Archive for December, 2007

UK Enterprise Software – 2008 Predictions

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

“If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me.” -William Shakespeare

And so I confidently assure you that some of the following predictions may come true in 2008, and some may not.  Anyway it’s a bit of fun at the end of a year to speculate wildly about next year.  My job takes me into a wide range of enterprise sized organisations and I speak to both IT and business people.  Here’s my top 10 predictions for UK enterprise software, based on no more than anecdotal evidence collected from friends, customers, business partners, sales prospects and competitors: (more…)

UK bank customers still like a smiling face

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Personally, I can’t think of a single reason why I might want to visit a branch of my bank (personal bank at any rate).  I much prefer to use the internet for transactional stuff and the telephone for problems and advice.

But it seems I may be in the minority because, after years of “consolidation” many UK banks are actually increasing the number of branches.  Abbey (part of Banco Santander), for example, are planning 300 new branches  with an Abbey spokesman quoted as saying that although internet and phone banking are available, many customers “prefer dealing with our staff face to face in a branch”.  In case you are wondering whether 300 branches is a big deal, it represents an increase of 43% on the existing Abbey estate.

It seems that HBOS and HSBC are making similar moves.  Maybe my dream of being able to run my life through my mobile phone is being hampered by the old fashioned attitude of the UK consumer.

Setting the SOA Standard

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

As a shareholder and customer of Standard Life, I was pleased to read that their SOA initiative has saved £60M in its ten year lifespan.

SOA case studies (well, successful ones, at any rate) are all too rare.  SL’s is also based on principles of reuse.  Although there are different views on this subject, I cannot help but think that reusing services in many different processes is a good way of saving money (and thereby cost justifying the investment).

CIO, Keith Young said “SOA helps us get products to market faster” he later followed “We contract out some routine things, but generally we try to exploit the expertise of our in-house staff.”

This sounds a bit like an in-house IT function that acts as a trusted adviser to the business.  I will be holding Standard Life for now, and I’ll look forward to a super bonus when my endowment policy matures. 😉

IT closing gap with business? Who says?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

This article was on the front cover of UK journal Computer Weekly this week.  It’s a survey of CIOs on a range of subjects but I can’t help thinking the wrong headline has been picked.

CIOs have voiced their opinion on topics as diverse as how empowered they feel, whether their role is recognised at board level, and how they are now working on projects with more demonstrable business value.  All good stuff and I recommend you read the article.

However, when it comes to whether the gap has been closed between business and IT, surely the business view is at least equally as important (and some may argue the only view) as the CIO view?  In any case, would CIOs paint a picture of discord and things getting worse?

I am not entirely surprised that 94% of turkeys voted against Xmas either.

Death of programming?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

I think the reported death of the software programmer is a little premature but I admire Marks & Spencer for paying more than lip service to the role of business staff.

They have empowered “super users” to create their own applications using business friendly tools based on graphical, non-technical platforms.  Business Objects is quoted as one example of a tool that is in business hands.

M & S IT director, Darrell Stein is a convert.  Dr Nikolay Mehandjiev of the University of Manchester (arguably the spiritual home of computing) points to the reduction in misunderstandings citing the normal “transaction costs and delays associated with having other parties in the loop”.  Dave Cheeseman of Arista Insurance suggests that speed to market is the most important driver and that his insurance specialists will always be better informed, and therefore, more effective than programmers.

All good stuff so far.  But in a fantastic piece of balanced journalism, Computing’s Lisa Kelly has managed to unearth a naysayer from a surprising source.

Philip Virgo is a strategic adviser for the IMIS and he claims that giving users the power to “define their own needs and programme them directly often produces a result that is not fit for purpose”.

I wonder if Mr. Virgo can tell me how many programmer produced business applications are fit for purpose?  How many have delivered yesterday’s solution for tomorrow’s problem?  How many delivered a cart, when the user had asked for a horse?

He goes on to say that “many tools are as user-friendly as a cornered rat” and that a “super user is someone who was a competent user but is now an incompetent programmer”.

I could have learnt HTML but I elected to use WordPress to publish this blog (and what an excellent tool that is).  And I don’t even consider myself to be a “Californian liberal academic”, but one of the managers who Mr Virgo thinks cannot cope with a helpful business tool.

I wonder if Mr. Virgo and his IMIS colleagues may better promote their profession by supporting, rather than criticizing, initiatives that help end users enjoy the benefits of computing.  After all these tools would not have emerged had the traditional programming model been adequately serving end user needs.

Programmers are still needed to build the platforms, tools and solutions that enable end user computing.  As for business applications, we should be giving power to the users.

The high price of call handling times

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

I was at a large telco last week chatting to the manager of a 1,000 seat call centre.

We were talking through the inconveniences that agents have to go through in terms of navigating through a variety of systems just to give the customer what they needed, in this case upgrading their contract.

The problems were obvious in terms of the corporate systems.  Like any other enterprise, these were divided into functional silos paying little regard to the business process.  However, additional difficulty had been added by the use of complex spreadsheets as workarounds for missing system functionality.  Am I painting a grim picture?  Not at all – I see this in every large call centre, not to mention back office.  This is the norm for operational managers – they come to expect it.

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The Banker: CIO of the year

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

I was idly leafing through my December copy of The Banker in which 2007 awards were liberally sprinkled upon the great and the good of the banking industry.  But for such an IT driven industry, I was amazed to find that only one award existed bearing any relation to technology.

José María Fuster of Grupo Santander won “CIO of the year”.  Even in the title, The Banker mistakenly named the award Chief Investment Officer of the year – oops!  I guess that getting some parts of the banking industry out of the old oak-panelled rooms and into the modern world will take another generation!

Meanwhile, no such delay for Grupo Santander whose SOA inspired “Alhambra” multi-channel core banking system (to replace the already successful “Partenon” platform) appears to be steaming ahead and if reports are to be believed, will be something of a kick up the banking industry’s behind.

Like HSBC, Santander’s reputation is to build rather than buy.  For Santander, this decision seems to be related to competitive advantage, not cost.  If one buys an external system, one benefits from all the experience that the vendor has gleaned from working with other organisations.  However, this can create a lowest common denominator.  This may be OK in non-core parts of an enterprise, if you just want to make sure that you are no worse than any of your competitors, and to do so at least cost.  This can free your corporate energy to focus on building competitive advantage at the front end, via marketing for example.

But if you are using your systems and processes as a route to competitive advantage then build is surely better.