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Vanilla Tools

        posted by , April 10, 2011

Have you ever noticed that Microsoft products such as Excel, Access, Outlook and Communicator are practically running many businesses? These are examples of vanilla tools: low cost general purpose software.

Enterprise Architects often dislike vanilla tools — or at least view them as a problem. Vanilla tools are a easy way for departments to develop their own systems. The proliferation of ad hoc solutions built on vanilla tools can lead to process and data problems.

Despite all the problems they cause — it is a mistake to ban vanilla tools or close your eyes and hope they go away. Vanilla tools are a business reality. When used correctly they can solve architectural problems.

Problem

High costs associated with minor systems and throw away tactical solutions.

Solution

Use vanilla tools, where it makes sense, for minor systems and tactical solutions.

Integration tools should be provided to prevent data quality issues. Tools that export data to Excel and generic formats such as CSV can go a long way to prevent data and process problems.

Governance and Controls

If you can't beat them join them.

It is almost impossible to stop business and technology groups from using vanilla tools — so you might as well govern them. Governance should control vanilla tools to ensure that:

- they do not duplicate functionality in systems
- standard tools are used across the organization
- data is not being rekeyed
- sensitive data is protected
- they are not used as the master for critical data
- they are not used to bypass accepted processes

The goal is to create a atmosphere where vanilla tools are used to safely reduce costs.

Examples

Vanilla tools are ideal for:

- stop gap processes
- orchestration of minor departmental processes
- collaboration
- personal productivity
- ad hoc reports and read only data manipulation
- tactical solutions to support temporary processes
- data migration and other one time activities

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