Thursday, May 21, 2009

BriefingsDirect analysts take pulse of newest era in IT: Corporate flat line or next Renaissance?

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Welcome to the latest BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcast, Vol. 41. Our latest discussion centers on the next era of information technology (IT). Suddenly, cloud computing is the dominant buzzword of the day, but the current confluence of trends includes much more.

There's business process management (BPM), business intelligence (BI), complex event processing (CEP), service-oriented architecture (SOA), software as a service (SaaS), Web-oriented architecture (WOA), and even Enterprise 2.0.

How do all of these relate? Or if they don't relate, is there a common theme? Is there an overriding uber direction for IT that we need to consider?

The cloud computing moniker just doesn't include enough and doesn't bring us to the next stage. In the words of Huey Lewis, we need a "new drug."

So join our panel of analysts to help dig into this current and budding new era of IT: Jim Kobielus, senior analyst at Forrester Research; Tony Baer, senior analyst at Ovum; Brad Shimmin, senior analyst, Current Analysis; Joe McKendrick, independent analyst and ZDNet blogger, and Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink. The chat is moderated by me, as usual.

Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Are we oversimplifying what's going on in IT by just calling everything new that's going on cloud computing?

Kobielus: Of course ... There is just too much stuff, too much complexity, too many themes, and too many paths for evolution and innovation.

Shimmin: ... The postmodern IT world is perhaps what we're living in. Maybe that's okay, where there is no really overriding sort of thematic vision to IT. ... My attempt with this is to describe just the zeitgeist I've seen over the last year or so, and that is just to call things ... "transparent computing."

IT resources and business solutions are becoming more visible to us. We're able to better measure them. We're able to better assess their cost-to-value ratio. At the same time, the physicality of those resources and the things that we call a business are becoming much more transparent to us and much more ethereal, in terms of being sucked into Amazon EC2, for example. ... Application programming interfaces (APIs) have made things much more transparent than they were.

McKendrick: Perhaps computing has become so ubiquitous to our everyday lives and our everyday work that it no longer needs to carry a name. We don't call this era the "telephone era" or the "television era." For that matter, we don't call it the "space age" anymore. The novelty and the newness of all this is worn off.

Computing is such an everyday thing that folks understand. At the same time, the IT folks are beginning to understand the business a little bit better and we're seeing those two worlds being brought together and blending.

Schmelzer: We could say that we're still floating through the information era, but ... I'm going to bring back the drug theme here. We like to self-medicate in IT. We have these chronic problems that we seem to be continuously trying to solve.

They're the same problems -- getting systems to talk to each other, to extract information, and to make it all work. We try one drug after the other and they provide these short-term fixes. Then, there's the inevitable crash afterward, and we just never seem to solve the underlying problem.

Gardner: Is this really a psychological shift then? Do we need to stop thinking about how technology is shifting and think about how people are shifting? I think that people are acting differently than they used to.

Schmelzer: ... There is a digital divide, and I'm not talking about the parts of the country that have more IT than the other. I'm talking about the experience at home and the experience at work.

When I step into work, I'm turning the clock back 10 years. I have this wonderful, rich IT environment on my own at home and on my phone. Then, I see these enterprise IT systems that had very little in the way of influence from any of these movements from the last 10 years. It's like the enterprise IT environment is starting to stagnate quite a bit from the personal IT environment.

... If we had to do it all over again, would we really be building enterprise IT systems -- or would we be doing it the way Google is doing it? Google would just be laughing at us and saying, "What are you doing putting in these mainframes and these large enterprise applications that take X millions of dollars and multiple years and you only achieve 10 percent of your goals and only use 5 percent of the system you just built? That's just hilarious."

Kobielus: What you're hitting on is that there is this disconnect between what we can get on our own for ourselves and what our employer provisions for us. That causes frustration. That causes us to want to bolt, defect from an employer who doesn't empower us up to the level that we absolutely demand and expect.

Shimmin: This is representative of what I'm seeing in my area of research, which is in collaboration, social computing, that stuff. Most of the vendors have got the traditional, on-premise software, and they're all putting it in the cloud.

They're also saying to me, in their go-to market schemes, "We're trying to take IT out of the picture, at least at the outset." They're seeing IT as a roadblock to getting these technologies into the enterprise. The [business] people in the enterprise realize they want it. The worker bees in IT realize it, but IT's hands are strapped.

Schmelzer: You ask people, "Well, do you want a 42-inch plasma television in your house? Do you want TiVo? Do you want the latest MacBook and the latest iPhone?" Something like 90 percent of the people are going to say, "Yes." They want the GPS. They want all that stuff.

So what is it about enterprise IT? It's not the technology that they're blocking. It's this complexity. And it's not just the complexity. It's this perception that enterprise IT is a nonconstructive hassle. So they look at Google and they think, "Ah, constructive, productive." They look at enterprise IT, and they think, "Barrier, bottleneck."

McKendrick: ... When it first became apparent that GM and Chrysler were on the skids, Andrew McAfee of Harvard posted this proposal to help these companies. If he were given the option to rebuild one of

It's essentially mocking the investments that this company has made. You spent millions of dollars on something that you could have gotten in the cloud for pennies per hour. That's a disruptive force in IT.

these companies from the ground-up, he would go in with a very strong social networking system, enabling the folks that are working on the front lines, assembly, production, sales, marketing, and so forth to communicate with each other real time, on a regular basis, to find out what everybody is doing, and to build the base of knowledge to move the company forward.

Gardner: So, we don't have a generation gap. We have a corporation gap. The corporations have a huge burden of trying to move and do anything, whereas individuals or small companies or people that are aligned by their social networks can move swiftly.

Kobielus: ... Auto companies of necessity are chained to platforms. It's the basic chassis and design and the internal guts in terms of the transmission and engines and so forth for a wide range of models. When they make a commitment to a given platform, they're stuck with it.

Gardner: Well, the same can be said for your enterprise IT department, right?

Kobielus: Yes ... When some cheaper, more lightweight solution, maybe in the cloud, comes along, the users can get it quickly and more cheaply. It's essentially mocking the investments that this company has made. You spent millions of dollars on something that you could have gotten in the cloud for pennies per hour. That's a disruptive force in IT.

Shimmin: IT's challenge is to be able to allow those [changes] to happen and to encourage them to happen without locking them down, controlling them, and destroying their ability to make people in the enterprise more productive and flexible.

Gardner: The technology needs to be there, but perhaps doesn't need to be visible. The transparent notion that Brad has makes sense, or maybe we need to be the "post-IT era." The IT has to be there, but under the covers, convenience and information become essential, along with the ability of people to act on it.

Schmelzer: ... Really what we're doing is empowering individuals within the organization to have greater control over their use and provisioning of IT capabilities.

They're shifting it away from these central oligarchies of enterprise systems that have had way too much control and way too little flexibility. ... Technology is making information accessible to all, for all to leverage.

I like these populist movements in IT. Once again, just remember your IT experience at home and how much you would wish it would be in your work environment.

Gardner: So, perhaps technology, habits, and the cloud are shifting sovereignty away from countries, companies, and even groups based on geography. ... Having power is now shifting down to amorphous groups and even individuals.

... It's interesting. Just as we're embracing cloud, we're also seeing that, if you have a couple of mainframes, you can create a cloud. You could provide services out to a public constituency, or you could take your old mainframe inside the enterprise and put some new hubcaps on it.

Schmelzer: ... That's the irony of it. In order to get reuse, which is what people talk about all the time, you have to have legacy. Just think, if you're never keeping anything around long enough, you're never going to get reuse. But, having legacy doesn't necessarily mean also not spending a lot on new things, which is the weirdness of it. Why is it that we're soaking up so much of the IT budget on legacy, if we're not creating anything new?

There's something malfunctional in the way that we're procuring IT that's preventing us from getting the primary benefit of legacy, which is extracting additional value from an existing investment, so that we can make the old dog get new tricks and get new capabilities provisioned on a cloud, without having to invest a huge amount in infrastructure.

Shimmin: To me, whether it's mainframe or a bunch of PCs on Google's data center doesn't matter. What matters is what it does. If we're able to make our existing mainframes do new tricks, that's really great, because it allows us to make use of investments we've already made.

That's why, when I look at things like SaaS, I see it being more beneficial to the vendors who are providing those services than to the customers using them. Instead of having something they can depreciate over time, they just have to pay it out every month like a telephone bill. You don't ever own your services -- you're just paying for them, like leasing a car versus owning a car.

Baer: Theoretically, if the cloud is done right, and if we use all the right enabling underlying architectures and technologies, we should theoretically be able to get the best of both worlds.

Gardner: I think I've come up with a word for us. If we look at what happened perhaps 500 or 600 years ago, there was a collective word that came to represent it. It was called Renaissance.

Are we perhaps at a point where there is a renaissance from IT? Even though we thought we were enabled or empowered, we really weren't. Even though we thought that centralized and lock-down was best, it wasn't necessarily. But it wasn't until you got the best of all worlds that you were able to create an IT-enabled Renaissance, which of course cut across culture and language, individuals, even the self-perception of individuals and collectively.

Baer: Just as long as we don't have to go through the Black Plague before it.
Read a full transcript of the discussion.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rise of WebKit advances mobile Web's role, opens huge opportunity for enterprise device developers

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Read a full transcript of the discussion.

Bringing enterprise applications effectively out to mobile devices has required some harsh trade-offs for developers. To gain access to devices, you lose functionality and portability, for example.

But thanks to the sizable impact that the Apple iPhone and its WebKit browser have had in the market -- and the lure of new business opportunities around mobile application stores -- the mobile Web has suddenly become more attractive and attainable for mainstream developers.

Such technologies as HTML 5, Android, WebKit and advances in scripting and open source tools are allowing developers to target mobile devices better than ever.

To learn more about how the development field for mobile Web applications is shaping up and how targeting the modern mobile Web browser may be removing some of the harshness from the trade-offs of the past, I recently assembled a panel of development experts.

Join me and Stephen O'Grady, founder and analyst at RedMonk; Wayne Parrott, vice president for product development at Genuitec, and David Beers, a senior wireless developer at MapQuest as we unpack the mobile Web.

Here are some excerpts:
O'Grady: For the first time, users have a real Web experience, as opposed to a stripped-down, bare-bones site in terms of what they can experience via the mobile Web. We need to pair the environmental and contextual factors with the advances that we've seen in the devices themselves. They've all come together to give us a rich and deep experience that will allow us to do things that we haven't been able to do before with the devices.

... When you're an enterprise vendor or a consumer vendor looking to target a volume audience, the fact is that there are a lot more mobile devices than there are desktops and laptops. There are mobile devices all over the planet. ... A lot of folks who might have traveled in the past and had applications like Siebel built into their laptops are now very often using those in a handheld or, in some cases, a netbook. So, economics, in terms of the application price and the volume audience that can be targeted is a big factor.

Gardner: How does an organization like MapQuest handle this whole issue of so many choices on that endpoint?

Beers: It's both a problem and an opportunity. From a developer's standpoint, and I am a developer, it's obviously difficult, because the amount of energy that you put in is divided across all of these different platforms. You have to make difficult decisions about developing the features you want ... and perhaps limiting the [device] targets that you're able to reach.

... On the positive side, fragmentation is a pejorative term that we use for differentiation. It's painful for developers, but we can't pretend that it's all a bad thing, because it's really driven by rapid innovation. A lot of the fragmentation that we see out there is because we've got these capabilities now on handsets.

Parrott: ... Both higher-end horsepower on the smartphones and a much better browsing experience or engine are now showing up on the iPhone-class machines. The programming model that is now available enables a whole new class of Web-type applications, which, in the past, has been reserved for native applications.

... As you start to move forward with the WebKit-type browsers now more prevalent on these smarter phones, it's starting to represent a more common platform that we have a choice to target our application functionality toward.

Beers: Mobile has been something that's been part of MapQuest right along. It comes in the nature of our business, which is getting people from A to B. So, it's intrinsically mobile oriented.

A lot of what we've been doing in the last couple of years has been developing what we've been calling native applications here. ... As to the question of HTML 5 and how this changes the picture for companies like MapQuest, we're beginning to see that these capabilities make it so that we can take technology that powers the website that people use on their desktop and repurpose that very quickly to provide a beautiful and powerful Ajax Web experience on modern smartphones.

We found that, considering the amount of development and energy that's gone into making our native applications, and has gone into the mobile website that we have out there right now, what it took to get a great application on the iPhone was minimal. It was very impressive.

... It's not just a mobile Web story. We see companies like Palm coming out with essentially native application environments that use those tools for the presentation layer. That brings up all kinds of very interesting and productive new models for releasing essentially a native application that has really rich access to the underlying features on the device -- things like GPS and the accelerometer. That's also a very exciting application model for companies like MapQuest to look at.

... You're starting to see phones that essentially will have two tiers on them. You're going to see developers having a choice to say, "Do I want to be operating completely in JavaScript and exercise my skills there in the WebKit environment, or do I want to have some of the application logic below that, perhaps in a Java environment, where it's essentially being a local server on the device for the presentation layer on top?"

You start to combine those things, and it allows all kinds of different components that are out there and that have been driving the innovation in the Internet to come into play on mobiles in ways that we haven't seen before.

Parrott: Obviously, one of the forces driving us has been enterprise organizations that want to move to the mobile Web. ... What they're pushing us for is, "How do we get there from here?" They already have a lot of their own infrastructure and resources in place, but moving that to the mobile Web has been a challenge for them.

[Now ] you have what we call the Mobile Web Programming Model so that you can now build some very sophisticated functionality that you run directly in the browser. You have to be educated about what you want to run local. Do you want to serve static content or do you want to push functionalities directly to the particular smartphone device?

We're servicing both -- helping educate and provide tooling and educational services for both Web developers and traditional enterprise developers -- Java developers who are moving over, bringing their programming know-how and experience, and applying that to dynamic Web applications.
Read a full transcript of the discussion.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Role and perception of enterprise architects needs to align better with business goals, Open Group panel discovers

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Read a full transcript of the discussion.

The role of enterprise architecture (EA) has never been more important, and never have IT departments had to be as responsive to the businesses they support as now. So how are enterprise architects perceived in a daunting economic recession, as saviors or door stops?

During a recent panel discussion, at The Open Group's 22nd annual Enterprise Architecture Practitioner's Conference in London, England, this question was probed. "Resisting Short-term Thinking: Rationalizing Investments in Enterprise Architecture During a Recession" uncovered surprising insights into how enterprise architects can help businesses and IT departments, especially during periods of turmoil.

The challenge for EA is to be able to balance the long-term goals against the pressing short-term needs of the business. There are intense commercial pressures right now to reduce costs at a time when capital expenditure is severely constrained. Operational efficiency has become an imperative, but agility and speed to market are equally as important. How to reconcile the short-term needs with the long-term goals? Can they be done simultaneously? Can the architects bridge the two?

To better understand how IT and business can better support each other, with architects as the leads, please listen or read as noted IT journalist and analyst Kevin White, contributing editor to Computer Business Review in the UK, as he moderates the panel.

Guests include Henry Peyret, principal analyst at Forrester Research; Phil Pavitt, the group CIO for Transport for London; Thomas Obitz, a principal architect at Infosys; Mike Turner, enterprise architect at Capgemini, and Terry Blevins, a senior principal information systems engineer at MITRE and Open Group Customer Council Board member.

Here are some excerpts:
White: In a downturn, there is a natural tendency to accentuate the tactical, short-term initiatives, and EA arguably is inherently long-term. This is a crucial issue of how you balance that long-term architectural goal against the short-term needs of the business.

Pavitt: ... Suddenly, I can see where EA actually become a critical part. Taking our standards and designs, because they're common across the business, becomes a very efficient way to operate and to run.

So my role as CIO, it is to demonstrate to the business that we can add value, and that value is primarily helping them with their business needs, as it ever was, but now helping them in a way that's cost-effective and frees up cash on other things.

In this last year, the project meetings I've been to, where the respective project director says, "And that will be $X million over 12 years, etc.," all those conversations have gone. It's much shorter values over much shorter times. The day of the big program is dead. The day of the big outsource is dead.

The understanding of our architectural process that's going to apply to that is a critical interpretation that CIO and his office will do for the business. Otherwise, they will go for "short-termism."

Obitz: EA clearly becomes a tool for strategic business transformation. ... Enterprise architects are changing their positioning, and that means that the value that the organizations are expecting out of them is changing, and also, the way they are talking about value and how they are proving value.

... What is EA good for? It's an approach for solving the problems of an organization. As we say, the problems are here and now. ... You need to identify architectural approaches to solve them. And, you need to start gradual change right now. So, yes, you are capable of demonstrating a long-term path, but you are creating value in the short-term.

Basically, as enterprise architects what we need to change in our overall approach is that we need to go away completely from this architectural approach, which is about, "We build a big picture of how we could imagine things work and then implement that over a long time," to "What's an approach that's issue-driven." We need to identify where the issues of the organizations are today, identify what needs to change, and then consolidate that into the big picture.

[Architects] need to understand how decisions are made at the top level, and they need to have an approach of presenting what he's doing and what he suggests in a way that is understandable and traceable for the most senior decision makers in the organization. We're basically moving toward management consulting.

White: EA has to make an impact, a business impact. What other ways can we accelerate fast impact programs, where there is a necessary focus on operational efficiency, productivity, and cost reduction?

Turner: One of the real opportunity areas that EA is uniquely placed to deal with is working across silos. IT could be one of those silos, but there's any number of other silos within the business, across HR, finance, and different parts of operations. EA is a fantastic tool to be able to consult a wide variety of stakeholders about a particular market change, get a consensus viewpoint about that, and really have to define the responses across the whole organization.

... The worst thing you could do in any crisis situation is to allow fragmentation and different parts of the business to go and try different strategies. You may be cutting cost in one area and trying to increase value in a different area. You end up conflicting with each other and ultimately creating more tension and having a destructive impact on the business.

Peyret: Currently, there is a trend to rationalize everywhere, to try to decrease the cost. Obviously, it's the right time to score applications and be able to say, "Okay, I would like to cancel and kill some of those systems that are expensive, that cost a lot, are not maintainable, are not sustainable for the long-term, and many other things like that."

At the same time, I also see some industries in which IT is becoming more important, and where some of the business will be done with IT involvement. ... I see some innovation, and one of the roles obviously of EA is to help businesses bring that innovation in at a right time. We have seen some of those mistakes in the past.

Pavitt: ... I do agree with the sentiment that's been expressed here: get to know your customers. I've been frustrated with my own EA team time and time again. They are politically naive. As a CIO, I meant to be one of the sharpest political operators in my business, not because my business is particularly more political than anybody else's, but I'm the one who operates horizontally.

I'm the one who can be used as an excuse for every other department's failure, whether I've caused it or not. I'm the one in my company who is measured 1.7 million times every hour when someone presses the Enter button. We're the only department that's measured that often in real time of any other team in the company.

Recognizing value in terms of what the customer, in our case the actual user, wants is critical. EA should be much more physical, politically savvy, and much closer to their customers. This is not a visit once a month.

Most of my EAs will end up in the business in the next six months, not in IT. I'll force them to be in the business, because I've asked them to do it nicely. Then they'll judge even more the value they can contribute. Of course, if the business then doesn't value them, they would do something about it.

Obitz: ... Enterprise architects need to put rigor into how they justify and explain the value of what they are doing. ... Enterprise architects ... need to take a different approach. The typical IT architect approach, "I do this because I think this is best practice," is something that nobody outside a team has ever accepted as a measure that is presentable.

If they are very rigorous and are collecting data about what they're doing, collecting data about the business value they're influencing and enabling for the whole organization, and if they are collecting data on how they're accepted and involved with the work of the remaining organization, then 85 percent are capable of justifying the work of the EA team.

You need to put in this work. It's extra work, admin work, and it's boring. Enterprise architects don't want to do that. They need to talk about it. If an EA team doesn't report metrics on a regular basis, they're not recognized as a value source in the organization.
Read a full transcript of the discussion.

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TIBCO Spotfire 3.0's features bring strategists closer to real-time human-from-data decision-making

If the last six months have proven anything to business strategists, it's that corporate agility is not just a "nice to have." Being able to adjust massively complex businesses at the drop of a market index is clearly imperative.

But just how to act when the signs point to the need for rapid adjustment? Quality -- not necessarily quantity -- determines the winning response to unanticipated market and economic shifts.

So TIBCO Software's release today of Spotfire 3.0, the visualization analytics solution, comes at a great time. The platform's new features are designed to significantly improve integration of the structured data sets to be analyzed and viewed, improve how developers build analytics applications, and scales in terms of volume and speed to the demands of global companies. [Disclosure: TIBCO is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Spotfire 3.0 lets uses expand Spotfire applications into additional business areas, and also allows new classes of users to tap the Spotfire data visualization experience, says the company. The integration benefits include simplified connectivity to SAP, Oracle, Siebel, and business applications data. Spotfire 3.0 works in tandem with TIBCO Spotfire Application Data Services to bring the data assets from these business applications into the visualization and distribution process.

The types of data views Spotfire produces augment, but don't replace traditional business intelligence (BI) values. Furthermore, these easily customized data visualization applications can be used by many kinds of workers -- or via the web by customers and partners -- whereas BI usually requires the intermediaries of seasoned SQL or other query tools analysts. You'll need and want to be able to do both BI and ad hoc data visualizations.

More and better data put into easily and quickly accessed and understood produces a value that has never been more important. Quick and ubiquitous access to the fruits of data assimilation and analysis (with proper enterprise-class security and access control) not only helps companies and leaders make good decisions, it helps validate and adjust those decisions in near real-time. Nowadays, it's not enough to have a good bead on a strategy or shift, you need to have the convincing data available to prove and re-prove the actions and strategy. And then repeat.

The latest Spotfire release comes on the heels of last year's improvements in mashups support, real-time data and business process integration, new visualization methods and predictive analytics. These have helped companies leverage their investments in complex event processing (CEP) capabilities and enterprise service buses (ESBs). I wouldn't be surprised to see some ability to leverage the Spotfire analytics in the context of business process modeling (BPM) at some point in the future.

So far the visualization benefits of Spotfire apply to structured data, but bringing a richer mix into the visualization landscape can be done via third parties and various data and content assimilation methods. Bringing more content into the process will, of course, grown more important over time, especially as we enter the cloud era -- with valued data and information available from more sources in more formats.

Indeed, the newest Spotfire includes a Web services connector to tap many additional applications and data sources. "An integrated caching layer also dramatically speeds up data access from slow data sources by pre-loading common views and eliminating or reducing the need to create data warehouses or data marts," says TIBCO.

TIBCO Spotfire 3.0 is available now. For more information