Archive for July, 2010

It’s hard to get through 2010 without stumbling across the term ‘agile’, which is being spilt everywhere.  Like most bandwagonesque ideas, the exact meaning is by turns carelessly mislaid, blithely trampled on, or deliberately stolen.

The origins of “agile software development” goes right back to 2001, published in The Agile Manifesto.  In theory, anything not referencing it is either wilful, ignorant, or indifferent.  But language is organic; these things will happen.

The Wikipedia definition of agile software development accords with the Manifesto.  And an example of the breakout process comes from Maureen Clarry of CONNECT: “Confusing Agile with a capital A and agility is a common mistake. Agile as a methodology is a small piece compared to organizational agility. Closely related to that, we sometimes see BI organizations that use Agile methodology as an excuse so that they don’t have to define standards or document anything. This is another example of trading speed and adaptability for standardization and reuse. It does not need to be an either/or proposition.”

Ouch.  The battle lines are clearly drawn; it can’t be surprising to see it in the business intelligence arena.

This current discussion will look at the capital A, which has definition.  As such, the Agile Manifesto is not for everyone.  Up front, they say:

“we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan”.

That’s not motherhood – and it’s obviously not universally applicable.  Enterprise-level organisations will necessarily favour processes and tools, simply because they need good communication, integration between parts of the body to make it work –and grow – well.  In that context, the Manifesto could be seen as permission for cancer to grow: it may be successful, but out of step with the rest of the body.  On the other hand, it may be good for pilots where they don’t need tight integration with the body corporate.

The Agile Principles should be viewed in full here, but a short version could be summarised as:

  1. Highest priority: to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery
    of valuable software.
  2. Embrace changing requirements, even late in development.
  3. Deliver working software frequently.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals, and resource them.
  6. Face-to-face meetings!
  7. Working software is the primary measure.
  8. Sustainable development: the ability to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to good design.
  10. Simplicity: maximise the amount of work not done.
  11. Self-organising teams.
  12. Reflect as a team at regular intervals, on how to be more effective.

MIP, an Australian data management consultancy, are the ones who first brought MicroStrategy, Brio and Informatica to Australia.  Recently they gave a presentation on Agility in its formal sense, in the context of presenting RED, a data warehouse development tool from a New Zealand company called WhereScape.

WhereScape RED has:

–          automatic creation of surrogate keys, load timestamps, etc;

–          code generation, execution, re-execution;

–          a source repository;

–          change management/ version control, including comparison tools;

–          generated user and technical documentation, with auto commenting, diagrams, glossaries;

–          prototyping facilities;

–          notification of data issues (although it is not a data quality tool per se, it uses an error mart).

MIP presented WhereScape RED as inextricably linked to Agile development; a simpler IDE than Microsoft’s Visual Studio, and an intuitive ETL tool.  It has been customer-quoted as a “perfect complement” to SQL Server technology (albeit I can’t say how well it fits in with other database technology).

What I saw did look good.  It makes sense that it would suit an Agile development project.  I noted one caveat at the time: that with such tools and methodology, it would be easy to lose the development thread in the process of rapid reiteration.  A challenge, but not an insurmountable one, for the data professional.

Update 05-Aug-10: The Data Warehouse Institute’s World Conference has Agile as its theme.  Some of the adjunct discussions can be seen to muddy the waters somewhat (is it a methodology? a process? a style? – depends on who’s talking, and how loose their language is).  An earlier discussion – “Being” Agile vs. “Doing” Agile – is salient, especially the comments.  One of the author’s own comments is worth repeating, that promoting Agile on the basis of speed specifically is “wrong-headed”:

“When speed is the primary objective, quality and value often suffer. But when the focus is on incremental value delivery (of high quality); increased productivity occurs naturally”.

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Yesterday I took the opportunity to attend CA Expo 10 in Sydney – CA’s annual talkfest.  Having been there in the past, I knew there would be some pearls to be gleaned on current and future directions in IT.

CA, once known as Computer Associates, now wants to be known as CA Technologies – returning the core emphasis to their brand name.  They’re one of the largest software and services organisations in the world, traditionally aimed at system management in the mainframe and enterprise market.

Their theme this year was cloud technology, which they took pains to portray as a step up from virtualisation.  The primary target of their presentations seemed to be Chief Information Officers – and anyone else influencing the IT spend.  Although they emphasised their point that The Cloud was an evolutionary move (not revolutionary!), their aim was clear: they wanted to scare the bejesus out of the CIO.

CA wants to ensure the CIO is aware of the large-scale changes in the wind, but not to worry: CA are there with the solutions.

In fairness, they drove a number of meaningful points…

The keynote speech was given by Peter Hinssen, presented as a European technology writer/lecture/strategist.  As a keynote, the intention was to both entertain and to flag CA’s themes. One of them was the cloud as a change of strategic emphasis: from efficiency to agility.  As context, he depicted a cultural trend from digital as a novelty to digital as the norm.  We’re “halfway there” he said, somewhat arbitrarily, but while we have been beavering away in the background over the past 15 years, digital has infiltrated the mainstream consumer end of society.  He rightly reminded us (who were mostly old enough to remember Pong and Space Invaders) that current entrants into the workforce had grown up surrounded by digital – and [some] could claim to have better technology at home than at work.

Ah, but I digress.  Hinssen depicted the cloud as not only Software as a Service, but Platform [and infrastructure] as a service.  Security issues require a change in thinking: from firewalling people out to a “conditional yes” – we will need partners and customers to integrate with our systems.  And he, too, wanted to scare the CIO: “You will now be known as the Cloud Interface Officer” (a “joke” repeated elsewhere).

But beneath the words, the structural changes are both daunting and complex.  CA were sometimes roundabout, sometimes direct: EVP Ajei Gopal: there will be a transition from the “IT [department] as a monolithic supplier of services, to manager of a supply chain”. ( Therein lies the challenge.  It won’t be immediate, and it will never be comprehensive, but technology management will inevitably be forced to grapple with that changing role.  Is this the same as outsourcing?  In some ways yes, in some ways no – the change is likely to be far more gradual, as new functionality is quitely placed in a cloud domain, for example.)  CA’s Chris Dickson said competitive advantage comes from managing external resources. ( But that rather begs the question: how good is your capacity to manage external resources?)

But back to scaring the CIO. Gopal: “You will get a call from the CEO: What are we doing in the cloud?”  (The absolutely natural response to hearing that is to ensure there’s a proof-of-concept pilot in place, just to show IT has the concept on the map.)  Gopal wanted to demonstrate that CA had the answers, by listing a number of CA acquisitions in recent times, including Oblicore, Nimsoft, NetQoS, and 3tera, which he characterised as strategic to CA’s cloud focus.

The proof of the pudding, however… CA want to prove their capability, with their knowledge base, their software, their expertise.  They have security product, which they presented at length.  But a question from the floor stymied their chief security architect: on managing social networks spilling out from the workplace.  It’s a known challenge, and they’re working on it.

On networking: CA have set up a “Cloud Commons” community, where experiences can be exchanged, best practice shared.  They developed the infrastructure, but communities only work when a critical mass is hit.  Various product (and other) scores can be aggregated in this Commons, for example – but as we see all the time, only useful where enough people participate.

CA went into more detail on managing infrastructure, on security, on transition, all of which were meaningful, while at the same time saying “here is your problem, and we are your solution”.

In conception, their vision is what the cloud is.  The more your capacity is successfully abstracted into the cloud, the fewer points of failure to affect business with your partners and your customers.  But CA’s value propositions are large-scale, high cost projects.  They’re reaching for the sky.  Yet in the short term, they may have to settle for hand-holding exercises in proof-of-concept.

All presentations from the day can be viewed here.

Addendum:  Gartner has just put out a release on SaaS.  Inter alia, it forecasts the SaaS market to grow to US$8.5 billion in 2010 from $7.5b.  Interestingly, they estimate that “75 percent of the current SaaS delivery revenue could be considered as a cloud service”, but that will increase “as the SaaS model matures and converges with cloud services models”.  Further, they expect SaaS to comprise 26% of the CRM market in 2010 (due in no small measure to Salesforce.com, I’d say).  That’s likely to be the easiest route to a pilot cloud project at the moment.

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