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IT Is Too Darn Slow

Is your IT shop the place where great business ideas grind to a halt? Here's how to speed things up.

Architected For Speed

One major area that holds back IT speed is legacy IT infrastructure. FedEx's Carter, speaking at a CIO event last fall, told the audience not to spend time looking back at how they got where they are--everyone has some mix of legacy software, hardware, and architecture. In fact, any CIO who doesn't have this dilemma is either way beyond good or has been keeping too tight a rein on IT to let the business grow, he says. The bottom line: CIOs must look ahead and decide if their companies' IT architecture can keep up with the pace of business.

Carter didn't feel he had that. But before he tried to change it, he wanted his fellow business leaders to agree. So his team did some research, identifying the thousands of applications, servers, and custom interfaces that stitched together the many businesses FedEx had acquired and built over the years. Carter made the business case that FedEx couldn't do all the things it wanted to do--provide a unified customer experience, launch new products rapidly, make and quickly integrate acquisitions--without a more unified IT infrastructure.

FedEx is overhauling its infrastructure using a services-based approach. The apps will remain but will call on common data sources for 24 core transportation-related services, tasks like providing an address. The apps are also being rewritten to use common infrastructure such as databases and messaging, so they can move across servers. FedEx built two data centers based on highly virtualized, x86 environments--a private cloud for what Carter calls "general purpose" computing, letting application workloads be shifted more efficiently to any part of the data center. No apps get into those new data centers until they run on this modern services architecture.

Rob Carter
FedEx long ago made IT a strategic asset. Now CIO Carter is transforming its IT infrastructure for greater speed and flexibility with an architectgure for "general purpose" computing.

Manpower's Edwards also revamped the company's architecture for speed. Edwards decided not to consolidate the company onto a single ERP platform near term. That remains a long-term goal; today, high-impact apps such as video interviewing and tablet-based apps for recruiters are the more urgent priority. However, Edwards did need to establish a company-wide integration architecture for the app store concept to work, so a new application could be plugged into any number of legacy Manpower systems used worldwide. In the past, Manpower would build a unique, one-to-one interface to connect each country's legacy system to any new app. Now, Manpower's using a services architecture, where apps publish data in common XML formats, so local IT teams can more easily integrate them to their legacy systems.

The speed comes from teams around the world working on small projects in parallel. "We're doing a ton of proofs of concepts and pilots, and we can do that because we understand what we want our architecure to look like," Edwards says. A year ago, he wouldn't have been comfortable allowing all this distributed development, because the architecture wasn't ready. "We have to make sure our impatience doesn't lead us to make mistakes that cause problems down the road," he says.

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