2007/01/10

A new world of IT - appliances, clients, infrastructure, services

A thought on some new taxonomies in the I.T. world.

Even the meaning of "I.T." has changed - it's now Business I.T.
Somehow that also includes what we do at home...
But not the development of embedded devices.

So what about the tinkerers? (what's the collective noun of 'tinkers'? A gadget of tinkers?)
What is it that they do?? It isn't Business I.T. - but is often done on the same hardware/equipment.
These are the people that would've once been 'ham' or amateur radio operators.
My local Linux Users Group is where I find them now - or LCA - Linux.Conf.AU - if I was prepared to pay ;-)

Business Systems, are constructed from all these components.
In Business I.T., a chief concern should be for The Data.
If you upgrade MS-Word or MS-Excel and can't access old documents, is that important to someone??

If your business includes such documents in a critical business process/system, it's now bought a whole whirl of cost and trouble "migrating" them.

New Dimensions
  • Appliances vs General Purpose Computing Devices (fixed/single or general purpose devices?)
  • Desktop/client Applications vs Server Applications (Where does your App. run?)
  • Infrastructure vs Server & end-user devices (Invisible or visible to the user?)
  • Services vs Applications (indirect or direct user app.)

Implications for Design, Operations and Performance Analysis


Design
  • Appliances: are "fungible". They perform relatively fixed, simple functions and conform to standards. Managers can compare specs and prices meaningfully. They also depreciate in a more understandable way. Today's high-end NAS appliance will still be useful in a role in 5 years. Ten year-old routers may still work and handle useful traffic.


Operations
A manin objective of I.T. Operations and Admin should be to invent themselves out of a job. So they can get on with more important and valuable work. Automation is the name of the game.

We don't have "Tape Operators" any more. Those jobs have been automated away.

We need some metrics to quantify this:
  • Number of operators/admins per 100 users
  • Number of servers per operator/admin
  • Number of Gigabytes per operator/admin
  • number of databases * Gigabytes per admin


And my favourite, the "R-Mark":
How big an office, desktops, servers and services, can a informed non-professional set up with a credit card and the local computer 'superstore'.

The "R-mark-II" is:
How many networked offices


Performance Analysis

100% Availability of networked services is becoming more easily and cheaply achievable.
It's a target that can be generally aspired to.
And hardware is becoming 'so cheap', that for most sites, there should always be enough capacity.
And for those that can afford it, we should be seeing "Datacentre in a Box" solutions soon.
[i.e. a shipping container fully loaded with servers and disk. Maintain once a year, if at all.]

In this world, do we have a greater or lesser need for performance analysis and capactity planning?

Other things
Don't have time to expand on all these just now...

appliances, rich/thin clients, infrastructure, services

2007/01/09

Paint by Numbers - I.T. Services Organisation

Creation Date: Fri Nov 24 13:00:35 EST 2006


Title: Paint by Numbers

Uses: Not to be used without attribution.

Motivation: Explaining why Outsourcers do what they do.

STATUS: ROUGH NOTES



Aim:

  • Organise my thoughts about and observations of IT Outsourcing and Services companies.
  • Explain to others why the same organisation & culture exists across many organisations and countries.
  • Explain why OpenSource happens as it does, and is generally anathema in these organisations.


Synopsis:
Outsourcers provide MacDonald's like certainty and product consistency to their large clients - exactly what the client management wants and expects.

They achieve this through high-control management and fine-grained technical specialisation, or by
"americanisation".
Probably provably the most efficient structure and method for the people/managers generally available.

Risk, Innovation and Personal Initiative are anathema in this organisational milieu and for Customer Requirements. The lattitude given individual technicians is small, limiting the ability to be or develop "Star Performers".

Opensource development is the other end of the organisational spectrum - self-directed, innovative and nurturing of technical brilliance. "Star Performers" are the norm in certain projects and their development encouraged. Perhaps even incubated?



Paint by Numbers [PBN]

  • explaining why Outsourcers do what they do. 
    • In the vain search for predictable, controlled outcomes, they substitute process for talent/capability and confuse inputs and outputs.
  • Is this approach the most efficient organisation possible?

There are well documented studies of 100:1 performance variation within professional programmers. This is likely a very conservative estimate.



Underpinned by the unspoken Organising Principle:
"Tech-heads are Knuckleheads, Management Knows Best" (or Knows All)


PBN - never develops anything great, in fact it never can.

Only ever buy existing products (cf Computer Associates), do what the market wants and what the competitors do.
'Skill Sets'... the things PBN managers purchase and assess. Not performance or capability



Myth of The Man Month: doesn't exist [Rob Kolstad]. People are not fungible... Jobs must be redesigned to fit what the team and people in the teams can do - and they develop over time, and move on, change interests and motivations.

How would you build a company of star-performers? How would you manage them?
Keep them interested? Train, develop and then they leave - to explore new challenges.



Problem 1: Where do you find managers who can recognise stars? From the ranks of stars - in the field or star-managers/recruiters. Would stars give up their technical life for the problems of mgt?

Problem 2: Where do you find management secure enough to hire stars? And then astute and capable enough to let this rabble, "a self-directed anarchistic collective" get on with its process? And how do you recognise gold-bricking from genuine exploration? [Hint: Google]

Problem 3: Where do you find corporate customers that can cope with the seemingly undiscplined long-haired rabble - and all their eccentricities? How do you get them to appreciate the superior performance and solutions of your team of stars?

Problem 4: Where do you find Marketers who are astute enough to understand the different product you're selling, the benefits and problems? And then not over-promise, brag or snow/bull the clients?

Problem 5: How do you assess performance of each of the 4 areas:

  • technical
  • admin, supervision, management, leadership
  • marketing and sales
  • admin suport - accounting etc?

And the individuals in each area?

Problem 6: How do you link performance to pay?
Especially when these things are team based...
[Bob Lewis: Team is a Group that needs everyone to complete the task]

Problem 7: How do solve the individual and group politics? Done right, creative tensions lead to high-performance. Done Wrong, implosion.

Problem 8: How do you SCALE? Find more stars, mgrs, etc Locations, Cultures.
Schools don't train 'stars', but compliant cattle or rebel-without-a-clue.

Problem 9: How do you scale over TIME? Build a self-renewing culture that can survive the exit of The Founders? And cope with changes in culture, context, environment. Homeostasis. Needs a very good measure of outcomes and performance - and watching the triplet: Ignorance, Arrogance,
Self-Delusion/Incompetence.

Problem 10: How to avoid Hubris? We can do No Wrong? Or - The One True Path worship of The Holy Founders Method...



Conclusion: PBN is as Good as it Gets, right now within the cultural milieu. It suits large corporate clients who need security and predictability from suppliers. Not nimbleness and genius - it's too hard to manage and control - and doesn't suit the need for heavyweight planning and 'strategy'.

And it's really easy to select, hire, train PBN techo's, managers, PM's and marketers.



Build It, and they will Come...

Stars will self-select into Star-Orgs - and probably have some ambition to head up their own factory.

Rodin, Michelangelo and Renoir (?) all had Art Houses/Factories supporting them. They knew how to manage (their) genius and leverage the work of others.

And at some point, proto-genii have to be thrown from the nest. There is only room for one Great Master in this model - and when they are done, so is the business - apart from repeating current productions.



Hollywood Producers are PBN elevated to an Art Form.

They will/can only invest in No Risk Projects - it's Other People's Money,and they have to have Plausible Deniability and perform good enough Due Diligence... They can only go with What
is Proven to Work - a genre, an actor, a director...

Once A New Thing has been shown to work, then it's not A Big Gamble, but A Sure Thing - so everyone is (remaking) the same movie. Or their Sequels [a franchise like "James Bond"].

What this leads to (by defintion):

  • Fads. The New Thing
  • One True Way
  • Stars - actors, directors, writers, ...
  • Little experimentation - or the inverse, compliance to 'norms'
  • Strict Rule-based Marketing Driven production.
  • A single-minded focus on 'product' and 'the bottom-line'.

Art and Entertainment are perverted. It's about Bucks, Careers and Politics...

Quality and Social Responsibility have no place in this mix. Only the minimum possible and Lowest Common Denominator.

These products do what they set out to do - make money. It's not about Good, or Art or Values. But good predictable product - no surprises, no risk, no talent or appreciation for the busines: A process/method where any monkey can turn the crank and produce a result. When they get lucky, it's their genius, when it fails (which is mostly) - someone else is accountable or "you just can't get good talent these days", "if only ...".

They and their managers/owners/investors lack the insight to understand the fundamentals of what they do. And if they suspect, the Moral Fibre to own it or speak about it. That is the greater loss.

And this applies to the whole 'Entertainment Industry' - music and games as well.

And now, PBN I.T. Outsourcing.



Prof. CL Cooper, Org. Psych, Lancaster Uni Mgt School.

QUOTES: from  "Americanisation"

In the UK, stress costs the economy an estimated 5-10 per cent of GNP per annum.

Since the industrial revolution every decade has had its unique defining characteristics:

  • the short-term contract culture, with its outsourcing and downsizing and long working hours culture, the 90s.

We are seeing the Americanisation of Europe spreading throughout the continent.

This trend toward what is euphemistically called the "flexible" workforce, originated in the UK. Britain led the way in Europe towards privatising the public sector in the 80s. Its workforce was substantially downsized during the recession of the late 80s and early 90s. Outsourcing many of its corporate functions, it left the recession behind in the early 90s, faster than its European counterparts.

However, this scenario of "leaner" organisations, intrinsic job insecurity and a culture of longer working hours are beginning to have an adverse effect on employee attitudes and behaviour.

A recent survey of British managers found that these changes - downsizing, outsourcing, delaying and the like - led to substantially increased job insecurity, lowered morale and, most important of all, the erosion of motivation and loyalty. These changes were perceived to have led to an increase in profitability and productivity, but decision-making was slower and the organisation was shown to have lost the right mix of human resource skills and experience in the process.