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Preparing for .Net Enterprise Technologies: Supporting Processes

This chapter focuses on the different solutions that are needed to support the EMF. In addition, you'll learn about the backup plan that provides the most stability on all SPA objects: the certification program. And finally, because stability, reliability, performance, and productivity are the ultimate goal, authors Danielle and Nelson Ruest cover the Presentation layer in more detail. Learn how you can use active technologies to deliver and manage personalized environments on every SPA object. After all, meeting user needs to fulfill business goals is the first and foremost requirement of any IT system.
This chapter is excerpted from Preparing for .Net Enterprise Technologies: A Practical Guide for People, PCs and Processes Interacting in a .NET World, by Danielle and Nelson Ruest.
This chapter is from the book

Certification, Rationalization, and Presentation

The Cost of Saying "No"

One of the major IT issues in corporations today is the cost of saying no. Most organizations have designed their IT systems to respond to business and user needs. This is the right way to do it, but in an enterprise system, it is sometimes important to be able to say no to certain requests, especially if they seem unreasonable.

In determining the cost of saying no, you must review who has the right to deny requests. If this right is given to a technician within the corporation, does the proper level of authority come with it? When the technician says no, does the user accept this decision or does he or she "go up the ladder" until someone finally says yes and tells the technician to perform the work anyway?

The cost of saying no is evaluated by determining when the no is not accepted and how people try to countermand the decision. When putting in place an EMF, the entire enterprise must learn the value of no.

So far, several of the key processes required to put the EMF in place have already been introduced: standardization, rationalization, and certification. Standardization will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 5, because it covers the administrative processes required for the new IT environment.

The QUOTE System's Understand Phase

We continue the Understand Phase with a look at the pillars supporting the EMF. The supporting processes we examine here will form the final elements of the initial solution we must put in place.

This chapter focuses on the different solutions that are needed to support the EMF. If rationalization principles are not already in place in your organization, you're paying the cost of supporting diverse systems. But, before you can reap its benefits, you must understand why rationalization is required. For this, you need an understanding of software lifecycle management.

In addition, because we must all live with some degree of software diversity no matter how stringently we apply rationalization principles, you'll need a backup plan: the certification program. This is the program that will provide the most stability on all SPA objects.

And finally, because stability, reliability, performance, and productivity are the ultimate goal, we will cover the Presentation layer in more detail. This will help you understand how you can use active technologies to deliver and manage personalized environments on every SPA object. After all, meeting user needs to fulfill business goals is the first and foremost requirement of any IT system.

Software Rationalization

For an example of the rationale used during this process, see the Case Study on PC software rationalization at the end of Chapter 2.

Rationalizing the Enterprise

Rationalization is the process of reducing diversity within the IT network. Because the purpose of an IT network is to provide an environment where users can collaborate on projects and share information, it is essential to ensure that information sharing is supported at every level of the enterprise.

Microsoft Office Retraining

Microsoft Office owes its success to its uniform look and feel. Because all Office applications use the same menus, the same interface, the same Help engine, and the same keyboard commands, user retraining for each of the applications is minimized. In fact, studies show that almost 40 percent of Office learning is reused when someone goes from Word to Excel or PowerPoint. The rest focuses on the particular features of the product itself. For Word, it is word processing; for Excel, it is calculations; and for PowerPoint, it is illustration and presentations.

With the inclusion of the Microsoft Management Console (MMC)—a unified administration console for all .NET Server products—in Windows 2000 and XP, Microsoft brings the retraining concept from Office to systems administration.

Most organizations have already discovered the benefits of a single, unified office automation solution. Why? Because standard software tools can reduce costs dramatically while ensuring maximum content reuse.

Organizations that have standardized on Microsoft Office realize cost savings in automating setups, packaging, deployment, development and enhancements, training, and support. In many cases, organizations can build a single, automated setup file that can be personalized according to regional needs. In fact, with Office 2000 or XP, this is even easier to do than ever before because in these versions Office uses a deployment mode that supports a single source for setup that can be easily modified during installation by a transformation file. This transformation file includes anything that may be particular to a specific group within large organizations such as regional settings, localized dictionaries, group templates, and more.

The question becomes, "If you have standardized on office automation and probably on an operating system, why stop there?"

The Effectiveness of Rationalization

If you started using IT technology in the Windows 3.x days, you've amassed a plethora of different products within your network. Most organizations have. As people moved from Windows 3.x to Windows 9x to Windows NT, they often spent an enormous amount of energy making sure these products continued to work in their networks (especially with NT!). Does the corporation profit from the use of a multitude of often incompatible products? Does the cost of supporting often obsolete software warrant its use?

The requirement for older software products often comes from the user community. Because everyone fears change to some degree, people like to continue using the tools they're used to instead of learning new ones. But if the EMF is truly for the enterprise, everything must be standardized. Thus, organizations should perform a software rationalization to reduce operating costs. The cost savings inherent in a rationalization soon overcome the costs of replacing and upgrading products.

Standardizing Everything

In a .NET EMF, it is important to standardize as much as possible. .NET infrastructures by their very definition can support diversity within specific boundaries.

For a .NET Enterprise architecture to function at optimum capacity, you need to limit diversity as much as possible—not in the variety of your solutions, but in the tools you use to deliver them.

Following are a few tips for performing a rationalization.

  • Get rid of multiple versions of the same product. Many organizations use several versions of the same product. Microsoft Office is an example. If you've invested heavily in application development with an earlier version of Office, or worse, if your users have developed their own tools with Office, you often don't consider changing these when upgrading to new versions. Some organizations even hold back Office upgrades because they fear the cost of redeveloping or converting existing applications.

  • Select products by function. A single product should cover any given IT function. If you want to create technical artwork, use Visio. For illustrations, use CorelDraw or Adobe software. For development, use Visual Studio. Every IT function in your network should be provided by a single and unique product per function, unless a specific business requirement demands otherwise.

  • Provide conversion facilities. If you are managing your IT investment by reducing diversity, you must provide your users with the ability to convert massive amounts of data.

  • Provide training. One of the major advantages of rationalization is reduced training costs. By combining the once diluted support budgets of multiple applications, you can finally provide standard training for nontraditional products.

  • Implement software lifecycle guidelines. Software must be managed within the network. To do so, use the guidelines outlined in the following sections.

Rationalization Costs

There are costs associated with rationalization. When you convert from four or five drawing programs to a single program, you need to retrain users, convert their data, and acquire new licenses for the selected standard. Each incurs costs, but there are cost-reduction strategies.

  • Most manufacturers offer competitive upgrade programs. These enable you to trade in your old product licenses to the new standard at a reduced price. In many cases, the cost savings for license acquisitions can range from 40 to 70 percent.

  • Several firms market conversion tools. Most good ones include powerful conversion filters into their products. Two conversion strategies are possible: convert as you go or perform batch conversions. Both have their place, but the selection of one or the other depends on your needs.

  • User training programs can be performed at reduced costs. Retraining for new products often implies learning how a particular product works rather than relearning everything about the function of the product. If your training programs are focused on the difference in the product interfaces, you can greatly reduce the amount of training required.

Batch File Conversion

Many organizations opt for batch conversions because in many cases it is impossible to search within other document formats. For example, if you convert from Micrografx Draw to Microsoft Visio, it is difficult to use Visio to search within Draw's document format.

If document reuse is a priority, you will need to perform batch conversions.

Software Lifecycle Management

All software has a lifecycle. It begins from the moment the software development project is initiated by a manufacturer until the moment the software is retired from the marketplace. For user organizations, the lifecycle focuses more on when it is acquired, when it is deployed, how it is maintained and supported, and when it is retired from the network. Figure 4.1 illustrates the industry adoption process for the manufacturer's product.

FIGURE 4.1 The Lifecycle of a Software Product. During the lifecycle of a software product, the manufacturer releases several corrective updates. Organizations that adhere to the product at different times during its lifecycle must also manage these updates. Then, once a new version is introduced, the manufacturer slowly retires the product from the market. The corporation must do the same within its own network.

During its lifecycle, most software will require corrections. Manufacturers often call these service packs or service releases. If an organization adopts a software product before these corrections are released, it will have to deploy the service pack or service release in addition to the deployment of the original product during that product's lifecycle. Figure 4.2 illustrates the corporate software lifecycle.

FIGURE 4.2 Corporate Software Lifecycle Management. Corporations must manage an internal software lifecycle that differs, but is related to, the software manufacturer's development lifecycle.

In addition, software, especially operating systems, tends to be tightly bound to the capabilities of a hardware platform. For example, if you use Windows NT and continue to buy new systems today, you probably realize some of this operating system's limitations. Your new systems come with hot new technologies such as USB or FireWire ports, but you simply can't take advantage of them because NT can't. This alone is a justification for a move to Windows 2000 or XP.

Software tends to grow with hardware capabilities. You need to keep up if you want to make the most of your IT investments.

Windows 3.x, Windows 9x, Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Windows XP all include different capabilities in terms of system integration. Software products built for these systems take advantage of these capabilities. This becomes important when you discover that products designed for Windows 2000/XP fully support the 32-bit capabilities of advanced Pentium processors and can simply not be installed on any older version of Windows.1 Lifecycles between operating systems and application software are closely related. Figure 4.3 illustrates this relationship.

FIGURE 4.3 Hardware and Software Relationships. Software and operating system capabilities are closely related to hardware platforms.

Defining Software Obsolescence

One major part of the software lifecycle is the definition of its state of obsolescence. For corporations, obsolescence should be defined as "a software product that is no longer supported by the manufacturer, that is no longer available on the market, and/or that is no longer required by corporate business processes."

The Cost of Obsolescence

Maintaining obsolescence bears its own costs. If an organization continues to use a product despite its obsolescence, it often faces hidden costs.

  • Using a product for which the manufacturer has removed support means assuming these support costs internally.

  • Older versions of software do not take advantage of newer operating system capabilities. If an organization decides to keep and maintain an older product, it is potentially limiting productivity.

  • Older products lack functionality. They are often not integrated with newer companion products.

  • Older versions can limit growth. If a corporate system is built around an obsolete product, the corporation can do little to improve its capabilities.

In a Software Lifecycle Management Model, when a software product is obsolete, it must be either retired or upgraded. Upgrades can take the form of either the purchase of a new version of the same product or the deployment of a replacement product. As a result, an important part of the software management process is the software upgrade cycle.

To support the software upgrade cycle, you need additional processes and principles. You need to put in place standard methods that ensure you properly gauge value and benefits from a product upgrade versus its implementation costs. Cost/benefit analyses are crucial at this stage.

But these are not the only reasons to upgrade. User expectation is also a major factor. Software manufacturers do a good job of creating user desire through product advertising. IT managers are then faced with user requests for new versions of products. The Software Evaluation Model must also take these expectations into account.

Guidelines for Software Selection During Rationalization

Several factors influence the selection of software during a rationalization process, including

  • Purpose and scope: What is the purpose of the product? Does it provide a unique functionality? How many users require the product?

  • Security and error protection: How stable is the product? How secure is its data?

  • User-friendliness: What is the product's learning curve? Does its interface operate like other products already in use? How much training is required?

  • Functionality: What are the product's features? How easy are they to use? Do they respond to your functional needs?

  • Performance: What is the speed of operation of the product? How realistic are the manufacturer's suggested minimum requirements?

  • Versatility: How does the product compare to its competitors?

  • Compatibility: How compatible is the product with older versions, with other products already in use, and with hardware platforms?

  • Installation: How easy is the software installation process? Is it similar to other products in the network?

Positive response to all of these factors means that the product should be retained by the organization. Negative responses must be explained and documented.

Guidelines for Software Lifecycle Management

During the software lifecycle, four factors will initiate the software review process.

  • Software obsolescence: The product is being retired by the manufacturer.

  • Projects: A product is required to support business objectives and a project is launched to implement it.

  • New product versions: New, feature-rich versions incite the organization to upgrade.

  • Corrective maintenance: The current version has bugs that are repaired with a new version.

Given that these situations initiate a software upgrade, organizations should arm themselves with processes that give them a measure of control over the software maintenance cycle.

Software Obsolescence Rules The first thing to do when implementing a software lifecycle management program (SLMP) is to outline the rules or guidelines that will provide a framework for the program. These should include the following:

Rule 1: Coverage

Every software program that is in use in the network and that has a clientele of more than ten users2 should be covered by the software lifecycle.

Rule 2: Software Owners

Every software program in use should have a designated software owner. This owner is responsible for managing and maintaining the SLMP for the product.

Rule 3: Exceptions

Every software program that is included in the SPA kernel is treated in an exceptional way because its evolution is tied to the evolution of the entire kernel.

Rule 4: Obsolescence

Software obsolescence occurs when

  • The manufacturer does not support the software anymore.

  • Two newer versions than the one in use in your network are available on the market.

  • The manufacturer announces that it is retiring a product from the marketplace.

  • Upgrades for the SPA infrastructure require an upgrade of the product.

  • The software product does not work on a new operating system.

The software upgrade cycle is mandatory for any software product that is deemed obsolete.

Rule 5: New Versions

Every new release of a product that fits within the guidelines of Rule 1 must undergo a software evaluation process. This process includes the following:

  • Evaluation of software reviews published in IT industry publications

  • Evaluation of the recommendations for use from consulting firms such as Giga Group, Gartner Group, and others

  • Evaluation of the product's life expectancy predictions

  • Preparation of an evaluation report recommending whether the software upgrade cycle should continue for this product

Rule 6: Software Update Request

Every software update request from any source must be accompanied by a valid justification for the business value of the move.

Managing Kernel Software For the SPA kernel software, there are three additional rules.

Rule 7: Kernel Upgrades

Because the kernel is treated as a single, unified whole, upgrades or corrections for the kernel should be packaged together and released on a regular basis. The kernel deserves an approach that is different from other applications because it is critical to the business.

Rule 8: Corrective Maintenance

Because the kernel is critical to the operation of the network, service packs released for any product contained within the kernel must be applied. Before its application, though, the corporation should wait at least two months to ensure its stability as witnessed by the industry and through internal testing. If it is deemed satisfactory, this service pack should be included within the next kernel upgrade.

Rule 9: Software Interdependence

Every new software product released in the network must undergo a coherence evaluation. This ensures that the product is coherent with the components of the kernel and will not destabilize it.

Managing Nonkernel Software Three final rules apply to nonkernel software products.

Rule 10: Delivery Management

Because the introduction of a new product or a new version of a product affects the network, it should always be treated as a project with supporting budgets and processes.

Software Certification

For an example of the benefits reaped from the software certification process, see the Case Study at the end of Chapter 3.

Rule 11: Software Certification

Every software product that has a user base of greater than ten must undergo the software certification process. This process is described in the following section.

Rule 12: Software Lifecycle Management Program Evolution

The SLMP must be managed and periodically reviewed to ensure that its evolution keeps pace with software market trends.

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