Posts Tagged ‘Skills Shortage’

Take your IT department forward by putting end user development at the front

November 19, 2010

Here’s a wake up call for the IT department – end-user computing will definitely become dominant; it’s just a matter of time.

 Proof comes in the form of modern business practices. Increasing numbers of executives are now saying that time to market is absolutely critical. A slow moving organisation is one that loses.

 For many firms, the ability to move quickly is underpinned by technology. The pace of change and centrality of IT to contemporary business means every organisation, whatever the sector, relies on technology to help maintain information flows and to help its employees deal with customers.

 Such reliance should be good news for the traditional technology team. But there’s a significant catch. The business wants to make changes and add products quickly. Technology, as the underpinning structure, should be set up to create speed.

 Unfortunately, this simply is not the case for many businesses.  The integral nature of IT to business processes means that line-of-business executives have to go through IT when they want to make changes.

 In many organisations, the traditional cycle of IT delivery is far too slow. One step forwards – in the form of the business’ recognition of the need to create a new product offering – is often several steps back for the IT department.

 Rather than being able to respond with agility to business need, IT development takes place across an elongated cycle, where each change needs to checked, re-checked and checked again. Businesses, if they are going to be agile, need to stop such lethargy.

 Focus remains on the IT department – and the focus has to be on technology because it is at the core of modern business practice. But smart executives are beginning to ask what can be done so that business change can swerve round the elongated cycle of IT delivery.

 For technology workers, such transformations might seem like a coup d’etat. But there is no need to be scared. IT workers that embrace the change and help the business move towards end-user computing will not be overthrown.

 Your role should be at the higher level, helping the businesses to understand how web interfaces – the new desktop – can be used to help executives avoid the traditional IT cycle of checking and testing.

 Employees want to be able to create instant changes to text that can help inform customers. They want to be able to manage data using their own business rules, creating drop down lists of crucial information.

 Permissions need to be granted and re-granted; workflow needs to be easily manageable, so that the business can use the web to drive agile processes. True agility comes in the form of end-user development.

 And the forward-thinking IT department will recognise it needs to help drive the end-user revolution, not hold it back.


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Try before you buy User Interfaces

January 26, 2010

Too many firms are failing to find a means to visualise their applications as early as possible, and those that do are having to throw away their “visualisations” so that the final application can be coded. If you want to produce usable applications, you must visualise early and create an iterative design process that evolves into the final coded application.

 Your team must recognise that usability and functionality work together hand-in-hand. Applications are often released to end-users without the necessary debate that could help shape a usable and useful application.

 The result is badly designed software that eventually needs to be expensively redesigned to suit user demands. It doesn’t have to be that way – and if users are consulted as early as possible in the visualisation stage, your business will have software that is fit and ready for purpose.

 Take a step back and think about your personal purchasing decisions. It would be anathema to buy a house by just looking at the specification sheet; you’d want to go the property, “walk the boards” and experience the space of the rooms and views from windows.

 Business applications are no different. Your end users need to see the application before it becomes final, to ensure it meets their stringent demands. Users, in short, need to try before they buy.

 One of the challenges is that screens that are dynamic (based on user input or data) require logic and the development of this logic can slow down the process. Hence the ability to “mock-up” data driven screens without having to program the integration logic required for that data should be a key requirements of the tools you select.

 Your users will be the people that interact with the technology on a daily basis, not your IT team. Your users will be the people that use the application to make crucial business decisions, not your IT team.

 The right tools will help you to dummy up and test your design (user experience) as part of the visualisation process. That way, you can complete an iterative screen development, without getting tied up in behind-the-scenes integration.

 Users will undoubtedly change their minds once they experience the technology; some will feel there’s too much on-screen data, while others will feel there isn’t enough information.

 Creating an early visualisation will overcome the majority of changes you would otherwise only get to hear about very late in the development cycle during testing.

Getting your application up as an early beta version allows people around the business to give feedback, without impacting on your development times and costs. And in a cost-constrained environment where users demands change quickly, early insight is bound to be priceless.


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Project failures can be good news

October 5, 2009

When it comes to software development, the latest research from the Standish Group presents very little in the way of good news. Failures are up and projects are considered less successful.

Just 32% of all projects deliver on time and on budget, with required features and functions (see further reading, below). Standish estimates that 44% of software projects are late, and over budget, and another 24% fail and are cancelled prior to completion, or delivered and never used.

The figures do not make impressive reading for IT executives, especially at a time when the business is putting pressure on the technology department to deliver more with less.

One thing is for certain; the current economic climate definitely does not help. Standish suggests the recession has helped push IT project failure rates higher and estimates that as much as 20 to 25% of failures during the last two years could have been caused by the economy forcing project cancellations (see further reading).

The upside is that IT departments are being persuaded, or even forced, to re-evaluate technology initiatives. Projects that might previously have stumbled towards completion are being canned as a result of the recession.

Good IT can help users work more effectively and efficiently, saving the business time and money. Bad technology is a money pit and too many IT executives end up pouring good money after bad, attempting to fix projects that do not provide a usable interface.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. While new economic realities help executives cull costly IT projects, remaining projects will still regularly fail to meet user expectations, as the Standish report confirms.

For your remaining projects, look for specialist approaches and tools that can help ensure your projects run in-line with user demands. An agile development approach will help you to make such tests on an iterative basis.

edge IPK offers such a strategy, its Early Visualisation Approach (EVA) provides an agile development lifecycle that allows business analysts to focus on online and offline front end applications.

Supported by the edgeConnect platform, which enables much faster entry points to development than traditional tools, analysts estimate EVA can reduce development cycles by as much as 85%.

With project failure rates rising and IT executives struggling to justify the cost of technology initiatives, investing in an iterative development approach could be your must successful decision of the year.

Further reading

http://www.cbronline.com/news/software_project_failures_hit_5_year_high_220609

http://www.cio.com/article/495306/Recession_Causes_Rising_IT_Project_Failure_Rates_?page=2


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Arise, Sir Presentation Architect!

September 28, 2009

Someone, somewhere is always willing to step into the limelight. In an age of celebrity culture, where self-promotion almost seems like the key to success, the real stars can sometimes get hidden beneath the hype.

The same is true in the world of IT. The input of real experts is sometimes drowned by the deafening noise emanating from a combination of technologists pushing their latest concepts and executives that are concerned about business alignment.

Now is the time for the real experts to stick their heads above the parapet. In an age of on-demand computing and web-based interaction, the architects that develop your interfaces have never been more crucial.

For a start, our interface for interacting with computers is changing. Where once applications sat on our desktop, more and more users are interacting with applications through the browser. The broad range of next generation browsers – such as Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox – show how the web can be a platform for business computing, not just searching and browsing.

Ajax and Flash have given developers the opportunity to develop cool web-based applications, many of which work more smoothly than their desktop-based cousins. Those developments are only likely to get more impressive, with platforms like Adobe AIR and Mozilla Prism allowing users to connect to their web applications through the desktop.

Underlying such developments is the progression of broadband and wireless networking. Long gone is the time when domestic internet users had to rely on dial-up access and painfully slow web browsing. The average UK broadband download speed is now above 4.3Mbps (see further reading) and the government continues to work on its plan for a highspeed broadband network, with a universal 2Mbps broadband link “virtually everywhere” by 2012.

Such developments mean more and more of your customers will be online. And in an age of constrained financial returns, your customer has just become even more important. Clients will quickly change supplier if they believe they can get a better deal or a better experience somewhere else. Strong customer advocates are likely to be your quickest way to retained clients.

So, ensure your front-end – your window on your business and its services – is usable and reliable. This means presentation architects must be close to the business. The user interface – or presentation layer – is the face of the business and the significance of individuals in such architecture positions is unlikely to diminish.

In fact, the importance of presentation architects is only likely to increase as more internal and external users rely on usable web-based interfaces to communicate with the business.

Want to get ahead? Then look after your presentation architect

Further reading

http://www.ispreview.co.uk/story/2009/07/06/top-10-uk-broadband-isps-by-speed-june-2009-league-table.html

http://www.computing.co.uk/computing/news/2245052/brown-lays-plan-digital-britain


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What will happen to the in-house IT professional?

August 25, 2009

The new generation of all-knowing users are the future of your IT department, using development tools – such as spreadsheet macros, process models and collaborative wikis – to create winning applications.

As a recent Forrester report suggests (see further reading, below), such business people do not want to be developers; they just want to get things done. And in a new age of collaboration and consumerisation, taking development into your own hands is sometimes seen as the quickest route to usable apps – especially in a slow-moving corporate leviathan.

It sounds like a double-headed winner: businesses get to implement software quicker and users get the applications they need. But not everyone is smiling. After all, what does the rise of end-user development mean for existing IT professionals?

The simple answer is professionalism. While it is great that users can help the business create the applications they need, such users are unlikely to be skilled technology experts.

Just like ‘Sunday morning mechanics’ can run a simple oil change for their car on the drive way, significant problems and modifications are likely to require the skilled intervention of a specialist engineer.

As the Forrester report suggests, end-user enthusiasm can lead to poorly designed, insecure and unscalable applications. The problem is then inherited by the application development professionals, who are left to pick up the pieces of bad business practice.

Do not let it get to this stage. Continue to embrace end-user development because your internal customers know what tools they need and their interaction with collaborative technology means they are only likely to become more IT-savvy.

Rather than letting users develop applications in isolation, IT professionals should take on a new management role, helping end-users to hone their contributions so that the business receives usable and scalable applications.

IT professionals have untapped skills, such as the ability to understand the technical rules that underlie business processes. Marrying such professionals with end-users will allow line-of-business employees to work with freedom and without fear of compromising established best practice.

In short, technology professionals need not fear the upsurge of non-technical development. Well-schooled end-users will allow for the development of technical tools that hold real value for the business.

The process will also allow IT professionals to engage with individuals across the company and prove the benefits of the much-maligned technology organisation.

Despite the rise of end-user development, the role of talented technology professional is more indispensable than ever.

 

Further reading

 http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/Excerpt/0,7211,54191,00.html


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Making BrITain Great Again

August 5, 2009

Making BrITain Great Again – Well done Stephen Kelly of Microfocus for putting his foot forward for IT in the UK ! At last some recognition that IT has a key role in growing our economy and that we should not resolve ourselves to losing such an important skill set to the rest of the world. The industry needs to embrace this opportunity with two hands and support this initiative as some politicians have. What is good about this manifesto is that it start at the grass roots of bringing more skilled professional through academia into the industry right through to startups and at the very top level the role of large IT companies. Some of my observations from speaking to our “target market”: Students selecting a career still perceive IT as a “geek” career whilst the biggest shortfall is in people that can translate business into IT solutions. This is a role that requires both business awareness and IT awareness, people in these roles are typically paid a premium and a role that is not normally offshored or outsourced. Manchester University has recognized this and created a combined business / IT course, but more has to be done about raising awareness. In the world of startups these companies rely on venture capital at all stages of their growth. However many Venture Companies actively encourage the outsourcing of product development to ensure their “investment” is being spent wisely. Enhancing the government R&D Tax Credit and making it easier for IT Companies would make a positive difference to relying solely on venture capital. Speaking to a number of startups often the barrier to the R&D Tax Credit being claimed is the simple definition of “innovation”. Questions should be asked as to why VC’s are more risk averse in the UK than the USA and what can be done about this? The manifesto also addresses one of the key issues of “growth”. We have great software innovations here but crossing the pond generally spells the end for many of these companies are they exhaust their hard earned venture capital and profits in trying to break out of the UK. We have to look at more ways we can help companies become global successes, afterall you can only name less than half a dozen companies in the UK that can claim Global success.


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Disposable software

July 13, 2009

So, you have finally taken the plunge and given your end-users more power to create useful applications. The job, however, is far from done. 

A criticism often levelled at end-user development (EUD) is that IT managers are putting the responsibility for creation in the hands of non-technical specialists. The result could be developments that are hard to maintain or inflexible to change.

 Such criticisms would be fair enough if your business allowed users to create bespoke applications that cannot be updated in-line with wider organisational transformation. But what would be the point of that approach?

 A well thought through EUD approach allows line-of-business employees to create tools easily and certainly quicker than through in-house development that relies on traditional programming.

 In the current economic climate, quick and easy development is likely to curry favour with your demanding boss. More importantly, the approach is extremely cost effective.

 As a rule, many companies tend to hang on to technology for too long. Take the financial services industry, where many firms rely on bespoke banking systems running on legacy code.

 But an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ policy can have a damaging long-term effect. While many of the systems still run effectively, it can be very difficult to modify legacy technologies.

 The legacy mode of engineering often relies on outdated skills, meaning firms find it extremely difficult to retrofit code into modern architectures. The issue has become increasingly pertinent, with such outmoded systems looking cumbersome in comparison to much off today’s web-enabled infrastructure.

 Putting development tools – such as spreadsheet macros, process models and collaborative wikis – in the hands of your users is likely to help you create winning applications that could improve your current technology set up.

 While IT professionals are likely to have an idea of the broad sweep of tools that could help employees work more effectively, users will have an exact knowledge of the types of interface that could help them make the most of business information.

 The inherent nature of EUD means applications can be configured easily, thrown away at the end of their useful life and new applications redeveloped quickly.

 Such an approach means that with careful guidance and well-defined rules, your employees can use EUD to develop applications cost-effectively and in-line with changing business demand.


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Business requirements driven SOA

July 6, 2009

Too many SOA projects focus on assumed – or worse, fictional – business requirements. Such requirementss are often not the real organisational, technological or availability concerns of the business.

 Let me explain; SOA usually comes with pre-determined baggage. IT leaders know the principles and they have a list of expected benefits, such as interoperability and resource re-use.

 But be careful not to weigh down your SOA project with your expectations, rather than your users’ requirements. After all, your initiative must map exactly to the goals of the business.

 And for that reason, you should forget creating an over-arching aim of developing a system-oriented approach that works to a specific technical flavour.

 SOA is much more than standards-based integration and much more than web services, which is in effect another protocol. If you look beyond standards and take an inherently flexible approach, SOA can allow the business to make timely and cost effective changes to business processes.

 Rather than working to a pre-determined set of rules, you should have an open approach that relies on your IT people documenting the real requirements of users.

 Start small, establish an effective way of working alongside the business and then identify the real requirements for SOA. Not all users will be able to modify processes; not all services will be generic across the business and worthy of a service-oriented approach.

 The business will have a series of wider strategic goals that are likely to relate to customer service, efficiency and innovation. SOA can help meet targets in such areas, but only if the flexible processes of service-orientation are tightly co-ordinated with the requirements of the business.

 As an IT leader, you must work with the business to identify processes that can be decoupled and easily modified. Think of how SOA’s specific technical approach – such as re-use and integration – can be used to create specific solutions for business problems.

 When the business says it wants to innovate quickly, think of how SOA can be used to re-use resources and reduce time delays. When the business says it wants to cut costs and improve operational efficiency, think of how SOA can be used to build a single, integrated platform.

 Rather than technical standards, business requirements should be king. Decouple data from underlying applications – and when workflow demands change, users will be able to make simple modifications.

 And then your open ear to business requirements will mean SOA can help drive growth.


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Small is most definitely beautiful

July 1, 2009

Compliance remains a crucial technology issue. IT leaders have been smothered by a raft of regulatory requirements in the last few years, and the combined hit of environmental concerns and the economic downturn is only likely to make matters worse.

Take the finance sector, where a recent survey by the International Securities Association for Institutional Trade Communication noted that 25% of firms have already been affected by increased compliance requirements due to the economic crisis.

Understanding and dealing with compliance is, therefore, crucial. But be warned, big vendors and system integrators are likely to push issues like governance, quality assurance and lifecycle management.

While important in the right business context, such issues are also likely to provide an opportunity to become tied to processes and standards. And an obsession with standards creates the need for big models and increased complexity.

Such an obsession is likely to be a hindrance to what is actually useful for the business. And at a time of increased regulatory compliance, further processes and standards are just what your business does not need.

The chief executive will need you to cut through the waffle and provide a simple means for staying up-to-date and compliant. Thankfully, the composite nature of service-oriented architecture (SOA) provides a way round complex compliance and allows you to create small, successful systems.

Rather than creating vast and unconnected applications, SOA allows the IT leader to re-use resources and create applications on-demand. Such agility will allow you to promote a flexible architecture that is ready for fast-changing compliance requirements.

Forget the fear that you will have to fit systems to laws retrospectively. SOA will allow the IT department to integrate with the business and create compliant systems as new regulations emerge.

And the front-tier of SOA will be particularly crucial, allowing you to create a useful presentation layer that allows line-of-business executives to monitor information and ensure new targets are being met.

Take note, then, of agility, integration, presentation – the three watchwords that will help you use SOA to ensure your business responds flexibly to changing compliance demands.


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Wake up to the power of the web browser

May 11, 2009

Are you still using the desktop; still choosing to access enterprise applications through Windows?

It can be difficult to break away from accepted ways of working. Managing such a break is even more complicated when the business is bamboozled by a series of marketing buzzwords.

The big hype of the moment is cloud computing, a generic term used to describe the provision of scalable enterprise services over the web. Rather than having to access applications through a traditional desktop interface, businesses can use the cloud to host applications and store data.

As many as nine out of ten C-level executives know what cloud computing is and what it can do, according to a recent survey by consultancy Avanade and Kelton Research (see further reading, below).

But at the same time, 61% of senior managers are not currently using cloud technologies. For the majority, it is probably time you woke up to the power of the web browser.

Working through a web browser is no longer a niche activity. Salesfore.com and Google Apps are high profile and popular examples of how users can access applications through a web browser.

Such cloud-based software suites mean users can enter the browser and work collaboratively on essential documents. The high quality of services also means users can also benefit from the functionality of traditional desktop software, such as drag and drop, and multiple interfaces.

There are still issues to overcome, of course. Some businesses remained concerned about hosting information outside the corporate firewall. And recent problems with Google Mail show how failure of the cloud could derail essential business processes.

Such issues mean providers will have to develop secure methods for accessing browser-based applications offline, as well as online. However, such problems are minimal given the quick development of cloud computing.

Businesses often need a high profile sponsor to help push new technologies. When it comes to browser-based apps, there can be no more prestigious supporter than Vivek Kundra, the new CIO of the United States and a confirmed fan of Google Apps (see further reading).

What’s more, the recession is likely to push interest in cost effective and hosted applications. The Avanade and Kelton research also found that 54% of executives use technology to cut costs.

In these economically sensitive times and with an increasing high level of functionality, the web browser can help your IT department provide a great customer experience.

Further reading

Cloud computing is a two-edged sword
http://blogs.zdnet.com/Gardner/?p=2841

The new US CIO is a fan of Google Apps
http://blogs.computerworld.com/obama_cio_vivek_kundra_white_house_cio