Thursday, January 15

Hey, Make Do & Mend Mister!

Yes I’m talking to you sonny-jim, the CIO making plans for 2009 when the only certainty is that the pressure on you to deliver is relentless and funding for new projects is evaporating faster than spit on a hot griddle.

A dilemma for sure, so where to turn for inspiration and support? It struck me that - after hearing pundit after pundit comment that this economic melt-down is the worst since the war (WWII) – what actions would a war-era CIO have taken if computer systems had been as prevalent in business then and not just military code-breakers?

The British government ran a campaign during the war encouraging all citizens to Make Do & Mend. With the nation's industrial output concentrated on the war effort, basic clothes were in short supply and high fashion was an unknown commodity. Adults were issued as little as 36 coupons a year to spend on clothes. But a man's suit could cost 22 coupons, a coat 16 and a lady's dress 11, so the need to recycle and be inventive with other materials became more and more necessary.

Are there any useful parallels to be drawn from comparing the recycling of curtains into dresses and old sheets into underwear with the reuse of IT systems? When times are good then nobody wants to be caught walking around in pair of old curtains. But there exists a nadir after which it is not only socially acceptable to ‘Make Do & Mend’ but somewhat de rigueur and stigma transfers to conspicuous consumption.

NOTE: I first came across the 'Make Do & Mend' maxim applied to the IT sector on the excellent UKHotViews blog published by Richard Holway and Anthony Miller. It is a theme that they come back to time and again but here is a post from early 2008.

By the end of 2009 I expect that ‘smart’ CIOs will be identified as those who dreamt-up ever more creative and compelling ways to extract business value from existing systems. When business is flush with cash it is easy to pooh-pooh ‘the old ways’ and go cap-in-hand to the CFO for a shiny new system. But finding ways to deliver 80% of the same functionality of a new package for only 20% of the cost takes real imagination, skill and, dare I say it, balls (or big cojones for those across the pond).

At LANSA we see both sides of the coin on a daily basis – new systems being designed and built from scratch as well as projects to enhance, extend and integrate existing systems. Drawing on that experience I humbly submit my Top 5 list of quick win application modernisation projects to do this year:

Web customer self-service to lower operating costs
Shortening the supply chain (digital B2B communication)
Mashup business apps to increase end-user productivity
Second-generation e-commerce solution to ramp-up sales
Replace 5250 UI with a rich GUI to reduce training costs

NOTE: A good result would be delivering any 3 of these 5 projects during a 12 month period.

For a while the 'next big thing' in IT will not be a new technology. It will be a business focus on improving the top and bottom line. With this in mind, IT projects are likely to be re-prioritized. Now is a better time than ever to reuse existing systems and to extend and modernize these systems with cost-effective enhancements that will pay for themselves in the short term and provide genuine value. BTW, demonstrating how to deliver 80% of the solution for only 20% of the cost is also a good way to make yourself indispensable.

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