A 5-piece framework to modernize IT and invest in your core

From http://diginomica.com/2015/11/27/a-5-piece-framework-to-modernize-it-and-invest-in-your-core/#.VqduEfkrIuU

It’s been two years since I last wrote about the thoughts of French blogger and office automation guru Louis Naugès on the consequences of the industrialization of IT — what he calls R2I, theRévolution Industrielle Informatique.

Back then, his focus was on what he believes will bethe ruinous impact on the IT services industry. Now he has turned his attention to the enterprise, proposing a simple model that CIOs can use to modernize and reinvent their organization’s information systems. This can be applied to all sizes of enterprise, but he believes it is especially pertinent to the largest.

At a recent meeting, Naugès sketched out his model for me and I was struck by how strongly it resonates with several trends I’ve seen emerging over the past year, including industry cloud, devops, identity management and APIs. The model provides a simple, effective framework for pulling these various strands together to formulate a strategy for digital transformation, based on cloud computing.

Business, Infrastructure, Support

The core of the Naugès model is the proposition, set out in a blog post earlier this year, thatenterprise IT can be divided simply into three primary components. He calls this the BIS model, which stands for its three components: Business, Infrastructure, and Support. In a more recent blog post, he extended this model with two further components, while defining the original three (translated here from the French original) as:

  • B = Business: core applications, specific to the field of operation of each enterprise.
  • I = Infrastructure: the servers, workstations and networks that form the foundation of an efficient information system.
  • S = Support: universal, generic applications, as found in all enterprises.

So far, this seems straightforward and obvious, but once you understand how Naugès proposes to execute the model it becomes a strategic roadmap for realizing maximum benefit from the industrialization of IT through cloud computing.

Thus the infrastructure component, most notably servers, should be obtained entirely from “industrial providers of public cloud” — public IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) providers such as AWS (Amazon Web Services) GCE (Google Compute Engine) and Microsoft Azure.

Support applications, such as messaging and office automation, sales and marketing, HR, budgeting and finance, and so on, “are industrialized by SaaS (Software as a Service)” — multi-tenant, public cloud services billed according to usage. This component too should be fulfilled 100 percent from cloud providers.

Only the “small number” of applications that are specific to the core business of the enterprise, whether that be warehouse optimization for a retail chain or actuarial calculations for a life insurer, should be custom developed in-house, says Naugès. The enterprise should employ its own software engineers to maximize innovation and competitive differentiation, using an agile, iterative development style. Yet even here, industrialization of IT means that the most powerful, economic platform for these applications is PaaS (Platform as a Service), again running on public clouds.

Change is in the air

Some examples I’ve come across this year that illustrate this tripartite division include the trend towards industry cloud solutions built on the Salesforce platform. The CRM component is SaaS, while the industry-specific functionality is built on top of the underlying Salesforce PaaS and further tailored to the needs of each individual enterprise.

A different example comes from US grocery chain Whole Foods Market’s partnership with Infor to build a next-generation retail management system. This example includes all three layers, since Infor runs its CloudSuite SaaS applications on the AWS IaaS platform. Interestingly, Infor is taking Whole Foods’ requirements into account as it builds the CloudSuite SaaS functionality to then offer as its retail industry solution. Whole Foods will also add some custom pieces of its own, some of which will use the Amazon Redshift data warehouse for analytics in a PaaS role.

With the continued growth of IaaS, the mainstreaming of SaaS for horizontal applications, and the emergence of various forms of PaaS, there are many more examples of Naugès’ BIS model coming into being. His conclusion:

Beneath its seeming simplicity, the BIS model carries with it major changes in the understanding of what is a modern information system (IS):

  • The two most important components in terms of IS activities and budgets, I for Infrastructure, S for Support uses, are made 100 percent using ready-made industrial solutions.
  • The key component to competitiveness, B for Business, is custom built using off-the-shelf industrial tools.

The BIS model allows me to define my new value proposition for the seven years 2015-2021: to help you industrialize your support systems and invest in your core systems.

Two more building blocks

Since first advancing this model, Naugès has found that two objections often come up in response to the recommendation of relying entirely on various cloud services. In a blog post last month, he added two further building blocks to complete the 5-piece framework:

The two issues most frequently mentioned were:

  • How to manage, “integrate” dozens of different software components, and how to link to legacy applications.
  • What security, what privacy in an environment dominated by public cloud solutions.

In an extended BIS model, I added two new bricks:

  • Trust: How to create confidence that the company can go to these public cloud solutions with maximum confidence.
  • Aggregation: allow dozens of ‘best-of-breed’ components to work together.

I found these very well chosen to complete the picture. I was particularly taken with his description of how the trust component works:

I now propose to enterprises, as a prelude to any public cloud strategy, to build a ‘Trust’ platform.

Working together, the IT and security teams can define in advance the conditions to be met by the Trust platform.

Between 3 and 6 calendar months are needed to define this TaaS (Trust as a Service) platform. It is a time investment quickly recovered, because all cloud projects proposed are automatically accepted, prior trust conditions being met.

This forcefully reminded me of the preconfigured approach to compliance advocated by Chef Software’s chief architect Justin Arbuckle in a conversation in April (an approach that Chef has now introduced in product form):

What if you also had a method whereby you could take a particular regulation and translate it into some formal language?

What you see is, for the first time, I think, high-velocity organizations can be high-compliance organisations.

Similarly, cloud identity management providers such as Okta, OneLogin or Ping are adept at providing users with a single point of access to an organization’s cloud applications while maintaining compliance with predetermined policies on security and other matters.

Meanwhile, the use of the term aggregation (in preference to integration) as the final building block aligns well with today’s loosely coupled connection models in the cloud, ranging from the likes of Apigee and Mulesoft for enterprise applications to more informal platforms such as IFTTT and Xapier.

As Anthony Meadows, global director of enterprise IT at Mulesoft customer Rentokil Initial told me earlier this year, APIs can also help bridge the gap between next-generation and legacy applications:

The API layer is really important to open these pieces up. By using APIs, we open up our core systems to the business. We help them explore the technology and allow them to innovate.

My take

The BIS model provides a simple 5-piece framework for planning the transformation (perhaps even the unbundling) of enterprise IT for the digital era. I think the concept of support applications, all delivered as SaaS, is especially helpful when isolating the unique, core business activities of the enterprise.

This helps remind us that there are many elements of the traditional enterprise applications stack that are not core to the business, even though they’re often loosely described as core apps. Figuring out the true essence of the business will be the key to success when applying the BIS model.

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