in the market and react far quicker than its larger competition.

What’s more, predictive analytics, based on Big Data solutions, is helping organisations remove the guesswork from decision making; enabling the comparison of marketing campaigns’ predicted against actual behaviours and refining propositions in real-time.

With technological evolution accelerating and consumer-led demand increasing at an unprecedented rate, organisations must become more flexible and be able to deliver IT change into production quicker, at a lower cost and at little or no risk to the brand. Organisations that aren’t able to adapt quickly to consumer demands are being left behind and are losing market share.

The days of the two, three or even five year release schedule are dead. As are the days of the three, five or even eight (yes, eight!) year return on investment window.

Risk sharing through outsourcing

In reality it’s neither practical nor feasible to embark on this transformation journey alone. To deliver the change and realise the benefits quickly, while minimising the risk of rapid technology evolution, there is a need to outsource IT delivery to multiple suppliers.

Not only does outsourcing provide access to a greater pool of relevant IT (and, where necessary/appropriate, business) experience and expertise, it also enables an organisation to focus on its core business, whatever that may be, from insurance, banking to retail, media and aviation.

Flexibility is key. The trend to outsource to a single supplier does not necessarily provide the best solution.

Each supplier should be selected based on their skills, experience and expertise in a specific area - mobile apps, e-commerce, legacy transformation and so on. - and their ability to meet the characteristics of the new IT architecture. For example, suppliers may be selected on their ability to support an agile approach to IT delivery and continuous delivery through automation of testing and deployment.

Embrace agile for agility’s sake

Adopting agile principles is the only way to eliminate IT as the bottleneck and set the business on the critical path to implementing business-led IT change.

Agile delivers change quickly; however, most CIOs believe that a legacy estate is unsuitable for agile development. The burning question is ‘can we deliver what is required now and in the future if we don’t adopt agile principles?’

Not only will adoption of agile principles increase the cadence of IT change, it also supports the ability to deliver a new IT architecture in small components, each of which is aligned to specific business priorities. The alternative is to invest in multiple-year long programmes of legacy modernisation which, in themselves, restrict the ability to change and may be out-of-date or redundant by the time they are delivered.

Fear could be stopping you

Transformation not only presents a radical change to an organisation’s approach to IT delivery, but also the logical and physical IT architecture.

The significance of this change invokes an uncomfortable reaction: fear, uncertainty and doubt. Unfortunately, most IT teams struggle just to maintain the status quo and manage the current volume of change without even contemplating such a radical change.

Replacing the legacy aspects of an IT estate with brand new IT components is unlikely to be a trouble-free transition. It can undoubtedly be a nightmare.

Adopting agile principles is not as easy as saying ‘from day X we will deliver projects using agile!’ It is a cultural shift, and one that does not just rest with IT - it is an organisation-wide change.

All things considered, the main reason for resistance to change is often budgetary, especially when significant investments have been made in the existing IT estate. But, the question is not: ‘how can I afford to do this?’, it’s ‘how can I not afford to do this?’

Managing the transition

To overcome doubts and mitigate the risks associated with such a change, an approach to quality that enables the successful transition to a new IT architecture is required.

The transformational quality management (TQM) approach is based on the underlying principle that an organisation cannot and should not be required to keep up with technological innovation or delivery of IT change on its own. An organisation should focus on core business and use best-in-class suppliers for the delivery of IT change that enables the business to flourish now and in the future.

The approach enables organisations to break-down the often overwhelming task of implementing a new IT architecture to support both the immediate business needs and future business strategy. Transforming the existing IT estate maximises business value and return on investment, and minimises risk.

The pragmatic approach focuses on mitigating the business risk, driving IT to satisfy the business trends and technology goals by:

  • analysing commonalities and dependencies within the existing IT estate;
  • developing a risk map to analyse impact in-line with organisation’s risk appetite;
  • prioritising the transition depending on the business goals (for example, market change or customer churn);
  • assessing the quality of each of the areas to be transitioned;
  • establishing a road map of improvement for each area (for example, improve requirements, test coverage or code quality);
  • embracing, where appropriate, the opportunities presented by agile techniques (for example, test-driven development and continuous integration) and DevOps (for example, continuous delivery);
  • sharing the risk of transition through enhanced supplier management including blueprinting of the changes expected and incentivising over achievement through risk / reward mechanisms;
  • ensuring transparency by developing suitable metrics to create learning relationships that promote mutual success.

The transformation of the IT architecture is not as impossible as one first believes. Daunting? Yes. Impossible? No. Approached in the right way, transformation will deliver a business that not only competes today, but leads in tomorrow’s business landscape.