How do CIOs know when it’s time to redesign an organisation’s IT architecture?

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Will Astbury
by Will Astbury 1 September 2017

Every CIO knows the ‘IT architecture lifecycle’. It’s pretty much the same for every organisation.

  1. It begins with designing an IT architecture strategy that meets the objectives within an organisation’s three to five-year business plan.
  2. Once the key stakeholders agree the design, it is then passed to the architecture team, or IT external supplier, to implement the plans.
  3. After the architecture has been built, it is passed to another team to support it, and fix it when required.
  4. Over time, the organisation’s priorities change. Budget cuts, company politics, personnel churn, digital disruptions, and data legislation shifts dilute and evolve the original architecture strategy causing new technologies to be added and tweaks to be made.
  5. Two years down the line, the organisation’s IT architecture has been completely warped and looks nothing like its original design.

So, what are the tell-tale signs that communicate to a CIO when it’s time to redesign an organisation’s IT architecture?

CIO.com Columnist and IT Consultant, Bob Lewis has penned several great articles on this subject. In his latest article, he shared ‘Nine warning signs of bad IT architecture’.

Symptom One: Staff doing are the computers’ jobs - Manual re-keying

You know when your IT architecture isn’t doing what’s required of it when staff must be used to connect incompatible applications and enter data manually. This is not only time-consuming, it can also cause data errors, and it will take staff away from value-creating.

Symptom Two: Redundant apps

Many organisations have multiple applications that solve the same business problem. This overlap can be caused because these apps solve other unique issues, or because the organisation has grown through mergers and acquisition. Either way, overlap means unnecessary license expense, staff time is taken up in maintaining these apps, and needless integrations are required. Does your organisation run too many applications? If so, it’s time to list their functions and ditch the unnecessary extras.

Symptom Three: Redundant data

Not all apps can use the same database and attempting to synchronise different databases can cause duplication and other issues, like the creation of additional interfaces and more manual re-keying. Data reconciliation activities can be time-consuming and bad data can lead to poor decision-making. If you’re contending with pools of redundant data, it’s time to redesign your IT architecture.

Symptom Four:  Too many interfaces

When additional interfaces are created to manage data, the organisation begins to accumulate multiple interfaces over time. This makes your IT architecture increasingly fragile and in the end IT teams spend more time managing interfaces than increasing efficiencies.

Symptom Five: Integrations

Integrating all these interfaces can create a fragile spider’s web that is equally difficult to maintain and expensive to build. If you’re facing a big integration task, it might be time to weigh-up whether you need to start your IT architecture from scratch.

Symptom Six: Workarounds

You may find that some of your systems have been patched together with duct tape by a stressed architect with a deadline to meet. More and more of these patches will build-up over time. These make the architecture even more fragile and increase maintenance costs. When you start spotting workarounds, you know it’s time for a redesign.

Symptom Seven: Obsolete technology

Every technology has a life-cycle and over time mission-critical systems will become incompatible with the latest innovations. If your organisation’s technologies are beginning to look a bit rusty, you must consider a new IT architecture for the future. If you don’t act swiftly, your organisation’s service delivery may even be interrupted which is bad news for customers and, ultimately, you.

Bringing it all together

As a CIO, you need to be mindful of the changes that occur in and around your organisation’s IT architecture. Bright ideas and quick fixes, conceived without the bigger picture in mind, can transform your infrastructure significantly – making it time-consuming to maintain and difficult to repair. Paying close attention, will help you to recognise when wholesale change is needed and how efficiencies can be improved safely.

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Topics: IT Architecture