What Business Leaders Want

I’m not a big fan of Mel Gibson (in fact, not a fan at all) but this week have been reminded of the film What Women Want in which he played the lead role. For those who have not seen it (and I’m not recommending it by the way) the film revolves around a chauvinistic executive (Gibson) who, after an accident, gains the ability to hear what women are really thinking. This reminder came about during a conference I have just attended on the role that architects play (or more to the point, should be playing) in industry today. I guess the conference could have been called: What business leaders want (from us architects).

Here’s something I drew during one of the sessions showing the dichotomy we face when trying to build and deliver solutions to a business whose key drivers are less cost, more value.

The perception is that value is only obtained if solutions can be built quickly and cheaply. To a business this usually means within a financial year (or less). For an architect bought up on the importance of delivering integrity and solutions that adhere to best practice and standards that equates to “fast and dirty” which gives us the black curve. To be clear, value is what the business want, which often comes at the cost (in the eyes of the architect) to both their, and that of the systems they are building, integrity. The “trick” then is how to deliver both integrity and value (i.e. the green line)? Here’s my take:

  1. Value can be delivered quickly but only if its done in increments. Plan to deliver something quick (within a financial quarter) but not dirty.
  2. Create a hassle map and focus on the big and nasty hassles first.
  3. Don’t throw out everything you’ve learnt about architectural integrity but instead learn to focus on what matters for the short term. For example architecting for every possible change case may not be relevant if the entire nature of the business is likely to change within the lifetime of the system. Maybe throwing out and staring again is actually an option.
  4. Adopt a “bring you own” rather than “build your own” philosophy. Learn how to prove the business value of bringing rather than building.
  5. Do build for scaleability. Be optimistic that the business will flourish and require more not less of your solution. Take advantage of cloud technology to smooth temporary blips in workload.

These were five things I thought of straight away, there must be loads more (tell me). What is clear is that in troubled times such as these, we must look at adapting our approach to building systems so that we deliver measurable business value more quickly than ever, or we won’t be around to enjoy the next Mel Gibson tale!

Hassle Maps and Expert Integrated Systems

In his book Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It the business thinker and management consultant Adrian Slywotzky defines the concept of a Hassle Map thus:

Hassle Map (HA-sul map) noun 1. a diagram of the characteristics of existing products, services and systems that cause people to waste time, energy, money 2. (from a customer’s perspective) a litany of the headaches, disappointments and frustrations one experiences 3. (from a demand creator’s perspective) an array of tantalising opportunities.

Documenting, either literally or mentally, the hassle map for a product, service, system or process is the first step on the way to improving it and to creating something that people will love and want. A key part of the hassle map is finding out what users of an existing product or service find most annoying and stop them from buying it in great quantities. For Steve Jobs this was the inadequacies of existing mobile phones, for Reed Hastings CEO of Netflix it was the ‘hassle’ of having to walk to the video store to rent a movie (and being fined when you forgot to take it back on time), for Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, it was not just building an e-reader device (the Kindle) with a great interface but also one which had a massive catalogue of books that could be downloaded in ‘one-click’. The list goes on.

One way of drawing up a hassle map is to think of what the world would be like without the hassle; a sort of idealized view of life. A hassle map, consists of a number of hassles and for each, a view of what life would be like without the hassle. I once worked with a client who was fond of using the phrase “imagine a world where…” Well, the solution bit of a hassle map is the world where that hassle no longer exists.

Expert integrated systems, as manifested by IBM’s PureFlex and PureApplication Systems, are an attempt at addressing the hassle maps currently felt by businesses when building IT systems. Here are 10 hassles that these systems are trying to overcome.

Hassle Solution
IT increasingly seen as a constraint on business innovation rather than an enabler. Expert integrated systems enable delivery of new capabilities, faster allowing IT resources to be moved from ‘running the business’ to ‘changing the business’.
Software and hardware has to be ordered separately taking days or weeks to arrive. System arrives as a single integrated hardware and software package, ready to be turned on.
Components arrive as a “bag of parts” requiring integration and optimization. Components are pre-installed, integrated and optimized.
Specification of deployment environment requires specialist skills, can be brittle and error prone. ‘Patterns of expertise’ that capture proven best practices for complex tasks learned from decades of client and partner engagements that are captured, lab tested and built into the system.
Systems require time-consuming optimization by experts on site. Pre-optimized by experts in the factory before shipment.
Deployment time takes weeks. Deployment time takes minutes.
Multiple management consoles for each middleware software product. Single point of management across all middleware products.
Lack of dynamic elasticity results in cumbersome re-allocation of resources. Repeatable self service provisioning, integrated and elastic application and data runtimes and application-aware workload management.
Takes weeks or months for a development or test environment to be built plus non-standard configurations can cause errors and delay production deployments by weeks. Self service development, test and production environments, provisioned, secured and managed in adherence to corporate policies through customizable pre-defined patterns.
Upgrades involve days of downtime. Zero downtime upgrades.

Of course ‘hassles’, are really only high-level requirements stated in a way that business folk really care about, that is what is causing them pain. These are the right sort of requirements and the sort we IT folk must take most notice of if we are to build systems that solve ‘real-world’ business problems.