Happy Birthday WorkForceInABox

February 20th, 2008

This weblog is one year old – hip hip – hoorah!

As this is also my 111th post, cricket fans will understand why I am writing it standing on one leg.

Rather than wallow in cringing self congratulation, I want to use this opportunity to congratulate WordPress, the platform of choice for the grown up blogger.  WordPress has supported both my blogs for 12 months without the merest hint of a problem, which is more than can be said for my ISP.

I only wish our corporate website was so flexible.

A tale of two banks…

February 19th, 2008

Barclays results out today show that the credit crunch is hitting different banks in different ways.  Profits were a whopping £7.08bn, only 1% down on last year’s record.  That doesn’t sound like an industry in crisis.  You might be thinking “what credit crunch?”

However, the Northern Rock fiasco, coupled with Bradford & Bingley’s grisly profit figures clearly continues to dampen the sector.

When you consider that so called mortgage banks, Northern Rock and B&B, have little exposure to the US housing market (which caused Barclays to write down $1.6Bn), you have to wonder whether it is in fact the British housing market that is in crisis.

I mentioned after the last Barclays trading update, increased confidence in the credit card operation and this seems to have been well placed with profits up by one fifth.  Perhaps the diversified banking model is the only one that can survive these turbulent times.  Is the role of the little guy, focussed on one specific banking niche, dead?  Is it necessary to have a balanced portfolio of businesses within a bank to ride the swings and roundabouts of outrageous misfortune?

Perhaps it is time for Barclays to bid for Bradford & Bingley, before one of the American banks steps in to get it on the cheap.

Darling between Rock and hard place

February 17th, 2008

In a most unsatisfactory end to another Government shambles, it has been announced that stricken mortgage bank, Northern Rock, will be nationalised until market conditions improve, and the value of the bank increases, whereupon Darling dreams that bidders will flock back to repay the British taxpayer a handsome dividend.

In the meantime, I expect this to be the worst decision for bank employees, shareholders, customers, and the banking industry in general, not to mention taxpayers in the long run.

It is widely acknowledged that a new brand is required for Northern Rock if it is to survive, never mind thrive.  Is the government going to rebrand it “Brown and Darling”  – a secure home for your money?

The Government is badly placed and very inexperienced at running a bank.  I expect that value in Northern Rock will actually be eroded and the taxpayer will lose out again.  In the meantime, no doubt Northern Rock’s competitors will be considering their legal positions regarding the special Government assurances and protections that Northern Rock savers enjoy.

What a mess.

However, you have to be somewhat sympathetic to Darling’s dilemma.  The mistakes were made very early in the affair with the Bank of England, the FSA and not least Northern Rock management all carrying some responsibility.  It is easy to blame the Government when there have been many parents of this problem child.

Société Généreuse

January 29th, 2008

Whilst there is plenty of serious coverage of Jérôme Kerviel and his antics, I was amused to see French commentators renaming the stricken bank “Société Généreuse“.

The serious point to me is about governance.  Whether IT systems, banking processes, or capital management, there must always be governance, assurance, security surrounding human activity.  That is not say a lack of trust, far from it.  But there needs to be parameters within which people are allowed freedom to act, combined with systems that prevent them straying outside these, when to do so has such serious consequences on the organisation and its environment.

The larger the enterprise, the more this is so.

Time for “Guerilla” SOA?

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?

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.

UK Enterprise Software – 2008 Predictions

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: Read the rest of this entry »

UK bank customers still like a smiling face

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

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?

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.