26 September 2016

Dancing with a Piano: Adaptable and Reliable ICT Services

When I was growing up rock bands were usually fronted by a flamboyant singer and a flashy lead guitarist with the musically vital keyboard player off to the side of the stage. Fast forward to the electronic dance music of today, keyboards and computers are central.

If we look at today’s ICT estate as a band, I believe we are in the era of the ‘70’s rock band. The new engagement channels including consumer apps are the attention grabbing singers and lead guitarists and the enterprise applications are the keyboards off to the side. So how does an organisation ensure its ICT estate (it’s music) is in tune – or in other words how can it create a setting where the components work together to provide adaptable and reliable ICT services to the user community?

The incorporation of ICT into everyday activities can be seen through the rise of Augmented Reality, Social Media, Internet of Things, Big Data, Mobility and Cloud. This entrenched nature of ICT, results in user communities with expectations of easy to use apps that are judged by the community and updated based on consumer feedback. These consumer apps, the ICT equivalent of the whirling guitar players of the 70’s rock bands, are the face of your organisation to the world and your employees.

On the other hand businesses rely on their stable enterprise applications to maintain rigour, apply legislation and policies, and promote standardisation. These enterprise applications enable business process optimization, automation of tasks and ultimately improving efficiency. Supporting end-to-end business processes requires the enterprise applications to integrate multiple business functions; therefore making changes in one function may have impacts on many other functions. The combination of the breadth of integrated functions and the rigour of standardisation makes changing enterprise applications the ICT equivalent of moving a large keyboard or a piano. There is a far more complexity with enterprises applications than with the consumer app as the many downstream impacts need to be taken into account and managed.

While consumer apps maybe the face of an organisation many of these apps rely on data and processes that are managed in enterprise applications. So like the 70’s rock band all the musicians need to play together to deliver a good performance. This leaves us with a question - how can these enterprise applications, add the rigour without undue constraint on the consumer apps? In other words how do you dance with a piano?

Answering this question requires more than a simple one word or one concept response.
There have been many concepts put forward to increase responsiveness of the ICT estate in the era of increasing data and user expectations. Technology and concepts like, Agile, DevOps, User-Centered Design, as-a-Service, 2-speed or bi-modal ICT, responsive design, virtualisation, containerisation, API-gateways, stream analytics, discovery tools, natural language interpreters, combined with delivery models like outsourcing and cloud all can have a role in delivering adaptive reliable ICT services. But just like the band, ICT doesn’t perform without people and for a reliable outcome these people need to work together in harmony.

 Moving into the ‘80’s and the video era changed the way bands interacted with their audience. It gave rise to the importance of visually appealing videos transmitted to the masses through television and choreography became prominent in popular and dance music. Similarly, all the different ICT approaches and tools may have a place in delivering ICT services, but the equivalent of choreography is required to deliver an adaptable reliable service to the user community. Choreography works with themes and key movements. With the theme of adaptable reliable ICT services, key movements are:

1.      Build the community – Constructing adaptable reliable ICT services requires collaboration across user community, business area, multi-disciplinary ICT team, partners and marketplace participants. There needs to be a sense of community among all parties to make the communication of new ideas, feedback, and priorities workable.
2.      Create Space – There are a couple of parts to this movement, one is to reduce the administrative overhead on managing the ICT estate, thereby creating space in resource utilisation for improvement activities, and the other is to use ICT tools, for example API’s, to expose data and logic from enterprise applications to allow freedom of movement by communities that want to interact with the data.

3.      Iterate –start working together to design and construct an initial product, try it out, analyse feedback, and then improve it.

The choreography of these movements can build trust across the community members leading to a sense of ownership (becoming a groupie if you like). With this trust in place, the team can progress a program of work with business-led prioritisation that balances across enterprise applications and consumer apps allowing the user-community to take to the dance floor and enabling the ICT group to build a fan base.

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