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Chris Di LulloSr. IT Pro Marketing ManagerTwitter | LinkedIn
Jonathan RozenblitTechnology AdvisorMicrosoft Canada
Stephen IbarakiIndustry AnalystFCIPS, I.S.P., ITCP/IP3P, DFNPA, CNP, FGITCA, MVP
Recently a series of questions came up within the Global IT Advisory Council so I provided my take which I’m sharing with you.
What is an Application Platform to you? I see this from a holistic view which includes the applications, the application platform interface, the application platform itself, an infrastructure interface, and then the infrastructure that provides for overall communications. This set of integrated technologies and tools must provide competitive advantage and agility for the organization. Competitive advantage is delivered through the 5 core drivers to organizational success: high value and clear differentiation; support for a low-cost operational advantage; increased collaboration, productivity, efficiency; support for developing areas of market focus; providing for continual innovation. Business agility is defined by: growth, entry into new markets, support for new customers or new users or new clients, enabling new products/services to existing customers or users or clients, providing differentiation and distinct advantages.
Does your firm have an Application Platform strategy? How is it working? We do have an application platform strategy and it’s working well since it’s integrated into the whole business strategy of the organization. This goes to aligning the platform strategy to the organizational objectives. This alignment is advanced using a business plan approach and ensuring that the platform supports all of the key headings of the business plan: Purpose; Vision; Mission; New opportunities and markets; Overall business model and the SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound); Target markets and the delivery models to these markets including address the 4Ps of marketing (product/service, promotion, pricing, placement/distribution); Competitive analysis; SWOT analysis (addressing organizational: internal strengths, weaknesses—external opportunities, threats); Human capital strategies; Resource requirements; Metrics for IT success; Financial projections (TCO, ROI, Timing, Pro-forma budgets).
Moreover the platform strategy must support the goals and values of the organization: - Goals are long term results driving: dependable future success and typically involve these categories: Development (innovation, capability growth, culture improvement), Employee (collaboration, development, efficiencies), Financial (increased revenue/funding, growth, profit, doing more with less), Customer/client (engagement, retention, satisfaction), Competitive (new markets, growing existing markets, differentiating).
What is the mix of platform technologies and products that makes the most sense to you? Russell Ackoff, past Dean of the Wharton School, has noted that the performance of a system depends upon how the parts interact and not how they work separately.
This research fact determines our mix of platform technologies and products. We find that it’s simplest to focus on just a few vendors and ideally one if they can provide the best holistic integrated environment. Our studies show that this reduces the time for service implementation by 50% and a reliability/productivity boost overall. Paraphrasing Peter DeLisi, a noted business thought leader and Dean of the IT Leadership Program at Santa Clara University: while working on the functional and operational areas [maintenance areas] are important, it’s essential that IT [and the platform] direct its efforts towards the strategic level. That’s the place of maximum business advantage and essentially the Hub or Keystone of the business. By using a one-vendors strategy, this goal is supported.
Though outside of the Application Platform itself, making infrastructure choices has a ripple effect. One example of a quick route to operating cost reduction, efficiency and service quality increase, is server consolidation through virtualization. Server consolidation is the most effective when you run a unified and standardized application environment so this links to the application platform. You need less computing hardware and staffing to maintain the systems with higher up-time or reliability as a natural consequence. Integration of business information is improved thus yielding business intelligence, and collaboration is easier inside and outside your organization. Moreover, workflow and business process is simplified and consistent, business agility and productivity is improved while simultaneously lowering operating costs. However, the big new challenge is planning and managing security within this environment.
What are some opportunities and challenges for you as an IT Manager from an Application Platform standpoint? The biggest challenge is ensuring a consistent and coherent integrated platform strategy that also makes sense to the business side of the organization. This is backed by a recent study by the Auditor’s General Office, of 7 projects they sampled, only 2 met all the criteria for success.
Security and compliance are heavy burdens and this will only increase due to the worldwide financial crisis. However, this also provides an opportunity since the platform is an essential component to the business-side.
What are some of the issues you deal with when making platform decisions at your company? I thought Michael Miller (do a live search for more information) provided an interesting framework for technical platform decisions which is captured in these headings: Platform services; Identity and roles; Rich type library; Security; Extensibility; Process identification and execution; Solution packaging and containment; Deployment models.
Since there’s a close alignment to the business side, this also provides our biggest challenge. That is, how to translate platform choices/decision so that they support the organizational goals and objectives and we can effectively measure the gains. Measurement often proves difficult together with support of all of the SMART organizational objectives. We have found from experience, that it is key to have our platform architects working in close proximity with the business teams in cross-functional committees that meet regularly and with scheduled intervals for ongoing SWOT analysis. And there must also be executive buy-in at all levels and support
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