Archive for March, 2009

Time for a virtual reality check

March 31, 2009

Regular readers will know my passion for end-user development (EUD), a means for giving more power to the business to create useful applications.

Line-of-business employees now have the knowledge and tools to produce their own useful applications. And while EUD might have seemed a ‘nice to have’ several months ago, it has quickly moved to a ‘business must have’.

A heady mix of limited cash, increased consumerisation of IT and fast-changing business priorities mean the trend is catching on. But despite the benefits of EUD, there is one potential downside – applications designed by end users might not work across multiple environments.

A tool that works fine on an individual’s desktop might not install successfully across the corporate network. And if an application is to help boost business efficiency, it will have to work for many users in many different circumstances.

But do not be too concerned by the potential downside, because a good EUD tool will overcome such concerns. One possible route to success is model driven architecture (MDA), a software design approach for the development of software systems.

MDA is a platform-independent model that allows end-users to separate design and architecture issues. The result should be de-coupling and the easy transference of applications across multiple environments.

Despite the promise of MDA, some concerns remain – notably that the approach relies on incomplete technical standards and that its forward-looking method is too realistic for many real-world situations.

For EUD to become de facto, technology and business teams need to know the resources to help develop applications are easily are at-hand. And virtualisation provides another method for EUD, a cost effective solution that allows your IT team and your end users to run and test multiple applications.

Virtualisation allows IT managers to partition existing resources to run multiple versions of an operating system. The approach could be your best friend during testing times.

If you’re thinking of moving to EUD, don’t be put off by the thought of needing more resources. New applications might suggest the need for new hosting environments and large scale testing programmes. But such fears are misplaced.

Rather than having to retrofit applications, IT leaders can use the easily deployed resources of virtualisation to run a potential solution across multiple end-user desktop environments.

Companies continue to look to virtualisation, despite wider cost constraints – analyst Gartner says spending will increase by 43% this year, from $US1.9bn in 2008 to $US2.7bn.

Most of you will have already seen some of the benefits of virtualisation at an infrastructure level. Now it’s time to start thinking about how the approach can be used to create useful applications in challenging times.

New working practices and the seven-day weekend

March 29, 2009

The three-day working week of the early 1970s was a political reaction to intractable challenges posed through industrial action.

Sometimes reactions can be used to create new models of working and there was a time when UK workers might have expected the long-term adoption of a four or three-day working week.

Such changes never materialised, most workers still work a full five-day week – but transformation is afoot, often sponsored by fast-evolving internet technologies.

BlackBerry owners will be familiar with the new feeling of hyper-connectivity. Not so long ago, office email was a Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five technology.

Then you get a BlackBerry and can access email anytime, hardly noticing how regularly you check emails during the weekend.

But while no executive can resist the call of the flashing red light on a BlackBerry, some semblance of moderation is required.

While technology can be a facilitator for 24/7 access, it can also be a conduit for more flexible and sensible working practices.

Such freedom means workers no longer have to be tied to a desk, constrained by the rigid definition of a five-day working week.

Smart employers are beginning to use available IT to allow their workers to contribute from various locations at any time of the day.

And what is emerging in these smarter firms is not a reduced working week but increased flexibility that might be better described as a seven-day weekend.

Trusted employees are logging-in at a broader collection of times, fitting their working arrangements around their external commitments.

Rather than just creating a more effective work/life balance, technology is actually beginning to provide a better life/work balance – and those sort of priorities actually help employees feel more valued and work harder.


Twitter is the perfect mobile app

March 17, 2009

It’s been bubbling under the surface for a while, but now everyone is Twittering.

From Stephen Fry to Barack Obama, a roll call of famous and not-so-famous individuals are logging on to social networking site Twitter and providing a mini blog of their everyday lives.

With individuals choosing to communicate and break information on this fast-moving platform, Twitter could have significant implications for issues of accessibility and customer experience.

But as the media hypes Twitter within an inch of its life, let’s take a deeper look at this ‘latest and greatest information revolution’. The platform certainly provides a format for instant communication and collaboration.

But what’s really different about this application? Is the mix of updates and messaging anything different, or – more importantly – anything better?

Probably not, when used in isolation as a web-based application. Users update their profiles with 140 characters; it’s a concept that will already be familiar to Facebook users. The fast-paced mode of interaction between users, meanwhile, will be familiar to instant messaging addicts.

What is different is the potential portability of the application. Facebook is more than an update – it’s a portal for photos, games and comment. It’s also a portal best viewed through the desktop.

Depth also hamstrings other social software platforms, such as wikis and LinkedIn. Both formats provide a useful format for detailed knowledge and collaboration that is more easily viewed through the PC.

Twitter is different because it is best experienced as a mobile application. Specially-written APIs, such as TwitterMobile and TwitterBerry, allow users to receive updates on the move.

And because the format of Twitter is so simple, it’s convenient to view information and respond using mobile devices. Twitter is all about updates; it should be about the here and now of a specific moment in time.

More consumable than most blogs and social networks, Twitter is the perfect mobile app. In fact, why text when you can ‘direct message’ through Twitter and connect with a much broader range of contacts?

If the mobile is the future of the computer, then Twitter could be the social application of choice for a portable generation.

Why do IT managers outsource all development to the same geography?

March 9, 2009

Remember when all programming work was completed in-house? After all, it wasn’t so long ago – just a decade, perhaps – that outsourcing was seen as the refuge of the desperate IT manager.

Nowadays, outsourcing is a standard business practice. Moreover, many experts believe it would be anathema to not call upon a multisourced approach that uses best of breed IT and services from a range of different providers.

What does the multisourced approach mean for technology development and are companies making the most of their outsourcing arrangements?

Outsourcing has traditionally been perceived as a cost-cutting strategy, but the broad range of companies selecting to externalise crucial areas of IT provision means outsourcing has moved from the margins to the mainstream.

Diversity has increased and advisory firm TPI reports that 13 vendors won contracts valued at more than £15.7m in 2007, compared with just 99 in 2003.

Many IT managers, therefore, are waking up to the benefits of a multisourced strategy. However, fewer have been smart enough to wake up to the issues of geography.

While technology leaders are keen to avoid sending provision to a single firm, many businesses still outsource activity to a single country, such as India or China.

Picking a single location should make localisation easier, allowing the IT leader to bend multiple firms in one country to a broader business model, rather than a series of firms in many countries.

But taking such a selective approach is a bit like old school outsourcing – you only get the benefits of working in one country, rather than many nations.

More than just allowing your company to draw upon skilled-up IT expertise from across the globe, a multi-geographical outsourcing strategy will allow you to make the most of time differences.

So, early morning you set up the strategy in the UK, ping development objectives to your Russian developers at mid-day Moscow-time. The finished code can then be tested in Sao Paolo, ready for your arrival at work the next day.

Simple and effective; a clever multisourcer will also be multi-locational.