From here to there … AS-IS and TO-BE

All people in ICT have come across projects that will replace a current situation (the AS-IS) with a desired future situation (the TO-BE). At first sight it looks great: you analyze the current situation, including shortcomings and issues, and you document it in an AS-IS document. Then based on the results of this AS-IS and various gathered requirements you design and document the new state: the TO-BE. Looks good right? Not to me …

The drivers for these projects are often the same:

  1. an increasing perception that the current system is unable to fulfill the needs the system was created for in the first place.
  2. a general feeling that extending the current system, for instance to solve some of the issues, is becoming too expensive or too complex.

Before I would start designing a future TO-BE, I would like to now why the system as it is today, the AS-IS, is not fulfilling it’s goals anymore. Is it because technology has changed significantly during it’s life time? Is it because the people who designed, developed and maintained the system haven’t done a decent enough job? Is it because the system, once a perfect fit for the problem, started to loose alignment with the environment, slowly being rendered obsolete and in need of replacement?

Without proper answers to these questions and without a proper response in the TO-BE, that TO-BE is surely destined to become your next AS-IS. In a few years we will no doubt witness a presentation that explains us how the AS-IS (that TO-BE we are building today) is not good enough anymore and needs to be replaced with something new and more modern.

The world is constantly changing, so is your company and the environment it lives in. Any ICT system that operates as part of your company must realise it needs to change to keep in lign with that changing environment. If you only focus on building a static architecture that is unable to adapt to changes, you are doomed to recreate the system, in the form of a desired TO-BE, every couple of years.

Only during a smaller part of the existence of such a system, it is properly aligned to actual requirements. Most of the time in the lifespan of the system, is spend in either complaining about lack of alignment or promising improvement with the upcoming TO-BE.

I therefore don’t really believe in this AS-IS and TO-BE methodology. When you realize you are lagging behind while the world around you is changing, you won’t solve the problem by desperately catching up to the present. Because when you finally caught up (the TO-BE is delivered) you are already lagging behind again. Even if you went to great lengths to make that TO-BE as flexible as possible, you can never predict the future. If you can, give me a call.

What you want is a process that:

  1. periodically measures how well the system is aligned to the environment,
  2. identifies those elements of the system that are in danger of losing alignment,
  3. proposes gradual changes to the system to improve alignment.

Note how nowhere in this process we propose to redesign and reimplement the system. At a smaller scale this technique is well know in software development: it’s called refactoring. This is exactly what you also want to do at a larger scale with your architecture: refactor mercilessly. Refactoring should not be limited to the development phase but should be an integral part of the entire life cycle of a system.

Given a proper refactoring process and the obvious current, AS-IS, state of a system, I can gradually improve and align that system to an ever changing environment until the need of the very existance of the system itself is disappearing. I should avoid a big bang approach that proposes and develops a brand new TO-BE system.

Building for change is not a new slogan, yet it is not well understood nor implemented. Every day projects are born that are meant to create a new TO-BE and, sadly enough, at the same time the AS-IS of tomorrow.