November 2006

Just after I left  university there was quite a lot of controversy about  Harold Bloom’s Western Canon. Bloom stripped the veneer of literature as politics or sociology away, and suggested that we enjoy literature for its aesthetic value. He was criticized by some as perpetuating the dominance of the DWM. (Dead white male), but  I do like the idea of a set of great books, things that we should read. Sometimes it is great to read light and fluffy stuff,  but I also like to return to the classics.  

IT as a discipline is relatively new. It has to borrow from adjoining disciplines like computer science, economics, and law. It is still finding its place in curricula at business schools, business literature  and in undergraduate teaching.  Sometimes it is hard to define what information systems study really is.  Studying the Internet and its impact is even newer, and therefore even harder to define. 

Politics, Law, Economics and Maths all have their Canons.  Keynes, Friedman, Smith, Ricardo, Marx,Schumpeter, Rousseau, Hobbes, Locke, Fuller, Hilbert, Euclid, Plato, Riemann,  Gaus, Boole … If you study any of these subjects, you get to read some classic works, and study how they have succeeded or failed. Many of these theories wax and wane, but they remain lodestones. No one theory is ever perfect, but they help us shape our thinking.

I’m really pleased to see the Web Science Research Institute  announced by the University of Southampton, one of the UK’s top universities, and MIT. 

The Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) will generate a research agenda for understanding the scientific, technical and social challenges underlying the growth of the Web. Of particular interest is the volume of information on the Web that documents more and more aspects of human activity and knowledge. WSRI research projects will weigh such questions as, how do we access information and assess its reliability? By what means may we assure its use complies with social and legal rules? How will we preserve the Web over time?

The academics involved are heavyweight indeed.

Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium, senior research scientist at MIT and professor at the University of Southampton; Wendy Hall, professor of computer science and head of the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton; Nigel Shadbolt, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Southampton and director of the Advanced Knowledge Technologies Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration; and Daniel J. Weitzner, Technology and Society Domain leader of the World Wide Web Consortium and principal research scientist at MIT.

I look forward to seeing this research move into teaching programmes, not just in computer science, but in the social sciences and business too.

I can’t help thinking that information systems and the study of the web badly need a core body of theory, too often we lurch from trend to trend.  I’ve quoted This one from Prof Thomas at Oxford elsewhere in my ramblings, but it is relevant here too.

 We are as an industry very much in the early stages. The industry is only 50 years old. If you compare that with civil engineering, which is several thousand years old, we are tackling some of the most complex engineering designs and building some of the most complex engineering systems that the world has ever seen, essentially using craft technology. If you looked at the methods that are employed in most companies you would come to the conclusion that actually IT system development is a fashion business, not an engineering business, because they jump from one methodology to another year after year so long as it has a whizzy name, “Agile this” or “Intensive that”. The underlying engineering disciplines that every mature engineering discipline has learnt it needs to use in order to be able to show that the system it is building has the required properties have not yet been employed in software and systems engineering, and that is at the heart of why these things do not work.

Perhaps the students of today have access to sound body of research  but as a someone working in Information Systems in the industry,  I’d appreciate the opportunity to read the 30 great books or articles that have shaped the space.

What would be the ideal reading list, not only in order to get  through an MBA or other course, but one that would give pleasure and insight?  Something to dip into when the latest wave of buzzwords  threatens to drown out the basic truths.

 I would like to see an IT canon.  What are the works in Information Systems that anyone deeply interested in the topic should read?  For something to be relevant for the Canon it must have stood the test of time, and it should have some canonical strangeness.  That is tough in IT, as we seem to invent new trends and concepts weekly.  There is a  marketing msima that is hard to penetrate.

Where are the texts that will not date, that will serve as the key building blocks for future endeavors, and that continue to challenge our thinking? Can we project forward? What are the books or articles written today that we will continue to find relevant 5 -10- or 15 years’ hence. Guessing them might be fun too.

Where would you start?  What are the 10 key works that shape our understanding of IT and the web? Perhaps it would be worthwhile setting up some sort of list where folks can add and maybe vote. It might be fun to come back and reassess it over time. Any suggestions on how to set up such a list? There is probably some cool  site somewhere that we could run this on. 

The categories

The Canon. Historical stuff, I’ll suggest here  pre 1990.


 this year.

Any takers? 


I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on this blog writing about things Andrew McAfee has written. I’m not sure that this is healthy.  He  posted  yesterday about the slashdot response to his  HBR article.  He was surprised about the number of negative comments.  I wasn’t.

HBR is  aimed at manager types. The pointy headed managers in the Dilbert cartoon if you will.  It is a generalist management publication, not an academic heavy read journal.  Look at the edition in which the McAfee article appears.  I’ll be listening to the Kanter podcast on innovation next time I fly.  HBR  has been around for a while..

The Harvard Business Review has one goal: to be the source of the best new ideas for people creating, leading, and transforming business. Since its founding in 1922, HBR has had a proud tradition as the world’s preeminent management magazine, publishing cutting-edge, authoritative thinking on the key issues facing executives

Many of those who lurk at slashdot are heavy technology types.  A good number of them write code for a living.   They weren’t Andrew’s intended audience, but I suspect he enjoyed the readership spike that being slashdotted brings.  

There is something rather teenage about how software developers of a certain type react to those from outside the clique who dare stray on their turf, even unwittingly.  They are mean, cutting,  churlish, they think it is cool to be abusive and rude, but in fact, it is merely a poor guise for insecurity. I have lots of respect for people with deep technical prowess, but little respect for those that use that prowess to insult others.

They complain one minute that no one takes them seriously, or respects them, and then they get angry when anyone from outside attempts to get to know them better.  Andrew’s piece is an attempt to create a simple framework to help managers understand IT better.

I have read a number of articles in HBR that provide insight to things that I don’t know much about, like hedgefunds, or global  supply chain management. I don’t see hedgefund  mathematicians getting in a hissy fit because I’ve never done a monte carlo analysis.  I met one at a dinner party a few years ago and he explained in simple layman’s terms how he makes his living.  He enjoyed seeing the light go on in my head when I understood the difference between alpha and beta.  Judging by many of the slashdot comments on the post,  if I’d asked  want is the difference developing with Rails and Java,  I would have been cut off at the legs, or had the merlot split on my lap. This quote is from the article comments..

Dear Sweet $DIETY, I sincerely hope your head doesn’t pop-up over a cubicle wall in my building. I recently met a gentleman in a Starbucks, who started a conversation with me regarding IT after seeing my purchases from the adjoining bookstore.
          His philosophy was quite similar; “IT is by no means important, it’s just a necessary evil. A means to an end.” He then went on about how no one is even truly dependent on IT, computers, or information.
          I mentioned my point of views differ, as I have made a career of IT, and I don’t see myself as a “glorified secretary”. Then I steered the conversation towards his laptop, a rather beat-up looking Dell, with an 802.11 PCMCIA card sitting next to it. Turns out my new friend is a writer, been in my hometown for almost two weeks, and hasn’t been able to upload his work off of the laptop the whole time (PCMCIA card not working, Dial-in line for his company was always busy, etc).
          Long story short; there was an “incident” involving my recently topped-off 20oz coffee thermos, and his laptop, which was aptly on his lap at the time. Not only did the poor Dell unleash the magic smoke the instant my thermos slipped, but it’s display didn’t survive the fall off of his lap as he started hopping up and down like, well, someone who’s “valuables” were drenched with hot coffee.
          Something tells me that he spent the better part of the evening begging a physician to be gentle with him, and begging a “glorified secretary” to recover two weeks of his work off of his Almond-Morning-Expresso soaked hard drive.
P.S: Yes, I am aware of the fact that I am a bastard. Thank you.

I think it is time for those sort of software developers to grow up.  If you want to be treated as a professional then it is time to start acting like one.  Buy the FT occasionally, read HBR every now and again.  You give your industry a bad name. 

If, developer, you can’t engage in any sensible dialogue with management, in a language that management understands, then you are right to feel insecure. Job insecure. There is a polite guy in  Bulgaria who can code better than you.

Andrew, these two may amuse..


I’m on the plane on the the way to Nice as I write this. ( I’m using the windows live writer as  my new blogging frontend. Cool tool)  I’m meeting with Shell, BASF,  Siemens,  JTI, Tetrapak,  Renault, TeliaSonera, Danfoss,  and Henkel  to discuss and debate HR shared services.   Shared services is well on the way to being the main mechanism for delivering HR administrative processes.  There is a growing process mentality in HR today, and this is good news.  More on that on the flight back.

I  picked up the paper as  I boarded the plane, because I left the novel I really wanted to read at home.   In today’s FT I read several interesting articles. 


A  new proposal from the accounting firms, suggesting that we move away from quarterly reporting to real time reporting.  There is dissent about IFRS, Lord Browne of BP commenting.

some would argue that IFRS neither produce a record of the accountability of management nor a measure of the changes  in the economic value of  the assets and liabilities. I would agree with them. What IFRS actually does is make our results more difficult to understand

KMPG etc would like to replace the quarterely reporting with real-time Internet based reporting. This would, they suggest, enable investors to gather information whenever they want it. I look forward to reading the report and seeing what Dennis and other accounting types have to say about it.

We all talk about blogging as a real time dialogue, but imagine if the financials of a  company were the same.  The systems implications of such a change would be considerable, but if I would make the market more transparent then I’m all for it. Some bloggers I know will  moan about the cost of it all.


Bill Gates continues to impress me. 

According to Mr Gates, tech companies have made the mistake before of believing in overnight transformations.

When it comes to back office ERP, we’ll have some things on-premise and somethings published out on the web. We think few companies will be  purely on premise, or purely on the web.

Sounds like Microsoft and SAP both worship at the Hybrid Church.  


Japan’s financial reporting scandal. Mr Horie sounds just like the US CEO’s in court. …I know zip about accounts. Blame my CFO. “I never studied accounting, A management book I read said to leave that to the specialists, so that’s what I did.” hmmmm. 

other stuff

TCO, Romanian innovation,  Where are all the women in IT,  How to guess a password, Strategic IT consultants,  a full page advert from Novell and Micrsoft declaring undying love, technical woes at the LME, and a funny quote about Google.

“I can offer one straw for Yahoo to clutch at though. As I type this in Google Docs, “Google” is still showing up as a spelling error.”

The FT rocks.  I’d even buy it.



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Disclaimer: Having first actually added something to a wiki all of nine months ago  I can hardly call myself a wiki expert-pioneer.  Here at SAP there is a tremendous amount of wiki related activity,  behind the firewall it has been going on for years and now, outside, with the Wiki over on SDN.  Check it out.

Yet not everyone here gets the free-format emergent nature of a wiki.

Tesha definitely gets it. She is one of the key drivers behind the SDN wiki. 

She  forwarded me this email the other day.  It was sent by a colleague.


I realized, that within the Wiki, I would be able to change every content in the Edit area (or even delete it!)- is that really the purpose of that forum? I think, that should be restricted.

It made me laugh for a second and feel  smug because I have drunk the emergence kool-aid, but  I then realised that a year ago I would have probably said pretty much the same thing.  For many people the lack of control and structure is  unnerving, especially here in Enterpriseyland.  It is easy to understand why.

One of the key functions of an ERP system is to stop users entering stuff wrongly. That’s why there are lots of rules and tables and so on.  It is amazing how many users will enter Mr and Female unless there is a validation to stop it,  put Fred on the executive stock programme when he  should on the telesales employee of the month lunch token programme, or order too many pencils.  

ERP systems are about control, accuracy, repetition, discipline and execution. They help you run the business, consistently. Consistence is cool.

 Normally, you don’t want just anyone getting creative with the invoicing process,  embracing chaos in the goods receivable department,  grassroots movements in MRO,  an out of the box way to calculate VAT,  mashing up  intracompany account reconcilation, or  paradigm shifting the shift schedules.

If you think about it  a bit more deeply, one of the goals of an ERP system is to have as few users fiddling with the process as possible.  Automation, lights out processing, end to end.  Put brutally, the fewer users to mess up the process the better.  The fastest, slickest, most cost effective processes tend not to have any users  at all.

JP discussed McAfee’s HBR article, and made this insightful comment….

He does not say “IT that is specified by random and ever-changing and poorly articulated and inconsistent and sometimes even nonexistent business processes.”

He is so right. 

 Enterprise applications aren’ t all about passionate users.    

We need to eat the process broccoli, not just the UI ice cream.


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I read a lot about how written and spoken English is heading down hill.

Buy this book, The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language or, if you like, I can lend you my copy. I suggest you also buy this book. The Adventure of English, by Melvyn Bragg. Whoever borrowed my copy please give it back. The English language though, is fascinating and dynamic. I quote from the review…

“In this book Melvyn Bragg shows us the remarkable story of the English language; from its beginnings to a minor guttural Germanic dialect to its position today as a truly established global language.”

My wife and I speak a minor guttural Germanic dialect too. It is a mix of German words with our own unique take on German Grammar and pronunciation. She describes it here.

While my vocabulary is always growing, my grammar is like a rebellious teenager: refusing to grow up and refine itself.

We lived in Germany from 1996-1999, and then we moved to the UK for a couple of years. In order to keep my German going I went to German lessons. At first, the teacher was really pleased to be teaching something other than “ein Bier, bitte.” But after a while she realised the shoddy state of my grammar mixed in with a large dose of kurpfaelzisch dialect and slang. Coming from Hannover, she commented, “Sie sprechen Deutsch wie ein besoffener Bauer” Which translates to you speak German like a drunk farmer. I was insulted, but then when I told my German mates about it, they felt it was high praise, as that was exactly how they had taught me the language.

That is not to say that Pfaelzisch can’t be literary. Here is a bit of Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo kummt in de Gade)

Romeo: Was soll ich narre mache?

(Julia guckt owe aus’m Fenschter raus)

Romeo: Ach Gott er Leit, was guckt dann do owe durch’s Fenschter? Des esch jo die Julia. Kumm emol raus mei Sießi ! Sie esches, mei Schneck, mei Liebschti ! O wie se die Hand uff de Backe lecht ! Wär isch doch de Handschuh uff dere Hand und deed den sieße Backe kisse.
Julia: Jesses er Leit, was babbelscht dann so gschwolle do rum ?
Romeo: Ach Gott, her der des mol a, die redd jo! Hob, red nochmol, sach noch was. Dei Stimm esch jo so schäh !

I suppose that is the long tail of Shakespeare.

There is some concern in Germany and lots in France about the growing dominance of English, and how it encroaches and consumes. My German readers my find this clip interesting.

Here is the French view on this issue,  in English?

Alphabet soup describes the jargon that permeates the software industry well. As an industry we bombard our customers with three letter acronyms. SAP is as guilty as anyone in this regard. We cloak solutions in a fog of TLAs.  Lawyers and economists use latin phrases like volenti non injura,consensus facit legem, ceteris paribus, de minimis non curat lex and so on. The terms are useful to those in the know, but they create a barrier to the rest of us. 

Adding the 2.0 suffix merely makes it worse. Also, the software industry forces english acronyms into foreign languages. ROI, SOA,ERP, and have now penetrated the fabric of German and French. If you think it is tough following the alphabet soup in your own language, spare a thought for those that are doing it in a second or third language.

SAP’s headoffice is near Mannheim, a zone of serious dialect. Historically it is rich in innovation, the first car was built nearby.  Baden-Württenberg has made a very successful advertising campaign, it translates to “we can do everything except high-German.” There have been a number of TV ads, bumper stickers and so on.  Some of the ads are rather funny. 

This clip was put together by an unknown, but really witty colleague. It is about 4 years old, but still relevant. It has been mailed around SAP internally and externally many times, but recently it has found its way onto-into youtube.  I wasn’t sure whether to post it or not, but anyway, here it is.  We can laugh at ourselves here in enterpriseyland. I really enjoyed the recent IBM mainframe ads, also to be found on youtube, tip James  VW has had a lot of fun with parody in with the launch of the new GTI. 

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Keeping up with goings on in South Africa used to involve an occasional read of the Weekly Mail on-line. Zapiro is my favourite political cartoonist of all time. A fine newspaper, but seeing a country through the eyes of one person, the editor of a newspaper, is a little like looking through a keyhole. You don’t see the whole room. 

Now there is a thriving South African blogging community. Check out urbantrash for a start… Mike Stopforth pointed me to a really funny viral marketing campaign in South Africa.  It picks up on the very serious issues of Aids, Condoms and Politics.  Jacob Zuma and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang are both significant figures in South African Politics.  If you don’t know about them, just follow the links to the BBC stories above. Let’s give pronto and the viral campaign some serious link love.


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Workday is launching on 6th November (that is the same day I was launched 37 years ago)  Auspicious choice indeed. I’m curious about Workday. They have a strong team of HR tech folks, and the SaaS play is certainly trendy. 

I saw  press coverage here in computing UK 

Firstly the author has totally mangled the market statistics for the HR market.

AMR Research data on growth in the online applications sector suggests that HR is currently a slower-growth area than some others. It rose 13 percent between 2004 and 2005, compared to 300 percent for ERP generally, 60 percent for CRM and 125 percent for sourcing/procurement, the analyst said.

Gosh. I read lots of reports from AMR, but that one passed me by. I was bonused last year on ERP revenue, so either the report is wrong, or I got shafted.

Secondly, I was struck by the amount of friendly SaaS love. Salesforce and Netsuite all welcoming Workday to the party. I’m not sure the rest of the nascent HR SaaS crowd will be so welcoming.   

Thirdly, the marketing to date is very traditional, press releases, static website….. No blog that I can find, no conversation,  Where is the thingamy type marketing?  Or the simplyhired youtube?

It is early days yet,  and marketing innovation doesn’t correlate with application innovation, but I would have expected something cool by now.  I’d read Dave Duffield’s blog, and so would most of the the HR technology world.

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As part of my pre-global-warming-glacier-pace academic efforts I read quite a lot of stuff on application security. I’m just about to send the final version of a paper to the Computer Law and Security Report. It has taken ages to write. Howcome blog posts can be churned out in minutes but papers take months?

Bruce Schneier, the CTO of Counterpane,  is arguably the most famous security guy around. His Blog is well worth reading, covering such topics as forging a boarding pass, airport security and surveillance as art.  His books and heavier stuff are a must if you are interested in security, privacy and so on. If you are interested in this space, also read Jeff Jonas. 

Bruce’s company, Counterpane,  has announced a new solution

Counterpane Introduces Integrated Application Monitoring & Security Auditing for SAP Platform, Empowers Enterprises to Defend Against Unauthorized Activity on SAP Applications
Technological innovations coupled with proven correlation logic and security expertise ensure customers improved compliance, enhanced security posture and prevention of financial loss

Mountain View, CA – October 2, 2006 – Counterpane Internet Security, Inc., The Managed Security Company and the authority on enterprise security, today unveiled Integrated Application Monitoring & Security Auditing for SAP Platform, a new data security solution that leverages its industry leading Managed Security Services.

I’ll be interested to see how this fits together or competes with the SAP GRC offering.  But anyway, having the world’s top security experts helping customers avoid attacks is indeed goodness. I’ll have to ask Frank, he actually does SAP security as his day job.

I also read that they have been acquired by BT Global Services.  Ovum provides comment here.  Interesting that a UK telco firm is acquiring them. (Imagine the reaction if it had been a Chinese telco)

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Axon UK based consulting firm has just acquired US based Premier HR.  (Thanks for the info Jason)

Mark Hunter set up Axon in the mid 1990’s and it has grown tremendously. He is one of the brightest brains in the business, despite that he funded my start up idea in 2000. We both learnt a bit through that process, but that deserves a post all on its own another day.  Axon has quietly built a very strong HR practice since then, Jason playing a key role.

Axon’s timing is good, the SAP HR-HCM business is booming. Growth in the US was nearly 50% last year, and EMEA is really humming along at the moment.  There is a strong wave of global rollouts, shared service centers and talent management stuff.  SAP recently announced the 10,000 HR customer, and my presales mates reckon they have never been busier. The SaaSy hype notwithstanding, our core broccoli enterprisey applications are doing rather well.

It is  goodness to see more alternatives to the giant SIs becoming more globally capable. Axon has a track record for hiring  seasoned consultants and giving them an organisation that fosters innovation and initiative, and delivering projects on time.  The Premier buy makes a lot of sense. 

Accenture recently bought Pecaso, so it is all action in the HR space. I don’t think this dance round is over just yet.

I look forward to catching up with Jason and many of the other UK consultants at the SAP UK user group meeting,  in Brum on the 20-21 November. There is a thriving SAP HR community in the UK so I’m also keen to talk with customers.  I get to showcase some of the new stuff, which is fun too.

Next week I’m running a workshop on HR shared services in Nice, France, with some very interesting customers. Should be fun too. I’ll also be in Zürich the week after, at the ZFU where Dave Ulrich is the keynote.  I’ll probably also be at the SAP German HR congress in Nürnburg. Busy busy.

 (disclaimer. I own a very small tiny number of Axon shares)

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Google is on a roll. Lots of folks have posted on the JotSpot takeover. Zoli is well worth reading on this.  CNET quotes Ross Mayfield of Socialtext who has blogged on it here.

This is another great validation of the category we helped start

Nicholas Carr takes a look at the youtube deal and has written lots of interesting stuff on Google in the past.   I not planning to add my own detailed commentary about Google today, others are doing a pretty good job. Scobleizer asks what will Microsoft do?

The Google bus seems unstoppable.

Moving on…..

Brad Feld is by all accounts a very successful VC, and he has a really good blog.  Brad posted about a presentaton he received from Lisa at SAP Ventures. Brad comments my favorite slide segment is “Name this Country:

Richest in the World

  • Largest Military
  • Center of world business and finance
  • Strongest education system
  • World center of innovation and invention
  • Currency the world standard of value
  • Highest standard of living

The answer is – England – in 1900.  Sound familiar all you American’s out there?  The presentation ends delightfully with “shift happens” which – of course – is where we started.

This reminded me of a fabulous poem.


I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

If I was Eric, this would be painted in big letters on the wall of my office.

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