Friday, August 21, 2009

Is It Really COTS?

In large corporations there are typically many IT development efforts going on all over the place. At some point an executive will see a solution for a department or local business and want it deployed to the wider organization. The logic runs something like this: they got it to work in their organization, I should just be able to install it for the enterprise. This sets the expectation that the solution can be deployed in a couple weeks if not by the end of the month. They think of it as Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) - kind of like installing MS Office.

And they couldn't be more wrong.

If the solution is a small tool or simple web/db application, then it will probably go smoothly, but even here, enterprise wide deployments magnify problems. Some key questions to ask:

What are the key components that make up the system? Is there documentation that shows how these components talk to each other? When there's a problem, knowing these flows is critical.

Testing is everything - having a good test plan and test environment is important. Just because it worked there, doesn't mean it will work here.

Help support - when someone has a problem, who do they call? Do they call a company help line? If so are the tier 1 and 2 support people trained in the product?

Know what you deliver. This seems strange: management says 'take that thing over there and make it available over here' but does management and those stake holders 'over here' know what the product is? They'll say they want it, but do they know what it is? Document the functionality and get sign off from stake holders.