Monday, October 22, 2007

What is the goal?

I often sit in customer meetings thinking to myself, "why are they doing this?". I do this not because I think of myself as so much more enlightened than them, but because I want to understand the motivations for the task(s) at hand. Often times attractive slide decks are placed together to convey such points but they often miss the human factor and are solely focused on some bottom line financial component. What I have uncovered being in the consulting world for the last two years though is that the "why" question is such an iceberg. If you had 8 people in the room, there would be 16 different answers, but the important thing is that more than 1/2 of them would be personal.

I have seen some great consultants in my time in this industry. The good ones know how to get to this and how to pull out all 16 answers. They ask questions such as "how do we make you, specifically, successful". They understand that there are motivations that go way beyond the corporate strategy presentation with every group. They also understand that technology, project and solution success is at risk because of these motivations. I think one of the saddest realizations I had in my recent job was that I got to really see that a particular technologies success or failure really had little to do with how good the technology was. Now granted if the technology was horrid then it failed. However, if selection was clearly better than another it had no bearing if that lesser one was going to make the decision maker more successful. The "no one got fired for buying IBM..errr...Microsoft" is prevalent. It might not be the best decision but it is a safe one.

"What is the goal"? I would say if software companies want to be successful in the long run do the following:

1) Build a safe brand
2) Team with the consultants that are really consulting and not just implementing
3) Teach your own folks to solution sell and get at the root of what is going on.

Anyway, I would also like to remember that there are larger goals out there. I got reminded of that this week when two individuals I would call friends have been nailed with Stage 4 cancers. One of them is still fighting the fight and needs help. Anything you can do, head to and read.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Data Visualization

There has been a shift in how data is consumed in the last 5 to 8 years. Appropriately so, I believe the consuming data in context and particularly the proper use of process based portals has changed how the typical end-user believes they should be able to find information. Over the next 5 to 8 years I believe the contextual process based mini-portals will become the norm for consumption (some call these mashups). During that time I believe another shift will occur and that is how we view the data that is now gathered in one place. Data Visualization is a term I take a little bit of leeway with. People usually stove pipe data visualization but to me it can mean any image or model that is driven or associated with data. By the way, I like to remind people that this is not a new thing either. The GIS community has been doing this for a decade. The spreadsheet folks have been doing this for longer than that with its charting and mapping capabilities. We were even doing this in Lotus Notes back in the early to mid 90s with hotspot images front-ending a database application.

The reason that I think data visualization is that next wave is for two reasons. The first reason is that for complex processes it is the simplest means for consuming mashed up data. Take a product like OpenView or Tivoli. No one really wants to wade through all of the different log files, patch information, system components, etc… they just want to look at a network topology map and see if the box/line/etc… is green or red. In these types of instances, there is data overload when simply monitoring the exception and quickly understanding what that exception means in context is the most important task. The second reason is that we are getting a huge wave into the workforce of users in the US that are gamers. Gamers are use to data visualization. Go play WoW, EQ2, Half Life, Vanguard, CoH, etc… and you soon get an idea of the vast amount of data that is contained in a world of nothing but visualization. Spend some time in Sims online or Second Life and you see the same model alive and well in a virtual but not game specific community. These users will demand data visualization because they understand the power of it. Being a gamer for so long, I might be biased on this but personally I am deeply excited.

For me I see data visualization as the end to the document/record model we are so trapped in today and instead data could take any form. Think of it like nature in that data is the DNA that makes up the final organism (visualization). The visualization layers will become just as dynamic and will be able to take form based on the smallest component’s sequencing, function and placement. If you want to see someone that gets it, go check out Their Bridgeworks Engine/Platform shows just a piece of what they are capable of and just a pinhole for where this area is going but man what a sight and hope through that pinhole!!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I watched the new iMac launch yesterday and it left me thinking, "why not". I am working with a University that has just agreed to outfit some of their labs with iMacs. The reason, because it can run Windows seemingly as well as a Dell. This has got me thinking, "Are the iMacs pointing us to the future?"

My father went to work for GE back in the late 60's/early 70's after getting out of the Air Force (I promise this is relevant). One of the perks of the job was that he always got to bring home the latest appliances because that was the section he worked in. I remember when the side-by-side refrigerators came into fashion. There were a lot of factors that pushed it. 1) More and more food had preservatives in them and didn't need to be refrigerated so there was less space needed to store cold food. 2) Families grew smaller and didn't need as much storage. 3) The average house wasn't even close to the square footage as it is today so space mattered. People saw that they could get rid of their old freezer and refrigerator and get a combination that fit in the same amount of space as just one of their old appliances.

So how the heck is this relevant? Well I think it shows a trend that people often apply to only computing technology. That is individuals want less physical things that can do more functions. Look at cell phones, Phone + PDA + Camera + GPS device. Part of the problem in my opinion though is that different OS's are better for different types of activities. I think Vista has proven that for me because I bought the Home Premium and it is still just Windows. I know there are a lot of cool things underneath Vista, but at the end of the day even with my $600 vid card for my on-line gaming fix, it still isn't better than the Wii for gaming. Some of that is hardware but a lot of that is simply OS. The new iMac though showed me that hardware is no longer the factor with a single chip set, multiple OS's can be ran on a device. Wouldn't it be cool to have a single computing device that was good for business applications and great for on-demand media and great for music composition and great for gaming. Wouldn't it be cool to have a cool new smart phone that also was a great mobile gaming device (I am talking DS or DS lite cool not Live Search club cool). Well I think the iMac is showing us that this is and should be possible.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Quick update on the gaming console crow

Even though I took a shellacking from my friends about the PS3 comments, it is proving to be correct with one twist. Microsoft is gaining the most share, Sony is bombing (so much so they have already lowered their price before the holiday season) and Nintendo is gaining all of Sony's share minus a bit to MS. I suspect to see Nintendo drop their price by the holiday in a surprise move, but not too surprising since they are the only company to make money off of their system. I then see the xBox 360 and PS3 following suit and for Sony yep that will be the second price drop in a year.

It is all about the data

...but the question is where to start. I can't tell you how many times I go into an account and they have no idea of the data models that are behind their systems or if the models they have are adequate or factual. I would say it is fair to say that most IT organizations view modeling as a nice to have still. It should not then come as a surprise that most applications are still deployed as a stove pipe within the organization. See to truly integrate systems you must have a good understanding of each system. I am not talking about an arbitrary pump of data to fill out a form either when it comes to integration, but I am talking about true data reliance when we finally achieve these service oriented architectures we talk so much about. Here is the most common excuses I hear from IT about modeling when we go into do IT master planning.

1) We have too many systems and too much legacy data
2) Modeling takes more time than it is worth
3) The users won't put in all of the data required so we have bad data
4) Not all systems require it because we are not integrating all systems
5) We have some systems that we cannot customize

I understand and can empathize with individuals that if you have never done it and have a medium size IT infrastructure, the task can be daunting. However, it is not just one large task and can be split up into several bits. Here are the first two that I suggest.

1) Catalog your current models and objects

Objects in the models are things such as employees, customers, locations and orders, for example. Once there is a good grasp of these objects, the group should pick one. I usually start with employees because it is the easiest place for people to grasp what kinds of data they would want to know about an employee or to have a way to uniquely identify them as they move from system to system.

The next two steps are to then determine what will be the "main" system that houses the authoritative data set for this object (Active Directory, an ERP system, a Customer Service system, etc...) and what systems this object appears in. It is not necessarily the case all of the time that there will be a main system, but if possible it make the data integrity easier.

Once the group goes through that exercise they should be able to rinse and repeat for all objects. Once they have all objects they should be able to go back and build out the models for all of the systems. Not always that easy but it gives them a good foundation.

2) Begin to change the user input

I love the "The users won't put in all of the data required so we have bad data" excuse. I tell the groups if a customer filled out an order or a contract but didn't put their name, the company name or a signature would you except it? There is no reason to accept partial data if there is a good business reason why full data needs to be captured.

Some of this behavior is caused by the fact that not all of the information is integrated. For instance, I know as a user if I put in a unique identifier on a form (e.g. e-mail address) there should be no reason why a company shouldn't be able to pull my address from their data banks if I had put it in before. Users will get really tired of filling in long forms and view it as a work detractor instead of something that is helping them.

Take that one object that the group identified above and start to change the input of that object to match the model you want and force the data integrity. If you start off a little bit at a time the users will get use to having to put in data of a certain format without it seeming too overbearing. Gradually introduce the rest of the input for objects until eventually you have a system that logically makes sense and you are ensuring that you are capturing the data to run that system.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Social Networking

It has been interesting to see how people are reacting this last year to social computing technologies as they become part of the mainstream packages (Lotus Connections & Microsoft MOSS) and as other technologies (SocialText) become real opportunities for enterprise sized organizations. We have been approached by a whole lot more companies/organizations than I ever would have thought (of course my expectations were low <30) wanting to know more about how they could use it and what they could use it for.

The software industry still suffers from marketing self gratifications in this space. What I mean by this is that we come up with words like Wiki, Blog or RSS and post it around like everyone knows what the heck we are talking about. When you ask a non-tech outside they seem to think you are talking about a fruity drink with an umbrella (Wiki), some new form of the creeping crud or something you go 4-wheelin' thru if you are down in KY (Blog), or the latest Rave party drug (RSS). I remember the most hilarious meeting I had been to in a while was one that we brought a vendor to that had blog technology. They pitched it to the customer (someone that has about $600M in capital improvement programs a year) as a tool that "your organization can begin to build communities of interest from". The customer then turned around and said, in all seriousness, "I pay these folks to work not talk about knitting". LOL!

Let me help then a bit. We have been playing around with a lot of social computing tools and solutions lately. My company is about to role out social computing to about 20,000 employees in the next 4-6 months. We have 3 schools, 4 municipalities, 2 defense organizations and about 8 enterprise organizations that are currently going through the evaluation stages and a couple of those are actually now exiting to solution deployment. So what are all of these folks using it for.

1) Talent Retention. You want to keep good talent make them feel like they are part of the company and that their words are heard. When we establish these types of technologies for this solution, we establish a methodology that engages the top management to either participate directly or to ensure their participation in commenting in the community. We all know that tool such as e-mail, the telephone and stop by meetings are horrible ways for people to stay in touch with what others are thinking. However, if you have 10-15% of your staff participating it gives you a good vibe on the community and smart management can make adjustments.

2) Mentoring. We have several industries that the talent pool is retiring at a much faster pace then the new crop is coming through school or that technology can keep up with. That being said, these organization must find a way to capture the knowledge of those users and pass it along to the masses. Things like building classroom curriculum isn't always the most effect. We use these technologies to build a "pod of knowledge" to team people up on tasks but to ensure that the work is a cooperative effort.

3) A One-Way Communication. I know this goes against the concept of "social" computing a bit but I tell you it these are some nice tools if you want to publish updates on processes such as RFI/RFP. There are many type of black hole processes where people are afraid to open the flood gate of communications but with this they can just push out updates that are much easier to do than managing a web site.

I could go on, but that is it for now...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Going to take another stab

Well I got nailed the first time I tried to do this. I think I had some things set wrong on the blog and thus I created way more traffic for myself then I ever intended. I am ready to give this another go and have switched things around so that users can just post without my scanning the posts first (which by the way caused too many people to send me e-mails instead of just posting on the blog...a dynamic in social computing to blog about later).

My goal in this next go around is to post once a week. I have learned a ton on this area in the last 6 months or so as the consulting group I am with rolls out more and more social networking solutions. One of the big lessons is to be consistant. I think once a week is a schedule that I can keep....hopefully.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Eating some crow or shark

Well it seems like I was wrong about the Playstation 3. The pre-orders sold out around here in less than 15 minutes and it seems like the latest reservations lists are pretty long. It is insane but I guess this seems to be a product more of the aging gaming population that has $600 to drop versus the disposable income of the teens.