Francesca Sales is an editorial intern working with SearchCIO.com and SearchStorage.com. She is attending Northeastern University for a dual degree in English and Linguistics.
If gurus at a recent gathering at MIT have it right, an increasing number of IT leaders are reaping benefits from applying the scientific method to IT projects. Experimentation is being used to create a culture of “creative dissent” in order to drive IT innovation. The key for CIOs is to pick a few experiments to rapidly scale and manage, then measure their failure rates — similar to what some describe as an iterative agile project practice.
Roy Rosin, vice president of innovation at software maker Intuit Inc., is a proponent of rapid experimentation. At an IT innovation panel at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, Rosin explained that unlike in years past, the essence of innovation today is to go fast.
CIOs, Rosin explained, “need to rapidly validate whether this is a good production or not, preferably before you spend all that time and money. Speed is of the essence.”
Rosin provided the example of ViewMyPaycheck as an instance of rapid creation and validation that has resulted in dividends. The payroll solution began as an idea to put secure employee data in the cloud. The self-service site lets employees check their pay stubs, adjust withholdings from their paychecks or check vacation balances. A handful of volunteer Intuit employees were given unstructured allotted time to collaborate and test the application. Within three months, the company was able to release the first version of the application.
“Overall,” Rosin said, “Intuit now has small teams rapidly validating new concepts — getting most initial releases into customer hands in a few months for meaningful learning.”
But speed cannot come at the expense of value. Experiments need to be controlled, according to Erik Brynjolfsson, the Schussel Family Professor of Management and director of the MIT Center for Digital Business and Sloan School of Management.
One of the ways this is done, he claims, is by replicating what is innovative in the business model, into enterprise software. “It’s great to have innovation, but you also need to deliver value and embed that in enterprise software, and scale it to translate innovation into value,” Brynjolfsson explained.
Rosin agrees, saying that the difference between innovation and invention is that the former captures value in new ideas. He thinks that a CIO needs to spend time with the little teams. “Are you just measuring revenue, or are you also celebrating the little things? It’s the culture of putting yourself out there and getting feedback. You measure success from the perspective of the customer and celebrate learning from fast failure,” he said. This is where creative dissent, a big culture change, factors in.
On the other side of things, many CIOs also believe that innovation can be achieved through standardization and common processes, or what Brynjolfsson refers to as the “paradox of standards.”
For example, Anne Margulies, CIO for the commonwealth of Massachusetts, used standardization to pave the way for innovation. Soon after taking the job as CIO, she embarked on a massive restructuring of 100-plus IT agencies across the commonwealth’s executive branch as part of an IT consolidation initiative issued by the governor of Massachusetts. Over a period of three months (each phase of the project is implemented in three-month chunks), she simplified the disparate agencies into a streamlined eight, an example of what she calls “restructuring complexity.” Currently, the initiative is on its last phase of implementation, with 80% consolidation completed.
Margulies believes that centralization is one of the keys to IT innovation because, unlike many other states, the commonwealth of Massachusetts is consolidating at two levels — the infrastructure at the commonwealth level, as well as at the secretariat level — in order to keep application technology close and responsive to the businesses served.
If creative dissent or agile practices are driving innovation, or reducing project complexity at your company, we’d like to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, several analyst firms are reporting that PC sales are rising this year after companies held off last year, with smaller tablet computers leading the charge.
While you catch up on the latest technology news, make sure to add these SearchCIO.com stories to your must-read list!
BI SaaS: Getting a fix on your business in a tight economy — SaaS solutions for the cloud are causing more commotion among enterprise and midmarket companies alike than are cloud apps for email and CRM.
Business service development: Lessons learned from the frontlines — There is no clear-cut path for IT to follow when it comes to business service development. CIOs and experts share their dos and don’ts.
BI software advances can’t address adoption issues, CIOs say — At a recent business intelligence summit, CIOs were excited over the rapid evolution of BI software — but mindful of how hard it is to make BI solutions work.
Why is the creation of IT business service plans taking on an increasingly important role in the CIO agenda? For starters, it can open up previously untapped marketplaces. The development of a new iPhone application for example, that proffers some aspect of your company’s product could introduce your organization to an iPhone user in, say, Alaska, who would have otherwise never even heard of your company. The app might be a free download, but a paid customer could easily follow.
So, how do you tap into prime IT business service opportunities? We’ve written recently about ideation management, and that’s a good place to start. Formal software to collect and manage ideas isn’t a necessity, but you should be providing technological platforms — even something as simple as an intranet blog or online suggestion box — to encourage creative thinking about developing an IT business service. From there, don’t be reckless but, at the same time, try to be a bit fearless. Sometimes the most effective business solutions come from underwhelming beginnings, and you’ll never know if an IT business service could have worked for your organization.
IT executives who are grappling with social media and self-service technology will sympathize with their counterparts in higher education. The technology sophistication of current university students, known as millennials, is beyond expectation, according to an expert panel at the recent Capstone Partners EdTech ’10 event in Cambridge, Mass.
Ten years ago, students expected there to be a good computer room. “Now, it’s like technology is air,” said John Gallaugher, associate professor of information systems at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. They need it to breathe. As a result, higher education has become high tech as well as high touch — for personal quests like keeping track of credits and searching for a job. Certain things are set, such as how students can pay their bills, but everything else needs to be customized, Gallaugher said, or the students will customize things themselves.
Funny how just 10 years ago, schools were dumping grounds for computer castoffs as businesses upgraded from one chip to the next. Now, with so much technology available in the cloud, higher education rivals business in providing self-service technology.
Some educators are even talking about a “school of one” concept, where institutions of higher learning inevitably become on-demand service providers of education, to compete with other brick-and-mortar schools as well as 100% online providers such as the University of Phoenix.
The self-service technology experience is not only part of a good education, but necessary for retention, given the 47% dropout rate among first-year students, according to Craig Powell, CEO of ConnectEDU in Boston. Millenials are frustrated if technology doesn’t work on the first experience, Gallaugher said. If the college doesn’t get it right, “they’re going to walk away and go someplace else where it’s easier to use.”
Democratizing business intelligence software is the anthem of the industry — and the rallying cry of lots of BI stories. Users can become masters of their own dashboards! But (no big surprise) the slogan doesn’t always match reality. That’s what I gathered from several of the CIOs and BI professionals attending the WebFocus user conference I’ve been writing about this week.
“Adoption is still the weak link,” said Gary Gallant, VP of Coty Inc.’s global applications center of expertise, as well as the perfume manufacturer’s BI point man. “What we are trying to do with BI now is build some prototypes to give to leadership so they can get a better feel for BI, because what we have now is, ‘Well, what do I do with a dashboard?'”
Indeed, several BI pros I spoke with at the show intimated that the widespread adoption of BI tools by the business–the BI revolution–awaits the rise of the digital natives in corporate management: in other words, the people who grew up with electronic data and are comfortable manipulating it.
In the meantime, Gallant had an interesting suggestion for bringing the “cool” factor to BI reporting for the C-suite: Forget the laptop and get your CEO an Apple iPad.
“I do think the iPad has the ability to change things,” Gallant said. Part of what prevents CEOs and other C-suite execs from really living with BI, in his view, is the physical barrier: having to reach into the computer bag, lug out the laptop and wait for it to light up.
“The time it takes you to get to productivity — they just don’t do it,” he said. The BlackBerry is too small to see the results. But the iPad? “It gives you landscape to look and drill down. Plus, anything connected with Steve Jobs has sex appeal,” he said.
Given the complexity of making an organization’s store of information actionable, as they say in the BI biz, I’d like to hear your insights and best practices for dealing with this daunting task. Email me at email@example.com.
I was in New York this past weekend, so I caught up on a lot of The New York Times technology coverage. The two that stood out the most were a piece on how being hooked on gadgets can literally start rewiring your brain, and an in-depth piece on how journalism is changing in the Internet age.
Once you’ve plowed through these New York Times technology pieces (that is, if your technology-addled brain can handle the length!), come back here and read the most recent stories from SearchCIO.com:
Pillars of cloud provisioning: Self-service, automation and policy — CIOs can control cloud provisioning with governance around self-service and automation, while embracing an on-demand, “business technology” approach.
Cloud SLAs: Tips for tackling uptime in the cloud — Given that online disruptions are inevitable, a cloud SLA should make providers responsible for uptime — and the CIO should test those parameters before it’s too late!
Turning to BI analytics to turn a profit — Our senior news writer, Linda Tucci, attended a business intelligence user conference last week, where attendees shared the ways BI analytics helped them steer clear of danger zones and increase profits.
Five tips for firing up a BI analytics practice, and some reality checks — More from the conference: Five tips for getting a predictive BI analytics practice off the ground.
Cloud computing has been around so long, even the CTO Power Panel at the recent Cloud Expo couldn’t identify its origins. “What was the year that BusinessWeek published the cover story on Amazon’s risky bet?” quizzed Jeremy Geelan, moderator and president of the Sys-Con show.
The panel’s collective amnesia could be due to the blurring storm of cloud computing services since that cover story was published in November 2006. “Who would have thought mail is being commoditized?” asked Brian Boruff, vice president of emerging technologies at global consulting firm CSC. And the rapid rate of change will continue: “In the next 12 months,” predicted Jason Lochhead, CTO of hosting services at Terremark, “we’ll see whether platform or service is the direction enterprises are going to go — whether people are willing to forgo a client/server environment.”
Segueing from the past and future into the present, Geelan asked the panel whether the cloud has spawned anything that took them by surprise. The answers were amusing, and telling. As the speakers shared their thoughts, the line fogged up between the effect of the Internet on people’s lives, and what the speakers perceived as the impact of the cloud.
“The memory of the cloud,” shot back Boruff, who, it turned out, had just finished speaking to high school students so they’d understand the implications of posting a picture in a “Michael Phelps scenario.” “We’re coaching kids that they need to be educated about the digital footprint,” he said. “There’s a loss of privacy in the cloud. You can’t remove anything that has been uploaded; it stays there forever.”
An audience member stood up and proclaimed the death of the CD, as music, movies and online games — right down to Club Penguin for 3-year-olds — are delivered from the cloud. “My 3-year-old asks a question, and if I don’t know the answer, she says to look it up!” he said.
“My kids have a hard time understanding that on-demand TV is new,” another attendee related. “They couldn’t imagine having to be in a certain place at a certain time to watch something.”
The panel noted a blending of home and work online, as people merge their work identities with family and community identities: It’s even possible to connect with people from decades past — high school classmates, for example — and your kids’ friends at the same time. Mobile devices have brought people in closer touch, as has the Skype video service.
“But is all this progress? That’s debatable. “When I was growing up in Holland, privacy was treasured,” one person lamented. “The less people knew about you, the better.”
Predictive analytics, a subset of BI analytics, was a hot topic at the Information Builders Summit in Kissimmee, Fla., this week. Predictive BI analytics is about detecting and interpreting patterns in business data in order to make guesses about what’s probably around the corner. Humans are pretty good at this, or we wouldn’t be here. As the amount of data that businesses collect, process and store in any given minute swells, the task of seeing the relevant patterns increasingly is the job of machine learning, artificial intelligence and data mining tools.
One thing we haven’t lost is our love of puzzles. Test your analytics IQ with four brainteasers, offered up in a session on BI analytics by researcher and BI author Wayne Eckerson of TDWI Research. (The smarties in the room were quick to solve all but one.)
- 1. What is the missing number in the following layout?
- 2. What does this equal?
- 3. What do these words have in common?
- 4. Which word does not belong?
37 10 82
29 11 47
96 25 87
42 ? 15
12 = DD + 11 = PP + 10 = LL + 9 = LD + 8 = MM + 7 = SS + 6 = GL = 5 = GR + 4 = CB + 3 = FH + 2 = TD + 1 = PPT = ?
Answers: 6 (sum of the two digits of the number flanking the middle column); Twelve Days of Christmas; each contains the abbreviation for a day of the week; shoes (the only pair on the list that is not connected.)
Will today be the day that iPhone 4G rumors meet reality? News outlets are salivating over the potential announcement of a fourth-generation iPhone at the Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco.
And, while we’re talking about the iPhone, I blogged last week about what Apple’s new tiered data plans might mean for cloud computing pricing in the future, but I didn’t touch on the app-maker angle: Apparently some of them are worried the new caps will mean less app-etite for new iPhone apps.
As always, here are the latest stories from SearchCIO.com:
JetBlue uses LoadRunner for website performance testing — JetBlue Airlines uses HP’s LoadRunner for website performance testing amid a spate of new cloud-based performance testing software services.
IT vendor management: Test your IQ on outsourcing, service providers — Effective IT vendor management programs can strengthen relationships with outsourcers and other service providers, boosting efficiencies and cutting costs. Is your strategy solid?
Why your business process change management model needs to change — Business process change management itself is changing, because of the rise of social media, the consumerization of IT and the pace of change. Learn what you need to do to keep up.
Cloud computing management guide for enterprise CIOs — CIOs are drafting cloud computing management strategies, as their organizations look to the cloud for scalability, affordability and greater computing ability. Learn more in this guide.
AT&T’s announcement this week that it’s moving iPhone data plans to a tiered system is an interesting one. CIOs charged with enterprise resource planning management, especially with regard to the cloud, should take special note.
As you’ve probably heard, in lieu of a $30-a-month plan with unlimited data, AT&T will ask new iPhone subscribers to sign up for either a 200MB plan for $15 a month or a 2GB plan for $25 a month. In either case, a user can pay extra for increased data allowances.
Clearly, this is aimed more at the consumer than the corporate user (I’m still waiting to hear whether corporate users are moving to the iPhone platform for business purposes, since my impression is that the BlackBerry is still the king). But it could mark a subtle but important shift in how cell phone subscribers think about their usage. It’s a whole lot easier to keep track of cell phone minutes and text messages than it is data. Minutes and text messages are quantifiable and discrete, whereas the MB requirements that come with regularly checking one’s email or watching videos on YouTube aren’t as clear.
In the enterprise, one advantage of cloud computing that’s constantly being trumpeted is its scalability — enterprises can purchase the number of licenses they need based on the number of employees using the application. Again, very discrete numbers, but in the wake of AT&T’s decision, might we see other vendors following suit? Could cloud providers eventually offer even greater scalability, down to the number of minutes spent using their applications? Might the pricing discounts be worth the CIO inquiring about such options?
These are all points to ponder as enterprise resource planning management floats into the cloud. Would the AT&T tiered usage model be viable in this case? Sound off with your thoughts below.