SDM ’08 certificate program
Editor’s note: Jeffrey Norman is enrolled in SDM’s one-year certificate program, which provides companies with a quick infusion of systems thinking. In this article, he describes how he is putting his new skills to work at Wachovia, a Wells Fargo company and one of the largest banks in the United States.
Each student in SDM’s certificate program is required to complete a capstone project that addresses a real company problem using systems thinking. As a manager within Wachovia’s information technology (IT) group, my area of focus is workload automation. At the time I joined SDM, the system we were using needed an overhaul. I therefore chose to tackle this problem for my capstone project.
Rolled out in the mid-1990s to provide event-driven automation for complex business processes, Wachovia’s workload automation system was largely decentralized with little to no oversight. It had also grown in both size and complexity over the years, making the need for governance and architectural redesign evident.
I set out to re-engineer this system well aware of the challenges we would face. Not only did my team and I need to design, integrate, and implement a new system and a new process for using it, but we had to introduce and implement systems thinking across multiple user teams. Several processes spanned these teams, which meant that ownership and agreement would be an issue. We therefore needed to infuse a new way of thinking into the company—encouraging everyone to look at the entire system and the overall process holistically from a service/customer’s perspective and not from that of an individual team.
We found that because existing processes were cumbersome, handoffs between teams were often poor and, in some cases, undocumented. The re-engineered process had to simplify the workflow and eliminate steps that failed to add value. This was the foundational premise. Simply speaking, without a usable and robust underlying process for the people using the system, the technology wouldn’t work.
The new system would involve connecting several previously autonomous processes and subsystems into one holistic, all-encompassing system. A key challenge in the architectural design was to minimize complexity and avoid “overengineering” the system. Reusability was a vital consideration for the access control module that could be used across all subsystems. This would enable the system to adapt to new and changing needs.
Finally, concurrent with system design and architecture, a rollout plan for implementing the system with little to no impact on daily banking operations needed to be developed. This would be a tricky task for a system that supports more than 400 highly coupled applications.
Using the systems thinking methodology I learned in the SDM certificate program, I worked with my team to develop a plan to address these challenges. The components included:
1) Adopting systems thinking: Implementing a capability maturity model (CMM) for IT services would establish the framework for a holistic business model that addressed both process and technology and would provide the structure needed to manage a disciplined service. A tool used to measure the success of business processes, CMM would also serve as a feedback loop that systematically measured the service’s maturity as incremental improvements were made over time.
2) Applying system design and architecture: Lean methodology was used to clean up existing processes and automate manual, error-prone steps. By mapping value back to the customer, processes were developed that were more intuitive and user-friendly. A blended design approach was applied. Although we frequently used a top-down approach (decomposition), we also employed a bottom-up approach (synthesis) to evaluate emergent properties and identify reusable elements. This was done iteratively at several layers in the architecture as the implications of our design became more apparent. Leveraging existing technologies, we designed an access control system to support our workload automation systems. What’s exciting is that we feel it has the potential to be used across the entire IT infrastructure over time.
We faced several tough design issues, such as balancing the level of allowable access with tradeoffs between risk (strict process control) and faster cycle times (lower-level decisions). We also explored how the system could be designed with the flexibility needed to accommodate a maturing organization. We had to find fit, balance, and compromise on a number of key design decisions.
3) Implementation: While the plan was rolled out, we had one goal to keep in mind: zero production impact while minimizing operational risk. The high interdependency of applications using the system presented a unique challenge. We needed to somehow aggregate applications in groups so that highly interdependent applications were migrated together from the old system to the new system. We used Professor Steven Eppinger’s design structure matrix (DSM) to identify and cluster interdependent applications, which helped us sequence the proposed implementation strategy.
With the recent Wells Fargo acquisition of Wachovia, our system will soon be put through its first test. We are hopeful that this scalable and extensible workload automation system will pass with flying colors!