Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why Do I Find Twitter So Useful?

Maybe its my background in Tracking & Tracing systems that leads me to see event-centric patterns in almost everything - and Twitter is no exception. But what's intriguing to me, is how Twitter seems to be the result of the coming together of a number of design patterns. I find this makes Twitter a usefully addictive, relationship-building and idea-stimulation tool.

But the thing that I find really intriguing, is how it seems to illustrate the value of separation of 'content' from 'event'. That is, a tangible value from broadcasting and receiving short/short-lived messages (signals) that describe what you're doing or perhaps, more importantly, what your thinking independently of, but with reference to, the full text, dialogue, or any other expression of an idea or perspective (the content). This combined with the ability to choose who you follow and who follows you, creates trust-building relationships across a network of like-minded brains. These snippets of information shared, referenced and re-referenced (Re-Tweeted), by those I follow and those who follow me, have become a great reference source and provide regular source of thought-provoking ideas.

Twitter illustrates how much can be achieved with some very simple patterns, without top-down control or grand-design. IMO its success is due to its ease-of-adoption and the simplicity of its policies and protocol. In some ways its similar to internal email groups I subscribe to, but the big difference is the ability to explore the endless chain of Follower/Followee synapses, find like-minds and then follow urls to content that I wouldn't normally discover.

What does strike me as I write this, is that I suspect people have very different experiences with Twitter depending on what interests you and therefore who you connect to and what you talk about.

I know a number of my colleagues are not convinced of the value and will probably remain unconvinced after reading this post. I wonder how much our, life circumstances, personalities and philosophies affect the value we get from Twitter?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Why Service Orientation should start with Systems and not (always) end in systems

In publishing this I'm throwing caution to the wind (and ignoring, in part, the good advice of a respected friend!). Chris Bird, suggested that I should avoid talking about Systems Thinking, Service-oriented Architecture and other such consultantese. But I've decide I will talk about Systems Thinking and SOA as they relate to a broader world-view of services (given the focus of this blog).

To start the discussion, however, I'd like to quote Chris: “ SOA starts in the wrong place. The tools are tools and not grand strategies. I don't look at the screwdriver in my hand and say, "Cool, now what projects can I undertake?" I think about what needs fixing in my house and what tools I need (aside - the checkbook is my favorite tool)”.

Mindful of Chris's words and a client's SOA-related organisational challenges in mind, I thought it was about time I added my two-pennies-worth to the SOA-doesn't-work debate. My observation is that many SOA projects start in the wrong place - that being in the technology weeds i.e. Conversations around ESBs, WS*, Registries, EJB, XML et al. I believe the first step towards 'service orienting' a business is taken by applying Systems Thinking (that is Systems in an ecosystem sense) rather than thinking about Services per se and certainly before technology view of SOA). Most importantly, the notion that a business is comprised of multiple, interacting, 'Systems' of people, processes and technologies (agents of the system) that cannot be viewed in isolation one from another but accepts each system/sub-system works within a unique set of values.

Taking a fresh Systems Thinking (capital 'S' Systems from now on) perspective helps to breakdown the more traditional organisational and process bounded views of the business and that the complexity of the behaviour of the business is best tackled by examining the interactions between 'Systems' that often span traditional boundaries. This then helps layout the organisation as a set of 'System' behaviours that can, for example, be examined as core or context to the business operation/strategy/well-being. I've found that with this approach, its possible to evolve certain 'Systems' into 'Services' by defining the Consumers, the Policies/Contracts that apply, the Events that trigger action and the Content being exchanged (physical and/or informational). This 'Big Services' (Systems)view allows the business to see how to chunk-up aspects of the operation in new ways that helps with business problems such as: simplifying post M&A situations, executing major transitions, outsourcing. And, from an IT perspective, where/how to apply SOA, COTS packages or SaaS for that matter.

I've been accused of being too idealistic when I say Service Orientation starts in the boardroom not the IT department. I agree, it's often hard, if not impossible, to get SO on the business agenda but if your SOA is being 'sold' as a way to achieve 'business relevant' efficiencies and associated cost reductions through service reuse, then board members must be the sponsors. This becomes most obvious when organisations realise they must change the way they fund software development and/or procurement projects to realise the desired sharing and reuse.

So how can 'Systems Thinking' be introduced to the CxOs without appearing to be too academic?
The rule is to avoid talking about Systems Thinking and, for that matter, SOA. Instead, the discussion is focused on delivering business value around a topic that is front-of-mind for the board: Compliance, Profitability, Green-agenda or Strategy execution might be such topics. Then the trick is to use simple 'Systems Thinking' techniques and tools (akin to S.W.O.T. or Forcefield and Mindmaps or PowerPoint) to start to describe the emergent services.

As Chris points out, it's important to be looking at the cross-cutting concerns of the enterprise (and the extended enterprise - but extended from a business sense, not an IT sense). I believe that getting the CxOs to buy-in to SOA via Syetms Thinking - (without necessarily trying to teach them the Theory!) - is the way to make SOA work, and for that matter, improve many aspects of their business operations and strategy execution with or without SOA or with or without IT systems.

To bring to a close, I'd like to paraphrase Chris again:

“We must focus on what the enterprise wants to achieve. There are many ways of getting "it done". Goldblatt in "The Goal" makes some useful analogies. The goal in manufacturing isn't about keeping the machines busy, it is about increasing value - converting raw materials into products at the optimal rate for making profits (even if you have to underutalize resources). In the SOA world, the corporate goal is not to maximize the use of IT tools, (to suborn everything to the technical services oriented architecture), but to look for services that deal with the Events that the business has to deal with. I think we have to get the very loose coupling done first before thinking about SOA in companies. Until the businesses think in terms of hand-offs instead of commands, they won't get any of the benefits possible anyway”.

I believe subtly applied Systems Thinking will help us put controls where controls are needed, don't control what doesn't matter and help us answer the question; “How do you focus on what is important, and at the same time not miss the critical details?”

The Cynefin framework and 5D lens are both tools that can help introduce Systems Thinking to broader audiences.

As always, I welcome your comments.