Any decent executive wants to have things in control. But information systems, and particularly their inter-dependencies, have already grown beyond our control. Seeking full control is a fool’s game. The recipe of optimal realistic control is simple but not always easy to execute:

  1. Identify your critical business processes.
  2. Identify your core systems.
  3. Identify your critical dependencies.
  4. Freeze what you can.
  5. Focus testing on critical integrations.

Because you are still in business you certainly know what your critical business processes are and how information systems contribute to those. Chances are you have a myriad of apps and systems but only a handful of them are really core systems. A core system is characterized by one or more of the following:

  1. Necessary for a critical operational process. Manufacturing systems (MES) typically meet this criterion.
  2. Holds large amounts of critical business data. ERP and CRM systems typically meet this criterion.
  3. Actively used by a large number of people. Office systems, order processing systems, helpdesk systems, and self-service portals may meet this criterion.
  4. Serves as an integration hub in the enterprise architecture.

The fourth criterion is particularly interesting here. Some businesses have built everything around SAP. Some may have a “hidden integration hub” in a very old information system whose database everyone else relies on. Some may have a dedicated integration bus that everything else builds on.

Many executives have a hard time figuring out where the borderlines of the core systems actually are. For example, any problem somehow related to SAP tends to be called a “SAP problem” although it may be caused by another system. Typically information system problems are more often caused by dependencies and technical integrations between two systems than by any single system alone.

As the business moves at the speed of light its digital back-bone needs to evolve almost as fast. Therefore, there is a growing number of not-always-so-predictable system updates going on all the time. You neither stop nor fully control it. Once you know what your core systems and critical dependencies are you will be able to exercise a stricter control and quality assurance on them and let everything else evolve more freely. In practices this means reduced number of changes in core systems and critical dependencies, more thorough analysis on the impact of those changes, and more thorough QA before those changes go live. It is guaranteed that there will still be problems and there will still be angry people. But at least the critical business operations are less vulnerable.

Esko Hannula

Esko Hannula

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