Friday, October 29, 2010

Why Nokia and Blackberry should be scared ?

I recall working at Motorola at a time when we were gaining significant market share in the mobile handset market. Yet the gains were precarious, we produced some very attractive phones (the Razor was a first of a kind) and although the user interface and software reliability was not 100% there, the phones looked the part. Looking back, I was always concerned about the software reliability (since it was part of my job) but in fact we should have much more concerned about the usability and the Interface. Something the Microsoft has always been aware of.

When I look at the Nokia and Blackberry offerings currently on the market, the phones look ok, they work ok, but somehow there is something unfamiliar about the user Interface. It is almost as if the User Interface Fashion (UI-Fashion maybe) has swung - very much in favour of the Android and iPhone. Even though the target markets for the Nokia and Blackberry phones may be slightly different than that of the iPhone or Android, this does not diminish the fact that the interface needs to be in fashion and needs to be familiar to any user (of course I am implicitly assuming the phones look good, work well and are packed with functionality).  When it comes to phones and especially smart-phones we are past the stage of worrying about reliability, performance, functionality etc ... these are given, they simply must be there. Now what counts is the fashion - that is until the next big technological jump ! So RIM and Nokia take note ...

3 years on from this original post and things are as predicted the fall of RIM

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Socio-mapping

In the very influential book "Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development by James O. Coplien and Neil B. Harrison, they discuss the use of socio-gram which map the communication relationships between people within an organization. This, they use to determine the health of a project, i.e the socio-gram should not indicate that there are silo's in communication. The same principles may be applied to Enterprise Architecture, and the socio-gram becomes a useful tool to analyze not only communication between individuals but also potentially between systems. The concept may also be used to establish a companies or individuals social networking "effectiveness" if we could create a tool to import all ones social networking contacts and map out the interactions with these over a period of time, we would certainly gain some insights into the effective network that we have built up. 

I am interested in pursuing this idea, and starting to develop software to do just this. If there are any like-minded individuals out there who would be interested in using this concept in an Enterprise Architecture or Social Networking context, please contact me ! 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Android - Has apple missed a trick ?

I remember getting my first Android which I got shipped from Google via the UK to Brazil. I was amazed by this device until it's amazing demise in a tropical rainstorm. I walked around the streets of Rio showing anyone who would look ...

I continue to be amazed at the applications of this OS and the OS business model. Everyday there are announcements of new Android Phones, tablets and now playstations, TV's and e-readers which are going to be using the Android operating system. It is a compelling proposition for hardware manufacturers who now don't have to bother with the very complex task of writing software. They have to simply build a computational device and get Android to run on it. Software, particularly writing an OS is notoriously difficult and requires significant skill for complex devices.

I remember arguing with Professor Nogueira and Coppead Business School who was very pro-Apple and thought they would grow beyond imagination at the time (2007). Although, as the recent results show apple is doing exceedingly well, I believe that they will face serious threat in the near future from Android enabled devices.

Imagine a scenario where you have an Android based TV, e-reader, mobile phone and kitchen appliances, what about an Android smart meter for your electricity ? Firstly, the common look and feel is very desirable and one assumes that the integration will be smoother that with a mixture of devices. Although Apple continues to release compelling products, they are not on the convergence bandwagon. I believe this is why Google stands to gain and all other in the market stand to loose significant market share.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Outsourcing has its place, but not everywhere

Outsourcing and offshoring are two very fashionable approaches to reducing cost and ramping up resources. Whilst logically it would seem to make sense to hire skilled workers at a fraction of the price somewhere else in the world - in practice great care should be taken before embarking on such an endeavor. Firstly, numbers mean very little without a quality outcome. Many projects have positive outcomes, however, they are not the best of quality - just because something works, does not mean that it was designed well (with e.g. the customer, values and future in mind).You must know not only how to judge success, but also the quality of the artifacts that are created.

As I have written before, communication is one of corner-stones of any organization. When projects are outsourced or offshored the first thing to suffer is communication - although it is often the most ignored. Time and time again, the value and importance of face to face and non-verbal communication has been written about. Secondly, in cost-cutting efforts companies are moving towards Internet telephony (VoIP) systems, so save telephone costs, which further reduces the quality of an already fragile form of communication. I am sure many of you have had sufficient experience of having to repeat yourself numerous times to a customer service representative in India or Brazil. Thirdly, communication may be further degraded since the resources that your organization is communicating with often were not selected by you, rather by a 3rd party. So they have not been interviewed individually to see if they fit in with your particular organizational culture (some may argue that this is difficult to do anyway).If the outsourcing or offshoring arrangement is not correctly designed, a host of potential pitfalls await.

When it comes to software development and software systems integration, my opinion is that it is often much more effective to have people local to one another in smaller numbers. This, I understand, is not always possible. However, bear in mind that tt has been argued (by researchers studying effective organizational patterns) that there is an optimum number of people for a team (somewhere between 10-15), which suggests that throwing numbers at a problem will not make it better or faster. Some of the most successful software programs and projects have been created by small local teams (note the original meaning of the word team).

Outsourcing (slightly different form offshoring) is effective when something that is not core to the organization can be packaged into a black box, well specified and given to someone else to do. In that case, one can measure if it was done well or not and one can throw away the black box and buy a new one at some later time, if it is found not to meet requirements. However, if the same is done for things that are not black boxes problems may very well arise.


I'd like to hear your experiences of offshoring and outsourcing ...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cloud Computing - is it Just a buzz word

Wherever I go lately, I hear the term "cloud computing" or "hey, I am involved in cloud". One would think that this is revolutionary technology a far cry from the way we work today. The reality is that it might be a buzz word. Firstly visualized environments have been around for some time and many of us have been using them for some time now. Smaller companies have been using 3rd party hosts to host their websites etc for years too, almost since the beginning of the Internet. Really there is nothing so amazing about "cloud computing" , except that as a system the Internet along with the providers of hosted services are now advanced enough to offer commercially reliable and stable offerings. I guess a major change is the fact that big corporations are starting to use these services, this creates a number of issues for them - mostly in terms of process and security. I would like to see the term used less for "buzz" and more for what it really is ...

It's all in the naming (language)

"It's harmful ... when naming leads the mind to think that names alone bring meaning close" - Marvin Minsky, Society of mind

If one breaks down the nature of organization into it's component parts, what comes out is communication. Communication drives standardization, co-operation and co-ordination amongst other things - which are all needed for an organization to function effectively and grow. 

There are oral and written artifacts. Direct , real-time and delayed communications. In-direct communications and those that are current and others that are historic. Furthermore there are bi-directional multi-directional communications. All of these happening at the same time, and depending on the parties involved and the culture of the organization they have varying degrees of impact and credibility.

Starting with clear definitions is essential for any form of communication to convey the intended meaning in a reliable manner. Very often as a consultant I find that the root of many organizational problems is that the "language" is not defined prior to the communication. Often levels of analysis are mixed and definitions unclear. If, for example, we are looking at a businesses value proposition we must define value to whom ? The value of a proposition is very different depending on who is using or viewing the proposition. More often than not we try define generic "things" that mix elements and do more to confuse than to clarify. I may define a set of objectives that are technical and physical as well as a set of objectives that are business orientated or financial, maybe some that are personal. In complex communications throwing these objectives together into a mixing pot may not be productive.  We should always be mindful of combining like things and grouping them as such.

When we analyze technical solutions, for example, we should be careful to always be aware of our level of analysis. Are we referring to the physical implementation, the logical representation, the systems or the business capabilities. Again, mixing these levels of analysis can be counter-productive.

One major challenge in communication is that the recipient of the communication usually interprets the communication with reference to his/her normal level or reference of analysis. It is easy to see that if we are not careful certain communications can be wrongly contextualized. Labeling adds to this confusion: often to simplify our communication we label things and then use these labels without ever going back to define what these labels actually mean. Furthermore, different people in the organization develop a different understanding of what these labels mean - they continue to communicate not using the meaning of the label rather the label itself. It is easy to see why this type of communication could become very inefficient. Consider a potential solution called "plan A" and another called "plan B". The architect of the solution may initially know exactly what Plan A consists of and the problem that it was designed to address. Later more people in the organization (including business units) begin discussing Plan A without really knowing the details of the solution or it's context.

One of the problems with communication over the Internet, is that it is often very generic and impersonal. We are tempted to send out group-wide emails, post notices on forums, tweet generic thoughts etc. While no doubt the Internet has changed the way we communicate and is valuable in terms of its reach and efficiency, it is not always valuable in terms of it's effectiveness. Especially within large organizations, we should be more careful in the way we use labels, we should take more care to define the level or point of view and be mindful of the context.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Organizational excellence and learning : lessons from Brazil

Anyone who has visited Brazil and moreover done business in Brazil would probably not associate Brazil with organizational excellence. While in general this may be true, I would like to share my exposure to an element of Brazilian culture which I believe exhibits many of the elements of organizational excellence that major organizations would wish to emulate. This unique cultural gem, resides in the unlikely domain of music. To many, this would not be that surprising considering the high standard of musicality in Brazil.

In particular, the style of music I address initially is known as "chorinho" and might be considered to be a pre-cursor to modern day Samba. The interesting aspects of this music for organizations is the way in which "chorinho" groups are structured and the way in which learning occurs within the wider "chorinho" community. I will be writing a series of articles relating my first hand observations of the mechanisms within the "chorinho" community to organizational theory.

The results of the way in which the "choroinho" community is managed and the way in which learning occurs has the effect of creating a vast number of virtuoso musicians, who continue to innovate and create arguably fantastic music in abundance - whilst operating in an environment of respect and co-operation.


STRUCTURE


"Chorinho" music is constructed around a well established framework, which establishes rules for how the music is performed, written and the tonal bounds within which composers may create (exceptions are allowed). This framework is generally referred too as "the language of chorinho".  This "language" forms the standards by which all aspects of "chorinho" are judged and developed. Students and practitioners must understand the "language" in order to understand and ultimately perform this music.

LEARNING

Learning happens in a very interesting way. First students must begin to understand the "language", there are a number approaches, theory is combined with the learning of the standard tunes that make up the traditional repertoire. This is achieved by, from the outset practicing in performance groups. Mistakes are encouraged and master practitioners play together with students - egos are left behind. Through mutual respect, everyone from beginner to master gets a turn to play in a group environment. Feedback is given, where required by the master practitioners. Learning happens in a very structured manner. Whilst there is structure, there is also flexibility. The secret is in the "doing" supported by constant feedback.

I will be writing more on this topic in subsequent posts ...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Communication in the enterprise

Many of the issues we face in our day-to-day lives center around our inability to communicate effectively. This is especially true within the organization. The way in which we organize ourselves in the modern world is in organizational theory termed the "bureaucracy" (not to be confused with the use of the term associated with government red-tape). It is the nature of this form of organization - hierarchies of authority, separation of the office from the person and creation of common organizational goals (to name a few) - that inherently cause communication to be paradoxical.

Many paradoxes are discussed in the literature: Merton, for example highlights the fact that organizations need to produce a high degree of reliability of  behavior. Devotion to behavior leads to them becoming absolute; they are no longer conceived as relative to a set of purposes, this interferes with adaptation, thus the very conditions that conduce efficiency produce inefficiency in certain instances. The creation of organizational goals often has the effect of producing sub-groups within the organization who group together to resist the enforced goals, the original goals become defused and may cause effects very much opposite to the original intention. Crozier talks about "vicious circles" within the organization, for example, the people with the least power in the organization are often those who directly interact with the customer. There is an inherent in-balance in this situation. These employees may use their power with the customer in a manner disproportionate to their status in the organization.

The burning question is, can we use modern technology to enhance communication and in fact ultimately produce new and improved forms of human social organization ? There has been talk about the post-bureaucratic form of organization, which theorists like Selznick do not think exists.

The inherent problem with blogs, wiki's, email and twitter is the vast quantity of information that is published - it is thus very hard to maintain relevance and quality of communication. This is quite possibly the reason why search has become the most important element of the Internet. I have no doubt that these relatively new technologies can enhance the way we communicate and hence the way we organize ourselves. There are already many examples of this: Open source wiki's used to create high-quality documentation, agile software development and encyclopedias. Crowd sourcing which is becoming an effective way to create innovation within an organization. We still have some way to go, previously we needed to find ways to communicate - now we have those ways, we need to discover the mechanisms which will lead to effective communication and ultimately more effective ways of social organization.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Archetypes of bureaucracy

In recent research I wrote about 3 archetypes of bureaucracy, based on research on entrepreneurship in Brazil. Brazil provided an interesting context for this research as the business environment exhibits some extreme cases of bureaucracy.

The 3 archetypes I arrived at, based on previous work by organizational theorists were: productive, unproductive and destructive.

Productive bureaucracy is generally well designed and serves to benefit all parties in the bureaucratic process. It exhibits, the correct balance of incentives, co-operation, trust and co-ordination. Unproductive bureaucracy is generally that which is ill-designed and simply put, creates unnecessary problems for one of the parties in the bureaucratic process. This might be a government agency which becomes swamped with paperwork or an individual who cannot easily adhere to the process due to lack of information or lack of available documentation. The third archetype is destructive bureaucracy, which is ironically usually created by design with the goal of maintaining power. Many government agencies or internal corporate bureaucratic processes become intentionally or unintentionally designed this way to allow one party to maintain it's power over the other. By design these processes often do not make sense to an outside observer and are overly complex .

I am in the process of developing this model further, please contact me if you are interested in discussing this topic further. In particular it would be interesting to investigate how these archetypes impact the adoption of technology.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Visually Designed Software

As I continue to look around, work and consult for various companies, I have begun to realize that the visual
element of software design in perhaps more important than functionality. Humans are visual beings, we like
nice furniture, nice buildings and beautiful people. The same is true of software.

The recent success of the iPhone is an example, Apple makes attractive devices that have attractive user
interfaces. This I believe is the key to their success. Years ago, we all put up with Microsoft, not because their
software was robust, efficient or reliable but because they had the best user interface by far. As mentioned
in a previous article, Linux is now maturing into a desktop operating system that can finally compete with Microsoft, this is mainly because the user interface is attractive. The new Gnome and KDE windowing user interfaces are easy to use and attractive.

The same can also be said for web development. I believe it is more important to have the user interface
looking excellent, before working on the functionality. Some may argue, that simple command line tools are not
attractive yet are used extensively, this is true. the users of such tools, like the interface and are accustomed
to it. It is textual, too the point and uncluttered. Again, it is a particular type of interface, non-graphical however
with its own attraction and design.

I believe that many companies delivering business solutions (via bespoke software or web services), often
ignore this fundamental design principle. People simply get bored and annoyed by ugly interfaces !
Getting the design (visual) right is fundamental, of course then comes the functionality ....

For those interested in some cool visualization ideas, check out IBM's Many Eyes http://manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/

Digital Footprint

So, you're sitting at your computer oneday, you've got 10min free and you think "hey let me google myself." You open a your favorite browser and type your name as a search term, your name is either common in which case the chance of finding somthing that is relevant to you is not that likely, or worse your name is very unique and a wealth of information pops up in the search results.

You find blog posts, forum posts, book reviews, entries in public records, maybe home adress and phone numbers, details of direcotrships and legal proceedures, maybe 5 years ago you posted a sexy picture of yourself. You are shocked at the volume and depth of information out there on you !

You ideally would like this information to be private. "Hmm", you think, I wonder if I can write an email to Google, Yahoo and Microsoft asking them to remove me from thier search database. Think again, you are online, you have a digital footprint whether you like it or not. If you lucky your footprint is positive, if not you are in deep water.

So how do you mitigate this data, change the search results and get a more positive digital footprint ? Here are some steps you can take:
(1) Purchase a web domain containing your name, it must have your name in it, however extra characters do not matter.
(2) Make a simple webpage, use one of the blogging sites if you have too and point the Domain name to that site, make sure
 you write somthing nice and positive about yourself.
(3) Add the website to Google and other webmaster tools (so that the search engine knows to index your site)
(4) Create accounts on LinkedIn and start writting on forums relating to your professional life.
(5) Any social networking site that has a profile section, fill it out nicely and positively , give only the information that you want to be public.
(6) See if there is anyway of removing any unwanted data from "offending" websites.
The idea here is that you are going to swamp out the old data and replace it with more recent, "clean" data. Bear in mind that people and c
Publish Post
ompanies are doing more and more searches on personal online footprints, and the tendency is for this to continue.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What Digital Convergence means for Enterprise Software

The digital world, which now is all around us, is converging. This means that television, Internet, telephony and a host of other services are starting to use the same mechanisms for delivering the service or delivering customer management. I have written about smart metering, how using some form of the Internet - our energy usage will be made more efficient and tailored to our specific usage patterns. Television is being delivered over the Internet, Internet televisions, iPlayers and the like are becoming the norm (creating huge demands on bandwidth).

I would like to address the question of enterprise software. More and more in my day-to-day consulting I encounter companies who are diversifying their businesses to provide a wide variety of services over the Internet. After-all, if you can provide television over the internet, why not sell music, why not offer broadband and maybe even throw in a mobile phone or fixed line phone contract. If you have the systems to do all of that you might as well re-sell energy, not to mention insurance and financial services. I am not saying it is a good idea to diversify to such an extent, but if the basic systems (billing, web-portal, customer services) are similar, it is certainly worth thinking about.

Enterprise software, i.e the software that maintains billing information, computes bills, allows one to view accounts online, handles online marketing campaigns etc., etc. will need to become more flexible to meet the growing series of requirements of it's more diversified clients. It is unlikely that one software system will be able to handle the ever growing functionality required to meet the diversification demands. However the winner in the market I believe will be those systems that offer very good, robust and scalable functionality and provide open interfaces which allow other software to easily interface into them. It is not inconceivable, that a open-source solution will in time replace SAP and Oracle as the system of choice to handle the basic back-end functionality.