Archive for September, 2007

Word play

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Time to lighten up a bit, as I prepare to go off on hols for a few days.

Do you like words?  Have you got a short attention span?  I’ve got a couple of good sites for you, but don’t blame me if you waste half your day… let’s you create new words and humorously define them.

Example?  I added Errordite – (adjective) – Thought to have shown profound knowledge but in the event, proved to be wrong.

Struggling to think up a random werd (sic)?  Try which is a random word generator.

Hours of harmless fun for the litterati (noun - people who consider themselves to be men of letters but actually are rubbish, like me) amongst you.

Other Blue Prism bloggers

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

Just thought I’d alert you to Blue Prism Software Architect, Ciaran Gultnieks’ blog.  He doesn’t really need or want the publicity but if you are technically inclined or you like chickens and ducks you should give it a read.

Ciaran is currently experimenting and comparing CouchDB, Mnesia and MySQL which, if you are still reading, perhaps you should jump across and see what it’s all about.

Contactless payments

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

I don’t know why I have such an interest in this topic but having just read this Finextra report I am still pining for a leap forward in contactless payment technology.  Or not so much a leap forward in technology, as a bit of joined up thinking and collaboration.

I don’t want a VISA key fob, a payment card or a calculator with proximity technology.  I don’t want anything new to carry round.  Quite the reverse, I would like to greatly reduce all the crap in my pockets, so please my I have my contactless payment technology installed in my mobile phone?

If we are really in a so-called technological revolution, why do I still need a wallet, or a key ring for that matter?

Thoughts on running a software company

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

I was pleased to read From vision to execution by Ismael Ghalimi.  I’ve spoken to Ismael a few times and I know how much of his life he has put into Intalio.

In this post he comes across as an exhausted inventor who has finally seen his new gadget rolling off the production line.  It is hard work launching an enterprise software company.  I know because I have tried it.  Many of Ismael’s comments could apply to Blue Prism equally.  The issue of market timing resonated in particular.

Does this mean that there is a degree of serendipity about the chance of success?

I wouldn’t pretend for one moment that Blue Prism has yet reached “success” whatever that is (and it means different things to different people).  Like Ismael, I am very encouraged by progress, especially in the last 6 months, albeit the first version of Automate was released in 2004, some 3.5 years ago and, let’s just say that meeting our revenue forecasts was much harder than anyone expected.

It can be lonely at times as a Managing Director (try not to weep).  When I used to work in a bank as a middle manager I had any number of peers I could relate to, and discuss ideas and issues with.  Since that is no longer a route open to me, I try to find peers outside the company.  As a result I know quite a few people who either run (or used to run) enterprise software companies.

This got me thinking.  What are the key characteristics that determine a successful MD or CEO?  Obvious requirements that might spring to mind might include:

  • A keen aptitude for marketing
  • Technical vision
  • Ability to inspire people
  • Financial astuteness
  • Ability to sell
  • A propensity for making customers happy
  • The gift of the gab

Looking across the successful people I know, the most important characteristics are none of the above.  They are energy and determination.  Fortunately, both characteristics that Ismael has in Spades.

Are CIOs just byte counters?

Monday, September 24th, 2007

I follow a fair amount of financial press as many of our customers are in that sector.  I was interested to see that the “IT vs the Business” argument rages in this sector like many others, and the future of the role of CIO is being questioned, likewise.

The arguments are summarised neatly by Chris Skinner in his finextra post Bankers are from Mercury, techies are from Uranus.  Chris sits firmly on the business side as you might expect from the title.  The arguments, though, are interesting.  The most alarming is that we have now been discussing the chasm between IT and the business for 25 years or more and where is the progress?

Despite taking the business angle, Chris does acknowledge that the business needs to take IT seriously and up their understanding of what IT can do.  But this doesn’t mean that business people need to understand SOA, how to code, what a network protocol is, or where the nearest server farm is.  It does mean that they should understand the power of social networking, wiki style collaboration, the power (and dangers) of software as a service, the use of the internet as a channel, the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing/offshoring vs technology solutions etc.

In this brave new world, according to Chris, the CIO role gets devalued and becomes the keeper of the nuts and bolts.  I think this would be a shame.  I hope the rumoured demise of the CIO role is premature.  All senior managers can read a P & L account and a Balance Sheet but that doesn’t remove the need for a CFO.  There is room on the board for expertise in all important disciplines and surely technology is one of the most important in most organisations?

Perhaps the onus is on the CIO to understand the business better?  Using my analogy above, CFOs need to understand the business.  The types of accountants known as bean counters do not make it to the board.  The IT equivalent is maybe someone obsessed with technology for its sake and not for what it can do for the business (a byte counter?).  Just as the responsibility is on the rest of the board to understand technology, so the CIO must understand the business.  I believe this will secure a valuable board level role for IT for as far ahead as I can see.

Mixing one’s metaphors

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Given that one of my big interests outside software is wine, I was bound to find this article by Sam Sethi.

Comparing Microsoft’s strategy to the maturation of a fine wine is one thing.  Doing so in the same sentence as referring to their Windows and Office product range as “cash cows” that are “withering on the vine” is a mixed metaphor too far, Sam!

The CIO change request dilemma

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

As you might imagine, my job brings me into contact with many CIOs and IT Directors and nearly every one has different views and different problems to solve.

I guess one part of my job is to try to read their minds and get a feel for the aggregate of opinion in this field.  I have believed for some time that senior IT guys have a focus (rightly) on the longer term.  In today’s business environment the long term is usually seen as between 1 and 3 years.  As a result, IT resources are deployed onto major projects leaving scarce little left to do the everyday changes the business keep requesting.

I have been putting the argument that CIOs need some ideas aimed at getting the business to solve those problems for themselves.  So it was nice to speak to a CIO from a worldwide distributor last week and hear him echo those views.  “I like giving the business tools that they can use” he told me.  Nearly all his own staff are on major projects.  Meanwhile he has a list of 150 business change requests that he cannot attend to (this is a low number compared to most large organisations).  His team sits down with the business every couple of months and assesses a “hit list” of top priority changes and he struggles to deliver even those.  This is a very common scenario and is a management dilemma.


Banking on process improvement

Friday, September 7th, 2007

It is becoming ever apparent that Financial Services companies, and in particular banks, in the UK are adopting process improvement methodologies from the manufacturing sector.

One bank that I know well, specifically refers to its back office as “the factory”.  I was at another bank last week meeting the Director of Business Process Re-engineering (BPR).  The very appointment of this title at such a high level is an indication of the importance of process excellence in the financial sector.

Just about every UK bank I am aware of has some capability based around Lean/Six Sigma or similar flavour and many of the recruits are coming from manufacturing, retail, and other service companies.

There are big gains to be made since (although the banks wouldn’t like to admit it) they are horribly inefficient.  A further concern is the cost/income ratio.  Most senior executives have some target set around this ratio.  Major investments in technology can take years to pay back.  This increases costs in the short term and brings any benefits way down the line, which adversely affects the cost/income ratio in the short term.  Call me cynical but most senior execs will have moved on by that point, so they will not see the benefits in their bonus payments.  So there is a degree of short-termism and BPR fits the bill because it is about making low cost investments in continuous improvement.

I would argue that this actually benefits both the short and the long term, and you have certainly heard me argue before in favour of incremental rather than big bang projects for a whole range of reasons.

So it is clear to see why they are doing it.  What about how?