A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of HP in Cupertino, California to sit in on presentations related to the vendor's latest offerings in the application lifecycle management space.
While there was far too much material presented to cover in this space, a recurring theme kept emerging from the discussions around approaches to application development and management: the need to better support agile methodologies.
Agile is an under-utilized and misunderstood methodology that potentially could save businesses millions of dollars in duplicate code or applications that end up as shelfware. And, if handled correctly, helps deliver software and systems with greater speed. In today's hyper-competitive economy, this is essential.
Agile is not new. The Agile Manifesto was crafted 10 years ago, and has served more as an ideal than a working model that enterprises follow. The document's values were disarmingly simple, promoting: individuals and interactions over processes and tools; working software over comprehensive documentation; customer collaboration over contract negotiation; responding to change over following a plan.
But enterprise IT remains locked up in a spaghetti-like tangle of systems, software, and procedures that are incomprehensible to business users. As John Jeremiah, director of products for HP described it, “IT has become a culture of hoarders.” To illustrate his point, he flashed two pictures of garages on the screen – one overflowing with junk (reminded me a bit of my garage, actually), and the other a clean, spotless, organized area. “The messy garage is always less agile,” he points out.
The challenge is that enterprises end up building large inventories of unused or barely used applications – which still need to be maintained and serviced by someone, somewhere. And this takes up about 70% or more of UT budgets and resources.
Agile development – in which developers form small teams with business end users to deliver iterations of software – may help maintain the value of applications to the business. While an agile-developed application may take more organizational skills to bring to production, it's far more likely to be accepted and embraced by business users. The alternative “waterfall”-developed application, on the other hand, will have been built in the development shop, then foisted upon users, who be anywhere from confused to angry as they attempt to learn the new system.
Will cloud computing make a difference? The antithesis of huge overloaded IT centers, of course, is the trend toward IT-less enterprises – employing shared services such as software as a service and cloud computing. While third parties may be involved, this, too, will gain far more acceptance if brought into the organization in an agile, iterative fashion.
And, in all likelihood, more applications will be coming on the scene from outside the firewall. As Matt Morgan, HP's senior director of product marketing applications pointed out, “we're dealing with data center being dissolved and merged with public offerings. IT functions for the 1st time are really leveraging shared services that competitors are also using.”
So true in today's insurance enterprises. Ratings, medical screening, and claims management services often are accessed by multiple carriers. Moving to cloud-based policy administration and agent management systems may not be such a big leap.
The bottom line is that today's carriers can no longer afford to wait four to six months for an application to be put into motion. Whether it's coming out of the corporate development shop, or from a third-party cloud provider, the goal is to be able to deliver new software quicker and with greater frequency than before – with far higher value to the business.
So let's get Agile.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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