I was reading a post at Curious Cat that discusses IT waste today and it started the gears turning down an old familiar path. I remember, in the last recession, how people were talking about the need to cut costs in IT investments. I also remember that many bad decisions were made because the complex interdependencies among IT systems and processes were not considered. How do you detect waste while avoiding the gap problem?
The gap problem is my way of concisely saying that many apparent wastes are actually needed bridges between systems or processes. For example, you may notice that a database is being maintained and that no users ever access that database. Furthermore, you notice that the database has not been accessed in the past three months at all. Your logs do not go back any farther. The database is part of a system that was developed three years ago and no remaining employees were involved in its creation. This seems like the perfect candidate for waste reduction.
Since the database seems to be an unused maintenance waste, you decide to delete the database and all associated logs. Three months later, you receive a phone call from someone in Engineering complaining that their data archival procedure is erroring out. The error message says something about a missing database. Get the picture?
This is a very simple example of what I call the gap problem. Many of our systems and processes bridge the gap between other systems and processes. These gap solutions may appear to be waste when they are actually necessities. So, how do you deal with the gap problem? I would suggest the following steps:
- Perform detailed process mapping for all Information Systems.
- Look from the top down instead of simply from start to finish.
- Cut waste only when the entire complex of interdependencies is understood.
Of course, a small blog post like this cannot go into all the details, but you can begin to see important realities. I am a big believer in process mapping (when it is done right) and I believe it can help eliminate true waste while preventing the gap problem. When I say that we should look from the top down instead of from start to finish, I mean that we should consider not only the path of a single process but the intersections that a process has with other processes and systems.
This is a starting point and, as I said in a recent post, we need to answer the question: Other than human capital, what can you cut while maintaining current service levels? Yes, it is time once again to trim the fat.