Archive for March, 2008

In praise of swivel chairs

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Sean McGrath wrote an interesting piece at IT World suggesting that use of swivel chair interfacing is often the best integration strategy available to an organisation.

I am not sure how many swivel chairs it would take before Sean would see an automated approach as more suitable.  I’ve certainly seen banks of people doing little more than this type of business process, inconsistently and with plenty of errors – in itself a very expensive way of doing things.  I do, however, take his point and this is not a criticism of what is essentially an excellent post that raises a number of important points.

For me, the most important point Sean raises is that “if you cannot build a new end-to-end business process that covers both systems manually then you do not understand the requirements sufficiently to start coding it.”

These thoughts are also picked up by Reg Braithwaite in an equally excellent post Is software the documentation of business process mistakes?  Reg argues that if your code represents the “user manual” of the business process, then if the code is too complex, this may well be because the process is too complex.  In other words, get the manual process right before you automate it.

The only reason swivel chair integration exists is because of the inflexibility afforded to the business user by the existing systems.  Business users are left with manual as the only option available to them.  It is the quickest, cheapest and most reliable way of getting a business process done – which is a sad indictment on the state of affairs in IT.

My interest in this subject is that innovative solutions like Blue Prism are trying to address these issues, bringing agility to the business, but without damaging the integrity of the underlying systems, or creating the need for new code.

There will always be some place for swivel chair integration but let’s keep it to a minimum.  Once a process can be done manually, the only things that should prevent it from being automated are the need for human interaction, or the need for human intelligence (e.g. expert judgement).

Stop selling SOA

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

My feeds from the blogosphere are bringing a sense of the rise (again) of chatter around SOA and how to sell it to the business – oh dear, here we go again.

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Misunderstanding the CIO role

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Following on from my last post about CIO recognition in the board room I was excited to discover that relevant coverage had reached the mainstream press, notably the venerable Financial Times.  An article by Alan Cane titled “It’s much too early to write off the role of the CIO” looked right on the sweet spot…..until I read it.

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Is IT just the newest profession?

Monday, March 17th, 2008

I frequently muse on the relationship between IT and the business, so I was interested to read this WSJ article by Amit Basu and Chip Jarnagin, that dares to suggest that IT’s isolation is even greater than I thought.  Namely that a glass wall exists between IT and everything else.

The article is pretty balanced and does point out that it is not exclusively IT’s fault.  Indeed one of the problems IT often faces is getting appropriate representation around the board table.  I don’t buy the argument that CIOs bring this upon themselves.  It’s up to the CEO whether he wants IT on the board.  A secondary decision is who to appoint, and if there is nobody internal, then he can recruit externally.

I also like the fact that Amit and Chip point out that there is a responsibility on the business to embrace IT and try to understand its value.  Conversely there is clearly an onus on IT to focus on and demonstrate the value that it adds.

There is a need to speak each other’s language and IT people are frequently accused of using jargon, but how many IT people (or how many business people…) understand all the jargon used by accountants?  Senior officers are obliged to learn the accountant’s language if they want to get on, so why not IT language too?  Equally, accountants have had to learn a bit about marketing geek lingo too, and we are all at the behest of HR’s guide to political correctness – a language all of its own.

So how come other disciplines are always accepted and IT often isn’t?  Is Information Technology just the newest profession?  Can we look back at accountants and learn from how they gained recognition?  What about marketeers?  Didn’t they all just prove that they added value at some point in the past?  In the absence of recognition from the CEO, maybe the CIO is the only person who can raise the profile of IT in their own organisation.

Will I look back on this post before I retire, and wonder what on earth I was talking about?  By then, surely IT will simply be an accepted profession in every organisation, like Finance, Sales, Marketing and HR are right now.

Contactless Payments at Man City

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

My daily newsfeeds bought me some mannah from heaven in the form of news that Manchester City Football Club is going to trial contactless payment technology in conjunction with its season tickets.

Access to the ground is already by contactless proximity card so making the leap to contactless payment is just like Oyster and Barclaycard really.  I criticised that one heavily for lack of ambition which just goes to show the power of fans eh?

I am not currently a season ticket holder at Man City but I do go to many of the home games using my contactless Access Card, where I merely ring up, ask for a ticket and access is authorised.  I turn up for the game and hey presto, my card let’s me in.  I won’t go into the number of times two people have been allocated the same seat but I tolerate this as a “fan”.  If that same access card could be used to buy a beer (for which I tolerate queuing for ages), a pie (ugh!), and my programme this would be great.  I then shuffle my way through to my seat amongst the thronging masses and watch City play out a drab 0-0 draw and go home to kick the cat.

A major energy company in the UK, npower, has a corporate strategy of turning customers into fans – no wonder….  At Man City, I am happy to pay for poor service again and again, and I never ever switch “suppliers”.   Btw, I am an npower customer and sadly I must report that I cannot make a valid comparison since I have never had a service problem with them.

I hear there are similar trials in the US too – I wonder if Man City fancy twinning with the Seattle Seahawks?  They had a service problem at Green Bay in last season’s playoffs – it snowed wildly – home advantage hmphhhh!

Buy vs. Build – is there a 3rd way?

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

The age old CIO dilemma.  Buy vs. Build.

On the one hand, you buy in a package from a vendor.  They bring industry “best” practice.  They guarantee that your administration is as good as your competitors.  The trouble is that it is equally as bad as your competitors.  So it puts you in an equal position, not an advantageous one.  The lowest common denominator?  At the very least you are making your business subservient to the vendor’s view of the world.  Sometimes this can be good, sometimes it can be bad.

The traditional alternative is to build your own system.  For the purposes of this argument, I am placing this in the same category as buying a package from a vendor and then trying to tailor it to your environment.  The former can be very rewarding and can differentiate you greatly, but can also be very expensive.  The latter is almost always the worst of both worlds and creates expensive and long term projects, contorted business solutions, and a support headache long into the future.

So is there a third way?  I think so.

Your existing systems can adapt to changing business requirements if there is a process management layer capable of making sense of the existing infrastructure.  This can lead to business agility on a new scale if you implement it properly.

With the right tools and methodologies, new horizons are possible.  New standards in customer interaction, faster service, better compliance, process adherence, first time resolution and other desirable customer outcomes are all possible….in the short term.