Irregulars


Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I’m on the train to Paris at the moment, trundling along  at  320 km/h in a magical chunk of German-French engineering, the ICE. I’m connected to the web via bluetooth to my Nokia N95, luckily there is also a power socket in the train. I’m doing a mix of work and vaguely work related feed browsing, well more browsing than working…

Why would anyone want to fly to Paris and deal with airport security theatre?  Anyway, enough about rail travel.

Via the prodigious feedtorrent that is Steve Rubel, I came across this very clever presentation from Sacha Chua, who now works at IBM.

This made my morning.

I’m doing some work about the impact of web 2.0, Generation Y etc on recruiting processes and practice, so next time some one asks me about generation Y and the workplace, I think I’ll just point them to the Sacha here. Read her post on onboarding, for instance.

For those of you interested how she’s made the slides…

Thanks Sacha, subscribed.

Goodness me. I logged on for the first time in a couple of days to see that enterprisey corner of the blogosphere has been in a frenzy. Robert Scoble began it all by wondering what the Enterprise Irregulars thought about the lack of sexiness in enterprise software.

I’m a tad late to the party.

Michael Krigsman, Nick Carr, Jason Wood, Dennis HowlettEd Hermann, George Ou, Ross Mayfield, Susan Scrupski, Ian Joyce, Anshu Sharma, Craig Cmehil, Sadagopan, Vinnie MirchandaniStowe Boyd and Alan Patrick all chime in, and the there is a lot more I’ve not seen yet. (see Techmeme for more)

As an aside, I do find the blogosphere convention of starting posts with  “I’ve met you and gee, you are really a nice, super, kind and smart guy, but now, having said that, I’m going to tell you why you are an idiot.” really odd.

 

Sitting here at Starship Enterprisey, you’d bet Oracle’s maintenance revenue stream that I’d jump and take up my cudgels to defend enterpriseydom,  But I’m not.  

Something James Governor said a while ago about IBM nails it for me- The false distinction between consumer and enterprise.

RedMonk has long called for IBM to abandon the somewhat false distinction between “consumer” and “enterprise”. What’s the main difference? Who pays the bill at the end of the month.

I’ve argued before about the dangers of using the “enterprise” as an excuse for complexity, and in the summer I said.

Labelling things enterprise, business or even professional enables a defence of complexity that shouldn’t be tolerated without a challenge.

Full post here.

One of the things that makes me mad is the “enterprise is complex syndrome”. Complexity, not Oracle, is SAP’s biggest competitor.  We enterprisey types need some Bauhaus.  We can learn a lot from the often brutal simplicity of consumer applications. A focus on simplicity is imperative.

In this sense, Nick Carr is right.

By perpetuating a false dichotomy between the friendliness of consumer apps and the seriousness of business apps, all that Krigsman is doing is giving enterprise vendors cover for continuing to produce software that’s difficult and unpleasant to use. Give Scoble credit. He’s asking the right question, in his own strange way.

Rumplestilskin 2.0

At the same time, anytime a consumer software expert craps on the enterprise gang for not being more like the consumer stuff, I’d  politely ask them to do the Rumplestilskin 2.0 Test.

Flickr  from YTaP

Apologies to my loyal readers –  I have used this before, but for those of you new to this blog: 

We provide a room with perfect lighting, beanbags with fairtrade beans, the social media tools of your choice, lattes and other beverages of your choice on tap,  eco-friendly pizza and Macbook pros all round, but we only let you out when you have a working polish payroll that offers a compelling user experience. And maintain it. At a profit.

Oh, and It seems we have short memories, or perhaps this is a yuletide thing.  Last year Bill Thompson’s Tyranny of the UI post sparked a similar blogosphere spat.  I’m now self linking beyond the pale of politeness, but the UI is not the application.

Come to think of it, having a UI at all means a failure to automate.  I guess the sexiest UI is no UI at all.  This would enable you to leave the computer alone for a while and get on with the real thing.- business time. 

0.5.

At the risk of turning this into a SAP infomercial, I received an interesting email today   about a joint development (co-innovation in enterprisespeak) With SAP and Wincor Nixdorf.

The challenge here  is not bringing 2.0, to the enterprise,  but rather 0.5.

How can you bring  dramatic process and time savings to lengthly, costly administrative processes on the factory shopfloor without slowing up production lines?  How can you provide systems access in a way that makes it easy and fast for factory workers to enter timesheets, access schedules, book holiday, check payslips and the like when they have oil on their hands.  I’m not going to call it sexy, but it is damn cool.  check out this video (sorry wmv only – note to SAP marketing, stick it on youtube, please)

 

the power of AND

Ed Hermann, both a builder and victim of enterprise software writes of the tyranny of OR, he is so spot on. He also places this in an SAP context

It’s an internal struggle between the old school German engineering mentality vs. the new school Silicon Valley start up attitude. Only time will tell if they will find balance and harmony of both by embracing the “Genius of the AND”.

We enterprisey types need a big dose of AND.

Steve Mann, commenting over on Vinnie’s post, said,

Vinnie, from my vantage point, there is significant change under foot. Granted it has a long way to go but if you look at the influx of ethnographers and user-centric design teams in the larger enterprise software firms, the Voice of the Customer aspect of interface design is becoming more prevalent. Again, I grant you that companies that have been delivering software for many years without customer input at the front end of the process face significant cultural and process hurdles to get there. I have my doubts that all will succeed. Whether enterprise software can become more customer centric is dependent on the underlying culture of the company trying to deliver it.

Nick, things are changing in Enterprise land. The user is getting a whole lot more respect.

Oh and, flipping it , watching Facebook over the last month, I reckon they could do with a dose of enterprisey.

I’ll leave you with Jason Wood’s take.

Make users lives easier. Sounds simple, but it’s really not

This continues my simplicity series (rant).

Joe has a very interesting post over on ZDNET. If you are in Enterprise Software marketing, you should read it if it is the only thing you read this week.

He picks up on a podcast he was on with Dana GardnerSteve Garone, Joe  Neil Ward-Dutton, Jim Kobielus and Trip Chowdhry,  an equity analyst MD  at Global Equities Research.

Trip’s message is very simple and straightforward: Vendors, please start making some sense to the rest of the world when it comes to SOA. Trip said that the SOA concept holds some promise, but vendors aren’t articulating the message too well. “SOA is definitely a trend, but it seems like the messaging, the product, and everything else need to be simplified, so that people can know how one initiative can correlate and coexist with other initiatives they have going,” pointed out. 

Trip bashes SAP:

“If you think about companies like SAP who have very long implementation cycles, they have a lot of moving parts,” he explained. “It’s a complex product, and the problem that SAP has — and to some extent, most of the SOA vendors have — is that they’re trying to solve complexity with complexity.

When it comes to mass adoption — or the second phase of product adoption that needs to occur to show growth — then you really have to ease the product, ease the message. You have to tell what you do in one bullet point.

This worries me, not just for perpetuation of the SAP is slow to  implement myth, but because the the abject failure of enterprise software marketeers from all the major vendors  to articulate SOA in a way that customers and the investment community can understand.  

(I suppose the one positive from this is that Joe and co picked SAP as a SOA vendor.  Normally the analyst types moan that we aren’t SOA enough.)

I’ve been critical of the SOA marketing for sometime, here and here for instance. I commented last year.

The only thing in the world harder than learning German is trying to explain SOA to an audience of HR executives without causing them undue pain and suffering.

Business people want to talk about leaner supply chains, better margins, and fast implementations.   

Sam commented a while ago on James’ blog, the post was  discussing SOA

I’d go even further James and say that not only is it often superior to present an architecture without mentioning the supposed name of the architectural approach/style used, but often it’s best not to mention the concept of architecture at all.

The desired outcomes and value of the solution to the audience you’re talking to should press the right buttons.

Unless of course the audience is pure software people or technical architects and then their desired outcomes and value can be the architectural approach/style itself. Hence the problem of course … I like to call it supply-side thinking.

At the moment there is far too much recipe and not enough meal.

Every software developer I meet, not just here at SAP, but all over the place, tells me that SOA makes it simpler and faster to build flexible enterprise applications.  This stuff then is real,  it works.

If folks like Trip, who can probably do Black-Scholes calculations and build value at risk models while in the airport queue, don’t grasp what the marketeers are on about, then perhaps it is time for a big glass of Simple. 

The way to talk about SOA is not to talk about it, and just showcase the solutions that it enables.   Repeat after me.  Short sentences. No jargon. Real examples. Simple is goodness.

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Some of you may have noticed my interest in things “design” over the last couple of months. I have been reading folks like Kathy Sierra , Diego Rodriguez, John Maeda and Bruce Nussbaum. This has led me to all sorts of interesting places on the web, including the Design Museum. 

Well, I’m on the fringes of a design project here at SAP, and I have spent the last week in Palo Alto at SAP labs. I’ve been immersed in discovering design led innovation, ideation, personae(s?), artifacts, use cases, and so on.

Design at SAP…

Over the past decade or so, we have received considerable and often valid criticism for an overly complex GUI experience. 

This isn’t good. To quote Dan:

I would argue that for the next generation of people who will soon ( < 10 years ) start to get into decision making positions at Fortune 1000s UI ease and flexibility will be nearly as important as all the process stuff already boiled into SAP software.

Fixing it.

A couple of years ago Hasso Plattner set up the Design Services Team (DST). The goal is to bring a stronger design ethos into our software development process. The team works with developers around the world to instill a user-centric design discipline. They also work to identify new design trends and provide expert services to other organisations looking to focus on the user.  Shock horror they actually work with real end users to see how they use our software. The team is multi-disciplinary, and many of the team members have a design background and come from places like eBay and Apple. Internal design missionaries, if you like.

It is alot more than just GUI…

This is what they mean by design thinking

The core values of Design Led Innovation:

  • Have an Outside-in Mindset
  • Use Empathy for Users & Stakeholders .Embrace diversity
  • Think holistically
  • Collaborate in multi-disciplinary teams
  • Generate many new ideas
  • Find & iterate alternatives
  • Fail early and often

Hasso has donated lots of money and time to design. He donated 35 million to the Stanford Design School and has also invested significantly in the Hasso Plattner institute in Potsdam.  I’ve blogged this here. The DST also facilitated the developer challenge- you can find more here.

This project – what I learnt.

We are working at dramatically improving a complex, messy, global, internal process at SAP, both from a process and  eventually from a product standpoint.  The workshop included internal end users, managers, solution management, design folks and me.

My job was to provide a look at the competitive landscape and to explore how social computing might impact the process. (I’m being a bit cryptic about what the process is, as the process owner would rather I’d not blog it)

As part of the project the DST is doing similar sessions with users from various industries and sizes in the US, Europe and Asia, some of them SAP customers, some of them not.

My key takeaways from the process.

It isn’t easy.

 

“Post-its” rock.

 

The rules. Not bad rules for any brainstorming process.

An aside:Jeremiah documented the process and outcomes live in an internal wiki, which in itself was an interesting  2.0esque validation for me. I spend lots of words pontificating on the power of the wiki, but actually seeing it used as a real time documentation tool, rather than just as a repository of record for documents created elsewhere, hit home

Thanks to Loren, several Mikes, Jeong, Erin, Jing, Matt, Peter, Pam, Vivien, Ben, Diana, Christoph, Harry, Ben and Jeremiah (sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone)  for an eye opening learning experience. And to Mike and Doree thank you for a wonderful evening and the introduction to Fred’s steak and Arrested Development. 

 In other news Jeremiah and I have a chat with James and Cote on Redmonk radio. I ramble on about the DST and ERP amongst other things.  It is weird listening to your own voice. I have neither the voice nor the face for radio.

For those that write SAP off as an innovation-free zone, I say watch this space.

 

Nigel James has a super post about the mouse.

The whole world is too attached to their mice, but this is what I would like to achieve: to be able to drive all applications from the keyboard with out having to resort to moving my right hand 15 cm to the right to grab the mouse to have to click on a button or menu item because there is no other way to activate the action.

Sound words indeed.

 

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In many families, the Christmas holidays is the time to play games. Homes ring to the sounds of happy or not so happy people playing Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Charades, Cranium, Monopoly, Pictionary and so on. Details of our family Christmas will no doubt be recorded over on my wife’s blog.

Undergraduate university students, on the other hand,  play complex drinking games. Actually they do that all year long.

When I was at University I believe there were several games played by other people that involved bouncing a coin into a beer glass.  Apparently, this game takes lots of practice. I’ve been informed by a reliable source  that if you managed this feat, you could nominate a fellow player to have a gentle sip of his-her beverage.   It seems  if you managed it three times in a row, you could make a rule. Hypothetically speaking this game could continue, much like cricket, for a considerable amount of time. I  assume that after a while, the rules became so complex that only the law students could continue.

It has been suggested to me that the typical rules  included:  Only sip with your  left hand, only point with your elbow, place your other hand on your head, recite the motto on the beer can without looking  (Castle lager, the taste that stood the test of time; Black label, America’s lusty, lively beer )  address everyone by student number, hop on one leg and every sentence had to include one Latin maxim- without repetition or hesitation.  I could envisage that once you got the hang of the rules, someone would get it in four times in a row. Apparently they could then change any rule they like.  

If you would like more details, please refer to the wikipedia entry for the simpler, cruder, American version, called quarters. 

Enter the software release naming convention game. 

 Start with a three letter acronym for a company name. Bounce coin.  Add another acronym. Bounce coin.  Add another acronym. Bounce coin. Add a pronoun as a prefix. Bounce coin. Add an arithmetical sequence. Bounce coin. Add decimal points. Bounce Coin. Randomly skip bits of the said sequence.  Bounce coin. Add a year to it that has no relevance to the year in which the software ships. Bounce coin. Add an X. Bounce coin. Add powered by. Bounce coin. Create an internal technical name with another three letter acronym and its own numbering system. Bounce coin. Create integration concept with another three letter name. Bounce coin.  Start again.  Use up all marketing budget printing new extra long business cards.

When I look around, most software companies play this game.  You may have seen the Microsoft parody on youtube. (tip Seth Godin)

There is a tremendous amount of work going on at SAP to develop a culture of simplicity in development.  This is goodness, but I think we need to take the coins off  the product naming folks and lock them in a room with the simplicity gurus-  No more coin bouncing until you know and live  the laws of simplicity.

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