Executive suite: Refreshing thoughts for summer

Mimi Browning

Don't look now, but the end of summer is near. You still have a few more weeks before the onslaught of the official Washington IT season that arrives after Labor Day.

The season starts with the parade of continuing resolutions to maintain federal funding, the end-of-year buying frenzies, and this year the opening volleys of the 2004 presidential elections. In the end-of-summer spirit, here's a light-hearted look at our IT world.

Life cycle management is the granddaddy process that all systems follow from cradle to old age. (Note: One cannot say cradle to grave where IT systems are concerned since, with the exception of Y2K, no system has ever been known to 'die.')

The process involves recognizing a problem, deciding the best way to solve it, getting political and funding buy-ins, developing the system, implementation, and'least sexy but most expensive'operation and maintenance.

The process is onerous, and there are two major models to use to tackle it. The classic Waterfall Model works in steps and typically takes from seven to 70 years to build a system. The Spiral Model, a streamlined, concurrent method, reduces that time to six to 60 years.

To speed up the process, consider commercial software, tailored to your needs by the local high school computer club without any involvement by anyone except the customers.

Testers and evaluators fill an essential role in the IT landscape. These individuals make sure that every aspect of a newly developed system is checked, doubled-checked, triple-checked and rigorously tested in every imaginable environment.

To illustrate their role, let us imagine that testers and evaluators would have to apply their professional checkpoints to the commercial software market. A typical T&E session would require that each company, before selling a product to the government, successfully demonstrate that it can answer 'yes' to the following questions:
  • Have all software bugs and security vulnerabilities been fixed?

  • Has the software been tested on every computer configuration in the world?

  • Has the software been tested in representative world environments such as the rainforest, the Bermuda Triangle and the War on Terrorism?

'Knowledge management' is the latest tasty buzzword of knowledge harvesters, storytellers and academics who love to publish theoretical papers but freeze at the sight of a real system. It is the dream of hard-core techies who believe that with a perfect, complete compilation of knowledge online, there will no longer be any need for human interaction.

Two hallmarks of knowledge management are the collection of tacit knowledge, for example, things your mother told you but no one in the family ever put in a database, and collaborative tools'new and improved software products that add to the vendors' bottom lines.

The most successful KM projects are those that have integrated front-end KM tools and processes into the organization's databases, legacy systems and information flows.

If you are upset by these definitions, then you definitely do need to take that vacation. If you're cool with them, you are ready for 'the season.'

Mimi Browning is a former Army senior executive who is now a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton of McLean, Va. Reach her at browning_miriam@bah.com.

About the Author

Browning is a former Army senior executives and former Booz Allen Hamilton principal who now leads Browning Consultants.

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