Freedom For Ideas

Sharing ideas, concepts and thoughts, mainly about Information Technology – and consulting

Posts Tagged ‘Information Technology’

Poor, transparent tools

Posted by Yannick Martel on October 26, 2009

Poor, transparent bike

Coming back to Tools for Conviviality, I want to share some thoughts on software architectures. Software products and associated frameworks on which we build them are tools. As such, the criteria of choice is usefulness to our goals. They should be servants.

Ivan Illitch advocates that “the simple, poor tool is a humble servant; the elaborate, complex, secret tool is an arrogant master”. How many times have we seen choice of tools which we do not master? Which are “elaborate, complex, secret”, and the more fascinating because they are? Can we mention:

  • Complex, poorly understood architectures, based on new concepts which are barely understood?
  • Huge packaged products, which contains the expertise of generations of analysts and programmers, but which you don’t pretend to master in a lifetime?
  • Sophisticated frameworks, which are supposed to do it all and are the best you can get. But cannot sometimes the best be too much?
  • Assembly of “best of breed” products, which can turn into “poorest of suite”?

Have you seen these? For myself, I have seen them too many times. With Ivan Illitch, I want to advocate a preferred choice of “simple, poor tools”, which can be mastered and are not too much for our hands, and this apply too well to our software architectures. Thanks to Tools for Conviviality, we have guidelines for selecting them when KISS is not enough. Guidelines which show us how to put at the center the human beings who are going to run, use and rely on them.

Posted in Architecture Style, Books, IT, Methodologies | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Towards post-industrial IT

Posted by Yannick Martel on October 20, 2009

Modern railways station

After reading Tools for Conviviality from Ivan Illich, it seems to me that the large IT organizations I know are some of the best examples of industrialization gone wild.

Ivan Illitch introduces a maturity model for the industrialization of a product or process. Before the first threshold, the costs of industrializing exceeds the benefits. It is like transportation with the very first steam machines: noisy, filthy, not much good for anything. Then maturity arrived, and usefulness exceeded the costs – when steam power was mature enough to be applicable to helping in the real life. In this way, many products and services were industrialized successfully and transformed the world: medecine, transportation, education, food…

But then the cost of industrialization in terms of energy, human life, environment, excessive complexity, indirect costs can become too high and exceed the benefits, at least considering the overall society – some people or groups can still benefit by concentrating wealth and power. Ivan Illitch defends the case that many services in in developed countries have exceeded this second threshold, the threshold of decreasing marginal usefullness.

In large IT organizations, industrialization has been used as a set of methods for tackling complexity and volume. Up to a certain point, we have seen some success. New, more complex, more ambitious software applications are being developed, improved, and are to a certain extent serving the business. But as a method for improving the efficiency of the business, the industrialization of large IT systems seems to me to have exceeded the second threshold. Every new aspect which is submitted to industrialization and centralization, turned over to experts, adds a cost which is out of proportion with the benefits the company gets from the move. This added cost takes many forms: human life essence, efficiency, resources, indirect cost on users or customers…

What should we do? Turn to industrialization with the same tool which has helped in the beginning: rationality. We have used rationality to industrialize, but are not applying rationality anymore if we consider the tools of industrialization as mandatory, as an ends in themselves. We should realize that it is not rational anymore to go on applying these tools without any discrimination, that we should better add some new tools, the tools of conviviality to be able to develop a post-industrial IT.

Posted in Books, IT, Management | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

You don’t need a damned e-shop, your customers deserve more!

Posted by Yannick Martel on September 24, 2009

Going shopping?

I admit it, I am a telco guy, having worked in that sector for longer than I care to count. It is thus a pleasure for me to see telecom operators transform and adapt, when they do it for good. I appreciate seeing new ideas take form and shape for the benefit of all, vendors and customers. But it seems to me most telcos are struggling with their Internet strategies. They have a hard time setting up nice enough Internet site, keeping them up and running and attracting customers to them.

Probably that’s the reason why I want to share here what I would like to tell them, especially after reading Jeff Jarvis.

1- Stop calling the Internet site where you promote your products and sell them an e-shop or an Internet boutique.

Once you know a thing’s name, your control it. That’s the nice side of the coin. The other side is: you name it wrong, you get it wrong. Naming your selling site a boutique means it will be only this, a copy of a physical shop, where you only expect to sell at a reduced cost – to you. Thus at best it will provide a slightly worse experience than a physical shop. Don’t ask why your customers are still going there.

Instead, you should find what else it could be, and try to do it. But that should be something better, unique, which can be done only via the power of Internet – and we know that we can do many new things thanks to Internet. If you don’t, just take a tour before building your web site.

2- Stop positionning it as a competition to your physical shops

A bit of a competition is good, too much can be dangerous, especially inside a firm. Build your business relationships, most of all with your colleagues, on trust and cooperation, not competition – don’t worry, competition will come by the side, even if not encouraged. This means you should develop the Internet media as a new, original one, which has its own niche, and is complementary to shops. If your Internet presence compete with your physical shops, it means that you are not promoting at their best the advantage of each channel. And don’t forget: while your are busy managing the devastating effects of internal competition, others might be taking care of your (old) customers.

3- Create a community and hand it control

The Web 2.0 is all about communities. We are lucky in that mobile phone and even Internet access are already community-oriented. Mobile phones are trendy gadgets, and for many accessing the Internet via an operator is being part of his community. Not for everybody, but you only need a small critical mass to start with it.

So the advice is, straight from What Would Google Do?: make your on-line presence a platform on which communities can live and flourish. As a side-effect, these communities can help you sell your products, or better use them. If you take care to listen and cooperate with them, they can help you improve your products, get better support, package them the right way or price them the right way. First, you accept to be influenced, and then you give them some control. Then they can help you and work for you – by working for themselves.

4- Don’t do it all yourself

If this program sounds pretty difficult, you are on the right way. But don’t do it all yourself! You can build the minimum infrastructure, hand them the tools, and then get ideas and help from the masses. Your devoted users can help you design your next best-selling products. They can also build many aeras of your next successful community platforms (aka web sites). Allow and encourage plug-ins and links.

5- Provide them access to your best deep resources

That’s the best of true SOA and SSOA. If you really want to get help and you are serious about it, you should do your best to those people devoted to help you. You should give them access to your most valuable resources, to the depths of your IT, network and service infrastructure. And the best part of it: be happy if they are using it better than your own guys.

And now, where do we start?

Posted in Books, IT, Management, SOA | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Self-Service Oriented Architecture

Posted by Yannick Martel on September 3, 2008

How easy are they to use? Do you need any documentation?

How easy are they to use? Do you need any documentation?

For the benefit of those who have lived in a cave for the past four years, I can announce that Service Oriented Architecture, or SOA, has been a major trend lately. I won’t debate whether it is past history or not, whether it has failed or not – it is generally admitted that SOA is there, and not anymore at the bleeding edge. An old-new idea, SOA put a major emphasis on the availability of services. Now, services are made to be consumed, and frequently to be consumed many more times than produced.

Then let us take the global viewpoint, including consumers and producers. If services are made to be produced once, consumed many, then it sounds reasonable to strive for a low-effort consumption, even if it makes things a bit harder for the producer. The producer should position himself as a service shop, delivering services to client and willing to make their life happy and easy. It is the same as in business: if a transaction is pleasantly and effectively concluded, your client is more tempted to come back to you next time and to recommend you to his buddies.

The trouble is that it can be costly to deliver good service to your consumers, and to support them adequately, if you keep your services as they are. This is where I want to introduce the concept of Self-Service Oriented Architecture. This motto emerged from the session at the Université du SI of my coworker at OCTO Technology Ignacio Lizzaralde. Basically, as a producer, you should design your services and provide surrounding infrastructure to make your consumers as self-sufficient as desirable. This means for instance:
– providing simple and clear APIs and resources
– having your APIs and resources exposed on simple to use technologies
– having your services self-documented
– provide documentation with examples
– provide tests environments
– allow your consumers to download client libraries, mockups, help files
– provide a mailing list and a forum to listen to your consumers and have them interact and share experience

I hope you get the idea. This approach is valid whether you are providing services to outside of your company or they are for inside consumption. It is a powerful guideline for designing, implementing and for supporting services.

Generally, service providers are more inclined to deliver good services to the outside, where there is competition. But clearly there is also competition inside a company – competition between different sources for the same data and processes. By making your consumers more efficient at using your services, you are beating internal competition, promoting your efforts while making your company as a whole better. Thus Self-Service Oriented Architecture, or SSOA. Why a new acronym? I want to help fix the concept, as I hope to do with my clients. It can be debated whether SOA as a trend brings anything new to help IT to bring more value to the business. I am convinced that SSOA can.

Posted in Architecture Style, IT, SOA | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »