dinsdag, juni 16, 2009

IT Executive column: De Ideale Finale Oplossing

Denken vanuit Idealiteit is een uitstekend middel om belemmeringen en vastgeroeste gedachtepatronen te doorbreken. En soms is dat handig, bijvoorbeeld om het potentieel van nieuwe technologieën te illustreren op een congres over Cloud Computing in Zweden.

Laat me dit kort verklaren.

Het werken vanuit Idealiteit is ooit groot gemaakt door Genrich Altshuller, een luitenant bij de Russische marine die 60 jaar geleden op een kantoortje aan de Kaspische zee patenten doorwerkte, op zoek naar bruikbaar materiaal. Na verloop van tijd viel het hem op dat innovaties altijd terug te voeren zijn op een beperkt aantal terugkerende patronen. Door deze patronen systematisch af te lopen bij elk nieuw probleem dat zich aandient, weet je zeker dat je geen innovatieve oplossingen over het hoofd ziet. Altshuller was zo enthousiast over zijn ontdekking dat hij een brief naar Stalin schreef, naar verluidt in een nogal openhartig en plompverloren proza. Stalin leek onder de indruk van de ideeën maar besloot Altshuller toch maar voor een paar jaar naar een werkkamp in de Gulag Archipel te sturen. Voor alle zekerheid.

De jonge uitvinder behield ondanks deze kleine tegenslag een opgewekt gemoed. In de Siberische barakken werkte hij stug door aan zijn aanpak die later onder de naam ‘TRIZ’ (een Russisch acroniem voor ‘systematische innovatie’) wereldfaam zou verwerven. Eén van de kernprincipes van TRIZ is dat van Idealiteit: producten of diensten evolueren in de loop van de tijd steevast naar een optimale eindtoestand (de ‘Ideale Finale Oplossing’). Deze eindtoestand bevat alle voordelen van de oplossing, maar geen van de nadelen. Ideale producten of diensten nemen geen ruimte in, hebben geen gewicht, vereisen geen werk of onderhoud en leiden niet tot schadelijke bijwerkingen. Het ideale wasmiddel? Kleren die zichzelf reinigen. De ideale tandpasta? Tanden die niet kunnen rotten. De ideale verzekeringspolis? Past zichzelf automatisch en onzichtbaar aan aan het gedrag van de verzekerde. Het redeneren vanuit Idealiteit richt zich op de te bereiken dienst in plaats van op beperkingen of de benodigde middelen. Zo vermijd je platgetreden paden.

Deze aanpak kwam me goed uit op een congres over Cloud Computing waar ik de afgelopen week op een katterige ochtend een inleiding mocht houden. Ik nodigde het wat norse, Zweedse publiek uit om het idee van Idealiteit los te laten op hun eigen it-huishouding. Daar kwam al heel snel uit dat zowel het ideale rekencentrum als de ideale applicaties zich straks ergens diep in de Cloud zullen verschuilen. Gewichtloos, geen ruimte nodig en geen onderhoud vereist: de Cloud vertoont alle eigenschappen van wat TRIZ een Ideale Finale Oplossing zou noemen.

De ideale it-afdeling? Die komt daarom straks letterlijk uit de muur. Een platgetreden cliché, wat u zegt. Maar wel een met een patroon erin. Altshuller zou er trots op zijn.

Vandaag gepubliceerd in IT Executive

zaterdag, juni 13, 2009

The Washington Template

I just might be repeating myself a little bit. But clearly, the Obama administration is setting a worldwide example of how to change a business through technology 2009 style. It went through my mind again when preparing for a panel on Tech Transformation, next week at the Forbes CEO Forum in Scotland. You see, it is one thing to get inspired by new technologies and understand how they can radically change business models – which is more than ever relevant in this period of downturn. But actually execute on these ideas and bring the promise to life: that may be the tougher challenge of the two.

I think they are doing both in Washington and we should all watch and learn from the patterns that are unfolding.

Barack Obama himself, to start with, is an excellent role model for any CEO that wants to grasp the potential of technology to transform business. He is obviously technology-savvy (without being a geek) and shows how to apply information technology in a pragmatic way. Many would argue that he got elected because of his smart use of Web 2.0 to reach out to his potential voters and mobilise a community. And after becoming elected he is still actively using all Internet channels to stay in touch with that community. Already in his campaign, he referred to technology as one of the most important tools to address the phenomenal challenges that America – indeed a complex business - is facing. Healthcare, education, energy, R&D: in the plans of Obama, technology would provide the breakthroughs to make his country leading again.

And now he is executing on the vision. Together with an impressive team.
On day one of his presidency, Obama issued a memorandum in which he announced an Open Government Directive: new technologies and approaches should be harnessed to create a government that is transparent, participatory and collaborative. And to walk the talk, he launched a three-step, highly collaborative process to create input for that directive. Blogging and wiki’s are used to brainstorm, discuss and finally draft proposals: a carefully facilitated – yet completely open – flow that should lead to interesting results.

Then Obama appointed the highly anticipated, first federal Chief Technology Officer ever. And with Aneesh Chopra, he got himself nothing less than an IT rock star. Chopra has proved to be a visionary technology leader in his former role as the Secretary for Technology for the Commonwealth of Virgina. In only three years he got Virginia to be award as the number one state in technology management and for good reasons, given the impressive flow of technology-driven success (in education, healthcare, broadband, to name a few). He also embraced a very participatory style of interacting with the state’s inhabitants and businesses, with the state much more in the role of an enabler of community-driven innovation – as the keystone in a ecosystem - rather than as the provider of final solutions.

Furthermore, Chopra is showing a very healthy appetite to deal with the typical innovation killers (rules & regulations, privacy, procurement, security, intellectual property, legacy, budget constraints) that tend to show up on the road from technology vision to execution. This is demonstrated in an excellent speech he delivered earlier this year – still in his old role – at the 5th State of the Net conference in Washington. He radiates so much enthusiasm for the change that can be enabled by technology and an open government that he easily gets away with brushing aside possible objections around privacy and security. A truly convincing technology leader and I highly recommend taking the 50 minutes to watch Chopra’s speech. Not in the least because the speaker – essentially being a chief architect himself – shows what the power is of applying a narrative style when explaining his ideas. If only some more architects and IT strategists would use compelling real-life examples as Chopra does in his speech (rather than concepts and diagrams), there would be so much more success in closing this infamous business / IT alignment gap.

After all, both sides are in need of some fresh ideas in these difficult times. And over there in Washington, they seem to have some interesting templates. Watch it closely.

First published on Capgemini's CTO Blog

zaterdag, juni 06, 2009

The Ideality of the Cloud

Genrich Altshuller, the father of systematic innovation, already concluded it more than 50 years ago: the best possible solution to a problem has all the benefits and none of the harm and costs of the original problem. This is what he calls the Ideal Final Result or Ideality. Altshuller should know. Or at least, he had plenty of time to think about it. Way back in the 50’s, he was a lieutenant at the patent department of the Caspian Sea Military Navy. This is where he developed the initial ideas for a revolutionary approach to innovation and problem solving. He was so enthusiastic about his findings that he wrote quite an open, blunt letter to Stalin, who was not particularly renowned for his flexibility or sense of humour. It took Stalin some time to think about it, but eventually Altshuller was banned to the Gulag Archipelago in Siberia.

A minor drawback indeed.

On the positive side of things Altshuller had all the time in the world to contemplate his approach. The rest is history and nowadays TRIZ (Теория решения изобретательских задач, well ok, Russian for ‘Systematic Innovation’) is one of the best known tools for anybody involved in innovation management. One of its key principles is that of Ideality. Applying it helps to overcome psychological inertia and find breakthrough solutions. This is done by focusing on the needed service, rather than on intervening problems or required resources.

Quite a useful approach when discussing the pros and cons of the cloud, so I found out this week when I was presenting a keynote at the very first Swedish cloud conference.
I asked the audience to put themselves in the shoes of the IT manager of a brand new, no-nonsense, agile company. “If you are starting such a company from scratch and have to put together an IT landscape, will you honestly still create your own data center, install software and build applications?” was the simple question. Most of the attendees – including myself - thought they will not.

They will have their virtual servers and storage running somewhere in the cloud (for example Amazon’s EC2). Backups will be taken care of automatically. They may have their email and basic office applications run by Google Applications. They will have their other key applications, such as CRM, HRM and Finance, delivered as Software as a Service as well, for example by Salesforce.com or Compiere. And they will find their more value-adding ‘edge’ applications in the cloud too: think about Good Data for analytics, the Cordys Process Factory for business process management and – soon - Google Wave for collaboration.

Come to think of it, employees will bring their own laptops of choice to work, as a standard Internet browser is the only tool needed to work. Actually, they can work anywhere, as the office is no longer the only place that contains the supporting infrastructure and applications. Building on that, the company can have a flexible resourcing strategy, tapping from external BPO suppliers and a scalable network of free agents, whenever appropriate. Then, having fixed offices seems unnecessary and redundant. They can be rented ‘as a service’ as well, if meetings or events require so. Such a company will be flexible and focused, but with the tiniest footprint. Almost a denial of the company as we currently know it.

And that brings us nicely back to Genrich Altshuller, who concluded that Ideal Final Solutions always show the same characteristics: they act as pure services (or functions) because they:

- Occupy no space
- Have no weight
- Require no labour
- Require no maintenance
- Deliver benefits without harm

The ideal washing detergent? Cloths that clean themselves. The ideal tooth paste? Teeth that cannot decay. The ideal insurance policy? Adjusting itself automatically to the behaviour of the insured person.

The ideal IT department? In the cloud.

Ideal, final solutions tend to be invisible, ubiquitous or both. The cloud clearly contains the potential to get us a good step further into that direction. To understand and fully appreciate that, we may want to use the Ideality principle to overcome our own mental inertia. Trust me, it works. Once we have seen the light, it will be time to become pragmatic again. There will be obstacles and constraints in the journey towards the cloud: issues around open standards, integration, migration, security, manageability and governance. They need to be addressed in a step-by-step way, carefully but surely working towards the desired state. After all, most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to set up a business / IT household from scratch.

Vision and direction are great. But often, hard work is just as good or even better. Altshuller would agree (and as I said, he ought to know).

(also published on Capgemini's CTO blog)