Less is sometimes more – or vice versa?

Mariann Harrison

Less is sometimes more – or vice versa?

Author: Béla Vér, Founding Owner at ApPello

“We have significantly reduced the number of our IT systems,” one often hears from the mouths of CIOs at conference and in interviews. But is having many types of system actually a problem? Is it really possible to start streamlining when everyone is digitalizing at full speed?

In itself, the number of IT systems reveals very little about an enterprise. After all, one cannot evaluate enterprises solely on the number of employees. Are 50 employees too many or too few? Compared to what? What’s the revenue? HUF 5 billion? HUF 500 billion? Forestry management or gas supplier? Everything’s relative.

Streamlining does not necessarily mean a reduction in the number of systems, but rather the requirement for resolution of some problem. In the experience of Béla Vér, founding owner of Appello, the “too many systems” mantra actually means the following:

  • Separate softwares handle functions that are now at most sub-modules of a larger core system at their more advanced competitors.
  • There are too many IT suppliers, some of which – due to low volume orders – do not provide an appropriate service, perhaps they do not offer support or have changed profile. If an enterprise has to work with too many different developers, then project management and compatibility require additional, unnecessary expenditure of energy, moreover, economies of scale cannot be fully exploited.
  • In the event of new procurements or when tendering, many bidders are discouraged if the software suite is inhomogeneous and the IT background comprises a mix of different generations, different architectures, on-premise and cloud solutions.

Naturally, when it comes to resolving these problems, it is not the goal of “let’s have fewer systems” that floats in front of the eyes of the client and the developer, but rather the assembly of efficient, modern, flexible systems with the involvement of a manageable number of partners.

However, forced streamlining can also have its drawbacks:

  • Mega-systems of global software giants offer solutions to everything. And the more of these systems a client orders from them, the bigger the discounts they promise. However, when everything comes from one service provider, this also represents a vulnerability. It’s not a good tactic to place one’s fate in the hands of a single supplier, that is, ‘put all our eggs in one basket’.
  • If all functions are handled by one system, then the maintenance, updating, development steps can be carried out only in a far more complex way. A frequent complaint of car mechanics concerning the engine bay in small cars is that when they have to change a headlight bulb it is necessary to disassemble the windshield washer bottle, the battery has to be removed and they have to find the person in the workshop with the narrowest wrist. Similar problems can crop up in an enterprise IT system: if an additional function is an integral part of the core system, then there is a greater possibility that, if there is an upgrade failure, it could damage the operation of the core system like a suicide bomber.

That is why, in a modern developer environment, microservices are designed to eliminate these potential problems. Strictly speaking, microservices can be considered as separate software. There is really no precise definition because if a microservice covers a given process with interfaces providing embeddedness, with its own database, then no matter how small it is it can be considered a stand-alone software. A trained IT team can handle potentially hundreds of microservices, constantly updating and patching them. For example, in a banking environment this makes the service palette far more competitive than reacting to day-to-day challenges in the framework of large projects lasting for a few years.

To sum up, streamlining – driven by the illusion of order – should not mean replacing otherwise perfectly functioning units with a monolithic system that then no one dares touch. This is guaranteed to hamper the reaction time of an enterprise, because combined packaging creates a more inflexible, more expensive solution that increases exposure.

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