Archive for the ‘IT Strategy’ Category

2008 Predictions – how did I do?

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Last year, just for a bit of fun, I joined the ill advised forecasting fraternity and soothsayed my way through 2008 making wild guesses about UK enterprise software trends.  Looking back, how did I do?

  1. The credit crunch will continue to affect IT spending for 2008.  This will mean a trend away from major IT projects and smaller more incremental projects will be more in vogue.  A new born baby could have predicted this one but I certainly didn’t envisage the scale of the problem caused by Lehmans in September!
  2. The length of time senior people stay in post is ever reducing.  This will continue to drive short termism and this will strengthen the enterprise resolve to look for incremental, rather than big bang change.  Executive bonuses are frequently paid against cost/income ratios or short term profits.  Major investments in large capital projects do not pay back in the required time period to fulfil bonus aspirations.  I don’t have any data on this but I sense it is even more pertinent right now as we stare gloomily into a “short term or bust” depression.
  3. Software as a Service (SaaS) and the like will become increasingly adopted by the enterprise as business users vote with their feet on offerings from the internal IT department that are too slow, too expensive and too capital hungry.  Not sure about this one.  I probably expected more of my customers to move to salesforce.com for example.
  4. Despite this, Web 2.0 technologies sold as Enterprise 2.0 (wikis, social networking, mashups et al) will be slower to take off despite the buzz.  Still agree here although very recently I’ve seen one or two people thinking a bit harder about internal social networking/KM etc.
  5. SOA will continue to be hyped by the big vendors but successful case studies will still be slow to emerge.  Anyone who has a real genuine success story where a meaningful ROI was derived, please ping it over.
  6. Enterprise IT departments will start to realise that they need to align themselves more closely with the business.  They are ideally positioned to advise the business on how to use all IT, whether internal or external, built or purchased, collaborative or silo based.  The IT function will hopefully start to be seen as a trusted adviser rather than an obstructive gatekeeper.  I have sadly seen little evidence of this in the UK.  I have sincere hopes for 2009.
  7. The percentage of IT budget spent on compliance issues will increase, especially in UK financial services where CCA 2006, MiFID, TCF (Treating Customers Fairly) and SOX, for example, will all feature.  In retail banking right now, compliance/legal seems to be the only reason for budget approval of a project.
  8. Security will remain a critical issue and automatically features right at the top of every CIO agenda. Because of various high profile customer data leaks in 2007, data protection will be a big ticket initiative in many large organisations.  Another one that anyone with damp ear behinds could have predicted – related to compliance (above)
  9. The green agenda will gather momentum with all organisations attaching increased importance to social and environmental responsibility. “Green computing” will be one of the hyped phrases of 2008.  The phrase was hyped but once the credit crunch started to bite, green credentials slip down the list behind business survival.
  10. And finally, I hope Blue Prism will continue to grow rapidly, serving and adding value for all its stakeholders: Customers; staff; business partners; investors and government (taxes).  Happy to report a record year of profitable growth.

Are the young more rogue?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

I just did an interview with Business Week.  The thrust of the article was around the frustration of business users and the propensity for them to find their own solutions, bypassing IT and downloading their own software and services.  Sounds a bit like rogue behaviour?

The journalist was testing the hypothesis that the young were more likely to ignore IT rules, because they were used to Googling their required phrase and then downloading some freeware to solve the problem.  Now, we Brits are renowned for our love of queues and obeying rules, and that is my actual experience of enterprise life.  The pent up frustration of the users transcends genders and generations, but here in the UK we observe the rule book.

Where rogue IT is implemented, it is just as often an old school person who authorises it.  IT departments are getting more adept at clamping down on rogue IT like SaaS, social networking and Excel (I know more than one company that bans Excel).  But the well of desire from the business users is gradually tipping the balance of power in favour of the business.  This is, of course, unfair on IT who are measured on governance, resilience, security and compliance.

When the spat reaches the board room, more often than not, the business is winning the battle based purely on ROI.  Is this good in the long term?  IT argues that chickens will come home to roost.  As to the age gap, is there more likelihood of younger people to break the rules than older?  In my experience, not in the UK.

I regularly exchange emails with retired friends and relatives.  Everyone is becoming tech savvy these days.  IT needs to provide business agility or all business people will find it for themselves.

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).

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.

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.

Time for “Guerilla” SOA?

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Joe McKendrick at ZDNet picked up on my previous post on short termism and budgets, and suggested that the time may be ripe for “Guerilla SOA”.

That’s exactly the sort of thought I had in mind.  However, if you can implement the guerilla initiatives in such a way as to keep an eye on the long term future even better.  So if you are using mashups for example, the architecture is flexible so new data sources can be plugged in and out down the line.  Guerilla initiatives are great at delivering value in local areas of the organisation but one day it will be desirable to join up the dots.

I guess I am arguing for a bottom up approach to SOA which is hardly a new suggestion, and not one that everyone agrees with, but seems well suited to these times.

Has your 2008 IT budget been cut?

Friday, January 11th, 2008

David Linthicum makes some recommendations on what to do if your SOA project is threatened by budget cuts.

Focussing on ROI and $$$ measures is certainly a good idea.  I also totally agree that if you can’t justify a business case to yourself then you should cancel the project.  Shifting around resources and reallocating from other projects is only a good idea if those resources end up being allocated to the biggest business case – i.e. they are targeted at achieving best value.

My personal view is that budget holders will give much more support to business case and $ ROI arguments than any other justifications.  However, the current climate is very short term.  Most enterprises are focussed on short term cash and short term profit.  Directors are targeted on short term measures.  They are also ever less likely to hold their role for more than 2 years.

So when you try to justify your project, bear this in mind.  There is no point in demonstrating that your $25M investment will pay back handsomely over 10 years.  You must find ways of proving that your project will deliver incremental short term benefits so the longer term project funds itself and delivers ongoing business value as well.

Longer term management views may well return when the economy starts the next upwards cycle.  In the meantime, we all need to live within the current constraints.

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. 😉

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.