Redesign is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean. Well the simple answer is, it depends. When it comes to software and database systems it almost always means starting over and because of that it is rarely accomplished. In most cases you start out with the grand plan and end up settling for whatever you can get in. If you ask the software developers, the reason that this occurs is because the business side is too focused on the short term profit to see the benefit of a long term redesign. If you ask the business side, it is because the software developers want to basically go into stand still mode for the next year while they play with technology they think might work.
So who is right. How about both and neither at the same time (I know you are saying "Mike sure isn't very committed today is he?"). What I mean to say is that both are correct in what they think the problem is, yet neither approach to solving it is correct. And to muddy the waters a bit more, both sides know this already. Software developers understand that they can't put the company at a stand still to make things perfect and the business knows that if they don't give the developers time, problems will grow. So how can so many smart people with this type of understanding fail at making redesign happen? The answer is lack of paradigm shift.
In order to redesign you have to embrace change and to embrace change you have to be able to make a paradigm shift from the way you do things now to the way things need to be done. See the redesign isn't just the software or the database. It never is nor can it ever be. Everyone from top to bottom has to see a need for change, accept it, and then work to implement it. The problem of course is that change is scary. It scares everyone, I don't care how adventurous you claim to be. Fear of the unknown is built into a person's fiber. Sure fear can be exciting and some are more exhilarated by it than others, but we are all hesitant to do it. And if you are not fearful of the change, then odds are you don't understand it completely. For change to matter, there has to be risk and if there is risk there is fear.
So we now have to take fear and diminish the scary part and increase the excitement part. This is where the paradigm shift occurs. This is generally accomplished through the acceptance of the end result as better. Risk versus reward. Is the reward worth the risk. In order to define the reward a company has to have a vision and this vision will be the new paradigm. This vision has to company wide and shared from the top to the bottom.
Now you may say "Mike, Wal*mart never changes it's vision. They have done business the same way for how ever many years." And I of course would have to say you are wrong. (I of course would say it much nicer than that but as I have mentioned I don't like to type so just saying you are wrong is easier for me in this case). What I mean by that is that they do change their vision, but what they don't change is their mission. Wal*mart's vision is to provide quality products at the lowest cost possible to as many people as possible (I am paraphrasing of course) but their vision, how they go about that has changed and continues to change as time progresses. If Wal*Mart were still trying to do business now the way Sam did it when he drove store to store in his beat up pickup truck, they wouldn't have survived, let alone flourished. Wal*Marts ability to make rapid paradigm shifts and changes in vision and the ability to propagate that new vision into the priority of it's workforce is its single greatest strength.
I use Wal*Mart as an example because as I typed this I was thinking I need to stop there and pick up some new razor blades, but insert any major company with strong leadership. Apple, Google, Coca-Cola, even Microsoft has to make paradigm shifts in order to implement redesign.
This is also why most redesigns happen right after a change in leadership. Most leaders have trouble looking over their work and finding the areas that need a new vision. They often try and tweak or fix the old vision, which again I think is human nature. In some cases the leaders go away and get a fresh perspective (Apple), in some cases the leader steps down or aside in order for the company to pursue a new design (Microsoft), and in some cases the leaders allow the people around them to question the vision and question the direction and are able to act on that (Google).
So why the big lecture on corprate america and redesign. I don't know, maybe I was thinking about my own situation and evaluating where we are at and where we are going to go. I guess mostly I wanted you to understand what it actually takes to redesign anything and to encourage you to not be afraid of change. If a redesign is going to succeed, you have to accept the paradigm shift and if you don't accept it or agree with it, then you need to evaluate the redesign. And never forget, you can drive a shift in thinking as well. You might work for the person or people who want you to question the vision if it has been in place for a while. You might not and you might get fired for bringing it up but again, evaluate the risk/reward and see if it is worth it. I think it is almost always, but then again, my wife works :)