Cloud and Mobile, an incredible if not unprecedented opportunity for comeback kids

Mobile and Cloud represent possibly the best opportunity to reinvent a flagging business proposition. Surveys and studies by many household name analysts such as McKinsey, Deloite and others, point in that direction. In the diagram that I have depicted, ditching Level 3 elements and rewiring Level 2 elements for Mobile and Cloud, that is where the opportunity mainly lies. This necessity of revising and rewiring systems should be a profitable source of business for those who can can into it. Unfortunately, companies that cannot figure out exactly what is going on in their business at its core, will struggle to even see the opportunity. Newcomers who evener even built such Level 2 and Level 3 elements, have the freedom to move along with the market.

It cannot have escaped many software company executives that Mobile and Cloud represent possibly the best opportunity to reinvent a flagging business proposition. Surveys and studies by many household name analysts such as McKinsey, Deloitte and others, show that . My post comes from another angle, a simple observation at a micro level that can be scaled up to a bigger picture.

Actually, I believe that Mobile without Cloud, or vice versa, would not have any significant impact. So, I contend that whenever Cloud is mentioned, Mobile is an implied companion. And the other way around as well. When Internet Of Thins (IoT) finally dawn, Ubiquity would become a more appropriate concept and could encompass Mobile.

I was recently reminded of one pervasive reality with software, dependencies are the cause of a lot of troubles, if not most. I was trying to install a new version of Archi, a software tool I am used to running but hadn’t needed for a while. When it failed to run, I thought I could quickly just rebuild it. I fired up Eclipse and started going through the process of building Archi. I quickly stopped, realising the trap I was slowly getting myself dragged into. What the industry term as legacy is largely due to such dependencies, in many situations, an insurmountable task of rewriting and rewiring code that is large, complex, hard to understand, better left alone as long as it is working. In the case of Archi, I am not suggesting that any rewrite would be necessary, just the dependencies that I would have to deal with before I could achieve my goal, get it up and running.

As a quick comparison, I take the recently famous move by Microsoft, who have turned to open source in a serious way.

rebuilding a complete software stack
Full Stack: open source stack vs. Microsoft’s

In the diagram, I name an arbitrary number of levels, or layers, just for this discussion’s sake.

  • Level 0: this is usually provided by hardware vendors, who make the hardware an then bundle it with software.
  • Level 1: this is the Operating System level, in the comparison, Microsoft provides this element, this is Windows for example.
  • Level 2: fundamental building block elements, usually provided by the OS vendor. This is one area where Microsoft open sourced .NET Runtime Engine for example.
  • Level 3: combines with Level 2 and make it easy to expose system capabilities to users. Level 2 and Level 3 tend to be closely integrated, often case, 3rd party vendors provide Level3 elements.
  • Level 4: this is the part that the user will eventually experience.

In this discussion, I’ve intentionally left out Apple, as they are known to control the end-to-end user experience in most cases. Albeit, Apple do subcontract for parts and components, embed 3rd party software and open source software, but they control the packaging process. It is not an interesting study for this post, I focus on Microsoft stack vs. open source stack.

I’ve simplified the reality in this diagram quite a bit. But there usually are multiple layers between Level 2 and Level 3. This is where most of the dependency troubles lie. For a developer, this could be a tool chain for example. But it could also be libraries, utilities and other 3rd party software elements. This is where trouble with multiple Windows DLL versions typically occur. Such dependency issues are not confined to Windows, I’ve seen it with many open source Linux software too. The issue happens when for example you are dealing with a Level 3 component and it complains about some Level 2 element that you were not aware of or didn’t expect to be dealing with. That’s the can of worms.

By moving important elements to open source, Microsoft would normally have had to do a lot of work in Level 2 and Level 3, to bring up their open source proposition to the same level where Unix/Linux is at. But, with Cloud and Mobile, this work is not necessary. A wide variety of platforms and legacy systems can be skipped. This is also perhaps the best opportunity for Microsoft to actually ditch support for a lot of systems that won’t need to be directly exposed to the user.

Cloud providers and infrastructure providers offer solutions that combine Level 0 and Level 1. Lots of players have emerged in recent years, providing up to Level 3 either by themselves or by procuring Level 0 and Level 1 from others. Large players like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google provide up to Level 3. In some instances, they offer solutions all the way up to the end user level. Examples abound, I don’t want to extend this discussion too much.

Ditching Level 3 elements and rewiring your Level 2 elements for Mobile and Cloud, that is where the opportunity mainly lies. The necessity of revising and rewiring systems should be a profitable source of business for those who can can into it.

Unfortunately, companies that cannot figure out exactly what is going on in their business at its core, will struggle to even see the opportunity. The situation is akin to old Hollywood blockbusters movies such as Die Hard for example, where it was important to cut the right cable. The comeback opportunity is about separating out what should be dropped from what should be kept, then streamlining the business for Mobile and Cloud. Newcomers who never even built such Level 2 and Level 3 elements, have the freedom to move swiftly along with the market.

Marrying Technology with Liberal Arts, Part II

People whose mental memory is sharpened by one kind of activity, tend to do poorly when facing an opposing kind of activity, and vice versa. Liberal Artists are not expected to brag about efficiency and effectiveness, or even economical. Conversely, Technologists will not be taken seriously if they start dwelling on aesthetics. Even if it were aspirational for one side to claim value attributes of the other, they are likely to face an uncertain journey of reconversion, adaptation, reinvention. At an individual level this is hard at best, at an organisational level such aspirational journey could quickly become daunting, you have legions of people and habits to convert into totally alien habits.

In a earlier post, I started exploring this notion of marrying technology and liberal arts. If you follow information technology closely, you certainly know who got famous for making such a claim. Even if you do, I invite you to bear with me for a moment, join me in a journey of interpreting and understanding what could lie behind such an idea. It’s a fascinating subject.

This is not about defining anything new, let alone appropriating someone else’s thoughts This is just an exploration of the notion, to get an idea of the motivations, challenges and opportunities that such a view would generate.

In the last post, I mentioned that there were challenges and pitfalls when attempting to marry technology with liberal arts. Let’s have a look at some of these challenges and pitfalls.

Let’s imagine that the journey involves two sides, two movements, starting at opposing ends and moving towards each other, converging towards an imaginary centre point.  On one side of this journey are The Technologists, thereafter Technologists. On the other side are the Liberal Artists, thereafter called Liberal Artists. The imaginary point of convergence is thus User Needs and Wants, that’s what both sides are striving for. Herein lies an important first chasm:

  • The products generated by Liberal Artists want to occupy our minds and souls, capture our imagination, give us comfort and feeling of security, entertain our fancies, give us food for thoughts. Of essence here are issues such as aesthetics, forms, feelings, comfort, feeling secure or insecure, want, etc. Liberal Artists want to make us feel and want things, trigger our imagination, provoke our thoughts. Liberal Artists might not necessarily concern themselves with practicality – this is not to suggest that they would never do because clearly whole legions of them do, but just that it might be a lower priority concern.
  • The products generated by Technologists want to help us carry out some essential activities. The premise here is that something needs to be done, something that is perhaps essential, something that is unavoidable. The technologist has done her/his job if such an activity could be carried out with the tools created and the techniques devised, considerations such as aesthetics and friendliness might come at a at later stadium, if at all.

By virtue of them starting at different places, Technologists and Liberal Artists have different contexts, different set of values, different views of the world, not necessarily completely alien to one another but definitely having their minds occupied in completely different ways. They face different sorts of challenges. Because we are shaped by our environments, we can grow to become utterly different people. Technologists and Liberal Artists often grow to become very different  people.

Liberal Artists have their own activities,  attributes and aspirations. In no particular order, nor  an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination:

  • Crafting is the primary activity, the outcome could be more personal, intimate, often some form of impersonation or expression of the liberal artist.
  • To be loved, to be adopted and to entertain the patrons.
  • To be perceived to have good aesthetics, aesthetic in this sense could come in the form of something that is pretty, beautiful. Alternatively, this could be something very ugly, repulsive, contrary to accepted beliefs and wisdom. The aesthetics may manifest itself in the look, the feel, and the smell.
  • To provide feel good, feeling different if not somewhat superior, or otherwise convey distress, pain, anger, or other high emotions, especially when dawned in artistic expressions

Technologists also have their activities, attributes, and aspirations. Again not in any particular order, certainly not exhaustive either:

  • To be perceived to be effective and efficient.
  • Productivity is an important driver, this is more about Taylorism, automation, continuously seeking to make things faster and cheaper.
  • To be making durable products, to be providing effective services
  • To get a job done in an economical way.
  • Attributes such as fast, powerful, high performing, are the typical claims that are made.

It is not necessary to go any deeper before one starts to see some of the challenges that all sides/parties face: the  areas of strength for one side automatically represent the perceived or real weakness points of the other side. This is trivial. People whose muscle memory is sharpened by one kind of activity, tend to do poorly when facing an opposing kind of activity, and vice versa.

Liberal Artists are not expected to know much about efficiency and effectiveness, or the economical. Conversely, Technologists might not be taken seriously if they start dwelling on aesthetics. Even if it were aspirational for one side to claim value attributes of the other, they are likely to face an uncertain journey of reconversion, adaptation, reinvention. At an individual level this is hard at best, at an organisational level such aspirational journey could quickly become daunting, you have legions of people and habits to convert into totally alien habits.

Liberal Artists and Technologists are sometimes competing for the same resources and spaces, most of the time they are not. In fact, the two sides address complimentary wants and needs, they are frequently found to be collaborating but not competing. For a wide variety of their activities, Technologists and Liberal Artists rely on each other, one could be found making tools that the other would put to use.

If Technologists and Liberal Artists are collaborating to address user needs, aren’t they already somehow “married” then? Aren’t they solving different but complimentary problems? Does it make sense to talk about bringing them closer together?

On the inside looking out

In the consumer realm “shock and awe” rules. Problem number one with “shock and awe” is that it doesn’t work when you need developers and other partners to succeed. Microsoft needs to improve customer engagement, dramatically. Microsoft has to make a clear differentiation between platform and product. It turns out that the consumer ecosystem as well as the community of influencers craves direction and interaction with the vendor every bit as much as Enterprise CIOs do. Put simply, the consumer guys are wrong about secrecy. At least at Microsoft. I hope they figure it out soon, because “shut up and ship” is not helping their cause.

This is a good post, from a former Microsoft executive:

Now I get it, the Consumer guys at Microsoft are just plain wrong!

The Economist: Platforms, Something to stand on

According to The Economist, PROVIDING THE RIGHT platform is sometimes all it takes. This is pitting industry giants against one another in an epic battle t

The Economist gives a brief overview of the platformisation that is pitting the large players in the IT industry against one another.  The real battle raging between Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Mozilla and others is about just that: each want to be a dominant platform player, each with its own take on the game. There are several fronts in these epic battles, but ultimately it comes down to raking up as much mindshare as possible, hence the purse holder’s attention and interest.  Microsoft and Google might be the only ones attempting to fight it on all fronts, it seems to me for example that Apple isn’t really going after Facebook (might have given up), and Facebook’s platform could be seen as both a PaaS and a SaaS play, they may not want or need to go for enterprise data centre market. Linux is also in the same game, though it’s interesting to see that actually Amazon and Google (soon Samsung and Intel via Tizen?) might indirectly doing Linux a favour. I can’t truly read Mozilla yet, Google being their largest source of revenue makes me inclined to think they root for Google in a kind of kinship manner.

I always find it amusing to read some pundits ripping apart one particular vendor, say Apple or Microsoft, and citing Google as a better role model for openness. Linux is the only player that is truly flying the liberal flag, though Linux is more of a movement and isn’t a single vendor in any way. Every vendor is vying for dominance, taking sides is just as much fanboyism as any. Nobody knows for sure where this will all lead us, but I think the consumer wins when there is choice. It’s always going to be daunting to switchover from one platform to another

Here’s The Economist article: Platforms: Something to stand on.

How to set effective metrics for Enterprise Architecture

To set effective metrics for Enterprise Architecture, don’t look for a magical list that you could just plug in. Instead, you must to develop your own set for this exercise to make any sense. In this post, initially published on Quora, I provide one practical technique to achieve this, it starts with a statement of purpose that you should make people feel comfortable with.

A recent article by Michael J Mauboussin on HBR reminded me my answer on Quora to this same question, so I realised that that answer should really be published on my own blog, and not somewhere else. That is the motivation for this post.

Don’t look for a magical set, you need to develop your own. Here is one practical technique to achieve this, it starts with a statement of purpose that you should make people feel comfortable with.

An effective Enterprise Architecture helps ensure that an organisation spends money wisely, that resource allocation is done in a way that supports your business growth. It should be an instrument for your most powerful decision makers. The scope is massive, this spans every tidbit of information that flows through your way of doing business, it is about your entire chain of information systems (in the widest sense of the term). It goes therefore that you need to know how resource is allocated (respectively how value is created), what the triggers are and how those triggers can be influenced. Your Enterprise Architecture practice must identify and use the levers that control these events and event triggers, for it to be effective.

With the above statements in mind, proceed as follows:

  1. List the metrics that have the most impact/visibility in your organisation’s success, put them in a priority order that makes the most sense to your best people. This works best if you interview and discuss with a mix of key people: people with good delivery track record, people most intimate with your business, and people with powerful decision making power. Don’t look outside your organisation for such a list, you might quickly fall into an anti-pattern trap.
  2. Now armed with your prioritised list, benchmark where you are as you start this exercise, take snapshots of these metrics at regular intervals. Define the intervals to closely match your business activity cycle: from resource allocation to value creation. Start with a high frequency (must be realistic though), and adjust the sampling frequency as necessary, compare the measures every time and with varying sampling windows.
  3. Share the intermediate results you are getting with the people you worked with in Step 1). Try to gather their feedback on the measures that are starting to show, look for trends. Don’t hesitate to change the metric priorities, drop what doesn’t make sense.
  4. As you gain insights into what is driving effectiveness, try to make small educated changes to the metrics, and perform Step 2) and 3) again.

This is rather crude, but if done right, some solid metrics will rapidly emerge for you, and your process in itself embodies an educational and buy-in mechanism, which reinforces your Enterprise Architecture effectiveness.

With Windows 8, Microsoft is staging the biggest startup pivot in history

Microsoft is effectively undergoing a startup pivot with the sweeping changes they’ve been doing culminating in Windows 8. This is an extraordinary effort that deserves very close attention, lots of learning opportunity here.

What Microsoft is doing with Windows 8 is effectively a pivot, just like a 12 month old startup would define it. I’ve not read of it being described that way yet, but that’s all I can think of. Microsoft couldn’t be called a Startup or Lean, but I’m curious how they internally think about themselves nowadays in light of the sweeping changes they’re introducing.

Right from the start Apple had gone for intimacy, premium products whilst Microsoft had chosen for cost effectiveness and mass scale. It seems that Apple is continuing on their path, and that Microsoft is now changing strategy. Good analysis abound, I won’t dig any further than this.

If you like this subject, search “startup pivot” and read up the various definitions given of it, it is fascinating to think of Microsoft in the current context.

This is a tremendous learning opportunity, I am excited to see how it all goes.