The rise of the IT “super genius”

The future of the IT organization?

The successful IT professional of 2020 will interact with users more like the Apple Genius Bar consultant does today…

What a quote from Joe Jorczak of Oracle Corporation (posted by Andy Jankowski earlier this Spring)!

One theme of his comments was that user-generated applications would arise from the mishmash of technologies available today, combined with the plethora of distribution channels for distributed, single-purpose apps.

In that scenario, users exploit the “salad bar” metaphor I like to use so much. They take what they want from available enterprise services and leave the rest behind.

Only beyond simply leveraging a Service-Oriented Architecture, Andy is proposing they increasingly build their own apps on those services… and the experienced CIO will now be asking “How should we support these apps?”

From salad bar to genius bar

Now, enterprise architects have envisioned the great IT salad bar (or more likely their own analogy) for ages…

    • before web services
    • before Java
    • before CORBA
    • before DCE

I figure the notion of mix-and-match, integrated systems ought to go back to the dawn of the network itself, if not earlier…

Similarly, we have endured many phases of “user-generated” applications. There were a few vendors of “plain English” programming languages who predicted them when I was in high school back in 1984!

What does it take to be a genius?

So whether it happens this time around or not, my question is what would it take to make IT into the “genius bar” for supporting user-generated applications?

Let me post a few ideas, and then you can add your own so we can chat about them (not in any particular order):

Super Genius

  1. What services we can get from the outside world, especially (but not always) for free, we need to catalog, stay abreast of changes and make available to these “apps”
  2. The services that are special to our organizations MUST become service-oriented… to make use of a given feature, apps don’t want to have the whole ERP system tag along
  3. We must take on a customer service (even a “retail service”) perspective if we are not already working on it, and we have to put in place ways to measure “true” customer satisfaction
  4. We have to think very carefully about how much “control” we really need, while we also build in flexibility and fluidity to support enabling these apps to flourish
  5. We must reset our notions of security and confidentiality to lock down and protect what we must secure, while intentionally and strategically exposing what is really not that proprietary anyway
  6. We have to uproot the idea that we can “manage demand” from our management philosophy – the industry changes, customer expectations change, and demand simply “is”

To be clear, these are not suggestions I think every IT organization must follow… they are ones that I see as necessary if the genius bar is in our future. What else do you think will change if we increasingly see user-generated applications in the future? Can you envision new roles and even new management structures?

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Unintentional “lies” in the software development field?

Beware the Chicken-a-saurus!

Marketing folks have learned a few things from software developers.

It is funny to me that developers often speak of marketing professionals as if they mainly lie to people about what they want to hear (or as if that were a moral thing).

I say that because it sometimes happens in our industry as well… maybe more often than we want to admit.

80% complete

I remember when I was just getting started in software… senior developers would report their tasks being 80% done… and remaining 80% done for weeks afterwards.

On better projects, they would report 80% complete on their first status report, and then 85%, 90%, etc.

And some of them couldn’t tell me what the “method of successive approximations” was. Go figure.

“Ready to ship” in 3 months

Or how about another example – that the software will be ready to ship in “N” months? In a recent MarketingProfs short, “How to Sift Through Unintentional Lies”, it cautions marketers to brace themselves for “one lie after another”.

It is worth reading, not so much to raise your hackles, but to learn about the perception we create in customers in whom we want to build an assessment of value. Though the article speaks about other domains than software, here is a fragment related to us, from their perspective:

No development team wants to miss a deadline—but it will happen. “There’s one project I’ve been watching that has literally been three months away from shipping for 18 months now,” notes Anthony. You’ll get more reliable estimates if you eschew a single, long development cycle for rapid cycles that produce a “minimal viable product” for testing and further augmentation.

[Bold emphasis mine. Again, please read the article at the source reference I included in the preceding lines.]

So there you have it… marketers asking for agile delivery of value. That’s pretty cool and a good place for us to work together on rebuilding trust.

Notice the article is careful to say the development team is not being malicious or intentionally deceitful.

I cannot remember a case where we have been, either. Most developers I know love to write software. We love to create and we love to solve puzzles… but let me highlight a third example before we close for the day.

Trusting each other

Now, there are explicit promises and implicit promises. In fact, it is the implicit promises that can do the most damage. You can try to disavow them easily or you may not even realize others think you made them in the first place.

In this case, DON'T read the manuals!

Have you ever made a promise to a teammate that you intended to keep, but failed in the end to keep? I know I have.

Did you ever “break the build” or overwrite someone else’s changes because of a merge conflict? I have done that, too.

Have you willingly taken on some task for a long time, and then just decided not to do it because it wasn’t really yours to do? Did anyone depend on it getting done, and did they know you stopped doing it?

Did you know you’d made a promise, or acknowledge the breakdown you produced? Not always, for me.

Do you think that failing to notice that you made a promise in the first place makes it any easier on the person you let down?

These are situations we create with our own teammates… and yet we sometimes try to diminish the importance of the cost we produce for others in failing to hold the promises we make.

Keeping promises requires professional attention

Many people write about agile methods being based on a notion of trust (including me). Quick releases, adaptive requirements, continuous integration, better testing and quick communication can go a long way to help us make and keep promises.

There are many levels in a project in which we make promises. They all count, especially in the eyes of those who accept our promises.

Keep the ones to your customers, but also keep the ones to your teammates.

Think about this – You may be committed to the top thing or two on your list, and everything else gets shifted around and de-prioritized. Though it makes you feel better to tell others you are over-committed, you may really be over-promising and failing to commit to the promises you make.

What hurts others also hurts your identity with them.