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September 09 2013

jeux_olympiques : pourquoi Madrid pensait gagner

#jeux_olympiques : pourquoi Madrid pensait gagner

Benjamin Leclercq

Patatras ! Madrid n’aura finalement pas les Jeux olympiques 2020. Ce weekend, le #Comité_international_olympique lui a en effet préféré Tokyo. Le seul candidat européen est partagé entre incompréhension et sentiment d’injustice. Les quatre raisons pour lesquelles Madrid pensait mériter les J.O. (...)

#Société #Espagne #candidatures #CIO #JO #Madrid_2020 #sport

August 24 2011

With IT leadership, the "how" is as important as the "what"

The other day my IT operations leader entered my office in a state of confusion. He had just been reviewing our uptime statistics and was baffled by what he saw.

In 2010, on one particular web stack we had an uptime of 99.88% (translates to about 10 hours of an outage). But when he looked at our data for 2011 to date, we had 100% uptime. While clearly glowing with such a result, his confusion was based on the fact that we had not implemented any specific technology or fixes in this stack to garner such impressive results. He said: "I am very proud of these results. I just don't know what we did to achieve them."

In this instance he was asking the wrong question. It was not what we did. It was how we did it.

Doing things right

Our IT strategy is and will always be focused on doing the right things. Getting positive results is the bottom line. But while doing the right things is essential, it can be equally important to do things the right way.

It is my belief that a fleshed out IT strategy reconciles predictability with innovation. It will seldom fly to just have one or the other. Both are required and they must feed off each other.

The core challenge essential to implementing both is finding the right blend for your organization. I have written about it here. In the first year of our IT transformation much effort was expended on putting in place good process to support the right level of predictability. It's a work in progress.

Getting the right level of process consistent with culture and organizational needs is a science unto itself.

The IT team made good progress in process areas such as IT governance, project management best practices, IT service management, business analysis and change management. It is in the latter that we gained particularly positive results.

Web 2.0 Summit, being held October 17-19 in San Francisco, will examine "The Data Frame" — focusing on the impact of data in today's networked economy.

Save $300 on registration with the code RADAR

Managing change

At its core, change management is about moving from one state to another to achieve a desired result while being adequately prepared and managing to an acceptable level of risk. It is also an important vehicle for communications between individuals and across teams.

Put bluntly, change management is good business.

Change happens all the time within IT. What contributes to the definition of a world-class IT organization is how that change is accomplished.

As O'Reilly IT entered 2011, we decided to be very deliberate about change. We agreed that we would be hyper-judicious in the infrastructure changes we made. We became priority junkies. Every time a change was identified we asked questions such as whether it was a priority, if there were alternatives, and studied the consequences of not making the change (see the change tool later in the blog).

And as we did that, something extraordinary happened.

The IT operations team started to get the most important projects deployed. Distractions became manageable and the priorities process kept everyone on track.

But most of all, we experienced increased infrastructure stabilization.

Of course some stabilization occurred because the improvements that were being made were being applied through a rigorous change management process. But, moreover, there was greater stability because less unnecessary change was being applied.

Change management was helping us make changes successfully and it was also helping us to determine what changes not to make.

Good process still gets insufficient focus

In IT, most of the time technology gets all the press. We get excited by new innovations and start-ups that introduce cool new capabilities. We are thrilled when a big player disrupts the market with something really compelling. And we should. We live in amazing times and new technology is a big part of that.

But often lost in the enterprise is that while technology represents a part of change — albeit, a critical part — the processes to implement and manage that technology are as important (and often more) than the technology itself.

I would guess we have all seen a great technology fail in an organization because of non-technology reasons. At the same time, I bet we have all seen how good technology coupled with good processes has resulted in excellent results.

When my IT operations leader observed great things happening despite technology, he was inadequately recognizing how we were working. For all involved it provided a rewarding "aha" moment.

Quick tool to manage change

I will conclude by sharing a brief tool that both IT and business can use for managing technology-related change. These are the minimum questions that must be asked for every change. They are simple questions, but all too often one or more is omitted when embarking on a change that expends scarce enterprise resources:

  1. Why [Governance]: Is the change aligned and essential to achieve business objectives?
  2. What [Measurable Outcome]: Is it understood whether it is a technology or process (or both) that will provide the desired result? Can the outcome be measured?
  3. Who [Resourcing]: Have the appropriate participants been identified for this change?
  4. How [Methodology]: What approaches have been identified to execute and manage this change?
  5. When [Prioritization]: Has sequencing been agreed to relative to all other objectives?

If both IT and the business are in agreement on the answers to each of these questions, you've just taken your IT management up a few notches. And you might just find a few people surprised by the positive results.


Sponsored post

August 01 2011

Google Plus defines an era of disruption at a moment's notice

Google PlusWhether or not you like Google+ or have yet to try it, its introduction continues the important role that a battle of ideas has in shaking-up and bringing new value to the marketplace. In the best outcome, robust competition in any business domain should have at least one benefactor: you, the consumer.

Google+ raises the stakes in the social computing space. With so many people and organizations already invested in other social platforms, Google+ is a manageable gamble with the potential for considerable consequence. Yet for the leading social media incumbents the risk may be existential. Fending off this kind of threat will likely require drastic and prompt measures.

When the entrant yields this much power in an existing market and elicits as a response the potential for rapid innovation, this is what I am calling the "G+ effect."

The G+ effect is best defined by the introduction of Google+, but it's not unique to Google; it is unique to our times.

What is the G+ effect?

The disruptive impact of introducing a new product or service is obviously nothing novel. What is new and profound is that the viral and light-speed distribution of digital information and capability across our connected planet can threaten existing businesses at a moment's notice. The entrant doesn't even have to be game-changing, but the outcome can be. The influence and reach of the provider can result in disproportional results from just incremental innovation (even whether or not the product succeeds). It is the innovator's dilemma in overdrive.

The torrent of punditry that accompanies these introductions is notable alone. We are also seeing a significant intensification in rampant speculation prior to a release that can unsettle a market.

Of course, being incremental initially doesn't rule out disruptive later. For example, in the case of Google+, what it becomes in the months ahead and what it may enable could certainly be game-changing. It's far too soon to tell.

It would be easy to conclude that the G+ effect is a destructive phenomenon. Sure, there is something to be said for the uncertainty it can sow, and honestly it is impossible to know quite where it will take us. There is no doubt that existing business players will be challenged in unprecedented ways and some customers may be riled by the constant volatility. I also have to believe that at some point every one of us has a capped quotient for fickleness. But I argue that, at least in the short-term, a dynamic battle of ideas will remain a positive force.

At its core, the G+ effect is an economic phenomenon. Clearly there is an important technical component, but introducing a new product or service that can have rapid and far reaching impact, first and foremost shifts existing market behavior — even if temporary in nature. In some instances, for publicly listed companies, the business introducing the technology may experience a bump in stock value (as we have seen with Google+) and its competitors may see theirs experience downward pressure.

Web 2.0 Summit, being held October 17-19 in San Francisco, will examine "The Data Frame" — focusing on the impact of data in today's networked economy.

Save $300 on registration with the code RADAR

The G+ effect and Google+

Despite only a limited early release, in just a few weeks Google+ has garnered over 20 million participants from across the world. If every one of them had only written the words "Hello World" in the status box, that itself would have been a notable event. Instead, billions of words were added with their attendant photos and videos. Pundits are already claiming the imminent demise of its competition; products that worked hard over several years to earn each subscriber, friend, and follower. (In my view, any notion of the competition's obsolescence is far too premature).

With Facebook taking a significant lead in social networking, it has emerged to occupy a monopolistic position. A sudden injection of viable competition is a great catalyst for innovation. It is one thing for customers to complain about the limits of Facebook Groups and privacy and quite another for Facebook to respond to the potential competitive advantage that Circles in Google+ create.

Let me be clear, this isn't a battle just between Google and Facebook — although it could be argued that it will be the early nexus of the action — no, the impact may be felt across the communication, collaboration, and sharing space.

The only good monopoly is the board game

In a topical and recent case study, for much of its young history commissions have sought to stop Microsoft from garnering a monopoly position. Microsoft's huge footprint in the operating system market enabled it to exploit that position. Look at the innovation of Internet browsers and you have the tell-tale signs of stifled innovation as a result of market domination (remember the first browser war?). It was only when there was a viable alternative, mostly in the form of Firefox and most recently with Chrome and Safari, that we have seen an uptick in browser innovation. (Credit also goes to the various communities that work hard for standards ratification).

Had competition been more rigorous in the early days of the browser, would we be further along with web-based capabilities today?

Currently we see dynamic and healthy competition in the domain of smartphones. But it is also a fragile battle. Now largely dominated by Android and iPhone — solutions created by organizations with extremely healthy balance sheets — innovation is alive and kicking. But should one stumble, a dominant player could emerge and we could see innovation atrophy. Sure, it is speculative and there are plenty of participants trying their darnedest to play catch-up. In fact, with the average American replacing his cellphone every 21 months (source: Recon Analytics), this industry is a prime candidate for the G+ effect.

The G+ effect and the future

What the G+ effect might mean for businesses and consumers over the long-term has yet to be determined. Fortunately we can rely on the marketplace to help sort out what happens next.

At least in the short-term, as an IT leader I encourage rigorous innovation and competition as it helps to keep product and service costs low and accelerates the introduction of desired functions. I also want this innovation to restrict the ability for large corporations to create a closed web or to reduce the very freedoms that make it so empowering.

But with this level of innovation, I'm also concerned by the change costs both in dollars and those that manifest in user fatigue. It could also exacerbate the problems associated with playing catch-up.

For sure, the G+ effect has the capacity to elicit considerable change in the way many organizations operate and compete. Getting a head start on figuring it out might enable many to pursue the emerging opportunities.


July 12 2011

Is the enterprise dead as a tablet strategy?

In "HP's Tortured WebOS Positioning," Jean-Louis Gassée makes the assertion that the consumerization of IT renders the "enterprise-only" pivot null and void.

I disagree, but first some clarity for those who aren't familiar with the term "consumerization of IT."

When the enterprise lost its mojo

Once upon a time, large enterprises (think: Fortune 2000 companies) were widely perceived to be the ideal customer, owing to their large size, well-defined and massive IT budgets, wide range of solution needs, and target-ability from a sales perspective.

All sorts of hardware, software, hosted services and consulting services companies — not to mention a significant chunk of the venture capital industry — fed off of this massive ecosystem, the impact of which meant that innovation began in the enterprise, and then trickled down to the consumer.

However, when the dotcom bubble blew up at the end of 2000, coinciding with the end of the over-hyped Y2K project "pig trough," enterprises lost the impetus to spend aggressively on IT.

In parallel, they began to (rightly) question the return on investment for the many projects they had funded. In broad terms, this led to a reclassification of IT from being a strategic asset, and core differentiator, to being a liability, and a necessary evil.

Basically, the CFO trumped the CIO going forward.

The neutering of the enterprise from an IT perspective coincided almost perfectly with the second coming of a consumer-focused Apple (which frankly, has never grokked the enterprise).

Now suddenly innovation began originating in the consumer realm, and then trickling to the enterprise after it was proven to be a safe investment.

Web 2.0 Summit, being held October 17-19 in San Francisco, will examine "The Data Frame" — focusing on the impact of data in today's networked economy.

Save $300 on registration with the code RADAR

Is the enterprise dead as a player in tablet devices?

Call me naive, but speaking from the perspective of an iOS developer (and someone who used to sell a bunch of hardware and software solutions to enterprises), I think an opportunity exists for some tablet maker to penetrate the enterprise.

Why? Apple's model of controlling both the value-add hardware channel and the software distribution channel is a decided anathema to enterprises, which typically prefer working with and through VAR channels (i.e., Value-Added Resellers) and System Integrators (SI).

Similarly to VARs and SIs, the Apple model heavily complicates the types of solutions that vendors can provide, the pricing that vendors can achieve, the ability to not broadcast key customers to competitors, and the like.

And don't even get me started on Android as an alternative. Here, Google's focus on free, loosely-coupled, "good enough" and ad-supported is a distinctly different set of sales and support assumptions than the enterprise, which is all about high-touch, custom and deeply integrated, has come to expect.

Thus, in the bigger picture the open questions are two-fold. One, is whether there exists a vendor in the tablet space other than Apple that is going to properly set and meet market expectations, as opposed to perennially over-promising, and under-delivering.

This, of course, requires an actual product discipline, inclusive of coherent evangelism, a clear roadmap and release strategy, and a culture of focused execution and iteration — especially on the software side of the equation.

Here, the litmus test is actually kind of easy. Until one of these manufacturers stops talking about Adobe's Flash as a feature (versus a bug, until it works caveat-free); or touting Snapdragon processors and their clock speeds (customers buy outcomes, not attributes), Apple is going to remain the only credible player in tablets.

There is just too much of a halo effect working to Apple's advantage, and the company has high execution credibility in this domain.

By contrast, RIM, the long-time enterprise leader of mobile devices, has clearly (so far) screwed the pooch with their confused PlayBook strategy. And Gassée's piece covers HP's early tablet missteps.

Attacking undefended hills

HP, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft all have logical entry points, from a solutions perspective, into the enterprise via tablet computing. But they must get focus and religion on attacking the "undefended hill" (to use an HP axiom) that is the enterprise tablet.

Simply put, no one is credibly focusing on this customer and its surrounding eco-channel.

Which brings me to the second question: Does there exist even one enterprise with sufficient vision to be "greedy" from an investment and innovation perspective while every one of their peers is acting scared (to use a Warren Buffett axiom)?

After all, it only take one serious proof point to ignite a market, and if HP, et al are really serious, proving out the enterprise should be a core focus.

Netting it out: It's too early to proclaim game over when the stakes are measured in the billions of devices, the budgets are measured in the billions of dollars, and a sleeping gorilla lies naked, unfed and uncared for in the enterprise.


June 01 2011

Will your business survive the digital revolution?

Over the last few years we've watched in giddy disbelief as a web-based social network launched from a dorm room at Harvard University unexpectedly found its way to be an enabler of a Middle East uprising. We've seen how new types of media have propelled people and events into the spotlight and even helped elect a U.S. president. We've looked in awe as mobile devices connected to a ubiquitous network have brought global commerce to the most remote parts of the developing world. We've seen 100-year-old businesses vanish as cocky upstarts replace their once unshaken dominance. We've delighted as citizens have been empowered by a new ease in which to leverage recently liberated stores of data held by governments.

With just these few observations it's clear to all of us that technology is no longer just in support of our lives and organizations; it's taking a commanding and empowering position. And it's vital that we all fully understand just how profound these changes truly are (and will be). The very survival of your organization likely depends on it.

Are we at the start or the end of this technology revolution?

We observe these incredible events unfold and this may lead us to believe we've reached a new pinnacle of technological innovation. Many of us might believe that we're peaking in our capacity to make amazing things happen. To them I say: we've barely even started.

From economics to democracy, from health to entertainment, from retail to education, and everything else in-between, something remarkable is happening.

In my view the events described here are just the beginning of a seismic shift in our human experience. Indeed, these innovations are not reserved for a single nation or continent. This technology-based revolution is the first to quickly reach and impact every corner of the planet.

Every generation believes it lives through remarkable and changing times. And that is probably true. But the large transformations, most recently like those of both the agricultural and industrial revolutions, don't happen that often. These changes are a railroad switch that shifts the course of human destiny. Some have coined our era as the information revolution. But the emergence of the information age has merely been the precursor and a glimmer of things to come.

The true revolution is the convergence of many things. Revolutions require more than just a few elements to be in place. Historically they have required a unique alignment of qualities such as economic and political conditions, readiness for change, demographics and a catalyst.

We see much of that today. Of course, today the catalyst is the Internet. It's also the ease in which so many of us can now produce digital innovation (creating new value through electronic, non-analog means). It's also about the availability of low-cost, ubiquitous global communication networks with an abundance of devices connected. It's close to zero-cost cloud-based storage. With low cost storage comes the easy retention of massive volumes of data and when it's coupled with the fact there are so many opportunities to collect that data; new uses and value can be derived from it.

There is a new world order that is unique to our time that is also enabling this change. Not least the emergence of prosperity in many part of the world and the breathtaking rise of the BRIC nations and others. This prosperity is creating a new class of educated, global participants. This means more competition and it means more innovation. It's all these things and more converging to produce a significant technology-based social and business disruption.

As this technology revolution unfolds, does your business have a survival plan?

Web 2.0 Summit, being held October 17-19 in San Francisco, will examine "The Data Frame" — focusing on the impact of data in today's networked economy.

Save $300 on registration with the code RADAR

The evidence is clear

The signals are in both the destruction of existing paradigms and in the creation of completely new ones. We're watching entire industries disappear or be reinvented through digital transformation: newspapers, books, movies, music, travel agents, photography, telecommunication companies, healthcare, fund-raising, stock-trading, retail, real estate, and on and on.

Digital innovation has few geographic boundaries, so the disruptor can emerge from almost any place on earth.

Completely new models are emerging: location-based services, mobile apps, gamification, payment systems and new forms of payment, cloud computing, big data analysis and visualization, recommendation engines, near-field communications, real-time knowledge, tablets and other new form factors, augmented reality, gesture-based computing, personal medicine, large scale global social networks, microblogging and more. Many of these did not exist five years ago and many more will exist in the next five years. In fact, the next major disruptor is probably already underway. This kind of change is equally exciting and terrifying for organizations.

Why it is different this time

When the Walkman became the Discman, the music industry flourished. But when the digital MP3 player was introduced, the music industry was fundamentally and forever reinvented. Digital transformations are not subtle or calm. They are equal measure painful, chaotic, and exciting.

When mobile phones were introduced they enabled people to untether themselves from a fixed wire and talk almost anywhere. That was useful and convenient. But when smartphones freely enable the coordination of people and events that facilitates the overthrow of a corrupt government, this is not business as usual. That's a fundamental shift in how humans communicate and coordinate their activities.

It will be a rough ride

Sure it won't all be rosy and bad people will do bad things using more of this technology. But that's certainly not news. The vulnerabilities will grow but so will our ability to fight attacks. Opportunities in security will remain in high demand.

There will also be booms, bubbles, and busts. That's a normal part of the economic lifecycle. In fact, outside of the obvious pain it causes, a bust can be a valuable response to irrationality in the market. We will see many of these cycles through this transformation, but I believe we will net out with a continued exponential growth in digital innovation.

The big stuff is yet to come

When you observe how digitization causes significant economic restructuring and the emergence of completely new forms of business, and you factor in an entirely new level of social connectedness, it's hard not to conclude that big things are ahead.

It's also easy to be unfazed by the digital change underway, particularly if you're working deep within it. In addition, it's equally easy to become fatigued and even cynical about further change. But stop, elevate yourself above the chaos and noise, and the digital transformation is a palpable societal disruption.

At the heart of this blog is not a regurgitation of change that many of us already recognize and embrace; moreover, it's about urging each one of us not to underestimate this transformational shift. It's also neutral on the subject — but recognizes — the social and economic negatives that may result. Big shifts like these do evoke, for example, strong feelings of nationalism (somewhat ironically). But I'll steer away from this subject for now.

Failure to anticipate, prepare and respond sufficiently is a significant organizational risk. In other words, delivering your product or service to the market of yesterday and today without constantly exploring reinvention for the market of tomorrow may be certain business suicide. And while that's largely always been true, it's seldom been so necessary and urgent.

Once we recognize the magnitude of change that digital innovation is causing and may bring in the months and years ahead, it will help us to think bigger and to think in ways that may previously have seemed absurd.

As inventors and facilitators of the future we would do ourselves a great injustice to underestimate the change.

The digital revolution: my own personal experiences

Let's just take a quick look at my world for a moment. In many areas of my life it's fascinating comparing how I did things in 2001 vs. how I do them now in 2011. By the way, it's worth noting that while I immerse myself in technology and innovation through my work, I'm not particularly unique in the way I use technology outside of work.

So let's take a look at some of the changes over the course of 10 years: I no longer wear a watch. No need, I get time from my smartphone. I got rid of my landline phone. My phone is my smartphone. I never go to a bank. Done online. I don't know anyone's phone number by heart. I select a name and my phone dials the number. Outside of a radius of a few miles, I don't know how to get anywhere anymore without my GPS. I never use a map. I barely mail a letter. My use for stamps is diminishing. I seldom print anything. Everything that can be reserved, I do online. I don't watch scheduled TV. I watch shows off my digital video recorder or computer when I want (in HD, no less). I use my smartphone for less and less voice calls. I text. I read, take classes, post photos, write, research, play, watch movies, listen to music, comparison shop, order insurance, complain and more all online.

I'm pretty sure your experiences are fairly similar.

Perhaps it is a little bit of an exaggeration, but I mostly only emailed and consumed static content online in 2001.

Almost every one of these areas represents an industry. And as a result of these enabled behavioral changes over the course of a mere 10 years, within these industries many organizations have been created and destroyed.

If this kind of transformation can happen in the past 10 years, with everything we know about how things are trending, what might our lives look like in 10 years from now? While not necessarily a novel question, I'm simply suggesting each of us are being forced to think bigger and more innovatively than ever before about the realities and possibilities of the future.

So what should organizations do?

I'm confident most enlightened organizations have some form of a strategy in place. That's good news. For those that don't or are hesitant, it's time to act. In either case, the following are just a few fundamentals worth considering:

  • Recognize the magnitude of the digital revolution in acceptance and in action.
  • Invest in understanding how your organization can anticipate and respond quickly to change.
  • Monitor and interpret trends and new technology entrants.
  • Audit your vulnerabilities and score progress and risk on a regular basis.
  • Prepare by taking greater risks.
  • Innovate as standard practice (this doesn't just happen, you need a strategy).
  • Make bold changes in order to continue to succeed when disruption is a certainty.

Technology used to be the domain of a few. Now it's the fabric woven into how we all live, work, and play. Today it has the power to create and destroy value in an unprecedented manner. That's a big deal for every organization.

It's likely a very big deal for you, too.


May 16 2011

The future of technology and its impact on work

Here's a 40-minute presentation and interview I gave at the Center for Technology, Entertainment, and Media (CTEM) at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. The video covers a range of subjects including demographics and technology trends that will emerge over the next 5-10 years and what will be required to succeed in the workplace of the future.

April 20 2011

Why the cloud may finally end the reign of the work computer

Work Place by cell105, on FlickrIt's been a debate within organizations as long as I can remember: whether it's possible to support a workforce that has the choice to use their own computers to perform their work. Recently the discussion has reached new levels of excitement as some big name organizations have initiated pilot programs. For IT leaders it's a prospect that's both compelling and daunting.

Technology developments over the years have made software more hardware agnostic, such as the introduction of the web browser and Java. Personal computers have largely become commodity items and their reliability has significantly improved. Yet, despite these events, bringing your own computer (BYOC) to work has remained an elusive goal.

Why bring your own computer to work?

From an IT leader's perspective, the reasons for supporting BYOC are pretty clear. In an environment where CEOs want more of the organization's dollars assigned to value-creating investments and innovation, the ongoing cost of asset management continues to be an unfortunate overhead. From procurement and assignment to repairs and disposal, managing large numbers of personal computers represents a significant dollar amount on a CIO's budget.

The second driver is the desire of employees to use the equipment they are most comfortable with to do their jobs. We know that for most, a personal computer is not simply a black box. From wallpaper to icon positions, a computer often represents an extension of the individual. If anyone needs more convincing, just try and pry an Apple computer away from its user and replace it with a Windows machine (and vice versa). People have preferences. Enterprise-provided computers are a reluctantly accepted reality.

Why can't we bring our own computers to work?

With these compelling reasons and more supporting BYOC, why has it not happened? The first reason that comes to mind for most IT leaders is the nightmare of trying to support hardware from a myriad of vendors. It flies in the face of standardization, which largely helps to keep costs and complexity down. In addition, organizations have continued to build solutions that rely on specific software and hardware requirements and configurations. Finally, there is both a real and perceived loss of control that makes most security and risk professionals shudder.

With all that said, there are now some substantive reasons to believe BYOC may soon become a reality for many organizations.

Times they are a changing

[Many of you can skip this brief history recap] When the web browser emerged in the 1990s, there was some optimism that it would herald the beginning of a world where software would largely become hardware agnostic. Many believed it would make the operating system (OS) largely irrelevant. Of course we know this didn't happen, and software vendors continued to build OS-dependent solutions and organizations recommitted to large-scale, in-house ERP implementations that created vendor lock-ins. At the time, browser technology was inadequate, hosted enterprise applications were weak and often absent for many business functions, and broadband was expensive, inconsistent, and often unreliable across the U.S.

Skip forward and the situation is markedly different. Today we have robust browsers and supporting languages, reliable broadband, and enterprise-class applications that are delivered from hosted providers. It's also not uncommon anymore for staff to use non-business provided, cloud-based consumer applications to perform their work.

Oh to be a start-up! If we could all redo our businesses today, we'd likely avoid building our own data centers and most of our applications. This is one of the promises of cloud computing. And while there will be considerable switching costs for existing organizations, the trend suggests a future where major business functions that are provided by technology will largely be non-competitive, on-demand utilities. In this future state it's entirely possible that hardware independence will become a viable reality. With the application, data, business logic, and security all provisioned in the cloud, the computer really does simply become a portal to information and utility.

Smartphones are already a "bring your own computer" to work device

The smartphone demonstrates all the characteristics of the cloud-provisioned services I've discussed. In many organizations bringing your own smartphone to work is standard practice. Often the employee purchases the device, gets vendor support, and pays for the service themselves (a large number of organizations reimburse the service cost). It's a model that may be emulated with personal computers. (That is, if smartphones don't evolve to become the personal computer. That's another possible outcome.)

I believe fully-embraced cloud computing makes BYOC entirely possible. There will continue to be resistance and indeed, there will be industries where security and control is so inflexible, that BYOC will be difficult to attain. There will also be cultural issues. We'll need to overcome the notion that providing a computer is an organizational responsibility. There was a time when most organizations provided sales-people with cars (some still do). Today we expect employees to provide and maintain their own cars, but we do provide mileage reimbursement when it's used for business purposes. Could there be a similar model for employees who use their own computers? Today, for BYOC, some enterprises simply provide a stipend. What works and what doesn't will need to be figured out.

So what now?

So what are the takeaways from all of this? First, BYOC is a real likelihood for many organizations and it's time for IT leadership to grapple with the implications. Second, the emergence of cloud computing will have unanticipated downstream impacts in organizations and strategies to address those issues will need to be created. Lastly, we've already entered into a slow and painful convergence between smartphones, personal computers, consumer applications and devices, and cloud computing. This needs to be reconciled appropriate to each industry and organization. And it has to happen sooner than later.

When the dust settles, the provision of computing services in the enterprise will be entirely different. IT leadership had better be prepared.

Photo: Work Place by cell105, on Flickr


April 06 2011

5 reasons why we still don't have invisibility cloaks

GlacierIT innovation abounds! We live in a spectacular time. Change appears to be happening rapidly. Market barriers for new entrants have come down. Got an idea? You can make it happen. But despite all the ebullience, much of our innovation remains incremental. It's more often evolutionary rather than revolutionary. In fact, that's just the way it's always been. New knowledge is created at its natural pace and new insights build upon it. Occasionally there is a ground shift and a new branch of knowledge emerges that itself spawns new products and services. In the IT business, we see this every few years.

Sure, we should give credit where it's due. The IT industry is at the leading edge of innovation when compared with other industries. I've even personally had a fruitful career in IT innovation.

I write here, not about the IT innovation that we see happening in businesses every day and not about the important incremental innovation that helps businesses move forward. I'm referring to breakthrough innovation — the kind of innovation that reinvents everyday things. Of course it happens eventually, but it takes a long time.

The reality is that organizations are only capable and willing to adopt technology at their pace. For many of us — suppliers, managers, and implementers of technology — it can be valuable to understand why this might be the case. No matter how much you fight it, the rate of technology adoption at enterprises is a throttle on the velocity of new innovation that can be introduced by technology providers. In my view, were this not the case, I imagine we may already have had pervasive teleportation and invisibility cloaks at our disposal.

Over my career working in and observing multiple enterprises, I've noted some consistent trends that provide rationale for their speed of technology adoption. It's fair to say that there is a spread, but the majority in the bell curve move at a slow rate. Of course, there are always clear exceptions and we have to recognize those trailblazers, too. However, even the first movers are constrained by the majority. For example, with a social application: if your organization is the the only one using it, its value may be considerably weakened by the absence of the network effect.

While the title of this posting might suggest something more exotic, I believe it's a fitting allegory for the real limitations that exist in organizations today. Below I outline five reasons why enterprises have a slow adoption rate for innovative technology.

1. Cost

Decision-makers have many choices when investing scarce dollars on IT projects. In most organizations it's a prioritization process that nobody enjoys. But it's essential. Many great ideas fall by the wayside and never make the light of day in favor of more pressing enterprise needs. In this context, broad implementation of new technology — not research and development efforts — can have real problems securing funds.

Additionally, a new solution is often more expensive because of the change that needs to happen. It's a bigger proposition than an upgrade, an enhancement, or the roll-out of a commodity-type ERP. Other costs, such as risk and the implementation unknowns, can provide a disincentive to decision-makers already jaded by too many failed IT projects.

Despite these constraints, many enlightened organizations still commit funds to high-risk, new technology projects, often by using dollars set aside specifically for these special projects. That raises an important question each organization must ask: is it worth it?

2. Complexity

Today, fewer and fewer solutions remain islands among the IT infrastructure. There are often so many inter-dependencies that even a small change has downstream impacts that must be considered. Introducing new technology into these environments is seldom a trivial exercise. It's also a reason why so many decision-makers prefer single-vendor stacks. Sure, standards have improved the situation immensely, but we're still a far distance from a time when customizations aren't required or are at least reserved to the administrative layer.

In many ways, this limitation is aligned closely with cost. Complexity becomes less of an issue if you're prepared to invest in the effort. Again, pressed to decide between essential IT needs and expensive, complex new technology, many organizations trend towards the former.

3. Resistance

While both cost and complexity are largely qualitative inputs, there are a number of human factors that greatly influence IT decisions.

There is an unfortunate twist to our period of hyper-innovation. While we embrace and support it — we love new toys — there's a more sober component to new technology introduction that cannot be overlooked. It's similar to that moment at a buffet when you know you'd like to try more, but you're simply too full. Humans have a cap on the amount of new technology they are able to consume. Introduce too many new applications and they will be rejected. Every CIO needs to understand, for his or her organization, the pace at which new capabilities can be deployed. It's a lot slower than we think.

This applies to system improvements too. As we've seen so publicly demonstrated as a consequence of Facebook changes, make too many far-reaching modifications and you risk a user rebellion. That's a recipe for failure.

4. Legacy

We are wedded to the past. It has a lot to do with comfort and trust. We like the things we know more than things that are new and unknown. There's a reason we go back to that tried and tested Excel formula when we know we have the same capability in the latest ERP system. There's a reason we continue to use email for seeking answers when our organizations have spent millions on elaborate knowledge management systems. There's clear value in legacy systems.

New technology often has to compete with these older solutions. For many of your users, you'll need to pry them away from the old applications kicking and screaming. In some instances resistance will be so fierce, you'll be forced to concede.

The net effect? Legacy systems present a limitation to the introduction of new technology. It may not happen at the time of deployment. It's just as likely to happen at IT project governance when the decisions are being made on what projects to invest in. A debate may ensue that argues in favor of the legacy solution and that will kill the new technology before it ever sees the light of day.

5. Politics

Oh, the joy of organizational politics! It should come as no surprise that politics plays an important role in IT decision-making. Sometimes it can be an asset. For example, escalating up a hierarchy to leverage leadership perspective can often be a good way of getting tough decisions made. But it can too often be a liability. For example, individual or team self-interest can result in vendor selections that don't reflect evidence gained in requirements gathering.

Reconciling organizational and individual interests is a messy business. And it's highly complex. I imagine many of us can tell our own stories of how we observed decisions being made that had little basis in reasonable logic. We'd like to pretend it isn't a factor, but all too often it is.

Negative organizational politics can hinder IT innovation. There is considerable value to the skill in those that can navigate within those constraints and turn them into a positive outcome.

Organizational politics shouldn't be viewed as always being negative. It's important to recognize the role it plays in the process of introducing new technology and then working to channel it into a positive force.

These organizational constraints are presented not to suggest that new technology seldom gets introduced to the enterprise. Of course it does. The real effect of these limitations is that they slow the rate of introduction. I'm also suggesting that this slow rate when compounded at a macroeconomic level has a significant impact on the overall speed that new technology innovation gets integrated into each of our lives.

I recognize that this blog doesn't explore the impact of new innovation in the consumer space on the enterprise (this phenomenon has been called consumerization). That's certainly an important input. While many of the limitations I've discussed are still relevant, there's a valuable research effort to be done to fully understand what the impact of consumerization will be on enterprise IT innovation over the medium to long term.

Just in case you were wondering, invisibility cloak research and prototyping is well underway. Just use your favorite search engine to look up the subject. You might be as surprised and impressed as I was.

Photo: Glacier des Bossons by r-z, on Flickr


March 29 2011

Process management blurs the line between IT and business

Business process management (BPM) and more specifically business process optimization (BPO) is about fully understanding existing business processes and then applying agreed-upon improved approaches to support market goals. Rather than exploring BPO from the viewpoint of the business, here I'll briefly explore some of the motivations and benefits from an IT perspective.

Almost every business change has a technology impact

There are very few IT systems today that exist in isolation within an organization. Systems interact because they often require data from each other and they are interdependent in terms of sequential steps in a business and technology process. As a result, a change in one system invariably has a downstream impact on one or more other systems or processes. Often, the consequences of these changes are poorly understood by both IT and business stakeholders. Put another way: in interdependent complex systems and processes, there is seldom the notion of a small change.

Once both IT and business stakeholders recognize this, there is an opportunity to turn it into a highly positive outcome.

IT must be perpetual teachers and learners

As is the case in achieving many of the objectives of an IT strategy, it begins with communications. Every contact between IT and the business is an opportunity to teach and to learn. This is a reciprocal interaction. When I hear or read a sentence that begins, "Could you make a small change for me…" I know we're already starting from a bad place. Unless the requester fully understands the internal complexity of all the interdependent systems and the potential impacts (which is rare), it's presumptuous for him or her to estimate the scale of the change. Conversely, any IT person who minimizes the impact of a change without fully understanding the potential impact does a disservice in setting expectations that may not be met.

For IT requests, it's best and safe to assume that a change will have impact, but the scale of that change will not be known until reasonable diligence is performed. That's a much better starting point.

Let's now assume that the change is not inconsequential. Two opportunities present themselves.

IT is an important business facilitator

First, stakeholders that are impacted by the change should be brought together to discuss the impact. I'm always surprised how these meetings reveal gaps in everyone's understanding of business processes between departments. To me, this is where IT can shine as the connective tissue within an organization. More than ever, technology forces organizations to better understand and agree on processes — and that's often well before the subject of supporting technology is even relevant to the conversation.

Use this opportunity to surface the entire process and for everyone to understand the impacts of any change. Improvements to the process very often emerge. IT has suddenly motivated business process optimization.

There is no such thing as too much process documentation

Second, assuming no documentation exists, this is the right time to map the process. If you're like many organizations, your IT systems grew organically with little emphasis placed on business process design. My guess is that comprehensive, high-quality, current process documentation is uncommon. It's never too late to start. If you have business stakeholders in a room discussing and agreeing on the current and future process, this is the time to document it. There is a burgeoning market for tools and support to help enable and simplify this work.

Ultimately, documented processes make it easier to build the right software and to make changes with less overhead activities in the future.

The essential roles of business analyst and solutions architect

It's this emphasis and attendant benefits of understanding and documenting business processes that supports the expanded roles of both the business analyst and solutions architect. These two roles, and having the right amount of capacity for your organization's demand, will be essential to succeeding with your IT strategy and in growing the business. In many organizations, the business analyst for this work may or may not be in IT, thus further blurring the lines between where IT starts and ends and where business responsibilities start and end.

Perhaps it's possible that in the not too distant future we'll look at IT as part of the business and not as a separate entity in the manner it is today. It just might be the increased emphasis on business process management that acts as the catalyst.


March 16 2011

Knowledge management in the age of social media

Twitter and office buildingKnowledge management, which is broadly defined as the identification, retention, effective use, and retirement of institutional insight, has been an elusive goal for most large organizations. It is motivated by practical business intent, such as the distribution of knowledge to avoid relearning the same best practices over and over. However, in reality it is a requirement that is remarkably difficult to attain. Some of the smartest people I have worked with have been frustrated by their efforts, not through lack of trying or ability but by the inherent challenges it presents. The emergence and impact of social media in the enterprise forces us to rethink knowledge management and creates completely new challenges.

Today, some of the core issues with existing knowledge management approaches can be categorized as behavioral and technical (I recognize the complexity of the subject and acknowledge there are many more qualities to examine; using the following two should be sufficient to support the points in this blog).

1. Behavioral

In order for a knowledge management system (KMS) to have value, employees must enter insight on a regular basis and they must keep the knowledge current (we can all agree that out-of-date information, which has reference value, is much less useful as the general desired state of actionable knowledge). Seldom are either of these behaviors adequately incentivized. By sharing tacit knowledge, many employees believe they are reducing their own value to the organization. In addition, updating the information requires effort, which is rarely a priority against the core responsibilities of the employee.

Psychic income earned on your own time might provide incentive for Wikipedia updates, but it doesn't often translate to well spent effort on company time.

2. Technical

When presenting to audiences I often ask if it is easier for them to use a public search engine to find information about their organizations or use their own organizations' websites for a search. As you might guess, the majority of the room goes with the public engine.

It's remarkably difficult to organize information in the right manner, make it searchable, and then present it so the most relevant responses are at the top of the search results. In addition, organizational information is hardly the example of pristine structure. While public search engines benefit from counting the number of links between items (a good measure of popularity), internal systems have no such equivalent. Unstructured content is the king of the public web, whereas it is the bane of the enterprise. (Things will change in the future as new technologies, such as those that support the semantic web, are broadly adopted and implemented).

The situation is compounded when employees are disillusioned by the effectiveness and effort to use the KMS and resort to old habits, like asking colleagues or improvising in the absence of guidance (thus repeating mistakes or missing best practices). The system often fails to be adopted — or at best is used by a small proportion of the organization — and no amount of resuscitation is enough to bring it back to life.

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Social media completely changes the existing knowledge management paradigm

It may be time to put down your tools in trying to make the old model of knowledge management work; social media is a completely new beast that changes many of the rules.

In the old world order, knowledge was usually created and stored as a point in time. In the future, organizational policy or insight may not be formed by an individual creating a document that goes through an approval process and is ultimately published. It will likely begin with an online conversation and it will be forever evolving as more people contribute and circumstances change.

Social media takes knowledge and makes it highly iterative. It creates content as a social object. That is, content is no longer a point in time, but something that is part of a social interaction, such as a discussion. It easily disassembles the pillars of structure as it evolves. As examples: content in a micro-blogging service can shift meaning as a discussion unfolds; conversations in enterprise social networks that link people and customer data can defy categorization; and internal blogs and their comments don't lend themselves to obvious taxonomy.

The days of the single, authoritative voice are coming to an end. The community has prevailed.

The shift to the adoption of enterprise social computing, greatly influenced by consumerization, points to one emergent observation: the future is about managing unstructured content.Let's consider the magnitude of this for a moment. Years of effort, best practices, and technologies for supporting organizational insight in the form of curated, structured insight has to be rethought. It's an enormous challenge, but it may in fact be the best thing that ever happened to knowledge management.

There is an important silver lining to this story

In the long run, social media in the enterprise will likely be a boon for knowledge management. It should mean that many of the benefits we experience in the consumer web space — effective searching, grouping of associated unstructured data sources, and ranking of relevance — will become basic features of enterprise solutions. It's likely we'll see the increasing overlap between public and private data to enhance the value of the private data.

For example: want to know more about a staff member? Internal corporate information will include role, start date, department etc., but we may get additional information pulled in from social networks, such as hobbies, photos or previous employment. Pull up client data and you'll get the information keyed in by other employees, but you might also get the history and values of the company, competitors, and a list of executives, gleaned from the broader repository of the public web. I'll leave the conversation about privacy for another day.

It's likely that social-media-driven knowledge management will require much less of the "management" component. Historically we've spent far too much time cleaning up the data, validating, and categorizing it. In the future, more of our time will be spent analyzing all the new knowledge that is being created through our social interactions. Smart analysis can result in new insight, and that has powerful value for organizations.

No doubt this is an enormously complex space and social media magnifies the challenges. The time is right to evaluate your knowledge management strategy. New value creation starts now.

Photo: Office, by ianmunroe on Flickr


March 09 2011

Seldom a love story: IT and end users

No signToday, the IT department is often a victim of its success. With technology increasingly at the center of business initiatives, the demand for services is an insatiable. And while most IT professionals come to work each day to be productive and add value, more often than not, it's an uphill battle to keep internal customers happy. Working either harder or smarter hasn't necessarily produced the customer satisfaction dividend anticipated. Moreover, it has served to increase expectations of what can be provided and it has continued to raise the bar for IT.

Typically, IT will deliver the right thing at the right time (as long as there is leadership support and good requirements), but it can be painful getting there. Internal customers will be happy to get their solution, but they might not be happy in the manner it was done. It's a perception issue. IT is too often judged almost exclusively on how something was produced rather than what was delivered.

Should IT be chasing kudos or trying to get the job done right?

In the service business, success is often measured by having happy customers. In the marketplace, happy customers are repeat customers. Organizations with internal service departments are not usually subject to these types of competitive pressures. Sure, cost must be managed otherwise a service may be better performed outside the business. But even where cost is higher, organizations continue to enjoy the benefits and pay the premium of keeping many services internal. For example, they can exert maximum control and are not subject to continued contractual interpretations and disputes. With that said, if you're a captive cost-center, quality customer service has to be driven by something else such as culture, incentives, or vision. In other words: it's a choice.

If an IT team is delivering quality services and products but still not meeting, say, the speed of service expected, that might be an acceptable trade-off. In other businesses, quality may suffer in place of speed. In project management, there is a maxim known as the triple constraint. That is, changing one of the following: speed, cost, and scope usually results in an impact to the others. In service delivery, the triple constraint is often quality, speed, and customer satisfaction (underlying these is a fourth, the inadequately addressed component of risk.)

It's a worthy goal to be both a world-class customer service provider and a producer of high quality products and services. It's possible to manage the service triple constraint without too many trade-offs. But to be that organization requires an important operating principle: IT must rarely be the arbiter of priorities. That role must live squarely outside of IT.

Changing IT from an organization of "no" into an organization of "go"

I've seen it repeated throughout my 20-year IT career: internal customers come to the IT team with a need and it's IT who says it can't be done. Customers get frustrated and they have a poor view of the IT team. Usually they are saying "no" because of a capacity issue rather than a technical limitation. When IT says no to a customer, what they're really saying is that something else is more important. That's IT being an arbiter of priorities.

Yes, it goes back to IT governance, something I've discussed as being absolutely essential to business success.

But while IT governance can work as a process at the leadership level, it will fail when the IT team doesn't have the understanding and the language of the process to support it as it manifests downstream.

When confronted with a priority decision, an IT staffer needs to move arbitration back to the business.

The staffer typically wants to know what to do, not whether they should do it.

Therefore, you must transition your staff from saying "no" to asking questions about priority and capacity. It certainly can be the case that more than one request has priority. If so, it's now a question of investment. Spend more and you'll get more resources.

Bottom line: these decisions are made by the business, not by the IT staffer who's just trying to do the right thing.

Internal end-users and IT may never have a love affair, but if roles are better defined and understood, all parties will be less frustrated, have greater empathy for where they are coming from, and customer satisfaction will be firmly focused on the quality of the product or service being provided.

Photo: Encouraging No-No’s by jurvetson, on Flickr


March 02 2011

3 essential skills for IT professionals

Whether you are preparing for a career in information technology (IT) or you are a seasoned professional, it's important to know what skill needs are emerging in the marketplace. As I review the technology and business landscape, I've made some observations about what I believe will be increasingly valuable proficiencies to bring to the table.

Demand for certain skills or an increased focus in specific areas is being motivated by drivers such as the commoditization of IT, which is moving many countries to more right-brained jobs economies; by the data deluge, which is presenting considerable opportunity to understand business in completely new ways; and by rigorous competition in the marketplace, which is forcing greater velocity in the generation of new service and product ideas.

Many roles within IT will continue to be valuable but may be more sensitive in the long run to the business landscape shifts we are experiencing. Rather than a decreasing need overall, I predict we'll continue to see a greater role for IT in the future as well as IT skills being an important part of almost every information worker's inventory of capabilities.

It's also fair to point out that we'll see new skills emerge that we can't even imagine right now. For example, in the mid-1990s it would have been near impossible to predict skills in search engine optimization (SEO) or the whole range of IT careers that have spawned from social media.

The following three skill areas will find high demand in the marketplace either as standalone careers or in combination with other skills.

1. Coordination

In the context of IT, coordination is a skill set that provides guidance and oversight for the smooth interaction of multiple activities and their positive outcomes. It certainly includes project management, but it's not limited to it. People who can bridge relationships between disparate participants, such as developers in an offshore location and testers at a local facility; accommodating cultural differences, advocating for collective success, and expediting answers to questions and concerns, offer significant value.

The IT coordination skills can equally live in the business, the IT organization, or in a third-party provider. In a world where achieving results can often require the participation of a multitude a loosely related resources, effective coordination skills are paramount.

Acquiring great coordination proficiency certainly comes with experience, but preparation should include focusing on negotiation skills and communications in general; problem solving techniques; understanding the fundamentals of project management; and acquiring time management and prioritization methods.

2. Analysis

Our digital world is creating mountains of new data. In fact, we are experiencing exponential growth in its volume. As an example, every two days now, we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. It's both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is clearly making sense of it. The opportunity is using findings in the data for competitive advantage.

It's becoming clear that large volumes of data can reveal new insights that were previously unknown. As examples, analysis performed on unstructured data scattered across the web can reveal sentiment on people and products. Examining the patterns within social network connections can tell us a lot about where authority resides.

It's within this new context that we see demand for people with skills to identify and extract valuable data; perform extensive analysis on it; discover patterns and hidden secrets contained within; and make sense of it for decision-making purposes.

To acquire these skills includes training in critical thinking, analysis tools, presenting quality communications through writing and visualization, and statistics.

3. Innovation

We've seen large parts of IT turn into commoditized products and services. As an example, email is not a competitive advantage and it's largely dominated by one vendor. Whether you keep that capability and its attendant skills in-house is largely a cost and risk decision. Many organizations are reviewing their internal IT capabilities and concluding, that unless they are creating new value and a distinctive advantage, they simply remain a necessary cost center.

IT leaders are being tasked to reduce the cost center component to a minimum while ramping up the competitive elements of technology. The c-suite is requiring the IT organization to commit the biggest percentage of their available capacity to partnership activities with the business in creating new opportunities. It's this driver that is increasing the demand for innovation skills.

Innovation is the most abstract of the three skill areas in this blog as it is often the hardest to quantify. But it does include a wide range of skills that contribute to the conversion of ideas into net new business value. These include research, applied research, product evaluation and recommendations, problem solving, championing a new idea, and building a business case for investment that includes cost-benefit analysis.

As you consider your IT career, you might conclude that none of these skills are central to your interest. That's okay, too. My view is that, should you choose another IT path, it's still worth considering whether any of these three areas can complement your core interest. Whether you want to be or continue to be a programmer, business analyst, system administrator, or quality assurance analyst, adding one or more of the skills above can only add to your advantage.

We're guaranteed that the needs of the IT jobs marketplace will continue to change, but if each of us is ready to acquire new skills, a career in IT will remain one of the most lucrative and exciting of the professions.


February 23 2011

Interim report card on O'Reilly's IT transformation

report cardLast year O'Reilly Media committed to a new journey: An IT strategy was adopted with the intent to transform the way technology was delivered to support the goals of the business. It was equal parts ambitious and essential.

We're more than six months into the execution of that strategy and it's clear there is still significant work to do be done to realize the benefits. Some things have gone really well and some areas continue to challenge us. In this blog I'll share and grade our progress to date.

While continuing to have success in the marketplace, O'Reilly Media recognized that supporting the future needs of the organization would require a rethinking of how IT was delivered. Motivated by the same growth factors as many businesses, O'Reilly Media required more innovative solutions, delivered with greater speed, and at the right cost.

Working closely with leaders and other key stakeholders across the O'Reilly Media businesses resulted in an IT strategy that was agreed upon in the fall of 2010. The strategy was based on four major pillars:

  1. Governance
  2. Architecture
  3. Strategic sourcing
  4. Hybrid cloud

I discussed the four pillars in a previous post.

Here's how we've done in each of these four areas:

1. Governance

There's one indubitable truth to all IT organizations: demand for services always exceeds supply. Try as you might, it's an appetite that can't be met. One of the core goals of IT governance is to ensure — with so many competing demands — that the right things are being prioritized and addressed. Responding to the person who screams loudest is not an IT governance strategy.

In reality, governing priorities require a process that is well understood and supported across all teams. It's also considered a burden, albeit an essential burden I would argue, and can meet with considerable resistance. I wrote about the difficulty in implementing IT governance here.

At O'Reilly Media I am really proud of our progress with IT governance. I do recognize that some of the progress is back-office and not immediately apparent to our end-users. I'm confident that will come in time. All the essential components of IT governance are in place and it is fully operational. The process begins at ideation and runs across decision-making right through to implementation. Today we have a fully agreed upon IT roadmap of projects that stretches to 12 months and soon we will have a view of the next 18 months. It's a process that has enabled us to move forward with essential projects such as business intelligence and author tools. Bravo!

The grade for this area reflects the fact that the full process is only recently functional and it is still not in a state where most people who interact with IT can see the full value. What we have to do is refine the process, make it much more agile and lightweight where it makes sense, and demonstrate results that clearly show it is the right way to align technology with business goals.

Grade: B-

2. Architecture

O'Reilly Media, like most businesses, runs a collection of complex systems that support its operations. And like most businesses those systems have evolved over time as needs dictated. Unfortunately, unless there had been a grand master plan back at the beginning, things work because of brute-force efforts at integration; not because of a well thought-out multi-year architectural plan. That's no criticism of our business. It's just the way things have happened for most organizations.

An enterprise architecture approach aims to reverse this trend and take the long view. It means ensuring that IT is designed and aligned to support the goals and strategies of the business. To do this, the structure and processes of the business must be well understood and documented.

In O'Reilly IT, our first step was to create a new position to lead our architecture strategy. The solutions architect role was filled and that person is now beginning to describe the next steps and create milestones in the difficult but highly rewarding journey ahead of us.

There is much to be done, such as creating an architectural review board to govern standards and make critical design decisions; to fully enumerate an IT service catalog; and to integrate an architectural mindset into solutions development.

I'm going to assign this a lower grade. It's not a reflection of the challenge and our success to date. It's merely an appreciation of the level of effort ahead of us.

Grade: C

3. Strategic Sourcing

While acknowledging the concerns people have over strategic sourcing, it's an area of our strategy that everyone easily understands. Strategic sourcing is about identifying and applying talent from wherever there is a viable source, at the right cost and at the right time. Done correctly, it should also result in internal staff working on higher value work.

Strategic sourcing is also a way to convert IT from an organization that when capacity gets tight, must resort to saying "no." If you want IT to be an enabler, it can't also be a roadblock. Strategic sourcing turns the situation from a "no capacity" problem into a discussion about investment. If it's really important, capacity can be purchased. (I'll discuss this specific subject in more detail in a future post.)

I've said it many times; strategic sourcing is not an equivalency of outsourcing. Strategic sourcing might mean using existing staff, and even skills that are available in other parts of the business.

In this area we've made good progress. We've completed a full project using a combination of existing internal employees and a newly identified off-shore company. We've also hired several US-based contractors using new talent placement vendors. Our existing team has found our strategic sourcing efforts to be complementary to our efforts and indeed our internal work is being elevated to higher-level value.

Strategic sourcing is now part of our project on-boarding process. Some process remains to be completed. But we're aggressively moving forward as the business gets more confident in our ability to supply capacity, and as we see an improving economy that is showing signs of a tightening supply of full-time talent.

Grade: B

4. Hybrid Cloud

O'Reilly owns several data centers in addition to utilizing a colocation facility. It's an organization that has historically allocated a physical server for each application. Maintaining and supporting this infrastructure is costly, high effort, and a distraction from the higher value work that we could be doing.

That said, a private cloud strategy that predates the existing strategy had been in place for some time, and some applications had moved into an internal virtualized infrastructure.

Our hybrid cloud strategy proposes to quickly identify application candidates to move into the public cloud or replace with software-as-a-service equivalents, and as appropriate, move the remaining applications to our private cloud.

On paper, hybrid cloud for us seems obvious and straightforward. O'Reilly Media has the risk posture and ambition for such a strategic move. However, it's clear now that we've faced unanticipated obstacles.

The key issue is that the resources you need to do the heavy lifting are often the same resources that need to maintain and support the existing infrastructure. It's a classic chicken and egg paradox. You can't make progress on reducing the overhead of the legacy infrastructure when you're consumed with maintaining that infrastructure. In addition, we wanted to hire a person to lead our cloud strategy and soon learned that such talent is scarce at best.

So what have we done? We identified a person on the existing team to lead our cloud efforts (although we have to wait until he finishes a high-priority infrastructure project) and we've had to queue up some critical maintenance projects in advance of our cloud migration work. We are also in the process of identifying external partners to help us implement our cloud solutions.

On balance this means we haven't made the progress we've wanted. We're deeply committed to this strategy and are now optimistic we'll make significant progress soon. You can read more of my views on cloud computing here.

Grade: C-

Overall, I've been generally pleased with our progress. A lot of work remains and it will be some time before staff across our businesses experience the benefits of this strategy.

We're still in the deep fog of change. We're experiencing a combination of talent changes (new people joining us and some legacy staff exiting), expected process growing pains, and some strategy implementation bumps.

Change is tough and can be frustrating for both end-users and IT staff.

In my view, implementing our IT strategy is like changing the wings of an aircraft in-flight. We're making considerable change but at the same time we can't disrupt the services and projects that are already underway. To this end, I am deeply grateful to the O'Reilly IT team as we haven't skipped a beat. We continue to deliver a considerable volume of value to the business while fundamentally changing the very nature of how we deliver that work.

In addition, it's also important that we've continued to get support for the changes across the business. Those that see the changes are very pleased and others remain patient.

If you're going to succeed with your IT transformation, you've got to keep the business on your side.

Being CIO can be a tough gig. But seeing positive change and how, when done right, technology can empower people and teams to do amazing things, is exhilarating and reminds us of why we do this work.

Photo: Report Card by Mark Gstohl, on Flickr


February 16 2011

Mind-blowing, world-changing technology by the numbers

This is a golden age of technology. Almost anyone with modest technology, such as an Internet connection or a mobile phone, can have an impact on the world. The following video illustrates just a small slice of the staggering numbers and impact of technology that we witness today.

(Note: This is an Ignite presentation I performed with 20 slides and only 15 seconds permitted per slide.)

February 09 2011

The impact of IT decisions on organizational culture

It's said that with great power comes great responsibility. Among business functions, the IT group has disproportionate control over what can and can't happen in an organization.

Let's take instant messaging as an example. Assuming IT makes the final decision (which is often the case), enabling instant messaging both internally and with external parties can fundamentally change the way a business communicates. But prohibit instant messaging (which still happens today), and the IT organization is fundamentally dictating how communication will take place. That's considerable power for a business function, and it must be managed carefully.

Should IT dictate how everyone works?

The obvious and most visible control the IT organization has is over product choices. If you're reading this blog on a work computer, it's likely you didn't choose that model yourself. If your software is locked down, I'd guess you didn't select the browser or the word processor or the email client. Fortunately some organizations allow staff to download applications of their choice, but they are often the freebies, and not the major business solutions. For those there is an approval path and it usually leads back to the IT organization.

Given that the IT organization has chosen many of your basic information tools, it has already predetermined what you can and can't do.

Advice: Non-IT staff should participate in your standards and product selections process. Also, in addition to understanding what the technology will enable, it's important to explore and articulate what it will limit.

Is IT enabling or killing ideas?

I've written about the critical importance of IT governance, and in fact, have made it a cornerstone of the IT transformation at O'Reilly Media. With all its significant benefits, the risk with IT governance is that it becomes the opposite of what is intended. The process in which a new idea becomes a great new product or solution can live or die with IT. That's the power the IT organization has within a business. Executives know this and it is often a source of considerable frustration.

IT is often characterized as an enabler. While mostly accurate, to what degree have we acknowledged that through our decisions it can be a limitation? And more importantly, how do we manage that risk?

Advice: Don't lock your IT governance down. It must be a process that quickly changes as constraints are identified. Stick to the principles but constantly look for ways to reduce friction.

Does your IT organization move fast enough?

Does the IT organization move as fast as the business? Ideally yes, but we all know that the sobering reality is that IT, largely due to its popularity as an enabler (read: demand for IT almost always exceeds supply of capacity), is often a bottleneck. I've seen it too many times: a request won't even make it to IT because there is a perception that it will never get done or at least not get done in a timely manner. If this is the perception in your organization, then IT is stifling innovation. In other words, IT is limiting the possibility of a favorable cultural quality.

Advice: Provide clearly linked-to IT governance, understand current perception and look for ways to manage and prioritize ideas outside of those deeply aligned with business strategy. It's important to explore and continuously evolve your processes to be more agile. I also offer some additional thoughts in my blog about predictability and innovation.

Living with your IT decisions

I've touched on a few examples here, but it must be clear to you now that almost all IT decisions today can have lasting negative implications (we already assume that we understand the benefits of our decisions). Choices like an ERP suite or architectural decisions around how data is stored and shared can have profound impacts on the ability for stakeholders to make timely business decisions. In many cases, and particularly in our new business environment, these IT decisions can make or break a business.

Smart organizations foster the culture they want. They make deliberate decisions to encourage and discourage certain behaviors. Today, business brand and culture are often intertwined and those that get it right consistently win in the marketplace.

While I believe we recognize the limiting qualities of IT decisions, I'd suggest we've insufficiently studied the degree to which those decisions in aggregate can have a large influence on organizational culture.

It might be time to better understand the relationship between the culture of your organization and the IT decisions that are being made.


January 26 2011

Mobile in the enterprise changes everything

mobile phonesBy now it's clear that mobile is the new global frontier for computing. People on every continent are embracing mobile as the primary method for electronic communications.

Increasingly, many are also using mobile computing for a myriad of day-to-day activities, from purchasing products and services to testing blood insulin levels. Five billion people now use cellphones — about 62 percent of the planet's population — compared to less than two billion who have a personal computer.

Within just a few years more people will access the Internet from a mobile device than from any other technology.

In developing nations the cellphone is a tool of empowerment; it has the power to change economic and political landscapes. In developed nations it is disrupting existing business models and introducing completely new ones. Mobile is enabling us to reinvent everything from healthcare to payment systems.

Smartphones, a subset of the mobile market at a little less than one billion users and growing quickly, has become a domain of hyper-innovation. Fierce competition from big players such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Research in Motion (RIM), is driving the rapid delivery of new, innovative capability. The lifespan of a new device or version of an operating system is been compressed. The market appetite continues to grow and there are no signs of fatigue. In fact, the accompanying mobile applications industry is booming. In just over two years, consumers have downloaded 10 billion apps from Apple alone.

Suddenly the PC looks like yesterday, while mobile is today and tomorrow.

It's time to act

For an IT leader, mobile is a game-changer. Unlike many other emerging technologies where an immediate strategy is not a concern, mobile is front and center now to your users and customers. This requires new thinking with regard to how data is accessed and presented, how applications are architected, what kind of technical talent is brought on board, and how companies can meet the increasingly high expectations of users.

As if there wasn't enough pressure already!

There are two audiences for mobile applications and capability: your internal audience and the customers you serve in the marketplace. Both have different needs, but both have expectations that have already been set. The benchmark is not your best internal web-based app; instead, it is the most recent best-in-class mobile app that any one of your users or customers have recently downloaded. While your internal users might be more forgiving for a less than optimum user-experience, you're pretty much guaranteed your external users won't be.

Many IT leaders are not yet fully embracing mobile (I'm not talking about email and calendar access here — those are the essential basics). Part of the reluctance to fully come to terms with mobile is simply change fatigue. Remember, the move to the web is still in full swing and many organizations still struggle with core system integration issues. But another part of the issue is that the magnitude of the change ahead is not well understood. A mobile strategy is not the equivalent of making your web applications accessible via a mobile device. In the short-term, that may suffice for some (but barely). In the medium-term a mobile strategy means thinking completely differently about the user experience.

In the world of mobile, IT leaders and business stakeholders must consider how new capability such as geolocation, sensors, near field communications, cameras, voice, and touch can be integrated into functionality. It also means that core issues such as security, device form-factor, and limited screen real-estate must be addressed.

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Mobile crashed the party

For a time there was a positive trend trajectory where the ubiquity of browsers on computers were making application development almost hardware agnostic. This was a great story and it had a decent run. The proliferation of devices and operating systems in the mobile space is a considerable spoiler. Now, any mobile application worth its salt must have versions — at minimum — for the web, for the iPhone, and for the Android platforms (that's the basics before you consider others such as the BlackBerry, iPad, and Windows Phone). That may mean multiple development and design efforts.

In other words, just when IT leaders were beginning to see some platform stability, everything changed.

Not all industries will need to adopt mobile strategies at the same rate and not all industries will have to deal with providing solutions for their end-users in the near-term. There is no question that if your product or service is business-to-consumer and it already supports a good deal of its business via the web, then this scenario demands an aggressive approach to mobile. While this offers some consolation for everyone else, it's merely temporal in nature.

Every business and every IT leader will need to quickly find the right response to the momentum that is nothing less than a mobile revolution.

At the end of the day, those of us who work with technology do it because of these types of major disruptions. The move to mobile represents yet another technology cycle that we must embrace. These cycles often start and end in different places. Who could have imagined that the web would change so much about our world in the way it has? I think it's fair to say that mobile has the capacity to change the world in ways we cannot even fathom today.

I don't know about you, but that makes me excited about our industry and the future.


January 19 2011

3 types of IT leaders: maverick, innovator, guarantor

There is little recognition that the operating profile of IT leaders can vastly differ from organization to organization. This is most pronounced when studying how technology vendors sell to this audience. It can often appear there is simply one type of person leading every IT organization. Variations in needs are seldom reflected in the way products are sold.

There is an array of independent inputs that determine the style of each leader. Take for example the industry in which the person works. The approach of a CIO that leads a B2B industrial products business is going to be vastly different from one that runs an IT department at a university. Now also consider the culture of a business. It's not possible to have the same style leading IT at a highly risk-tolerant, innovative tech company versus providing the essential needs for a conservative and low-tolerance-for-risk insurance giant.

For many of you, this might sound obvious. But why then do marketers, analysts, consultants, and so many pundits (I'm probably guilty here too) so often sell to this community like it's one dimensional?

I don't mean to generalize too much. We should certainly recognize the brilliant jobs so many salespeople perform. Rather, the advice in this post is for the group of salespeople who could benefit from thinking differently about the diversity of every IT leader.

The following guidance can also be used by recruiters when thinking about filling IT leadership roles. In this instance, it can be asked: do the characteristics of the organization align to the skills, experiences, and personality of the person being hired?

Finally, if you work with or for an IT leader, it might help you in thinking about how to manage the relationship in a positive way.

Here I present my vastly condensed categorization schema for the IT leader:

1. The maverick

This IT leader works for an organization that thrives on taking risks. You're likely to see lower levels of vendor standardization; this IT leader likes to try lots of different products and the organization's broad portfolio of hardware and software reflects that.

The maverick IT leader is likely to have a higher level of comfort with open source and with quickly adopting less mature technologies. The background of this IT leader is likely technology-based and he/she has extensive IT knowledge.

The environment requires this person to move fast. Sitting on long, protracted RFP submission proposals, for example, will not go over well, nor likely be a common approach. Speed and agility are popular qualities with this IT leader, but there is a trade-off with standardization, repeatable processes, and predictability. Often this person succeeds with the sheer brute force of determination. But this benefit can often come at a price.

Advice: When working with this IT leader, be conscious of his/her low patience and less of a long-term commitment to any one direction.

2. The diligent innovator

This IT leader operates in an enlightened organization. He/she understands that IT innovation can bring considerable benefits, but this leader doesn't necessarily make a first-mover play.

In this organization, occasional managed risk is supported with the caveat that homework is done and a back-out strategy exists. This IT leader is often asked to be agile in responding to needs while also being encouraged to push back on requests that don't align with business objectives or may disproportionately introduce unnecessary complexity. It's often a hard place to operate because the pull to take greater risks must be balanced with diligent decision-making. This can often result in a slower pace of activity, or in the worst case, in an impasse. The focus on diligence with underlying encouragement to innovate makes this a popular posture of IT leaders, but it can be the hardest of the IT leader categories to succeed in.

Advice: Be sure to provide this IT leader with plenty of assurances, good quality information, and support throughout any initiative.

3. The rock-steady guarantor

The ask of this IT leader is often the simplest: keep the essential systems running, don't take too many risks, and keep the technologies moderately current. This person doesn't need everyone to have the latest versions of software. They keep a close eye on new developments, but almost always take a late-majority approach to implementation.

While it sounds like this IT leader has it the easiest, that is the furthest from the truth. This person is being asked to keep everything working. Disruptions and surprises and not well received by management. Naturally, this makes the IT leader less agile, forces processes to be more bureaucratic, and change is much harder to make happen.

For most of history, this organizational profile has succeeded by being conservative and moving at glacial speed. The jury is out on whether this method is sustainable in today's economic environment. The IT leader at the helm of this type of organization has considerable challenges ahead. He/she will see increased pressure to operate in a way that has been historically inconsistent with the risk profile of this type of business. A large amount of CIOs fill this category.

Advice: This IT leader requires a considerable volume of analysis to make decisions. Be sympathetic to rigorous approval paths, and prepare to support commitment to projects in the long-term.

I expect most IT leaders will have styles that overlap among all three categories, but it is highly likely that the predominant characteristics live in one of them. Of course, I'm really interested to hear from anyone who thinks they know an IT leader who doesn't belong in any of these categories.

A short blog post can never do justice to an important discussion. I've left out a lot here, such as budget control and who the CIO reports to. But what I'm trying to do is raise awareness and provoke a dialogue. There isn't a one-IT-leader-fits-all model. IT leaders are fundamentally different based on the organizations they lead.

Knowing and considering the subtle and not-so-subtle differences with each IT leader will help marketers better reach and resonate with them. It will help anyone who works with the leader to have more successful interactions and outcomes. Ultimately, it will be better for the IT leader and the organization.


January 11 2011

Why is IT governance so difficult to implement?

"Governance? Process? Yuck, nasty words!"

Those are the actual opening words I used in an introductory email to O'Reilly Media business leaders whom I was inviting to participate in an important new process. What I was introducing had the potential to become antagonistic bureaucracy and could seriously backfire. So I was treading carefully but knew I had to move forward to enable our desired IT transformation and sustainable on-going effective operations.

But let's step back and understand the origin of my motivation for this new process.

As an IT leader, do these statements sound familiar? Demand for IT capacity far exceeds the ability for the IT team to deliver. Everyone who makes a request considers theirs to be a priority and wants it done as soon as possible. There's considerable frustration from requesters that their work is not getting addressed or has been put on-hold to address other priorities. The IT team is highly stressed, lacks direction, and morale is low.

The good news is that IT remains a highly valuable and in-demand business resource. The bad news is that all too often these statements reflect the state of IT operations for many businesses. And while it can continue like this, the costs are all too well known. IT becomes the bottleneck to business growth (yikes!) and effective operations and nobody is happy: not the IT team and not the business.

If you want to transform IT and fix these all-too-common issues, a new approach must be adopted. The trouble is that by introducing the methods to fix these problems, in the short-term it can be tough to win buy-in. In effect, you have to introduce a modicum of bureaucracy which will often arouse aversion by business leaders. Getting past those first few months and demonstrating success will help you turn the corner and transform the way IT is delivered. It's not easy.

So what is this process?

What I'm describing here is IT governance. In simple terms, IT governance is a process that ensures that IT capacity is working on the right things at the right time to enable business goals. It's a set of controls that focuses on organizational success while managing associated risks. Sounds simple, right? The devil is in the details! While nobody could argue that any process that aligns IT to business goals is the right strategy, it's the change required and the compromises on the part of business leaders that can derail this most worthy of efforts.

Why is IT governance so difficult to implement?

Business leaders want to do the right thing. They want the business to succeed and they will work hard to make that happen. But all too often, they are motivated and rewarded by having their small part of the organization succeed. IT governance requires that the scarce resource of technology capacity be diligently distributed across the organization for overall business success. In other words, it requires that IT cannot be allocated on the basis of individual team needs but rather on collective, organizational goals. (Of course, we recognize that a small percentage of IT budget should be set aside for specific team needs and in many organizations each team gets a dedicated amount of cash for that very reason).

How does IT governance work?

IT governance works like this: all technology investment requests are brought to a central authority (at O'Reilly Media we call it our governance review board) and the merit of every request is debated and a decision is arrived upon. Membership of the board is made up of senior members of the organization that represent every function.

What is the core value that ensures IT governance will work? The ability to compromise.

If participants are focused on the success of the entire business, compromise becomes easier. Those not used to this type of approach will initially be frustrated, and that's why the first few months are essential. You have to demonstrate that this is a better way to manage your scarce IT resources. If it works well, it solves most of the issues described earlier in my post. Seriously!

I'm passionate about IT governance because I see the enormous value it has for every type of business. But more specifically, to me, this is the central activity that will ensure the success of O'Reilly Media's IT transformation. I've said it many times to my team and the business, if IT governance doesn't succeed, it will radically hinder our abilities to do the important things we want to achieve. That's no over-statement.

How is IT governance at O'Reilly Media working?

So far, so good. We now have a clear roadmap of IT projects that have been agreed and approved to move forward on. Business leaders are happier because they know what is being worked on and when solutions will be delivered. Some leaders have reservations, but they are remaining open-minded. The IT team knows what to work on and understands the role of the solution relative to other systems and goals. It is a win-win. But there is still important work to do and demonstrating the long-term value is still ahead of us.

Is IT governance optional?

There are many ways to implement IT governance, but the principles remain the same. While we can debate the method of implementation, I'll go to bat to suggest that we cannot debate the essential value of IT governance. Regardless of the size of your business, some form of IT governance must be part of your organizational processes.

Bureaucratic? Sure. Essential? Definitely.


January 04 2011

Can good IT managers make great business leaders?

Recently, many people have been pointing out to me how my O'Reilly blog on IT leadership and the attendant observations on technology have been resonating outside of the IT community. Specifically I'm told, the subjects I'm writing on have meaning and value as general business management content. As I pondered on this notion, it struck me (and it's obvious in hindsight) that in a world where technology is a fundamental foundation of almost all business, there's not a great deal of difference between the skills required for good IT management and that of general management.

However, as true as that might be, as I further considered the thought, I concluded that good IT management doesn't necessarily equate to great business leadership. We hear it all the time: today, CIOs and IT leaders must be able to partner with other members of the C-suite and in addition to running the operations of IT, be able to grow the business through IT enablement.

After all, the CIO is first and foremost a business leader.

Here's the ask: the CEO wants more value from IT, the COO wants optimized operations, and the CFO wants it all at the least possible cost.

This requires the CIO to understand business and — surprise — have some form of general business background. That being recognized, the most common path to IT leadership is still through the IT organization, and that means the CIO strength may be of a technical nature with a nuanced flavor of management. That can often present a problem.

It's important to recognize that to run an IT project or to manage a team of IT developers requires good management techniques. But all too often, IT professionals exist and operate in a vacuum resulting in a variation of management absent of inputs such as market forces. In other words, the typical IT manager, for example, may never be exposed to a P&L statement.

This is not by intention, but comes about as a result of how almost every IT organization operates. Largely shielded from the real work of the business, IT has both the convenience and the limitation of working with internal sponsors who are captive customers with no choice of supplier. That couldn't be any more different than leaders who were groomed with and are working with the open marketplace. Put another way, acquiring management skills within the IT organization may result in a myopic view of general management.

The best IT managers I've seen have a background of both IT and general management. Many IT managers do not get to work in a non-IT environment. But the IT managers that do best are often those that have had more business exposure than their peers. Take that as a tip for any aspiring IT manager.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that a great IT leader doesn't need a technical background or a good understanding of technology. That's necessary and expected. After all, one assumes that the reason for wanting to be an IT leader stems from a passion for technology often reflected in a life of mild obsessiveness with geekdom. What I am suggesting is that a technical background with IT management skills may not be enough to cut it as a great business leader.

To succeed, an IT leader must learn to talk in the language of business. For example, cloud computing is about potential cost reduction and new business opportunities, not some abstract technology term that introduces a suite of complex new service models. The latter has a place at your IT team meetings, but will do little to invoke attention in the board room.

A great IT leader is also a salesperson who takes an idea and inspires the audience. He or she must drive emotional commitment from a team and sell a vision that people can buy. That killer combination of communicating IT innovation in business terms, understanding the numbers, and eliciting belief from the C-suite can form the backbone of highly effective business leadership.

Without these skills the CIO can often be relegated to order-taker and maintenance guy.

Being a good IT manager is hard. Being a great business leader is harder. What separates them is not just the ability to continually and uniquely inspire, but first to be a really well-informed and skilled business manager. Get the basics right, learn the business, understand the financial aspects, think big picture, talk the talk, inspire through your values, and then deliver. Hit many of these on the head and you just might shine as a business leader in the C-suite.


December 21 2010

The 2010 technology of the year is ...

While Facebook and the iPad garnered considerable attention this year -- and rightly so -- it is the free micro-blogging service Twitter that gets my 2010 accolade for the most important technology product of the year.

Now with more than 175 million subscribers, an estimated dollar value that is double that of the New York Times, and 25 billion tweets this year alone, Twitter is becoming a formidable disrupter in multiple domains, including media and the enterprise.

In June of this year, responding to several of my friends and colleagues who were simply confounded by the merit of Twitter, I posted my first blog on the topic. Looking back now, six months later, I see that even I significantly underestimated the value of the service.


Why Twitter?

Twitter finally meets the two essential criteria for business success:

1. Is there a viable revenue model?

To that I say a resounding yes! This year, Twitter began the rollout of their suite of promotion features. A form of advertising, Twitter promotions call out sponsored hashtags and help to serve up associated tweets. As Evan Williams (Twitter co-founder) pointed out at the Web 2.0 Summit in November, a considerable challenge right now is managing the excessive demand by brands to have their products and services promoted. He also pointed out that there are many more ways to monetize Twitter that are in the works.

2. Does the service have sustainable utility for its users?

Once again, Twitter has proven this to be the case over and over again. I'll spend the remainder of this post exploring this point.

Twitter as a communications tool

There are few websites or TV commercials now that don't adorn themselves with the Facebook and Twitter logos. These services are quickly becoming the new destinations or originating points for people interested in learning more about products and services. Twitter, with its small footprint and timeliness advantage, has the ability to uniquely reach and drive sales to a global audience. For a broader set of marketers such as politicians, governments, entertainers, charities, media outlets, and non-governmental agencies, the service provides a new and valuable channel to spread a message.

I personally use Twitter to communicate my ideas and to highlight items of interest to my followers. I also enjoy reading tweets from those I follow that are both informative and entertaining (side note: like many of you, I've completely dropped the use of RSS for pushed content as a result of Twitter). It's also a knowledge discovery tool for me (more on that later below).

The usage of Twitter during the Iranian presidential protests in 2009 hints at the promise of a frictionless channel that rides above the limits of traditional communication tools.

Twitter as a disrupter of existing media

If you've had the chance to play with Flipboard for the iPad, it's clear to see that pulling in a Twitter stream illuminates the real-time zeitgeist in ways never possible before. It presents person-specific interests and provides options for content, such as video that you can be explored further if desired.

Too often we take an existing media and simply present the same content in a different digital context. Great innovation uses digitization for reinvention. For example, we shouldn't simply bring TV to the Internet; it should be different and use the unique capabilities of digitization to make it even more compelling. In Twitter, for example, the ability to serve up news in small chunks from a plethora of pundits results in the reinvention of news distribution. That's neat.

Twitter as a competitor to Facebook and Google

The September facelift of Twitter on the web, which included inline video and photographs, was suggestive of what may lie ahead. Rather than being limited to basic micro-blogging capability, the revised Twitter is a compelling place to share media and send and receive direct messages. Improved mobile accessibility and usability extend these capabilities beyond the desktop, too.

Twitter has become a destination to discover and find things. Some of that is by push (e.g. you follow a link someone shared), but increasingly it offers benefits in pull (e.g. you do a search for something). While the demise of Google search is not imminent, Twitter is a search paradigm disrupter that can't be ignored.

Twitter is natively a social network. It easily connects people and interests. Once again, while not a Facebook killer yet, a few additional features would align it against the core value-propositions of Facebook, but in a decidedly -- and potentially -- more compelling manner.

One can easily deduce why both Google and Facebook have been vying to acquire Twitter.

Of course it's not all perfect. Twitter has a lot of work to do. They continue to have service outage issues when utilization spikes. A symptom of success no doubt, but an excuse that is long past its free-pass status. In the same interview cited earlier, Evan Williams spoke about the need -- which they are working on -- to have more meaningful or relevant tweets somehow rise above other less valuable content. One survey found that 40 percent of tweets are "pointless babble." That's a lot of noise if you're trying to get real value from the service.

Fundamentally Twitter is important because it takes traditional concepts such as marketing and messaging and forces us to rethink them. Its API enables powerful data analysis of trends and discovery of patterns. It has spawned an ecosystem of more than 300,000 integrated apps that extend its capabilities. It's even sparked a healthy amount of copycats, both in the consumer space (e.g. and Plurk), and in the enterprise (e.g. Yammer and Socialcast).

I recognize Twitter as my 2010 technology product of the year for many of the reasons above, but specifically it is because of its potential. If the company makes a few smart decisions over the next few months and beyond, Twitter has the power to be profoundly important in many areas of our lives.


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