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Business Transformation in Action

Joe McKendrick

In IT, 'Too Big to Fail' Means it Will Fail

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Call it "Session's Law": "the larger and more expensive an IT project is, the more likely it is to fail.

Roger Sessions, CTO of ObjectWatch, in a recent NetworkWorld interview, even puts a cost threshold on IT failure: A system that costs less than $750,000 "has a good chance of succeeding," but a system or project exceeding $2 million "has less than a 50 percent chance of succeeding... by the time it gets much larger than that, the chances of success drop to near zero." He adds that "most failures are in the $2 million to $4 million range."

The bottom line is big systems have become too unwieldy.
IT projects will see more success as smaller, bite-size chunks, especially since software has reached a state of complexity far beyond the ability of any individual, team of individuals, or vendor to manage its development and upkeep.

Sessions makes sense, and major projects and processes are better off served up as bite-sized chunks. There's nothing new about the "chunking" concept, of course -- Henry Ford broke automobile assembly down into chunks when he mastered the assembly line.  That was the beginning of chunking of production processes.

The chunking of software itself seems to be part of a very inevitable and natural revolution, since software has reached a state of complexity far beyond  the ability of any individual, team of individuals, or vendor to manage its development and upkeep.

And, service-oriented architecture is the process of breaking applications into bite-size chunks to be delivered when and where they are needed. The question is -- can we achieve simplicity by breaking down complex software operations into manageable, bite-size chunks? Or will things end up as brittle as the CORBA (Component Object Request Broker Architecture) efforts of the past decade?

In the interview, Sessions talks about the role of SOA in IT complexity, observing that companies have tended to build SOAs though arbitrary "decompositional design," versus a more predictable mathematical approach. It's this randomness that sinks many SOA efforts, he says.

But don't make SOA too big too fail. Keep it in manageable chunks.

In this blog (formerly known as "SOA in Action"), Joe McKendrick examines how BPM and related business and IT approaches can promote business transformation.

Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is an author and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. View more

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