Failure to Communicate

There is a discussion of this article in the EA group on LinkedIn.

At a recent Gartner Group presentation the presenter estimated that between now and 2012 40% of Enterprise Architecture (EA) programmes will be shelved due to poor execution and that a major contributory factor to this will be a failure to effectively communicate the value of EA.
 
This is not a new problem for enterprise architects and IT architects in general (there are currently 10 widely used IT job titles that include the term architect). As someone who has always tried to use a "light-touch" approach to architecture and who’s job appears to many almost indistinguishable from staring into space, the importance of measuring and communicating value has always been forefront in my mind.
 
However, it is unusually hard to do this effectively across a wide audience. If EA initiatives are to succeed they must have buy-in at many levels in an organisation. At the recent TechEd EMEA in Barcelona I was out one evening with a mixed group for drinks when a seasoned programmer rather colourfully confided to me that she really didn’t understand what architects did. [I paraphrase] "They just seem like self-important developers and managers who swan around being really up themselves." Now one could argue that this maybe down to the experience of the individual in question, the number of drinks in the individual at the time or that this represents an equal failure or unwillingness to understand, but if ever there was a failure to communicate value there it is in action.
 
Architecture is actually all about value. Not value in the ROI sense, which is both a difficult and dangerous way to measure EA, but in the sense of really driving out the best value from IT investments across the board. Good architecture is highly valuable because it’s role is to find and ensure the delivery of best-fit solutions to business problems. To ensure the accurate translation of business strategy and requirements into IT strategy and delivery and to achieve maximum leverage and reuse of existing assets. However, because these kinds of activities are largely orthogonal to business units, projects and service delivery their value in terms of ROI is difficult to measure and tends not to reflect their real value to the business.
 
The business spend in IT is broadly divided into three areas.
  • The Run Spend – operational costs of maintaining services
  • The Growth Spend – introducing new services
  • The Transformation Spend – restructuring existing services to better suit changing business needs
The bulk of EA and other architectural initiatives are concentrated in the second two areas (Growth and Transformation) and it is these areas that tend to be first in the firing line when cuts need to be made. However, without proper architectural focus it is very difficult to produce services with lower longer term running costs or ones that can more easily be transformed. So, the effect over time of reducing the spend on transformation and growth is that running costs increase, often cancelling out the short term gains of the cost cutting.
ARC207
I have borrowed (and modified) this slide from David Chappell’s excellent presentation at TechEd about the Microsoft Application Platform.
His premise in this presentation is that the primary goal of business strategy is to create competitive advantage through differentiation. Key to creating this differentiation are custom applications on the basis that if you can buy something off the shelf it’s equally available to your competitors, almost certainly old news and therefore does not create competitive advantage.
However, over time, innovation becomes obligation and the value of that service decreases. The first provider to offer a given service gets the most advantage/value, the second less so and so on, up to the point where that service becomes so widespread that not providing it becomes a distinct disadvantage.
 
The strategic importance then of the application platform is that it should facilitate rapid and cost effective development and deployment of these differentiating applications in the key window of opportunity (C) and provide low operational costs over the longer term (B).
 
We can look at the strategic importance and value of EA in the same way. (B) is where the operational spend occurs while (A) is where the growth and transformation spend occurs and where much of the EA effort is focused. So we can see that the focus of EA is on delivering maximum value in (A) and creating architectures that will reduce costs in (B).
 
With a mature EA the lower operational costs have been achieved and much of the major transformation work is complete. Architecture has been created that allows for quicker, easier, cheaper transformation when required leading to greater agility, and maximum reuse and leverage of existing assets. This means that more of the overall spend can be used to achieve greater advantage in the growth area or the same growth can be achieved for less spend. As a result EA rarely has an ROI of its own, rather its value is found in improved ROI across a whole range of other initiatives.

Text Fraud

I just received this text message :
From : +447833983690
!!URGENT!!
Large Parcel Awaiting Delivery
Please Call Now on +23222270680
For Delivery Tomorrow
International Parcel Deliveries
It’s lucky I’m such a suspicious person because, had I got carried away in the excitement of receiving a “Large Parcel”, I might not have noticed that the number starts +232 (for Sierra Leone) and would have ended up talking to a convincing telephone queueing system on a premium rate line in a distant foreign country. Having Googled these numbers and the content of this text it seems that this con is now absolutely rife on UK networks.
It’s the latest evolution in simple mobile phone scams which started with missed calls where your phone would barely ring even once and you’d see a missed call message and an incoming caller id. The number displayed would look to the untrained eye like a UK mobile number (07…….) but it would actually be a premium rate number at upto £1.50 per minute. Calling back would normally elicit some kind of recording simulating a call waiting message to keep you on the line for as long as possible. Then there were the text messages telling you there was a voice message for you at a certain number…same scam new variation and so it has gone on.
As far as I can see mobile operators in the UK have done little or nothing to combat this kind of fraud. At the end of the day it’s something that will cost them money to prevent and only benefit their customers not their bottom line, so I’m not holding my breath. However, ultimately they will have to act. This is just the tip of the iceberg. As mobile phones get more complex and more connected and more location aware and so on the scams will get more sophisticated. These text scams are really just simple versions of the Nigerian 419 scams, but all the more dangerous because of their simplicity and the fact that the mechanism for extracting money from the victim (the premuim rate service and the phone bill) are already in place. There’s almost no thinking time for the victtim between the initiation of the scam and the money being gone. It’s literally just the press of a button in some cases.
Mobile operators need to act soon to introduce spam/content/phishing filtering on texts, and systems for reporting the source number of scam messages so they can be blocked. Just a number that users could forward suspect messages to would be a good start. Mobile users also need to be able to opt in to call barring schemes so that if they inadvertently call a premium rate or international number that is not in their phone book or on a personal “white list” they will get an audible warning before the call is connected.
These kinds of scams cost very little to perpetrate. They’re not as cheap as email scams but scammers will pay a small premium to have access to the mobile operators billing system. By comparison, the return (one user complained that his call to Sierra Leone cost him £20) is excellent.
Since I posted this blog entry, currently about 18 hours ago, I have had over 60 hits from Google alone where one of the phone numbers was used as a search term. Bear in mind that this blog only ranks as the 6th result so I’m only getting a tiny fraction of the searches. The site whocallsme.com allows people to submit and share information about nuisance callers. The number in Sierra Leone currently has six pages of notifications at 20 per page.

Cloud Computing, Data and Corporate Trust

The Cloud is here and it’s here to stay. The financial and reputational bets currently being made on the future of Clouds mean that, like our surviving banks, they’re just too big to fail. But this is a good thing. It presents some fantastic new opportunities for startups to get their ideas in front of the world quickly and cheaply and then either “scale fast” or “fail fast”.
But what about the bigger, more established and more traditional organisations, those with a standing investment in “on-premises” computing ? Where can they benefit from Cloud computing ? Cloud computing, for all the opportunities it provides, poses some interesting problems around the issue of data.
All of the current cloud platforms (Microsoft Azure, Amazon EC2, Force.com and Google) provide data storage. Interestingly they have mostly gone for hierarchical entity storage rather than traditional relational tables. It maybe that relational data has finally met it’s match in the Cloud. Hierarchical entity data definitely seems more scalable and easier to federate than relational tables and we have to consider that the currently favoured technique of data access, RESTful ATOMPub making individual entities addressable, may have been a significant factor in that decision. However, as a corporation wanting to scale an application into the cloud rather than on-premises, I would have a number of issues :
  • How can I scale my applications in the Cloud if the business data they require is still “on-premises” behind my corporate firewall ?
  • How can I take that data and put it out in the cloud where it will scale with, and be available to, my applications without running into huge legal, privacy, governance and compliance issues ?
  • Even if I was allowed to put my data in the Cloud do I trust my Cloud provider with it ?
  • How can I make sure that the data in my LOB applications and its availability are protected from the peaks and surges of internet activity ?
  • How can I make sure that data in my LOB applications is in sync with data out in the Cloud ?
  • Although putting my data in the cloud relieves me of having to worry about where (physically and therefore geographically) it is stored, as a corporation I actually have to care and it has serious legal implications. Nearly every country and jurisdiction has different laws concerning the storage, security and management of data of different kinds. The Cloud is a compliance nightmare.
The truth is that we will have to start thinking about our corporate data differently. Anyone hosting a website of any size or scale probably already uses Content Delivery Networks and internet caches to host “static” content and remove unnecessary load from their servers so we already understand that content can be divided into the cacheable and the dynamic. Broadly speaking most corporations, or at least nearly all retail organisations, have two kinds of data. The first kind we can call private data and this is the kind of data that is unsuitable for cloud storage for a number of reasons and it includes customer data and sales or other transactional data. The other kind we can call public data which, if you think about it, is ideally suited to Cloud storage. It includes inventory, pricing and availability data, i.e. what stuff do I sell, how much is it and how much of it have I got available.
If you think about it, most retail organisations already spend a lot of time and money trying to publish this data on their web sites and via B2B interfaces. A retail organisation has to service thousands of listing, availability and pricing requests not to mention B2B feeds and web site scrapers, and while those requests form the bulk of the load on their web sites and back-end systems, it’s the relatively infrequent order requests that actually make all the money.
Surely it makes sense to take all the inventory, pricing and availability data and push it out into the cloud along with most of the eCommerce web application. This data is also perfectly suited to storage as hierarchical entities with attributes.
Department -> Category -> Sub-category -> Item[name, price, units available, etc]
Most eCommerce web applications are a hostable workflow, built around a state-machine (the shopping basket) and exposed via web pages. All of this could and should sit out in the cloud right up to the final step of the workflow when the customer can be brought to a secure payment portal where the contents of their basket can undergo a final availability and pricing check before the purchase transaction is committed. Why should I, as a retailer, want to buy, build and host systems capable of supporting thousands of browsing, fickle shoppers many of whom wander off in the middle of shopping, when for a fraction of the cost I can host a system just for interacting with the really valuable ones – the buyers – and relieving them of their customer data and money ? I don’t want to come across all mercenary here but we are all operating in tough times.
The only issue this leaves is the one of synchronisation. I need to keep availability and prices up to date. This should not be a problem. Using either plain ATOMPub or the Cloud’s Service Bus I can replicate purchase events and price change events into my Cloud data fairly easily. Even if the data gets a bit out of date both retailers and customers already accept this kind of latency in online shopping. We know that since shopping is a often long running workflow process, items that were in stock when selected may have sold out by the time we reach checkout. We understand that with limited time offers and price banding, that products may have changed in price between being added to the basket and being paid for. If things have changed at the checkout I simply have an opportunity to cross-sell or up-sell that customer on other products, something I already do on my website anyway. Therefore, for the majority I would suggest, synchronisation is not as problematic as one might suspect.
This change, particularly in eCommerce, is inevitable. Not only that, but the retailers who make the move and make it soonest will enjoy the same advantages over those who don’t as all of the online retailers enjoy over the traditional store retailers. The Cloud will provide the same cost advantages over on-premises hosting that online retail enjoyed over store retail. If you’re an online retailer today, get ready for the change!

Convergence

There seems to be so much happening at once. There is currently a convergence in mobile computing. Smartphones have been getting smarter and laptops have been getting smaller and now all the mobile operators are offering netbooks free (or very cheap) with mobile broadband contracts in much the same way that they have always offered free mobile phones with airtime contracts. Three are even offering a wireless mobile broadband router that you can plug your mobile broadband USB modem into in order to share it with others. We just need to get the price per GB to come down so that sharing your mobile broadband isn’t like throwing money out of the window and bring roaming data/broadband in out of complete rip-off territory. We are also seeing the first devices to feature Qualcomm‘s new GOBI chipset which allows devices to connect to any wireless network anywhere. It will handle all major RF bands, uniting Wi-Fi and 3G, and has inbuilt GPS functionality all on a single, low voltage chipset.
At the same time there has been a lot of activity around connectivity and adding some smart to the internet as it transforms itself from a series of tubes to a cluster of clouds. Not least of all Microsoft’s recent and long overdue announcements at PDC about its cloud computing platform and other good stuff in the pipeline. We should also finally see some movement in Live Mesh, which has been sitting around like a 3rd wheel for so long you almost started to feel sorry for it. We should expect Mesh connectivity for mobile devices imminently so we can finally start getting all our devices connected, sharing and syncing in the cloud. I would also expect to see some kind of Mesh connectivity for the XBox 360 soon and the first pure Mesh and Mesh aware apps.
Finally there’s Silverlight for Windows Mobile, Silverlight for Symbian S60 (Nokia et al), Steve Jobs hinting at Silverlight for iPhone, Mesh in Windows Mobile 7, Windows 7 itself and a full .NET compact framework for Symbian S60 (albeit not a free one) from RedFiveLabs.
We are still waiting for the next big revolution in mobile power to close the loop but there have been a recent spate of advances in photo-voltaic cells and in batteries that run on plant cellulose, water, sugar, urine…you name it, someone is getting volts out of it. Some of these new power cells are also biodegradable which is doubly cool.
However you look at it the future of computing is looking mobile, cloudy and increasingly silver.

MSI Wind is pocket-lint’s product of the year

pocket-lint recently announced their gadget of the year and the wind came out on top in both the best laptop and best product of the year. Beating the apple iPhone to the top place as the must have gadget of the year.

Product of the Year was fiercely fought this year, however the MSI Wind pipped the Apple iPhone 3G by a whisker to be crowned the “must have” gadget of 2008.

The wind also manged to come out on top over the Toshiba Portege R500

The MSI Wind gained the Best Laptop/Netbook award from Toshiba who came in second with the Portege R500.

Great news as pocket-lint is one of the more reputable sites around.

So my MSI Wind has arrived in time to be announced product of the year by pocket-lint. Thus far I have :

1) Upgraded to 2GB of RAM.

2) Installed all my software.

3) Upgraded the OS to XP Pro.

4) Upgraded the BIOS to 1.09 and the SCM to 2.0208.1031.001.14

5) Bought a 6-cell battery on eBay for £50.

One of the coolest features of the Wind is that with the latest BIOS (1.09) you have overclocking built right in to the BIOS settings. Just by hitting Fn + F10 on the system you can crank the 1.6 Ghz Intel Atom N270 upto 2Ghz.

To this I have also added an 8GB SDHC card to go in the SD card slot. The card slot however is the short kind so the SD card sticks out of the side of the Wind protruding by about 6mm which drives me nuts so it sits in the bag when not in use. I also have a 2.5″ USB/eSATA 160GB 5400 RPM with USB or external power for external storage and backups and a very small wireless mouse.

From reading the web it’s clear that the Wind is one of the most popular and most hacked devices available. Popular hacks include dual or even triple booting with Windows, Linux and OSX, upgrading heat sinks and network cards, over-clocking the CPU and the FSB, skinning and even installing a touch screen.

Plunge Taken

So I finally made up my mind and ordered the MSI Wind U100 and the extra RAM.
It should be all delivered, upgraded and configured ready to take to TechEd next week 🙂

NetBook Update

Following on from my last post about my mission to buy a NetBook I am now leaning toward the MSI Wind u100. I am also favouring the 10.2" screens over the 8.9" inch screens.
 
Here’s how they have stacked up so far :
 
ASUS EEE s101 :
 
  • Probably the most attractive.
  • Lightest.
  • Most expensive by far.
  • Hardest to upgrade because of slimness.
  • Not available yet anywhere that I can find.
  • VGA camera only
  • UK release dates seem to be slipping all the time.
  • Cannot get 64GB model with WinXP so would have to buy with Linux and install XP from scratch.

HP MiniNote 2133 :

  • Best screen resolution.
  • Feature rich (GB ethernet, express card slot)
  • Fast HDD (7200 RPM).
  • Small screen size.
  • Via CPU, not Intel Atom (next model MiniNote 1000 will have Atom but no release date yet).
  • VGA camera only
  • Second most expensive.

Acer Aspire One :

  • Joint Cheapest.
  • Max 1.5 GB RAM.
  • Small screen size.
  • VGA camera only.

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 :

  • It’s a Dell.
  • Joint Cheapest.
  • Small disk size.
  • Small screen size.

MSI Wind u100 :

  • Huge HDD
  • Good feature set for the money
  • Supports in-BIOS overclocking
  • 6-cell battery (9-cell available)
  • Still fairly light

Lenovo IdeaPad s10 :

  • It’s a Lenovo
  • Good features for the money
  • No UK release date
  • Cannot confirm UK Price (the £320 was a press guess based on the US price).
  • Really heavy

So the MSI has it at the moment. I have found a store that will sell it for £309 plus £7.99 next day shipping. The RAM upgrade will cost me £15.00 shipped. I can also get a blisteringly fast 64GB Patriot Extreme Flash Warp SSD at a later date if I want and still have change from the ASUS.

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