Can IT Standards Facilitate Innovation?

ideaIT professionals continue to debate the benefits of standardization versus the benefits of innovation, and the potential of standards inhibiting engineer and software developer ability to develop creative solutions to business opportunities and challenges.  At the Open Group Conference in San Diego last week (3~5 February) the topic of  standards and innovation popped up not only in presentations, but also in sidebar conversations surrounding the conference venue.

In his presentation SOA4BT (Service-Oriented Architecture for Business Technology) – From Business Services to Realization,   Nikhil Kumar noted that with rigid standards there is “always a risk of service units creating barriers to business units.”  The idea is that service and IT organizations must align their intended use of standards with the needs of the business units.   Kumar further described a traditional cycle where:

  • Enterprise drivers establish ->
  • Business derived technical drivers, which encounter ->
  • Legacy and traditional constraints, which result in ->
  • “Business Required” technologies and technology (enabled) SOAs

Going through this cycle does not require a process with too much overhead, it is simply a requirement for ensuring the use of a standard, or standard business architecture framework  drive the business services groups (IT) into the business unit circle.  While IT is the source of many innovative ideas and deployments of emerging technologies, the business units are the ultimate benefactors of innovation, allowing the unit to address and respond to rapidly emerging opportunities or market requirements.

Standards come in a lot of shapes and sizes.  One standard may be a national or international standard, such as ISO 20000 (service delivery), NIST 800-53 (security), or BICSI 002-2011 (data center design and operations).  Standards may also be internal within an organization or industry, such as standardizing data bases, applications, data formats, and virtual appliances within a cloud computing environment.

In his presentation “The Implications of EA in New Audit Guidelines (COBIT5), Robert Weisman noted there are now more than 36,500 TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework) certified practitioners worldwide, with more than 60 certified training organizations providing TOGAF certifications.  According to ITSMinfo.com, just in 2012 there were more than 263,000 ITIL Foundation certifications granted (for service delivery), and ISACA notes there were more than 4000 COBIT 5 certifications granted (for IT planning, implementation, and governance) in the same period.

With a growing number of organizations either requiring, or providing training in enterprise architecture, service delivery, or governance disciplines, it is becoming clear that organizations need to have a more structured method of designing more effective service-orientation within their IT systems, both for operational efficiency, and also for facilitating more effective decision support systems and performance reporting.  The standards and frameworks attempt to provide greater structure to both business and IT when designing technology toolsets and solutions for business requirements.

So use of standards becomes very effective for providing structure and guidelines for IT toolset and solutions development.  Now to address the issue of innovation, several ideas are important to consider, including:

  • Developing an organizational culture of shared vision, values, and goals
  • Developing a standardized toolkit of virtual appliances, interfaces, platforms, and applications
  • Accepting a need for continual review of existing tools, improvement of tools to match business requirements, and allow for further development and consideration when existing utilities and tools are not sufficient or adequate to task

Once an aligned vision of business goals is available and achieved, a standard toolset published, and IT and business units are better integrated as teams, additional benefits may become apparent.

  • Duplication of effort is reduced with the availability of standardized IT tools
  • Incompatible or non-interoperable organizational data is either reduced or eliminated
  • More development effort is applied to developing new solutions, rather than developing basic or standardized components
  • Investors will have much more confidence in management’s ability to not only make the best use of existing resources and budgets, but also the organization’s ability to exploit new business opportunities
  • Focusing on a standard set of utilities and applications, such as database software, will not only improve interoperability, but also enhance the organization’s ability to influence vendor service-level agreements and support agreements, as well as reduce cost with volume purchasing

Rather than view standards as an inhibitor, or barrier to innovation, business units and other organizational stakeholders should view standards as a method of not only facilitating SOAs and interoperability, but also as a way of relieving developers from the burden of constantly recreating common sets and libraries of underlying IT utilities.  If developers are free to focus their efforts on pure solutions development and responding to emerging opportunities, and rely on both technical and process standardization to guide their efforts, the result will greatly enhance an organization’s ability to be agile, while still ensuring a higher level of security, interoperability, systems portability, and innovation.

Kundra Scores Again with 25 Point Federal IT Implementation Plan

On December 9th Vivek Kundra, the U.S.Chief Information Officer (USCIO), released a “25 Point Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management.” Kundra acknowledges the cost of IT systems to the American people (~~$600billion during the past decade), and the reality that even with this investment the federal government lags behind private industry in both functionality and governance.

Kundra 25 Point PlanHighlights of the plan include a push towards data center consolidation, a “cloud first” policy for new IT projects (as well as IT refresh),a search and destroy mission looking for deadbeat and under-performing projects, as well as using professional program managers and acquisition specialists to streamline the purchase and implementation of IT systems. 

Sounds Good, But is it Real?

It is very possible the document was impressive and quite encouraging due to the talents of writers assigned to spin Kundra’s message. On the other hand, it all makes a lot of, well, plain good sense.

For example, on the topic of public private partnerships, and engaging industry early in the planning process.

Given the pace of technology change, the lag between when the government defines its requirements and when the contractor begins to deliver is enough time for the technology to fundamentally change, which means that the program may be outdated on the day it starts …

…In addition, requirements are often developed without adequate input from industry, and without enough communication between an agency’s IT staff and the program employees who will actually be using the hardware and software…

…As a result, requirements are too often unrealistic (as to performance, schedule, and cost estimates), or the requirements that the IT professionals develop may not provide what the program staff expect – or both.

This makes a lot of sense.  Face it, the government does not develop innovation or technology, private industry develops innovation.  And government, as the world’s largest IT users, consumes that technology.

And since the government is often so large, it is near impossible to for the government to collect and disseminate best practices and operational “lessons learned” at the same pace possible within private industry.  In private industry aggressive governance and cooperation with vendors are essential to survival and ultimate success as a company.

On Innovation

Small businesses in the technology space drive enormous innovation throughout the economy . However, the Federal Government does not fully tap into the new ideas created by small businesses…

…smaller firms are more likely to produce the most disruptive and creative innovations. In addition, with closer ties to cutting edge, ground-breaking research, smaller firms often have the best answers for the Federal Government

Kundra goes on to acknowledge the fact small companies are where innovation happens within any industry or market.  While Cisco, Microsoft, Google, and others such as Computer Associates have a wide range of innovative products and solutions, a large percentage of those ideas are from acquisitions absorbed in an effort to reinforce the large company’s market strategy.

Small, innovative companies produce disruptive ideas and technologies, and the federal government should not be prevented from exposure and potential purchase of products being developed outside of the Fortune 500.  Makes sense for the government, makes sense for the small business community.

Technology Fellows

Within 12 months, the office of the Federal CIO will create a technology fellows program and the accompanying recruiting infrastructure. By partnering directly with universities with well-recognized technology programs, the Federal Government will tap into the emerging talent pool and begin to build a sustainable pipeline of talent.

While projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Defense Advanced Project Research Agency (DARPA) have been around for a while, this is still a very refreshing attitude towards motivating both students and those who lead our students.

The American technology industry, while still the best in the world, works kind of like Cisco or Google. With a few exceptions, the skills and talent those companies need to maintain the competitive dominance in their market must be imported from other countries.  if you do not believe this, take a drive through Palo Alto, Milpitas, or stop for lunch on Tasman Drive in Santa Clara.  English is not always the dominant language.

However, that does not need to be the case, nor does the US tech brain pool need to revolve around Silicon Valley.  if the US Government and Kundra are true to this idea, then partnering with all levels of education throughout the United States to develop either high level technologies, or even small components of those technologies can only serve to increase the intellectual and subsequent technology capacity of our country.

People and companies rarely lose motivation when faced with attainable challenges or success – by nature they will gain additional and higher thresholds for additional successes. 

Cloud Computing is the Next Cyclone of Technology

Cloud Innovation as a CycloneOverall, everything in the 25 point plan eventually points back to cloud computing.  Like a low pressure system sucking in hot air and developing circulation, the CIO’s cloud computing strategy will continue to attract additional ideas and success for making Information and Communications Technology (ICT) efficient, and an enabling tool for our future growth.

Cloud Computing, within the context of the 25 point plan, enables data center consolidation, software innovation, public private partnerships, efficiency, transparency, “green” everything,

We need to replace these “stovepiped” efforts, which too often push in inconsistent directions, with an approach that brings together the stakeholders and integrates their efforts…

The cloud computing cyclone will not stop with the federal government.  Once the low begins to strengthen and develop circulation, it will continue sucking state government initiatives, local governments, the academic community, and industry into the “eye.” 

The financial benefits of converting wasted operational and capital budgets currently spent on building and maintaining inefficient systems into innovation and product development, or better program management for government and educational programs are essential in promoting economic growth, not to mention reducing a nightmare national deficit.

Hopping on the “Kundra Vision” Bandwagon

As Americans we need to expose ourselves to Kundra’s programs and strategy.  No strategy is perfect, and can benefit from the synergies of a country with 300 million citizens who have ideas, visions, and strong desires to contribute to a better America.  We need to push our ideas to both local and federal thought leaders, including the US CIO’s office.  Push through your representatives, through blogs, through your technology vendors.

If Kundra is good for his word, and this is the new vision for an American ICT-enabled future, your efforts will not be wasted.

Trouble at the Telecom and Communicator’s Bar

Have you heard the news? Unemployment is skyrocketing, companies are closing, there’s no investment money for startups, and the sky is falling, the sky is falling? Don’t I know, as the layoff frenzy hit my own Hanging out at the communicator's barhome, that it is a scary economic place to take a swim… Sharks, really hungry sharks, circling with an eye to take every last cent you have been able to hide.

And the outlook remains bleak. The New York Times reports that Europe is suffering in youth unemployment – even more than the US. 42.9% unemployment is Spain, 28% unemployment in Ireland, an EU average of 20.7% Makes California look like the “promised land.”

And, California may actually be the “promised land.” California still attracts the best of global engineering to the Silicon Valley, and the most creative minds in communications and entertainment to Los Angeles. Whether you are a European, Chinese, Indian, or even Canadian, Silicon Valley and LA offer an environment that is unsurpassed around the world. Our universities embrace people from other cultures and countries, and our ability to support entrepreneurs draws not only students, but the best engineers and thought leaders from around the world.

Back at the Communicator’s Bar

There are still tables with discussions reviewing the indignities of being laid off by struggling companies. There are still discussions with the whine of people talking about the “damn foreigners” who are here stealing our jobs. Still “barflys” slopped over the bar worrying about their Audi payments and how their ARM mortgage has put them under water.

Then there are other bars with tables full of Americans, And A scatter shot of foreigners talking about fun stuff. Fun stuff like cloud computing, virtualization, globalization, distributing computing, “the network is the computer,” “the computer is the network,” and how the carriers will return to their roots of providing high quality “big, fat, dumb” telecom pipes. The talk is of how we can finally start putting all this intellectual property that we’ve spent billions n producing Powerpoint slides into reality.

Green is here

Virtualization is here

Data Center outsourcing is here

2010 is a blank whiteboard set up to codify the thought leadership and technology spawned in the waning years of the 200x decade and put it into business plans and CAPEX budgets.

2010 is the year we aggressively deliver Internet-enabled technology to every man, woman, and child in the world who has a desire to live a life beyond killing their own food for dinner. Here is a funny though – if a radical 8 year old in one currently scary country is able to Yahoo chat or Facebook their way into discussions and relationships with kids in California and Beijing, doesn’t it make just a little sense the desire to blow each other up would be diluted, even just a little?

If the guy living next to me is producing a telecom switch that is head and shoulders above what is currently on the market, do I really care if his brain was conceived in Hanoi?

2010 is also the beginning of a true period of globalization. That doesn’t mean out hillbilly friends in Duluth, Minnesota have to quit drinking 3.2 beer and hanging out at setup bars watching Vikings reruns, it means that the hillbilly’s kid can participate in a lecture series online from Stanford or MIT. The kid might eventually invent a pickup truck that runs on pine cones, and a 3.2 beer that is actually palatable.

Embrace 2010

If not for the simple fact you have no other choice, consider all the great ideas being pumped out by companies like 3tera, the Google borg, Microsoft, VM Ware, and all the other companies with tremendous innovative ideas. Never before in our history have some many new intellectual and business tools been put on the shelf at the same time. Never before have we had such good reason to consider implanting those ideas (yes, I am a tree hugger and do believe in global warming).

So, even if you are currently living in a car under a bridge near you former upscale Orange County community – shave, wash your car, take a shower at the beach, and let’s get our depression, anger, tacit knowledge back into the business saddle. The young guys still need our experience to get their feet on the ground, and we need them to ensure we will have social security in the future.

Welcome 2010 – you have taken a long time to arrive

John Savageau, Honolulu

Business and Social Frog Soup – are we ready for the next decade?

Over the past couple years I have written several stories with “frog soup” as a main theme. The idea of being in cold water, and not recognizing the degree by degree Frog soup concerns for the American economyincrease of heat in the water, till at some point we are cooked, is the danger of being a cold-blooded animal. Business may follow a similar course.

In business we can follow the route of “this is the way we’ve always done it, and it works, so there is no reason to change our processes or strategies.” Innovations like virtualization or cloud computing hit the headlines, and many say “it is a cool idea, but we want the security and hands-on confidence of running our own servers and applications.”

In the United States many telecom companies continue to build business cases based on “milking” telephone settlement minutes, bilateral relationships, and controlling telecom “pipes.” Internet service providers (ISPs) continue holding on to traditional peering relationships, holding out for “paid peering,” doing everything possible to attain market advantage based on traffic ratios.

Nothing new, same ideas, different decade.

It is international frog soup.

In Vietnam the government is currently planning to build an entirely new information infrastructure, from the ground up, based on the most cutting edge telecom and data/content infrastructure. Children in Hanoi go to school at 7 a.m., take a quick lunch break, hit the books till around 5 p.m., take another break, and finish their day at study sessions till around 9 p.m.

Concentration – mathematics, physics, and language.

The children are being exposed to Internet-based technologies, combining their tacit experience and knowledge of global interconnected people with a high degree of academic sophistication.

In the United States children go to school for, at most, 6 hours a day, graduating with (on average) little capabilities in math or language – although we do have deep knowledge of metal detectors and how to smoke cigarettes in the restrooms without being caught. In Los Angeles, some locations cannot even hit a 50% graduation rate among high school students.

And oddly enough, we appear to be comfortable with that statistic.

Perhaps our approach to business is following a similar pattern. We become used to approaching our industry, jobs, and relationships on a level of survival, rather than innovation. We may not in some cases even have the intellectual tools to apply existing technology to the potential of functioning in a global economy. Then we are surprised when an immigrant takes our job or business.

Some universities, such as Stanford, aggressively recruit students from foreign countries, as they cannot attract enough qualified student s from the United States to meet their desired academic threshold. And once they graduate from Stanford, they find their way into Silicon Valley startups, with an entrepreneurial spirit that is beyond the scope of many American graduates.

Those startups have the intellectual and entrepreneurial tools to compete in a global economy, using innovative thinking, unbound by traditional processes and relationships, and are driving the center of what used to be America’s center of the global innovation world. Except that it is only based in Silicon Valley, and now represents the center of a global innovative community. Possibly due to the availability of increasingly cheaper American labor?

Frog Soup

Us Americans – we are getting lazy. Innovation to us may mean how we manipulate paper, and has nothing to do with manufacturing and business innovation. We are starting to miss the value of new products, new concepts, and execution of business plans which end up in production of goods for export and domestic use. We believe concentration on services industries will drive our economy into the future, based on products and other commercial goods imported into our country.

Except for the painful fact and reality we do not have a young generation with the intellectual tools to compete with kids in Hanoi who are on a near religious quest to learn.

The temperature is rising, and we as a country and economic factor in the global community is being diluted every day.

Time to put away the video games and get back to work. No more “time outs,” only time to roll up our sleeves and learn, innovate, learn, innovate, and innovate some more. Forget comfort, we are nearly soup.

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