Saturday 11 January 2014

Sustainable software

It's almost trite to say we're living in a time of unparalleled change, especially in the digital sector.  The evidence is all around in the many business sectors reinventing themselves around digital models, there is sustained interest in entrepreneurship to fuel further change [entrepreneur porn] and predictions that 2014 will be the start of a global market place for particularly digital talent.

Even five years ago a simple marketing website was sufficient for many businesses, customers now expect to not only to buy online, but also make returns, reserve goods or track delivery using desktop, mobile and tablets.  Organisations need to pay attention to SEO across all platforms, user journeys, social media and as barriers to entry fall, monitor new technology developments that will spawn competitors that didn't exist two years ago.  

Increasingly many businesses are finding they are digital businesses as well as traditional businesses.  However for many of the same businesses "IT" was something bought in externally: an agency for your website; an ERP provider; or a payment systems specialist.  For larger companies consultancies did much of the work of linking these systems together.  

As technology becomes central to much of what businesses do, how they engage with it needs to change.  It's no longer a case of buying upgrades on a three or five year cycle, but a continuous investment requiring full time attention.  This post argues that many business are now in technology for the long term and that fundamental changes in thinking are needed to develop a sustainable digital future.  

How do organisations move from periodic investments to sustainable software?  Below four key topics are identified that businesses need to consider when embarking on technology-led change management.  


To deliver results a digital strategy needs to be flexible and analytics driven and above all built for the long term.  Lean Startup is an emerging branch of management thinking that has grown out of digital business practice.  It asserts that a startup is any endeavour started under conditions of extreme uncertainty.  At launch it's very difficult to predict how a customer will engage with your product (if at all) and which parts of the service will really take off.  In response businesses should launch Minimum Viable Products, (the smallest possible service for the minimum possible investment) and then rapidly extend the product, whilst rigorously measuring what works and what doesn't.  Where an idea doesn't gain traction be prepared to 'pivot' your product rapidly to one with more potential.   

Lean Startup immediately challenges how most businesses engage with their technology providers.  Historically most engagements are discreet projects with signed off requirements, fixed costs and fixed schedules.  Can your business really predict in advance if the requirements agreed are the right ones?  If the annual digital budget has been sunk into a single project, how will you react when customers hate your site registration policy? 

Organisations need to consider carefully how they fund their technology systems and what the balance of in house vs. bought in services is.  Where companies use external partners be clear about what the objectives are: technology skills; access to the latest ideas; or training?  Will the investment be project based or a long term partnership?  

Agile development

Increasingly the standard approach for software development, Agile has emerged over the last 15 years, promoting a focus on incremental delivery of working software rather than volumes of up front documentation or large single releases.   In many ways agile was really the first management response to the change unleashed by the digital age and it remains the underpinning of all other strategies.  With the ability to rapidly update web sites or app stores with new versions of software, the already useful Agile approach really reaps benefits, not only can organisations quickly develop new versions of software, with the Internet they can now rapidly deliver them to end customers and start to understand how real customers start to respond to changes in the product.  This approach is called incremental delivery.


The benefits of incremental investment and delivery give organisations the ability to quickly change a product in response to how customers use it.  In order to decide what to put in the next release organisations must actively learn from the last one.  As incremental delivery has become wide spread models have emerged for learning from each delivery.  

Dave Maclure developed Startup Metrics for Pirates and Eric Ries conceived Lean Startup to show how to measure each release and conduct experiments (A/B tests) to find out what works and what doesn't.  Impossible without incremental delivery and instant Internet-based distribution, measurement fundamentally changes the software investment lifecycle.  One-off waterfall investments no longer make any sense as Ries and McClure demonstrate to find out what works and capitalise on it requires ongoing investment not a single hit.  The answer is to keep product developments lean and agile saving money for ongoing investment rather than spending all the budget on a single release.  


As digital becomes more widespread, incremental development starts to become accepted and measurement and experimentation drive product road maps towards continued development of products the organisation needs to change to make software development sustainable.  Development is no longer a discrete activity, but a continuous process that is core to the life of the organisation.  

Organisations, that in the past may not have considered themselves in the technology business now have to consider how they fund technology development, whereas existing technology businesses must ensure they keep ahead of nimble new competitors.   

New organisation structures are emerging that show how to build a flexible technology workforce that is able to change and adapt as business opportunities present themselves.  

In an influential paper, Spotify, describe how to scale Agile by creating 'squads' focused on particular parts of their platform - each squad is designed to operate like a mini-startup responsible for it's own destiny and able to develop their part of the platform as they see fit.  

Valve, the games company published their staff training manual online.  Their culture has the lightest possible management structure with staff deciding what they want to work on and having no defined managers.  

The company I worked at for almost a decade, RM, evolved similar highly focused an autonomous teams led by a Creative Lead, Technology Lead and Project Manager who ensure all parts of a solution were in balance - although not identical,  this model was very similar to the squad structure later adopted by Spotify.   

Each of these initiatives shows how management theory is adapting to knowledge work in the software industry.  Developers have been frustrated for many years that often the only way to grow their careers is to move into people management.  The irony of this is that technologists tend to require little people management, are self motivated and thrive when left to solve technology problems.  Organisations are starting to realise that being a technologist is an end in itself to be rewarded and developed.  Bersin by Deloitte summarises how companies need to change their career and reward structures to develop highly skilled knowledge workers and not divert them to careers in people management. 

Sunday 1 December 2013

Convergence and divergence (again) part 1

In 2000 I wrote an article for PACT Magazine, at the time 'convergence' was the buzzword associated with digital media. It was thought that the web brought a convergence between technology and content. As web use took off it was expected that the as long as one had content, it could be re-used easily across PC, digital TV and mobile phone (at the time WAP was the emergent standard for mobile internet access). The vision of 2000 rapidly faded as it became clear that at the time digital TV and mobile browsing were poor relations to personal computer for web browsing and that people used them in different ways. Today as serious mobile browsing platforms have become established and the industry has got excited again about the internet on TV it's time to look again at 'convergence'. I

Tipping point
Morgan Stanley suggest global shipments of Smartphones exceeded PCs for the first time in 2012, this implies a big change in the way the internet is accessed and potentially the needs of customers. Mobile browsing and mobile commerce are likely to be in increasing demand. Consumers are also likely to use other devices such as tablet PCs and e-Book readers to access the internet, whilst other devices such as internet enabled GPS and games are also likely to require increasing bandwidth.

Where new devices have offered a compelling browsing experience their use has exploded. For example Apple iPhone has a 55% share of all web browsing on mobile platforms from an installed base of 15% of the market. Apple and Android based phone’s mobile penetration is increasing massively. Android phones enjoyed a growth rate of over 1000% in the last quarter. A similar pattern is emerging with the iPad technology. The iPad is comparable only to gaming platforms such as Nintendo and Playstation in the speed with which it reached a million units sold. Both trends suggest internet consumption will continue to evolve rapidly because as internet consumption devices change so do consumers preferences for what they do online.

In the late nineties it was anticipated that widespread web access would lead to a “convergence” of media experiences with older platforms like television being replaced. What has actually happened is a divergence of interactions, new experiences have emerged on different platforms rather than old ones being replaced.

Some media types have experienced profound disruption to consumption patterns as digital distribution methods become available. There have been significant impacts on the music and newspaper industries as their distribution channels have become digital, however this content has not gone away it is just accessed in different ways. Transfer of the means of access has led to economic restructuring of these industries. In contrast other media, such as television industry have been resilient, despite falls in advertising revenue CPM rates are still far higher than on the internet and incumbent distributors have benefited from pay TV opportunities and more ways of getting their product to consumers. We’ve also seen the emergence of new media channels such as social media and ‘apps’ that offer a slices of the internet focused around specific content.

The underlying trend is that people are consuming more media. The Economist reports that between 1999 and 2009 average media consumption increased from 379 minutes per day to 458 amongst 8 to 18 year olds. Use of all media types (TV, computer games, movies and music) with the exception of print increased. People are cramming more media use into their day. With the rapid growth of new media consumption technologies such as apps and tablet PCs, (supported by the growth of 3G networks), this trend is likely to continue creating opportunities for SwissCom for tariff and service offerings to meet the increasing demand to always be connected.

New organisations
In addition to new market opportunities, increasing connectedness offers more contact points with the customer for both support and marketing. Users are able to interact with organisations both directly and tangentially via social media. These interactions can be either favourable and damaging. Social media offers opportunities to both enhance relationships by having two way conversations with customers allowing the company to understand customers and serve them better. However if social media is mis-handled or other parts of the service offering are not good enough this technology also allows disaffected customers to find each other easily and gain a critical mass for their concerns.

Finally increasing use of the internet means customers both can and expect to find support online and often be able to self serve their needs. Excellent customer service requires interaction between service channels to provide a connected experience for users. This can often mean rationalising internal silos of data, but also reaching out via social media channels to pre-emptively offer support to customers who have not yet contacted another channel. Effectively the organisation shell has become more porous as communication proliferates within and outside the company.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Manchester trams - light and speed 21st century

2.5s f3.5 ISO:100 Canon 500D

5.0s f/4.5 ISO:100 Canon 500D

3.2s f/4.5 ISO:100 Canon 500D

1.0s f5.0 ISO:200 Canon 500D