User Needs...

I have just finished reading the autobiography of Steve Jobs.  Very interesting and it got me thinking.

The Steve Jobs mantra is that customers and users do not know what they want until you give it to them.  Who of us knew we needed an iPad until we saw one and then purchased one.

Remember the famous Henry Ford quote of "If I asked my customers what they wanted they would have said 'a faster horse' "

There is also a school of thought that we need to develop user centred design so that we develop IT systems that users want and need.  

Do these two schools of thought contradict each other?  

I think not.  The important thing in user centred design is to as soon as possible show users what an IT system will and could look like and get them to touch it, feel it and use it.  They may ask for things to be added and changed.  You can also add things that they didn't know they wanted and see if they do really want them and need them.

Using this approach will avoid the age old trap of users specifying lots of requirements and what they think they want in their heads and then IT going away and translating this into an IT system that misses the mark.  Try getting five people to describe a car in words and then getting someone to build it from the words.  You will get some interesting results.

User centred design and delivery will allow users to quickly be able to touch, feel and see stuff and then say "nah maybe not" or "wow that is good how about adding this".  All before too much time and money is spent building stuff.

Humans like to see and touch and play with things.

IT Strategy - does it need to die and be reborn?

Once upon a time there was a business that mowed peoples lawns – LawnMo Inc. One day the technology arm of LawnMo Inc came up with the strategy for IT for the business. The vision of this strategy was technology that would perform mathematical calculations very fast with 100% accuracy. The technology people thought this was brilliant and would transform the business. In simple terms it was the calculator.

The technology arm went to the LawnMo Inc board and presented the strategy. With calculators you could do calculations faster, smarter and cheaper. It would enable you to quickly calculator the size of the lawn that needed to be cut and thus what the right lawnmower to use needed to be. It was a very impressive presentation.

The board listened to the presentation and at the end there was silence for 1 minute. Then one of the board of LawnMo Inc said.
That is indeed a very interesting strategy by the technology arm. Very interesting indeed. One question. How is it going to help us achieve what we want to do next with LawnMo Inc?”

What is that?”, said the technology person.

Well”, said the board member, “It is to reduce the cost of cutting peoples lawns. We want to be able to make our lawnmowers more fuel efficient. How will your calculator IT strategy help us to achieve that?”

Well it won't directly. It will help our finance department though”, said the technology person.

Well, your IT strategy has no value to LawnMo Inc at this present time”, said the board member. “You can build your calculator but it will just sit on the floor and no one will use it. It will have no value to us. We could have used it in our finance department but our strategy is to outsource that.”

Oh dear”, said the technology person. “I think we had better go back and ensure that the LawnMo Inc IT Strategy helps you achieve your vision”

Better than that”, said the board member. “Why don't you work with the people putting together LawnMo Inc's strategy and where relevant add in any IT that can help us achieve what we want to do”

And so that is what the technology person did. So LawnMo Inc had the LawnMo Inc Strategy, and where relevant the required IT to help them achieve it was detailed.

So why do organisation still have IT strategies? There is no need for businesses to have an IT strategy. IT strategy is dead. What a business needs is a strategy for it's business. Within this strategy, where relevant, will be strategies for IT required to enable the overall strategy for the business.

So if your organisation creates business strategies and IT strategies ask yourself is this the right thing to do? Should you not just have one strategy for the business covering all the relevant functions that make up the business? All aligned to the overall vision and goals of the business.

Is the iPad a glimpse of what future computing will be like?

I just got an iPad and I have to admit this is what computing should be like. I know there will be those who despise Apple products. However it is not because the iPad is made by Apple that makes me think this. It is because of how it performs and functions.

In simple terms I think this because
  • it turns on instantly. None of this MS Windows or Mac booting and sitting around twiddling your thumbs with the iPad;
  • you don't have to get into the bowls of it and be an amateur techie to get things working or fixed
  • using the applications is intuitive and you can work it out without fear of crashing your machine or getting some technical configuration dialog up;
  • using touch to get things done is fast and again intuitive;
  • it is a good size and weight. Not too big, not too small and not too heavy.

What convinced me even more of this is that my wife uses it and likes to use it. My wife is not a technology fan and hates PCs and electronic gadgets in general. She thinks the iPad is quick and convenient as she can use it whenever and wherever she wants and needs it. If we fancy seeing a movie we can just turn it on and check the cinema listings in the kitchen. Just like picking up the listings from the paper.

Another incident that convinced me was when I was using my laptop and my youngest wanted to do things by touching the screen. To this two year old it was the obvious thing to do and the keyboard was not.

So these are some of the reasons I think, and hope, the iPad is the future of what computing will look like and perform like.

I haven't yet tried to use it to read a book yet so it may not replace everything just yet.

One final point is that I wrote this blog on the iPad at a time convenient to me and it was a breeze.

Footnote (Nothing is perfect)
(1) iTunes needs sorting though. Having all you iPhone and iPad apps in one list is not user friendly. Maybe this is due it being an PC/Mac application ;-)
(2) I have to admit that I had to post the blog from my laptop as the Blogger editor doesn't yet appear to work on the iPad Safari browser.

What if kids ran your business

I was watching television the other day and saw the advert for Andrex toilet tissue where they have a baby running the company.

It made me recall a conversation I had with my 6 year old daughter some time back were she wanted to do something the next day but we had other plans. I said to her “There are lots of things Daddy wants to do but he can't” as I pictured some of the dreams and ambitions I have had and still have. Some fulfilled and others not. I will always remember her reply to me “Why not?” The innocence of a child I thought whose world has not been set any boundaries as to what can and cannot be done.

On another occasion I got a great piece of advice from someone who told me “to get your point across to any audience write it in 2 or 3 sentences as though explaining it to a 6 year old”. A piece of advice I have used since and it works. Try it especially if you want someone to explain something to you. It is challenging but the results are worth it.

So this got me thinking I wonder what it would be like if we got some children still at school into the working environment and told them what we do and challenges we have and asked them what they would do to resolve them?

For example I wondered how my daughter would get an organisation to embrace Enterprise Architecture. So I asked “how would you get someone to build something in a way you wanted them to do it”. She replied “I would build it first so that they could copy it”

I then asked “What would you do if they would not copy it?” and she said “Find some other people to copy it”

Sounds like she is creating a stakeholder power map without knowing it.......

I wonder what possibilities would be created if we thought in the same curious, inventive and unbounded mind of children? Are they the great untapped innovators?

Next time you have a challenge approach it with a view that no idea is a bad idea and break down those perceived barriers you have built up over time.

Footnote – Is Bob the Builder an Enterprise Architect? The other day my daughter said to me “Before you start anything you need to have a plan of what you want to do and how to do it. Just like Bob the Builder” Is she an Enterprise Architect in the making.......

Open Business

I have entitled this post Open Business. It could quite easily be titled Open Government, Government 2.0, Open Insurance, Open Retail, Open any business for that matter. So for the purposes of my thoughts here today I have made it generic and called it Open Business.

I was thinking of actually calling it Open Enterprise which then got me thinking. If I was going to call this Open Enterprise and now I am calling it Open Business should we bite the bullet and get rid of the term Enterprise Architecture and call it Business Architecture. It is the architecture of a business after all. Let it encompass all the layers of an Enterprise Architecture that we have today – business, application and technology. Maybe call the layers something like operation, application and technology layers of an organisations Business Architecture? Operation may not be the best term but hopefully you understanding what I am trying to saying. It may help to get rid of the stigma of IT not being part of a business when it is. Something I have written about previously in you never here of business/finance alignment. Anyway that is maybe for another discussion.

The purpose of this posting is around opening up an organisations knowledge capital to allow others to create innovative and exciting value from it. The United States Government has an initiative on-going at present,, to provide access to government data for others to use and create innovative and exciting applications. The UK Government is doing a similar thing with as part of Smarter Government. We all know how google maps is changing the way we find out where places are and how to get to them both on the Internet and on smart devices such as the iPhone. Is there a website with a location service on it anywhere that doesn't use Google Maps these days?

This is all good stuff and there are some really innovative and exciting opportunities being created. I love Google Maps on the iPhone with the overlay of traffic data hot spots. Information is important, see Wisdom Hierarchy. However the one thing that strikes me about this is it just providing information.

For me the real opportunities are in governments and organizations that not only provide access to the information that they hold, they also provide access to core business services and functions that they perform. In simple IT terms a set of business application programming interfaces (APIs). This, coupled with access to an organizations information, will provide really ground breaking innovative applications for consumers.

Imagine a world where you can go to book a holiday from a site called (I made this up and the domain is for sale...). It takes in your personal information of where you have been, what you like to read and watch, integrates that with information from travel companies on what destinations may match what you like and then offers a set of option. You select an option and it makes the booking direct from the site with the company offering the holiday. It also books any transfers and train ticket. This is because that company has not only provide access to its data it has provided an API for others to use. So have the train companies to book train tickets and airline companies for flights. You don't have to book them individually and you don't need an administrative person doing the bookings in the background manually.

This is only a simple example but the possibilities for consumers are immense. More choice and value. For the organizations that provide the information and APIs it offers many more avenues for access to the services they provide rather than people having to go to them directly.

Imagine the possibilities if government not only offered access to its information but also provide APIs to allow you to claim benefits, tax your car and renew your passport. The opportunities seem endless.

So to me Open Business is not just opening up access to information but also to core business services and functions to provide innovative transactional opportunities. Roll on Open Business

Strategically Relevant Technology

Whilst reading some stuff in the blogosphere this week I came across the following blog post from November 2009 in 2020 Science.

There was a paragraph in this that just jumped out at me as simple, straight to the point and true. It is why IT strategies and IT visions created in IT departments are never implemented and why IT people get frustrated. It stuck in my mind so much that I wanted to reproduce it.

Strategically relevant technology does not just happen. It depends on targeted investment, coupling outputs to needs, and working with stakeholders to develop and implement appropriate and acceptable solutions. And it takes time – lots of it.

All too often there is an arrogant, we know better attitude in IT and it is little wonder that the rest of organisation just goes off and does it's own thing.

IT organisations need to communicate, work with and be part of an organisation not just order takers or a creators of stuff.

They need to ensure that IT ideas are linked to the needs of the organisation and its aims and objectives otherwise you are relying on a build it and they will come approach. Understand what they want and maybe what they don't realise they want and convince them they need it.

I was once told by an executive that one of the best training for IT professionals are sales courses to learn the art of selling stuff.

It does take lots and lots of time and lots and lots of conversations and lots and lots of selling to build up that trust, reputation and relationships for IT people and the IT organisations.

The hard work is ,however, worth it as the rewards, relationships and outcomes you create within an organisation are immense.

Low Tech Crowd Sourcing

It is strange but this week both my world of internet information in the form of blogs, social networks, RSS feeds etc. and my world of work seem to have been dominated by a focus on Enterprise 2.0. It got me really excited about the possibilities in a business organisation.

But is this all something new or is it just good ways of working that have been around before repacked for the 21st Century?

There are times when we have an idea, vision or thought of what could be done. However we don't quite know the outcome in exact detail. We have a feeling and unclear image of the outcome. It just feels like a good outcome. People call it intuition, application of experience and knowledge or just plain luck. So what to do?

One approach I use in these situations is get together a group of people who have an interest or stake in this area and others who don't but are innovative thinkers. I then put forward my unclear thoughts and open it up to the group of people. Is it mad, does it feel right, what do people think? The group then verify and build on the thought. This can result in my initial unclear outcome image being shot down in flames (and I learn something), becoming a clear outcome, an even better outcome or an outcome I didn't even think about. The group also feel ownership and empowerment as they helped to create the outcome.

This is what I am now going to call low-tech crowd sourcing. I may even patent it and call it LoweTech© Crowd Sourcing after my surname! It is getting a group of people together for a 30 minute discussion on an initial thought (I am a big fan of 30 minute meetings as they are focused and get results) using low tech tools such as the telephone or just meeting face to face. And most importantly it works.

So maybe crowd sourcing is LoweTech© crowd sourcing for the 21st Century