Intellectual Arbitrage Group: Website Redesign

intellectual Arbitrage Group’s Office365 Small Business Premium website V0.7

Spent a few minutes each day this week working on Intellectual Arbitrage Group’s new public website.

intelarbgrp-website-homeOffice365 Small Business Premium IAG Contact Up Page Design

It has taken a little while to get some time on my schedule to work this activity.  Like other small consulting firms,  Time to work on marketing, backoffice systems, and practice development is always in short supply when you don’t have a dedicated people working each task.  Fortunately, using most of the Office365 Small Business Premium templates means I can focus on content and customers instead of presentation.  Only wish it had more flexibility or useful help on how-to customize like WordPress.comto is very minimal.  While the library of SharePoint web parts is helpful, the flexibility of these parts is minimal or not very well supported by documentation.

IAG-Office365 Website WP Blog-Webpart

This past Sunday, I asked my DNS Hoster [ZoneEdit] to build new records to forward my URL and Mail over to my Office365 site.  Both Registrar [DomainPeople] and DNS name service [ZoneEdit] were very fast and responsive, I switched over to new services in less than two hours.  I only hope Microsoft can match that Service Level, though I didn’t see a clear Service Level Agreement (SLA) from Microsoft when I signed up.  But then again they are still new to Services.

Creating Workflow for Modern IT Portfolio Management

On this week’s agenda is building out the workflow for the IT Portfolio Management Practice.  Unlike how IBM, DMR, and Microsoft accomplish practice implementation, I plan on creating a semi-automated workflow using SharePoint, MS Access and Excel.  While using PowerPoint and Word templates may capture content and present it in a “pretty” way, it does nothing for ensuring the quality of the output.  That was one of the reasons I created B.A.S.E. years ago.  I had gotten disgusted back then with the quality of analysis peer consultants were performing, choosing to spend all their time on formatting.  I guess I shouldn’t complain about such, as it created a market for me back then; fixing all the poor engagements and projects these people performed.  I’ve see lots of “pretty” engagements go bad due to poor analysis and thinking which creates the ultimate consulting sin in my book; doing harm to the client.  Having a structured process and supporting system may not guarantee perfect results or avoidance of harm, but it sure reduces the probability and provides better visibility to detect such.

Structure in Threes

Spent this morning detailing the book outline.   The two part approach looks like it will work nicely: Part One explaining the concepts to those unfamiliar with the techniques giving a foundation to work with, Part Two providing a step by step methodology and explanation of how to use the templates I’ve created.  From a one and a half page outline the planning effort has yielded five pages of chapter and section objectives with small screen shots of templates to be used and a good start on the bibliography and suggested reading list.  The collection of templates I’ve created in past years that I have to update or clean up is growing rather rapidly, that even before I’ve integrated all of them into a common system.  I’m considering creating a common platform like Azure to be the base to integrate all data.  However, I don’t think Azure comes with my Office365 Small Business subscription, so I may have to use SharePoint and Access Services which is not a significant limitation for now.

In the meantime still working on getting Home Office back in shape, today’s task will be getting some of the library in workable form.  I’ve about twenty stacks of books in front of book cases to reorganize.  Now’s the time I wish I had hired that librarian I was talking to at the library of congress.  –At least the stacks are chunked into useful clusters by the taxonomy I created for quick access.  Glad I sent time years ago researching Ontology, Taxonomy and Semantics; it has really helped throughout the years with research.

Rediscovering Information Management Methodology

About a century ago –no I’m not that old—companies were using advance information management tools called paper, file folders and filing cabinets.   Much of the daily course of business was concern with moving physical parts and products.  The movement and storage of information was also a physical effort; paper and files were routed throughout the organization which contained the information needed to monitor and control the organization. 

A gentleman Frederick Taylor came on the scene.  People either praise him or curse him now as he introduced the practice of scientific management which was instrumental in introducing the management consulting practice.  Later Marvin Bowers of McKinsey fame improved upon the practice. 

Mr. Taylor’s approach seems like a simple idea today, but it radically changed the landscape of industrial work and today is influencing information work (aka Information Worker).  The approach was to find the most efficient step of steps to accomplish a task, document and train others to use follow it thereby optimizing the time to output ratio.

Today we’re posed to accomplish similar automation for workers using information.  The problem that arises is that those in I.T. are ill prepared to accomplish this task.  Sure Developers and I.T. staff can lay down code to create a sequence of steps a computer will repeat at lightning speed till the cpu fries itself in some distant time.   The problem comes into play when you realize most programmers know software, software tools, and hardware, but don’t know your business. 

This is where business architects and analysts come in.  Analysts spend time learning how businesses conduct work and reduce these down to a set of descriptions in a standard language that programmers can further translate into computer-ease.   Architects look identify patterns and replicated them to accomplish similar work across the corporation.  Thus they are for lack of a better term super-analysts.

This entire preamble is to reintroduce a simple concept.  When management consultants where called in years ago, one of the techniques they used was to toss out every form in the place.  Next they would ask staff to create forms only when they needed them and only contain the specific information they needed to accomplish the immediate job.  This had the ability to streamline processes.  The past few decades’ variations of this approach have hit the BPR and IT domains with mantras like “simplify and automate”.  The question become at what level of simplification or generalization should one stop at.

Tonight I’m working on developing two SharePoint implementation architectures which will become these company’s operational infrastructures. [Yes, I’m crazy enough to two projects simultaneously]  Fortunately both are new, small firms, so much of the politics and complexity have not developed yet.

So how to start?  My typical approach has been to identify quanta of information that is produced and used throughout the organization, then document how these are created, distributed, used and disposed of.  Now my data-oriented friends will cheer at that.  However, my process-oriented friends will point out that I’m documented processes also.  And if the rest of my friends across the Zachman Information Architecture spectrum are reading yes, I go through all the columns with special emphasis on why.

Being I’m translating this to a SharePoint implementation, I’ll define these quanta as “Content Types” and define the attributes that are required for each. [My Information Architecture colleague Carol Corneby] will be happy.   This is where translation from business architecture and SharePoint design overlaps and transitions.   SharePoint developers will now start to understand what must be build.  Concepts such as information flows and stores will be converted to libraries –which are nothing but viewports limiting enterprise data to the subset a business person using the system needs—and workflows that are subsets of the business process or the value chain an enterprise manages to operate the business.

The methods for identification and translation of these abstractions and the conversion process is what I hope to eventually explicate this year as I’ve been doing this so long as have other peers like Ruven Gotz that we just do it without a second thought.  As we continue our SharePoint Salons our objective is to accomplish this and disseminate the information to others.                              

Information Maturity and I.T. ROI

I spent the beginning of my morning preparing for an ISV Product Assessment Deep Dive and reviewing some old Gartner group reports.  I’m an Industry Analyst for two Research firms in my off time.   As I scanned the graphs in the Gartner report I noticed an interesting trend from year to year.  The amount of I.T. budget spent on business transformation – pundit-speak—for improved capabilities for the business continues to shrink, while infrastructure and maintenance costs continue to rise.  The figures quoted for 2003 were 19% for transformation.   During the 1970s new application development –old category name for business transformation—was hovering between 30% to 40%.

The interesting issue around this fact is that vendors are all over talking about virtualization and cloud, yet when I look at the benefits of both they’re focused around reducing the hardware maintenance and platform cost footprint.  Oddly enough that’s one of the least costly items in the budget.  A simple Pareto Analysis suggest developing and working on means to reduce software, specifically application,  maintenance costs would give a better payback.  Simply put a reduction of 10% of 90% is more than a reduction of 40% of 20%.

Hopefully Cloud vendors and tool purveyors will crack tat nut.  I am hopeful given enabling technologies such as AgilePoint and Concatenate.  However that presupposes I.T. organization move up the food chain from 1990s design patterns to present day.  A recent spot check has too many customers using SharePoint as a web frontend to a shared drive.  Simply put many organizations are managing files not information.

Last month I kicked off a project to produce a White Paper: From File Management to Information Management an organizational maturity road map.  During the SharePoint Salon in Anaheim this month many of the participants contributed towards that body of knowledge with the intent of developing a practice based on a sound body of work.  Hopefully the next Salon I hold in a few months will advance the discourse as much as the previous ones have.        

Service Management System (ITIL) using SharePoint

Spent last night working on designing the next components to ITIL solution using SharePoint my team has fielded as a Federal Department.  The first module tracked service requests from a catalog of service.  These services are higher level than the MOF services than the Microsoft System Center tracks and reports.  I had previously passed along to my friends and contacts last year the request to have some form of System Center – SharePoint integration.  They managed a first release several months ago; however, I may have to build my own as the level of service abstraction does not match what I’m using.   ITIL using SharePoint conceptual model

Fortunately, System Center uses SQL so using SharePoint 2010’s Business Connectivity Services (BCS) should make the connection easier.  The issue is that System Center defined services are servers and application programs.  These are the lower level of abstraction than what I use in the ITIL solution fielded.  The service catalog I created two years ago has services that are more recognizable to business people.  The architectural issue I deferred was creating an operational Configuration Management Data Base (CMDB), thinking Microsoft would eventually move up to the abstraction layers to supporting Service Level Packages (SLPs).  I instead created a static model using lists that related all the components into a service level package that defined each advertised service in the catalog.  MOSS 2007 was a little under-functioned to support building a truly operational catalog.  However, since services are slow changing objects it was a good compromise.  With 2010’s enhance capabilities building abstraction levels similar to the abstraction levels I had conceptualized for Activity Directory during my CIO Workbench/Digital Nervous System projects should require less code.  Presently I’m evaluating whether to have the catalog an extension of the MOF database and expose it thought BCS or create a separate database that references or has an ETL routine that synchronizes with the MOF database.  The later approach while more complicated would provide a more robust solution and isolate it from changes Microsoft makes to MOF over time.

 Other enhancements that 2010 has brought, Records Management feature, enables the addition of tracking requests and fulfillment robustly enough to create an invoicing system for chargeback models.  The Service Bill of Materials (SBOM) prototype was stripped down to a development LOE estimator only, however, I kept tracking efforts with the original module with the objective of adding that as part of the Order Management model.  Behind the scenes the prototype estimates; service creation LOE, capacity requirements and eventually capacity forecasts of inflight SharePoint Service requests.  The model is general enough to be able to adapt it to other software environments.

The approach I’ve been taking is similar to what I’ve done with my Intellectual Arbitrage Group applications hosted on Microsoft Office Online Templates: no or limited coding so the solutions are subject to limited revisions as Microsoft evolves its product lines.   

SharePointDirections Reports

Fresh back from SharePoint 2011 Conference, SharePoint Salon, SharePoint Sushi; now I am fired up.  During the conference Owen Allen and I discussed framing a series of reports for SharePointDirections to produce after October; that’s the easy part.  Now I’m assembling information on ISVs that I gathered during deep dives with each. 

We’ll be revising the SharePoint EcoSystem Map during November for publication on the SharePointDirections website.  The map will take on more of an Enterprise flavor given SharePoint’s acceptance as an Enterprise level platform with the introduction of 2010.   The first report under consideration will cover the information management segment, followed by the process and workflow segment.  However, I’ve yet to schedule deep drives with ISVs in that segment.

Our goal is to provide a qualitative assessment of products in each segment initially, position them on a grid to help clients make informed decisions, and eventually perform a qualitative analysis on each.  I know that later is a big task, participating in similar activities in the engineering software market.  Check out Cyon Research.  

In the meantime my personal Blog will still continue exploring concepts and issues around Enterprise Architecture as well as a collaboration area with peers.             

SharePoint Salon: I.T. and SharePoint Governace

Last night friends and colleagues gathered at the Hilton during the SharePoint 2011 conference in Anaheim for 2nd SharePoint Salon.  During the event several topics were brought to the table to discuss.  It was, as the last Salon, exhilarating to engage in exchanges of ideas and opinions.   Many of the participants were just as passionate in their opinions and conversation engagement as I am. 

The conversations while initially meant to focus on a few key issues in greater depth: I.T. and SharePoint Governance; Information Management/Taxonomy Creation; to name two.  During the rolling conversation group members chimed in with various perspectives:

Owen Allen brought forth the question if governance is to be effective it has to be more than a single ten letter word meaning permissions.  It needs to be divided into several more buckets.  This generated an interesting discourse between the strategic and tactical sides of the issue.  What is governance?  From the tactical perspective or what End Users see, it appears as what I would label enforcement.  “Just tell me what I can and cannot do” Susan Hanley,Essential SharePoint 2011, would say.   I, taking what could be viewed as an opposing view, strongly advocated governance needs to be more than just the rules of the road.  Having authored the framework for Microsoft’s I.T. in the mid to late 90s, put forth that the process of how and who makes those rules is the major part of governance which is often ignored in an effort to get to something practical that people can do. 

I see the cause for shortcutting governance creation has a lot to do with domain expertise and knowledge boundary gaps.  To build an effective I.T. or SharePoint governance two knowledge domains are needed or fused together; Business and Technology.  During the mid-90s the Microsoft CIO put forth a vision of the organization being Business Technologists.  The problem was then that most of the organization was populated by technologists and very few business oriented staff.  As such the results of asking to put forth a governance from prior staff always resulted in a set of permissions or rules, not a process on how to actively determine, deploy, enforce, monitor and adjust those rules. 

The model I put forward –which Peter Weil later described as one type of governance strategy in a brilliant book on IT Governance–is based on what I’m proud to credit America’s Framer’s work the United States Constitution.  I spent several weeks translating governance of the country concepts to governance of Information in an Enterprise.  This insight came to me years prior during my tenure at IBM as one of the underpinning concepts in an AIAA White Paper I presented “Enterprise Linguistics”.  During that time I used discipline jargon in a lose analogy to languages throughout the world.  Within an enterprise you have many countries: Executive Suite, Finance, Manufacturing, Engineering, IT, HR, etc.  This aha had me relate these countries or states to a federated model that enabled local decisions within the local domain and central decisions at a central domain.  [I am grateful to my high school social studies teacher, Mr. Frogue, for engaging me in several active discussions on governance decades ago.  You never know what knowledge you’ll pick up and apply in the future]. That had me see the relationship between the constitution and I.T. management in a clear light.

Below, is a snapshot of the model presented years ago.  Owen here is my suggestion for the buckets you seek.


Markets, Market Planning, Marketing, Business Development and Sales

I’m in the process of considering going out on my own again, after almost two years with a small “boutique” firm. The exercise in trying to help them grow had its pluses and minuses. One of the insights I already knew, but this experience provided a more current data point: Without an ongoing effort every day to identify opportunities, move those through a sales pipeline to eventual close your destiny is bleak. A lot like sitting on the wrong end of a tree branch and sawing away. You may feel you’re making progress but you’re actually undercutting your future.

With that said, I wonder why the message at the executive level didn’t take on a sense of urgency until it became a crisis. In the past when I consulted to Senior Executives they were well aware of this insight, they just didn’t know how to go about it, so it was easy to lay out a simple structure each could grow with. I happen to like Keith Eades book, The New Solution Selling. He refined Bosworth’s principles down to a implementable process for large organizations. Corporations such as IBM and Microsoft have created and deployed customized versions of such, I had assisted in those efforts.

However, for small businesses the approach was not scalable down. Over the past few years I’ve taken the core concepts and reengineer these into a family of tools which I’ve posted onto Microsoft Office Templates Online under my corporate logo Intellectual Arbitrage Group. These are available for free for a limited time, as I’ve been informed the site will be taken down in October. While distribution for free from Microsoft will not be available I will still freely distribute in the future.

But with the advent of the Cloud; Azure, Office365, etc. I am in the process of designing a service that will integrate these core functions into a system that will enable small businesses to manage the Marketing and Sales function at or beyond the level that corporations struggle to attain or maintain. While it will not be as sophisticated as systems I’ve done for these larger corporations effectiveness should raise for these firms an order of magnitude. Originally I had planned to release a SharePoint version, and I still might, but a Cloud Service makes more sense to address the small businesses I’m so fond of

Ontology vs. Taxonomy

Yesterday I started preparing to archive materials, as I’m coming close to the end of another series of projects. Two years of work has yielded 1gig of data. Granted, there is going to be a lot of redundancy as I typically save major versions of work.  If I reduce that down, to a quarter, that is still a significant about a data to sift through and categorize.

During the past two decades I’ve become an ontologist  / taxonomist  by default.  Through the natural course of preforming enterprise architecture for my various employers and clients, I had been guided by necessity into learning various aspects of Ontology and Taxonomy.   While my employers and clients don’t pay me to be such, it became apparent I needed to develop those skills to accomplish the goals we agreed to during the start of the projects I’ve worked; more effective usage of information and the creation of knowledge.

It sounds like a simple charter, and many would start with implementing technology solutions such as SharePoint.  However, the problem with that approach is often that is where the initiative ends, with yet another technology platform change; resulting in the more tools & data, less information syndrome.  This is not to say SharePoint is bad, rather it’s a callout to both business leaders and technologist that SharePoint in isolation is not enough.  Consider a previous post of mine and ask yourself; has your SharePoint implementation become nothing more than a Web Frontend to a shared drive or possibly just an electronic routing slip for administrate forms?

The next question is to ask yourself is why?  The company either had great ideas to use SharePoint to solve some key information management problems or was piloting to see what it could do.  Where in the project plans was the plan on how to manage the information?  Did this item get lost in the shuffle of implementing the technology?  Had it even been considered?

Often as an Architect the deliverables I create are given a condescending smile by development and business alike.  Some of the unkind things I’ve heard are: pretty pictures but…we have real stuff to do.  Having grown up in the Architecture (houses) and Engineering (Aerospace) industries I find it interesting that still today while many I.T. organizations use the Architecture metaphor my mentor John Zachman defined decades ago in “Enterprise Architecture” , few still understand the role of engineering and design (those pretty pictures).

Those nice pictures (aka Systems Engineering Diagrams) keep you in line with the bigger picture when you’re in the weeds.  Also those diagrams help you isolate and diagnose where issues are instead of poking around with a sharp stick.  So too, Ontology and Taxonomy assists businesses in understanding the bigger picture of where information is or has been created from and what it is and means.

A simple example I often use harkens back to my days working on an ISO standard.  I will not bore people hear, retelling the story.  I save that for torturing those who attend one of my presentations.  The net of the story is that terms in taxonomy are important; however, equally important is the understanding of what those terms mean.  However, a term’s meaning is contextual though not always represented in taxonomy, thus the need to create ontologies also.   This is not a role for an I.T. person (system administrator or programmer) it’s a role that only business owners and leaders can perform with I.T. staff supporting the storage and display of such information.

Governance Framework: Mechanisms for Information Management and SharePoint

Much of the Governance Models I’ve seen as of late still focus heavily upon how to set permissions in SharePoint.  In previous blog post I stated I don’t believe this is governance but rather the enforcement end of governance.  It this posting I’ll address some of the aspects of establishing a governance.

 For me the initial question of governance boils down to what are your objectives for governing.  Sounds a bit of circular logic, hopefully I can clear that up.  There is a business reason for having SharePoint deployed unless it’s just a technical toy, a let’s see what it can do pilot or a use it because we have it for free.  These are variations of a solution looking for a problem.  My recommendation is to go get some coffee, put your feet up with several other and brainstorm what and why you want to use it, if not go to a technology briefing to see the technologies possibilities and then brainstorm.

 When I look at SharePoint I see features that could enable two key organizational capabilities:

  •  Information Management
  • Workflow

 Information Management is a broad topic and there are various aspects to it.  SharePoint is not and out of the box solution for such.  It has some new features in 2010 that are still, for lack of a better word, primitive.  However, so too are the organizational competencies that SharePoint would help to address.  Information Storage and Retrieval is only slightly better that desktop search as implemented in most companies that I’ve surveyed.  The rational for such is that companies are still trying to figure out how to organize their information.  While many companies have librarians, most of them are focused on hardcopy management or external searching not establishing information management policies and procedures.   Only recently have a seen job titles for taxonomists and information architects that are described in terms other than application UI/UX responsibilities.                  

 Workflows are another broad area, but most efforts I’ve been seeing are towards automating desktop procedures or routing documents for approvals.  It seems that all the value stream and process knowledge that corporations had built up in the past decade has been filed away or discarded mid-stream before benefits could be achieved.  We know seem to be on a path of bottom up vs. top down.  I believe either extreme is wrong.   Workflows or process automation and tracking has the possibility of integrating the silos that companies have had so much problem breaking down.  However, that takes effort to follow the value streams across the departmental boundaries.  Something I.T. organizations have been assumed to have the charter, but often end up structured as the departments working with resulting in becoming silo’d themselves.  Think about your I.T. organization most seem to be structured into Infrastructure and then application areas (finance, marketing, engineering, manufacturing, etc.)  This is a counterforce to breaking the silos corporate executives would want to have happen.  This is not however and I.T. problem so much as a corporate governance problem.

 Having set the content here are a few of the mechanisms I had implemented that over time have put some organizations on the path.

 First, Information Management governance is not about permissions as previously stated.  IM Governance and its implementation in SharePoint is about having an executive decision function that determines the policies and procedures on how information is to be managed.  Issues like what is a record, who is responsible for creating them –though most people create them without knowing.  How and where information should be storage throughout its lifecycle, cradle to grave.  Policies and procedures such as this eventually drive SharePoint permissions.  Some of these issues require both Human Resource and Legal department input to help develop as well as procedures/processes to ensure compliance.

 Next Workflow issues should be looked upon from a broader perspective.  How should smaller workflows and the information they carry be joined together.  I recently witnessed an organization that had several workflows automated, sounds great so far.  Upon inspection, much of the information was not only overlapping but feed the next departments process.  Sounds like a great candidate to link together right?  However, the structures that carry the information and the representations of that information were incompatible.  However, the results from one department’s work were get this manually rekeyed into another similar but different workflow.  Thus what could have been a streamlined process is human bridged multiple times resulting is all the issues with manual transcriptions.

 The governance mechanism I used is some other organizations was to have workflows (processes) diagramed and cataloged, along with the data, purpose and context of the information.  This became the role of the Business Architecture Group and the review board.  While it may seem like a bottleneck and it could become one.  The Business Architecture Group was a meta-data management function about corporate information as well as an advisory function for application development.  They did not have the authority to stop development from building applications, but they could advise as well as recommend to the CIO that applications be revised or changed based upon reviews.  This prevented Business Architecture from holding up development until they approved any plans.

 Through publishing the catalog and information library, having a policy that developers should check the catalog while designing applications this created a system where common information elements where continually developed and exploited. 

 These few mechanism have put some organizations ahead of their competitors in using information as a competitive edge.