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Exciting times

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Well, life has certainly been a bit different recently. I will ignore the week spent feeling half-dead as we caught a stomach bug, and talk about the more interesting parts of life.

First a bit of blatant self-advertising. As some of you may know I wrote a book (a modern-day thriller based round the world's energy problems) and published it on Amazon and Lulu

Well, I was feeling inquisitive so I wondered if could get it published as a Kindle book, because we both have Kindles now and think they are ace. Good news for those who want to try it, it is an easy process. (Yes, I know the links above are all UK ones, but I have also done it on Amazon in US, Germany and France). 

Having done that, I though I would also try it on smashwords, as they distribute to other channels like Barnes & Noble, Sony etc. Then the fun began as I had to fight Open Office to reproduce the already accepted and printed manuscript in epub format. The fact that the PDF I had already worked fine on my Kindle - I checked it - was immaterial, you have to rejig it and play around with paragraph spacing and different ISBN etc. etc. Anyway, got it to work eventually. Of course, just after I had finished that, the original online publisher I used (Lulu) sent me an email saying they were now offering a whole range of epub distributions - was I interested?!?!

OK, so the good news is that having gone through all the rigmarole with smashbooks I now had a version that worked on lulu, and I have blasted it all over the place!!!!

Now, why am I boring you with all this? Well, there is always the vague hope that one or two of you might buy a copy as it's nice and cheap, but a lot of you will probably say "I haven't got a Kindle, or I've got an iPad or whatever." So here's the good news:

  1. Yes, it works on all sorts of devices. Of course, being run by computer people they are all different formats so we authors have to go through the tedium of converting it multiple ways!!
  2. You don't need a Kindle to read Kindle books - there is a free Kindle reader app for the PC, the Mac, iPhone, Blackberry (handy when you can't do anything else with it as the server's down?), the Android etc. There is also a free Adobe Digital Editions app for epubs. So you can read lots of cheap / free books on your laptop / pad / whatever.
  3. My apologies if the price keeps changing - the one part of the Kindle process that doesn't seem to work the way I expect is the pricing. I tried to make it about a quid (UK one pound) everywhere, as I didn't want to stretch anyone in these hard times!   

Now the other half of my life! 

I got stung by a wasp a couple of weeks ago. I've been stung before and not had any great problems beyond a bit of pain and a secret desire to eradicate all wasps worldwide. This time, however, I reacted quite violently and came out with a mega rash over my chest and arms so off we go to hospital.

Being a sad old computer process man, it was interesting to watch the stages:
  • Initial diagnosis / triage where the most important question was asked, namely was my breathing affected, fortunately no
  • See doctor, get treatment confirmed - some injections
  • Injections with check that they were correct ones
  • Check to see all is ok and explain about medication to be taken at home
  • Controlled emergency reaction as I suddenly collapse and my wife is somewhat worried by call of "he's not breathing"
  • Come round a few seconds later to find team of specialists doing what is needed - oxygen, drip etc.
  • Constant vigilance of blood pressure, which apparently dropped off edge of cliff earlier
  • Tests to see if I can talk, sit, stand, walk
  • Revisit by doctor to see all has been resolved
  • Close of trouble ticket and my wife drives me home
Now, if you can't see the parallels to an ITIL/CobIT scenario there I will be very surprised. Thank you hospital for having the right processes and the right controls.
agileWhy would a business executive be interested in Agile software development? 

Why is Agile a topic of interest to the Business-oriented Service Management community? The answer involves strengthening the connection between the developer (...who provides software capabilities for business use) and the business entity (...who uses software technology for critical business functions.)  These two groups are frequently bridged (...successfully or unsuccessfully) by IT operations, adding complexity and increased business frustration to the BSM process of aligning business with IT (...both operations and development or DevOps.)

Read Bill Keyworth's book review >>
darkside.jpg

If you are of the same generation as myself, then you probably think this is an article about Pink Floyd - sorry, it's not. It is, in fact, the title of a book I read recently, which investigates what it cost to put a man on the moon. Now I happen to be related to Neil Armstrong (we are both descended from the same notorious Scottish cattle thief - please see this for details), and this year was the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, so the book was of great interest to me.

The cost of putting my relation on the moon was $35 billion, and the question which the book raises is the very valid one: Was it worth it?

In my opinion, and the book's, the answer is no.

This does not mean that I think the whole space programme is a waste of time and money, I happen to think the unmanned space programme has been extremely beneficial. Just think of some of the information or services, which we take for granted nowadays - the first communications satellite was launched in 1958, the first TV satellite in 1962, the first weather satellite on 1st April 1960 and the first navigation satellite 12 days later. However, when I challenge people to tell me what the manned space programme brought us, I get answers like:

•    We (the US) had to prove our superiority to the Russians and it raised morale throughout the country. I agree with the latter, not the former (as that way of thinking tends to lead to conflict or war), and why does the US now want to go to Mars - what will that bring?

•    Teflon - untrue,  PTFE was accidentally invented in 1938, patented in 1941, and Teflon was trademarked in1944

•    Velcro  - untrue, invented by a Swiss engineer in 1941 by looking at the hooks on the burdock (arctium lappa) plant. Velcro is actually short for velours crochet, which means velvet hook.

•    The upside-down biro. You don't actually need an upside-down biro in space, as there is no gravity. There is a great story that the Russians saved millions by using pencils, but I don't believe this is true as broken bits of pencil / pencil shavings floating round in a spaceship would be liable to get into all sorts of places they shouldn't and could lead to a plethora of problems.

And this for me raises the fundamental questions, which have to be asked at the beginning of any project, especially in these times of limited financial resource:

•    Why are we doing this?

•    What is it worth?


If these questions cannot be answered, then IMHO the whole project should be shelved.

Just because something is technically possible, does not in any way mean that it is justified from a business point of view. There is, of course, a counter argument that this will stifle innovation and creativity and that sometimes the great ideas come out of something that looks like it is a total waste of time at the outset. True, and if possible a budget should be set aside for blue-sky thinking and experimentation, but my point is that investing huge quantities of money in something with no justification is a luxury, which we currently cannot afford.

Hence, I would like to see the same principles applied to IT projects. Every project should be presented in business terms, not in some boring technical jargon, which no-one understands and which no-one cares about. For this to happen, IT strategy and business strategy need to be joined at the hip. I have seen, far too often, the IT department which decides what its strategy should be and presents it to the business as a fait accompli; I see IT reporting into a CFO, who can only see the bottom line and nothing beyond, and I see too many businesses, which decide a business strategy, don't bother to tell IT what it is and then complain that IT doesn't deliver what they wanted.

What the current financial crisis has brought home for me, and I hope for lots of others, is the painful truth that you can't have everything today. Good stuff costs hard work and money, and if you haven't got enough money then you need to prioritise your requirements. Too many people say "I need", when they really mean "I want" or "I would like".

The same thing applies to IT. As a bedrock, I require sound business policies and a strategy that lays out the requirements and the priorities. If I don't have that, then I have a system that will collapse under pressure.
 
It is very easy to run things efficiently in IT - there are loads of tools for people to play with and tune stuff for hours - all of which is a total waste of time and money if they are working on the wrong thing.

The first step is to be effective. Then you run what matters efficiently.

In today's (and any) economic climate it is imperative that IT delivers what the business needs, and this can only be achieved with an open dialogue between the business and IT, where the two parties are equals, explain what they truly need, how much it will cost and what it is worth.
Those of you who know Peter Armstrong know about his sense of humor/humour, and his ability to write books on just about anything, like this novel of his on eco-terrorism. This one is rather funny and is more like talking to Peter in person.

For BSM Review, Peter gets "serious" with Business Service Management: The move to a new way of working >>

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Agile BSM

Discussion around Business Service Management (BSM) has been ongoing for years ...and years ...and years. Yet it remains a fairly immature dialogue as vendors scope BSM to capitalize on their respective product offerings; as IT organizations struggle to articulate the desired end state; and as industry analysts deliver unique perspectives for purposes of differentiation.

Fortunately, the purpose of BSM is so fundamental, so basic, and so obvious ...that vendors, IT organizations, business managers, analysts and editors intuitively "get it" ...dwindling the confusion that so frequently accompanies newer technology concepts. This website is dedicated to the BSM dialogue by whoever wishes to participate. There is no fee to join ...no content that requires a subscription ...and no censorship of reasonable ideas and questions.

IT has been, is and will continue to be hammered for being disconnected from the business needs of the customer that IT serves. Sometimes the IT organization is adequately connected to the business entity, with the value simply unrecognized. More often, IT is guilty of diversionary focus on technology silos that business doesn't care about. BSM is the discipline that aligns the deliverables of IT to the enterprise's business goals.

That discipline comes in the forms of activities, technologies, tools, metrics, processes, best practices and people. BSM creates a laser focus on those deliverables generated by IT into something that is meaningful to the business community. If the IT deliverable is of no importance to the business function, then IT should eliminate or repackage it into a service that carries appropriate business value. BSM success is entirely dependent upon the willingness and skill of both IT and business to have an effective two way conversation ...one party without the other is doomed to failure.

Read my complete introduction: The Why & What of Business Service Management

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