Dear Bob ...
I have been thinking of running a concept by you for some time.
I often think about things in nautical terms. As such, I came up with a nautical-related analogy concerning barnacles to how our IT shop is run, especially in light of how bigger and older businesses become the slower and less adaptable with time.
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When a company first starts up, it usually has a very lean approach, it has the best and brightest (hopefully) doing the startup, and it can build its IT shop with all new computers and with fresh lean software designed for their specific purpose. This gives these new startup companies the ability to be versatile in the face of change, able to adapt at a moment's notice.
Eventually, though, they begin to settle in, and the various departments that spin off find the databases and procedures too lean for their flavor of bureaucracy, so they ask that the IT shop begin adding on various new fields or patches, new reports, and new utilities that mine the data every way imaginable. They end up with what I call barnacles, and the once-streamlined sloop is now a barnacle-encrusted freighter that is slow to adapt. All the energy in the IT shop is now focused on maintaining the patches on top of patches, and by my experience eventually there comes a fear of even touching the old Cobol-based database that was written by developers long ago dead, so they add even newer GUI interfaces to talk to the old database in carefully formatted ways -- even more barnacles, even more friction to the overall flow of the business.
Well, you get the picture.
Here is where keeping the business running is the most tricky. You cannot afford to dry-dock to get rid of the barnacles unless you can build a whole new boat to back up the old one and stay in business.
What usually happens is the energetic business leaders split off from their old company and build a new one that can dance circles around the old freighter. The old freighter plods along until it becomes forgotten (IBM) or just a long-floating eyesore (AT&T) that handles the commodities of the business while everyone else innovates around them. Those energetic leaders are now lost to the original company.
Seems to me we need someone to champion a business model where you can have new boats launched and the ability to dry-dock the old systems while they are brought up to date. Otherwise, the entropy will set in and every successful company will eventually find themselves old and irrelevant.
- Barnacle Bill