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December 31, 2012

Business precedence in IT programs

There is always an underlying power struggle going on in IT implementations between Business and  IT teams, but does that have to be the case every time? Mostly the business teams lost earlier, but now there has been a paradigm shift- organizations & System Integrators (SI) have started to acknowledge the importance of the business opinion in IT programs, as they are the ones who are going to use it in the end after all!

What needs to be understood is that the solution that an SI is implementing is not just a piece of technology; it has to solve a business problem and is meant for that very purpose. What good is a solution, which is not user friendly and doesn't solve the problem it set out to conquer?

SIs need to treat business as their customer and think about what will make the end user's work easier. This way SIs will be able to ship out relevant, useful & meaningful solutions which will delight the clients.

Some of the common maladies faced in IT implementations:

·         Involving the users at the later stages when all the important design & implementation decisions have been taken.

·         Trying to mold the solution according to the Tool's capabilities- Instead it should be emphasized that we choose a tool which can actually implement what is needed by the business (I know SIs do not have this liberty many times, but can still provide their opinion and leave the decision on the client). Choosing a wrong tool can lead to severe heart burns at the end when the client will discover that after spending millions of precious budget dollars they did not get the solution which was required. Instead the client got a fancy but useless technology!

·         Half-baked requirements & flawed requirements gathering process leading to misleading specifications

·         Haphazard communication

Food for thought:

·         Involve business from the word go- Involve representative from every key function and manage interactions efficiently to save everyone's time. Respect people's time they are spending for the process and be well prepared for the interactions.

·         Always, and this has to be emphasized, always have the business problem in mind at every stage of the project, just cannot afford to lose sight of it. Critical decisions should be guided by the business goals, aiming to achieve an optimum outcome.

·         Try and showcase how the end product will look like before you start coding, let the users have a look at the solution they are going to use. It does not have to be a fully functional solution; just collate some screenshots/ wireframes/Visio diagrams in a power point presentation. All in all, show them what they are going to get and do not start on it until & unless they are happy with it. It is far cost effective for clients to tweak functionalities at the start rather than doing it at the end when the cascading costs will force the client to live with an inefficient solution and will leave the SI with a bad reputation!

·         Short Proof of concepts & Prototyping can also help in addition to the above mentioned point to give clients a better feel of the end solution that will be provided.





·         Try to know the business direction and the future roadmap for the solution- this will help you have some headroom for future enhancements and will also help in forging a long term mutually beneficial partnership. Why would a client replace an SI which understands their strategy, their roadmap and has been delivering quality solutions? A win-win situation!

·         Always emphasize on fluid communication between teams. Failing to communicate effectively and in time is a sure recipe for disaster. Have mechanisms & protocols in place to avoid this pitfall.

·         Keep the key stakeholders engaged at every stage of the project. Efficient Program governance comes into the play here; you need seasoned managers closely aligned with accounts which can help with nipping in the bud any issues that might crop up.

·         Go for the Iterative approach if possible, this way you will have something to showcase after each Iteration providing quick wins for the business team to showcase to their stakeholders. This is your chance to make them look good!

So let me repeat my question regarding the underlying power struggle, does that have to be the case every time? - NO!

·         All said and done, at the end of the day Technology, Management & Business are going to play pivotal roles; this is why we need teams with a good mix of all these domains.

·         We need to acknowledge the importance of each type of skill & understand the roles they are going to play. This can make a huge difference.

Balance is the magic word and it's a tight rope for System Integrators!

Please share your views/ experiences with the business involvement and its effects? Eager to listen!

December 21, 2012

The Mystery of the Dead Carrier Pigeon

Ah! Now that I have got your attention through a blog post titled like a cheapo thriller novel, I promise you that this post will not disappoint. Well, a few days ago, a relic of the World War II era - a wartime carrier pigeon - was found in the chimney of a home in the UK. It had its vital, secret message still attached to its foot.

Code breakers in the Intelligence center struggled hard to decipher the message and finally succeeded. The message comprises of  27 five-letter code groups. The message turned out to be far more important than what one of the commenters humorously put up - "send help please I am stuck in a chimney somewhere in Surrey"

In large enterprises, we keep running into dead carrier pigeons - applications that are still running with no information on the source code or applications running perpetually and causing significant trouble when something stops working suddenly.

We had a weird incident recently with one of our clients where an integration interface stopped working suddenly. The middleware servers with their listeners had been running for several months without any outage or issues and so had this particular interface. The interface suddenly stopped working and troubleshooting was very much akin to deciphering the secret message that the pigeon carried. Investigation quickly revealed that all was well with the middleware infrastructure. Somebody then fished out a document which was a few years old and talked about the interface specifications. We dusted off the document and got cracking - analyzing logs, message signatures, etc. Trouble shooting for a couple of days led us to the root cause of the issue and we got things working again. 

We had another incident with one of our clients last month - the one is fairly common ... application binaries without relevant source code being available!

As enterprise modernize and transform, portfolio assessment and application decommissioning exercises become critical and throw up a lot of such interesting anecdotes.

Carrier pigeons meanwhile have had a long history before being decommissioned ... being used as messengers during conflicts, for getting advance information to aid trading decisions and for exchanging other important messages. There are ideas underway to re-commission passenger pigeons!

What are some of the interesting scenarios that you have encountered in this regards?



December 3, 2012

Get me a PDM - Personal Driving Management app!!!

I had blogged about Automotive App Store sometime back and this one is taking off from where I left. I have been working with leading OEMs and Tier 1 vendors in the auto sector. Most of them are discussing app stores and we have been having energizing discussions internally as well. I have been wondering as a consumer what would be apps that would really help me in the vehicle and here's one that I would want on my vehicle (and maybe on the smartphone as well). It's a Personal Driving Management (PDM) app very similar to Personal Finance Management (PFM - ) tools provided by my bank. I would like to invite the readers on a virtual tour of this app.

What should a PDM do?

For starters, the app should tell me my driving history, habits etc. which are pretty much after the fact.  In addition, I would like the report to resemble my bank statement - Debits and Credits i.e. when did I fuel up and how long did it take me to refuel? What else? I would like to be alerted on the parts/components that need servicing/replacement so that when I visit a service shop, I am not at their mercy (which is definitely the case right now). Do I want the app to schedule my next appointment? Maybe, but most definitely it should equip me with information to help me have an intelligent conversation with the service technician. Let's imagine a bit more - maybe the app tracks replacement service parts, warranty etc. I am certain some of you have better and wilder imagination on what else can be done.

Why should I have a PDM

I think fuel and maintenance are the top two cash guzzlers in the vehicle ownership journey. I would embrace technology and tools that would help me optimize on these two elements. I also think that it would help balance the information asymmetry that exists between the driver and service organization. I would be benefited by the fuel statement to plan my trips better.

There's probably quite a bit of behind the scenes technology that needs to be enabled and implemented to make this possible. Automakers might be reluctant to share proprietary vehicle related data with 3rd party developers. Are there ways around it? Most definitely, so it's question of when and not how. Get me a PDM app!!!