Friday, July 22, 2011

Tell me where it hurts: part 1 of "A World of Services"

Think about where it hurts when you consider the current state of technology in business:

"I'll need a business case, an ROI analysis, approval from legal
and finance, a project manager, FTEs, and
a development environment in three minutes, or we're all dead!"
  • Business technology seems moribund; it takes forever and costs too much to do things you can do easily in the consumer technology world.
  • CIOs would like to see themselves as Mr. Spock to the CEO’s Captain Kirk: a trusted consultant who comes up with the right solution, standing by the captain bravely staring into the future.  In practice, IT is often more like Mr. Scott in engineering, asked to perform the impossible with astoundingly complex machines, scrambling to save the day. When Kirk said, “Mr. Scott, I need warp speed in three minutes or we’re all dead!” Commander Scott always came through.  Unfortunately, CIOs don’t have scriptwriters on their side.
  • Needless to say, if the fictional USS Enterprise operated like the enterprises we serve every day, it would have fallen out of the sky very early in the first season. There has to be a better way.

People have dreamed of a streamlined, responsive IT and a truly agile business for a very long time.  Enter the idea of services.

Web services. Service Oriented Architecture. Cloud services. Software as a Service. Middleware-aaS. Platform-aaS. Infrastructure-aaS.

Decompose technology delivery into manageable services. 
“Service” is a veritable workhorse of an IT word. Append it to anything and like magic it sounds current and desirable.  The challenge with such words is that sometimes, they are important, but get lost in the buzzword sea.

That’s my point. The idea of services in business--IT especially-is one of the keys to understanding the future.  Embracing the services idea actually
does have promise to improve things.  We can look more closely to find out why.  

One common theme at is that there is a bigger story about technology, business, and society than we see when we're head-down, working on tasks and projects. There are many reports and many companies who will help you do the head-down work; legions of dedicated people are giving their careers to those endeavors. This is about the other part: looking for themes within the big story that may help us do things better.  The idea of services in that big picture isn't sexy, and it's not all that buzzword-friendly. but I contend that it's worth examining.

First, some level-setting: to understand the potential of services in business, we need to think of business processes and outcomes as either horizontal or vertical:

Look at this definition and this slide, from the Infrics analysis of research styles:
“Is the focus horizontal or vertical?  If many people come to you to solve a similar need across many departments, your focus is likely horizontal.  If you bring together people from many departments to achieve something that wouldn’t happen without that coordination, you’re more vertical.  “

What is a service?  Let’s try this on

Service: a means of delivering value, either through simplification and standardization of complex processes, or by abstracting complexity to the point that it appears simple to users, Services are primarily horizontal in nature; they can be reused and combined with other services to create primarily vertical outcomes.

What does that mean in practical terms?

  • Some services are consumed by other services (or processes), some are consumed by people (users.)
  • At each level, those consumers are spared the need to know how the service was supplied, they are freed to just use it to accomplish what they need.
  • In general, those services that represent simplification and standardization can be seen as plug-and-play building blocks, and represent the lower layers of the chart: infrastructure as service.
  • Services that mask complexity so that it appears more simple are enabled by those plug-and-play services lower in the stack.  Human resources, for instance, is a horizontal service composed of other services, and in turn delivered to vertical “run the business” efforts.
  • By virtue of their reusability, services reduce or eliminate duplication of effort, driving down costs.
  • By virtue of standardization--especially when they represent simplified business processes--services often lend themselves to competitive bidding and outsourcing.
  • Services tend to increase flexibility, and reduce deployment times, enabling greater agility from technology and business processes

We know services almost instinctively, because in areas outside of business and IT, we use them all the time.  The most classic example is electricity (thanks, Nicholas Carr); enormous complexities of generation and distribution are abstracted at the end user level. We have wires coming into our homes and a bill once a month.  Because electricity is standardized for voltage, frequency, installation codes, and connectors,  we can provision our entire home with simple, off-the-shelf appliances and lights, secure in the knowledge that it will all work.

Thinking of Power-as-a-Service shows two important ways to evaluate the value of service-oriented thinking, service KPIs, if you will:

  1. A good service disappears. You don’t have to be aware that it is there, you just get your work done or your problem solved.
  2. A good service enables DKDC--Don’t Know, Don’t Care.  I don’t know where the generators are that power my home, and I have no reason to care whether I know or not.

    When you think of services in enterprise and IT terms and consider the cloud computing discussion, the true test of cloud success would be DKDC; if I am the consumer of a cloud service, and don’t have to know or care that it
    is a cloud service, it’s performing as it should.  By their nature, services push the DKDC question to deeper and deeper levels, away from the consumer.  

“This means something. This is important.”  Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  

Remember the big picture: 

  1. Simplify complexity where possible, push it down the stack away from users where needed, by decomposing technology delivery into reusable services--create a Service Oriented Enterprise. (subject of this series, A World of Services)
  2. Decouple the delivery of data and programs from specific devices, to allow users the ability to use technology without being limited by their machines.  Make delivery Stateless. (subject of the first of the big ideas articles, Free Your Machines, and Nothing But Net)
  3. Move direct power to manage information closer to the people who use it, and away from complex programming and projects.  Flatten organizations and make IT an invisible part of business processes. (articles in development now)
Next in A World of Services, "How technology disappears" Mapping services to business, describing IT services and the services-based IT organization, and thinking about innovation in the resulting low-inertia business environment. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

from Lean Technology Transformation: How Budgets Ruin Value Creation and Delivery

This is an insightful article, but challenging to traditional management processes.  The central theme parallels one I've made about research in business: in an effort to feel that they're in control, managers often measure the wrong things, the ones that are easy to measure.  And by so doing, create outcomes that hinder their businesses.

This quote from the article is important:

"...budget contracts can act like drugs. They seduce executives into believing that they have control over their future financial outcomes. But, like most drugs, they have serious side effects. They lead both senior executives and operating managers into an annual performance trap from which it is difficult to escape."

Lean Technology Transformation: How Budgets Ruin Value Creation and Delivery

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Nothing but net: stateless computing, technology triggers, and the business of technology

I believe that stateless devices are one of the most important technology trends. The concept is simple and elegant:  all applications and data run from the cloud, with lightweight, fast-booting operating systems delivering a connection to the cloud and a very rich, browser-based user experience.

Devices built as stateless will need much less in the way of complex operating systems, and can be less expensive to build, buy, and operate.

Stateless is important because it changes the discussion about devices in the way social networks change the discussion about communities; we get to manage our lives based on what we need right now, not on being in the presence of the device where the software and data we want is residing.

But why should you accept that stateless computing is A Big Thing? 

Predicting technology is a constantly-shifting balance of art and science. But I do believe we can think of the future in ways that are more roadmap, less crystal ball.  That is the idea behind technology triggers, timelines of changing capabilities in which we can observe A and B and think clearly about the still-unknown C.

Here is a timeline for the enabling technologies of the stateless world:

The vertical lines show the triggers. As an example, the emergence of widely-distributed 3g wireless networks was one of the key enablers for the explosive growth of smartphones and the currently-popular online application markets.  Had you examined mobile computing through this lens just before 3g, and extrapolated to possible outcomes once it became available, you might have gained competitive advantage in the mobile space, just as Apple did with the iPhone.  We are clearly past the trigger point for the so called “app internet”  But we are also close to triggers for stateless computing, with Google’s Chrome OS and Chromebook computers being first to market.

Look at the graph as the timeline progresses; the enabling trends are moving in the direction of stateless computing, which overcomes major limitations in even the most advanced “app internet” situation deployed at the time of this article in summer 2011.  
Further, we can see that a true movement to cloud computing is not complete as long as we must still synchronize cloud and local data and do installation and maintenance of locally-installed applications--a model that is as old as Lotus Notes.   Apple’s vaunted iCloud service, which stores data and music in the cloud, still relies on local copies, a move analysts were quick to remind us, “looks great as far as it goes, which is all the way to about 2006.” 

The “app internet” concept is the future, says Forrester Research CEO George Colony.  I respect Mr. Colony and Forrester, but I think the tech triggers say otherwise.  The use of small-locally installed applications on top of a complex and proprietary operating system, using cloud data sync, is the best we can do in a world where connections are not quite pervasive enough. But it is still kludgy beyond belief, and does very little about the device dependence that now seems very old fashioned

We have not quite reached the “trigger timeline” when stateless takes off, but I think we are close.  What enablers are not quite there yet?

better internet connections: faster everywhere, transparently available via multiple sources IP network providers, especially mobile

quality-of-service management for IP connections

every “-as-a-service” vendor: Software-, Platform-, Infrastructure-

cloud-based media vendors: Pandora, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon
proprietary content delivery architectures: non-IP voice, cable and satellite television services

penetration and evolution of browser-enabled applications HTML 5  

desktop virtualization vendors to stateless-enable legacy applications

app developers

cloud-centric platforms and development environments

interface management systems that adapt stateless UI delivery to different browser forms on different devices.  
applications and developers still relying on client-server models

enterprises with large legacy app portfolios (although see “desktop virtualization” as opportunity to solve this)

rich internet application tools that rely on local installation of software: Adobe Air, Microsoft Silverlight

stateless-enabling operating systems and devices for other form factors: phones, televisions, tablets, automobiles

developers of new web interfaces: voice, gesture, image recognition.

the network effect of stateless benefits across many form factors presents a huge opportunity for manufacturers.  With very fast cycle times for mobile devices, a new market leader could emerge very quickly
fat operating system vendors could quickly be disintermediated: the stateless web experience is backward compatible with legacy operating systems, but not the other way around.

Although there is a high rate of change, there is also a big picture, a timeline from early mainframes, to networked PCs, to the internet-centric, multi-device era.

That multi-device era is where we are now: some cloudsourced data and some applications in the cloud, but still using a client-server model and complex operating systems.  While it's easy--facile, even--to say "the PC era is over," the truth is, we're much closer to a time in which the operating system and the purpose-built device of any sort will become almost invisible, and the idea of "browser" as a separate application becomes irrelevant.  
Stateless is the logical next step, based on evolving technologies, the social use of technology, and the historical evidence of the market in the face of the new capabilities brought on by those technologies.

Stateless is also the enabling technology that unlocks the greatest benefit of cloud computing, and helps us apply the lessons of online social interaction to the way we deploy and use the machines that make it possible. 
It is the tool through which data and applications in the cloud will create explosive growth in business value. Stateless computing is a big idea.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Google Takeout: new "export all my data" service, possible enterprise cloud model?

Mashable reports on this new service from Google, which allows you to export copies of everything you have stored in Google services.  

Pictured, their Data Liberation Front team.  Take a look at this story, because inside the news of a simple-sounding consumer add-on could be the seeds of an answer to one of the big challenges enterprises have seen in the cloud computing model: what do I do if I change my mind or change vendors, how do I get all my stuff?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

From Chris Brogan: excellent early comment on Google +

A friend of mine who works at Google has tried to send me an invitation to Google+, but hasn't been able to get it to go through, so I haven't had hands on experience yet.  If you're an Infrics reader and have an invitation, I'm asking...

In the meantime, Brian Solis tweeted a link this morning to Chris Brogan's excellent article,

"The Google Plus 50"

Here are a couple of the points I thought were compelling:

11.  "A standalone Google+ Apps version plus Google Docs = a very powerful business collaboration environment that would trump most white label social enterprise tech easily."

21. "With Google’s ChromeOS push, plus the proliferation of Android, Google+ now becomes quite a robust integrated communications, media, and sharing layer on multiple platforms natively, plus it is supported by browsers on all other platforms."  

31."If you enable location on your mobile device, G+ creates circles by “nearby,” thus allowing for instant location-centric social networks."

Have you tried Google+ yet? Will this be the effort that gets them on the social networking map?