zondag, juli 20, 2008

Exciting IT? Come to the Dark Side.

I am about to leave for holidays. And so are probably a few more of you. Thought it would be nice to leave you with a couple of ideas and concepts. Just to keep you focused among all the distraction of doing nothing and enjoying the great outdoors.

I can’t really tell you where I am going (although I will reveal that the local currency is quite low compared to the Euro), but the weather forecasts promises us lots of sun and high temperatures. No doubt we will have to seek protection in the shadow every now and then. Not to worry, it will give us the opportunity to contemplate the exciting things that will happen in IT after summer. And they are bound to happen in the shadow, on the dark side: in more and more organisations, market-facing departments leverage the power of service-oriented architecture, Web 2.0 and mash-up tools to build their own, instant solutions.

It is a direct result of the pent-up demand that is created by us all, spoiled as we are as consumers on the Internet and as owners of advanced tools and devices. We have come to expect the same experience at the office and if the IT department is not able to deliver it, we will do it ourselves.

Bricolage, is what the French would call this: use what is available to build your own solution. You may want to think about it, if you happen to stroll through the local markets in the Provence this summer.

So once again, it may be Shadow IT - at the dark side – that really delivers on the promise of emerging technologies. It is up to the IT department to avoid this time the problems of Island Automation (we’ll stay in holiday mode) that we got to know all too well with the rise of the PC.

And it will have to be done through enablement, not discouragement: central IT could be the architect and supplier of a technology platform that is both standardised and flexible. Sounds like contradictory attributes, but they are exactly what is needed to ensure that the cool, unplanned things that happen in the shadow stay nevertheless effective and move towards the same direction.

I will be most happy to discuss further with all of you. But not now. I will be perfectly incommunicado in the next three weeks. Well, almost that is. If you are a desperate Web 2.0 addict, you may want to follow my adventures on Twitter or even check our holidays blog. In that case, may the force be with you.

In iets gewijzigde vorm gepubliceerd op Capgemini's CTO Blog

zaterdag, juli 12, 2008

Features Overrated

Nah, let’s not produce yet another obvious comment on the queues of people, anxiously waiting to buy - and maybe, just maybe even activate - their new iPhone 3G. After all, this is world news that nobody can escape from, easily beating missile tests in Iran and the election dispute in Zimbabwe.

What did struck me though in some early comments was the claim that the functionality of the iPhone is not so special at all, as many established smart phones contain similar features. Particularly the Japanese would not be interested in the new device, spoiled already for years by products that support even a lot more, including photography, live TV and an electronic wallet.

So why is it then, that some of the biggest queues were in Tokyo?

Guess it all comes down to Features being so Overrated, a persistent phenomenon in the IT market, not caused by users and consumers but by producers, analysts, industry watchers and consultants. I fell victim to it as well, in an earlier career as the chief developer of a commercial software tool: every new version of our product was shoved with additional features, just to stay in the Rat Race with our competitors. It was entirely about the check boxes, sent to us on surveys that had been put together by all and sundry, but not by the people that actually would be using our software.

I recently spoke on a CRM seminar where all major suppliers showcased their products. The upcoming SaaS challenger Salesforce.com was contemplated thoroughly and some competitors and analysts made the already familiar suggestion that the product is interesting, but yet too limited in functionality for mainstream, enterprise use. This amused one of our clients – recent winner of a prestigious annual CRM award - and he commented that if only all sales representatives in an organization would really use 30% of the simplest CRM package functionality on a daily basis, this would be a monumental leap forward. This argument also pertains to using word processors and spreadsheets: in the first instance, we may judge Google Application’s features too limited for enterprise purposes. Then, the majority of us may actually find too much in the package to absorb.

Features are overrated. And we may be so immersed in our check boxes and surveys that we don’t even notice that queue of business users. They are piling up to work with tools and applications that are basic, simple and – above all – fun to use.

Who knows, even sales reps might start to maintain their client records. Just because it is a cool thing to do. Or are we tempting fate now?

Published on Capgemini's CTO blog

donderdag, juli 10, 2008

IT Executive column: Hallo School! Doei School!

In hetzelfde muffe gymlokaal waarin ik een eeuw geleden mijn Atheneumdiploma kreeg uitgereikt zat ik onlangs weer, deze keer voor mijn afstuderende dochter. Er blijkt geen steek veranderd. Goed, de jonge leraar Nederlands van toentertijd is ondertussen rector geworden. En onze wulpse juf Engels heeft zich ontpopt tot een bijna gepensioneerde, zorgzame moederkloek. Maar verder verloopt de diplomaceremonie nog steeds volgens hetzelfde stramien, waarin elke leerling een boodschap meekrijgt van de studiebegeleider, overigens nu ondersteund door de onvermijdelijke Powerpointpresentatie. Interessant is dat steeds de beoogde vervolgstudie wordt genoemd.

Achtenveertig veelbelovende, energieke en ambitieuze jongeren, allemaal met hun eigen plannen. Een zelfverklarend tijdsbeeld met een hoop geneeskunde, industrieel ontwerp en internationale politicologie. Maar ook met de toneelschool, milieuwetenschappen en landschapsarchitectuur. Alles kom je eigenlijk wel tegen.

Behalve informatica.

Ondanks het hoge bètagehalte blijkt geen enkele leerling zelfs maar de geringste aandrang te vertonen om te gaan studeren op software engineering of informatietechnologie. Ook bestuurlijke informatiekunde - klinkt toch al een stuk minder intimiderend - kan op geen genade rekenen. Een korte, ter plekke geïmproviseerde interviewronde in de gymzaal levert naast diepe afkeer (‘mijn vader zit al in de ict') en vooroordelen (‘allemaal nerds daar' ) een enkel nieuw inzicht op.

Zo worden de lessen ‘ ict' veel als boosdoener opgevoerd: als het vak blijkbaar zó saai en triviaal is - niet zelden wordt de leraar de les gelezen door de leerlingen - dan leidt dat tot een triest carrièreperspectief. Kun je net zo goed gelijk rechten gaan studeren.

Als we het werkelijk belangrijk vinden om in Nederland straks genoeg opgeleide it-specialisten te hebben, moeten we de zaken dus misschien juist in het voortgezet onderwijs al serieuzer aanpakken. En dat het kan, heeft uitgerekend mijn eigen lyceum in het verleden bewezen. Wij kregen informaticales van een jonge, bevlogen docent die ons leerde hoe we met ponskaarten een DEC PDP-8 konden programmeren. Uiteindelijk liet hij ons een simulatie van de maanlander schrijven in Basic. Toen een teletype ratelend verslag begon te doen van de eerste virtuele landing pompte bij ons allen de adrenaline door de aderen. Uiteindelijk zou ik informaticastudent worden.

Hoe dan ook, de leergang 2008 is voorgoed verloren voor het vakgebied. Bij de uitgang krijgen we een jaarboek mee waarin alle afstudeerders een eigen tekst hebben geschreven. Sommigen houden het bij clichématige bedankjes en herinneringen aan de schooluitjes. Anderen wijden er uitgebreide, bespiegelende epistels aan. Ene Dennis houdt het kort en bondig: "Hallo School! Doei School".

Daar zit in ieder geval geen consultant in, denk ik dan maar.

Gepubliceerd in IT Executive, 9 juli 2008

zaterdag, juli 05, 2008

The Only Good Technology is No Technology - 7 Wonders of Invisible Infostructure

The Only Good Technology is No Technology. Now this may sound a bit strange, especially as it comes from a CTO. So let me elaborate. I am suggesting that we are rapidly approaching an era in which technology - of course – does not really disappear, but certainly becomes more invisible. When we no longer realise that we are using complex technology, it liberates us from the urge to understand, build, change and control it.

And it is liberation we desperately need, consumed as many organisations are by an infrastructure that is often complex, heterogeneous, based on legacy solutions and impossible to integrate, let alone manage. In order to create headroom for innovation - both in terms of the budget and in terms of attention span – we must drastically reshape the way we think about infrastructure. We must transform it into a truly Invisible Infostructure: a platform that does not impose itself on us and nevertheless provides us with all the information and services we need to run our business applications.

The Invisible Infostructure – part of Capgemini’s TechnoVision 2012, much more soon - is not necessarily a new concept. But the actual practice is becoming better and better. When I recently showed a new, ultra-thin laptop (it would not be prudent to mention the brand, suffice to say that it almost floated away through the air) to a client, we mulled over what possibly could be next. We agreed it would be nothing: the final version of a product or concept often integrates seamlessly into its environment, effectively becoming one with it.

I thought it would be a good idea to introduce some convincing examples of Invisible Infostructure, not only to illustrate a point but also because I imagine you have many more suggestions. Please share with us your builds on the following 7 Good Technologies. They may not quite be nothing yet, but they will surely trigger your appetite for invisibility.

More on Capgemini's CTO Blog.