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1/24/2003
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Business-Technologist Visions: What's Your Legacy?

IT can fundamentally change a business, Dell Computer's Randy Mott says, but not until legacy systems are abandoned.

Have you toured your data center and inventoried your systems in the past year? Are you aware of all the applications that are being developed in your environment? Do your business partners fully engage in the development of your IT strategy? Are you still running NT 4.0? Have you put open source to the test? Does your development cycle exceed 12 months?

These are just a few questions that may help you identify if this is the year you innovate or stagnate.

While some may think of legacy as something of great importance that is passed down to the next generation, IT professionals must associate legacy with a stasis--a 3-year-old system that was built on a dated platform and can't keep up with the demands of a business; a process that was introduced yesterday and will only get you through the next quarter; or any number of paradigms that affect the way we think and behave over a period of time. Every CIO I meet is dealing with legacy problems.

Our IT group at Dell has decided there's no room for legacy in our environment. We're well on our way to ridding our environment of traffic jams that impede our ability to innovate.

Our mission is to devote 75% of our IT team to development by the end of 2005. We've learned that this can be painful; our architecture and development teams must be more disciplined to stay focused on enablement, as the natural tendency is to do patchwork on old systems instead of focusing on solutions that make those old systems obsolete. But the payback is significant. Since embarking upon this journey, more than 30% of our organization has shifted its focus from keeping the lights on to innovation. As a result, we've seen the return on our IT investment almost triple, and we're better able to provide our customers with value in their computer-systems purchases.

Deciding to part with systems and processes that are near and dear to us isn't easy. It requires commitment from the executive leadership to the business partner to the development staff, but it can be done. I like to think of the process like remodeling an old house on a tight budget and improving its value by 300%. Have you given any thought to remodeling your house?

While we continue to build our way out of our legacy, we've learned a few simple things along the way that may help us clear the freeway:

  • Open-standard computing platforms are the future: Today, multiple open-standard technologies will scale with the demands of growing businesses, and they provide flexibility and affordability that can't be matched by proprietary systems.
  • Speed of delivery: In a dynamic and successful business, development cycles shouldn't exceed six months.
  • Extreme integration: If your systems are truly integrated, you can treat them like building blocks; regardless of what you build or how many blocks it requires, your systems should remain tightly interlocked.
  • Build your way out of legacy: Across the entire business, all parties must commit to a technology road map and strategy that will enable your company to succeed.
  • Data must provide answers, not more data: Data warehouses should be designed to answer any question at any time.
  • Show the value: Your budget will continue to be put to the test, so develop a governance and metrics model that's easy to understand and give your business partners reasons to have confidence in your team.
  • Global and common systems are the most efficient and effective: Build systems that can be deployed around the world and add features and functions to serve the individual needs of countries.
  • IT is one of the most important investments you can make to fundamentally change your business. But the investment is wasted if you're spending your dollars on the past.

    Randy Mott is senior VP and CIO at Dell Computer. He was InformationWeek's Chief of the Year in 1997, when he was CIO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

    Search for more articles in InformationWeek about this author:

    Do tech stars like Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, and Carly Fiorina see the future clearly? Check out what our complete panel of 32 visionaries have to say here.

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    Is the author right? Or out in left field? Have your say on this column and the rest of our Future Visions package at informationweek.com/forum/informationweek

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