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Enterprise Impact Simulation An IT Revolution In The Making

Written By: William Walton
Published On: February 28 2001

IT in the 21st Century

In the 21st Century, successful IT organizations will move from reacting to change to predicting its impacts. The ability to reliably implement changes to our IT systems is no longer sufficient. We need the ability to make accurate predictions about the impact of change. We need accurate predictions about the impact that changes in IT will have on a business and its competitive position in the market. We need accurate predictions about the impact that changes in the business and in the markets in which it competes will have on underlying IT infrastructures. We need these capabilities to more effectively expend our efforts and resources in support of the business' competitive position.

The ability to make accurate predictions depends on the availability of accurate data about the underlying components. The technologies and tools now exist to deliver the individual pieces of data needed to produce these predictions. This was not the case in the past. Recent advances in software test automation tools, in particular, have delivered revolutionary capabilities. Driven by Y2K and the Internet, advances in these tools now give us the ability to build and maintain an accurate blueprint of how our systems work, how they work together, and how our customers use them. What's missing is an operating model that takes full advantage of the capabilities these tools offer. We need a predictable process that produces reliable, repeatable results. Once that process is put in place and the data begins to flow, the ability to use that data to produce accurate predictions about the impact of change will naturally follow.

The intent of this article, the first of three in a series, is to introduce the objective, Enterprise Impact Simulation (EIS), to identify the technology breakthrough that makes it possible, and to the identify the demand drivers. The second and third articles will explore the primary drivers for EIS in more depth and go on to develop the model that will deliver it.

Henry Ford was the first to implement the operating model that revolutionized the automobile industry. The technologies that enabled his model had recently come into existence. Ford's contribution was the development and implementation of an operating model that took full advantage these technologies. The IT industry is on the verge of a similar revolution. The required technologies are here. The question that remains is this. Who will be first?

Enterprise Impact Simulation: What is it?

Enterprise Impact Simulation (EIS) is a "dashboard" that delivers immediate, accurate predictions about the effects that proposed changes to the business' IT infrastructure (i.e., business applications, utilities, system software and hardware) will have on the business, its customers and its trading partners; and vice-versa.

In a nutshell, EIS will give you the information you need to drive your business at Internet speeds. IT executives have been forced to drive blind for too long. In slower times, that was tolerable. Not pleasant, but tolerable. Not any longer. Not on Internet time. EIS will give you facts about your systems and your organizations. Facts about how those systems work, how they work together, and how the systems are used. Facts about what it will cost and how long it will take to change them.

EIS will give you facts about your organization's behavior. Are you following best practices or cutting corners that will lead to problems? EIS will deliver facts that give you visibility into the organizations around you; both the internal business units you serve and the external businesses you need to collaborate with. How are they using the systems? Are usage patterns shifting? EIS will give you the visibility you need to avoid obstacles and to take the lead over your competitors.

For years the IT executive's job has been to give the business units the tools they need to run the business. Today, more and more, the IT organization is the business. Enterprise Impact Simulation will give IT executives the capabilities they need to accurately predict the impacts of change.

How is it possible?

The ability to make accurate predictions depends on the availability of accurate data about the underlying components. The technologies and tools to deliver the individual pieces of data needed to produce these predictions have only recently come to exist. Recent advances in software test automation tools, like those from market leader Mercury Interactive, now give you the ability to build and maintain an accurate blueprint of your IT systems. Once you have that blueprint, the step to simulation and prediction is a very short one.

For years you have asked for facts and predictions. Who uses this data? What will it cost to modify the system? How long will it take? Who will be impacted? Simple questions. In return, you received complicated answers. Instead of facts you get feelings. Answers typically include phrases that hedge the facts; phrases like "we think it will cost about" or "it will probably take around" The reason for this hedging is simple. Nobody really knows.

Nobody in your IT department really knows how the systems work. Sure, you have employees who know part of the answer. But nobody knows the whole answer. That's because the whole answer is too big, and everybody keeps their part of the answer in their heads. In cases where you really need accurate answers to these questions, it invariably takes an inordinate amount of time. First, there are a series of meetings with all the gurus in attendance. They put their heads together, debate the facts, break to check their facts, have more meetings, until finally they arrive at a conclusion that, more often than not, is still delivered with caveats and hedging. In the end, the only real difference is that you're faced with a larger group of people who all agree that they really don't know for sure.

The latest generation of software test automation tools gives you the ability to change all that. These tools can comprehensively capture the behavior and usage of the systems with 100% accuracy. Tools like Mercury Interactive's WinRunner product give you the ability to define and document a system's behavior at the User Interface level. Tools like their TestDirector product give you the ability to manage that definition. Their LoadRunner tool allows you to define and verify the system's performance at various usage levels. Mercury's new Topaz product allows you to monitor the system to detect changes in usage patterns.

Tools from vendors such as McCabe allow you to trace the flow of data through a system, and from system to system. Their code coverage tools allow you to identify the exact lines of source code executed as a result of a specific transaction on a system. Other tools can monitor who's logging on to a system, how often they use the system, and what they do while they're logged on.

Individually, these tools produce accurate data about a particular aspect of a system's behavior. Collected and correlated, this data can be used to deliver answers to important questions; instantly and accurately. By combining the use of WinRunner and a code coverage tool, for example, you can answer the question: "How many lines of code will be impacted if we change this field?" Using data flow analysis tools in conjunction with WinRunner allows you to answer the question: "If we change this field, what other systems will be impacted?" Combining data about the identity and activity of the system's users with an on-line org chart allows you to answer the question: "What organizations will be impacted if we make a change to this system?"

Imagine being able to get answers like these without having to go to the programming staff. Imagine how much more productive the programming staff could be if they had this information at hand and didn't have to go research the answers by digging in to the system's source code. Imagine how many mistakes and how much rework effort would be avoided by simply having these facts readily available.

Once you have the data you need, the step to simulation and accurate prediction is a short one. Simulation tools exist today and are readily available. All that remains is to implement a new operating model in your IT organizations that makes the development and maintenance of that data a priority; an integral component of your definition of a successful project.

Do we need it?

The demand for change is being driven by past and present failures, and by the promise of the future. Cost and schedule over-runs and the inability to see them coming in time to prevent them, delivery of systems or enhancements with less than required functionality, and unintended impacts to organizations that weren't notified of changes to a system they use are typical examples of past failures. Loss of important knowledge as employees leave for higher paying positions due to the shortage of IT labor is one of today's biggest challenges. Enterprise Impact Simulation addresses the root causes of these problems and can make them a thing of the past.

C-commerce, collaborative commerce, takes e-commerce to the next level. The promise of c-commerce is attractive and compelling. The challenges it brings include increasingly interconnected systems and jointly dependent projects that today's typical IT organization are, based on past performance, ill equipped to handle successfully. Enterprise Impact Simulation can equip you to adequately meet these challenges.

Enterprise Impact Simulation equips you for change. Your need for its capabilities depends on how well your organizations have handled change in the past and on how much change they see in our future. Some have more pressing needs than others. But given the pervasive nature of technology and the increasingly rapid pace of change, virtually every IT organization needs to be taking steps today to improve its ability to manage change more successfully.

Summary

It's not enough, in the 21st Century, to reliably implement changes to your IT systems. You need the ability to reliably predict the impact of change. Accurate prediction requires accurate data. Recent advances in software test automation tools give you, for the first time, the ability to collect and maintain the data you need. The need is real, driven by the competitive realities of doing business at Internet speed. The solution is at hand, waiting only for the implementation of an operating model that makes the development and maintenance of IT blueprints an unavoidable part of the process.

This article, the first of three in a series, introduced the concept of Enterprise Impact Simulation (EIS), identified the technology breakthrough that makes it possible, and to identified the demand drivers. The second and third articles will explore the primary drivers for EIS in more depth and go on to develop the model that will deliver it.

About The Author

Bill Walton has 15 years of IT experience including development, QA/Testing, and management positions with IBM, Compaq Computer, and Sabre, Inc. His background includes support of Engineering and Manufacturing as well as back office functions. His breadth of experience gives him unique insight into the problems facing IT today. His views on the most pressing of these problems and their solution can be found on his web site at http://www.jstats.com.

 
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