Monthly Archives: October 2009

Enterprise Mashups Defined

Luis Derechin, of JackBe has just published a nice definition of enterprise mashups over at the Enterprise Web 2.0 Blog:

Enterprise Mashups are secure, visually rich web applications that expose actionable information from diverse internal and external information sources.

This seems to cover all the bases and should keep most people happy. I’d like it to include something about how the data is integrated to provide a single consolidated and consistent view of the information, as a traditional (but AJAX heavy) portal would probably fall into under the same definition. On the whole it still works for me though.

The most interesting thing, however, is the approach they used. Rather than gather yet another small group of smart people to write yet another manifesto, they took a more democratic route.

The team used a series of games and contests to engage the broader community, largely relegating themselves to a roll of guiding and coordinating the action. The end result were answers to three key questions:

  • What is an Enterprise Mashup?, (the definition from above)
  • How do you do create an Enterprise Mashup?, and
  • Why should an organization care about mashups?’

The answer don’t have the obvious “designed by committee” smell that these things acquire. I particularly like the statement on why to use enterprise mash-ups,

Poor decisions are often made because decision-makers do not have the right information at the right time. Enterprise Mashups deliver new insights and enable better decisions through personalized access to the right, real-time information for the specific problem at hand.

as it nicely captures the shift to a more use centred approach–something badly needed in enterprise IT.

Often it seems to the be the enterprise IT community that is the most resistant to change in an organisation. Sure, we might like to use the shiny new toys, but don’t you dare change how we go about our business. We’ll tell you what you need and the best way of doing it.

It’s nice to see that an old dog can learn new tricks.

Posted via email from PEG

The role of snowmobiles in innovation

Note: This post is part of larger series on innovation, going under the collective name of Innovation and Art of Random.

Innovation has become an idea arms race, an arms race that most of us cannot hope to win. We spend so much time trying to consume ideas, drinking from the innovation fire hose, that we have little time to devote to what really matters: synthesis.

When we’re focused on harvesting ideas from the environment around us—either inside or outside our organisations—we are, by definition, on the back foot. We must assume that we’re not the first to see an idea, when it’s discovered outside our organisation. Nor can we assume exclusivity on the ideas we generate. As Sun likes to point out, statistically all the smart people with the good ideas work for someone else.

My guitar teacher of some years back, Tom Fryer, had a bit of sage advice. It’s pointless to try to be original, as someone will always have had the idea before you. A more productive approach is to simply plow your own furrow; focus on the problems you want to solve, steal ideas shamelessly if they seem useful, and invent what you need to fill the gaps.

Tom has a good point. The challenge with being creative is in knowing what problems to solve, and bringing together old and new ideas to create a new solution. Hoarding ideas or worrying about their source, debating the worth of internally generated ideas against those sourced externally, misses the point when we have tools like open innovation at our disposal.

Success in innovation is driven by a smart approach to synthesis. Work to solve a problem. Take ideas from around you to incrementally building something new. Learn, tuning your approach as you go.

Take Sony’s Walkman as an example, an innovation which created the market for personal music devices.

The Sony Walkman was originally designed as a music player for couples, based on Akio Morita’s observation of teenagers lugging their radios with them on vacations (an incongruity) and came equipped with two headphone jacks and a recording facility. It even had a “hotline” button, partially overriding the sound from the cassette and allowing one user to talk to the other over the music.

Of course, nobody really used it like that and Sony was quick to see that most people used it as a personal, portable music player (unexpected) and redesigned it accordingly.

Snake Coffee

The Walkman wasn’t conceived and developed in response to a brilliant idea. Akio Morita noticed an incongruity in the market, which Sony created a new product to address. When they realized that the Walkman wasn’t being used as expected, the product was tweaked to align it with reality. As Peter Drucker pointed out with his seven sources of innovation, innovation usually has more prosaic drivers than brilliant ideas or shiny new technologies.

John Boyd
John Boyd

John Boyd called this process, creating snowmobiles. His area of interest was military strategy: the challenge of creating novel, unexpected and winning solutions when dealing with a rapidly changing and constantly evolving environment. Creating snowmobiles represented a thought experiment he used to challenge an audience near the start of his briefing on strategy.

The thought experiment goes something like this:

Imagine that you are:

  • on a ski slope with other skiers—retain this image,
  • in Florida riding in an outboard motorboat—maybe even towing water-skiers—retain this image,
    riding a bicycle on a nice spring day—retain this image, and
  • a parent taking your son to a department store and that you notice he is fascinated by the tractors or tanks with rubber caterpillar treads—retain this image.

Now let’s pull the:

  • skis off ski slope—discard and forget rest of image,
  • outboard motor out of motorboat—discard and forget rest of image,
  • handlebars off bicycle—discard and forget rest of image, and
  • rubber treads off toy tractors or tanks—discard and forget rest of image.

This leaves us with

  • skis,
  • outboard motor,
  • handlebars, and
  • rubber treads.

Pulling all this together, what do we have?

  • A snowmobile.
Snowmobile
Snowmobile

As Boyd points out, there are two distinct processes at work here. First we need to pull ideas apart and understand how they will work in different contexts (analysis), building a library of interesting tactics we can use in solving a future problems. Second, we need to put these ideas back together in new combinations (synthesis), providing us with the opportunity to understand how apparently unrelated ideas and actions can be connected to one another.

How do we create a situation where we can make snowmobiles?

We often strive for diversity, as we believe diversity brings with it a range of points of view, which in turn encourages innovation. This has prompted some organisations to search for T-shaped individuals: someone professional in one area, but with complementary skills. Their broad experience, so the theory goes, will enable them to look across a number of domains to harvest useful ideas. However, this does not address our core challenge: understanding which questions to ask, the questions which will driven the synthesis process.

The first step is take a mountain climbing approach to knowledge and ideas. At each stage in the innovation cycle we need to establish camp, scout the path ahead and then prepare our tools for the journey to the next camp further up the mountain. This requires a process of constant learning, and a willingness to explore new environments. Environments which might range from the various business functions, across technical and business domains to seemingly unrelated areas, such as John Boyd’s work on military strategy.

Low Cost IVF Foundation
Low Cost IVF Foundation

The Low Cost IVF Foundation is a good example of this approach. The program started with a clear goal in mind: of converting IVF from a luxury of the West into a tool for alleviating the public ridicule, accusations of witchcraft, loss of financial support, abandonment and divorce, not to speak of the shame and depression associated with being childless in the third world. At each innovation camp they scouted the path ahead, exploring the environments around them, identify the problems, and challenging the conventional assumptions about how they should be solved. Incrementally, over a number of iterations, they synthesised a new approach which radically cut the cost of IVF. While the journey might seem prosaic (much like Sony’s), the result is quite profound.

To support this approach to innovation, we need to become fluent in a wide range of environments, the second step. Fluency implies that we have sufficient experience in an environment to make understanding ideas automatic. We’re not devoting our time to basic comprehension. This creates the cognitive time and space to focus on understanding the connections between ideas, and their application to the task at hand. Fluency creates the time and space for synthesis.

Knowledge Worker of the Future & Google Wave

I’ve written before about the need for an integrated approach to applying Web 2.0 ideas and tools to the enterprise. While navigating the plethora of point solutions and complex interfaces might be fine for the early adopters, most folk just want something that makes their work easier and can’t be bothered with navigating a convoluted technology and solution landscape.

I’ve been playing with Google Wave for a little while now, and initially thought that it fell into the same bucket; it’s an impressive piece of technology, but it’s also to complicated for most people to be bothered with. That was before Daniel Tenner put together a thoughtful post on the pros and cons of Wave, pointing out that Wave is a communication platform rather than a communication channel. It’s a tool for people to work together, rather than a tool to communicate.

Putting one-and-one together, what if we used Wave as a solution platform? Plug transactional data and workflow processes into Wave, rework the UI to be more task or problem centric and less messaging centric, and it would make a nice platform to build the sort of collaboration and knowledge rich solutions we need.

Bruce, a colleague of mine, has taken this a step further and built a little PoC, creating a Wave enabled leave application process. You can find the blog post, Using Google Wave for Workflow Tasks, over at his blog, and he’s put together a nice screen cast of the leave application solution, included below.

Posted via email from PEG

Innovation [2009-10-18]

Another week and another collection of interesting ideas from around the internet.

As always, thoughts and/or comments are greatly appreciated.

Are we wasting our time searching for the next brilliant idea? That idea that’s going to drive a disruptive innovation. The race for the new-new thing. The innovation silver bullet. Or is innovation the result of combining many small, commoditised ideas? With the real challenge being the identification of interesting problems and synthesis of a new solution from the sea of good ideas we’re swimming in, in today’s hyper-connected world.

  • The good enough revolution: when cheap and simple is just fine [Wired]
    Jonathan Kaplan and Ariel Braunstein made a cheap, feature poor video camera, the Flip. Two years later, the Flip Ultra and its revisions are the best-selling video cameras in the US, commanding 17 percent of the camcorder market. Sony and Canon are now scrambling to catch up.
  • Cheap IVF offers hope to childless millions [New Scientist]
    By leveraging good enough, low tech tools and techniques, the Low Cost IVF Foundation (LCIF) has transformed IVF from a luxury of the rich western countries, into a tool for alleviating the public ridicule, accusations of witchcraft, loss of financial support, abandonment and divorce, not to speak of their own shame and depression associated with being childless in the third world. “If you are not able to conceive, you are not [considered] normal,” says gynaecologist Abdelrahim Obaid Fadl Allah of the University of Khartoum clinic.
  • Forget lawn mowers, bring in the goats [TreeHugger]
    Sometimes the old school solution is the best solution. They chose the goats because they’re a non-polluting alternative that’ll eat up just about anything. “They [goats] can clear vegetation from hard-to-reach places, and they’ll eat the seeds that pesticides and mowing leave behind, preventing vegetation from coming back next year.”
  • Conservative innovation [Nicholas G Carr]
    Many of the of the innovations which drive the corporate world forward are the result small, incremental steps and not large, bold strides based on brilliant, game changing ideas. Toyota’s hybrid is a good example of this incremental, conservative approach.

The NBN wants to be free

There’s been a lot of discussion on what Austalia’s national broadband network (NBN) will cost when it’s finally delivered to consumers. How much will we need to stump up to take part in today’s knowledge economy? Most cost recovery models have ISPs charging monthly fees of over $200, which is a lot more than the $50 per month most of us are used to paying. Who’s gonna pay that? A lot of folk have been pointing out the folly of forcing through a broadband network that few of us can afford, let alone be bothered to pay for.

Is this missing the point though? What if the government’s intention is to make the NBN free (or close enough to as to make no difference)? Much like most other public infrastructure such as roads. There’s precedents for this, from the New Deal though the recent government report on supporting innovation and the fact that the government is sitting on a large pile of money that they intend to spend.

The global financial crunch has had a dramatic impact on everyone’s lives, though Australia has been in the lucky position of avoiding the worst of the down turn. Australia is even the first large, rich country to raise interest rates on the back of the world recovery. Discussion has now turned to the nature of this recovery: will it be V or W shaped? Most of the smart money (including the RBA’s) seems to be settling on W shaped, with the potential for unemployment to rise in the short to mid term. The war chest the government accumulated to fight recession is still quite full, and the government has stated that it plans to stick to the large stimulus plan announced earlier in the year.

Recessions often to bring governments to think about major infrastructure projects. The U.S. went down this route mid century, with Congress having a few attempts at chartering a “National System of Interstate Highways” before Eisenhower made it a reality. I haven’t seen a figure for the investment required, but I expect it to be scary. The impact, though, was profound on the U.S. in general, and the economy in particular. Through the years, various estimates have been made of the contribution of the interstate highway system to the economy, generally finding that the interstate highway system has more than paid for itself in improved commercial productivity, with each dollar of investment in highways producing an annual reduction in product costs of 23.4 cents. It is estimated that the interstate highway system is now producing approximately $14 billion. All this from something you can use for free.

Fast forward to the future, and we can find an interesting report, Powering Ideas, recently published by the Australian government, outlining how what Australia might do to support innovation domestically. The report is quite long but at its nub, it points to a strategy of funding the infrastructure required by innovators it make it easy (and cheap) for them to innovate. This doesn’t mean that the government is getting out of the grant business, but it is an admission that the government doesn’t have a great track record of picking winners in this space. Cheap (if not free) infrastructure helps those grant dollars go further, while at the same time helping every innovator in Australia who wasn’t lucky enough to receive a grant.

Put the two of these together and it makes you wonder: what if they Australian government makes the the NBN free? Back in the 30’s the U.S. economy was driven by interstate commerce. Reducing the cost of trucking goods across the country (reducing the transaction costs) helped drive the economy forward. Today, in Australia, knowledge and collaboration are the back bone of the commerce. Reducing the cost of sharing information and collaborating has the potential to have a similar impact .

Like free and efficient roads, very cheap broadband access would help the entrepreneurs and innovators thrive. This would provide Australian’s with powerful platform to build businesses in a today’s knowledge economy. We could capitalise on the current trend for software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups replacing business process outsources (BPO), replacing a human labour driven solution is a software driven solution, servicing the world’s needs from our home base Research driven startups would have cheap and efficient access to the massive data sets which drive modern research, having the world at their fingertips.

You would probably still need to pay for the last mile, connecting your abode to the NBN backbone, but this is similar to the current energy delivery commitment from the government: they get the power lines to the property boundary, and then you pay someone to connect it into the house. Local ISPs could provide (or organises) the connection service, along with sorting out the home network and providing support. The NBN would also probably need to expand to include the link overseas, complimenting (or replacing) the network of links funded and managed by the existing telcos and ISPs.

And finally: where do the major Australian telcos fit in this? Interesting question. One probably better left to them to answer.

Change me (Part 2)

In a rapidly changing world, our biggest challenge is getting our companies, and ourselves, to embrace change rather than resist it. We want to create organisational agility, as agility is the key to success in our rapidly changing business environment, and the only thing holding us back is ourselves. As I’ve written before:

Modern IT provides us with a wealth of opportunities that our current asset centric approach to [IT] prevents us from leveraging. We need to get out of our offices and cubes and embed ourselves where the workers are, where the value is created. If we create an environment where we define ourselves in terms of how we will help the organisation evolve, rather than in terms of the assets we manage [and the sunk cost they represent], then we can convert change from an enemy into an advantage. Our team will wake up every morning eager to get into work, just like the team on the shop floor at Toyota.
Change me, Capgemini CTO Blog

Netflix is no different to the rest of us, trying to look forward to what they could (and should) be doing, rather than being hung up on what they’ve done in the past. However, when confronted with the realisation that what they we’re doing wasn’t working, they adapt.

In short, Reed Hastings [CEO of Netflix] is not a man who gets locked in by sunk costs: he’s willing to kill projects (or, in this case, spin them off) even if he’s got years invested in them. A good example for my students when we discusses costs in a few weeks. And just another example of the strengths of Netflix’s culture.
Netflix avoids the sunk cost fallacy, Donald Marron

In many companies this would have been impossible, as too many people would have their careers resting on the success of the project. Success allows them to move onto ever larger projects where they can carry greater responsibility as they work their way up the career ladder. It would be unthinkable to kill a project that people were relying on for the next step in their career.

Agility is a question of culture and willingness to change, even if this means killing our favourite project. A culture that defines itself in terms of the problems it solves and the outcomes delivered, as the organisation works to achieve its goals, rather than the business processes used to maintain business as usual. Netflix seems to have this in spades.

Posted via email from PEG

Working from the outside in

We’re drowning in a sea of data and ideas, with huge volumes of untapped information available both inside and outside our organization. There is so much information at our disposal that it’s hard to discern Arthur from Martha, let alone optimize the data set we’re using. How can we make sense of the chaos around us? How can we find the useful signals which will drive us to the next level of business performance, from amongst all this noise?

I’ve spent some time recently, thinking about how the decisions our knowledge workers make in planning and managing business exceptions can have a greater impact on our business performance than the logic reified in the applications themselves. And how the quality of information we feed into their decision making processes can have an even bigger impact, as the data’s impact is effectively amplified by the decision making process. Not all data is of equal value and, as is often said, if you put rubbish in then you get rubbish out.

Traditional Business Intelligence (BI) tackles this problem by enabling us to mine for correlations in the data tucked away in our data warehouse. These correlations provide us with signals to help drive better decisions. Managing stock levels based on historical trends (Christmas rush, BBQs in summer …) is good, but connecting these trends to local demographic shifts is better.

Unfortunately this approach is inherently limited. Not matter how powerful your analytical tools, you can only find correlations within and between the data sets you have in the data warehouse, and this is only a small subset of the total data available to us. We can load additional data sets into the warehouse (such as demographic data bought from a research firm), but in a world awash with (potentially useful) data, the real challenge is deciding on which data sets to load, and not in finding the correlations once they are loaded.

What we really need is a tool to help scan across all available data sets and find the data which will provide the best signals to drive the outcome we’re looking for. An outside-in approach, working from the outcome we want to the data we need, rather than an inside-out approach, working from the data we have to the outcomes it might support. This will provide us with a repeatable method, a system, for finding the signals needed to drive us to the next level of performance, rather than the creative, hit-and-miss approach we currently use. Or, in geekier terms, a methodology which enables us to proactively manage our information portfolio and derive the greatest value from it.

I was doodling on the tram the other day, playing with the figure I created for the Inside vs. Outside post, when I had a thought. The figure was created as a heat map showing how the value of information is modulated by time (new vs. old) and distance (inside vs. outside). What if we used it the other way around? (Kind of obvious in hindsight, I know, but these things usually are.) We might use the figure to map from the type of outcome we’re trying to achieve back to the signals required to drive us to that outcome.

Time and distance drive the value of information
Time and distance drive the value of information

This addresses an interesting comment (in email) by a U.K. colleague of mine. (Jon, stand up and be counted.) As Andy Mulholland pointed out, the upper right represents weak confusing signals, while the lower left represents strong, coherent signals. Being a delivery guy, Jon’s first though was how to manage the dangers in excessively focusing on the upper right corner of the figure. Sweeping a plane’s wings forward increases its maneuverability, but at the cost of decreasing it’s stability. Relying too heavily on external, early signals can, in a similar fashion, could push an organization into a danger zone. If we want to use these types of these signals to drive crucial business decisions, then we need to understand the tipping point and balance the risks.

My tram-doodle was a simple thing, converting a heat map to a mud map. For a given business decision, such as planning tomorrow’s stock levels for a FMCG category, we can outline the required performance envelope on the figure. This outline shows us the sort of signals we should be looking for (inside good, outside bad), while the shape of the outlines provides us with an understanding (and way of balancing) the overall maneuverability and stability of the outcome the signals will support. More external predictive scope in the outline (i.e. more area inside the outline in the upper-right quadrant) will provide a more responsive outcome, but at the cost of less stability. Increasing internal scope will provide a more stable outcome, but at the cost of responsiveness. Less stability might translate to more (potentially unnecessary) logistics movements, while more stability would represent missed sales opportunities. (This all creates a little deja vu, with a strong feeling of computing Q values for non-linear control theory back in university, so I’ve started formalizing how to create and measure these outlines, as well as how to determine the relative weights of signals in each area of the map, but that’s another blog post.)

An information performance mud map
An information performance mud map

Given a performance outline we can go spelunking for signals which fit inside the outline.

Luckily the mud map provides us with guidance on where to look. An internal-historical signal is, by definition driven by historical data generated inside the organization. Past till data? An external-reactive signal is, by definition external and reactive. A short term (i.e. tomorrow’s) weather forecast, perhaps? Casting our net as widely as possible, we can gather all the signals which have the potential to drive us toward to the desired outcome.

Next, we balance the information portfolio for this decision, identifying the minimum set of signals required to drive the decision. We can do this by grouping the signals by type (internal-historical, …) and then charting them against cost and value. Cost is the acquisition cost, and might represent a commercial transaction (buying access to another organizations near-term weather forecast), the development and consulting effort required to create the data set (forming your own weather forecasting function), or a combination of the two, heavily influenced by an architectural view of the solution (as Rod outlined). Value is a measure of the potency and quality of the signal, which will be determined by existing BI analytics methodologies.

Plotting value against cost on a new chart creates a handy tool for finding the data sets to use. We want to pick from the lower right – high value but low cost.

An information mud map
An information mud map

It’s interesting to tie this back to the Tesco example. Global warming is making the weather more variable, resulting in unseasonable hot and cold spells. This was, in turn, driving short-term consumer demand in directions not predicted by existing planning models. These changes in demand represented cost, in the from of stock left on the shelves past it’s use-by date, or missed opportunities, by not being able to service the demand when and where it arises.

The solution was to expand the information footprint, pulling in more predictive signals from outside the business: changing the outline on the mud map to improve closed-loop performance. The decision to create an in-house weather bureau represents a straight forward cost-value trade-off in delivering an operational solution.

These two tools provide us with an interesting approach to tackling a number of challenges I’m seeing inside companies today. We’re a lot more externally driven now than we were even just a few years ago. The challenge is to identify customer problems we can solve and tie them back to what our organization does, rather than trying to conceive offerings in isolation and push them out into the market. These tools enable us to sketch the customer challenges (the decisions our customers need to make) and map them back to the portfolio of signals that we can (or might like to) provide to them. It’s outcome-centric, rather than asset-centric, which provides us with more freedom to be creative in how we approach the market, and has the potential to foster a more intimate approach to serving customer demand.

Using what you have

All too often companies miss opportunities because they can’t make connections between the things they already know. There’s a well traveled story about a clothing company who bounces a customer’s request to return an item, as they don’t think it’s worth the bother even though the customer has a real complaint, only to find out later that the customer was the wife of the CEO of one of their major partners. She probably spent most of dinner that night complaining about the company’s customer service, must to the detriment of the CEO’s opinion of the partnership. If they’d just been able to make a couple of connections a little earlier, the outcome might have been a little different.

It’s nice to see some companies weeding through the pile of data available to them, and make some of the obvious connections. One bloke, after the flight from hell which was delayed due to weather, found out that Northwest Airlines had made the obvious connections and solved the problem before he arrived for his connecting flight.

So let me see if I got this right. I don’t need to find a free ground agent to get re-booked. I don’t need to schlep myself and my luggage in line along with 50+ other people who are all mad, tired and missing their families… to get re-ticketed? AND NWA was giving me $50 off another flight and frequent flier miles to boot? Remember this wasn’t their fault, its mother natures gig here. This was some customer service!!! I love it!

Operations knew that the flight was running late, and booking knew of the connection. I spent the Sunday before last standing around Sydney Airport and Virgin couldn’t make the obvious connection. Luckily, he didn’t have the same experience.

How often have you been frustrated because some company you’re dealing with can’t get the left hand to talk to the right?

Posted via email from PEG

The future of innovation – beyond 2009

I’ll be involved in the panel discussions at the next InnoFuture Momentum on October 13th, 3:30pm to 6:30pm, in Telstra’s Executive Briefing Centre, Level 18, 35 Collins Street, Melbourne.

We are all fascinated by the future. The future always looks brighter. The prospect of a promotion, developing a winning product or promotion, bigger budget, new government incentive … tomorrow, next quarter, next year … If we realise that there is no future, only what we do today, we can focus on innovation that will result in a better future. Risk, courage, learning from parallel industries and cultures, harnessing our talents… Thinking with an open mind how to create a better world …

The events is structured around a series of industry panels, one of which I’m responsible for.

Innovation has been seen as an arms race—the race for more ideas, more content, more investment, more involvement. If we can see more ideas, get access to more content, get more of our team involved, if we can get it earlier in its lifecycle, then we might be the ones with first mover advantage. However, modern communications technology means than ideas are no longer scarce but freely available. New generation media empires, such as TED, have industrialised the idea collection process, creating vast idea smorgasbords for us to graze on. Today’s challenge is synthesis: understanding what problems are interesting, selecting the ideas which add value to a solution (as not all ideas are created equal), and then bringing together these ideas to create something new. How do we step out of the ideas arms race, creating the space and time our team need to synthesize these new, innovative ideas when presented with a challenge?

We also have an interesting group of participants on the panels (including myself):

  • Ilya Joel-Pitcher, EDS a HP Company
  • Mark Toomey, Infonomics
  • Hafeez Bana, Deloitte
  • Nicole Keating, GHD
  • Neville Christie, CEO Institute, Innovation Group, and discussion moderator

Hope to see you there!