Last month my Alma Mater, the University of Oklahoma (Sooners – National Football Champions for 7 years) invited me to speak to recent graduates. As you might expect, the bulk of the questions were about the economy, market conditions and the job market. That got me thinking about the all to real parallels to the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Basically, we are seeing four of the major drivers of the Great Depression repeated in today’s economy:
- Total public and private debt in the United States equaled the US GNPO (for the first time since 1929);
- The stock markets crashed;
- Banks failed;
- Purchasing, both corporate and personal, has dropped precipitously in response, causing the first major deflation across the board since the early 1930s.
Underlying this is a very similar and unstable economic condition. For several years asset value increases have powered U.S, and to an extent world, consumer spending – basically people were living off the increase in asset value of their homes, stocks, and other real and financial properties, which in turn were driven by speculation rather than real increases in value. When those values stopped increasing the speculators bailed, and consumers could no longer afford to keep spending. Thus the underlying problem was that the economy was built on a shaky foundation.
In 1932 President Roosevelt’s answer to this situation was to create a new foundation for the economy based on building a strong infrastructure through the New Deal. This put many unemployed workers back to work, gave destitute families income and home, drove steady GNP growth starting in 1933, and produced the physical infrastructure on which the 50 year economic boom the United States enjoyed in the last half of the 20th Century was based. Today we still drive over roads and bridges built by the WPA in the 1930s.
So, what can we learn from New Deal? Obviously President Obama and his economic advisors are very aware of the importance of rebuilding and improving our infrastructure, and the budget Congress is now debating contains a great deal of money for infrastructure improvement. Today, however, infrastructure means more than roads, bridges, harbors, and airports. It also means strengthening and securing the power grid and the data infrastructure, which is just as important to tomorrow’s economy as paved roads were to the 1930s. And while the President and Congress look to the public parts of that data infrastructure, those of us who work in enterprise IT have a responsibility to strengthen Enterprise infrastructure. And part of that is clearing out the old and obsolescent to make room for the new, more efficient tools of the future, just as the fragile covered bridges of the 1920s needed to be replaced with concrete and steel by the WPA.
Many years back I met Charlie Garry, then an analyst at Meta Group, which later was acquired by Gartner. He presented a very interesting comparison. Imagine the state of your garage when you bought your new home — completely empty. You moved in and started accumulating things – boxes of old toys and clothes, tools, tires. One day the garage is full and you are parking your car in the driveway. You don’t know what you have and can’t find what you need in all the accumulated stuff that once was useful but now is just clutter. This is exactly what happens in many enterprise data centers. While hardware wears out or is replaced by something twice as fast, old software just migrates to the new platform. Like old clothes, obsolescent applications and the business methods the support, including work-arounds created because of their inadequacies, become comfortable to users, who often resist moving to newer replacements because those require changes in habits. The problem is that as long as those old applications are still around, neither the infrastructure nor, even more importantly, the business methods they support, can evolve to meet today’s needs. Today more than ever, businesses and government agencies have to change, often radically, to survive in an economy that is going through a major evolution from its very foundations up.
What data centers today need is application archiving and sunsetting strategies, not just as a one-time cleanup but instituted as part of the IT organization’s normal, ongoing operations. They require an annual review of all applications to determine whether they still meet the needs of the business. This requires support from C-level management (CEO, CFO, COO) and sometimes a degree of ruthlessness, but it will cut costs, and improve productivity and lay the foundation for growth.
Today Budweiser loves to bring out its Clydesdale horse teams and beer wagons designed after those of the 1890s, both in its ads and in person. But when it actually delivers beer, it uses the latest truck technology – diesel today, perhaps hybrid, all electric or hydrogen fuel cell tomorrow. IT needs that mentality – there is no harm in nostalgia, but living in the past is a recipe for disaster.