Case Study: Latin America

Case Study: The Snowmen Come to Latin America

by Roger Sessions


Our first Latin American banking project was a wonderful learning experience, both for us and our client. Our client learned how to manage complexity. We learned about the magic of metaphor.
Our client understood it had a problem with complexity. As a major private bank in Latin America, it suffered from the same complexity as do most financial institutions. But it also had the complexity inherent in an evolving political environment.

The bank knew complexity was costing it money but it didn’t know what to do about it. It was as if complexity was an invisible enemy, an enemy that couldn’t be seen or measured but was still draining the vitality of its organization.

The bank had been a Neoris customer for several years before this engagement. Neoris is the second largest consulting firm in Latin America and has an excellent practice in enterprise architecture led by Rodrigo Estrada. When the bank reached to Neoris for support with its complexity problem, Neoris had only a partial response. Neoris had good tools for studying obsolescence, age, and supportability but nothing to offer in the complexity space.

Rodrigo Estrada and I had a long history of working together. We had collaborated many years ago on a complexity management project for Cemex, the largest cement supplier in North America. Rodrigo knew that I had recently taught a course in complexity analytics at the department of Information technology at the University of the Andes. He also knew I had recently given two keynotes talks at Gartner conferences on the topic of IT complexity. He felt that if anybody could help his client understand complexity, it would be me. Thus was the beginning of a new partnership, Neoris and ObjectWatch.

We started with a three day workshop in IT complexity. I covered the usual topics: the exponential growth of complexity, the power of partitioning, the nature of synergy, and the characteristics of equivalence relations. But I did one thing that I had never done before. I placed the Snowman metaphor front and center stage. Until then, I had mentioned in passing the striking resemblance of a SIP driven architecture to a group of Snowman. But this time I decided to give the Snowman metaphor top billing.

SIP is the heart of the effort to manage IT complexity. It defines the model that explains complexity, the equations used to measure complexity, and the methodology used to eliminate it. A SIP driven architecture resembles a field of Snowmen because SIP results in an architecture that is strongly vertically partitioned with each vertical section containing three related clumps of functionality: business systems, technical systems, and data systems. The contrast between the Snowman Architecture (SIP) and the traditional SOA architecture is shown in the following figure:

In this workshop, I introduced the Snowman metaphor early on and related every topic (synergy, equivalence relations, etc.) back to this unifying metaphor. What I found surprised me. The Snowman metaphor went viral throughout the bank’s organization.

People to whom we had never spoken were discussing Snowmen (or muñecos de nieve, as they call them) and relating their work to this architecture. This metaphor gave people a simple way to understand all of the basic ideas of SIP. Soon SIP no longer stood for Simple Iterative Partitions. Now SIP stood for Snowman Identification Process.

We found out just how viral the metaphor had gone. At our presentation to the executives, we started with the standard talk about complexity and its different causative factors. I could see the CIO’s eyes starting to glaze over. Then we showed a picture of the Snowman Architecture. Immediately he perked up. “I was wondering,” he said, “when you were going to talk about the Snowmen.” Within a minute, the CIO was on his feet, drawing connections between Snowmen and talking about the Snowmen as if they were all old drinking buddies. This scene was duplicated several days later when we gave a similar presentation to the bank Vice-Presidents. The Snowmen had come to life.

This powerful metaphor made it easy to discuss the problems with traditional IT architectures. And this wasn’t just a theoretical exercise. As part of the engagement, we analyzed the complexity of several architecture proposals generated using traditional methodologies by the bank’s architects with the help of other consulting organizations.

To measure the complexity, we used the Snowman Metrics, the complexity metric that is part of the Snowman Practice. This metric measures the overall complexity of a large architecture in Standard Complexity Units (SCUs). In every case, the complexity of the traditional architectures was thirty to fifty percent higher than the SIP driven Snowman Architecture.

It was one thing to show that the complexity of The Snowman Architecture is substantially less than traditional architectures. But what does this mean to the bank? To answer this question, we validated The Snowmen Architecture looking at traditional IT attributes. We presented both The Snowman Architecture and the original (traditionally developed) architecture to groups of IT architects. We did not discuss complexity. Instead, we compared the two architectures with respect to standard measures of architectural value.

Highly experienced domain specialized architects concluded the following:

  • The Snowman Architectures were more secure than the traditional architectures.
  • The Snowman Architectures were more resilient to system failure that the traditional architectures.
  • The Snowman architectures were going to be easier to audit than the traditional architectures.
  • The Snowman architectures were going to be easier to maintain than the traditional architectures.
  • The Snowman architectures were going to scale better than the traditional architectures.
  • The Snowman architectures were going to be less expensive to implement than the traditional architectures.

The bottom line: simpler, better systems delivered at lower costs. The muñecos de nieve have come to Latin America. And there is now one bank in Latin America that will never be the same. Nor will the Snowmen.

Acknowledgements: The Snowman Picture is taken by Shelly Munkberg and made available on Flickr through Creative Commons.