Archive for February, 2010

The Efficient Enterprise in 2010

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

I’ve just come from a really fascinating roundtable discussion (sponsored by Dell and hosted by Bryan Glick from Computer Weekly) about the "Efficient Enterprise in 2010". The meeting was well attended by a bunch of Enterprise customers and Partners, with the context for the discussion being a presentation from Robin Johnson, Dell’s Global CIO.

There were a number of really compelling things that came out from both the presentation and the ensuing discussion:

  1. Opportunity Cost of IT Savings Understand the Opportunity Cost of any savings you make.
    OK, so you lot know I already get that one, but wow, Dell apparently are able to plough around 50% of their savings back into strategic IT (and when you’re making a $160m saving p/a, that’s a big deal). Read on to find out how they get away with that -especially at a time when most CFO’s want every penny they can get – and then some.
  2. Use the Time:Cost ratio as the pivotal argument, not simply Cost savings alone.
    Robin (and the group) talked about the difference in motivating the "business" when you factor in the time to market for IT solutions rather than simply talking about cost savings alone. It sounds simple when you say it like that, but it’s a hard won position with many CFO’s/Steering Boards. If people understand the difference in time to market that more complex IT makes, it makes it easier for them to support you in making it simpler.
  3. Pursue "Ruthless Standardisation"
    Driving a standards based architecture is a pretty tall challenge, no point in doing it then if you’re only going to go halfway. It’s tough, but if you’ve done the above, you can make it happen. Dell have only _2_ images for their 22,000 server estate. That’s pretty ruthless, but it enables them to do a lot more.
  4. Create a path of least resistance
    The Dell guys talk about the "Happy Path" vs the "Unhappy Path" when it comes to IT Architecture and solutions design. Follow the "happy path" (i.e. use standard tools/architecture etc) and you will get your solution in place more quickly and more cost effectively. It is possible to walk the "unhappy path" but it’s hard work so only those that are committed take it.
  5. "Good enough" is good enough
    It was in fact, the great Dash (from Disney’s Incredibles – see how I spare you no cultural expense on this blog ;-) that said (and I paraphrase) "When everyone is special, it actually means no-one is". Nowhere is this more true than in the internal IT vs Business debate. The more special we allow different groups/departments to be unique and special the more expensive their IT solution. This recession will force organisations and departments to come to terms with this (I hope)
  6. Rigidly define flexibility
    Oxymoronic at first blush, but it simply means, leave a little wiggle room, so people still feel empowered and part of the solution. Avoid "doing things" to people, collaborate with them instead.
  7. The Consumerisation of IT Finally (and another of my favourite topics) be cognisant of the effects of "Consumerisation"
    Robin talked about the "Sunday Night/Monday Morning" concept, whereby people have a great IT experience on Sunday night as they catch up on personal tasks on-line, then go into work the following morning to receive a comparatively poorer experience. This isn’t about embracing the millenials, but about providing a range of service that suits a range of generational stereotypes.

Although the discussion was mostly business focussed, there were a couple of key technological points that I felt we worth calling out:

  1. Power consumption is the new gold
    Based on the granularity of their server provisioning approach (smallest unit of MIP "currency" is a 2U box), Dell reckon that it is now power consumption that drives their hardware refresh cycle. Robin currently reckons that a 3 year refresh cycle will provide sufficient financial savings in power consumption alone to pay for the refresh.
  2. Virtualisation alone is not enough
    Although it took a record breaking 60 minutes into the discussion before anyone mentioned the "c" word (Cloud, that is), what was clear that a big part of Dell’s success in the rationalisation of their data centres was the automation of the server provisioning. This is a topic that we’re beginning to see again and again, a virtual server is still a server, it still needs to be provisioned and patched. You only get the big savings, when you can automate that process sufficiently (and model it so you know what you’re doing is right).

The Open Government Dilemma

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

So, it’s official, we’re at a critical point in the Open Government hype cycle, you know the spot, it’s the bit where we have to take a leap of faith from all the hyperbole of our anticipated outcomes and try and land on the reality of what we can now deliver.  I thought this blog from Gartner was really insightful of the challenge we’re now facing.

The easy bit is now almost done – people more or less understand what this is all about, (I know it’s taken a lot of effort from many of you to get us even this far). The next phase is likely going to be the hardest as we have to both prove the value of appropriate Open Government applications, build them and most importantly, find a political “home” for them inside the government organisations.

bridgeThink about the challenge faced by data.gov.uk – superb solution, but who actually _owns_ it?  Who’s responsible for its up keep, more importantly, who is charged with prising the open data from the various departments, agencies and authorities on an on-going basis?  Those my friends, are the real challenges we face over the coming months as we try and bridge the gap between our strategic intent for Open Government and our capability to act.

What next for Open Government Data?

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Data_gov_uk-in-preview-001 It’s been an interesting few weeks for Open Data in the UK, first the launch of London’s data store, and then, with much fanfare, the unveiling of data.gov.uk. Overall, this is a pretty good time to be a data activist.

But whilst the increasing exposure is beginning to help some people "get it" it sees we are approaching the "end of the beginning" for open data in government, but we are struggling to see where we go from here.

Data.gov.uk is a fantastic achievement and could perhaps be one of the most significant turning points in our relationship as citizens with the state, however it is currently not much more than an experiment – simply, proof that it can be done.

Against the context of the full potential that data.gov.uk offers, the current solution is neither sustainable nor scalable – and both points are well understood by the team that created it. Their challenge now is to take the fantastic work they have done and turn it into something that has it’s own momentum within both government and our society.

The technology side of this story is the easy part, making the platform scalable and sustainable is relatively straightforward and there are many (both within and outside government) that can help with that. The real challenge (and this will be no surprise) is how we change the culture of both ourselves and the government to a) openly share what should be shared, b) consume the data with respect and responsibility.

This is no easy task, but I do think there are some relatively simple steps that we can all take to help ease this journey.

  1. More real examples
    Now, more than ever, we need to continue to show shining examples of the power of open data, Sir Tim Berners Lee has made an open appeal for examples – if you have one, he’d like to hear from you. If possible, we need them to come from more than just the "data activist" community, an excellent bunch of people who have already invested so much time and energy just to get us this far but need our support to take the crusade even further.
  2. Open by design
    Those of us engaged in providing technology solutions in the Public Sector need to start building in the principles of open data into everything we do, all of our solutions need to at least consider how the data (where appropriate) would be made public and the linkage with data.gov.uk could be made.
  3. Learn from others
    The public sector is not the only group grappling with opening up data in this way. There is much we can learn from others (both within IT and outside), we should be seeking to share our experiences for greater collective achievement.
  4. Bridging the cultural chasm
    Last but by no means least, we need to be pushing the relevance of sharing data in this way to everyone, there is a big cultural void that we need to span (between those that get it, and those that don’t) it is up to us to create the link, and plant the seed of change across every aspect of our relationship with our government.

These four things alone will not make for an open government but if we are able to work together to drive these core messages, I think we can go a long way to making this a scalable, sustainable part of our relationship with the state.