Monday, July 27, 2015

Why Application Portfolio Reviews and CMDBs continue to be expensive?

As the Enterprise Architect responsible for key IS applications, it generally comes down to me to guide and enable teams engaged in reviewing application portfolios. In my technology consulting days in the past, I had engaged in several “Application portfolio review” exercises for clients across industry domains.  In all these exercises, there is a common thread: high cost of such “application portfolio” data gathering exercise - in other words, a nice high-value billable engagement for consultants – that can add up in the context of large transformational programs, where understanding of “as is” landscape is a must have.

At the very basic level, the problem comes down to maintaining a verifiable, well maintained inventory of applications. Of course, for many uses, a simple “list” alone is not sufficient. Most of us who have been in the industry realize that for an application list to be useful, it has to inform a cross section of stakeholders looking for varied perspectives. Just a small subset:
  • Enterprise Architects: Seek data on applications, application components, data and interfaces between them, and more importantly the business capabilities and functions enabled by such applications. Such inputs are also building blocks for “Roadmaps” that inform the implementation of business strategies and are also used in scenario planning and defining business cases.
  • IS Architects and Others: Large technology transformation programs generally require an “impact assessment” to understand, and catalog the impact of changes in the existing application landscape. Typical questions include: How many applications in the landscape? How many applications supporting xyz process, who and how are the applications managed?
  • IS Executives and leadership teams: Generally interested in support cost, technologies adopted and other dimensions that can inform TCO of application portfolios, including strategic use of software licenses, vendor negotiations and optimizing the use of infrastructure across the portfolios (Cloud strategies come to mind but delving deeper on the topic in this article will digress us)
  • Operational and support teams: Managing the workflow of functional and technical changes and enhancements and propagating them through the application development life cycle.
  • Vendor and strategic suppliers: Access to application portfolios can help them proactively suggest optimization or leveraging new product and solution capacities.
  • Other uses: Include SoX compliance, responding to regulatory and audit requirements etc.
Reading thus far, you are probably right in wondering if CMDBs are the potential “silver bullet.”  Wikipedia defines “A configuration management database (CMDB)” :
“a repository that acts as a data warehouse for information technology (IT) organizations. Its contents are intended to hold a collection of IT assets that are commonly referred to as configuration items (CI), as well as descriptive relationships between such assets. When populated, the repository becomes a means of understanding how critical assets such as information systems are composed, what their upstream sources or dependencies are, and what their downstream targets are.”
A well-defined and managed CMDB tool may help an organization manage IT assets, including applications and infrastructure supporting them. Many tools also enable “auto discovery” of elements. An entire industry and consulting sub-segment of IT management focused on ITIL and IT operations has sprung up around configuring, supporting and managing CMDBs.
The gap – and perhaps opportunity – is when it comes to data about the business functional and capabilities enabled applications. These are generally defined in the product documentation (in case of COTS products) or in the functional specifications and design documents and need to be manually updated in the CMDBs. Even assuming an initial mapping of such data is accurate, the data generally degrades over time as the applications transform, functionality is added and technical and functional ownership changes.  Updating such changes in the CMDB is both expensive and resource intensive, as it is generally a manual process.
Unless managed with strong executive support, governance, and ongoing funding, the reliability of such data in the CMDB may degrade over time. Such lack of reliability may also weaken stakeholder confidence in the CMDB as the “single source of application information,” causing groups, divisions and transformational programs to begin managing their own lists in wikis, spreadsheets and other smaller ‘databases.’
In a way this is a classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish: by avoiding the cost of updating and maintaining CMDBs, the organization may end up spending a lot more in individual “application portfolio review” and “data gathering” exercises.
  1. These observations are based on review of CMDBs and application portfolio “lists” at large organizations spanning geographies and lines of businesses. Smaller organizations with smaller IT footprint and limited number of applications may not have the same issues
  2. Many organizations have their own definitions of applications and technology platforms. (Wikipedia)  Hence, I have refrained from defining “Applications” in this writeup.

(Repost from LinkedIn Pulse)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Waiter! There’s a fly in my soup! Lessons on finding a steel-wire in a takeaway Pizza

We have all heard “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup” jokes many times, but hardly ever stopped to think: what would I do if I really had a fly in my soup? Well, I had to reflect on this since it wasn’t a fly, but a piece of steel wire in my takeaway Pizza that I was enjoying with my wife and five year old.

First things first, my experience is probably an exception to the norm. Finding a harmful/strange object in a takeaway food, especially from a large chain is certainly not the norm.
Here is a gist of my experience and interactions with Pizza Hut (PH): I ordered a large pizza online, and picked it up at the local PH on the way back from work. My wife, son and I begin enjoying an early dinner and midway through, I feel a strange, crunchy object in my mouth. I took it out and was surprised to find a steel wire, about 3/4th of an inch. With this, our dinner came to an abrupt end, and I begin wondering what I should do.
  1. Drive down to the PH location with the object, and confront the store manager?
  2. Call the customer service number? Or
  3. Take a picture on my smartphone and tweet a complaint?
I went for option C.) and tweeted a complaint with pictures to @PizzaHutCares @pizzahut along with  hashtags #complaint #UPSET! #Pizzahut (link to tweet)
@PizzaHutCares responded, directing me an online webpage (link) where I could send details to customer care, which I did.  The next day, I got a call and email from Billy, the local GM
“We do apologize for the recent incident you had at Pizza Hut, please call rgm. Billy Mcgill for a full refund on your product and if you keep the object bring to the location so we can see where it may have came from. Again we want to apologize for the trouble that this has caused you and will try to make it right with you,
Questions please call (xxx)yyy-2800 and speak with the general manager”
After talking to Billy, I stopped by PH location with the rest of un-eaten Pizza and steel wire, and refused a refund that the store manager offered. I explained that I wanted the metal object investigated. And if they would inform me how this issue would be prevented in future. The next day, Billy emailed me:
“Hello I have looked at the object you sent me and I've been with Pizza Hut for over 20 years and have never seen this type of material used in store or equipment, again we apologize for this issue and will double check all items before sent out to customers so this doesn't happen again. Again for your issue we have added a credit to your account to replace your order on your next visit if you choose to give us another chance.”
The interaction with Billy and PH’s customer service left me with a gnawing feeling. They acknowledged that there was an issue, but didn’t explain how it would be fixed. For instance, I continue to wonder if (and how) the Pizza Hut branch that I went to has cleaned their kitchen? Are there other consumers who might end up getting a steel wire and may accidentally ingest it? I also wonder if I should be calling the local city/county health inspector to have the location inspected.
Wearing my Enterprise Architect hat, I also began reflecting on Pizza Hut’s “customer complaint” process
  • There is a “process” in place for customers to complain, as most retailers do
  • The process includes “social media” tools like twitter, emails and websites
    • A tweet to @PizzaHutCares generally gets a response directing the customer to send details of complaint to an online webpage
    • After entering details on the complaint webpage, one receives an email with “Incident number”
    • The incident is forwarded to the manager at the branch/franchise location
    • The manager calls the customer
  • After this, the process seems to be broken:
    • After the initial “social media” response, the action or resolution is transparent to the customer.  
    • Feedback to the consumer is absent after the initial contact. For instance, I continue to wonder if (and how) the Pizza Hut branch that I went to has cleaned their kitchen?
 Before you jump up and suggest what every blue blooded American could/should do in this situation - sue them - here what I found googling on this topic, I found that I am not alone, and neither is Pizza Hut the only culprit in town. (link: What can I do if I found a metal object in my pizza that I had delivered from Papa Johns?)
In this instance, my family (and Pizza Hut) were probably lucky: I didn't ingest that metal wire. Therefore, it is probably not worth the time/effort to pursue this further! So, what is the consumer in me going to do:
  • Blog about my experience (here it is!)
  • Am I going to go back to that PizzaHut location anytime soon? Probably not (PH lost one customer. Big deal, you might argue)
  • Continue to wonder if there a large scale, systemic problem with PizzaHut? Probably not. Else, we would be seeing a large action in social media
Bottomline: Mark this as just another case of poor customer experience (caveat emptor). Life is too short. Move on.

(Reposted from LinkedIn Pulse)