I recently took part in an old Catalonian Christmas eve tradition of hitting the "Caga Tió" which means, and I promise that I am not making this up, "shit log." Instead of Santa, Catalonian children have a shit log. Before Christmas they feed the log, cover it with a blanket, and keep it warm near the fire (but not too near). Then on Christmas Eve Caga Tió is covered with a blanket and the children gather round beating it with a stick chanting a song:
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
hazelnuts and cheese,
if you don't shit well
I'll give you a blow with a stick.
Here's the chant we used:
Shit well my log,
Shit for the Lord (this is after all, a religious holiday)
If you don't shit well
I'll beat you to hell
Then you pick up the back of the blanket and there is a delicious chocolate dessert. No ummm kidding. Catalonian children love their shit log for the treats and gifts it brings. (For more on this fascinating holiday tradition you can check out this video)
So what does this have to do with IT? Well, it occurred to me that some IT professionals believe in some magic bullets no less strange than thinking a log will excrete dessert and gifts. For IT, there is always the next magic bullet. I've been around long enough to witness a few - CASE, 4GLs, Client/Server, EAI. In 2008 the magic bullet was SOA. In 2009 cloud computing is being set up as the next magic bullet.
To be clear, I am not equating SOA with a Caga Tió. It just got me thinking about magical thinking. For example, the belief that you can use the same skills, methods, and organizational structures of the past to create new agile service oriented enterprises. Frankly, you will probably have better success throwing a blanket over your IT installation and hitting it with a stick. Maybe it will excrete reusable Web services.
The real hard truth is that logs don't shit candy and gifts and you don't achieve SOA success by implementing a few Web services or wrapping some legacy code in a WSDL interface. Transforming IT means transforming roles, responsibilities, processes, and methods. Anne Thomas Manes of the Burton Group has reported that most companies she has interviewed are not reporting success with SOA. The problem, according to Anne, is that the "techies have not been able to explain to the business units why they should adopt a better attitude about sharing and collaboration--which is the fundamental cultural shift required for SOA to succeed. The pervasive attitude is "What's in it for me?" As one of my interviewees said, "Altruism is not an enterprise strategy". The only success story she reported was of an organization which re-organized itself around functional capabilities and established strong incentives for reuse.
The bottom line is that if organizations wish to become more agile during the downturn they are going to have to give up magical thinking processes and belief in magic IT bullets, hunker down and do some real work around organizing for success. This means investing in retraining, and reinventing processes and methods so they can move past the obstacles that exist today. IMHO one of the most important things organizations need to get right is governance. Setting policies and procedures, enabling flexibility through federation while maintain control over what is core to the organization. Business and IT governance need to go hand in hand, and need to become central to any effort to bring greater agility to the organization. It is even important for successfully moving forward while investing less. It's about making your investments count, and tracking and measuring success.
And to those who say you can do proper governance in a spreadsheet, I would suggest that you may have a better chance of success by throwing a blanket over the spreadsheet and hitting it with a stick. But it's not all about having a registry either. It's about what you do with it. You need governors for proper governance. You need policies, procedures, and you need to track them throughout the life cycle. You need reward structures that guide people to desired behavior. You need the right organizational structure to enable governance of the policies, and ensure that business gains value from its investments.
In hard times, business and IT need to give up their magical belief that technology will fix the business, and start focusing on how to optimize the way business is done. Technology enables the story, but business should use technology to its advantage, and give up believing it will magically solve all the business problems.
Save your magical thinking for Santa and Caga Tió.
Wishing you all very happy holidays.