Retiring Legacy Applications – Logically January 17, 2012Posted by Chuck Musciano in Technology.
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A recent article on eliminating legacy applications prompted a bit of back-and-forth on Twitter, centered around why we all do such a bad job of retiring old systems. Such a conversation requires more than a few tweets, however. Why is it so hard to kill off old systems?
We all have no problem listing the theoretical reasons why an application should be retired:
- It no longer meets the users’ needs
- It becomes too costly to maintain
- Better technology is readily available
- Integration with other, newer applications is getting more difficult
Yet we all have applications that no longer meet user needs, are too costly too maintain, could be replaced with better technology, and barely integrate with our other systems. Why is it so hard to kill off old applications?
One word: metrics. Very few CIOs develop, collect, manage, and analyze the metrics to prove that an application is past its prime. Without hard data to document usability issues, cost concerns, or replacement expense, retiring an application shifts from being a matter of fact to a matter of opinion. When opinions start driving the discussion, it becomes almost impossible to kill off anything in IT.
While some things can be difficult to fully measure (what is “better technology?”) other things can be easily tracked to drive retirement decisions. In particular, usability metrics can give great insight into how users use a system, which features matter, and which features can be abandoned.
The right time to think about retiring an application is the day you begin to develop or acquire it. If you engineer usability metrics into a system, that data will be invaluable in five years when you may need to pull the plug.
Imagine a system with a few thousand reports. Imagine being tasked with eliminating the unnecessary reports. Imagine doing that with no empirical data. Imagine having to instead rely on user conjecture and anecdotal data on which reports are the “important ones.” Users are notoriously inaccurate in deciding these things; perception and reality are very different animals.
I once had to retire an old mainframe system which several users insisted they used on a regular basis. We saw no evidence of this, but they were adamant. Finally, we simply locked their userids to see what would happen.
The result? No complaints. It turns out they were using a completely different system that they thought was the mainframe. When we pointed this out, they happily allowed us to proceed with the retirement.
A bit of usage history would have been quite helpful. But no one ever instrumented the system to track such things, so we were left with drastic measures to move forward.
The next time you build a system, instrument the code to record who does what when. Disk is cheap; collect the data and see what users are actually doing in your applications. During the life of the application, such data will help tune the app and allow you to focus on what users really need. As the app approaches its “golden years,” you’ll know when usage drops to the point that you can safely pull the plug. As always, a little planning now saves a lot of pain and heartache later.
Welcome, I Think March 25, 2010Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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In one of those “timing is everything” moments, this blog has been mentioned in the general media just as I’ve gone on hiatus for a bit. I can only imagine the reaction of those who visit, expecting something new, only to be told that I won’t be writing anything new, at least for a little while.
I appreciate your time and would offer two alternatives:
- In lieu of blogging, I’ve shifted to a different kind of conversation on Twitter, tweeting more and engaging in dialog more often. While I’ve been on Twitter for almost two years, I’m experimenting with how it might be used to reach people in smaller snippets. I’m also tinkering with ways to manage Twitter more effectively, which still seems to elude me (and lots of other people).
- Much of the content on this site is not time-sensitive. In fact, one of the reasons I paused was that I was starting to write the same things over and over. I’ve been heartened to see that traffic to the blog has continued at a sustained level as people discover older but still-relevant posts through Google and many cross-links. In just the past week or so, these topics are still attracting readers:
- The Original Social Media Guru – Dale Carnegie figured out how to reach people, way before Facebook
- Measuring Metrics -The value (or lack thereof) in measuring things
- Three Envelopes -Timeless advice on avoiding disaster
- The Happy Path – Are you testing what you need to be testing?
- Arbitrary Boundaries – the danger of pigeonholing people
and a perennial favorite
- “…I’ll never go hungry again” – Scarlett O’Hara as an indicator of generational disconnect
Until I resume writing, I hope you’ll join me on Twitter and take time to explore the archives on this blog. I trust you’ll find value here, engage in some of the conversations, and stick with me until I pick things back up. Until then, look me up on Twitter!
Shifting Gears March 3, 2010Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
Faithful readers may have noticed that their faith has not been rewarded for the past month: there’s been nothing new to read here for quite some time. That was intentional, but it’s now time to explain myself a bit.
I started this blog more than two years ago as a way to understand the technology. After intermittent posts for eight months or so I began writing in earnest, posting articles every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for more than a year. 245 articles and 125,000 words later, it was time to take a breather.
When I started writing, I had many things I wanted to talk about. Typically, I had articles written two weeks in advance. Over time, that lead time began to shrink, so that most recently I was writing the night before my self-imposed deadlines. That resulted in rushed, poor-quality posts, which I won’t have and you don’t deserve.
I also realized that many of my topics are timeless. On more than one occasion, I would write a post only to discover that I had written essentially the same article a year ago. Rehashing the same topic serves no one.
Finally, I began to consider topics that really need more than 500 words, the typical length of an entry on this blog. I prefer “short and sweet” articles; I know that I get turned off by enormous blog postings. Nonetheless, certain topics deserve more scrutiny, and my current format does not serve these topics well.
On February 1, I just stopped posting. I had meant to write this explanatory post soon thereafter, but became intrigued by the traffic behavior on my blog. Instead, I stayed quiet to see what happens when a blog goes silent. I was surprised to see that traffic takes a long time to dwindle. I don’t completely understand why, but it has caused me to rethink the impact of posting frequency and readership patterns.
So now what? I will confess that my initial angst over stopping has been replaced by a sense of relief from not having to post. I’ve been able to consider some more in-depth ideas (many in the area of cloud technologies and shifts in personal computing) that may result in longer, more detailed posts. I’ve also been able to rebuild my supply of “short post” ideas, which I can draw on as the need arises.
It has become clear that every blogger needs an exit strategy, and that mine was ill-formed at best. While I do intend to resume blogging at some point, I need to think about a real long-term strategy that will allow the content to continue to serve as a resource for those who are interested.
The best part of blogging has been the feedback and support from many, many people. I appreciate your time when you read, and I really appreciate those who comment and extend the conversations I’ve started. I hope you’ll continue to check back to see what I’m doing, and I hope to continue to provide value to you when my blogging becomes more frequent. Until then, feel free to search for useful stuff I’ve already written, and don’t hesitate to connect through my Twitter presence. This experiment continues, and there’s still a lot to learn…
Measuring Metrics January 27, 2010Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership, Technology.
It’s a good bet that most people saw all or part of the Super Bowl, either at home or at a Super Bowl party. Suppose, as the game begins, the cable feed goes out and the television goes dark. Amid the howls of protest of those watching, you grab the phone and frantically dial your cable provider. When you finally reach a real person to complain of the interruption, they provide this explanation:
We’re sorry for the interruption, but our records show that this is our first outage in your area in more than two months. Even though we project that the outage will last for at least four hours, that still means that we provided service 99.72% of the time. This easily exceeds our 99.5% target metric for excellent service! We appreciate your business and thank you for your patience as we work to restore your service. Thanks for calling!
Happy now? Of course not. Yet many folks in IT hide behind metrics in a similar fashion.
It is said that anything you measure will improve. That provides a strong incentive to measure system availability, since we’d all like to hit that elusive goal of 100% uptime. But there is a difference between using those metrics to improve our performance and using those metrics to improve our public relations.
Uptime tracking coupled with root cause analysis will help you find and fix many tiny problems that may exist in your environment. Most mature IT shops have long ago figured out how to run their systems without catastrophic failure. We can all hit availability of about 98 or 99 percent on a regular basis. Getting much higher than that, however, involves ferreting out deep issues that may only surface under unusual circumstances. It takes discipline and focus to get there, and metrics can really help.
Metrics should never be used as a defense. When users are affected by an outage, the last thing they want to hear is how well you’ve been doing prior to the problem. It doesn’t matter, and you’re only annoying people that are already upset.
Similarly, metrics should never be used to tell the world what a great job you are doing. When things are running fine, announcing that they are fine just makes you look boastful. Most users just want IT to work, and they don’t want to think about it beyond that. Building on our cable analogy, how would you like the cable company to call once a month to tell you that the service is running just fine?
From the user’s perspective, availability is measured as a binary value: yes or no. There is no average, there is no track record, there is no target goal. You either provide your service or you don’t. Metrics matter internally so that we can improve our service. But they have little bearing on user opinion and can actually do more harm than good. Use them wisely.
Five January 25, 2010Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
I had the opportunity to hear Don Yaeger speak about the elements of greatness last week. It would take weeks of posts to share everything he said. His talk was eloquent, moving, and inspirational. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, do not miss it.
Don spoke about his relationship with John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. At 99, Wooden still mentors Don on a regular basis. Don was kind enough to share some advice from Wooden, involving the lesson of five.
Yaeger noted that if you want to know your child’s GPA, don’t call the school or ask your child. Find the GPA of their five closest friends, and your child will most likely be in the middle of that range. If you want to understand the morals and ethics of someone, understand the morals and ethics of their five closest friends. If you want to understand the business philosophy of someone, learn about the business practices of their five closest business associates. You get the idea.
Wooden instructed Yaeger to take a sheet of paper and make three lists. In the first, list your five closest personal friends. In the second, list your five closest business associates, and in the third, your five closest partners in service, such as your church or Rotary.
Now examine each list. Do these people want what you want? Do you aspire to be like them? Do they share your dreams and reflect your morals and ethics? Will they help you get to where you want to be, either personally, or professionally, or in service? Would those people put you on their list?
If so, strengthen those relationships and make sure you give back to them as much or more than you are getting. Recognize the value of that group and grow it to your mutual benefit.
If not, why not? Have you chosen poorly? Are you maintaining bad relationships? How long will you maintain connections with people that will hinder your ability to become great?
This is a simple but powerful exercise. These close relationships define us, and we are often too busy to give them conscious consideration. Good or bad, we need to create and assess these lists on a regular basis. We want to surround ourselves with people that will challenge us to be better. And perhaps more importantly, we should live our lives in a way that others will want to have us on their lists, too.
Have you made your lists?