On Blogs and Web Litter

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I just read “On the-volatility-of-startups” – a blog post by Nathan Zeldes, and realized that my last blog post dates back to December 2012.

So I wanted to send out a sign that I am up and running, only that what I am focusing on in the last year is not yet publishable. So by all means, do visit Nathan’s blog and read his Startup’s post – I could not have expressed it better.

I do want to quote his closing lines:
“So dead startups serve as the seeds of new ones. Innovation always moves on!As for the dead websites they leave littering the web… I wish they’d have the presence of mind to do the right thing and wrap things up, sharing with the rest of us what happened, where they’re heading, and what we can learn from it. But they should definitely keep the blog up and available: there’s so much wisdom in a blog’s archives, and it’s all searchable by Google. Let us have that as a parting gift…”

So I’m not near to parting – but I feel better about not nurturing enough my blog…

Who needs meetings? It’s time to start collaborating!

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I came across an insightful blog post of JP Rangaswami about The Maker Generation in the Enterprise, and it’s a good driver for my end of year musing.

A very popular dinner discussion topic with friends and fellow knowledge workers is Meetings. There seems to be a wide consensus that the majority of meetings in the enterprise are useless, yet so far I did not witness any effect of these bitchings. JP describes this extremely well : “layers of people who excel at meetings, who know how to game the process of meetings; the agendas and minutes and presentations and whatnot. Which then leads to the creation of a class of signal boosters, who summarise meetings and fight over who can carry the signal to the next level within the organisation, who slow work down by constantly asking questions designed to boost their signal-booster reputations…”.

I think that this is really a symptom of the failure of the enterprise to adapt to the demographic change. There’s much talk and writing about the shift in the workforce, with Boomers poping out and Millennial filling up the core. Boomers and to a lesser extent X’ers were educated on strictly individual work, where sharing and collaboration were limited and mostly employed for the advancement of one’s own objectives. It should not come as a surprise then that in the workplace, the prevailing work structure is individual focused hierarchy and linear workflows, and the boldest move towards a more collaborative structure was the introduction of matrix management.

But for people who grew up into ad-hoc situational groups and relationships, with almost infinite choices of what to do that make cherry-picking a standard practice, the old-style well defined task-delegation practices and models are irrelevant. Our schools shifted from individual frontal lecture seating to round table group-work and creativity, yet in the typical large enterprise the closest thing to that is a meeting table – debating delegated tasks and status, where conformism and in-line contribution are the best practice.

One of the enterprises that is well adapted to the demographic change is Google, which in a sense reflects very well the modern school induced work practices. I remember someone telling that at Google, when a work group is too large to feed on a single pizza, it is broken up into smaller groups. Those groups are largely empowered, self-regulated and autonomous about how they work, and yet compete with each other fiercely and bring out the best from both individuals and groups.

While longer established enterprises will take more time to adapt, the introduction of social technologies into the enterprise is a key enabler. In my experience, a major (if not the main) obstacle to productive collaboration was employee resistance to information sharing. Similarly, all the attempts to develop smarter systems that embed human knowledge failed, because individuals were not motivated to share their information.

That should not be the case for the Facebook and Twitter generations, quite to the contrary. Sharing is a motivation and even a requirement. Enterprises should jump on the occasion and enable internal information sharing by all means, starting with social technologies and then integrating these into smart systems. Some immediate benefits for the enterprise would include “who knows” rather than “who’s who” directories, revealing “dark holes” of information into the open, persistent and accessible content, continuous knowledge growth, and unlocking of hidden opportunities.

So here’s my suggestion for a new year resolution – practice what we preach as educators, and help to enable the enterprise for the coming generations.


A Tip on the Long Tail of Top Management

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Taking risks is inherent in top management roles, but some often suppressed aspects are isolation and doubt. With the increase of economic and political uncertainly and complexity, top managers need to be able to ponder alternatives and decisions with stakeless peers – something that they cannot find in their Boards or management groups.

This need starts to be addressed through an innovative combination of people and technology.

It is no secret that the 50+ employment market for senior managers is shrinking at an accelerated pace. Many seniors turn to consultancy services as an alternative. This move is not only motivated by economic reasons (income), but also by professional and lifestyle reasons. Indeed, lifescience and healthcare extended our life expectancy to a point where many seniors are fit and eager to continue working well into their 70’s.

The Internet and related technologies prompted and enabled tailored and personalized conduct of business (“The Long Tail”), where individualized products and services are sold in unit quantities to large numbers of consumers – at mass market prices.

Emerging business consultancy practices build upon these new realities and offer long tail senior management consulting. The underlying idea is to promote the wealth of knowledge and experience of available senior managers via relevant internet platforms, offering very flexible and tailored engagements – a phone conference, web session, several day missions or long term engagements.

Now, top management roles can be more effective and less lonesome, and obtain stakeless peer support in virtually any field. When faced with a critical decision, top managers can resort to one of these practices and obtain just the right amount of the right support – without having to pay arm and leg.

For reference, here are a couple of long tail consulting practices: www.ceo-europe.com, www.zintro.com

Cloud and the end of the PC era

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I was asked to comment on the question “Are we close to the end of the PC era?” at ebizQ. It was a good enough question to prompt this post.

Indeed we are – I’d say that we’re already beyond it. I think that the proliferation of web applications is the curtain call of the PC era, leading the way to the Cloud era. I consider myself an avid PC user and cherish its stand-alone autonomy, yet I already use my PC mostly to access web based applications. And without web access, much of the stand-alone value would become a moot (or should I say Stale?) point.

The PC era introduced the practice of Business Empowered IT, in which the central IT department was short-circuited by business units who needed situational solutions “now and here”. That practice is endowed to the Cloud era, but in a more mitigated manner.

After the heady drunkenness of Business Empowered IT adoption, enterprises woke up to the hangover of unmanageable application portfolios and business disruptions due to rogue code. The result was a backlash trend towards centralized IT, which made PC’s a physical extension of the computing centre.

But it did result in a role change, in which Business got the lead role in requisitioning new solutions and IT projects.

The introduction of the Cloud and SaaS brought back some of the PC era Business Empowered IT practices, as the well-known example of Salesforce.com demonstrated. But at a very different level. What we see now is actually Business Empowered Solutions (or Business Technology, as Forrester termed it), in which what really matters is the process and not the IT implementation.

That is further amplified by the rapid adoption of mobile computing, in particular smartphones and tablets. As long as you have web access, who cares about the device?

And as one would expect, in the Cloud era we see completely new business practices and enterprises, which are the embodiment of Business Technology.

Take for example eBay and its Partner Network business (ePN). This whole business revolves around web sites and applications which reference eBay offerings and catalyse sales of eBay merchants. That’s actually a business which is already derived from existing Cloud business, and which could not exist without a thriving internet economy.

The PC, or any other IT equipment, has become immaterial and a commodity.

So here we go – applause to the good old PC, and Hello Cloud.

The 3 U’s of Business Technology

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I attended yesterday the annual customer event of Creativ Software, and was dazed to see Business Technology at the down-to-earth level.

Creativ is a small ISV with a big part of the Swiss market for non-profit organization management software. Their customers are non-nonsense people who do not care much about technology, and the nature of their business forces them to run a lean operation with a very compelling and personalized attention to their constituencies.

Yesterday, I witnessed some 100 such users express “wows” and “aha!” and wide smiles when the Creativ team showed them their new “OM V10” product. It was not about the visual design, which is great. It was about the small things that you wish every day were done with more insight into your work. It starts with context persistence across the board, and reaches as far as automated background updates of the contact addresses via third party services. All of that, of course, without having to install anything on your workstation or device…

You may ask at this point where Business Technology comes into this. In my view, that IS Business Technology. It is the intimate and extended use of technology that performs parts of the business. Creativ’s solution is a useful and usable part of the NPO business environment and it is also used – in personalized and fit for the purpose variations – not only by a few subject matter specialists but by the broad community of stakeholders.

How did Creativ achieve such a feat?

About two years ago, when I worked with Magic Software on the elaboration of
the uniPaaS RIA platform, I met with Andy Schwengeler – Creativ’s CEO – to get his reaction to Magic’s new offering. Andy was adamant about usability and architecture. He told me that he was willing to go as far as to redevelop his entire solution if he could achieve a rich user experience as well as the latest flashy and intuitive designs, with zero Client management (or in other words a Cloud based RIA architecture) and a SaaS capability. He finally chose to work with uniPaaS RIA and the Extreme Programming methodology, and brought into the loop one of his most demanding customers as a watchdog. I heard very little from him until a few weeks ago, when he surfaced and invited me to the event.

I had the opportunity to chat a bit with some of the developers and get their take about this achievement. What they said further confirmed the blurring of the distinction between business and technology. In fact, technological advancement further challenges solution vendors for line-of-business expertise.

So there are some things that stay the same even in this age of accelerating change. The well-known recipe for success is still a valid one. If you want to be a successful solution vendor, you must know the relevant business practices better than most of your target customers. Because in order to achieve Usefulness, Usability and Usage, you will have to deliver a solution that embeds and abstracts much of the particular processes and practices which are the fundamentals of their business.

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A cut through the hype of Enterprise Mobility

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During the last few months I did a deep dive into the Mobile Apps world, in particular in the Enterprise context. I talked with a lot of industry analysts, vendors and enterprise customers and I would like to clear away some of the smoke and mirrors that abound in this bubbling market.

A first distinction must be made between large “desktop” format mobile devices and the smaller smartphone devices. Even though netbooks and some laptops are very mobile, they provide a very similar user experience and usability to the ubiquitous Desktop PC’s. The availability of thin clients such as Silverlight, Air or uniPaaS extends the reach of the Desktop beyond the office, but it is an evolution – not a revolution. And it’s not what is usually meant by Enterprise Mobility.

The seeds of an upcoming revolution are in the mobile app style, which is exclusively the domain of handheld devices. The usability patterns of apps are very different. One could compare this difference to what happened when the world moved from “green screen” character terminals to “grey screen” graphical user interfaces and powerful personal computers. That is the magnitude of the change to expect.

Another similarity to the early PC era is the proliferation of hardware and operating systems with no or poor compatibility and a very fast rate of change. For an individual developing one app this might be manageable, but for an enterprise that wants to deploy some functionality this becomes very fast a costly nightmare.

Newcomers to Enterprise Mobility often start by thinking that the idea is to transpose an important desktop process to the mobile device “the Citrix way”. Reality is different – mobile apps address specific and concise functions that are very simple to use yet are intimately tied and related to the core enterprise IT.

That is the real challenge and benefit of enterprise mobility. I’ll look at some related technology in a forthcoming post.

How will cloud computing change the IT organization?

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With the proliferation of 2011 forecasts for Cloud Computing, it might be worthwhile to take a step back and look at a longer term horizon. Clearly, Cloud Computing would significantly impact the IT organization. I am probably not the only one to expect it to push IT further away from the technical terrain to the functional one.

That trend is not new. About 30 years ago , Alvin Toffler wrote In his futurology book “The Third Wave” that most upcoming IT professionals would not do programming but rather adapt pre-programmed software to business needs. Indeed, Enterprise Architects, Solution Specialists and Business Process Experts have already substituted Programmers and System Analysts in most IT organizations (in the Enterprise). It is about time for a name change: from IT to BT (Business Technology)…

Cloud Computing brings what might be “The Forth Wave”, in which the technology itself is abstracted –replaced by increasingly complex and intertwined application services which support business processes. The technology – both the hardware infrastructure and the fine grained software functions – is being offered as a consumable commodity, often as a service. BT is about selecting and orchestrating these consumables to fit and support the business activity of the enterprise. Programming and Software Development is relegated to specialized organizations. Analogies that come to my mind are car manufacturers and garages, although their products and services are much simpler.

Banking is a major early adopter of computing, and this move to BT is very visible when one examines the personnel composition of a bank. BT has taken over many processes that were previously performed by specialized back-office employees, and many consumers prefer to use self-service BT processes rather than be waited upon. That’s Convergence – a topic that merits quite a few dedicated discussions.

So here’s my question – how would you define the profession of a banking BT employee – a Banker, or a Computing Professional?