You need to know what you are doing

It sometimes amazes me that the simple things are often forgotten about and people dive into firefighting and ideas generation. They miss the big picture and end up busy being busy.

One of these is the simply having a list of stuff that you are doing and is going on. What is sometimes called a portfolio. What is even more amazing is the difficulty people have in gathering the information to create one.

I have frequently had to create a portfolio of initiatives at the start of a new role. If for the simple area of just getting an understanding what is going on.

My approach has always been to get something that is just good enough in order to get things started. All too often the purists try and create the perfect portfolio that satisfies everyones desires. They ultimately fail to deliver anything and the organisation carries on as before.

My portfolios have gaps and initially have inaccurate information. However the practice of putting it on the table and regularly reviewing it cleans it up over time. It also helps to start to cleanse the areas providing the information for the portfolio, helps to clarify where the data is coming from for it and more importantly where it should come from. All too often you get delivery information from finance and finance information from delivery.

We then have a list of stuff we are doing. It can then be monitored for strategic alignment, delivery, duplication, value delivered etc. It is also something that new stuff can be reviewed against and added to.

So my advice is to create yourself a portfolio of initiatives from whatever you have at the start. Otherwise how will know what you are doing and more importantly they are the right things to be doing?

This is such a simple thing to do and can provide great value

Why will no one implement my IT Strategy?

I was talking to a friend who works in a large private sector organisation recently and he was moaning about how he couldn't get anyone to implement his IT Strategy. I asked him what the problem was. He said “...I have a vision for IT in the company that will add great value” after which he started to tell me about how the strategy would but in a flexible and agile framework to allow the creation of new business opportunities better, smarter and faster.

It all sounds good” I said “So how are you looking at putting this IT Strategy in place?”

He replied “Well we have written the IT Strategy and what the vision looks like now I just need people to invest in it and deliver it. But they don't seem to be interested”

What business benefits are you delivering as you start to put the IT Strategy in place?”, I asked.

Oh those come when we have but the IT Strategy in place” he replied

Hmm”, I said. “So you want people to invest in some IT that could give them benefits in the future? A platform for the future?”

Exactly” he replied confidently.

Well as you are not an IT company such as Microsoft or Apple it may be difficult to invest in IT for the sake of it” I said “I have adi fferent approach that may help you”

What's that” he replied curiously.

Having an IT Strategy / Vision is a good thing. However trying to implement it in isolation of the rest of your company is difficult. What you need to do is work with the rest of the your company to understand what their business visions and objectives are. From this you can then identify opportunities that will help them to deliver their objectives but also help you to start to slowly build you IT Strategy and platform of the future. So over time you will start to deliver your IT Strategy but will also be delivering value to your company”

That sounds like a plan”, he replied, “but it feels hard and slow”

Delivering strategy is hard. Coming up with the vision is the easy bit. Working out how, what and when to deliver it is the hard bit” I replied “It is also not slow as you are delivering value across your company both from an IT and non-IT point of view. So it is a win win for everyone”

It's worth a try” he said as he gazed at the ceiling thinking of how to start to make this happen.

This is one of the reasons why IT Strategy never gets implemented and it ends up as a dusty document on a shelf somewhere. The IT department come up with these grand visions but then don't do the hard graft of working with the rest of the organisation to understand and identify opportunities to deliver business objectives whilst starting to delivery parts of the IT strategy.

Pinyin - A form of Enterprise Architecture

I am learning Mandarin with my daughter at the moment. Mainly to keep one step ahead of her so that I can help her with her homework. In order for non-Chinese natives to understand the Mandarin language, help with input of Mandarin into Computers a romanization of the Chinese language is used called pinyin

For someone who speaks English pinyin can seem a strange translating language. The reason is that the pronunciation of pinyin is not a one to one translation to English pronunciation. Let me explain.

The character for water in Mandarin is

The pinyin for water is shuĭ

In English this is pronounced shway with the “way” pronounced with a tone that goes down and then up. Click here to here what it sounds like

So what has all this got to do with IT you may say? Well at the weekend I was reading an interesting blog from Peter Kretzman entitled Complexity Isn't Simple: multiple causes of IT failure. There where some interesting debates in the comments regarding requirements analysis. As an aside my view on this is that it is the complexity of requirements and number of requirements that are a major factor in IT failure. Peter mentions how the telephone has evolved over the years from what it was in the 1980's to what it is now. Think the iPhone or Android phone today comapred to what you had in the 1990's. What would have happened if organizations had tried to make the iPhone in the 1990's? Probably a disaster. Anyone remember trying to get e-readers in the 1980's? Remember the Newton? The mobile phone of today has built up over time. At each stage adding a little bit more value. Making sure that additions work and integrate. This is what organizations should do with new ideas. Start small and then build up over time. At each stage adding a little bit more value. Rather than trying to do it all at once. Something that can help you in this endeavour is a set of guiding principles to ensure new bits fit and help the whole. Maybe an Enterprise Architecture? But that is another story.

Back to pinyin. Whilst reading this I thought about how we use Enterprise Architecture to not only articulate a single version of the truth for an organizations future state but also as a means of ensuring that all parts of an organisation speak a common language and understand each other. It is the pinyin of business.

So if Mandarin is the language of the IT organisation. Lots of symbols, which are meaningless to the rest of the organisation. Then if all those who use speak in romanization languages are the non-IT departments of an organisation how do they communicate with each other? Pinyin of course. Mandarin (IT) speakers understand it and are taught it. Non-mandarin (non-IT) speakers can relate it to their language and understand it also. Therefore pinyin is a form of Enterprise Architecture.

Which all relates to some thinking that I have held true for sometime. Enterprise Architecture is nothing new. It is an approach and a way of doing things. It is more important to use the principles and approaches that Enterprise Architecture provides and advocates rather than going around spouting we must do Enterprise Architecture, we need an Enterprise Architecture. Just do the right think and call it whatever is meaningful to your organisation. Find what it's pinyin translation is.

What's in a name - Everything

I recently tweeted on maybe the perception of Enterprise Architecture and Chief Architects would change from being seen as the domain of IT to being seen as the domain of the entire organisation if they were renamed Business Design and Chief Business Designers?

It made me think of situations during my career where a name has set certain perceptions for myself and/or others or confused.

Enterprise Architecture – Isn't this something IT do?

First up is that old favourite Enterprise Architecture. I was once on a journey of moving an organisation from having an Enterprise IT Architecture to having an Enterprise Architecture covering Business, Applications and Technical Architectures. The Enterprise IT Architecture started in the IT organisation, as is quite common, and covered Application and Technical Architecture. This objective was a real challenge as I was driving and influencing this from within the IT department.

Whilst on the “world tour” of communicating, stakeholder managing, explaining and extolling the value of Enterprise Architecture I recall speaking to an executive in the organisation. I asked the question “does this Enterprise Architecture thing make sense in terms of what it is trying to achieve and the value it provides?” Their reply was that they thought it was technical. It had the words Enterprise and Architecture, which they associated with IT.

A valuable lesson I learned from this is to never use the word Enterprise Architecture if you can help it. Communicate the approach, the method and value, provide examples and scenarios and let the organisation call it what they want. It is the outcomes that we should be most interested in achieving. Not what we call things. Using Enterprise Architecture can set a certain perception which can be hard to overcome.

IS, IS/IT, ICT – Oh Computers.

So a name can set a certain perception. It can also create confusion. An area where a name can be confusing, to me at least, is in the usage of IS, IS/IT, ICT, IT, TS. It makes me think that we in IT are sometimes trying to be too clever for our own good. If you speak to the average person in the street outside of IT and say I work in IS, IS/IT or ICT they will wonder what you are talking about. Tell them IS/IT stands for Information Systems/Information Technology they will probably say “Ah you work in IT”. Why over complicate the situation. Just call it IT or maybe even simpler call it Technology. Someone I know who is definitely not in IT just says “Oh you work in computers”. However I think have Business Strategies for Computers, Computer Architectures or Computer Designers maybe going a little too far.

Organisation Names

A final example is in the names of teams and functions that creates confusion and therefore cannot set any perceptions. I have seen some team and function names that have actually required me to spend considerable time working out what they actually do. They haven't altered my perception of the team as I couldn't work out what they did from the name so I couldn't set any. It was just confusing. When I actually found out what they did it all became very clear - they were the IT department!

Simplicity – Influences perception, removes confusion

So simplicity removes confusion and can help in setting perceptions. One organisation I know had an IT function that wanted to be integrated with the rest of the organisation. It's vision was to be integrated so that it could help shape the organisations vision and direction and provide value enabling IT capabilities to support this aim. In essence creating co-determinate strategies.

The function initially started out being called Technology Office. As it moved on the journey to become integrated it renamed itself to Strategy and Architecture, removing Technology. Then it renamed itself to Strategy and Business IT Systems, removing Architecture. It then renamed itself to Future Design. Simple, doesn't mention IT or Architecture at all. It does exactly as it says on the tin - It designs the future. That is my perception anyway.

It made me wonder what others have done with regards to names to help to set certain perceptions and remove confusion?

Innovation Speed Dating

Recently I was traveling on a train reading some papers for an innovation workshop I was attending. In the papers there was a press release, from a leading newspaper website, taking about a recent new service that had been implemented. It even included quotes from satisfied users of the service and people within the organization. I thought things have been moving fast in the last couple of months because I don't recall this being implemented or even being discussed. Had I lost my finger on the pulse. I then glanced to the top of the page and noticed the date of the press release was 2011! Ah I thought this is a mock up of the possibilities the innovation workshop could achieve. It got my attention.

So the innovation workshop commenced following a short intro of the objectives it was straight into the first of three themes to brainstorm. We brainstormed and threw out ideas that stimulated other ideas for 20 minutes then it was over. We agreed as a group our top 3 ideas and fed this back in 5 minutes. Then onto the next theme in the same format. At the end all the ideas where collated and we are going to vote on the top three to take forward.

It was like Innovation Speed Dating.

However it got result and some really interesting ideas were discussed. You could see the passion in people as an idea took hold and the possibilities became apparent. Some of the ideas I had never thought of myself. But when but forward were inspirational, inspiring and sometimes so obvious. Some of these may have been missed if we had gone down the traditional waterfall approach of requirements produced and then IT respond with a solution.

This was also innovation brainstorming as an organization not as the business or IT we were working as a group of individuals adding value to the organization as a whole. Something I am passionate about and talked about in my post on you never hear of business and finance alignment.

Technology is pervasive these days. Most people have a hotmail, gmail, yahoo mail personal email account. They use facebook, online banking, shopping etc. They can see what IT can do and with a little nudge, through innovation speed dating, are able to find new business value enabling services using some of the IT approaches and services they use everyday in their daily lives.

IT solutions are no longer the domain of a few geeks talking a foreign language in white coats in a basement. This workshop reinforces why I believe my vision of Real End User Computing is achievable

The workshop was inspiring.

However before I get carried away I am not advocating this is all you need to do to generate new ideas and make them a reality. You still to need to ensure that they produce a coherent whole, create enabling capabilities that could be used elsewhere in other ideas, for example process management capabilities. You don't want to end up building vertical silo ideas, services and capabilities. Who wants to end up with three process management capabilities with 3 times the implementation and operating/maintenance costs. Not good.

So you need to ensure all this is underpinned by good old Enterprise Architecture models, frameworks and governance. These will help to turn prototypes into pilots into full scale services. If we don't do this there will be anarchy. A good post by The Enterprising Architect on Is Architecture the Enemy of Innovation shows how the two can and should work together

This workshop was simple to setup and execute but was exciting, interesting and inspiring. I am really looking forward to seeing some of the ideas being taken forward and to the next innovation speed dating workshop.

My Vision - Real End User Computing

I have a vision of what IT in the future will look like that I like to call “Real End User Computing” REUC. This is not End User Computing or Shadow IT done by a sub-set of an organization and sometimes embraced by IT or blocked. No it is much more than that.

Real End User Computing” is in a world where the suppliers of IT provide reusable business services that consumers can mashup to provide any number of solutions to meet their business needs. IT simply just keeps the lights on.

It is the evolution of the APIs we now see. For example in GoogleMaps , FaceBook and the iPhone. However in this world these are not technical APIs for technically savvy people to use. They are business APIs where business knowledge and understanding is what you really need to know. The interface to use these and create new capabilities is simple and non-technical. These types of platform exist today in one form or another – Microsoft Silverliight,, etc. This is the evolution of what is current.

It is the evolution of the operating system up the technology stack. REUC resides in a world where we will have a financial operating system with financial business services to use, government operating systems, retail operating systems. All providing business services, not technical services, and the ability to join them up in any number of ways. For example you can add information created in one business services to another. A user can orchestrate business services and at decision points raise tasks in the task service for management in the task management service which is displayed in the business portal service.

Putting the power of creation in the hands of the consumers of IT. Allowing them to experiment and create new, often unthought of, capabilities adding value to an organization. The suppliers of IT keep the lights on and add more business services for the consumers of IT, if required. So no longer do IT create solutions they create services for consumers of IT to use to create solutions.

You will need to ensure you publish and have the right business services at the right level, not too big or too granular. This will require the disciplined usage of Enterprise Architecture to ensure coverage. consistency, re-use and interoperability of the services. Get this right and REUC can become a reality

REUC is my vision of the future of IT and I believe it is achievable.

What's your vision of the future of IT?

Why do organizations have an innovation function?

I was at an event this week and where there was lots of talk about needing to be innovative. This phrase sometimes confuses and other times irritates me. People seem to use it as a nirvana for doing things better. It is as though what they have been doing previously was not doing things better or innovative.

To try and understand what others thought of innovation I did a couple of tweets on Twitter on this very subject. What came back was to me a very good definition of innovation

Not business as usual that adds value”

Now call be old fashioned but isn't that what the human race has been doing since the dawn of time? It is what makes us what we are. The invention of the wheel was innovative, Newton's laws were innovative, the PC was innovative. In fact finding a better way to get to work maybe faster, more economical, less stressful is innovative.

To me innovation is what we all do everyday. Doing things better, smarter or in a more interesting way.

So when organizations say the need to be innovative or embrace innovation it really confuses me. Surely you must have been innovative to get to where you are today? Even if that was copying someone else's idea. That is also innovative.

From a technology perspective you see many organizations that have a function that covers strategy, architecture and innovation. My view is that the art of doing strategy and architecture is innovative so why do you actually need a function dedicated to it?

As I said innovation is part of being human. It is part of life. We are all innovative so why do we need to try and seek it?

Sorry we don't work like that

At the weekend I did the weekly shop at a major retailer and also dropped into a major hardware store to purchase some padlocks. What struck me was the different view of customer service.

Whilst at the supermarket queuing to pay for my purchases a number of tills were starting to get a backlog of people queuing. Rather than let us all just wait managers opened up other tills and manned them and a message came over the tannoy for all staff who could operate a till to go to the till. I quickly moved to an empty till, paid and was on my way.

The organisation was flexible to the situation and demands of the customer.

Contrast this to my experience at a major hardware store. Big queues building up, lots of staff just seeming to walk around and no real sense of thinking out of the box and opening up some empty tills to help reduce the queues. I eventually got fed up put my potential purchases down, left and went to another rival store and purchased my padlocks there.

Now I may say that I am not loyal. However psychologically I probably am. I will remember the experiences above and will probably return to the same supermarket and go to the rival hardware store.

Customer service is important and sometimes it is the little things that matter. Being flexible to adapt to the situation and provide a service that benefits everyone with little effort.

It made me think of the relationship and service of IT organisations to their customers. There must be an IT training course that teaches the so often heard responses to customers and requests of

  • It's a bit difficult.....
  • It doesn't work like that...
  • We don't work like that and can't meet that timescales / cost
  • Before we can start we will need a, b, c, d, e, f, g,......x, y, z all signed in triplicate
  • etc.

In IT we talk about agile development to develop code faster and more closely aligned to what a customer wants. We need to extend that to the IT organisation as a whole. We also talk about agile processes and procedures that can adapt, change and flex as the demand from customers adapts, changes and flexes.

If we don't, then as I did, they will go to a competitor. If an IT organisation wishes to be truly part of a business and not a supplier of services then they need to look at the customer service they provide. Not just in terms of costs and schedule but also in terms of flexibility and agility of delivery.

Customer Service perfection is a great goal to achieve. But remember perfection is a journey not a destination and you need to be able to take different roads on that journey.

Thinking inside the IT Cost Box

I am constantly surprised at the number of articles which talk about reducing the IT costs of an organisation by a certain percentage, say 20%. This appears to me to be thinking inside the box rather than outside.

IT should be viewed in the context of the value it delivers to the overall business not as a cost centre to the business. For example conversations such as “ costs £100 million to run the IT in the business. We need to reduce this so you have an objective to reduce the cost by 10%....” are one dimensional. Where is the dimension of the value that the £100 million is providing to the business?

That £100 million could be delivering £500 million profit with an associated non-IT cost of £10 million to run manual processes and procedures. So what if we increased the IT costs to £110 million and invested in change that helped to increase the profits to £600 million and reduced the associated non-IT costs to £5 million. Overall by investing £10 million in IT we have increased profits for the business from £390 million to £485 million.

A simple example but it looks like good business sense to me.

So why do people still look at IT costs in isolation of the value delivered and are set challenges to reduce the cost of IT. The challenge should be how can we maximise the value delivered to the business by IT. Maybe it could be the lack of integrated thinking between business and IT? See my earlier blog on You Never hear of Business/Finance Alignment

Sounds simple and obvious so why do I still see those articles?

It's good to talk

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to travel to London with a colleague. It was 2 hours spent with no distractions from other colleagues, no phone calls or email on our blackberry's (it was an early train and we where in a quiet coach).

It was lucky as we had 2 hours of really productive conversation covering a wide variety of topics. We caught up on movements of people, got some valuable insight and advice on new roles and discussed new approaches to challenges. We resolved a number of issues and got to know a little bit more about each other as individuals.

It was a really productive value adding journey.

It made me wonder if all the social networking, email, instant messaging and 4th generation collaboration tools such as Google Wave are actually the best value adding communication. Don't get me wrong these are all very useful and welcome forms of communication

- Blogs – I write this one, I read others to;

- wikis – I have been looking into setting up our Enterprise Architecture as a wiki and look at wikipedia's popularity;

- email – Which I use everyday;

- Instant Messaging – I am a big fan of this for quick questions and answers across a disparate and virtual community;

But sometimes it is just plain better to talk face to face. If that is not possible on the telephone. For example immersive video conferencing in an organisation is usually extremely popular. I have tried it and it is truly amazing. Is it's popularity due to being able to actually talk to someone “face to face” in real time?

Whilst thinking about this I came across a Harvard Business Review Analytic Service looking in to the importance of business travel in building and maintaining business relationships. It stated that 79% of respondents said that in-person meetings are the most effective way to meet new clients to sell business. 89% agreed that face-to-face meetings are essential for 'sealing the deal'. And almost all (95%) said that face-to-face meetings are a key factor in successfully building and maintaining long-term relationships.

So if you are trying to embed Enterprise Architecture into the heart of business thinking then you may need to do more than quote facts, figures, analysts, produce presentations and send emails. You should sit down and talk to the organisation.

And next time you are on a train search out a colleague, when in the office pick up the phone rather than send an email or just get up and walk to see the person.

After all it is good to talk.

Does Technology actually matter?

I recently read an article entitled “When Cheap and Simple is Just Fine” and had a discussion on whether the actual technology products used to satisfy a technology service in our Enterprise Architecture really mattered? It made me wonder if the two are actually complementary. Do actual technology products really matter or is a good enough technology service just fine?

There was a time when you analysed the market place, looked at reference papers, such as Gartner Magic Quadrants, brought in the technology suppliers, did an evaluation against your requirements, maybe did some pilots and then selected a technology product.

However in today's technology market many technology products are basically the same at their core. They have some “bells and whistles” around the edges to distinguish them from their rivals but are at their core the same.

So do we need to worry about technology products? Are the way these technology products interact with other technology products of greater importance?

In our Enterprise Architecture the Enterprise Business Architecture has business objectives linking to business services which contains business processes. These link to our application service domains and application services contained in our Enterprise Application Architecture. These in turn to our technology services and ultimately to technology products and how to interface with them in our Enterprise Technical Architecture. As long as the technology product satisfies the requirements of the technology service and the business services and business objectives they enable and you can interface with it in the prescribed way does it matter if it is widget x, y or z?

When you use electricity at home you interface with the standard plug of your country. The technology product that supplies the electricity could be a nuclear power station, coal fired power station or 1,000 guinea pigs running around in wheels. The product is of no importance as long as it meets your requirements of providing electricity 24x7x365 and you can interface with it via your standard plug.

So do technology products really matter today? Is how it interfaces most important? Is good enough just fine? Do technology products actually matter?

You never hear of Business/Finance Alignment?

The phrase Business/IT Alignment has become popular recently. It is usually about the IT department becoming aligned or integrated with what the business wants. This has always slightly confused me. Throughout the time that I have been involved with technology IT has always been just something that a business does and there has never been a distinction between “The Business” and IT. It strikes me as rather arrogant that IT things it is different to an organisation and refers to the rest of an organisation as “ The Business”.

I have never seen a finance department talk about Business/Finance Alignment or HR talk about Business/HR Alignment. They are just functions which make a business work. This should be the same for IT. IT can be a differentiator, or not if you read Nicolas Carr's book Does IT Matter, but it is just another function that makes an organisation work. There should never need to be an initiative to align business and IT. It should already be integrated into the day to day working of a business. We talk about Enterprise Architecture and all the dimensions that make up a business, including IT, as though this is something new and shiny. To me it has and should always be this way with IT just being part of the solution not the problem.

A good illustration of how IT currently perceives itself and how it can and should change is in Chris Potts' book FruITion. This explores, as a story rather than an academic text, how a CIO reacts when the management team explores a very different relationship with IT? The strategy that emerges has major implications for the CIO and everyone in the IT department. It is a good example of how IT should be part of a business not a third party somehow outside and superior.

Hello from LoweVision

Welcome to LoweVision, a blog about strategy, architecture and innovation in practice and how it can deliver business value and change.

During my years of working with different organizations I have used and seen many ways of how technology tools and techniques could and have been used to deliver value to an organization.

My intention is to share with you my thoughts, musings and insights in this area. I hope that you find the material I post interesting enough that you will stop by this sight often.

Naturally, the opinions posted here are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. Nonetheless, I hope you find this collection of thoughts and observations useful each time you stop by.

So once again, welcome to the LoweVision blog.