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.

30 December 2010

Cloud Computing - From Hype to Hope

This is a 2009 interview with Larry Ellison CEO of Oracle, where he has a rant about the concept of “cloud” technology. Larry argues that the technology components of the cloud are all existing technologies and even the primary business model of cloud, the concept of “rental” has been around for more than a decade so cloud is more about hype than any real innovation. But it is the combination of the technology, the business model and the “hype”, which has made cloud computing a technology of great interest today. I would agree with Joseph Foran that cloud is an evolution and is here to stay.

The emergence of cloud computing brings together the concepts of primitive beginning, hidden usefulness and how combinations of technology can lead to a new path which technology changes may take. The internet had fairly humble beginnings, where it was used to share research. The internet of today still enables research sharing but has also brought new paradigms for online shopping, social networking, applications and even the research and knowledge sharing has grown substantially with the inclusion of wikis. Cloud computing leveraged this shift in internet use and in combination with the rental business model may be poised to free organisations from some of the ICT baggage, which has weighed down their budgets, if they can live with the services that are being offered, whether these be infrastructure, platform or application-related.

While for start-ups making use of cloud services is a way to minimise ICT-related capital expenditures and as the decision will be made from the start there should be little disruption. However, for established organisations journeying into cloud will cause significant change for both business and ICT. It is going to be challenging to balance the "economics of the cloud" with the organisation's differentiators; to find when and where investment into the cloud makes the most sense; to align the cloud strategy with the overall organisation strategy. Could be an interesting time for Enterprise Architecture.

16 November 2010

Social and Context-Aware Computing, Pattern Analysis and Cloud. What's in it for you?

Gartner has identified four trends which will have impacts on both business and IT
  1. Cloud
  2. Business impact of social computing
  3. Context Aware Computing
  4. Pattern Based Strategy
While these trends will impact ICT investment, they should also impact the services in ICT. ICT organisations should consider how these converging trends will impact the services ICT can provide to their customers, whether that be within the organisation or whether these services could be expanded to become a profit centre.

How might social computing be used to increase engagement in ICT governance, planning, implementation and support? How can communities of interest assist in developing consensus on information needs and terminology to improve discovery?

Examples of Context Aware computing are the Mobile Transit Companion and new research at Ryerson is looking at building an intuitive application which allows mobile device users to set situation-specific business rules on when, how, where they receive voice and video calls. The situational information includes location, calendar information and their communications bandwidth. It is easy to see how this technology could be used to save ICT spend on communications by selecting the most cost-effective connection method, but what else could context-aware computing enable?

How will patterns in and between cloud computing, social networking, context-aware computing and transaction data be able to aid ICT decision-makers in refining the services ICT will provide?

We have been witness to and subjected to rapid change in technology and the way society has incorporated technology into its day-to-day functions at work, at play and at home. It seems with the convergence of social networking, context-aware computing and pattern analysis combined with new licensing and service delivery models offered by cloud computing, the rate of change is poised for acceleration. How are you going to take advantage of it?

15 November 2010

IT Transformation & Enterprise Architecture. What's the Connection?

I recently came across a post by John Palinkas from Castlepointe, Why IT Transformations Fail. This post summarises that to successfully transform IT you need to:

-Have a clear shared vision of the change that is continuously communicated to everyone.
-Ensure understanding and acceptance of the reasons for the change by everyone.
-Create and implement metrics linked to the desired business results.
-Be quick and nimble with interim deliverables that are 80% right

Interestingly or maybe not so surprisingly these behaviours would apply to any transformation project. Additionally I think these behaviours are directly in line with Enterprise Architecture objectives. "So what?" you ask. In many organisations on their Enterprise Architecture journey, the IT shop is seen as imposing Enterprise Architecture upon the business. At a very high level there is some acceptance that IT is needed to enable the business outcomes and an architecture is required to better manage the IT assets. But what this actually means and how to engage across the organisation is a bit of a mystery.

It is expected that the IT shop will get a handle on the technical architecture to drive it from what may have been an piecemeal organic architecture to one which will enable greater flexibility in supporting the business. So there is also acceptance that IT will model the business to demonstrate relationships between IT assets and the business outcomes.

But as you move into information, application and business architecture more and more people across the organisation have needs and opinions. Additionally, the organisation may have continuous improvement processes and EA should work hand in hand with these change programs not as a parallel stream. EA tools and methods may be used in conjunction with the transformation/continuous improvement methods and tools to assist in developing and communicating the shared vision and how activities in the transformation move the organisation towards the vision. The architecture will also assist in defining metrics, which may be more meaningful as they may look across the organisation and pull out previously unknown interdependencies.

Supporting the the last point is probably the most critical and yet for many the most difficult. The architecture team needs to be nimble to keep up with the 80% solutions and the refining their architectures as the transformation progresses. If this is not happening the architecture will quickly be seen as out-dated or simply an after the fact documentation process or even worse an impediment to the transformation, stalling the deliverables because the development of the architecture artefacts is slower than the transformation cycles.

So back to IT transformation and EA, what's the connection? EA practices may be used to support IT transformation. Not just IT transformation in the sense of what IT assets are required to support the outcomes of the transformation, but to work hand in hand with the transformation program and develop dynamic easy to understand artefacts that communicate the vision, tie the vision to the stakeholders view point to give them an understanding of how they impact the vision, interdependencies, identify metrics and the transformation steps.

To me it seems the separation of EA and continuous improvement/transformation programs is counter-productive. As I wrote in a previous post, I believe that EA should facilitate change, not just change in IT assets but business change, otherwise EA will become another stove pipe.

07 November 2010

Behaviour in the Virtual World - Can Enterprise 2.0 Ever Succeed?

I've been researching social behaviour on the internet. Originally I intended to take a closer at a concept from a previous post, how people change their virtual personae depending upon the website. While I was surfing I came across a couple good videos that got me thinking about online behaviour and how it would impact Enterprise 2.0 initiatives?

The first video was by Clay Shirky at the Gov2.0 Summit, Clay Shirky on Technology Insight. In this video Clay goes through two case studies around participative sites: Apps for Democracy and Wikitorial. Apps for Democracy was able to engage the community by providing data sets and then asking the community to surprise them. This is contrasted by Wikitorial, which the Los Angeles Times needed to take down due to "a few readers ...flooding the site with inappropriate material".

Clay maintains that the success/failure of a collaborative/participatorial site is not dependent upon the technology but is dependent upon the type of social contract the participants feel they have. He cautions that the users motivations are unpredictable and they need to be given space to participate. He also cautions that the more "success" is predicted and advertised in advanced the more likely people are to rebel and display rogue behaviour, like those described in this second video which is a bit crude but does nicely depict differences in the way many people behave online then when in a face to face conversation.

So what does this mean for Enterprise 2.0? Will rogue behaviour undermine the conversation channels? Or will the reduced anonymity and increased connectedness (being part of the same company/agency) cause people to restrain from participating, reducing Enterprise 2.0 to little more than bulletin boards where people post information but there is little engagement in conversation?

Is there Enterprise 2.0 initiatives at your workplace? What has been your experience?

07 August 2010

End-User Devices - iPads, Tablets, Smartphones - Oh My

With the convergence of technologies into smartphones and other devices like iPads people, it is becoming more likely enterprise IT organisations will need to deal with many different end-user devices. In many organisations there are people who are relatively "desk-bound" but many others move between their desks and various appointments, and there may be other portions of the workforce who don't have a desk and are involved in field work. All of these work environments may be supported by IT and where previously an organisation with a high percentage of field personnel may have highly specialised end-user devices with specialised applications running on them, now commercially available products with software development kits may meet the needs. Additionally, where it may have been cost-prohibitive to arm your partly mobile work force with end-user devices now people expect to be able to compute on the go.

I came across this article Ballmer (and Microsoft) still doesn't get the iPad, which looks at why the iPad has sold more units in the first 3 months then PC vendors sold tablets last year and the failure of Microsoft to understand the tablet or iPad-like market.

The article suggests Microsoft is stuck in the PC paradigm and they are looking to cram the PC into a tablet device, and are not taking into account why people use tablet devices. A number of the issues of cramming a PC onto a tablet come down to human machine interface (HMI). Using an application with a user interface which has been designed for a PC with a mouse (or other precise pointing device) and keyboard is difficult with a tablet.The iPad and the applications which run on it have designed their user interfaces to be used with fingers. Even though this user interaction style limits the capability of the device the device still meets many market needs and people purchase the device with these limitations in mind.

The article does think there is a market for more robust applications and a more “PC-like” capability in tablets but that a complete rewrite of the user interface for windows and the applications which run on the tablet would be required. An interesting question is will the PC tablet software vendors make the necessary user interface updates to capture a new market of people who want more from their tablet device? And what will this mean for enterprise IT organisations?

19 May 2010

Semantic Web - What's the future hold?

I came across the video below which looks at the concept of the semantic web, describes the semantic web and then looks at some of the human factors around the semantic web - looking at the question - "should there be an ontology?" There are the purist who think of course there will be an ontology and then there are the pragmatic folks who believe the relationships may be more "scruffy" where there is a blending of structured ontology and more "personalised" ontologies.

While this video looks at this issue from a "global" web community, the same types of dynamics can be seen across an enterprise. There are people who believe everything can be neatly categorised and that the relationships between the data and categories can be mapped in a manner that will provide a tidy, clear, precise depiction of the enterprise and all the entities within it. It seems to me to be human nature to try and put everything inside boxes, but we don't all see the same boxes or the same connections between the boxes. In order for information to be to be found in a user-friendly manner, the search parameters need to match the individual user's construct of the world, which may have similarities with the majority of other users but is also likely to have differences. How then do we make the vast amounts of information being produced by the enterprise easily discoverable? A structured ontology may provide a starting point but how do we get down to the user-based view of the world?

I'm not sure how is the web going likely to grow from it's manually integrated information paradigm of today. While new technology will cause some level of change, a major influence is the way people interact with the web and make use of the technology already available. People have a knack for finding work-arounds and coming up with interesting ways of using tools. What does the future hold?

Web 3.0 from Kate Ray on Vimeo.