hall of shame

Posted by anton
on Tuesday, July 04, 2006

how do you know that an IT department has failed? when the users, after repeated requests to help them out with building a small custom content management system, turn around, get a server at ev1 servers, and build their app there.

now just stop and think about that for a second. this is just insane! i felt ashamed (of my department, my profession, my title) when i heard about it (especially since my title does have the words "architect" and "enterprise" in it). business users wielding developer tools, trying to replace email chains with spreadsheet attachments, and an IT department that is so bent on "enterprise" and "no more custom development, all packaged products!", that it fails to see a direct immediate need that could be easily filled with just a few weeks of quick hacking in something like coldfusion (or even java, or less "enterprise-y" php/rails for that matter).

granted, if each department goes off and builds their own silos with custom apps, this would be a disaster (ms access app that lives on a shared drive), and the other extreme is true - packages for everything, no more custom development; all or nothing - big bang enterprise solution or email and spreadsheets.

now without knowing all the details, the ideal scenario would have been for the enterprise integration architecture dudes to built a universal standard layer to access enterprise data, and then let the departmental teams go nuts with their own stuff, as long as they conform to a loose set of guidelines on architecture for their apps - supported platforms, some development standards, hands-on enterprise architect on a project, etc. a lot of this department-level stuff should be developed in rapid prototyping language - something scripting, something that is web-enabled, and something that can get things solved fast. the danger is a quick sprawl of spaghetti, and this is where good internal dev teams are important - mentoring, common code ownership, etc. i have seen over and over again how quick rapid app thrown in gets the biggest bang for the effort spent, so we just need to make sure we get the core backend right, and then build systems smarter.

in the interim, perhaps they could have looked at a wiki like confluence, or even at sharepoint+infopath combo that is sadly grossly misused and abused here, but has so much potential, no matter how much i hate standalone sharepoint (probably for all the wasted potential).

we used a lot of cold fusion back in the day, and now the swing is into the Java world and people stopped developing the apps as much as they used to, because the barrier for entry is so high with java. some of it was the backlash against poor developers writing unmanageable apps in cold fusion, but the benefit was an ability to build things fast to help the users. we need to bring this back, but be smarter about integration points with enterprise data. those should be architected/engineered properly, but smaller departmental apps should be built on top of them using glue languages and lighter technologies that lend themselves well to continuous evolution (because, as we know it, the application is never "done"; it is finished only when users stop using it).

i think this is why i am so sensitive to the "architecture astronaut" syndrome; we need to be able to see the big picture, but focus on the end users, "empower" and "enlighten" the developer "masses" that are closer to the business, help them build faster, smarter apps that get the work done. i know i lack a lot of knowledge in the custom app space for this industry, and a lot of the problems are already solved by these large packages, but there will always be the need for something smaller, quicker, more agile built on top of these large enterprise apps that would greatly benefit small groups of users.


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