February 2010 Archives

Three years ago I had the privilege and honor to recommend to Inovis executives to implement Scrum as their core software method. The “All In!” implementation style was chosen and successfully implemented by colleague and friend Erik Huddleston. To quote Erik:

The results speak for themselves.  In addition to compelling productivity and quality improvements, we also had profound unanticipated benefits.  Within a few sprints, we were using development as a competitive weapon, bringing development to bear to influence the outcome of individual (strategic) sales cycles.  We dramatically increased our innovation through market dialog.  With almost 25000 customers, Inovis struck up quite a market conversation!  Finally, we found that Agile started driving alignment between teams and sites, facilitating tremendous cross product synergy and value.

In a recent post entitled The Agile Flywheel, Inovis’ Ray Riescher describes the effect of the Agile implementation on IT Operations. Here is an excerpt from his post:

Scrum set the flywheel in motion and caused the rest of the IT process life cycle to respond. ITIL’s processes still form the solid core of service support and we’ve improved the processes’ capability to handle intense work velocity. The organization adapted by developing unprecedented speed in the ability to deliver production fixes and solve root cause problems with Agility.

What I think we are witnessing is a manifestation of Agile Business Service Management: a holistic agile methodology running across the IT process spectrum that’s delivering eye popping change and tremendous results.

Compliance?

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Imagine a company department that works the following way:

  • There is no external salary control - the department decides how much everyone should be paid and gives itself major raises at regular intervals
  • If the department does not like the tax that they have to pay, they change the rules so they don't have to pay any
  • The expense budget is uncontrolled and they can claim for anything they like 
  • If anyone complains they point you at an obscure piece of legislation from the 1600s and say that their department conforms to that
For those of you don't live in the UK, this is how our Government has been run for many years, and is now the subject of a major scandal. I've just watched Tiger on the TV admit that he thought he was beyond the controls that other mere mortals have to abide by. So the next time someone comes and asks you whether your systems are compliant, please don't raise your eyebrows and think they are wasting their time - this stuff is vital. 

Health and Safety, on the other hand, in this country appears to be controlled by a bunch of morons and has unfortunately become a laughing stock. Petty controls are put in place - e.g. you must not run during a race as you might slip!!! - with the result that everyone thinks the whole thing is a waste of time and money.

So what is needed is a sensible set of rules, enforced via a sensible set of controls. That's why I've always liked the combination of ITIL and CobIT. ITIL giving me best practice ideas of what I should be doing and CobIT to check that I'm doing it right/sensibly. Now where do I find the same thing for Governments and Health and Safety? 

DABitoff?

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The title of this blog will bring back memories to some older readers - it was the name used for a cleaner you could buy years ago. The reason for my twisted pun will become clear soon.

I read an article in the paper the other  day, which explained that those wondrous people in charge of this country (or incompetent idiots as we like to call them over here) are trying to persuade us all to upgrade to the latest and greatest radio technology - DAB. Whizzo / hooray I hear the techno-freaks cry, but I am afraid at this point I need to put on my "hang on a minute" hat:

  • They claim better reception - not actually true, the signal frequently dies
  • They tell you what program you are listening to - my current radio has been doing that for years
  • They use considerably more electricity, which is not good for the planet
So, no great advantages yet.  Also, what our esteemed rulers want to do when enough people have bought a DAB thing, is to TURN OFF ordinary FM radio. So what, you may think - ah, there lies the rub:

  • You can get digital radio via your cable - yep I've got that and use it, but
  • You have to throw away your old radios and hifis, as they won't work - ouch. What a waste of money, and also not great for the environment.
  • You have to buy a new car as your car radio doesn't work any more - WHAT!?!?!?

Yes, the part they conveniently forget to tell you, is that your car radio will be useless - no more music, no more traffic reports, no more news etc. 

So, could all of you in the UK please NOT buy a DAB radio as it is not the technical wonder you think it is and there is a hidden agenda that the techies have forgotten to tell you about. I am not being a Luddite - I am being a responsible advisor telling you the implications of your proposed upgrade. Some new technologies are magic - I just don't happen to think this is one of them.

If you can't work out the connection between that and the way some IT departments / techies work, then I give up!! 
Another area that is gaining more and more attention these days is "Cloud computing" and I guess the largest issue I have is around its scope and definition. Many appear to offer hosted services and this is now renamed as Cloud computing, even outsourcing, managed services, Software as a service (SAAS) fall under this new branding. Is that all it is, a simple rebranding to allow all remotely hosted services to have a new home?

As with all new paradigm shifts the best evidence that it'll be widely adopted and accepted is by looking at the user community for this.  At this week's Westminster eForum one of the speakers, Rik Ferguson, senior security adviser at security firm Trend Micro told us that the criminal fraternity are the largest group of adopters. Well I guess if we look back to look forward, we'll see that this was the case for the early adopters of the internet (pornography being the biggest financial winner). Well Rik also highlighted that "We already see customers of Google, customers of Amazon, who are criminals and who use those services, among others, to run command-and-control services for botnets, to launch spam campaigns and to host phishing websites. They see the power, the scalability, the availability and, for them, the anonymity that is possible through cloud services and they are using it to its fullest extent."

Well the good news is that both large and small organisations will benefit from the Cloud, enabling smaller companies to automate, scale up and down depending on the market conditions whilst keeping overheads well managed. Large organisations can also reduce overheads, move into new or changing business areas quickly without being held back by in-house technology restraints. However I think that now, more than ever, process becomes king. Knowing your business services processes and IT services processes are in place, ownerships of responsibilities are understood become the key to success when the ownership of the infrastructure (including operating systems, software and applications) are left to someone who is not a part of your business. It appears to me that we are entering into the realms of treating IT as a utility, just like Electricity, gas etc. We need it to be there, we need to know the costs of utilisation, but the providers do not need to know what we run on it. This makes me think about the capacity planning and availability issues. We in the UK certainly know that the Electric providers monitor the utilisation and have to prepare for odd events like the ½ time during a football and rugby match as viewers go and put the kettle on for tea. The utility suppliers need to understand their market, its dynamics and influences, however odd, to ensure all the customers get the resources they need, when they need it without interruption. Can "the cloud" handle this now or in the future?

Who's working on the cloud right now? Well Amazon, Google, Sun, IBM etc, but some surprising companies are entering the market utilising spare capacity from their traditional business. Salesforce.com now offers Force.com to other business to host applications on. BMC software being a recent case in point. So keep your head in the cloud and watch how things develop, in particular the process issues of dual ownership and the end to end automation, but keep your feet on the ground to ensure you protect your business and understanding the current and potential risks.

The space between the cloud (hosted infrastructure (including apps)) and the end users would be the area that needs focus. Can that be called "fresh air"?

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Urwiler, the SVP and CIO at Vail Resorts Inc.  Yes, this is the Vail ski resport in Colorado. They also own and manage 5 other mountains, resort hotels and more. It is rougly a $1 billion business. As a side note, I would highly recommend visiting a few of their websites for the experience alone -- I wouldn't be surprised if they win a few design awards. In particular, drop by the Keystone Resort site and check out the immersive video of Prospector run.

I wanted to share a project that was driven by IT initially which resulted in a BSM initiative that has become a significant differentiator for their highly competitive business. The approach landed Vail Reports on the list of CIO's 22nd annual CIO Awards and resulted with Robert on the cover of CIO Magazine.

Tactically Vail Inc. needed to replace an old fleet of bar code scanners that are used to validate guests at lift gates on the mountain. RFID was the natural replacement technology for bar codes and had been used successfully in Europe. It would have been easy to just use what others had already done. But the leadership at Vail wanted to differentiate the guest experience and learn more about guest patterns on the mountain.

The CIO made the case for investing in UHF RFID, which was higher risk and more costly, but met the requirements of the business. What looked like a tactical move to replace older technology resulted in a strategic decision for the business. This is a great example of how BSM principles lead to strategic business advantage. 

Utilizing UHF RFID and Wi-Fi infrastructure, Vail has been able to deliver a unique guest experience at the lift gate and can track guest patterns across the mountain which was not possible before. Knowing where the guests are skiing allows them to execute highly targeted marketing programs to promote offers on and off the mountain. 

For the details on the story see the article in the RFID Journal. 

I have been toying with buying a new camera. I have a very nice SLR, but am thinking about buying a new compact camera to slip into my pocket to replace my old Sony Cybershot. My 'phone takes pictures, but the lack of control means it's just a toy.

So I started looking at the descriptions. Number of Megapixels - fair enough, although no-one actually points out that squeezing millions more on to a little sensor is not necessarily a good idea. DIGIC 4 processor - what the hell is that when it's at home? Face detection AF/AE/FE/WB - I can guess some of those but don't really know if I need them.

Why do all marketing people think that meaningless acronyms are a good idea? Perhaps it's because they are bored with telling us that the product is new, improved, faster and sexier - amazing, as you're hardly likely to bring out a product that is old, worse, slower and boring are you? (As it happens I would probably be interested in a mobile 'phone that had less functions, as all I want it do is make calls and send texts, but that's another story).

My requirements are actually very simple. I want an optical viewfinder as the screen on the back is totally useless when you're outside, and I want it take a picture when I click the shutter - not seconds later when you have missed the action. I would also like it to take RAW rather than JPEG, as I can't see the point of processing the photo in the camera and losing half the info, when I have a very good powerful PC with Adobe CS4, which does the job much better. (Sorry about all the acronyms in that paragraph!) 

Unfortunately, as usual, the technicians want to show off all their features rather than asking the user what they actually want. Sound familiar? I'll stick to my old Cybershot thanks; it has an optical viewfinder and an excellent lens, it's just a bit slow on shutter release  - a problem of many compact cameras and that's actually the main reason I bought the SLR.

By the way, TOSH is an English slang term for nonsense.
A February 2nd 8-K filing by BMC http://tinyurl.com/yax23u3 indicates the Dev Ittycheria is out. Bob Beauchamp will again take up the task of leading the Enterprise Service Management (ESM) side of the business, i.e. all non-mainframe-focused products. We're assuming Dev will return to the entrepreneurial roots where he performed so well.

There are a number of conclusions that could be drawn from this change ranging from the fate of the Cisco partnership to, well, just think of the rumors that have swirled around BMC over the last 2 years.
Speculation on internal politics is risky and ultimately pointless. We'll stick to conclusions based on our own experiences with and knowledge of the company.

For our part, we anticipate a return to aggressive support and advancement of BSM. We think that BMC will move away from concentrating on BSM as strictly a marketing concept. It presages a return to the aggressive thought and product leadership in defining and implementing BSM that has been historically demonstrated by BMC. The result will be increased competition that will benefit both customers and IT.

Personally,
we're happy to see this change. We think the coming year will prove to be much more interesting and action filled as a result. 
The focus of IT infrastructure management has never been static for very long. Very early on, for the very expensive mainframe systems, the focus was exclusively on job management and control to assure the absolute highest utilization rates. The 'glass house' was surrounded by technicians, operations managers, JCL specialists, etc., whose time was counted as relatively cheap when compared to the investment in hardware. This continues to be true as Business Service Management - the ability of IT to understand and adapt its operations to meet and support business operations - expands its presence in the market.

Over time, styles of computing changed,  the cost of  processor time dropped as available capacities grew exponentially - to the extent that in many instances applications were designed to run on its own server.  Keeping abreast of shifting cost equations,  management attention moved from the hardware to software to applications performance.

For an extended period of time, server utilization in the neighborhood of 10% was considered quite acceptable.  It became an accepted standard practice to over-provision infrastructure rather than risk running out of capacity when it mattered. Not surprisingly, capacity management and planning moved way down the scale of management focus.

Times changed.  Rising prices, escalating demand for power and energy raised their cost along with increasingly global competition combined to apply enormous downward pressure on the cost of computing.  Suddenly,  cost sensitivity  and infrastructure utilization levels became the new obsession.

Successful capacity management and forecasting resource utilization has moved to the forefront of operations management concerns.   New architectures, the capability to virtualize every aspect of the IT infrastructure from platforms to services combine with complexity in implementation have resulted in an operations infrastructure that is a capacity management nightmare. Existing planning and forecasting methodologies and tools designed for much less complex and dynamic operations are inadequate to cope with the new operations environment.

New capacity management and forecasting solutions are needed which are easier to install, deploy and use.  They must be automated to transparently scale and handle the complexity of dynamic operating environments that can expand to very large numbers. They must be flexible to respond and adapt to the infrastructure changes needed to support  evolving business needs. They must be able to handle both virtual and physical infrastructure as well as both mainframe and distributed platforms.

Really powerful tools will include the capability to integrate input and learned data to forecast potential capacity problems sufficiently in advance to take action to avoid the problem. They will allow 'what if' modeling and evaluation of alternative scenarios to find the best way to resolve or avoid a problem.  The solution will not require  capacity management specialists to provide useful information but will have the flexibility to allow specialists to perform more accurate and precise analysis.

This only scratches the surface of some of the characteristics required for capacity management. The point here is that capacity management provides a key element to the implementation of BSM in today's enterprise. Planning, forecasting and management links directly to business needs. Properly done, benefits can be realized in cost reduction, improved margins, better and more effective utilization of assets, resources and capital. Both IT and business managers should be looking into this important management function.

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