It is time for executives to go ‘back to school’ to learn how to drive transformation using new digital technologies
Stories by Steve Hodgkinson
The term 'agile' has been around for a while, and is normally used in the context of more agile systems development processes and practices. Agile is usually positioned at the opposite end of a continuum from traditional waterfall systems development methodologies -- with their rigid progression through successive linear phases of requirements definition, specification, building, integration and testing.
Cloud first is a leadership stance
Cloud services have been debated for many years, but it is now time to stop discussing theory and start discussing the actual experiences of early adopters.
In Ovum’s report Why Government Agencies Need the Cloud, we concluded that agencies should consider using cloud services as an alternative way to access the ICT capabilities required to boost innovation and cut costs. We observed that many government agencies are stuck in a game of ICT snakes and ladders, unable to sustainably develop strong ICT capabilities because of funding, resource, and skill constraints.
One of the more pervasive strategic ICT changes underway in most organisations is the transition from the age of the desktop, accessed over the corporate network, to the age of the ‘webtop’ and mobile apps, accessed over the internet and wireless networks.
At one level this is an evolutionary technology transition: away from locked down corporate SOE devices and custom-built applications running in the corporate datacentre towards standard consumer market devices, SaaS solutions and mobile apps purchased from app stores and running in the cloud. Core technology elements of hardware and software are becoming increasingly commoditised and no longer need to be laboriously hand crafted by the IT department to fit each organisation’s unique business processes and work practices.
Momentum in the public cloud is accelerating, particularly in the consumer realm. Nowhere is this more obvious than in our own households. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been the family CIO for the past decade. My job description has comprised procuring and supporting a growing fleet of PCs, laptops, mobile phones, modems, routers and storage devices. In years gone by my role was essential to the family’s ability to function digitally. I had ‘the knowledge’ and the systems were so failure prone that I was often the hero – recovering that lost homework assignment from the backup hard drive, reinstalling Windows (again) or installing a new program and getting it to work. Thanks Dad! Nonetheless, there were occasional disasters … lost family photos and tears (mine).
Over the past few years, however, the home computer fleet has become dominated by Apple devices – the ubiquitous preference of the teenagers and now also my wife – and a strange thing is happening … I’m becoming redundant. Partially this is because the teenagers now know more about how to use software than I do, and what they don’t know they find out easily via Google, YouTube and their peer networks. It is also because less and less of the software that makes our family run resides in our house. The ability of the iMac, iPads, iPods and iPhones to seamlessly, easily and reliably integrate and share content through iTunes and the iCloud has been nothing short of amazing. My work here as the family CIO is done.
Do you Yammer … and if so, should you? Growth in adoption of this collaboration tool in the corporate and government enterprise sectors seems to have gone viral this year – demonstrating the power of a new breed of cloud-based platforms. I've spoken to many CIOs during the year that have remarked on the way Yammer has sprung up in their organisation – like a weed, some would say. But whether it's a weed to eradicate or a wildflower to be nurtured is a matter of judgment.
Yammer's viral adoption sales model means that any user can germinate a social network for their enterprise on Yammer without charge. The network can spread freely – anyone with the enterprise email domain name can join. Payment is only required once somebody works out that admin controls are desirable (such as the ability to moderate posts and terminate members from the network if they no longer work for the business).
I watched a documentary on my iPad a few weeks ago using ABC’s excellent iView catch-up television. ‘Wonders of the Universe’ provided a kind of hyper-long-range-weather-forecast revealing that over the next few trillion years all the suns in the universe will fizzle out and our atoms will simply drift around in the frozen dark wastes of space forever.
The problem is the Second law of Thermodynamics. Simply stated, this law explains the tendency of physical systems to progress in the direction of disorder – or increasing entropy. A sandcastle on a beach inevitably reverts to flat sand unless force is applied to keep it in shape.
Despite showing promising form in the United States, “Cloud Computing” failed to make it out of the starting gates of the Australian Federal Government ICT Stakes in 2010. Indeed the event was pretty much a two horse race – with “NBN” capturing the crowd and winning by a comfortable margin from “Gov 2.0”. “ICT Reform Program” seemed to get bogged in a swampy part of the track, entangling “Data Centre Strategy”. “Internet Filter” fell early in the race after colliding with “Election Realities”. Punters are tipping a better run for “Cloud Computing” in 2011.
New Zealand recently announced new cross-government directions and priorities for governing ICT. The new directions are interesting because they include explicit invitations and directives to Ministers and CEOs.
Firstly, Ministers are invited to set the expectation that agency CEOs will use ICT to contribute to the collective interest and the system-wide performance improvements the Government is seeking. Secondly, CEOs are directed to use cross-government ICT products and services where they are available unless there is a compelling business reason to opt-out of sharing. This is a significant departure from previous good-will oriented opt-in approaches to shared ICT. The Treasury department, however, has yet to develop funding arrangements to incentivize CEOs to contribute to, and implement such shared ICT initiatives. Without these CEOs will be within their rights to remain suspicious of 'grand cross-government plans' and cautious about what they agree to.
Organisations continue to be plagued by the tension that US academics Paul Lawrence and Jay Lorsch defined forty-three years ago - the need to balance “differentiation and integration”. On the one hand the business units of complex organisations need to differentiate to meet the needs of their different markets and customers. On the other hand the organisation as a whole needs to create more value via integration, than if the business units acted independently.
Discussion of how this tension is balanced is as relevant in 2010 as it was in the late 1960s, with the holy grail of competitive advantage being to optimise for both. All too often, however, achieving a sustainable balance is a triumph of hope over experience, and we see the pendulum swinging back and forth between the apogees of decentralisation (differentiation) and centralisation (integration) each time there is a change of organisational leadership.
When Enterprise 2.0 first hit the radar, many of us were excited by the new social collaboration tools and their power to usher in new collaborative behaviours.
Some of this promise has indeed been realised. The market for Enterprise 2.0 software is strong and growing, with social computing functionality such as profiles, wikis, blogs, microblogs, tagging, and presence now widely available, both in specialized Enterprise 2.0 products and embedded into office productivity and unified communications suites.
Having worked within the public sector ICT machine I usually take exception to the popular media pastime of gloating over government ICT project failures. “Sure, there have been a few projects that have gone a bit wobbly lately, but no more so than in any large organisation, right?” Hmmm ... this argument seems to have worn a bit thin of late as a convincing explanation for what seems to be continual string of bad government ICT project news stories.
Indeed, the dip in funding commitment to ICT projects in this year’s Victorian State Budget relative to prior years seems to reflect a view that caution has now become the better part of ICT valor in Victoria. A series of troubled ICT projects – notably transport ticketing and police records - has dented the Government’s confidence in its ability to successfully deliver big ICT enabled change projects.
Hear ye! Hear ye! Announcing the new Enterprise ICT Strategy.
All areas of the business are required to cease and desist entering into any new arrangements to procure or renew contracts for customised, on premises, applications, in-house operated ICT infrastructure and long-term contract outsourcing arrangements. In their place you may select from The Menu of standardised, configurable and interoperable applications and office productivity tools that will run on The Corporate ICT Utility. Existing applications, infrastructure and outsourcing arrangements will be migrated to The Utility with all possible haste. Development or procurement of applications or infrastructure services outside of The Menu requires the approval of the CFO, who we respect as a person with deep pockets, short arms and a mean disposition.
Last year cloud computing started to pick up some serious momentum, with the IT industry playing catch-up to a book retailing company providing computing infrastructure as an online service. Amazon continued to push its innovation pedal to the metal all year, surprising us all by launching the ultimate commoditised IT service into beta in December – the EC2 Spot Instances service.
The service operates in a similar manner to demand-side bids in the spot electricity market. Customers place orders, or bids, for a virtual machine instance at a specified price. The system dynamically sets the spot price at a level matching supply and demand, and if your bid is at or above the spot price your workload runs. If not, it remains pending until the spot price falls to your bid price or below.