Guru Nature

1. People are doing something
2. Write about how revolutionary this is and so much better than the old way of doing something
3. Lecture on this way of doing things
4. Pick small number of arbitrary things about how the people are doing this something and define it as a framework
5. Find someone to offer certificates for this framework and then sell expensive training courses with certificates
6. Repeat until market saturation or revenue begins to fall.
7. Tell everyone that the framework has been abused and, having true guru nature, you now reject it and have found the real answer.
8. GOTO 1


Bartleby, the CIO

I recently shared this piece on how “IT Departments have become utterly useless”. The number of retweets shows that it has resonated with many people.

So why is that? I mean, I have been a CIO for a number of organisations and on some massive projects, why have we allowed ourselves to become a stereotype of delay, obstruction and failure?

Here, in no particular order, are a few of the reasons why:

Risk – We live in a world where the core assets of our businesses – information, money, delivery systems – are all completely reliant on technology. Companies are robbed these days not with guns but with 0-day vulnerabilities. This creates an immediate tension between what people want to do and what they should do.

This is not a technology issue, it is a business issue. Yet it is convenient, simpler to push the onus down to the CIO, on to the back of technology. So risk then becomes embedded in the service management sausage machine and like all machines, it grinds and it grinds, and it grinds and it grinds very small.

In the public sector we have the concept of a Senior Information Risk Owner (SIRO). This is someone who can take a pragmatic, business view of the risks around a particular asset, system, service or project. I am often asked who the SIRO should be?

My answer, brutal but important, is that it needs to be someone worth sacking if it goes wrong. Their seniority, their reputation, their authority needs to be aligned with the value of the asset and scale of the risk. “Business is the management of risk.”

But individual responsibility is tricky concept so too often we return to the service management sausage machine to not just control risk but to grind it into vanishingly small chunks.

So when you wonder why you can’t access Twitter from your office machine or why it takes 7 minutes to boot up in the morning it is often down to an unowned risk being ground in the machine.

Outsourcing – Outsourcing is a tool, like all tools it is both morally neutral and proffered as a universal panacea. The MBA siren call of the recent past was “Focus on your core business”. Unfortunately outsourcing has revealed that a lot of people do not understand what their core business is.

Outsourcing has boundaries – I wash the plate, I hand it over to my outsourced plate drying service, they return a plate that has been dried to the agreed standards by the agreed upon deadline. And those boundaries need to be policed, policing of the boundaries means more service management and more grinding into dust.

Contempt – much enterprise IT demonstrates contempt for the user. I often ask people from big organisations, public and private sector, how they feel when they have to use their corporate HR or finance systems? And I do mean feel, usercentricity starts with how we feel.

The universal, UNIVERSAL, response I get is a chorus of groans. People hate using these core, fundamental business systems. Some of that is down to the business processes which themselves are often bedevilled by some of the things I have mentioned previously, but a lot is down to a user experience which seems rooted in a contempt for those who are forced to use these systems.

Delivery – by which I mean the opposite, no delivery. My current team and I have about 40 projects on the go at any one time. Some are large and involve perhaps 30-40 million users and in some cases hundreds of billions of pounds, some are small and involve a handful of users.

There are 5 of us, we ship an average of 5-6 products every quarter, we save an average of £10 for every £1 we cost.

Why aren’t we the norm? You can call it agile, you can call it digital, you can call it user centred. It is all of those things but most importantly, it’s delivery.

I have been a CIO, I may be one again. The name is irrelevant, the challenge is clear. What is stopping you from doing the same?

Or are you Bartleby?

Bringing dragons into the enterprise

I am currently playing Ni No Kuni and enjoying the excellent art work and well written script.

One of the grimmest neologisms of recent times is “gamification”. The concept that adding elements for gaming into, usually drudge, work will make us happier and more productive.

So we have seen attempts to combine role playing games with housework so you gain points for mopping the floor. For me this seems a bizarre hybrid of grinding and drudge work.

But playing Ni No Kuni I am reminded of something games do very well, guide the user through a world upskilling the player as they go. You start with a simple stick and seamlessly you are guided to a point where you are flying a dragon, commanding a ship, crafting items and performing magic.

Compare this with the grey, grim world of Enterprise IT with “Press F1 for help” that seldom ever helps, “wizards” that are never going to open the pod bay doors, and training courses that vanish from memory the instant one leaves the room.

Why can’t we replace that with the organic learning we find in Ni No Kuni?

Horsesoft Dobbin 2013

You sell horses. You have made a lot of money over the years selling horses. Pretty much every business in the world and every household owns one of your horses. You bring out a new breed of horses every 3-4 years. Sometimes these new breeds of horses are failures but in the main people replace their old horses with your new breeds.

Your only rivals in the transportation market are a bicycle company whose products have traditionally been expensive, and a whole range of people offering rideable llamas for free, but these llamas have a history of being ugly, high maintenance and frankly – they spit.

But in recent years the bicycles have become cheaper and faster and every time you go to a conference pretty much everyone there now has a bicycle rather than a horse, indeed most of them have traded in their horses for the new world of portable, folding bicycles.

The llamas are less ugly, more pliant and spit a lot less frequently these days too.

It is time for your regular release of a new horse breed.

In order to maximise your market you decide in the following approach for Horsesoft Dobbin 2013:

  • You increase the cost of actually buying a horse significantly.
  • You introduce a new arrangement where people can hire a horse for a year but that horse can only be used by one person. At the end of the year the horse is taken away.
  • The horse is a horse, it does come with a new ribbon in its mane but that’s it.


As an MEA (Master of Equine Administration) student, do you think that the sum total of people buying and renting Horsesoft Dobbin 2013 will be higher or lower than previous breeds of horses?

Chromebook – first thoughts

Google yesterday launched the Chromebook and a lot of the coverage has been about the 3 year leasing model which they offering.

I am still waiting for more details but based on the information here I have some first impressions.

Chromebooks essentially appear to be thin clients in netbook form – data and apps are stored remotely with the device essentially being the presentation layer.

On a 3 year basis the cheapest device has a cost of $28 x 36 or $1008 as opposed to the one off purchase cost of $349.

So the question is “Is the service wrap worth $659?”

The only details I can find so far are here.

Cost savings seem to be mainly captured in this paragraph:

Chromebooks and the management console automate or eliminate many common, time-intensive IT tasks like machine image creation, application distribution, patching, and upgrades. Additionally, there is no need to purchase licenses for anti-virus, data encryption or data back-up software. Subscription pricing means that you only pay a low monthly amount.

Minimum quantity is 10 so service wrap will be a minimum of $2197 per annum.

But someone still needs to do configuration, deployment, run the management console etc.

Will do some more detailed modelling and realworld comparisons but will be interested to see a) how the thin client model works in operation and b) whether the netbook form factor is now too unfashionable for the market to accept!

A Pound of Email Please

Is email like cheese or is it like air?

Cheese is a finite resource – no matter how much you may like cheese you can only eat so much, your larder can only hold so much and all the cows + sheep + goats of the world can only produce so much. We could indeed run out of cheese!!!!

Air is an infinite resource – we do not even think about it save in very rare circumstances. It just exists and we can use as much of it as we like, indeed we do not even consider that we are using a resource – it is so invisible and ubiquitous.

Users of email think of it as being like air, providers of email services think of it like cheese.

C is for Cookie, G is for Global

Cookie Bokeh

Image by Tomi Tapio via Flickr

You may have seen the recent news about EU legislation about the use of cookies on websites to track individual users. You can find reports on the BBC, The Register,  Techcrunch Europe and GigaOm.

I cannot write about the policy details or the implementation, for a start I am not involved in either, but the discussions around this particular issue have triggered a couple of thoughts on my part.

The first is the trite observation that this is a reflection of the many local vs. global tensions which the Internet raises. It is almost insulting to compare cookies to democratic liberation movements but they are both the result of local barriers being replaced by global platforms. And in return, local communities seek to raise those barriers in the new global space – be it cookie management or content filtering.

The second thought is that Internet commerce is based on a single point of vulnerability – not security – but identity management. We have struck an implicit and at best slightly understood agreement that we can shop and access services online in return for our interests and our activities being tracked and being sold onto the highest bidder.

The EU cookie proposals challenge that implicit agreement at a local level but what would happen if online tracking suddenly became a global concern? What if the Mozilla work on Do-Not-Track and the Microsoft work on cookie filtering become the norm for all rather than the exception used by just some of us? What if online tracking goes the same way as smoking or wearing fur?

What does the Web, what do business models look like in that world?

Any business model based on a single point of vulnerability is problematic, if that business model drives much of the valuation of the Internet economy then what happens?


let their hand go for it, grasp it

Sketch for Twitter. See also the author's desc...

Image via Wikipedia

Idea plus execution equals outcome.

Without both parts the outcome cannot be achieved.

An idea can be great but with poor execution it will stall, a poor idea with great execution is simply a waste of time and money.

Even the biggest companies can get it wrong – Google’s troubles with wifi were a poor idea badly executed while Buzz was an ok idea woefully executed.

If the idea is good enough people will tolerate grit in the delivery – Twitter and the fail whale being a classic example.

If the execution is slick enough then people may be dazzled long enough for you to sell them version 1, but they soon arrive at your doorstep with pitchforks and burning torches.

Innovation is often approached by businesses (and yes Virginia, the public sector is a business in this sense) as something both mysterious and highly dangerous.

This conflicted attitude can be seen throughout organizations, from the CEO down.

And I suspect that a lot of it comes down to regarding idea and execution as separate concepts, not as part of a seamless delivery.

Now you may, and rightly, say that this is all obvious. And you would be right.

But if it is obvious why do we all, including some of the biggest and the best, keep getting it wrong?


The Cassandra Complex

I made a mistake today, I wrote an email while tetchy and sent it before I had a chance for proper reflection. Don’t get me wrong, the views I expressed in the email remain my views, I just should have taken a deep breath or three before sending.

What was the email about? Well, I will not go into details. Suffice to say I had been sent a paper on professionalism which was well written, strongly argued and had a clearly defined aim. Unfortunately I disagreed with every part of it.

Whether I am right or wrong is another issue for another place and another time. And another audience.

But I continue to muse on professionalism and the notion of a “Profession”.

What is a “Profession”? It is more than just a set of people with the same skills else doctors and vets would count as one profession.

It is more than just a set of people with the same knowledge else police and criminals would count as one profession.

Is a “Profession” a licence to operate in that sphere? That is true for many professions – lawyer, doctor, accountant – but not all – hatter, footballer, religious leader.

Can you be professional without belonging to a “profession”? Of course, just compare good service with bad.

So what is the model for the “IT profession”? Do we learn from the existing professions and build a similar model to theirs with gatekeepers and qualifications etc? Or do we start from scratch to build a new style 21st century profession?

And what is it that we want out of an “IT profession”? The respect of others? Some kind of parity of standing? People who behave professionally? To raise the standards in IT by having a cadre of skilled professionals?

And then there is the question of scope. Let’s say I start the “Bear profession” which is open to all ursines in good standing. We have brown bears, black bears, grizzly bears, polar bears… What about pandas?

Pandas are, I was brought up to believe, just raccoons with pretensions. So do we let pandas into the “Bear profession”? And if we let in giant pandas then why not red pandas?

So perhaps we have an entrance exam, one involving little cakes and honey. But what does that tell us? Solely that someone has passed an exam, which may or may not have any relevance to the actual life of bears.

So I find myself coming back to the same questions

What do we want from a profession? Is it about a profession or professionalism? Can we scope who is in and who is out? What fundamental difference will it make? What does a profession look like in the emerging world?

I have no answers yet, just vague shapes evolving at the back of my mind.

No Go the Flow

The concept of “flow” has come up a number of times in recent conversations. “Flow” is one of those things which is hard to describe but easy to recognise, those moments when we are so completely aligned with what we are doing that everything just seems to fall into place. It can be chopping wood, dealing with customers, cutting code or writing text; it can last but a few moments or it can last hours. We come out of it elated and having been vastly more productive than normal. “Flow” leaves us inspired and hungry for more such moments of clarity and productiveness.

So why do organizations make “flow” so hard to achieve? Our offices seem deliberately designed to ensure that “flow” is minimised and interruptions are maximised. Similarly we build vast processes which disrupt flow and seek to reduce the human to some Taylorite automaton, incapable of creativity and “flow”.

Given that we are never more productive, never happier, never more creative than when in “flow”, why do we seem to actively seek to ensure that we banish the possibility of “flow” from our organizations? Is “flow” such a great threat?

If not, if we are supposed to be encouraging productivity, happiness and creativity then why are we not seeking to maximise “flow”?