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3 ways to know if you need a Dinovator

IT departments are a strange beast. Several years ago they were the most innovative department in most companies. They offered software solutions the business was not prepared for. However cloud, big data, IoT, etc. have accelerated in the last years faster than most in-house IT departments could handle. Some IT departments have more focused on putting processes in place to avoid talking to end-users than to actually helping the business compete faster and better. So how do you know if you are dealing with an IT dinosaur department or not?

1) speed of simple routine tasks

How fast can an IT department do simple tasks, e.g. open a firewall port, correct a misspelling on a website, add a user, add a subdomain, etc. If yours can turn around these tasks via automated solutions in minutes, you are top class. In hours, you are fine. However when we start talking about weeks or months then you definitely have an IT dinosaur department.

2) willingness to help the business

If your business has a problem, do you go to your IT department to ask for help on how IT might solve the problem and give the company a strategic advantage? Or on the contrary, the business has no other choice then to bring their own devices, use corporate credit cards to buy cloud resources, use external consultants, etc. because the last department that will listen to them is the IT department? Years of IT cost optimisations have pushed innovation out of some IT departments. If this sounds like yours: “IT dinosaur department”.

3)  attitute towards change

The world is innovating so fast that any business that wants to be competitive needs to embrace change. This means that waterfall methodologies no longer work. Lean, scrum, minimum valuable product, continuous deployment, etc., call it whatever you like. The reality is that if your attitude is that whatever you decide today will need to be changed tomorrow, you are doing the right thing. Few businesses can afford to make a five year IT plan any more. When the ink dries, it will be outdated. In a world were HP, Dell, IBM, Accenture, etc. need to reinvent themselves continuously or risk dying, what do you think will happen to other sectors? One mobile app like Uber, can create global chaos in an over-regulated sector like the taxi sector. There are too many sectors that have not been innovating and risk being disrupted, e.g. telecom, energy, logistics, financial services, retail, etc. If there is no attitude to embrace change, then you are at risk of becoming or already have become an IT dinosaur.

What is a dinovator?

A dinovator is a person that accepts that they work for or are at risk of becoming an IT dinosaur but don’t accept this reality. A dinovator will look for unproven, non-standard, and often risky technology solutions to apply to the current business challenges and will via prototypes demonstrate to others that there is a better future. A dinovator will not try to make slides and convince others. They know that some people still don’t have a smart phone and will probably never change their mind. A dinovator makes sure that others understand how cutting-edge technologies can give a company a unique advantage. Seeing is believing. If you would live in 1802, would you belief that one day the world would be jammed with cars, planes and smart phones? You would not. You would call a fool to anybody trying to convince you otherwise. However if somebody would show a prototype of a car to you, then you would have to belief that horses are not the only means of transportation. Only over time will you realise that traffic jams and F1 will be possible. But at least you stopped believing that horses will continue to have a monopoly. The world needs dinovators to show this message to telecoms, energy companies, transport companies, banks and insurers, super market chains, etc.

Everybody can be a dinovator

You don’t need to be technical to be a dinovator. If you are in a business position, just asking smaller or alternative suppliers to show different more innovative approaches will also work. Telecom operators have during years asked their suppliers to give them faster and cheaper networks. They did not ask with the same intensity for new revenue generating solutions. The end result is that their regular suppliers have been focusing all their energy on what the customer asked. If a customer does not ask for it, then a “well managed company” will not dedicate resources to it. It is the typical innovator’s dilemma. The end result is that the industry is shrinking and once super companies have no other choice then to consolidate and fire employees, e.g. Nokia just bought Alcatel Lucent. You have a choice. Either you wait for others to make your job irrelevant or you become a dinovator. If you are good at being a dinovator then pretty soon you will be able to call yourself and your company an innovator. Being an innovator is an attitude. So join the dinovator movement, tweet your dinovations to the world and include #dinovator @telruptive.

Henry Ford was wrong…

January 27, 2015 Leave a comment

Large IT and telecom companies are starting to get in trouble because they can’t keep up with the pace of innovation. Nokia lost out for missing the smartphone revolution. EMC/VMWare, Dell, HP, Vodafone, Sony, etc. are in danger of not keeping up. Why is it that large well managed companies go under? Christensen’s innovator dilemma explains that disruptive innovation is one of the causes. However there is no longer one specific innovation that these companies aren’t following. There seems to be an innovation tsunami going on at this moment: cloud, big data, IoT, bit coins, mobile, machine learning, 3d printing, Bluetooth, NFC, Arduino, super computers the size of credit cards a.k.a. micro-servers, etc. It feels like an army of innovators from 2100 have been transported to 2015. Big companies seem like native indians defending their land against armies with tanks, drones, machine guns, etc.

However what happens if we look deeper inside big companies and compare them to successful dotcoms? There is a striking difference in how both bring products to market. In small dotcoms designers, product managers, developers, BD/sales experts, marketing experts, business experts and domain knowledge experts are allowed to work together and to bring their skills together. In large organizations everything is structured around functions, i.e. marketing, sales, R&D, etc. Between each department there is a queue. Often glorified in some nice process to request something from the other departments. How many large companies can have a firewall port opened in less than two days at a request from marketing? Look at dotcoms and Google and co! They put new changes in production every day, hour, minute and even second. They can’t live with two days to open a firewall port. Why do companies belief that hiring an army of middle managers putting ridiculous processes in place is productive?
Does it actually work? Henry Ford told the world that specialists, put in production lines, are the most optimized way of working. We have been believing it ever since. However anybody that followed a training on lean will know that folding paper planes is faster if each person focuses on their plane than if they each specialise in one step. Toyota designed the Lexus by bringing experts from different parts of the company into one team. Amazon has pizza teams that are end to end responsible for a cloud service and get split when they can’t eat from two pizzas any more. It is time to restructure companies around bringing innovative products to market, growing market share and milking cash cows. No longer is there room for R&D, sales, finance, legal, etc. to hide behind obsolete processes. We need to see more innovation in large companies. We need multinational innovators or multivators. Lots of large companies are in danger of becoming obsolete. Only those IT companies that have consistently created internal competition and have known when to sell obsolete businesses have survived different innovation waves. Just compare IBM vs. HP. IBM sold its x86 server business, while it still could, in a clear signal to its employees that they better come up with some other innovation to fill the revenue gap. HP on the other hand keeps on milking their printer ink and x86 server business without a clear substitute on the horizon. Digital was bought by Compaq, Compaq by HP. Who is going to buy HP? Unless some Chinese IT vendor is still hungry, HP would do better in creating small tiger teams to find new revenue streams quickly…

Eliminating RFPs to make enterprise software sexy

November 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Today I had a meeting that could be the beginning of the end of RFPs to buy software. RFPs are the tool established buyers and vendors use to keep new entrants at bay. However I haven’t met anybody that says they love writing or responding to them. The effect of RFPs on software is perverse. The main problem is that you can’t ask if your software is beautiful, easy to use, fast to integrate, efficient, effective at solving a business problem, secure, etc. Instead you ask if you provide training, because you assume it is ugly and difficult. You ask if they offer consultancy services and an SDK or connector library because you assume it is difficult. You assume you need to customise it for months because it will not be effective out of the box. But most importantly since you will be stuck with the software for years, you ask if it supports any potential feature that perhaps in 5 years might be needed for 5 minutes. It is this last set of questions that kill any innovation and ease of use in business software. A product manager in the receiving end will get funding to add those absurd features when customers ask for them. A career limiting move would be to ask for budget to reduce useless features or tell that your product looks worse than Frankenstein.

So how can you make sure that software is beautiful, does what it supposed to efficiently and effectively, is fast, nimble, easy to use, secure, scalable, fast to integrate, is future proof, etc.? You do what you do when you buy a car, you go and ask the keys of different models and take them for a serious spin and put them to their limits.

So what you propose is a three months PoC for each potential solution?
No what I propose is being able to get your hands on all different alternative software solutions and deploying, integrating and scaling them in hours or even minutes and then release a bunch of automatic performance tests and rough end-users, even some ethical hackers or competitors.

If the software does what it says on the tin, is effective, efficient, beautiful, secure, fast, scalable, easy, etc. then you negotiate pricing or use it for a minimum valuable product.

It used to be impossible to do all of this in hours but with solutions to deploy quickly private clouds and cloud orchestration solutions like Juju, we are actually planning on trying this approach with a real customer and real suppliers. To be continued…

Ubuntu OpenStack is ruining executive careers in HP, RedHat, VMWare, etc.

November 5, 2014 Leave a comment

It is not often that one is responsible for cloud [and Big Data and IoT] strategy in a company of 600 people and you get told by the OpenStack foundation that your solution went from 55% market share to 64% while competitors like RedHat, HP, VMWare, etc. are spending hundreds [or more] of times more on marketing and engineering than you. Now I would love to claim responsibility for it but I would be lying. My mentors, Mark Shuttleworth and Simon Wardley, have laid the foundations years before I joined the company. But Ubuntu and Canonical, the company behind it, are the poster child example of why promoting chief financial officers into strategic roles in the last ten years was a terrible idea. Bean counters are about to inflict potentially irreparable damage onto iconic hardware and legacy software vendors. The reason is really easy: disruptive innovation. The innovator’s dilemma explained it years ago already. When some initial inferior technology comes along like Cloud Computing and OpenStack, then existing vendors will not get any demand from existing customers. Only when technology matures will customers start defecting en masse. But then already other companies have years of a head-start. Add to it that Ubuntu OpenStack is not only the most innovative solutions but also wants to be the most flexible [see our Autopilot, OIL, MAAS and Juju for more details] and the cheapest. So if you are on a quarter-based projected revenue track and you find out that your competitor is doing those three things extremely well, then it might be time to brush up those skills  and experiences on your CV. Regarding the future, let me just tell you that the best is still to come 🙂

Why you should care about Kubernetes, Juju, Mesos, etc.

July 13, 2014 2 comments

Every day a new orchestration solution is being presented to the world. This post is not about which one is better but about what will happen if you embrace these new technologies.

The traditional scale-up architecture
Before understanding the new solutions, let’s understand what is broken with the current solutions. Enterprise IT vendors have traditionally made software that was sold based on the number of processors. If you were a small company you would have 5 servers, if you were big you would have 50-1000 servers. With the cloud anybody can boot up 50 servers in minutes, so reality has changed. Small companies can manage easily 10000 servers, e.g. think of successful social or mobile startups.

Also software was written optimised for performance per CPU. Many traditional software comes with a long list of exact specifications that need to be followed in order for you to get enterprise support.

Big bloated frameworks are used to manage the thousands of features that are found in traditional enterprise solutions.

The container micro services future
Enterprise software is often hard to use, integrate, scale, etc. This is all the consequence of creating a big monolithic system that contains solutions for as many use cases possible.

In come cloud, containers, micro-services, orchestration, etc. and all rules change.

The best micro services architecture is one where important use cases are reflected in one service, e.g. the shopping cart service deals with your list of purchases however it relies on the session storage service and the identity service to be able to work.

Each service is ran in a micro services container and services can be integrated and scaled in minutes or even seconds.

What benefits do micro services and orchestration bring?
In a monolithic world change means long regression tests and risks. In a micro services world, change means innovation and fast time to market. You can easily upgrade a single service. You can make it scale elastically. You can implement alternative implementations of a service and see which one beats the current implementation. You can do rolling upgrades and rolling rollbacks.

So if enterprise solutions would be available as many reusable services that can all be instantly integrated, upgraded, scaled, etc. then time to market becomes incredibly fast. You have an idea. You implement five alternative versions. You test them. You combine the best three in a new alternative or you use two implementations based on a specific customer segment. All this is impossible with monolithic solutions.

This sounds like we reinvented SOA
Not quite. SOA focused on reusable services but it never embraced containers, orchestration and cloud. By having a container like Docker or a service in the form of a Juju Charm, people can exchange best practice’s instantly. They can be deployed, integrated, scaled, upgraded, etc. SOA only focused on the way services where discovered and consumed. Micro services focus additionally on global reuse, scaling, integration, upgrading, etc.

The future…
We are not quite there yet. Standards are still being defined. Not in the traditional standardisation bodies but via market adoption. However expect in the next 12 months to see micro services being orchestrated at large scale via open source solutions. As soon as the IT world has the solution then industry specific solutions will emerge. You will see communication solutions, retail solutions, logistics solutions, etc. Traditional vendors will not be able to keep pace with the innovation speed of a micro services orchestrated industry specific solution. Expect the SAPs, Oracles, etc. of this world to be in chock when all of a sudden nimble HR, recruiting, logistics, inventory, supplier relationship management solutions, etc. emerge that are offered as SaaS and on-premise often open source. Super easy to use, integrate, manage, extend, etc. It will be like LEGO starting a war against custom made toys. You already know who will be able to be more nimble and flexible…

Chief Disruption Officer

An online bookstore did not only redefine retail, content distribution and gave the postal services a second chance, it also is becoming the world’s data centre. The best way, to find out if the hot school girl is open for a new relationship, is now showing IT companies how to build servers & routers and telecom giants how people like to communicate. An online search and advertisement company has revolutionised how you find anything from text, images, location, etc. It redefined mobile computing together with a fruit-like branded company. It has global networks that even the biggest telecom incumbents can only dream off. It has cars that drive alone. Body accessories that puts science fiction authors next to historians.

At the same time stamps, travel agents, maps, telephone books, book publishers, bill boards, broadcasters, movie theatres, journalists, photo film, media storage, video cameras, taxi services, estate agents, high street shops, etc. have changed and not always for better.

If you work for a “traditional” company are you sure that in five years your company still is in business or can it be that some unknown small company launched a product that makes your company’s best products look like they belong in the history museum? Remember Nokia phones!!! Five years ago they had record sales…

If software disruptors have so much power, why aren’t companies hiring chief disruption officers. Senior executives whose goal it is to setup disruptive new product families that are owned by traditional players but are allowed to question any industry rules and launch cannibalising offerings often as independent companies.

It is a lot better that a big bank owns a bit coin exchange, a peer to peer lender, a crowd funded venture capitalist, a mobile payment provider, a micro payment cloud broker, a mobile app currency exchange, a machine learning financial adviser, etc. then being put out of business by any disruptive challenger.

Of course you can always copy the telecom model. Have everybody in your company look for potential cost reductions in the form of virtualized networks, squeezing (and killing) suppliers, etc. while your (mobile) broadband network is 12-36 months away from a data tsunami in the form of 4k streaming video, free mobile video calls, fitbits telling the cloud every minute (or second) your average heart beat and twenty other vital signs, free frequency crowd sourced mobile networks, etc. At a time where your business model has not seen a margin improvement in 10 years, your costs are exploding and your revenue will melt faster than ice in the Sahara.

Why don’t you think about hiring a chief disruption officer before you need to hire a chief miracle officer…

Disrupting Dinosaurs? Horizontal Scaling & Open Source are the answers

Why is it that a 5 people startup can bring an industry on its knees? There are many answers but open source and horizontal scaling are good answers. Traditionally companies have made solutions that were proprietary and optimised for deployments on a small number of expensive servers. It toke traditional IT departments quite some time to integrate those solutions and they would not touch them for multiple years. The result is that software companies would add a long list of features because customers wanted to be sure the future would be assured. These solutions would be “featureware”. The market leader would have a long list of features and could solve any problem given enough time and money. The more the better.

There is no better example than the telecom industry. Telecom solutions are overloaded with features, hard to use & integrate and as a result very expensive.

If you see this pattern as a disruptor or challenger then you should be extremely pleased. It means that brains can beat the dinosaurs.

How?
Make your solution open source and make it horizontally scalable. Why? Traditional software vendors optimised for specific expensive hardware. Their thinking is that to grow you need a bigger box. Their licences are expensive per socket so customers would be buying the biggest and most expensive servers possible.

If your solution however installs on any public or private cloud, scales horizontally and it is open source then customers that want to save costs (almost everybody in almost all industries!!!), will have their R&D departments try your solution. The temptation is just too big. Make your software easy to use by using the latest web technologies and by focusing on more is less, and you will be a winner.

Let me give you an example. Metaswitch is by all means a traditional telecom solution provider that has been playing according to the rules. One day however they decided that they wanted to be different. They made a open source ims solution (something all telecoms use to handle calls) and used the latest dotcom solutions like memcached and Cassandra. The result is that any telecom R&D department is now testing Clearwater. Via working with Canonical and their award winning open source product Juju, Clearwater will be able to deployed, integrated and scaled in minutes everywhere. So what traditional vendors do in 12 months for many millions you can now do for free in minutes. However nobody will put their solution in production hence customers will pay for a commercially supported version.

Does this only apply to telecom? No! In industrial domains, banking, retail, media, etc. there are many similar potential examples that are coming. Brains will win from Dinosaurs. So if you are willing to be a challenger and convert a billion dollar market into many millions but flowing to only one company, it has never been a better time to become a blue ocean strategist…

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