Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Internet of Things & me - still fun after all these years!

I attended Hong Kong's first 'Internet of Things' forum  a few weeks back. I have to say, I was underwhelmed by the event! It was like time travel back to 2002: 

Late in 2002, Kurt Kammerer and Tim Schideler founded a company called VI Agents. A few months later I had joined them, and together we came up with a conceptual designed for the world's first 'Sensor-as-a-Service' platform, although we didn't call it that back then. We were asked to come up with a design for British Telecom's nascent 'Auto ID' service driven by a belief that RFID tags would become the ubiquitous method of tracking all sorts of things: from sea containers to trains to cattle.

Our idea was to take a business scenario view opportunity rather than a technology one. We believed that the solution needed to be signalling-technology agnostic (i.e.not tied to RFID nor the Electronic Product Code architecture) and, as a multi-tenant web-based platform, we needed to be easy for customers to integrate with. And being a very small start-up, we wanted to leverage Open technologies and lowest possible cost software engineering expertise.  Kurt and I were the main ideas guys: Kurt drawing on his background in software agent technologies and me contributing a tracking-objects-anywhere design pattern I'd been working on since working at DHL, and had embellished, while working for Hutchison Ports.

Kurt and I first met as a result of the post-9-11 activities started by US Customs in an attempt to prevent Weapons of mass destruction arriving at the shores of the US. At that time Kurt,was still the MD of Living Systems AG in Germany who specialized in software agent-based platforms for electronic trading  and I was a member of a project team at  Hutchison Port Holdings Ltd. who were implementing RFID solutions for securing sea containers. My bosses in Hong Kong wanted me to come up with a suggestion for moneytizing the investment in RFID technologies, so I dusted-off a simple parcel track design pattern from my days at DHL and used it my initial mental canvas for something that became a concept called 'Super Track' (only because I lacked the imagination to call it anything else!). 

British Telecom's R&D team had got wind of our idea and invited us to write a proposal that outlined the concept - a few weeks later we started to develop the early prototypes of what would become the Vi SixD SaaS platform - the world's first Cloud-based, user configurable, 'track-anything' service.

Jumping forwards several years, like most start-ups, VI SixD didn't make us a fortune - mostly because RFID didn't really take off as predicted. SixD did, however, earn its spurs with a few niche clients, most notably a specialist logistics firm who provide services to the US military; SixD was used to track supplies from the USA going to war zones in the Middle East for several years.  I'd do it all over again, given the chance!  It turns out the design patterns we developed in its gestation have been extremely useful in a wide variety of contexts - so much so that Carl Bate and I ended up describing how they applied to information sharing challenges in the UK's Criminal Justice System and helped transform a retail bank, among many others. It also introduced me to the concept of Event Processing (complex and simplified) and I was able to reuse event design patterns at Royal Mail and Yodel.

Early in 2013, l found myself back Hong Kong and working within the Energy industry with a focus on Smart Grid. Energy companies worldwide are scrambling to execute technology pilots of a new breed of machine-to-machine devices that will make the power grid more resilient, bi-directional and smart enough to conserve energy and, at the same time, meet growing demand & meet emission targets. 

So, here I am, back working in the IoT/m2m space. This time however, I'm focused on business transformation and staging the deployment of a complex Smart Grid architecture over the next 10+ years. Hopefully, I'll be retired by the time its fully realised, but I'm happy to be playing a part in making IoT a reality.

Anyone want to chat about the subject - please feel free to comment! Thx.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Whole-Brained Business Analysis - New Metaphor Required

I've been guilty using the much debated 'Left vs Right brain' metaphor to explain what I believe is needed. By way of example, Alec Sharp (@alecsharp), Sally Bean  (@Cybersal), Roy Grubb  (@roygrubb) and I have been Tweeting about Concept Modeling vs Concept Mapping. Alec is keen to get Data Modelers to abstract their thinking up from physical Data Models by thinking conceptually and I have been encouraging Business Analysts to think similarly when gathering requirements. This has meant that we both find that we need to introduce a different mindset: one that encourages more creative & inclusive discussion atthe initial   discovery and play-back stage of the Requirements-Solution Design journey. I expect the Agile/XP community will declare this to be their philosophy (and nothing new) and they're probably right. But rather than get caught-up in 'IT-centric' methods, I'd rather think of it as a way to better understand any requirements for change - regardless of the Software Development Life-Cycle. I'd rather see such thinking applied to all aspects of business change - people, process, practice, policy and ... technology.

Tried-and-tested analytical techniques should not be abandoned, they just need to be augmented with others that, in my experience, help expand ideas and produce resilient, coherent and business-value-creating solutions.  Both side of the equation are equally important. However, I'm finding (through experiment) that the more creative techniques are more engaging - simply more fun and inclusive - and, this alone, can, in my recent experience, dramatically improve business outcomes. 

In attempts to explain the need for a more 'whole-brained' approach, I've been following the lead of the 'Design Thinking' community in referring to both Theory X and Theory Y from MIT Sloan and the Left-brain Right-brain metaphor. This, however, is fraught with problems due, in large part to the findings of the University of Utah who debunk such binary thinking (as I was reminded by Rob England - @theitskeptic).

So I'm in a quandary: on the one hand I find that an X-Y, Left-Right, metaphor is a simple way to convey the difference between, say, Analysis vs. Synthesis, on the other hand, however, I run the risk of aligning with outdated concepts being fundamental reconsidered by neuroscientists. 

I guess the Complexity Science community might say that I'm talking about the difference between 'Complex Adaptive'  vs. 'Complicated' systems, but, again, academic debate makes coming up with a simple metaphor next to impossible.

Has anyone found an alternative metaphor for a more balanced approach to Business Analysis and Enterprise Architecture?

Importantly, I'm keen to avoid the impression that people are to be seen as fundamentally one way or another. My observation is that it is the practice of Business Analysis/Enterprise Architecture that needs to be more 'Whole-brained' - not the individuals per se.

To get the discussion rolling, I'd like to hear views on:
  • A good Business Analyst or Enterprise Architecture must be a balance of Left-X(Reliability - Doing-things-Right) and Right-Y (Validity – Doing-the-right-thing)
  • We've spent to much time of methods that attempt to industrialise EA (the TOGAF 9.0 manual runs to around 800 pages in the attempt) and BAs are too often focused on methods focus on an 'IT solution' rather that the Whys and Whats of the current or desired business behavior
  • We need to spend more time on developing pattern-based storytelling skills in BAs and EAs to deliver break-through changes and allow for innovation in TO-BE models.
  • Economic churn and environmental challenges warrant more Y-minded thinking (with appropriate X-controls)
  • The world can't be fully explained or governed algorithmically (thank god!)– not while values and trust dominate the way organisations function.