In an era of proliferating systems, increasing service demand and hawk-like budget watching, some sprawling organizations see formalized IT simplification programs as a way to free up valuable resources.

In the cavernous, frescoed ballroom of Toronto’s Royal York hotel this week, several senior members of the Hewlett-Packard Services (HPS) IT division discussed the challenges of finance, governance and architecture their organization faced as it tried to machete through its tangled infrastructure.

With 29,000 employees, eight Design Centres, and 600 support offices spread throughout 34 countries, David Brunstein, the Palo Alto, Calif-based IT simplification program manager for HPS told about 150 executives and senior IT staff that his mission was to develop a more pragmatic, common-sense approach to the care and feeding of his division’s massive IT infrastructure. Specifically, Brunstein said, HPS needed to manage user demand, optimize the use of current assets and address the obsolescence of many legacy systems by migrating them up to the Web.

HPS knew it had a problem, he said, when it realized that it had 3,000-plus application instances, 1,200-plus application systems and was devoting 47 per cent of its IT budget to the support of legacy systems. And, Brunstein added, these numbers were rising at 10 per cent per year.

Brunstein said that this resulted in a “fragmented IT operational environment that [couldn’t] respond to change. Our IT projects tend to run quite well,” he said. “Where we ran into issues is having our projects support our overall business strategies.”

To achieve their goal of eliminating two-thirds of HPS’s applications by October 2003 Brunstein’s team developed a methodology including such steps as identifying business problems in terms of IT inhibitors, clearly defining a desired end state and developing governance and program structure. The painful process of identifying systems that were “in,” “out,” or to be used as temporary “bridges” also resulted in some unexpected side benefits, he said.

“We’ve already got our regional offices talking with our worldwide headquarters and saying what they need. Communication from top to bottom has been key to success (along with) removing roadblocks so teams can move forward quickly,” Brunstein said.

As a natural offshoot of the IT simplification program, HPS commissioned a group of senior architects to develop strategy to maintain the technical continuity of its programs through integration, said Bill Martorano, Palo Alto-based chief technologist for HPS IT.

In the drive to essentially Internet-enable HPS’ business model, and reign in the infrastructure’s “multiple spaghetti port-to-port connections” Martorano explained that the architects have developed a “city planning” mindset that attempts to take the long view of all modifications.

To realize the goal of an architecture that was non-proprietary, extensible and allowed changes to be made without disrupting the whole, HPS IT has adapted a Web services model for integration and B2B expansion, he said. The organization could then use its Design Centres as evolutionary platforms to eliminate legacy systems, and to create a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) environment where HPS can build new composite services.

The result, Martorano said, is “a services-oriented architecture, where the business is the centre of the universe – not the application.”

As well as “motherhood and apple pie – that is, long-term planning and thinking,” Martorano said that to keep the program on track architects need to aggressively promote web services technology behind the service-oriented architecture and the use of XML as standard for exchange.”

When examining new applications “it used to be ‘what features do you offer,'” Martorano said, “now it’s ‘what features, but also what standards do you use’ … if it doesn’t have XML we either build a wrapper around it or we don’t use it.”

Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont. is at http://welcome.hp.com/country/ca/eng/welcome.htm