Thursday, January 14, 2010

Maintenance--for IT Systems as much as for Cars

I thought this observation about "IT Nuisance Requests" had a lot of merit. It's more exciting to build something new than to maintain what you have. Of course, neglect maintenance long enough, and then you have no choice but to replace with new. So it creates something of a self-fulfilling cycle.
From an IT perspective, the request to change the report structure or one of a myriad of other request is simple enough but it is also small.  This type of project often goes onto a maintenance list prioritized against one another and demands for more strategic projects.  The open request is also a nuisance for IT...It is easy for both parties to overlook the list of nuisances.  Business and IT executives undervalue these individual small requests when prioritizing them against larger investment projects complete with business cases.  The natural inclination is to assign resources to the investment portfolio and address enhancement projects on a best effort basis.

I have seen this play out repeatedly, at different companies. A big project is commissioned, to replace the old, unloved system with the next-gen system. The project winds up being years late and over budget. More often than not, the new project winds up being canceled. Even when not canceled, it often comes in short of expectations, with the result being that the old system is not fully de-commissioned.

This result has a couple of implications. One, if a fraction of the money spent (wasted) on the next-gen system had been devoted to overhauling and maintaining the old system, success could have been obtained, far more economically, far sooner and with far less risk.

The other consideration relates to the overall IT environment. In the past 10 or so years, a huge focus of large, corporate IT departments has been in retiring/sunsetting/de-commissioning/harvesting redundant existing systems. This is far from the most exciting work, but it has become absolutely vital, because the cost of maintaining multiple, redundant systems is crushing IT budgets. So when a big project limps across the finish line, short of expectations, so that the old system is kept alive, this contributes to creating the kudzu-like corporate system environment that, as we have just observed, carries a very high price for maintenance.


  1. It is always a balancing act and struggle sometimes convincing 'business folk' that maintenance is vital.

  2. Our experience with Insight vs Cafe, and a couple of conversations you and I had late in that project time, were part of what I was thinking about, my friend.