Archive for November, 2010

Just Flippin’ the Black Swan Burger

I woke this morning to hear the news that a certain bank was in its fourth or was it the fifth day of computer difficulties. Apparently some branches had stayed open all weekend so that their customers could get some cash.

No doubt, by shear determination the bank will overcome its issues. And no doubt when it’s all over it’ll instigate the usual LEAN, ITIL or whatever reviews to “nail down that process” so it doesn’t happen again!  The problem with this approach this that it will not happen again; ever hear of the Black Swan Theory? But something will happen and it’ll be just different enough to escape that new “nailed down process”. When will they get it?  Process is no substitute for an engaged skilled team of professionals.

Thinking about this problem, because that’s what good architects do. The following occurred to me. I’ve never worked for this particular bank, but I’ve had the pleasure; and it was a pleasure of examining at length some of their training documentation from the late nineties. I can tell you that they had everything, career paths, skill sets, selection criteria, everything you can imagine all beautifully laid out for everyone to see.  They were aiming for excellence!

So, how could this stuff up happen in such an excellent organization. Well after talking with some ex-insiders the story goes. That at about the time they had everything down pat. There was a change in management. It became all about cost and the first things to go were the training and development budgets. The next thing to go was many of the excellent people, seeing as they didn’t want to work in an organization that was rapidly becoming unexcellent.  As you can imagine this accelerated the decline dramatically; not only were good people lost, but the whole culture of excellence went into terminal decline.

One of my contacts related the moment, the exact moment when the bank went from being a place that he was proud to work in to, “just another bunch of wankers.”  He asked his manager why his training course had been cancelled. The answer, “look we’re not into all that skills  BS anymore it’s too expensive! It’s all about process now.  Just go back and flip the burgers!” Besides the understandable hurt of this insult, this change was followed by a slow but  steady decline in real wages and conditions (like taking the instant coffee away). Well the management thought (oxymoron perhaps) people weren’t as skillful as they used to be and they’re not nearly as loyal; so why pay them so much? And so the spiral continued. Flipping burgers and doing the back ups.

What process can never do is engage your people the way that skills development does. When you flip the burger you’re not engaged. I wonder how much the bank did save?

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What’s really going on in architecture – Update 2

The production survey has now need up since late October and we have a couple of things to report. The response has been good; particularly when you consider the commitment need to tackle the monster, we have respondents from, Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, India, Iran, Israel, Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the USA.

So far I’ve made a couple of observations. First, only three female architects have participated, plainly we need more female participants.   Secondly a number of people have commented on how thought provoking the questions are!  Which is very pleasing as not only are  we doing some research, but it seems that the survey has provoked discussions in a number of architecture teams about how they do architecture, which can only be good. It seems that we’ve achieved some unintended give back already!  I’d be very interested in hearing how these discussions evolve and any consequences.

Once again I’d like to thank those who have invested the time and effort to battle through the survey and urge those of you who have partially complete surveys to complete them.  To those who keep “meaning to get to it” to do it!    Remember in architecture there is always something that has to be done, before the first thing can be done! Sometimes you just have to do it!

The survey can be found at:

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Just and All the Anti-Pattern of Architecture

It’s one of those phrases that sticks in your head, I can’t remember where I first heard it or even if I’ve remember it correctly. But it had an instant impact and it’s stayed with me ever since, “never confuse activity with progress.” I wish I could claim authorship of this little gem, but alas that belongs to someone wiser than I.

Sitting in an architecture meeting the other day I could sense the growing frustration of the project’s sponsor and then it came both barrels in the one sentence … “look we just need a  (insert  any noun you like here) and all we have to do is (enter the appropriate verb here)” … there I thought the complete  JustAll anti pattern.

Just and all are like red flags to me these days they along with the phrase “I think …” (instead of I know) are absolute sure fire signs of incomplete thought. The people uttering them are invariably demanding action. What they fail to realise is that the problem isn’t that they aren’t doing anything, but that they don’t know what to do! Rather than critically analysing the situation and working out what’s required they abandon the use of their frontal lobe and give in to their primeval “flight or fight” response. Now this is probably a very good survival trait, but it isn’t architecture. Which brings me to another, no doubt misquoted old saying “decide in haste and repent in leisure.” Seems some people never learn.

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Information Systems Transformation

This book consists of a little theory which is a touch on the light weight side and a good 300 pages (out of about 420) on ten cases studies. The theory is concise and pithy asking the right sorts of questions to set the context for a transformation project. Given the nature of such projects and their often unique circumstances I don’t think it’s fair to expect much more in this department. The sheer diversity of transformation projects makes it difficult to develop any theory or even  generalize patterns.

The real strength of this work is its case studies they cover a very wide gambit. There are air traffic control systems, higher education systems, military systems and a bit of good old COBOL re engineering.  The case studies include MUMPS, COTS and a 4GL project, in all they’re a pretty eclectic collection which highlight the complexity of this problem space.

If you are involved in a transformation project I’d suggest that you read this book as part of your preparation, you are unlikely to find a perfect fit. However, the depth and variety of these case studies will undoubtedly provoke  some thoughts and prime you with some good questions.

This is a book for the architect leading the transformation. He’ll have to extract the relevant lessons for the planned transformation from the case studies; there’s no cookie cutter here and there are many things to consider.

This is a good book, whose time is now. While it perhaps has only a limited audience it is undoubtedly a useful tomb. It’s surprising how little good literature there is on transformation.

Ulrich, William M., Newcomb, Philp H. 2010, Information Systems Transformation,Morgan Kaufman, Burlington.

ISBN 978-0-12-374913-0

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Making EIM Work for Business

I’ve noticed that over time the importance that architectural methods ascribe to data seems to shift. For some authors data is  just the stuff that gets processed for others it is the center of the universe.  Needless to say both approaches have consequences.

This is a methodology book, but with a twist. What it proposes is a complete architectural methodology specifically developed with Enterprise Information Management in mind. One I think that could be adopted without compromising for example your integration architecture.

It blends elements of SDLC and architectural concepts like maturity models, frameworks, principles and road maps into a cohesive whole.  It includes sections that are typically thought of as being in the realm of the data architect like Enterprise Taxonomy and topics that one would usually consider enterprise issues like governance.

The book is little over 500 pages in 30 chapters . The first few chapters introduce the usual issues around data, is it an asset? Is it fuel? And sets some definitions. Then if moves on to explore the challenges of EIM. These chapters are effective without being too academic and would serve as a good primer for anyone trying to come to grips with the topic from a management or strategy perspective. Only chapter eight is a  bit of a disappointment at three and half pages “The Economic Conundrum of Information” does its best, but does manage one little gem “Remember there is is not a single CEO who will tell you information is NOT a critical asset …”

These chapters are followed by a ten or so chapters some 300 pages of detailed methodology with numerous examples and loads of good questions that you will have to ask your clients. It will take some time to internalize this methodology and the author acknowledges this by devoting chapters to sustaining and aligning EIM.

While this book might be criticized by the hard core data architect as not technical enough there is no escaping its usefulness as both a pragmatic methodology and a means of educating and aligning the business in particular. This is a book for Chief Architects, Data Architects, C level executives and any well read architect. Recommended!

Ladley, John  2010,  Making EIM Work for Business, Mogan Kaufmann, Burlington.

ISBN 978-0-12-375695-4

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