Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Seasons Greetings from Fedex .. and power of viral videos

This morning I was intrigued to see the link to a video clip on Yahoo’s homepage.

 “It was the monitor toss seen 'round the world. FedEx has responded to a viral video that showed one of the company's drivers throwing a (now broken) computer monitor over a fence.”

With online holiday shopping and eCommerce – even in a sluggish economy – crossing allexpectations, the action by an (irate?) Fedex employee could come as a jolt to most of us. Fedex .. and UPS, DHL and other courier firms are the last mile in eCommerce, perhaps providing  the closest “human” face to an otherwise contact free shopping experience. And when an employee - even if it one of several hundreds of thousands of them in the supply chain business – goes rogue; and is caught on tape shamelessly doing so, the video is bound to go viral.

Not surprisingly, Fedex responded with swiftness and issued a statement “The situation has now been resolved to the customer's satisfaction, and we are handling the employee according to our disciplinary policies...While we continue to be surprised about the behavior shown, we know this is an aberration and is not reflective of the outstanding FedEx customer service that makes us proud around the world.”

Score +1 for bloggers and viral media and for speedy customer satisfaction response.  Season’s Greetings!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Any Lessons to be learnt from AMRI tragedy in Calcutta, India? Sure … But

It was shocking to read about the horror from the Kolkata #AMRI hospital fire that claimed 86 of 160 patients. (NYT)  Given the sense of public outrage, it is not surprising to see how the Government has formulated a “Special Investigation Team” to probe the “causes of the worst hospital fire in recent memory”.

Obituaries are being written and a lot of questions being asked by Digirati and Media and more importantly the Indian middle class, that is a key ‘consumer’ of private hospital services in India.

Non resident Indians, self included, are also closely watching the outcome of investigation though I am personally not holding my breadth on any meaningful change in attitude towards the value of individual human lives in a country with over a billion of them. Perhaps it is my personal  glimpse into human-crisis-management in India has made me a bit cynical (ref)
But I guess it is not just me. Santosh for Über Desi blog sums it up in a sentence “ Indian cities, over the last 20 years in particular, have sought to model themselves after the West; swanky malls, ritzy apartment complexes and state-of-the-art hospitals and medical care; for all this prosperity and opulence, safety and concern for human lives is still a “phoren” concept.”

If you ask most Indians and NRIs if there are any Lessons to be learnt from AMRI tragedy, most of us would say sure! But the real question is whether we have an appetite for changing the status quo. And can Indians afford the cost of safety that accompanies a concern for human life.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Writing an e-book. Learning from Mark Cuban?!

It is thanksgiving day and I got around to catch up with some reading, blogs etc. There was an interesting article in WSJ earlier this week "In E-Books, a New Player" The article describes how the entrepreneur Mark Cuban plans to leverage his cyber presence to write an e-book.

Mark Cuban has 335,000 friends on Facebook and 760,000 followers on Twitter. Monday, the Internet billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team will test just how friendly those fans really are. . . . Mr. Cuban has written a 30,000-word e-book, "How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It." Culled from blog postings Mr. Cuban has made over the years about his business career, it will be available for $2.99 through online digital-book retailers. To drive sales, Mr. Cuban plans to tap all his online followers. "All I have to do is get them to pay attention and hit a link," he says, estimating that his blog posts attract anywhere from 50,000 to one million readers.

The potential success of Mr. Cuban’s book also hinges on his cyber-popularity and popularity.   Fascinating model that many wannabe writers will surely try to follow.

While writing my book on Offshoring IT Services, I didn’t really leverage as much of Web 2.0 as I probably should have. Would my experience on writing and publicizing a book have been any different?

I guess I will have to find out with my next book. :-)


Friday, November 18, 2011

Enterprise Architect : shifting from consulting to Full-time EA (and back)

For the past few years, I have been a consulting Enterprise Architect,  working with a wide cross-section of clients, industry verticals and technology domains. Some of my engagements have been short and specific to an EA domain. I have also had the opportunity of being embedded in client’s EA organizations for extended periods of time. Some of my offline with  client and consulting EA's sometimes shifts to career planning and management.  Many in full-time Enterprise Architect roles at large enterprises muse on moving to consulting; I have seen more than a few join my EA practice during recent times. Likewise, I have also seen fellow consultants take up full-time EA role at client enterprises.  

A few common themes for such shift include personal reasons constraints - need to cut back on travel consulting involves - or the urge to move on to other industry verticals which consulting gig’s can facilitate. And in many cases it also boils down to the bottomline ($$$).  Some random observations based on experiences of people I have seen switch roles
Full-Time Enterprise Architects
Enterprise Architect Consultants
The role of an Enterprise Architect is typically a mix of subject matter expert, internal consultant, mentor and coach.
Role of a consulting EA is that of a deep subject matter expert, focused on advising client’s decision making.
As key stakeholders bridging the business-IT divide, Enterprise Architects are vested in the success of strategic initiatives, held accountable for their decisions and advise given to business and IT.
Consulting architects are not expected to have a 'permanent' tenure with a client. While they may also be responsible to deliver in success of client’s initiatives, they are generally not held accountable
Vendor relationship and management skills are getting to be important, especially in large-scale sourcing contexts.
The focus is on client stakeholder management and ability to continually sell one’s individual and consulting firm’s services
As client’s technology teams get leaner with larger sourcing initiatives, Enterprise Architects are expected to add to project/ program governance and also governance around vendor management
EA consultants may sometimes get an opportunity to be a part of client's Architecture governance teams but the focus is primarily on solution delivery and reviews
An Enterprise Architect’s performance indicator, measure of success includes contributing to long-term growth and ensuring success of business’ initiatives
Consultant’s PI is more black-and-white and typically includes a mix of billable utilization, meeting sales targets, contributing to consulting firms’ downstream business
An EA can reach out to internal networks and resources not available to outsiders
The consulting EA may need to be facilitated on reaching out to internal - client - resources. however he will have access to his extended network from his firm
The above is by no means a comprehensive list though it may weigh in while one considers a switch from being a consulting EA to a full-time EA. Do ping with your inputs and I will add to it.

ps: Added note from a fellow EA (Kurt Barndt)  "I would add you serve who ever pays you.  If you work for a services organization sometimes you are put in the position to balance your company’s interests with that of your client(s).  Working in house has an easier alignment from a company perspective however organizational/peer alignments become more significant especially as there are less and less in-house employees in the ever growing services-based environment."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Does IT Matter? Warren Buffet says Sure: By investing in Business of IT

Almost a decade after Nicholas G. Carr ignited a firestorm with his Opinion piece in the Harvard Business Review "Why IT Doesn't Matter," Warren Buffet has answered.

For years after the Mr. Carr’s article and book were published, IT executives and technocrats tried refuting the view with logical arguments. Perhaps the most resounding rebuttal to the view is the action by the Oracle of Omaha.
Media today is abuzz on the move Berkshire Hathaway investing $10.7 billion in International Business Machines (IBM) this year. What makes it noteworthy is that Warren Buffet had for long refrained from making major investments in tech companies.  In an interview, Mr. Buffett was quoted saying "It's a company that helps IT departments do their job better, It is a big deal for a big company to change auditors, change law firms”  . or for IT departments to move away from using IBM. … Buffet was also quoted saying that as the company retains existing clients, they are growing substantially around the globe.  (Ref: CNBC Interview transcript)

What was unsaid in the interview with Mr. Buffet was how well IBM has embraced the global delivery model , a.k.a Offshoring pioneered by Indian firms – TCS, Infosys, Wipro et al.  It is expected that in 2011 , IBM will recruit approximately 24,000 more employees taking it to a total of nearly 154,000 employees from India.  IBM India account for about 90,000 employees. Roughly translated, IBM's Indian employees would generate $35 billion of IBM's revenues in 2010 (out of about $120 billion) [Wikipedia

The Enterprise Architect in me is fascinated by the move. More than any the utopian goal of “moving up the value” chain, excelling in the “business of IT” that most technocrats profess to, the action by an uber business strategist : investing $10.7 billion in an IT firm in the current economic climate speaks volumes.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Musings on body shopping, IT Service Firms, visas and the 7 Year itch

Technology sourcing companies have long struggled with the "7 year itch" but now with a few forces coming together, the problem seems to be getting magnified: Sluggish global economy coupled with continued demand for offshoring, protectionist visa policies, and IT service companies continuing to go after a slice of the same big pie. The unsung beneficiaries of this: small, mid-size body-shops (And no, in this blog, I am not adding to the debate on Whether Infosys Is a 'Body Shop')

Firstly, defining the 7 Year Itch. Many IT professionals who have grown in a service firm, especially those with an extended experience working on hot technologies in more than a few projects feel the need to explore the grass-on-the-other side. These Tech-lead/Junior-Architect level folks are also backbones of successful IT sourcing projects, and are much in demand.

Case in point. Here is a practical problem that managers of sourcing firms face. My client just awarded a million-dollar six-month contract for the next phase of eCommerce program to my firm. Most of the existing technical folks in my project are already locked into working on the previous phases. I don't have a pool of experienced IBM Websphere, IBM Portal and IBM Commerce programmers currently available in my organizational bench pool to join the team at a short notice. Flying in folks from out of US is not a practical option for two reasons: we don't have a pool of "visa ready" folks waiting on bench, and getting visas for other folks at short notice would be impossible.

What do I do? I turn to sub-contractors in the local market. The sub-con has a database of Websphere professionals working for other tier-1outsourcing and offshoring firms - possibly my competetors. These also happen to be folks either going through a 7-Year-Itch at their firm, are looking for a subcon to sponsor their immigrant visa or simply an opportunity to make a few dollars more as an IT contractor.

There are a few interesting market forces coming together here, something that the body-shops are looking to capitalize on.
  • Sluggish global economy with continued outsourcing. Sluggish global economy means most companies either have a hiring freeze or a slowdown in hiring. The slowdown in hiring does not always mean a corresponding freeze in the technology initiatives, which translates to an opportunity for sourcing vendors.
  • Let the big dogs fight over the slice of the same pie. A client may decide to award an eCommerce project to a Vendor A and a SAP upgrade program to Vendor B. Vendor A scrambles to put together a team of Managers, Architects, Tech Leads and Developers proficient in eCommerce technologies. Vendor B likewise does it for the SAP program. Just like organizations realize they can easily interchange and deploy resources across client programs, the ‘resources’ realize they can switch employers and continue to work on same technologies.
  • Fewer Work Visas: Not wishing to go against political headwinds, service companies are applying for fewer work visas. Even the few applications are going through additional scrutiny by immigration officials, which means one thing: fewer experienced IT professionals available in any geography.
Opportunity: Body Shops promise mobility while carving out a niche. Technologists with the 7-Year-Itch are motivated and unencumbered by a baggage of loyalty and need to work for a single employer. However, their mobility is restricted by their immigrant/visa status and sluggish hiring by end-clients. Also, most large sourcing firms are reluctant to hire candidates in the US if they also have to sponsor visas for them. The body shops are stepping in to provide a bridge: hiring talented individuals who can be sub-contracted to larger sourcing firms with the only overhead of having to sponsor their paperwork.

ps: As with any opportunity, there are risks, especially for those being "body shopped." Risks include being out of visa status if the body-shopper is unable to get the right paperwork to sponsor visa extension …. but that is another topic in itself.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Congrats : 2011 Enterprise Architecture Awards Winners

Enterprise Architecture as a practice continues to evolve. While consultants and experts in the industry debate over the role of EA in technology and business, Architects in successful organizations continue to guide, mentor and steer their business and technology teams to leverage industry best practices.

Coagulations to Enterprise Architects for making it to the top of the 2011 list:
  • American Express
  • Bayer Healthcare
  • First Data
  • Singapore Ministry of Education
  • Proctor and Gamble
  • USAA 

Ref: The 2011 Enterprise Architecture Awards from InfoWorld and Forrester Research
Successful EAs seem to be doing the right things:
  • Help define the right roadmaps and guide teams to work towards them
  • Enabling "knowledge bridge" between business operations and IT
  • Create a framework for strategic technology programs to coordinate technology adoption and development in a manner that maximizes value
  • Moving away from being hostage to a legacy of dysfunctional IT, help the organization transform into an agile organization that embraces change
  • Digitize and simplify its end-to-end processes
  • Experimenting with different approaches to presenting data and collecting and maintaining architectural elements

As a consulting Enterprise Architect, I have had the pleasure of working with EA’s from organizations that continually move towards top of these lists. However, the challenge I continually see is that not all Enterprise Architecture organizations do all the right things all the time. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs , but Innovation lives on with the world's cheapest tablet?!

With an uncanny timing, Indians have launched the "world's cheapest" tablet on the day when the genius behind personal computing passed away. [RIP #SteveJobs]
Students display Aakash, which means sky, dubbed the world's cheapest tablet computer, after its launching ceremony in New Delhi October 5, 2011. Aakash will be sold to students at the subsidised price of $35 to expand digital access in the Asian giant that lags peers such as China and Brazil in connectivity. Reuters/Parivartan Sharma

For a generation of technology professionals who caught on to the offshoring wave, prompting the (re) definition of Flattening World [apologies Friedman], it is heartening to see the next wave of kids in the East with a device that can further flatten the world.

It is almost prophetic to see tablet computer, that caught the fancy of western world also moving to the bottom of the pyramid.

While the brouhaha over the cheapest tablet dies down, Indians must continue to ponder if they want to continue to be after the “Worlds Cheapest” lable? Remember a similar hype over "The World's Cheapest Car" when Tata launched Nano?

Blogs on the cheapest tablet
  •  India Announces World’s Cheapest Tablet - WSJ Blog
  • India's new $35 Aakash tablet computer designed in Canada‎ - Yahoo! News
  • A tablet computer for the price of an iPad case‎ -
  • Is The $35 "Indian" Tablet Actually Chinese?
  • A $35 Android tablet becomes reality - ZDNet
  • Aiming for the Other One Billion - NYT 


Monday, October 3, 2011

Jobs in America: Offshoring Angle

As the global economy flounders, the debate over job creation rages. In America the debate is getting an additional political overture due to the heating debate over 2012 Presidential elections. Given the focus on economy and job creation, immigration and globalization is a hot-button topic a few policy makers want to entertain. While politicians and policy makers take a macro view of jobs in America, business leaders are factoring job creation into their social-outreach program. This is an angle offshoring firms also seem to be pursuing.

According to a recent Knowledge Wharton/ Network article, the big-three of Indian Offshoring are already taking focused steps towards global hiring:

Infosys: At its recent analyst meeting, Infosys revealed that by next year, it plans to increase the number of local employees at onsite client locations to 50%. Infosys, which has a total employee base of over 130,000, currently has around 27,000 employees at client locations. Of these, around one-third are local hires. With the U.S. accounting for the biggest chunk of Infosys’s revenues, the maximum local hiring will happen there.

TCS: In its annual report for 2010-2011, Tata Consultancy Services, the leading Indian IT firm, notes that protectionism in major markets is one of the key risks that the company faces. “Restrictive legislations that impede the free flow of talent in key markets could disrupt operations and hamper growth in those markets,” the report says. One of the solutions to mitigate this risk: “more local recruitment.”

Wipro: At Wipro Technologies, plans are also in the works to increase local hires at onsite locations — from around 35% currently to more than 50% over the next couple of years.

There is a steady economic activity around corporations that have been sourcing work. In anytown USA, one can still encounter IT development centers that continue to staff high-paying jobs. In addition to people working for end-client organizations, local economies are spurred by transient workers from sourcing/vendor firms. Such activities include apartment and extended-stay hotel, motel rentals, local grocery chains, supermarkets, malls and restaurants. Those on short-term visas and contracts also pay taxes that includes federal, state and local income taxes.

ps: One can als make an argument that if it were not for offshoring, similar – if not more – economic activities would continue around IT development centers and hubs; with a difference, the economic transplants would have been from out-of-state and not out-of-nation… but that is not the point here.

A few interesting articles:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Article: Cross cultural issues and how to live and work in a new culture

There was an interesting article in the weekend Wall Street Journal "Learning to Speak Iowan: Corn, Pigs, Cyclones and Hawkeyes." The article talks about the cross-cultural challenges faced by foreign doctors immigrating to work with patients in Anytown rural America.

The challenge is not unique to doctors. Even techies face a version of this issue and how the “Software Culture” helps mitigate the typical cross cultural issue that I described in my book a while ago.

Most of us have spent some time in the west can only smile and reflect on learnings when we see younger generation of doctors and software engineers learning to speak Iowan.

Like the training for doctors in the article, larger software sourcing firms have institutionalized orientation of cultural training, especially focused on Indian culture vs American/European culture.

The issues they miss out on cultural training are reinforced periodically by onsite managers and leaders… occasionally with emails that get into nuances of Do’s and Don’ts, some of it are sure to make the more seasoned veterans smile.

Ps: Sample of Email continually sent to onsite team members by sourcing firms

Come to work on time
· Most client folks come to work by 7-7:30 AM
· Try to match your customer's schedule - If they work early, you also work early; If they start work late, you start late
· Be there when your customer wants you
· Let the manager to whom you report to know when you are not going to be available in your seat during regular hours

Follow Client's dress code
· Business casuals / formals from Monday to Thursday - Jeans and sneakers not allowed
· Jeans and sneakers, if allowed, only on Friday

Use perfumes and deodorants regularly
· Change your clothes daily
· Wash and press your clothes before wearing them to work
· If you suffer from bad breath, chew gum, eat peppermint, brush regularly

Be polite
· Do not get into fights with offshore team over the phone in open air – it tends to get noticed and escalated
· Speak slowly (Indians are very fast in speaking compared to Americans)
· Say thank you and please to everyone
· Open the door for others walking behind you
· Never slam the door on the person walking behind you
· Move away from the doorway when some one else is walking by
· Greet everyone whom you see on the passages
· Learn how to do the "How do you do, Good, How do you do" sequence while passing someone on the passageway
· Always speak in English when you are in office (not in Marathi/Bengali/Tamil/Kannada/Malayalam/Hindi etc). In case you need to speak in any other language, please go into a closed conference room and do so.
· When you answer the telephone, identify yourself and greet the person on the other side
· Don't just pick up the phone and say aah, mmmh or be silent

· Show your identification badge to the security officer (whether he asks for it or not)
· Get proper parking tags and park in proper parking lots
· Do not park in Visitor parking lots

· Do not make personal telephone calls from the work phone
· They monitor very closely the calls that are made from each phone
· Do not try to access internet sites that are blocked
· Do not access chat sites from work
· Do not visit Pornographic sites from work
· Do not engage in online trading of stocks from your work PC
· Do not download any software from the internet (be in free ware or share ware)
· Do not receive or forward junk/chain/joke emails
· Requests for additional access/ Prod access etc should go through your manager
· Never request for additional access/prod access directly.

Communication with Client
· Do not ask any Technical questions to client folks (All technical questions are to be resolved within Infosys -using Technical bulletin board, referring to manuals, sending e-mails to team members-Onsite/Offshore)
· Ask as many Business questions as you can to Client folks
· Put down the business you learnt on a BOK
· Use short simple sentences
· If you feel that the other party did not understand you completely, do not hesitate, start explaining all over again
· If you did not understand what the other party said, stop them with an excuse me or pardon me and request them to repeat
· When attending a meeting, be prepared for the same and make sure that you have a notepad/book and take a note of all the important points discussed especially if it is a meeting regarding requirements with users
· Have SIGN-OFF/REVERSE sign-off on any issue-resolution/requirements/design before starting off the work. This is part of the process and will serve as an agreement between both parties involved and will help everyone when there is any doubt or lack of clarity.
· DO not refer to Infosys Project code while discussing with Customer, as they may not know/understand the code. Instead try to refer to your application/system(s).
· While addressing people directly, please use the ‘first name’. In E-mail directories, you will find the name listed as ‘Last Name, First name. (For example, Tom Smith is listed as ‘Smith, Tom’.)
· When talking about somebody in a conversation, please use the ‘first name and last name’ or just ‘last name’ (For example, Tom Smith can be addressed as either Tom Smith or just Smith)
· Understand the short names used in the first names. Usually people are addressed with their short names. Consider the following examples:
· If a person’s name is Robert XYZ...he/she is addressed as Bob XYZ……
· If a person’s name is Thomas, XYZ…he/she is addressed as Tom XYZ…
· If a person’s name is William ,XYZ…he/she is addressed as Bill XYZ
· If a person’s name is James XYZ…he/she is addressed as Jim XYZ

· Never comment on political/racial/sexual sensitive issues
· Always give a meaningful subject to the emails that you sent out
· Do not sleep while at work
· Honor other people's personal space - don’t stand or sit too close to some one
· Make sure that no one gets an opportunity to complain about you on sexual harassment
· Be very careful with your looks , gestures and words you use to colleagues of opposite/same sex
· Eve Teasing in the office is unacceptable
· Prepare Bok documents on what you learned onsite
· If any valid point is missing here, please add the same
· Please make sure that Out-of-office mail is set up in e-mail and voicemail whenever you are not in office (travel, vacation, sick leave etc.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Musing on accidental Enterprise Architects and Enterprise Solutions Architect

Enterprise Architects (EA's) periodically like to muse on the evolution of their roles and how they need to be aligned more with the "Business." Some get on discussion forums to debate how they/their roles need to move up the value chain, which makes for an interesting blog post but practical challenges continue to keep many EA's grounded.

Last week I was visiting clients in Washington DC area and met with their EA's whose business card reads "Enterprise Solution Architect". It was in the context of their adoption of TOGAF and ideation on how they could leverage the toolkit and frameworks better. This was a group of technologists and business analysts who had grown into the EA roles in their organization, a mid-size enterprise.

During our discussion, some were voicing concerns on the strategic-vs-tactical challenge of their roles. I got a feeling that these were accidental Enterprise Architects. For some the goal was to be the Über techie, a.k.a lead technical architect, focus on technical problems with projects and programs than on other core EA challenges within the enterprise.

Of late, I see a lot more accidental EA’s wanting to move towards their Business or Solution Architect roots (circled in image above). And in many cases, organizations are also providing the nudge. Organizations that employ experienced technologists in "Enterprise Architect" roles want them to double up by wearing technical or business analyst hats in projects and programs. In TOGAF speak; the focus of Solution Architects is on B. C. and D. dimensions. (refer image).
I guess there is some rationale here: in a tough economy, employers and managers are looking for a better ROI on their employee’s skills. Remember, Enterprise Architects are highly paid "resources" and productivity of resources is a key performance indicator.

Maybe it is just me, but in an uncertain economic climate, I see a lot more Enterprise Architects hunkering down to leverage their core competencies – technical or business skills – than stepping up to prepare their firms for growth.

TOGAF: The Open Group Architecture Framework

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Musings on Jobs and Economy

The direction of economy hinges on Jobs, and jobs in the Information Technology sector has been fluid at best. Those who habitually read the newspapers, blogs and other media sources are bound to be bewildered by the swings in topics. A sampling of headlines from USA today in the span of few months

And this is just a few examples from a single newspaper. Most media outlets have similar contradicting stories coming out every day, which is enough to leave many bewildered. This said there is element of job-hopping and opportunity, especially for skilled professionals.

Here is a straw poll: Among the couple of hundred professional associates spread across the globe that are connected with me on LinkedIn, over 30-40 had a job/role change in the past six months. In percentage terms it translates to about 15-20 percent, which in the tech sector is a reasonable attrition. Another set of data points: I travel extensively on business either for client engagements or for meetings and pre-sales presentations. At airports across the country and in hotels and at Car rental outlets, I continue to see a large number of fellow consultants. Perhaps the reason WSJ continues to feature articles and blogs on Health Woes of Business Travel. Sure there has been a cutback in such travel and expnse accounts but as economic activities continue at a slower pace, so do consulting and the travel that comes with it.

In my current role of the Lead Architect for a key client, I have been interviewing candidates to fill in eCommerce and Data Warehousing roles, a situation where the demand is exceeding supply of the pool. Of course, in case of my employer, the supply is also constrained by the number of ‘visa ready’ folks who can travel onsite to client locations in the US. To be fair, it is a challenge most other offshore outsourcing firms are facing too. Local hiring is certainly an option I and colleagues continue to pursue, provided candidates are willing to be mobile.
On the flip side, my LinkedIn profile has also been attracting a number of queries from headhunters looking to "urgently fill" key technology roles, which is perhaps a silver lining in the gloomy economic cloud.

Bottomline: for journalists, jobs and economy is yet another hot-button topic but for those of us who are a part of the real economy, pursuing jobs and opportunities is something we will continue to do.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Viewpoint on Enterprise Architecture Consulting: Architecture Assessments and Roadmaps

My team is wrapping up an eCommerce assessment and Foundational Stability engagement for a client and I have been reviewing some of the older program documents. A few of these documents date back about five years ago – authored at the time of program inception – provide an excellent rear-view mirror. One in particular titled "eCommerce Strategy current assessment"is especially thought provoking. It was a report authored by EA consultants from a competing firm, highlighting the application portfolio with inputs from Technologists and Business stakeholders. The deck had a whole set of documents one would expect including

• eCommerce Capability Models, Capability Mappings
• Analysis of Business Units including Heat Maps
• Application Assessment catalogs
• Survey administration approach, toolkit and findings including highlights from technical and functional standpoint
• Benchmark surveys from other client engagements
• Health-Check and findings
• Future State Roadmap

The client is about five years into the enterprise eCommerce consolidation journey, with several projects and programs executed (read, millions of dollars spent) and my team was engaged to assess the Architecture developed and rolled out based on the original roadmap, a checkpoint if you will.

The report by itself was comprehensive, what you would expect from a tier-one consulting firm and would have probably cost a small pile of money to compile. Needless to say a tremendous amount of time and effort from the organization’s resources also went into that excercise.

The fact of the matter is that the benefits of portfolio consolidation promised by the strategic exercise are far from realized. After reviewing the report and documenting my observations on the small steps the organization had taken towards actually developing a unified enterprise "eCommerce Platform," I began to reflect on the challenges of laying a roadmap versus the effort involved in actually realizing it. The portfolio of eCommerce platforms remains fragmented with redundant applications meting their individual functional requirements in a silo. In some cases the portfolio is more fragmented than it was five years ago. For instance, the report talks about 25 Order Creation Applications, 11 applications supporting product search and over 8 reporting applications. Fast forward five years and the numbers have not changed! The TCO gains from consolidation have not been achieved. The only saving grace: the organization has been Offshoring a lot more of application development and support, thereby reducing overall IT cost.

As a consulting EA, I get to visit a fair share of clients, some of them a while after my teams have helped assess landscapes, define roadmaps or strategies for future. The sense Déjà vu during such reviews – similar to the experience in the current engagement - should not surprise the seasoned consultant in me, but it still does.

Other intersting views on EA this week. An interesting Video on Enterprise Architecture (Tipoff Mike Walker's Blog) - What is Enterprise Architecture According to Industry Thought Leaders

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Enterprise Architects and Social Media

Most of us who started our digital lives with Web 1.0 or before are well past the novelty of yet another social media tool. You perhaps remember the buzz in the mid-nineties over the novelty of signing up for new and newer free-email services before yahoo, hotmail and gmail became the gold standard, with unlimited .. or near unlimited mail achieves? We seem to be going through a web 2.0 version of the same with trying to rearrange our circle of friends on GooglePlus (re: WSJ article on “How to Circle Your Friends Without Alienating People”).

While this buzz is enough to get the stock and IPO valuations of’s going through the roof, the Enterprise Architect in me has been trying to reflect on what this means to those of us in the corporate world. Among the few dimensions that requires deliberation and analysis

  • Guiding your organization on proliferation of social media tools. This includes guiding business leaders, corporate marketing folks and other stakeholders with a viewpoint emerging tools platform and whether they are aligned with corporate business and IT strategy

  • Guiding corporate policies and governance around tools. We see extremes on social media policies in the corporate world. A few organizations block any employee access to social media tools and websites while others allow complete unfiltered access. Many, however take a middle ground (eg. Allowing access to linkedin but not facebook or adverts from streaming in). In most cases, organizations also reserve the right to monitor and log activities of employees.

  • Participating and enhancing knowledge network. Many EA’s from Service organizations and end client organizations actively participate in online discussion forums, blogs and try and leverage the tools. Few organizations also encourage internal communities of practice to go outside (e.g corporate blog on Microsoft or Oracle technologies by Infosys’ bloggers)

  • Organizational branding: while organizational branding has been a traditional area of focus when it comes to digital marketing strategies, online reputation management is an emerging area of interest to business leaders. Views on products and services can be made and weighed in on by digirati in a matter of hours if not days or weeks, and it requires an equally fast and deliberate response to defend one’s reputation.

Enterprise Architects who operate at the intersection of business and technology have a unique opportunity to bridge the gap when it comes to evaluating emerging technologies and their applicability in their business contexts. Working with their business stakeholders to visualize newer application of technologies is just one of the tasks at hand.

A few interesting blogs and viewpoints on the topic:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weekend musings of a Global Digirati: PINs That Needle Families

I was reading a fascinating article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal titled “PINs That Needle Families.” The article touches a nerve and also makes one reflect on our digital life and afterlife:
What happens if, god forbade, one were suddenly incapacitated or worse, drop dead?

After the logistics of sorting through the last rights etc, my better half would have to begin picking up the pieces. This includes sorting through my complex web of finances, bank and brokerage accounts, some of which I have left open in the countries I have lived and worked in during the past decade and half. Couples generally manage finances independently and Suja and I are no exception. Though my wife has a general idea of my finances, she doesn’t know all the intricacies of the various accounts that I manage.

As a global digirati, my financial management is as complex, eclectic and globally distributed as the Enterprise Architecture engagements I undertake. Some were opened because of account-opening incentives I received and keep open ‘just in case.’ Given my frequent relocations in the past years, I prefer being green: receiving online only statements. I admit there is a need to ‘rationalize’ my portfolio of accounts but that digresses from the problem at hand: how will my better half get access to my accounts?

I had a conversation with my mother on this very topic when I was in India last year; tough we decided that giving her the details of my financial accounts wasn’t the most practical solution. We discussed the possibility of my exchanging the details with my brother who lives in London, half-way around the world.

As the article alludes, the process of managing accounts and corresponding passwords does not have a cookie-cutter solution (yet). Writing it down in a sheet of paper or diary wouldn’t be ‘secure.’ And storing them in a digital file? Also, any solution would need constant maintenance to ensure synch-up with the changes to account password I have to make periodically. I am yet to evaluate a password management service: I guess am not ready to add yet another digital service/tool to my life.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Enterprise Architects Enabling Strategic Global Sourcing

As the lead Architect for my firm at the client we are engaged with, I anchor a weekly pow-wow between our teams and client’s Enterprise Architects. The agenda for the sessions is open, addressing key architectural, technical and process related issues, ideation on best practices and discussions from our respective eco-systems.

During a recent session, Dave, one of the clients EA’s brought up the topic of sourcing and a viewpoint he was building for his CIO. I pointed out to Dave how the sourcing challenge EA’s at this firm are coming to grips with are not unique. I pointed him to my Cutter Journal paper on the topic (Enterprise Architects Enabling Strategic Global Sourcing) and we began brainstorming some of the ideas as it was applicable in the current context.

After the brainstorm I began musing how I hadn’t revisited my views after I had written the paper, over a year and half ago. A few of the background issues continue to plague Enterprise Architecture groups: sluggish economy and lack of hiring means Enterprise Architecture groups are not getting fresh talent. Lack of hiring at the bottom is also impacting nurturing of homegrown talent in client organizations while continued visa restrictions also means Offshoring firms are discerning when it comes to bringing talent more than needed onsite.

I had addressed some of the key issues I had seen at client organizations in the paper:

  • Loss of technical expertise due to sourcing

  • The need to coordinate multivendor scenarios

  • Vendors lacking knowledge of organizational dynamics

  • Vendors lacking specific business context

  • Vendors not up to date on organizational processes, acronyms, and jargon

Since I wrote the paper, I have continued to be engaged with other clients and Enterprise Architects, who continually voice views on similar challenges I had highlighted in the paper. As I continue to brainstorm on the topic, I might revisit the views in the paper. Do send in your comments too.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Do Consulting Enterprise Architects provide value and meet the expectations of organisations?

There is a fascinating conversation thread in the Enterprise Architecture forum on Linkedin. It started with Michael asking "Do the consultancies (including Gartner, KPMG, DeLoitte, ...) actually meet the expectations of organisations or is there a gap between the value they claim to add and what they deliver?"

The answers are varied: those on the sell side (respondents from sourcing firms) are weighing in to say they do provide value while those on the buy side are musing on the real value. The question is all the more important given the current state of stagnant growth and sluggish growth in economy. One can perhaps look for answers in two section of the market

  • The heating up of tech hiring in Silicon Valley. The recent IPO’s are certainly adding to the buzz in the e-commerce world.

  • Hiring by technology outsourcing firms. With a slow but steady growth in outsourcing, technology consulting and sourcing firms continue to add to local jobs (though evidence on this count is purely empirical)

The role and job description of Enterprise Architect at these two ends of the technology spectrum are as distinct as their areas of focus. Silicon Valley technology firms, fueled by venture capital funding and IPO dreams focus on cutting edge solutions and adoption of emerging technologies and tools. EA’s here are really hands-on Über techies, tech leads and solution managers rolled into one. On the other hand Outsourcing firms focus on providing technology services and solutions – not always cutting edge solutions – to businesses and enterprises focused on automation of processes and deriving ROI from their existing investments. Here, the role of EA may be a bit more text-bookish: integrating business, data, information and technology architectures to meet strategic goals.

Back to Michael’s linkedIn question: the role of a consultant, or in this case a consulting enterprise architect would depend on the nature of problem s/he is hired to consult on. In the silicon-valley-firm example, the EA-hired-gun would probably be staff-augmenting the already sharp technologists. “Meeting the expectations” here would mean helping develop and take solutions to market at the speed in which the client needs it to be done.

On the other hand, EA-consultants in Corporate-America, typical clients of consulting firms, focus on bringing their breadth of consulting and problem solving experience to weigh in on the challenge being faced by the client. Lots of times such consulting is about the ability to quickly identify the problem and applying a solution pattern. The solution patterns could be custom-solutions or the ones the consultant or his firm has seen successfully applied to solve similar problems for other clients. "Meeting (or exceeding) the expectations" in this instance is dependent on quickly identifying the root cause of the problem and being able to generate consensus on the problem statement with distinct groups of client stakeholders: including the hiring manger and his other internal stakeholders. If the problem statement is wrong or wrongly identified, the solution will obviously fail.

In my years in consulting, I have worked with some sharp and business savvy Enterprise Architects and IT executives who are open to out-of-box thinking and solutions. I have also encountered a fair share of executives who engage external conlustants to validate their own thinking while strongly holding on to their NIH views. You don’t need a consultant to tell you who benefitted from my engagements. :-)

A few interesting links

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Microsoft 365 on the cloud: The Future is Past

With rollout of Microsoft 365, Redmond has finally got an answer to Cloud Computing, at least in the commodity applications space.

So what’s new? Not much if you, like me, have also been using Microsoft’ hotmail account – email over cloud - for over a decade. Every large Software vendor aspires to a share of the next big thing and for now it is the cloud. Same goes for every IT professional, self included, who wishes to keep on top of the latest: one just can’t stay away from the hype over cloud computing.

Much of the research surveys point to how commodity applications from Apple, Google and Microsoft are going to change our lives. Surveys also highlight the fact that few IT executives expect their organizations to select a public cloud over a private cloud.

As regards commodity applications, they are not as new as they are being touted to be. I guess the change is already here:
• email on the cloud – since mid 1990s : over 15 years old
• WebEx, instant messenger services on the cloud – since late 1990s – over a decade
• SalesForce case studies on cloud computing – since early 2000 – nearly a decade
• Online learning tools – since mid 1990s – over 15 years
• Social media tools – evolving for the past decade
• Music and video on the cloud – services evolving for the past decade. Remember the hype when google bought out youtube?
• Documents on the web? Openoffice, OpenDocs etc since late 1990s.

A few blogs on the topic
Cloud Computing: The Future is Past
For Microsoft, Is The Cloud A Threat – Or Their Secret Weapon?
My Musing on Cloud Computing, Sourcing and Offshoring
Memo to Microsoft: It’s Time for Windows 365

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Case Study: Learning to KISS eCommerce design?

More than a decade after the bust, we seem to be witnessing another version of an eCommerce boom, a 2.0 if you will. While rest of the economy continues to lag, the success of Linkedin, Pandora and other internet IPO's this summer is getting business and IT leaders excited about eCommerce strategies and implementations.

One can argue that the success of 2.0 startups is more due to innovative business models than a radical innovation in technology. The tools and technologies for web development have matured, and so has eCommerce development life cycle. The proliferation of web technologies and tools, along with maturing industry also means one is likely to see the usual clutter of incompatible tools and technologies, version incompatibility, challenges with back-end integration.

For a consulting Enterprise Architect like me, the challenges translate to opportunities (there is demand for good eCommerce Systems Integrators and Architects!) In my day job, I have been consulting with a client on eCommerce program governance, roadmap definition, alignment with the corporate Enterprise Architecture blueprints. It is not all strategy work there is the roll-your-sleeves solution delivery: helping teams’ firefight rollout of functional and technical enhancements. My observations on eCommerce Enterprise Architecture - not in a particular order - follows.

The Program: eCommerce implementation for a large (Fortune 500) firm headquartered in Ohio. The company is focused on Supply Chain management for a specific business vertical. The current phases of eCommerce platform are focused on enabling Business-to-Business (B2B) integration though the architecture roadmap includes evolving towards B2C too.

Organizational IT: Federated, shared services model. The eCommerce strategy and applications are owned by a senior executive (technology solutions owner). Integration - including SOA, J2EE services - is a shared service. Configuration Management is owned by another organization as are Database and systems administration and Quality Control/Assurance. Needless to say backend systems (SAP et al) are owned by other LOBs. The company's Enterprise Architects are similarly verticalized, with a couple of them aligned to eCommerce programs and one focused on integration. The eCommerce Architecture is a "next generation" solution intended to upgrade the "legacy" web application and expected to evolve into the front end for most of the lines of business.

Architecture: The eCommerce Architecture is based on an IBM centric web-commerce stack : IBM's Portal, Commerce and Web Content Manager products integrated by Java. DB2 is the Commerce data repository while solution from Endeca is leveraged for product feeds and search. Java is also leveraged to develop web services and real-time integration with back-end order processing, fulfilment and pricing systems of which there are more than a few including SAP based and homegrown solutions; typical of fortune 500 organizations.
Most of the design and development of the eCommerce platform is sourced to vendors. Sometime ago, the client wanted to move away from Vendor A; in stepped my employer. I got engaged during the vendor transition phase: a fascinating opportunity for a consulting Architect. After a successful vendor transition, I lead the team through a critical project that helped them find their way around intricacies of the client’s IT shop. Observations from the trenches include:

  • Division of labor being taken to an extreme: There is a specialization of skills, even within a single vendor’s stack. Most of the younger generation developers - read those with about 3-6 years experience - are content to hone their skills in a specific toolkit, be it Websphere Commerce, Websphere Portal or WCM. Few developers seem to have the aptitude or inclination to span the technology stack, even within a vendor’s platform, which is a problem and an opportunity: It is a problem most large eCommerce programs are plagued with, and an opportunity for astute developers to scale up and become uber application integrators.

  • Remote development. Offshore service providers, including my employer, are taking on larger Systems Integration programs. And although offshoring IT services has got commoditized, almost every large program seems to go through similar learnings. Onboarding and enabling right skills is part of the challenge, exacerbated by the division of labor. Having a Business Analyst and Technical lead sitting in Anytown, USA guiding a portal developer sitting in Bangalore, and commerce guy in Mysore can be challenging at best; made worse when the portal developer does not understanding squak of the underlying commerce services or database.

  • We are yet to realize the promise of plug and play. There is a proliferation of tools and technologies and most don’t plug-and-play without a lot of plumbing. Many products within the same vendor’s architecture also require additional time and effort in “integration”

  • Services? For most part, the promise of SoA is yet to be realized. Period.

  • Complexities of build and deployment

  • And then there is the backend….. Most eCommerce systems are intended to enable a web front-end to enable customer self-service. Internet is ‘yet another’ channel for back-end systems that can range from legacy mainframes to contemporary but equally complex backend systems.
Back to my day job. I continue to bridge the gap between our techies and the client's Enterprise Architects and technologists. And my team is trying to help fix some of core issues - including the ones highlighted above - in the current landscape that prevent the system from scaling up. I wouldn’t be leading the gig if the ‘Architects’ had kept things simple to begin with.

Bottomline: When it comes to Architecting eCommerce systems, we don’t KISS! Most of us come out of Engineering and IT dreaming of developing simple, elegant and functional solutions to business problems. The new generation of developers architecting eCommerce applications seem to have skipped class when that lesson was being taught.