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Wednesday 29 July 2009

Making BrITain Great

Micro Focus have just launched an interesting and needed campaign to promote the technology sector in the UK, which I fully support (here). The manifesto makes five directional recommendations for fiscal, entrepreneurial and academic action to promote a more vibrant and stronger technology sector:
1. Increase the availability of world-class technology talent in the UK;
2. Harness the expertise and goodwill of technology leaders of UK origin around the world to coach leaders of UK-founded, emerging technology businesses;
3. Radically change the tax incentives available to companies and individuals who want to invest in growing technology businesses;
4. Implement specific fiscal incentives for UK-founded tech companies seeking to accelerate world-leading R&D;
5. Proactively encourage international technology companies to invest in a UK hub.

One of the ways for government to help I found is often undervalued and which could have a dramatic impact in supporting new, innovative technologies, is the relaxing of the procurement process for technology start-ups. This would not only help in developing a vibrant, start-up environment in the UK (let’s not forget the key role played by government, in particular defence, in helping establish Silicon Valley), it would also help in improving government’s productivity.

A recent article from McKinsey highlights the need for improvement of e-government for example:
progress on the e-government front appears to have plateaued over the past few years. Many new e-government initiatives have neither generated the anticipated interest among users nor enabled clear gains in operational efficiency. In the face of unprecedented fiscal constraints, as well as users’ heightened expectations based on the integration of the Internet into their daily life and work, it is imperative that the public sector refine its approach to e-government to ensure that these initiatives achieve maximum impact.

One of the reasons indentified by McKinsey is the lack of Web-related capabilities. This means recruiting teams with the right skills to drive these initiatives and to leverage the new, innovative technologies out there to drive for more efficient government.

Relaxing procurement processes to allow innovative, tech start-ups without (yet) the balance sheet required to sell to government, would not only help in establishing world class companies, it would also allow for better government.


Thursday 23 July 2009

Enterprise mashups – kick-starting adoption

Recent blogs from the worlds of enterprise mashups and CRM have reinforced my impression that a lot of people are struggling with the dilemma of how to move to the flexible IT and business architectures they know they need for future success when the investment environment is focused on short term returns.

A posting by Susan Bouchard at Cisco kicked off a discussion that led to Stefan Andreasen from Kapow asking (in respect of mashups)
Companies traditionally only purchase IT products as part of building a dedicated business application with a defined ROI and timeline.
So the big question is how to resolve this?`
It seems identical to the "Long tail economy", selling many low-price items. It makes no economic sense before you start selling a lot, but then it's hugely profitable.
It's the same with mashups, but how do we get over that initial barrier?

Meanwhile, Colin Beasty, blogging on CRM Outsiders wrote
… whenever you add new channels to a CRM process you add complexities, and it seems businesses are struggling with fostering and tying all these new channels into that seamless experience that the customer can pick up on. I think the contact center industry in general is trending towards the delivery of these channels in a more service-oriented approach.
Breaking down the silos has always been and will continue to remain a key driver of industry software and best practices. Web services, standards-based software, and open source seems to be taking the lead in tackling a lot of these issues, but on the flipside the economy isn’t leaving businesses with a whole lot of cash to pursue these interests.
For the short term future, I think businesses remain in a Catch-22 situation: the economy demands that customer retention and experience is a priority…and thus consolidating these channels into a single experience…while lack of revenue and profits doesn’t leave the financial vehicle by which to accomplish these goals

It seems to me that this pair of postings ask questions that a lot of people are thinking about at the moment. They also illustrate the challenge and the opportunity for enterprise mashups. On the one hand, when enterprise mashups are simply seen as addressing long tail “micro-requirements”, many of which need satisfying to justify investment in a mashup infrastructure, the business case “initial barrier” is a real one. On the other hand, there are many requirements for process based integration for end users – such as combining allowing agents to work across multiple channels in the contact centre – that are further up the long tail – slightly more complex, still out of reach economically from traditional SOA and application integration but offering much more substantial payback. The trick is to bring the two together – using mashups to build process-based applications for users one at a time, with each generating payback quickly, and creating lightweight reusable services (“mashables”) as a result. That way the need to minimize cash outlay is achieved, operational improvements are delivered and the organization is left with a flexible, service based approach to build on further.

For some people who have only seen mashups as simple “dashboard” type applications, this requires a broadening of how they think of mashup technology. However, we are seeing that this approach is essential to resolving the dilemma faced by apparently contradictory short and long term pressures.

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Wednesday 1 July 2009

Gartner SOA summit – pragmatism and innovation

I spent a great couple of days last week at the Gartner SOA and Application Development and Integration Summit in London, emerging encouraged by the combination of pragmatism and innovation that I heard discussed.

Inevitably, much discussion centred on the economy and its implications. While technology –as Massimo Pezzini pointed out - might be seen as having helped the problem happen by “providing the infrastructure to enable the financial services sector to get into trouble faster than anyone expected”, I didn’t hear much discussion about what could (or should) be done to prevent that happening again! On the other hand there was lots of debate on how IT can help companies survive and reinvent themselves for the future. The (not surprising) prescription was to focus on strict cost control and alignment of IT projects with clear business cases, while keeping sufficient investment to foster innovation in key areas. In the short term for example, organizations need to use their resources to rapidly adapt sales and marketing patterns in response to changed customer behaviours. Longer term, much discussion centred on anticipated structural changes to industries (especially financial services) requiring better support for complex inter-company relationships and networks.

SOA adoption
The message I took on SOA – from both Paolo Malinverno’s opening keynote and much that followed - is that it has clearly taken root, especially in Europe and N. America. However there also seems no doubt that the recession is having a Darwinian effect, culling the projects without well-defined short term business benefits. Long term strategic business cases for SOA programmes are “out”, pragmatism in the form of prioritizing rapid payback from fixing business problems is “in”. As a result, lots of initiatives that have started bottom up with no focus on business problems (service enablement rather than SOA) risk being cut – one figure floated (and hotly disputed) was that this could kill up to 80% of the projects started thus far!

Enterprise mashups?
Given this background, where are enterprise mashups? Well there was certainly plenty of interest, with David Gootzit from Gartner talking about their having a key role to play as the “face of SOA” and becoming an important way to build composite applications. However, listening to talks and speaking with attendees confirmed to me that while a lot of vendors and users have focused on using enterprise mahups to build simple “dashboard” type single page applications, there is a huge need and interest in using them to address the new integration agenda of business focused pragmatism and innovation. The idea of using the mashup approach to rapidly build process based applications for different user groups and tasks, leveraging a wide range of enterprise IT assets is – to judge from the response we had – just the capability that many organizations need. It seems that there are many cases where business process improvements and flexibility are needed but custom application development is seen as too slow, expensive and hard to maintain, and full blown WS-* and BPM are not appropriate.

Conclusion? SOA isn’t dead, just growing up in a rather more austere environment than the one it was borne into. And enterprise mashups can make a massive contribution, so long as they focus on really changing the economics of building and using business applications.

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