Methodology Engine for Consultants

Early wake-up call…well not actually early for me.  Today’s agenda: More Data Mining and evaluating the best course to capture methodology for my consulting firm.   Four primary factors to consider: 1) Knowledge and Skills transfer 2) Job Aid and Execution support 3) Ease of maintenance 4) Accessibility for field consultants

In prior roles I help construct or constructed my own methodology engines for various domains: Marketing Management and Strategic Planning, Enterprise Assessments (e.g., ISO 9000, CALS, etc.).  Depending upon factor four the technology choices I had narrowed down to were: Lotus Notes, SharePoint, and MS Access.  Of all the platforms to build on, MS Access was the most popular as one could carry the engine into a client’s site where Internet access was limited.


I was consider a hybrid on desktop MS Access and Access Services, however, given the uncertain future of both I’m considering another option such as Pega which would have the accessibility limitation pointed our prior, but gains an orchestration engine and data consolidation of multiple engagements for future BI application.  However, to kick start the project I’ll likely use the Methodology Engine I created in ACCESS as it has the basics to capture the workflow, methods and R&Rs

Morning’s Ponders and Tool Suite Rational

Prior to jumping into finishing writing the technical approach for an RFP response this morning I spent a little time reflecting on the past few weeks of work.  I’m a big fan of Covey’s approach to analyzing your time to gain insights and understand patterns that could help you become more productive and enjoyment.  Yes I said pleased.  In a day when everyone talks about work-life balance as though these are separate things, I’m wondering if I’m the only one that gets enjoyment out of my work.

Must work translate into drudgery?

That seems odd.  I’m a woodworker, initially to assist my wife’s real estate projects and create items specific to what we need around the home, then it became a hobby.  As I participate in other social media sites around woodworking and makers, the pattern seems the same.  Then I find some others taking it a bit farther and creating businesses around their passion (e.g., Stumpy Nubs, The Wood Whisperer, etc.)  It appears woodworking has gotten a resurgence in popularity.  From their online appearance it seems they are have a passion for their work.  May be I’m reading into what I see in their public appearances and activities, but I continually see signs of real enjoyment in their participation in the craft.  Marc Spagnola,  The Wood Whisperer, has a science background and he uses it daily to expose the science behind the craft, right down to using the scientific method and experimentation to discovery such.  On his video blogs you see him and his wife Nicole banter back and forth.  To me its clear they are enjoying not only success in their business, but the process.

Which brings me back to this morning’s musings.  Do others also enjoy the process of their work like I do?   As I’m about to get back to writing the technical approach, I find myself excited about the process.  I really, no love, the entire process of discovering new methods and figuring out how to solve problems.  This is probably why I had gravitated to Management Consulting and Information Technology.

With that bit of personal insight, like always, after I closed out work last night I when back to working on the next section of my CAD for Enterprise ™ Design Tool suite.  My thoughts around this as a worthwhile endeavor is that there are plenty of technology corporations creating tools for what is the equivalent of CAM for Enterprise.  This matches what happened in the physical product industries for decades, lots of industrial automation technology while Architects, Engineers, and Designers continued to use manual methods and slide rules to accomplish their work till the computer technology became mature enough to be applied.  I’m seeing this as a similar pattern.  Last night I did a quick inventory of the “tools” I’ve built throughout my career to aid/automate various tasks around Enterprise Design, some I.T. oriented, some financial, some business management.  Then I looked at a tool I created in MS Access decades ago, B.A.S.E. ™ (Business Analysis System and Environment), it enable me to work in multiple functional domains on an engagement and reuse the information.  That goal I’ve continued to work on throughout my career.  A few weeks ago I had a brief exchange with my mentor regarding integrating various information domains.  With his encouragement and the involvement of others in their respective fields it looks like I’m close to creating the infrastructure that would support such a tools suite.

In the meantime I continue to create various point tools that will eventually snap-in, like the B.A.S.E. ™ product I created which had a similar idea of point tool modules.  This along with my question-based methodology is the goal I’ve set out to accomplish.  –and yes the point tools can be used in stand-alone mode; and yes I have shared these to others over the years (some on the Office Templates Online under the brand Intellectual Arbitrage Group which appears to have been syndicated on multiple sites as free downloads).

Cloud –hype or a lesson to learn about ongoing technology change

A while back the model was there was a market for just 10 mainframes worldwide, or so the quote goes.  The in order for a corporation to join the big boys, you needed your own.  Decades later I’ve the equivalent of a S/360 processing power in my pocket.  If one follows the technology generations: On-Prem. Mainframe; Department Minis; Timeshare; PCs; Client-Server; then Internet, Now Cloud. There is always a new technology on the horizon (e.g., quantum computing) that will solve the worlds problems and put the kids to bed on time or so the marketing hype goes.

I’m neither a fan-boy or luddite when it comes to new technology.  I believe I’m a pragmatist.  I’ve a set of simple rules when it comes to acquisition and holding onto technology:

  • Explore and examine, but do not commit till conditions point to such
  • When exploring the technology, examine both the technological aspects:
    • does it add new capabilities
    • Is it stable (mature enough, reliable enough, has enough market share to continue a reasonable lifespan)
  • and business application:
    • does that new capability add something to my business
      • Reach to customers or markets
      • Improve customer relationships
      • Allow me to do something new for customer or improve my operations
    • or reduce costs and risks

Which brings me to the latest R&D I’ve been conducting over the past few decades that fits into my larger research project of creating a CAD/CAM system for Enterprise Design, Construction, Operations, and  Remodeling.   That latest research has been all about the overlap between business and technology strategy.  This is something my mentor John Zachman had started decades ago.  By now I can imagine several people’s eyes rolling. “Zachman Framework!, that so yesterday…”  However, those that have seen the decades of methodology hype go by know that the Ontology expressed in the Framework still is relevant.  Its just not the “silver bullet” everyone wants.  It takes some work to understand that the views defined in the Framework are there for a reason: To understand the various aspects of an abstract entity, Enterprise, to be manifested.

Given the hype and technology priesthoods that have developed around various methodologies: TOGAF, DODAF, SAFe, BPMN, etc.. I will not enter into the fray, other than to say these all have some aspect of utility and all address some dimensions in the Zachman Framework. 

Back to Cloud and business/technology strategy:  As of late business models or various levels of business models (Campbell’s Operation Model Canvas**) are become more mature from decades ago and starting to reach across to technology or rather technology has been identified as an enabler to business strategy.  With that as an underpinning to this post.  I post the real question around Cloud and Cloud Hype:

The real issue is how or should you take advantage of such. If you’re just switching technology to “modernize” that’s fine.  If the cost of maintenance or business continuity risk due to end of life is a significant threat changing technologies is a simple model (i.e., you’re replacing you car because you can’t get anything more out of your Model T).  That does suggest however, it will be running business as usual.

That, in my opinion, is short sighted as few businesses are in an environment that enables that.  Today business as unusual is the norm.  There is so much volatility and change going on in the space we call enterprise that operating a business is now more an effort of managing complexity and change than executing a simple production line was twenty or thirty years ago.  As such prior to committing to such a change it behooves Executives to ask the questions beyond the easy just replace On-Premise with On-Cloud for a supposed cost saving, how will I exploit the technology to improve my business besides just keep it operating another day?  As well as ask what are the trade-offs I make with such choices:

  • Dependencies/Risks on a service provider
    • Will they be around tomorrow
    • Will the service change
    • Besides Security and Data Ownership, can I extract such to a new provider should I decide to
  • Will/Can I integrate a broad spectrum of services together (primary vendor and others) with moderate or less effort, or is it really a closed system
  • How long will it take to covert?  Will the conversion take more time than the technology is likely to be in place

The thing I tell my clients continually, there is no free lunch, there are always trader-offs.  Some immediately, Some during an event, and Some eventually (i.e., in the future).  It is up to your executive team, not the technology providers or operators within the company, to understand these implications and impacts.  -And if your team does not have the confidence in making these decisions get a Business – Technology Strategy Consulting firm to assist.  This is not a technology strategy consulting firm (i.e., how to install, configure, and operate), but one that focuses on how-to use the technology for business as well as what are its implications to the business.

**full disclosure I’m working with Andrew Campbell on a tool suite to evaluate Operating Models similar to the evaluation tool suite I built for the Business Model Canvas community

Enterprise Portfolio Management -Thoughts and Insights

Woke up early this morning to the buzzing in my head…An idea that Options Theory as currently applied within more sophisticated enterprises for IT Investment was off the mark.  I’d spent the past year going through application of approaches such as Black-Sholes which for external markets tracks well.  However, for IT Investments there is something slightly askew.  That uncomfortable feeling of what and how finally popped in my head this morning.

Several things about the standard approach to Investment Markets Options Theory rely upon market forces to determine value.  However, within the Enterprise Ecosystem value is not measured by standard economics of buyer/seller in the traditional sense.  Arbitrage in the market does not apply in the traditional sense.  The investment is either exercised for its perceived utility or not; typically based and prioritized upon return on investment of the asset (in the broadest sense of the word asset).   In corporations however there are two economic systems at play:

  • External Ecosystem, the one in which the enterprise participates in.  Here the economics that investment professionals typically discuss and where options theory approaches such as Black-Scholes apply.  One can apply hedging as in Black-Scholes to capture the best Risk/Reward.  Within this ecosystem market dynamics have investments flow between investment vehicles based upon perceived future value.  With items other than perishable commodities the perceived value is not always inline with standard accounting practices.  When valuation of corporations occur Intangible assets such as “Customer Good Will” and “Intellectual Property” are used as a filler to account for the difference between residual value of physical assets in general accounting practices  (i.e., cadaver accounting) and investment accounting.
  • Internal Ecosystem, a set of economics that is governed more strongly by general accounting practices; costs and benefits must somehow be in balance.  However, a semi-closed system is assumed within such an economic system.  That assumption is later adjusted each quarter or year by increasing an Intangible Asset valuation on the books.  This ecosystem is driven by several factors: Asset Depreciation and Utility Value of Assets deployed.

These two economic systems interact through several interfaces of which not all are visible or easily measurable.  Monetary funds go into the Internal Ecosystem from the External Ecosystem on the assumption that these funds will be used to purchase assets and through utilization of these assets return more or increase in value the enterprise.  This in the external system takes the form of stock price or dividends.   Which in many US based firms now provides a stronger drive to the internal dynamics of a publically held corporation.

However, the value of individual assets inside a corporation is not as simple as those in the external ecosystem.  Inside the corporation assets are combined with a purpose in mind, to create a utility value.  While the individual assets are accounted for in general accounting practices the utility value of a configuration of assets is typically not.

An example; a machine is purchased, a process developed to use it and others to create a product or service, supplies/consumables are also purchased, and people trained to create and sell the product / service.  This creates some value if the product or service is consumed by the external ecosystem in exchange for revenue.   Ten years later the internal assets have been depreciated in value to zero, yet the enterprise is still getting utility value from this configuration of assets.  One year later a competitor’s product / service attracts enough consumers to make the enterprise’s offering unprofitable.  The assets once providing utility value, though zero accounting value through depreciation, are now in negative territory.  Now we’ll complicate things.  One of the assets in the configuration was a computer.  It can be reassigned to do other tasks thus extending its utility value in another configuration.

Thus the value of assets in an internal ecosystem’s portfolio needs to be managed differently.  Those management practices need to more strongly account for internal utility value that it contributes within an hierarchy of abstract portfolios that support an enterprise’s participation in the various value streams in which it is a member.  That insight realized this morning has been what has been driving me to revise the portfolio management practices I had defined for previous employers –though better than none– seem not adequate for the task.   With that insight in mind developing the economic methods –for what I’ve called Level 5 Dynamic Management that are closer aligned to how an enterprise operates internally– appears more attainable and palatable than just inserting a standard Black-Scholes model.

Internet of Things

During yesterday’s drive home and this morning’s drive into work I considered the latest Hype-cycle meme “IoT”, the Internet of Things.  That magical connection of every device to…  While we’ve had IoT in many forms prior consider X10 which many a RadioShack customer “wired” their house with, then PowerBus, etc.  Then as microcomputers truly became ubiquitous, home started getting wired for TCP/IP and later WiFi.  Now the amount of Wifi Hotspots around businesses and homes is staggering.  At an apartment a few years ago I was amazed to find no less than twenty-three private networks within range, no doubt all connecting various devices beyond a PC and providing services such as video and audio media.

Now as the term “IoT” comes into play I wonder if this and the “app” crazy has created the ecosystem that is the digital equivalent of what we all complain about airlines and hotels these days?  a la carte pricing and thereby cause the consumer and business to be the systems integrator.  The question become does “IoT”, “App Stores” and consumption economics become the perfect storm to devalue Information Technology and the complexity involved in integration.

I as this questions as more business executives question the value of enterprise and other technology architectures while in the same breath can’t understand why the pieces don’t fit together easily in just a flew clicks.  I wonder if that CxO’s car stops dead in the desert out of range of a cell tower will her or she be lost forever, given the likely inability to fix the technology they’ve asked for and become dependent upon.   About to decades ago and reprised the thought a few years ago, that one day businesses are likely to fail due to technology failure.  As this decade reaches the halfway point, I see that risk increasing beyond the obvious threat of hackers.

Parallel tracks: Skills transfer at work for colleagues and Structure in Threes book

Started a skills transfer series at work yesterday “Methods in Minutes” with the idea of creating short presentations on Enterprise/Business Architecture and Management Consulting techniques I’ve collected or created over the years.  Originally, I was going to collate about a dozen or so into a single methodology presentation.  However, after coming to the insight that people’s attention span today has gotten much shorter in direct correlation to the time horizon on which they work –that is many colleagues are focusing on getting just today’s stuff done or at best what’s on deck for the week– decided to just create a catalog of methods at their finger tips.  I’ll assemble them later into a IT Management Methodology later as the goal is to help colleagues and team-mate be productive NOW.

Sent out first method draft along with question “would this be useful” to the WW Architecture Community at Microsoft.  Got a resounding “yes” as well as an excellent suggestion to post these in a share or Office365 site rather than distribute via DLs or Yammer.  Looks to be a busy next year as I create and fill the catalog.


Modern IT Portfolio Management: Risk Modeling

Applied R&D for rating interdependency risk almost complete this morning.  Models will work well from my reengineering project at Microsoft.  In the DSM model I adapted NASA’s model that uses interdependency and technology maturity as primary factors.  Multiplying the scales for each factor yields isographic map of the range of risk which is translated back to a simple scalar range for presentation.


Interdependency Risk DSM Model