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Archive for the ‘IT management’ Category

Yesterday I was involved in a few discussions about meeting business needs.

Well, that covers a multitude of sins.

Someone said that in his experience, getting business requirements for BI results in either “give me exactly what I have already”, or blue sky, ie “everything”.  That’s been pretty much my experience too, and can signal that the stakeholder isn’t successfully engaged, perhaps because they don’t know what they can get, or they don’t prioritise the exercise highly enough to put in the requisite effort.

Managing scope is another issue.  BI projects are especially susceptible to scope creep, for a number of reasons.  In particular, business stakeholders often only engage belatedly on the fuller range of opportunities presented them.  This can be for rational reasons, as early deliveries often trigger further ideas and needs – not to mention their realisation you can deliver them something meaningful, cool even.

Still scope needs management one way or another.  Formalised signoffs are common, but what do you do for enhancement requests or incremental changes?  A trickle can become a steady stream.  In some situations I’ve seen a very strict policy taken: any further requirements can only be admitted via a subsequent project.  The most extreme was when a project was underquoted by an external supplier, and cost was fixed.  Black-letter adherence to a document can lead to poisonous – or at least cold – relationships, so usually there’s been some tolerance allowed or built in.  Ideally, you’d quote in a bit of slack, over-deliver, make everyone happy, and generate further collaboration.

Then there’s business-as-usual BI.

Identifying opportunities for further BI development:  not usually high on the agenda.  This because of a familiar experience that was voiced yesterday: the six-month queue for new development.  Delivering business intelligence is more a matter of managing what’s being requested than drumming up work (how to get a six-month queue: drum up work).

Prioritising is necessary, but not the ultimate answer: it doesn’t shorten the queue, and you can guarantee that as a result some worthy requests can end up languishing in a permanent limbo; somebody will be put offside.

Another common approach, which I favour wherever possible, is to foster skills loci in individual business units.  It’s often possible to identify someone in a given business area who has an analytical bent – who, by temperament, interest or both, is not only open to the idea but keen for the opportunity to extract and analyse themselves.

That’s a two-edged sword for several reasons.  Primarily: unfettered access can result in people building non-conforming versions of commonly-used metrics; some sort of auditing or filtering process needs to take place.

Mentioned yesterday was a forum of such power users, meeting monthly under the auspices of a BI professional.  Sharing experience and best practice is one aim, but it also helps to be aware of the directions people are headed, training needs, and to keep on top of resourcing levels.  I don’t think control should be an issue per se, but with workload decentralisation it’s easy to lose sight of the use of both toolsets and resources, which understanding is necessary when planning updates or changes to environment or data.  Again, it remains important to keep an eye on the use of metrics, where possible via published – and updated – standards, with acknowledged business owners.  This model can become unwieldy when there is not at least centralised insight into the use of the data resources provided.

I don’t think any of this is particularly new, but for various reasons it’s not always effected with sufficient enthusiasm – on either side.  While it’s important to ensure people are reading off the same script, I don’t think that either business or IT interests are served by maintaining BI skills within IT – with or without business analysts interfacing.  Even if there’s pushback from the business units, they will have to acknowledge they are their own subject matter experts, and shouldn’t abrogate that knowledge by delegating to those without a direct interest.

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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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