Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What really is ITIL?

Business in modern times has been interested in focusing on the customer. Since we, the customers, have the cash that business wants, this makes sense. Peter Drucker, the business management godfather, has been hammering away for all of his career on this topic:

Quality in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in. It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for. A product is not quality because it is hard to make and costs a lot of money, as manufacturers typically believe. This is incompetence. Customers pay only for what is of use to them and gives them value. Nothing else constitutes quality.

IT also has been interested in serving business' best interests as best as they can figure out because they have to pay for that next upgrade. But without guidance from business it's just a vague subservience to the current needs of the business. In the past, that conversation has been as meaningful as a dog training lesson for your fun-loving fido in most cases.

Fortunately, the conversation is maturing and the new language of business for IT is emerging in the form of a standard coming from across the pond called ITIL.

ITIL is the Information Technology Infrastructure Library or, put more simply, it's the language of business for IT. It's also a resource of good business tools that works great for IT. The IT consultants and IT managers that are doing a good job out there were polled and their collective IT goodness was summarized during the 1980's into the ITIL books.

You'll find things you know from testing, CMMI, Six Sigma, PMI, Deming, and basic marketing courses. They all use the same language and talk about the traditional IT operations groups and software development issues. You won't get your company ITIL certified but you can personally be an ITIL graduate of the Foundations, Intermediate or Advanced levels.

ITIL formed in the British government when the IT invasion into business caused them to rethink how to manage IT in the workplace. They now have been through three versions and have summarized their efforts into five volumes. Four volumes break the lifecycle of a service (more on this later) into Strategy, Design, Transition, and Operations and add a quality part called Continual Service Improvement (CSI: London was the backup title).

ITIL focuses on what they call service management. This essentially means how the heck do you run business with so many computers involved and still give the customer what they want. The service is what the customer makes a buy decision on. It's made up of the product and the promise, or as ITIL puts it, the utility and the warranty. In requirements management, we would say functional and non-functional requirements.

When you buy soup in a can, you don't just get the soup. On a Campbell's soup can, you'll find a customer service phone number and a web site that delivers more value to the customer than the standard generic brand. A service desk should be able to tell you just about how long it will take to restore a broken service and a pizza shop can tell you how long your hot pizza will take to get to your door . This is part of what makes up what Drucker calls quality.

Behind the doors of IT, we talk about delivering services but in a different way. The SOA (service-oriented architecture) craze that has re-energized the distributed systems architects, is nothing more than ITIL and Drucker at work behind the door. IT wants to create a software service that the business can use. Business wants to use that IT service as a part of their business service and having the flexibility to do what they want has always been what they needed.

So, ITIL is really just a merging of two cultures and the formation of one language. It's about the coming of age of IT from when it was a baby called Data Processing to a promising adolescent called MIS. It's an MBA textbook of tools for the nerd. Stop by a local itSMF user group and start talking ITIL today.

Look for the addition to Centriq's calendar of ITIL classes that move the textbook view to a practical application. As of now we offer the one day Awareness and the three day certification Foundations class.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

JavaScript found in trash – worth millions

Since 2006, we’ve been in the midst of a programming revolution on the web that hasn’t been led by the big guns. In fact, the people have spurned Sun’s Java, Microsoft’s .NET, and even the open source PHP when it came to adding some functionality above that of the simple link on a web page. The server based languages are just getting too complex for the guy who wants a little action on the page and used to grab a cgi piece of code he really didn’t understand.

Actually the revolution was more about dusting off a very valuable work of art and seeing that it had more value than originally thought of. It’s almost as exciting as going to the Antiques Roadshow and finding that your old found-in-the-trash painting of odd brushstrokes is by one of the great Mexican masters of modern art worth over a million bucks. The real art I’m talking about is JavaScript (ECMAScript for you purists).

JavaScript has gotten a bad reputation for doing bad things. Pop-unders were annoyances and JavaScript made it easy to track all your browsed pages making some marketing sense out of it which drew the wrath of the privacy minded folk. But now the user interface madness has settled down and we’re taking a second look at this red headed stepchild language.

It’s not the little guys who are noticing but Microsoft and people like Nokia, the largest cell phone manufacturer in the wireless world, that are starting to rally around this misunderstood language. JavaScript was much ahead of its time with strange object-oriented syntax that more resembles the cutting edge functional programming style rather than the current OO style. But it was in need of standardization and simplification.

The open source community (read programmers who don’t date much) started providing alternate ways of using JavaScript that helped us solve the standards issues and make it easy and once again fun to use. The top contenders were jQuery, MooTools, and Dojo. Even Google got involved with storing those libraries of code in a common place and wrote a library for Java programmers that generated JavaScript.

What happened just last week is that the big guns got back in the game. Microsoft is adding jQuery to their core development code. Wait a minute. That’s Microsoft, the Great Beast of the Northwest who either buys you, out markets you, or beats you into a pulp with their lawyers? And they’re adding open source to Visual Studio with their own jQuery components?

Well, that’s nothing new to Oracle who has been building and integrating Java and Java open source components into their architecture for years. Even Java is open source now. The right model is more of a big picture play than a little product profit. Oracle has shown itself to be solid as a systems integrator and Microsoft is finally starting to see the light.

And Nokia will be adding jQuery to a browser in their 100 million or so phones that they ship every quarter. Developers will be able to use it as well for better applications that will help them regain market share back from the iPhone.

The start of this revolution from the flotsam and jetsam of the web world is going to bring life to Web 2.0 sites. And now the stamp of approval on a common code library that makes JavaScript easy again will make for some exciting times. Visual effects, server code integration with Ajax, and total control of the browser is within reach of many more programmers than ever before. Look over some of the exciting jQuery powered web sites to see where we are going.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

SuperChrome is born - read the comic book

The browser wars have returned. And just in time because boy, was I getting bored. It seemed that things were getting too stable for good competition in the web arena. Internet Explorer had conceded to follow CSS standards, Firefox updated every other time you opened your browser, and let’s see… that’s about it. Oh, there’s Safari, but that’s not anything important was it? If it was, it should have been called iBrowser, right?

But Safari had the best standards compliancy and was the fastest for loading and processing pages. And it wasn’t being pushed by Apple so it sat in the jungle unnoticed until Google, the intrepid hunters of Mountain View, went and consulted the Safari guides. They came away with the beginning of a new browser called Chrome, named after the small but significant frame that contains the web page in a browser.

Chrome has its technical features that are sure to lure open source users away from Firefox and further erode the base of Microsoft. One such feature is that it essentially makes the web browser the RIA for the Google home page. Instead of just having a dull give-me-a-page browser, Chrome searches terms for you and remembers where you’ve searched before allowing you to get there quicker. No more Google Toolbar or competitors. I like that I can type amazon<tab> and get the Amazon.com search feature directly in the browser. I also like seeing where I’ve been browsing the most because it’s likely I’m going to go back there.

But there’s a few tarnishes on the Chrome as the bug reports come streaming in. People expect brilliance and perfection from Google which in this case is not happening. It’s almost like people expected a polished hubcap and got the plastic version instead. It’s a beta, guys. That’s not even one point zero. And you expect them to be on par with a program released in 1995 like IE? Google did a fantastic job of rethinking the browser for today’s use. Even Microsoft takes a few versions before people pay attention to them seriously with a new product and capture market share.

I am waiting a year while the Google gearheads make applications that will talk to Chrome and the other services that are cropping up. It’s even open sourced so anyone can make changes if they can figure out how the Google geniuses made it work. JavaScript is standardized finally and that means as a language we will have plenty of gasoline for the web engines out there. But grab yourself a copy at Google Chrome’s web site and read the comic book by Scott McCloud, the comics theorist, which explains it all. And then sit back for some interesting times ahead.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Soy sauce and push-ups

I enjoy seeing what people are passionate or mad about through the Internet. In China, even though they have the Great Firewall to protect them from the outside culture, they still manage to find ways around it as all good computer enemies of the state have been doing for years. So we are still able to hear that digital despair on the other side of the world.

The Chinese are getting upset about lame excuses it seems. A recent riot over the death of a teenage girl caused the police to issue a statement that has turned into one of those indecipherable and so popular phrases that non-Internet people ponder over, sort of like "All your base are belong to us."

The official police explanation goes like this. “The girl got into a quarrel with one of her male classmates who was with her at the river bank. Later, she seemed to calm down a little bit, so the boy began doing push-ups next to her. As he finished the third push-up, the girl suddenly jumped into the river…”

So now the net is full of people talking about “doing push-ups” when they craft a joke based on a ridiculous or nonsensical explanation. This is merging with yet another hot phrase based on a lame excuse when a reporter asked about a government response to a recent scandal and got back the reply of “It has nothing to do with me at all! I’m just out to get some soy sauce!”

So recently a popular MSN status message was “I’m just out to get some soy sauce.” The newer Chinese phrase is is now “I’m not here to buy some soy sauce; I’m here to do some push-ups!” I'm waiting for the English version which might go something like "All your push-ups are belong to us!"

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

IT Project Managers in high demand

IT project managers are where the money is at. Yes, the economy just dumped 50,000 jobs as of last month but this is absolutely the best time to have a PMP and know your IT skills. A study conducted by the staffing firm Veritude says a little over half of the firms will increase their staff. Payrolls and productivity have been increasing. And who do they want to hire the most?

The IT jobs most in demand, according to the survey of 122 HR, IT and finance pros: project manager (31 percent), database administrator (30 percent), systems administrator (28 percent), enterprise architecture (27 percent), software engineer (27 percent), network engineer (25 percent) and systems analyst (20 percent).

What's not being specifically categorized is the business analyst and those skills are in between the project manager, the software engineer and the systems analyst. But if you don't have some project management in your skill set, shouldn't you be thinking about learning Microsoft Project soon? Or even taking on a modest set of skills with Project+? If you have experience in project management but not a PMP, employers are looking for that certification first so get it as soon as you can.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ice cream and garbage collectors

Imagine that your ice cream sales business had recently survived a tough time when the store manager decided to convert everything into the metric system to confuse you and customers so you could look like you made more money. You fired the manager four years ago knowing that your reputation was slacking.

So, a few years ago you bought a new expensive untested ice cream store accounting system from the Dairy Foods Association of Germany that was going to take another few years to get used to. It didn’t do what you wanted to, you don’t have a clue how much money you are making, and now you really look bad.

What do you do?

a) Stop and determine what the software is able to do and what you want from it before moving on.

b) Start over again, this time making a good evaluation of the software by thorough testing.

c) Sue the idiots for making bad software and sully their name everywhere you go.

Around 1998, Waste Management Inc. was in bad shape with no management and hardly any IT at all. The management had been dismissed by the board after the SEC had found Waste Management Corporation using aggressive accounting practices to enhance its earnings. Shortly afterwards Waste Management’s board fired the company’s management. In 2002, Waste Management purchased and installed PeopleSoft software. Then a few years ago, they were attracted to SAP while Oracle was making a bid for PeopleSoft for SAP’s “Safe Passage” program in which they included free support of the PeopleSoft systems.

Now, after two years and $100 million, Waste Management is characterizing the SAP project as a “complete failure” in a lawsuit filed March 20, 2008. Waste Management wants to extract their pound of flesh for the US version of the SAP Waste and Recycling Software that they say was undeveloped, untested and defective.

I’m guessing there are a few problems here. During the PeopleSoft integration, Griff Macy, VP for enterprise systems, decided against bringing in consultants to help manage the project. "Their folks aren't necessarily better than ours," he said. Most likely, the SAP integration went the same way without outside expertise.

Waste Management was taking on a second major ERP integration after starting from scratch with their IT operations in 1998. Maybe there was overconfidence, maybe there was just a distrust of outsiders and more mature IT processes. Macy also said "Consultants would have wanted to work in silos" which sounds to me like he didn’t understand the planning process.

The dark side to this lawsuit is that the liability of the vendor for achieving requirements extends far past the initial contract to the deployment and customer satisfaction where the results can be in murky dispute. The ability to extract out the responsibility of supposed failure is going to be tough but several fallouts result. In this case, one is the dirtied name of SAP and the other is the higher fear factor of systems integrators working with any large client who has a legal department.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Metrics

Software metrics are funny. When you want to manage by the numbers, you think counting the output of programmers can lead you to a worthwhile standard to gauge activity completion in a project. Of course, the baseline needs to be set. And then you'll need to have an estimate of that output.

Now comes the funny part. What do you count? You can't count the code words. That's like counting drops of water. They get bigger or smaller as you want depending on who is doing the coding and the measuring. You can't count the smaller modules of code. Now you've just gone from drops to small containers and again it's up to who's doing the choosing of the container.

So it's more like telling a flour manufacturer to measure a truckload of flour and then telling them to count the spoonfuls that they have. The spoon isn't standard, the level of the contents of the spoon isn't standard, and the odds that someone will make an error is high. Not to mention that it takes a dedicated staff to deliver spoonful measurements over a long period of time so that you can use control methods.

The best solution I've seen to counting code is to count the modeled application before it goes to code. It's more like measuring in standard size truck loads. The best standard is the use case defined at the same level, usually called the user goal level.

So, in my opinion, metrics for code, once having gone to code are useless. However, project metrics based on large chunks of functionality and enterprise metrics such as ROI on technology purchases, are very worthwhile depending on the control level you want.