There are also project managers who build projects as if they were made of bricks. Their budgets are large. After installation, the maintenance expenses remain low, since well-architected systems can withstand a great deal of alteration.
When disaster strikes, the little pigs with flimsy "legacy" systems do not necessarily end up in the house built by their long-range-planning brother. In my updated version of the old tale -- with which I entertained my grandchildren -- the pigs end up outsourcing their living quarters to wolves who advertise prefabricated pigpens.
Why do most project managers persist in delivering flimsy results? It is not because they are self-destructive or ignorant of the likely consequences. In this article, I will show that one of the prime reasons for the delivery of shoddy projects is the myopic approach to the planning and budgeting of information systems projects.
Your controller may insist on project investments that have a payback of less than 24 months. Indirectly, he or she is telling you that what is left of your project after two years isn't worth a dime. In financial terms, a two-year payback requirement implies that the corporate treasury considers your project a sufficiently high credit risk that it will charge you an interest rate of 50 percent per annum.
If a bank were to ask you that for an automobile loan, you would take it as an insult to your personal integrity. Computer project managers instead respond by delivering on such a demand. They know that the life of what they deliver will be short. The two-year payback will turn out to be a self-fulfilling outcome.
Yet the amazing thing about computer project investments is their longevity. I have installed applications over 20 years ago that, with some technological reincarnation and reasonable maintenance expense, are still in place today. I have clients that are running applications whose core has aged gracefully over 30 years.
There are elements of investments that intrinsically become very long-term commitments. There is no way one can establish data dictionaries and data models for an enterprise without taking a very long-term view of such a commitment. This will require a very costly and difficult initial effort, as evidenced by the great pain and costs of all of those firms currently installing the SAP integrated applications. However, once a data dictionary and data model process is in place, it is most likely going to remain in place for more than 20 years, and perhaps longer than that.
Strategic planning for information technology projects must therefore include scenarios that explicitly recognize cash flows that extend beyond the usual three- or five-year long-range plans. In other words, the "residual" value of a project must become an element in all project payoff calculations.
I find that the concept of assessing the residual value of a project is not used for information technology planning and budgeting. Yet nobody who rejects the idea would ever consider buying a house instead of renting one. Without estimating the resale value of a house, one would always continue renting.
The reason information project managers feel compelled to construct the flimsiest solutions to systemic problems is their failure to consider the residual value. By not considering the residual value of an investment, systems managers shortchange their management. Whatever management saves in initial investment expense will ultimately show up as higher ongoing overhead expenses and lower profits. Without paying attention to residual value, executive management will get exactly what it locked into in the payoff calculations when approving a project budget. The corporation will get what the little pig got by constructing a shelter out of twigs to have more time for play and fun.
Table 1 shows what an investment would look like without residual value -- the way these analyses are usually done. The number that is important is the cash benefit to cash expenditure ratio of 31 percent. This allows for the discounting of future gains, but that is not adequately realized even at a high discount rate such as the 25 percent that I have used in this example. 
Table 1: Project Benefit/Cost Ratio 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 Benefits 0 0 83.4 72.3 82.2 91.4 Costs 63.3 31.5 14.5 15.0 15.0 17.2 Net present value of cash benefits @ 25% = 123 Net present value of cash costs @ 25% = 94 Benefit/Cost Ratio = (123 - 94)/94 = 31%Table 2 provides the identical example but with a residual value. The payback has now gone up to 81 percent. What this demonstrates is that if the useful life of the application can be extended beyond the immediate planning period, the return on the investment is almost tripled.
Table 2: Project Benefit/Cost Ratio with a 12-year Residual Value 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 Residual Value Benefits 0 0 83.4 72.3 82.2 91.4 340.5 Costs 63.3 31.5 14.5 15.0 15.0 17.2 64.1 Net present value of cash benefits @ 25% with residual value = 195 Net present value of cash costs @ 25% with residual value = 107 Cash+Residual Benefit/Cost Ratio = (195 - 107)/107 = 81%Any standard spreadsheet can be used to compute the present value of discounted cash flow.
It is in the interest of information managers to come up with a standard approach for determining the risk-adjusted discounted economic value of every project over its entire life cycle. This will make it possible to explain to top management why projects made like "brick houses" may be better investments than shanties made out of scraps of lumber.
Greater residual value of individual projects can be created by imposing familiar information manipulation methods across all applications. It is this capability that explains the amazing growth in the acceptance of Mosaic and Netscape.
The other crucial long-term information assets are data and software. Software increasingly represents the collective intelligence of how an enterprise is put together. The accumulation of data represents the facts about the enterprise's environment and how it copes with that environment. Everything in between -- equipment and operating software -- is a commodity product that becomes obsolete at a prodigious rate.
Consequently, the goal of the residual value approach is to preserve the long-term assets, such as the training contents. Residual value is enhanced if the supporting intelligence of an enterprise can be retained while the hardware and operating system software are upgraded, modified, or migrated.
To be able to detach obsolescent technologies, organizations should adopt tools that keep the long-term knowledge assets and short-term technological assets separated. This calls for the creation of a snap-in, snap-out, disposable type of information infrastructure that must be standardized at the highest levels of the architecture while leaving much autonomy in adapting to user needs, such as for local applications. One way of looking at the value of so-called "open systems" is to define them in terms of the magnitude of their residual value.
To achieve this snap-in, snap-out environment requires the adoption of an integrated computer-aided systems engineering environment. "Open systems" without open systems tools will not work. You must have a way of bolting large quantities of reusable code onto new hardware without incurring much pain during the migration from the old to the new.
The underlying concept is to have a development environment sufficiently long-lived that some of the most important possessions, such as data structures, may be preserved for up to 25 to 30 years. Such a development environment should not be based upon a particular procedural code or hardware, but upon the functional processes that define the operational rules and work flow patterns. It should employ machine-independent languages. Nothing I say here is just wishful thinking. The overwhelming and rapid acceptance of the Java language is good evidence that the time has come for organizations to seek solutions that have a residual value that outlasts short-term hardware and operating systems product offerings.
I cannot overemphasize the pivotal importance of software tools as the enablers for joining long-term software assets with transient assets such as hardware and operating systems. Open systems toolsets are the means for creating a greater economic value through the enhancement of the residual value of any technological investment.
Are standard software engineering tools sufficient to preserve the long-term residual value? In the same way that operating systems stan- dards, interoperability architectures, and communications protocols are necessary but not sufficient, systems engineering tools are also necessary but not sufficient. We have to raise our sights to ensure that organizational knowledge is preserved within our organizations.
To be economically advantageous, new systems must have substantially lower maintenance costs than earlier implementations, and they must have a very high degree of code portability. My minimum target for portability is for 60 percent of the software code to be portable to the next generation of hardware after six years of initial life.
The six-year cycle is dictated not by hardware technology, which is now on an 18-month cycle, but by the rate of innovation in business. It is crucial to understand that it is the internal organizational structure that generates the diversity in information systems requirements that leads to demands for new applications. It is the rate of change in internal procedures that drives the rate of replacement of applications systems. Any corporation that believes that its procedures and organizational structure will be able to survive more than six years is working under questionable assumptions.
To increase the residual value of software embedded in databases, there must be a good understanding of what is to be done among all those who participate in the software creation process. All of this must be adaptable and rapid. Programmers, testers, analysts, and users must employ shared methods for understanding the outcomes in order to achieve lasting cooperation.
This leads me to conclude that what we call software expense is, in fact, a way of recording expenses that mostly cover meetings, head scratching, and shouting matches. Only a small fraction of the development cost of a project is in the act of programming! Therefore, if you want systems that last, the human dimensions of software creation, maintenance, and development have to be easier, more open, and more graceful than has been the case thus far.
How, then, do you conserve organizational memory? You look at software as a way of codifying how people increase their understanding of the way their enterprise conducts its business. What matters is the capacity to capture in the form of software the collective experience of every person who has participated in the conception of business procedures and work flow arrangements. You can start looking at systems development as a means for collective knowledge-sharing. The formalization of business processes is then a method for recording organizational memory and for displaying how members of the organization negotiated terms of their cooperation. Systems development and maintenance should therefore be seen as part of a continual, evolutionary process rather than a discrete project.
Organizations have deep roots. This is often referred to as the "culture," which is rarely articulated. It remains unfathomable, as if it were unspoken tribal customs that can be understood only by an anthropologist or somebody who has been around for a long time. Such "culture" provides stability that is independent of the members of the organization. As many of the customs, processes, and conventions of an organization now migrate into a software-managed relationship, the poverty of current systems engineering methods ends up diminishing the ways in which people used to work out terms of cooperation through implicit codes of behavior.
For an organization to enhance the residual value of its knowledge-management systems, it must be able to carry its culture-like codes from generation to generation without technology-induced mutations. New projects conceived to replace "legacy" systems, especially if imposed by outside consultants or off-the-shelf packages, always introduce such random mutations. This is why a high residual value of information systems preserves not only the technical but also the human values.
Software is a form of wealth. In fact, a large number of organizations today have software assets that are worth more than the tangible assets on their balance sheet. Thus the primary objective of modern information systems management is to manage that wealth and conserve it so that as little value as possible is destroyed in the process of technological innovation. Creating residual value is one means of assuring the continued accumulation of knowledge. Projects with short-term expiration dates will make certain that knowledge is not accumulated but is instead transformed into profit-sapping adventures.
Every new system enhancement should be conceived of as a way to exploit and increase the value of the accumulated know-how. When you analyze the structure of information systems, you will discover it is not the elements of logic that change but the way they are put together. In a typical business application, more than 85 percent of basic routines deal with information retrieval, information management, and information displays. We continually discard systems even though the underlying business attributes remain very much alike. We can no longer afford to do this, because the accumulation of systems code is simply too large to be replaceable. The implementation of an environment that enhances residual value calls not just for hardware independence, but also for a discipline that emphasizes software preservation throughout the entire design process, starting from business process engineering and ending in reuse of software objects.
If you wish to preserve the collective knowledge of the enterprise, insist that any major new investment proposal include a large residual value forecast. You need to ensure that you put as much of the investment as possible into long-lasting assets such as data, the telecommunications structure, and configuration management.
It is also important that innovation, which is fleeting, local, and absolutely essential for preserving a sense of freedom and independence, is not stifled by heavy-handed emphasis on only the long-range outcomes. The beauty of a federation-like approach to organizational politics is that you can encourage local applications. When these turn out to have permanent value, they can be quickly moved up in the hierarchy and fitted into more permanent designs. It is important that the dynamics of innovation be preserved in a layered concept of how to structure information systems designs, because most of the good ideas are usually found in "bootleg" adventures that cannot withstand the examination of any of the formal methods of financial analysis.
The current methods of investment analysis focus only on the apparent costs of acquiring information technologies. They do not explore the full life-cycle cost effects. They neglect systems impacts beyond the typical short-term corporate planning horizons of not more than three to five years.
Software does not wear out; indeed, it is potentially immortal. Given this fact, the IT industry's disregard of the effects of software's residual value is especially harmful. It will tend to increase maintenance, conversion, and overhead expenses. It will continue to destroy the incentive to build up the knowledge assets of a firm.
For the last 85 years, children have grown up with various versions of the story of the three little pigs. The moral of that story is known to just about all literate persons. The time has come for the managers of information systems to apply that lesson to project management.
Ventures that build shanty-like constructs out of scraps of code, glued-together shrink-wrap applications, and consultants' packages are not likely to hold up over an extended time. Lasting careers will be made only by those systems managers who can demonstrate that their projects make it possible to accumulate enduring knowledge assets.