Author: App maintenance should be its own discipline

When Peter Thompson was an IT manager, he learned his firm’s backup and recovery procedures from a colleague. He wasn’t given a book. That’s one the reasons he decided to write one himself.

Thompson’s company, Calgary-based RIS,

announced on Monday the publication of SMART Methodology: The Authoritative Guide to Creating a Successful Applications Support and Maintenance Environment. (SMART stands for support and maintenance request tracking.) The book is a collection of 12 best practices that guide organizations in making better use of tools, benchmarks, governance procedures and maturity levels to keep applications running smoothly. It’s also a manifesto in which Thompson argues that applications maintenance and support (ASM) should be treated as a unique set of skills within the IT industry.

“”We’ve been doing support and maintenance for years, but we’ve relegated it to the dustbin,”” he says. “”It needs to turn into a discipline.””

Thompson will be hammering the 12 best practices outlined in the book through a national tour organized in cooporation of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS). caught up with Thompson shortly before his first stop Monday at a CIPS event in Toronto. To what extent are you already seeing ASM becoming a distinct part of the IT department?

Peter Thompson: I think it’s just starting to happen now. Unfortunately, it’s being pushed by some of the headlines we’ve been reading recently, like, “”Computer glitch causes this problem,”” or “”Computer glitch causes that problem.”” If we really want to be professionals, we can’t have glitches causing the problems. We’ve got to fix those so that they work, especially on mission-critical applications. I think that’s the impetus for having an applications and support and maintenance team that is separate from a development team.

ITB: Who takes the reins in terms of the governance around that? Is it at the CIO level or is it higher than that?

PT: It has to be at least at the CIO level, because that’s where the governance begins. But the way we state it is there has to be what we call “”application owners.”” We’re custodians in IT. We don’t own anything. So the CIO has to work with the C-suite of people who figure out who owns these applications. Once there’s ownership, it tends to run smoothly.

ITB: So are we talking about line-of-business managers?

PT: That’s the preference, the line of business owners.

ITB: How prepared are they for that kind of role?

PT: Well, I think slowly but surely that if the ownership goes back within the IT group, they lose control of their own applications. And the reason by definition for applications to exist is for users to do their job better. They don’t exist for IT to spend money.

ITB: So how do you begin instituting an ASM team or making it more visible?

PT: I don’t think you can just stand up and do it. We have a whole best practice called ASM governance set up, and there’s a whole series of meetings and presentations that have to be gone through. We have steering committees and processes, and they have to be run well. If you don’t run them well and do the correct things, they tend to fall apart. The challenge is in the 12 best practices, if you try and just do one like governance, you probably won’t succeed. You need the others. It’s kind of a self-supporting type of thing.

ITB: A number of companies are deciding to have third parties like yourselves co-manage ASM, but if someone’s already in an outsourcing agreement, how do they introduce these best practices?

PT: Oh, it’s very simple. Every owner has a right to do a health care check. What we encourage is to go through the checklist or do a maturity model. No one would have a problem with that.

ITB: As the best practices become more well known, how much of it will be handled by outsourcers rather than in-house?

PT: As you can imagine, there’s a huge amount of knowledge behind each one of (the 12 best practices). Like it or not, support and maintenance is complex. It has a lot of moving parts. Many organizations, especially for some of their older applications, will outsource it.

ITB: How would a company measure its return on investment for getting ASM under control?

PT: It’s really productivity. There’s no real investment on a company’s part, except in time and energy to introduce the best practices and make them work. It’s not like there’s a $100 million investment. It’s using the people who are there and getting them to do things correctly.

ITB: Was there any concern that in publishing this book you’d be giving away some trade secrets?

PT: We’re really not trying to keep it a secret at all. We’re trying to promote the 12 best practices. They’re in the public domain. If a person who spent years in application support and maintenance reads them, they’ll say, “”Oh, that’s common sense. I know all that.”” It’s not as if it’s revolutionary, or totally different. All we’ve done is bring together all these ideas, write them down in a sort of repository and then have it as a reference book for people to look at.

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