Thursday, December 29, 2005
Quoted from the Economist profile of Orit Gadiesh - head of Bain & Co.
Ture North: Bain's logo is a compass pointing a few degrees to the right of vertical, and Bainies use the phrase all the time. In the firms Paris office there is a printed notice above the men's loo" "Veuillez viser juste, s'il vous plait. Le "True North" c'est droit devant". (Please aim straight. 'True North', is directly in front of you.
"...What Ms Gadiesh calls the 80/100 rule; the most brilliant solution to a business problem is useless if cannot be implementd, so look for the 80% perfect answer that can actually make a differeince to a client's results.."
I have only limited (though positive) experience of working alongside Bain, yet both these thoughts are worth us all considering. As consultants and analysts is all too easy to follow magnetic north, always shifting, and miss our true destination. Likewise when we advise clients we should always be looking to provide the client with a better way of working. Rather than an idealistic way that the client cannot in reality embrace.
A major cautionary when considering and discussing best of breed vs suite applications is that not everyone has the same definition of which is which. For example I often call firms like Documentum & FileNet, best of breed vendors. Yet within the world of ECM they would more often be called suite vendors.
The reason I call them this is that I tend to have a very broad view of information management. To me unstructured data and structured data, along with paper are all media forms of information that all need to be managed. So when I talk about Enterprise Information Management I am refering to all of these broad areas, and a player such as Filenet would be a best of breed vendor, who would compliment an IBM, SAP or Oracle.
To be perfectly honest, I am the one in the wrong terminology wise, and I should be much more careful. But I give this as an example to caution others. Exactly the same thing happens in world of CRM and even more so in very broad ERP situations. One persons suite is anothers best of breed.
Again to be clear, I believe in the 80% rule - I think it makes sense in today's technology market to tie your ship to one of the leading platform approaches IBM, Oracle, Microsoft or Open Source - and for your 20% buy best of breed. In doing so you lower your integration costs considerably, reduce the number of skill sets you need to support, lessen your concern for future incompatibility due to upgrades, and enhance your ability to outsource tasks and processes.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
No discussion on product selection is complete before the topic of 'Suites' versus 'Best of Breed" comes up. Almost everyone wants to know which route they should take - but it is seldom as simple as one route or the other.
I do wonder if in the world of business applications and information systems whether it is almost a redundant question these days?
If we go back just 5 years ago then it was valid in that many vendors (Siebel, Documentum, Oracle etc) all were offering ever more broad solution offerings. Of course they still are, but there comes a natural breakpoint whereby this is no longer a sensible route to follow.
For example, Documentum (no matter how good they are) can never hope to be the leaders in Record Management, Digital Asset Management, Imagaing, Workflow, Web Content Management, Collaboration etc etc. They can be 'good' at all these things, and they can be 'exceptional' in a couple of areas - but that is the limit.
The same goes for larger vendors such as IBM, Oracle & SAP - you just can't excel at everything. However, one does not always require exceptional product sets and tools. Within reason tools and products that are functional, affordable and fit for purpose will do just fine.
So for many major enterprises at present the current market suggests a hybrid approach and will do for some time to come. The hybrid approach will state that for 70-80% of your needs go to a single vendor. Buy suite functionality that is pre-integrated and relatively simple to maintain and operate. But recognise particular critical needs within your organization (such as heavy duty web content management or salesforce management) and buy best of breed accordingly to meet those areas highly specific needs.
A huge collection of best of breed vendors in one enterprise simply doesn't make economic or technical sense anymore - hence the rush to consolidation. But there are limits to consolidation that need to be recognised. For example some legacy systems should be left well alone, some particular business needs may have critical and difficult to cope with needs that are best suited to a best of breed vendor - with the underlying knowledge that 'most' things can be managed and consolidated within a suite, with attendant cost savings and efficiency gains.
Posted by alan pelz-sharpe at Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Let's talk of a system that transforms all the social organisms into a work of art, in which the entire process of work is included... something in which the principle of production and consumption takes on a form of quality.
Beuys is one of my biggest heroes and influences in life - visiting a huge retrospective of his work in Dublin some 10 years or so ago, changed the way I looked at Art.
With the New Year coming, and change on the horizon - I thought this quote not out of place. All of us who work in IT and Consulting often forget, (or maybe never realize in the first place), just how transformational this all is.
We are in the middle of an actual revolution, a technology revolution that is changing the World in dramatic ways. We in this industry are the revolutionaries - we are quite literally changing the World order.
We need to remind ourselves sometimes of the enormity of change that we are involved in - and that lives and environments are being changed forever.
When we automate a process, or outsource a job - something will never be the same again. Peoples lives and their ecosystems are changed permanently.
That is not to say this is a bad thing, but we do need to think about how we all fit together into this picture - and work together to build better things, systems and structures of higher quality, that deliver benefits to society as a whole - that do more than simply provide a positive return on the next quarterly results.
It seems that big sweeping thoughts, of philosophy, of art or political science and religion are something of the past at times. But if we allow this to be so then we face a very perilous future.
Posted by alan pelz-sharpe at Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Friday, December 23, 2005
"...If you have got a difficult situation, and a lot of players, and some are less good than others, then turmoil is an opportunity..."
"...Fingerspitzengefuhl(fingertip feel) - the sense of a place, you now a place smells, how it feels. A strategist who doesn't have that innate sense about the area he's working in is going to get people into trouble...."
Quoted in connection with profile of Zalmay Khalilizad - The New Yorker, Dec 19th 2005.
When I first posted the little piece on tactical/strategic thinking in consulting, I was pleased to then encounter the two quotes above just a few days later. Though they are from a different (and far more serious context - rebuilding/saving Iraq) than my area of interest (IT efficiency). They are profound and hit to the nub of where my thoughts are at present.
Firstly, when we are looking at markets in the IT sector we need to be aware that much of what is happening has so much momentum that it is going to happen no matter what. If we are buyers of technology then we might just want to avoid looking at the market dynamics too closely, as they can be little more than an obstruction of a clear view toward a decision.(Note: I am currently working on an article for CMS Watch on this topic and will post a link on publication). On the other hand if we are a technology vendor then, that turbulence and turmoil can become a major opportunity. If we look at the major vendors then I stand by my predictions that Oracle, Sun and NetApps could emerge as clear winners in their chosen areas. For despite their weaknesses, and the apparant strengths of their competitors, they are all smart fighters. Fighters with I suspect, Fingerspitzengefuhl - not that they have all always had this. In Sun's case they were very clearly without it for some time, but I think they have it now - and I am not convinced their competitors neccesarily have.
As the sharp reader will note, I cannot due to my role go into details - or critize vendors directly. But I can give praise where it is due!
Likewise, if one is a large enterprise and trying to bring some order to the chaos that you call IT - then you need people who can take a dispassionate and strategic look at the situation to advise you. But that person or persons must (repeat must) be prepared to at least have the ability to measure the pulse of the situation from a tactical viewpoint. In a recent post I mentioned a major error I made, in not recognising that what I saw as a small ongoing project, with a short deadline, actually illustrated widely the depth of the situation the firm was facing. I was seeing everything from 10,000 feet - and when a real world, ground zero situation was given me, I failed to notice its strategic significance. My fingertips were not working too well that day.
In venting my frustration from this particular encounter I have lashed out a little (but fairly I think) at industry analysts. Fair I think in that this is my own background, and though I prided myself (pride is never a good thing) that I was more in touch with reality than many analysts, I was clearly very insulated.
So that led me to think about this strategic/tactical consulting thing again - how do we know reality when we see it? As an analyst I was aware of the pampering by the industry, my distance from the real world - but not as aware of it as I am now. So it is unfair to beat up on those who cannot see things from my perspective. Then again I am not that concerned about fairness. What I am concerned is about getting it right, or to be pragmatic doing it better.
In consulting work, I suspect it is right to have a pre-conceived notion and a methodology you intend to follow - the client is paying for your experience and expertise. But one needs to assiduously test those assumptions with the clients organizatioin and expect those assumptions to change or morph.
My mantra in upcoming engagements (and my diary for 2006 is looking horrifyingly full - so I shall have lots of opportunities to chant) will be to touch base with reality on every project. To insist as a matter of course that I talk with end users, and that I (and my colleagues) spend less time talking and more time listening. Like lots of stuff here it is common sense, but I see so many in this industry who do not follow this rule. How do we get back to root cause, to pragmatic but strategic advice - partly I guess by simply insisting on speaking to end users (often clients object to this activity) - but also as consultants making it clear upfront with clients that we are there to deliver value, not make people smile. Consultants from global management, to local specialists are averse to delivering bad news, they are also far to to easily led into comfortable situations with 'senior executives who advise them on the 'real world' issues within their organization. Executives who are just as far removed from the real world as the consultant.
A strategy is a roadmap to get to a desired destination - or at least to continue successfuly down a particular path. But they are nothing more than castles in the sky unless they can be and are actually implemented.
Posted by alan pelz-sharpe at Friday, December 23, 2005
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I just came across a blindingly good observance regarding information management systems, that goes to the heart of much of which concerns me.
That most IM systems are designed to store and manage information from the perspective of those who created the information. Not from the perspective of those who need to access the information.
There is so much to consider in this simple statement - so much that spans almost all of IT. I do believe that we are starting to see the pendulum swing the other way slighly, but only slightly.
It is interesting to observe - on a differing but parrallel track. The very slow change of user interfaces from early windows/apple to today's version - contrasted with the huge amount of progress in processing power on the back end of systems.
One has to wonder if the same amount of funding that has gone into R&D for code and silicon development over the past ten years, had gone into studying user interactions with technology, where we would be today?
Very little R&D (out of the total) has been excuted on understanding IT from the persepctive of those who need to access the data/information it holds.
The whole point of the rennaisance (from my perspective at least) was that the Arts & Sciences for once worked together. We discovered things like perspective and the golden section for example. The sciences in isolation are not always a healthy thing, and if we look at technology in the enterprise it easy to see the scale of change over the past 20 years. But this has not resulted in happier or (arguably) more productive workers. We have changed the way we work, but not always for the better.
The arts (and here I include psychology and sociology) are miserably under-represented in the tech industry. I believe that this needs to be redressed over the coming years, to ensure that the great progress at the code and silicon level, begins to deliver true and lasting change - change for the better in the workplace.
Posted by alan pelz-sharpe at Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Saturday, December 17, 2005
As part of my realignment into the real world of deployments from the largely theoretical and marketing oriented world of industry analysis, I have observed the following.
New fad's and market trends are usually pushed into the market by vendors and analyst's in tandem. Both typically start talking about them at the same time - hardly suprising. Both get fairly excited that this new trend is a great move for all concerned (ECM, XML. Taxonomy Builders, BPM, whatever). They then predict phenomenal growth over the next five years.
What then happens a year or two down the line is that the forecasts get revised downward and outward. Eventually the growth comes, but almost always much later than expected or forecast.
Why? Well I think what happens is that a seed is sown in the market and then needs time to gestate and mature. So a lot of noise at the start, then a fall from view for a year or two, then an emerging trend is spotted that enterprises are 'finally' embracing the new technology.
Its takes at least two to three years (often more) for these new technologies to take off - because (as I have said elsewhere) analyst firms and to some degree vendors hugely overestimate where their clients are currently at.
It is the same somewhat blindsided vision that Nick Carr exhibited in his famous HBR article - its not that he didn't have a point, it was that he believed the hype relating to the maturity of IT within enterprises.
There is no doubt there is a lot technology running in a typical enterprise, but when you start to dig in a bit deeper it is extremely common to find redundant functionality, failed projects and outdated and inneficient deployments. (For example expensive WCM/ECM systems that are being used simply to check files in and out - is extremely common!).
The problem here is that IT vendors rely on analysts heavily to provide them with real world perspectives, I don't believe that analysts are currently able to do this.
Conversely, I think enterprises need to rely far less on analysts for product selection exercises. Analyst firms such as Forrester, Gartner or my old firm Ovum can provide some excellent information - but nothing beats real world references from other buyers or implementers.
Posted by alan pelz-sharpe at Saturday, December 17, 2005
Thursday, December 15, 2005
A major part of my work over the past years has been in providing strategic advice to larger enterprises and government depts. Guiding people through the technology and business maze, and helping them to make decisions that will help them long term, and cross enterprise.
However, one persons strategic viewpoint is anothers tactical viewpoint. And providing guidance at the tactical or strategic level without reference or context from the other is always flawed.
But getting that context is difficult as one typically works at one level or the other. I was struck with this issue yesterday whilst at a client site.
The client is one that is quite new to me, but I already like them and feel their pain. They have worked dilegently for years, rode the dot.com boom and bust, invested heavily in technology and somehow make things work. Things in this case range from intranets, complex external websites, publishing divisions to internal document management. In many regards a typical large company.
The client wants to do a really good job of consolidating, streamlining and improving the way they work. They want to stay ahead of the curve, but not take silly risks, they want to maximise the value of the investments they have already made, they want to ensure that whatever they do now, will still be of value in 5 years time - they are (for me at least) almost a perfect client.
But yesterday I made a big error, and though I worked hard to resolve the situation - an error it was.
The bottom line is that I started my presenation at far too broad a level - its not that what we were talking about was wrong, just that it was 'too' strategic. What I talked about was of value, and was a conversation they really wanted to have - but, they had some painpointe that needed to fixed in a particular order, regardless of strategic intent.
What annoyed me so much, and I was still brooding on it on the return journey - was that I should have known this in advance and that the error was all mine.
So in practical terms what the heck am I talking about? Simply put it is the fact that no matter how strategic the intent of ones work is, it has to be grounded in today's activities.
No matter if one is planning to build a Content or KM infrastructure across the enteprise, one that will provide a platform for compliant and collaborative working for years to come - there are customers (internal and external) who today have issues that need to be resolved. If those issues are ignored then no matter how grand your enterprise plans are - things will be unlikely to proceed as you hope.
My lesson from yesterday was that as a consultant I need to ensure that I ask, everytime without fail, what is the most pressing issue today that needs to be resolved. By finding that out and ensuring that we are all aware of it, and that this is addressed properly, doors open.
Doors open to a deeper understanding of where the firm is at - what issues they are really dealing with - introduces one to others that may not have been involved in the project, but have pressing needs. Gives one a perspective, that one otherwise would not have.
Of course this is all common sense, but I am fairly sure that I am not the first or only one to have fallen into the trap. The trap is to my mind, dealing with senior people who are embarking on big projects, or product/marketing directors who want to build solutions for the next generation of buyer - without in parrallel initiating a discussion with somebody who is trying to deal with the status quo.
Its not about neccesarily spending time with end users (though that is always a good idea) its about asking and exploring what is the single biggest proplem that the organization is currently facing. When you find that out you find out much much more, and now have a real world, grounded context for the strategic work to follow.
In yesterdays case, the client had prioritized a particular workflow project above others. Though there are a hundered good reasons why this should not be the starting point of such a major undertaking, the fact it is that it is. On further discussion it became clear why and though its still not a great starting point, it provided an insight into this firms particular priorities and perspectives that otherwise I could never have had.
In this regard, understanding this particular tactical level project improvement, provided the context for the much wider strategic level initiative we are planning to undertake. Without this tactical insight I have no doubt our strategic work would be weaker, and have less chance of success.
To truly offer strategy consulting or to position oneself as a futurist - one can only do this credibly if one understands the nitty gritty reality of today. The world is full of good intentions that people fail to execute on. In my particular world, firms are full of unused licence agreements, IT systems that work, but not in the way they were intended to, yet somehow, usually due to human ingenuity and perseverence things do work, it is my firm belief that they could generally work a lot better. Making the effort to find out the most painful point in the firm, regardless of whether it is technically in or out of scope for ones particular project can deliver that anchor point - and save you (me!) from drifting off on an arm waving exercise driven by hot air.
Posted by alan pelz-sharpe at Thursday, December 15, 2005
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
As mentioned in a previous post I was on a panel for the AIIM NE yearly event today. Sadly IDC's Sue Feldman was unable to attend due to Jury Duty, but Carl Frappolo of Delphi and Steve Weissman of Kinetic Information, very ably moderated by AIIM's Peggy Winton, were in there to argue it out with me :-)
I focused on the emergence of the infrastructure vendors into the content management space, and how I have long believed that they should indeed own this space. That if they did then this provided a solid and (relatively) open platform for other to build best of breed solutions off. Overall the sentiment went down quite well I think, and though Carl gamely tried to make a battle of it - in fairness I think we all pretty much agreed with one another.
One theme that did emerge during the morning event was that of the lack of skills. Interestingly nobody appeared to doubt that there was a serious skills shortage in the industry, particularly around taxonomy building, library skills and record management.
Worryingly though there was little agreement on what could be done about this or what the long term impact of the shortage would be. In fairness AIIM is launching a certification scheme, and ARMA already has one - the industry bodies I guess are doing what they can. The issue for me at least seems to be that there remains an unspoken but incorrect belief that technology will find a way to deal with these kind of things for us.
I briefly mentioned to the audience that when I worked in Oil & gas, finding documents and drawings was not a problem. We knew exactly where they were - getting them distributed to remote sites was a problem. With electronic documents the delivery issue is pretty much resolved, things can be delivered instantaneously. But now we have to go search for documents, as many of the RM and DM skills have been lost and newcomers to the discipline rely eroneously on technology to file things correctly.
It seems like a pedantic and maybe even irrelevant point to make - but the way I see it is that managing and distributing documents is at the core of all DM/CM/ECM and most KM work - whether we like to admit it or not. Yet this is what we are getting worse at, not better. We are distributing without control, often to the wrong people, and even more often the wrong versions or information that is completely irrelevant. We are unable to manage the volumes of documents produced effectively, and now have a tendancy of simply throwing things in a huge bucket.
We have far more information than we need, the ease of distribution without control is frightening and we appear to have lost many of the skills to reign the beast in. If this skills shortage is not addressed then the problem will simply grow.
Posted by alan pelz-sharpe at Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Monday, December 12, 2005
Ontologies & Taxonomies
At the KM World event recently I was asked (as was my co-presenter Dr Rao, and moderator Hugh Mckellar) what was the difference between an Ontology and a Taxonomy.
It was the kind of question you always hope somebody does not ask at a conference as it is difficult to answer. Though all three of us struggled to come up with a proper and clear definition on the fly, our combined efforts got it sort of right, and hopefully at least did not mislead the questioner further.
But it was in fairness a good question and one worthy of a proper answer as there is a huge amount of confusion around both of these concepts. So for purposes of clarity:
- Ontology: A model of the semantic and conceptual inter-relationships between various data, to encourge and support exchange, re-use and reduce duplication. Ontologies are built by computer scientists or technical architects and are as much focused on the connections between various software and related data as on the content of the data itself.
- Taxonomy: Are models focused on the document level, providing navigable hierarchies and common understandings of terminology for filing purposes. A good taxonomy provides the means to automatically understand where new content should be filed, and where to find older content all of this often automated.
(There are a range of software tools on the market aiming to provide automation of the taxonomy and ontology building exercise.)
In many regards they are quite different constructs, but they feed one another directly, or at least they should. For the reality is that even in the best funded enterprises one seldom finds a mature taxonomy in place, let alone an ontology.
For information management taxonomies are the bedrock of the information infrastructure, without them in place you have a map but no compass. You can find things, but only with difficulty and it is incredibly easy to lose things. Taxonomies provide a logical, and user friendly structure or tool or find and retrieve information easily and quickly, and to ensure newly acquired or created information is 'filed' properly.
Though good taxonomies make a lot of sense, they require discipline and they also generally require cross departmental support and processes to ensure they work and continue to work.
If you are a mid to large enterprise looking at a DM/WCM/KM or ECM project now or in the near future, starting off by building a solid taxonomy from the get-go will set you way ahead of the curve.
Ontologies on the other hand are quite frankly the latest fad - its not that they don't or can't work, or that one shouldn't build them. More that if you haven't built a taxonomy yet, then you are probably running before you can walk. Get the basics right and the rest will follow.
As anyone who has met me or worked with me will know, I hate emails with a passion. My work depends on them, but I don't have to like them. What I really don't like, apart from the spam is the sheer pointlessness of most emails.
Some emails are simply electronic versions of good old fashioned memo's. So for example the HR department will send out revisions to a benefits scheme. This is a good thing, and I approve, near instantaneos delivery of a complex document to everyone who needs it. But most emails say things like (I quote)
"Alan are you in the office?"
"Are you at your desk?"
Of course I want to say - where the f do you think I would be if I am answering your stupid electronic message?.....But this isn't the end of the message exchange, oh no.
"Yes" (agreed I should not have replied at all)
"Are you busy?"
"Yes I am answering a flood of silly messages from you"
What is the point of this? Would it not be easier to pick up the phone and call me at my desk. This would provide the following information.
Whether I am at my desk or not
Whether I am busy or not
Whether I want to talk to you or not
It will also, if we get an affirmative for all the above, immediately initiate a conversation.
Oh by the way I forgot to say - this person was also in the office, simply sitting around a corner without a clear view of my desk. So in this case even a phone call would be a little superfluous, just getting off one's butt and walking ten paces would I think be the most effecive way to handle this situation. This would provide you with an instantaneous answer to the questions, am I there and am I busy, and even if I don't really want to talk to you, being the generally polite person I am, you have a much better chance of getting me to talk to you whether I like it or not.
So getting off your butt occasionaly and actually talking to your colleagues would in my humble opinion often result in a dramatically improved business process.
I am told regularly by colleagues that I am a luddite - I am not a luddite, but I do think they may have had a point.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Innovation is a constant area for discussion in our consulting practice, I recently had a terrific conversation with Peter one of my colleagues on this. We both agreed that the iPod was an example of great innovation, but struggled to really define why. At the time I was quite frustrated that we couldn't really fathom this.
My take is that what the iPod does " something considerably better than anyone or anything else does it". The iPod was not just an improvement over the Walkman, it was so much better that as soon as it was released onto the market it effectively changed the entire personal hifi industry overnight.
Innovation I guess simply means doing something new and different, it involves craft creativity. But innovation when used in the business and tech sector implies more than that. It implies the 'Eureka!' moment, the moment that a breakthrough is found, more than simply an improvement on an existing situation.
For example I don't think that Solaris 10 is an example of great innovation, but it does appear to be an example of a greatly improved product. Its a lot better than it's predecesors and will bring business value. But innovative....well only in that within Solaris 10 there must have been some innovative moments in the restructring and redesign process.
Where I think we may be missing something, something big, is true innovation in markets, innovation in deployments of technology, and innovation in the way users/humans interact with technology.
At present we see so many overlapping technologies all trying to usurp each other in what they believe to be 'the market', but 'the market' is only 'the market' till somebody defines a new market(the iPod for example), or until consumers define a new market (sms messaging for example). That kind of innovation can deliver an entire ecosystem of new players and impacts in its wake.
Still no closer then to understanding exactly what innovation is then :-)
Posted by alan pelz-sharpe at Saturday, December 10, 2005
Friday, December 09, 2005
I recently asked colleagues around the world for top tips for major IT technology deployments. Asking them to share with me lessons they have learned from the field on what goes well and what does not. This was partly as a follow up to my article on RFI's on CMS Watch, which garnered a lot of comments and even another piece in the press. What was clear from their responses to my request was that people are looking for clear actionable advice on how to do IT better.
The responses I got back from the field quite frankly left me a little puzzled at times. Though there was a lot of tips that that I expected they would give me, there were some real left field observations that I really want to share more widely. So I will (hopefully) in the next couple of weeks write up a more substantial article for one of the publications I sometimes write for.
What I can't yet decide is whether this should be a single article or whether to explore some of these observations individually. For example:-
Simple workflows are less time consuming and better in performance. Balance between workflow and business process simplification is a key factor from the usability prospective.
On the one hand it could be argued that this is simply common sense, but as I like to say (and others are less keen on hearing) is that common sense isn't all that common. On the other hand I think this observation also points to the disconnect between the user (a human being), the organization (an imagined construct - designed to deliver a product or service), and layers of technology that ultimately only understand 0's & 1's.
At the end of the day a computer simply wants to know whether it is a yes or no, a stop or go. The organization on the other hand wants to achieve its stated goals, but recognizes that there may be exceptions that will been to be resolved (yes/no, not sure, resolve, yes/no) and on the third hand or foot a human being who understands that few things in life are simply yes or no - that the real world is not black and white, but a series of shades of grey.
Years ago when I worked in London (Slough the location of 'The Office' actually - horrid place) I studied business processes and created highly complex flow charts using the Aris modelling tool. This was then and remains ( I believe) the most powerful business process modelling tool available. I created huge volumes of paper charts, documenting in minute detail business activities like 'ordering a new part' or 'updating the parts list in a progress procurement system' (exciting stuff!). What I learned there and have never forgotten, is what a freaking waste of time most of that work was. I say most because some of it did have value, and the projects I was fortunate enough to contribute to eventually saved this firm millions. But the job of capturing an apparantly simple process proved near impossible. Designing better workflows from these 'as is' depictions was hard, but not impossible - the key to success was to recognize when to walk away. There were times when it was clear that somebody who appeared to do little in an organization, on closer examination actually held a lot of things together. They often didn't realize this themselves, and we didn't tell them, we just left them alone.
The reason these people were so important is that they had been with the firm a long time, and knew stuff. Stuff that others didn't, stuff they didn't even know they knew. Stuff that was essential to the smooth running of the organization. The way to find out what stuff this person knows, and what value they bring to the table is to lay them off and automate the process. Then you find out. Its a painful way to learn, but remains a very common way.
Keeping workflows simple is certainly one imporant lesson anyone should embrace, but any workflow only works if we fully acknowledge the importance of complex human beings; those who see the world in shades of grey, and do not function at a primative level of 1's and 0's, stop's and go's.
A quick link here to a recent interview I did for IT Business Edge on the topic of RFI's. It follows my pattern of believing that people rush far too quickly to buy IT technology, and spend far too little time looking at what thier real needs are.
I have just finished reading an article in USA Today (you get it free at the hotel - I don't buy it) about Google and how some are now positing that it is moving from a big cuddly alternative to Microsoft to the image of Big Brother. I have also just given up bothering to read a book called "......." this is not because its rubbish (though maybe it is) it's just that I think I got the point of it all pretty early on and don't have the patience to read further - which is sort of ironic when you come to think about it.
I don't really like Google and I never really have. Yet despite that, I have a gmail account and am blogging on blogger.com and use their search engine daily. So clearly I am a hypocrite, but like lots of hypocrites I am also a bit of a tortured soul. I utilize Google it because it currently seems to be the best way, but I am left feeling uncomfortable. Just like Google, push to digitize all the World's books. I don't know exactly what is wrong with that, and the answer may be absolutely nothing - but something does not feel right.
But what I am uncomfortable about is the volume of data that Google is ammassing and what they will eventually do with it. They have a lot of information about you (yes you) they know more about you than you would be comfortable with and not all of that information is good information.
To cut to the chase, at some point in the future (now for some of us) it will be possible to draw up a very accurate picture of you from this data. Simple stuff about your age, address (and exact physical location if logged on), social security number, family members and friends etc is already available, but so too now (and increasingly so) is information on your activities and lifestyle preferences.
If it is true that the majority of searches on google and yahoo are porn related for example, then it is technically possible to build a profile of you from search and web activity on your porn preferences. The reality is you probably do look at and download porn, and if you are a man and say you don't you are probably a liar. Even women are now ever increasingly accessing web porn.
As a fairly fundamental Christian I suppose I should be expected to have little sympathy with this situation. But this is not about the moral and ethical issues around porn, it is about how that information on your web activities could be used.
Look at it this way - blackmailers or corrupt government in the future have a treasure chest to work on. Imagine the future horror of recieving an anoymous message telling you that details of 'your' porn surfing will be sent to your child via email or phone unless you pay up (electronically of course)?
Its a nightmare scenario, but realistically it will happen at some point. Remember for all the efforts at data security, it is insiders who almost always breach the security and commit crimes. If the information is there, if the motivation is there, then it will likely happen.
The kind of data that Google is ammassing, is potentially explosive and gold to those who may exploit it. No wonder Google are trying to pre-empt future legislation by employing lobbyists in Washington. Its not that I don't trust Google per se, but who knows who will have access to this information in the future, what legislation may pass, how it might be exploited and what damage could be done. There should be a broad, open and intelligent debate on the ethics and the future implications on society that this kind of data mountain may have, the future is what we make of it it is not simply predetermined by technology advances.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Next tuesday I sit on an analyst panel at the AIIM New England yearly conference in Boston. This is a little odd as I am no longer officially an analyst having moved on from that job six months back. But they seem keen on having me there - so what the heck I am happy to go!
Question is what exactly am I to talk about? Those who know me know that I am rotten at preparing in advance for speaking events. ....
Yet I have an idea that I will be talking again on the key themes that have kept me going over the past few years:-
- The consolidation of the industry
- The need for more business examination (analysis and case building) before depolyment of systems
- The need to address the mobile community more effectively
In short the major infrastructure vendors will own the infrastructure, and if you are a small player in there with the majors then you better have a good strategy to be acquired or leave quickly.
Almost no major IT projects that impact business processes undertake proper or thorough analysis of needs, or build out actionable strategies before embarking on spending serious money on software, hardware or services.
And the fact that when it comes to electronic information, whether we like it or not it will take on a life in a mobile environment that we currently can't control and few tech vendors are addressing the situation.
I have met one of the other speakers a few times before - Susan Feldman of IDC - who is one of the worlds leading experts in the field of search technologies. But not the other speaker Carl Frappaolo of Delphi whom I have not met before. These events can be fiesty affairs, as there are usually more than a few clashing ego's sitting side by side (mine being occasionaly one of them) - but they are also one of the occasions when a bunch of people who spend all their working hours studying the same topic get together to talk and argue.
Some of the best ideas come from these events. Fingers crossed this will be the case tuesday.
Posted by alan pelz-sharpe at Thursday, December 08, 2005
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
One of the more pleasent things about my work is that I get to meet with lots of people - whilst speaking and moderating at the KM World Conference in San Jose recently I got to meet and share a with Dr Rao, the author of the KM Chronicles.
What struck me in sharing an inpromtue platform with him, was firstly how much I had in common with him (including musical tastes), and secondly how little I had in common with him.
For those who don't know Dr Rao's work - he rightly takes the title thought leader in the world of knowledge management and has spent years studying organizations around the world. His approach is clearly focused on the human and organizational elements of KM. Though that is my passion, my career has actually been highly technically focused.
Coming away from the conference I came to realize that things are actually far worse in the world of tech than we think. The division between tech and the business is starting to close, but the division between tech and the real needs of people is if anything growing.
This is because the gap between the business and people is growing - the passing of Peter Drucker recently has made many in the business community think (briefly) about this disjoint. As here was somebody who articulated well the value of employees, and the short sighted nature of watching the next quarter above all else.
Various themes are coming to the surface for me.......some of them I hope to discuss with him next time I am in Bangalore. But top of the agenda is just how pointless many smaller technology vendors are. They are creating solutions to problems that don't exist and are still stuck in a geek mentality that should have gone with the dot.com crash. This is so sad, as there is a huge amount of opportunity for smaller vendors to really look at the people who interface with technology, start to understand their needs and and build out genuine solutions. But for now they look at the generic 'business' and fail to see the wood from the trees.
In fairness the mega vendors (IBM, Oracle, SAP & Microsoft) also do this, but they can get away with it as they are building out the infrastructure for technology, and infrastructure that is quickly standardizing and commoditizing. The real future creativity and innovation should come from the little start up's, but where are they?
I recently wrote (eloquently due to Tony Byrne's editing skills) on the topic of RFI's over at CMS Watch where I have kindly been listed as a guest analyst :-)
This really is a pet gripe of mine - people who want a to develop a forward ' strategy' but then rush to the RFP stage for technology. It's common place and often driven by the need to fix a problem quickly - but in turn causes more problems down the line.
Particularly in large firms - its time to stop with the RFP's and RFI's for a while - many have more than enough software already for the time being. Pull back and start to develop a genuine forward strategy and build an architecture out of that strategy - then (and only then) invite vendors to respond to an RFI on how they might fit into this architecture.
If you don't you end up with generic responses to generic questions in a premature RFP and in the long run nobody is happy.
Wish me luck - its tuesday evening and its already been a long week!
Monday flew from Boston to Minneapolis where I worked with clients on an ECM strategy project, flew back to Boston tuesday am - 3 hours in the office, then back to the airport to fly to San Jose, CA....
I hope this blog proves to be a resource and place of discussion. The big themes I want to discuss are on the impact that technology has on organisations and businesses. Whether that be through the implementation of a new business application or the outsourcing of a business process.
I believe deeply that it is this area between both worlds that we need to explore more than any other - for this is where the rubber hits the road.