First launched in Winnipeg in 1978, Flynn is the leading commercial roofing, glazing, and cladding company in North America. The company has steadily grown and expanded over the last 45 years, both organically and through mergers and acquisitions.
This growth has brought with it some unique challenges for Flynn’s IT organization, challenges reflected in the increasing complexity of their software estate.
Naturally, Flynn is far from unique in this regard. When a company buys or merges with another organization, they buy that organization’s software estate as well. This means, among other things, buying duplicate systems to support the same business capabilities. It also means rationalizing the software estate and gradually consolidating operations on common systems best suited to serve the organization into the future.
A company can’t grow and continuously transform in this way without astute and forward-thinking IT leadership. The good news is, that’s exactly what Flynn has.
Alan Zych is VP of IT for Flynn. As the company grew, Alan oversaw both the vetting of M&A targets as well as the onboarding, integration, and management of an ever-expanding array of new systems and solutions. While he had an able team of collaborators, including business analysts like Tracy Moffat, the software estate’s complexity reached a point where it exceeded the ability of spreadsheets and tribal knowledge to oversee it. Indeed, it became difficult for anyone outside this team to easily access the information they needed for system consolidation or investment in new solutions.
Alan realized that the team needed to get more rigorous and methodical when it came to their organically evolving enterprise architecture. He also realized that, simply hiring an enterprise architect would not help Flynn address software complexity. In order to have a meaningful impact on the company’s growth, any new enterprise architect would have to collect and organize all relevant information about Flynn’s business capabilities, systems, and data objects. What’s more, that person would have to map, analyze, and model the connections and dependencies between all these components.
Alan wanted to lay the groundwork for this envisioned enterprise architecture practice by beginning to organize all this information. So, he turned to LeanIX.
“With LeanIX we could fairly quickly and easily say, ‘Here are our applications; here are the IT components upon which you rely; here are the data objects they house and operate on; and here are the interfaces that facilitate the exchange of those data objects across these various applications.”
VP of IT, Flynn Group of Companies
“Prior to LeanIX,” Alan said, “this information did not exist in a single spot that someone could go look at. It lived in my head. It lived in Tracy’s head. It lived in the heads of some of our developers. There was no single place to go for that information. You couldn’t get an accurate picture unless you had all the right people in the room, and you couldn’t get all the right people in the room unless you knew who they were and that you needed all of them!”
Flynn had some smart heads, but they needed a system of record existing independent of them, a system that Alan and team could easily maintain and that their colleagues could easily access. LeanIX provided that.
“With LeanIX,” Alan explained, “we could fairly quickly and easily say, ‘Here are our applications; here are the IT components upon which you rely; here are the data objects they house and operate on; and here are the interfaces that facilitate the exchange of those data objects across these various applications.”
Thanks to the out-of-the-box visualizations of data objects and interfaces, among other things, provided by LeanIX, Flynn began to have a comprehensive, shared overview of their software.
They could now say, as Alan put it, “This application interacts with this application, on this data object, and it’s an asynchronous, API-based interaction.”
Flynn now has a comprehensive, shared overview of their software thanks to out-of-the-box visualizations of data objects and interfaces provided by LeanIX.
Alan also appreciated the fact that someone could quickly and easily get the whole story through an interface that allowed for different levels of granularity. “You could see that we were talking about an asynchronous, API-based integration, or, with a simple click, turn that off to get a simpler version of landscape diagram.”
“That was the ah-ha moment,” Alan said. He quickly understood, “If I can show somebody this diagram, they can absolutely get a better understanding of the integration landscape of our various applications.”
Of course, because he could easily things on and off, it made it possible to share either a complex view or a more digestible one as needed.
“The fact that I can get such a view across a variety of applications is awesome,” he said.
Awesomeness aside, LeanIX has already helped Flynn address a number of challenges.
Dealing with payroll is a universal business capability. Every company needs to pay its employees. The fact of the matter is, however, supporting this capability with multiple solutions is not ideal.
“Six months ago,” Alan explained, “depending on the region, this business capability would have been fulfilled by one of four applications.”
Recognizing that you have four applications supporting one business capability is an important step. But how do you figure out which one to keep, which ones to turn off, and in what order?
To answer that question, Alan had other questions: “What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of a particular application when it comes to servicing this capability? Do users like it? Do users loathe it? Do they loathe it but it’s the only application that can meet a particular need? We better figure that out!”
Thanks to the diagramming, surveying, and analytical capabilities of LeanIX, Flynn now has 3 payroll applications. In another six months, they will have 2.
Transforming the IT landscape in this way is a continuous process. But it is possible to continuously achieve meaningful milestones along the way.
Every IT department deals with lifecycle management. But when M&A activity continuously adds IT components to your software landscape, managing lifecycles is easier said than done.
“Here’s an example,” Alan said. “You have SQL Server 2018, or 2018r1 or -R2 or -SP3. When does that go end of support? When does it go end of mainstream support? When does it go end of extended support?”
“At this point, SQL Server 2018 SP2 is out of mainstream support. What does that mean? What applications does that affect? Do we already have something in our stable that supersedes SP2? And what do we need to do to get the 2018 SP3s onto 2019, or whatever the case is?”
“Having a solid way to say this business application – be it ERP or AP automation or whatever – is built up of these IT components. And that these IT components have a lifecycle you have to action, otherwise you will have a supportability nightmare, shine a light on things and that lets you really develop a plan to deal with it.”
“Before LeanIX,” Alan said, “we didn’t have a solid understanding of how much was unsupported, or why we have 6 different versions of SQL server in operation. There are legitimate reasons, but we had to search for them. When we did, we found things like, this business application doesn’t support anything beyond SQL server 2016. Or we discovered, this SQL server 2012 is a general SQL Server with no dependencies and it’s just the case nobody’s ever taken the time to upgrade it.”
Lifecycle management is important, on the one hand, because you need to make decisions when systems reach end of support: Do we upgrade and replace? Or do we figure out a way to maintain it ourselves?
On the other hand, lifecycle management also impacts a critical IT capability: Risk management.
“When you hear that XYZ breach or vulnerability is out,” Alan said, “and that affects SQL Server 2012 SP2, you need to be able to answer the question: What do we have running on it?”
“You can go around and ask everybody,” he added, or you can go search the central repository provided by LeanIX.
We’re all going to get attacked. Good lifecycle hygiene and keeping things up to date helps, as Alan said, make it harder for people to steal your stuff.
Alan also, said something very interesting in this regard: “Security risk takes precedence, but it can’t take precedence to the point of obscuring or ignoring the other types of risk like business risk.”
For example, what does it mean if a particular app goes down?
“Because we’re associating data objects and interfaces,” he said, “we know that something going down affects these three other applications. And we can predict how that outage will impact them. We know the accounting system provides XY and Z, for instance, so if XY and Z are not available to the field service application, that’s not good.
Documenting the relations between systems in an easy to consume way allows you to shine a light on intuitive risks that might otherwise be difficult to quantify and qualify.
“Prior to LeanIX,” Alan said, “you wouldn’t have found anybody saying, ‘If the accounting system goes down, everything will be fine.’ Obviously, it would have an impact. The difference is, now we can say, ‘The accounting system going down affects these 7 other systems and it affects these subprocesses in those systems.’ With that information, we can start to have a proper discussion about business impacts and how to address them.”
And when it comes to something like disaster recovery, Business Analyst Tracy Moffat said, "This information allows you to see what your critical systems are and what your secondary and tertiary systems are. As a result, you will know which ones you need to bring up first, and which ones can you roll in later.”
Flynn invested in LeanIX with an eye to the future. As mentioned, the company was looking to lay the groundwork for developing an EA practice by creating a repository of knowledge that any future EA practitioner would need to be effective.
At the same time, they were looking to foster greater collaboration across the organization when it came to making decisions about the IT landscape. The first step down that road was to provide stakeholders across the organization a meaningful view into that landscape.
“The visualization capabilities have already been very helpful,” Tracy said, “especially when it comes to reinforcing, across the IT department, how truly integrated we really are. That was a real gap in knowledge.”
More importantly, however, LeanIX has enabled collaboration in important ways. As Tracy explained, “LeanIX has introduced people to each other who had previously been hesitant to reach out across the teams. Quite frequently, people would use me as a kind of go-between, instead of reaching out directly to the people who were impacted by a change to a particular system, or the people actually using the system they were integrating with, or the component shared between.”
“Now that we have this resource, and as people become more familiar with it, I’m not relaying messages. People are communicating.”
“The visualization capabilities have already been very helpful, especially when it comes to reinforcing, across the IT department, how truly integrated we really are. That was a real gap in knowledge.”
Tracy Moffat, Business Analyst, Flynn Group of Companies
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