Future Decoded Reflected

Microsoft’s recent Future Decoded event in London gave more insights into why IT leadership needs to keep thinking broadly about what future IT capabilities are provided and how.  At the event, I could see how IT will need to support the new social values we’re coming to expect, whether as employees, consumers or individuals, for example the expectation that we’re all allowed to give an opinion on anything and the ease that we’re able to share it with the much wider world. 

 

What the key note speakers told us

Microsoft had a very compelling set of key note speakers including Jeremy Paxman, Dame Stella Rimington and Sir Bob Geldof.  They each gave their view on how different parts of our lives need to adapt for the future, which for those three speakers were individualisation, leadership and education.  It was no coincidence that they said nothing specific about IT never mind about Microsoft.  Instead, their themes  re-iterated what the wider world will be expecting the IT of the future to provide for and accommodate.

Paxman – The expectations of individuals

Paxman reminded us how the Internet has given everyone the expectation they can be accepted as an individual and have their say regardless of what it is they have to say.  The universal appeal of Twitter – from business to social audiences and from the old to the young – shows how easy it is for someone to give their point of view – even if they don’t know, or probably even care, whether or not they’re being listened to.

If we apply those same principles to today’s technology, we need to think about how our own IT systems give everyone the right to be heard – whether they’re the public, customers, junior employees or senior directors.  We then need to think about the tangible value we can get from their contributions.  Collecting a virtual pat on the back is all well and good for making us feel great when we’re sat on our laurels but we can’t afford to sit still any more. 

Think big data, think sentiment analysis – think about how future IT systems can make giving each of your customers a bespoke but affordable service.

Geldof – The route to developing countries

Sir Bob Geldof was passionate in describing what he’s now best known for – helping to solve the worst problems that the world’s poorest continent has been unlucky enough to face.  He then went one step further and made us realise that the problem Africa had in the 80s wasn’t a lack of grain to feed people it was that the people there couldn’t afford to buy it.  People in Africa died from poverty, not malnutrition, and it’s the same problem that’s killing people there now from Ebola.

His speech wasn’t all negative.  He also spoke about the improvements in educational happening in some of Africa’s poorest countries.   Showing how people in developing countries are as ready to learn and contribute to the world as much as any of us in the developed world – they just lack the access and resources to do it.

For me, that means we need to think about how IT can help us reach the academic geniuses and social communities in the developing world.  In the words of Sir Bob we can’t wait for them to get broadband, smartphones or desktop PCs – they may never get them.  Instead as text message based banking in Africa is showing, IT needs to adapt to provide high levels of functionality when only simple technologies are available.   It means thinking outside the box – think of Google’s blimps that provide free wi-fi access across Africa – so a lack of advanced technology doesn’t stop our ever increasing efforts to blur the boundaries between the developed and developing worlds .

What does this all mean?

The impact of these two specific speakers as well as the broader themes they talk about should help us comprehend the scale of the tasks we have ahead if IT is to be effective in the future world.

These two speakers gave me some very clear and specific examples of how IT needs to continue to innovate to support our personal expectations of the future.  I hope they help shape your future decisions.

Two years on from my Microsoft Certified Architect Board

Two years ago today, I was in Seattle preparing for my five hour long panel interview a.k.a. board for the Microsoft Certified Architecture certification. It’s the highest level of certification Microsoft have ever offered and there are still only around 100 people who have it. To pass, I needed to submit a 50 page project portfolio prior to standing before four existing MCA’s for a whole afternoon and talking about my approach to solution design and delivery.

All I’ll briefly mention about that afternoon is that it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the most enjoyable and the rewarding. The people on the Board got up in the middle of the night to fly to Seattle to meet with me. They’d read my portfolio and wanted to meet me. They wanted to hear about how performed my role as much as grade me on it. I still use the feedback and guidance from that afternoon now.

The rest of my article today isn’t about that afternoon, it’s about the two years after it. The highs and lows about how my career as an architect has progressed.

Suddenly Directionless

When I found out two weeks later that I’d passed I was happy – but then directionless. The Board members in their feedback gave me long term career goals, career objectives and told me to keep learning – but I didn’t know what to do immediately next. There wasn’t a harder exam in my day-to-day life to sign up for.

I wanted to design better technology solutions

My goal at that point was to learn to design even better technology solutions. To me that meant more rigour about my design processes and designing larger solutions. When I looked for new books, they were about business transformation. That interested me personally but the word server never mind SQL Server was missing from the index of those books – I didn’t know how to use them in my day job. I knew I had a long history about talking to business and IT leadership audiences, but I always thought my deliverables were the technology solutions or guidance.

Then one day

Several months after my Board, I was on an architecture training course hoping to find this hard to find next level of design knowledge. I was grumpy because it was about topics like business transformation, solution value management and project prioritisation while I thought I needed to learn about design and quality to design solutions. Then one day on that training course, I realised what the next phase of my career was going to be about – how to be a better architect:

I design better solutions – by making them business transformation projects.

Everything a business does needs to have business benefits

Two years on from that period, I still see the technology solutions I help design and deliver as the reason for working with my customers. However, the value I enjoy giving them is making sure that what the IT department does is helping the business achieve its goals. For example, using cloud based servers doesn’t just make IT’s life easier for deployments – it can help the business deploy new capabilities faster. If that organisation is in the retail sector and needs to support a high number of short lived digital marketing initiatives that can be re-assuring news for IT to tell the business.

Guest blog author for Microsoft TechNet

Over the last few weeks I’ve started writing guest blog articles for the TechNet UK team, around one a month on the theme they’re promoting around that time.

The first two published have been about how IT’s relationship with sales and marketing is changing, and an architect’s view about adopting cloud computing.

Article Links

Rather than link to each directly, I’ve created a Bing search below to find them.

Link to my articles

Managing multi-vendor technology environments

At this week’s series of SQL Server community events hosted under the SQLRelay umbrella, I presented a session titled “Managing multi-vendor technology environments”.  It sounds like something large organisations have to do, which is true, but it’s now also something individual solution owners have to do – especially in the business analytics space.

Rarely is one vendor’s technology enough to meet a solution’s every requirement.  Whether it’s the source systems, the storage and analysis layers, or the presentation layer – it’s increasingly common for business intelligence/business analytics solutions to create solutions that use components from multiple sources. 

Our use of the word vendor is also changing especially as the open source community is now making significant contributions with Hadoop and R.

Below is both a link to my presentation and its overview.

 

Session Overview

Rarely has a single vendor managed to meet all of an organisation’s technology requirements, especially in an era when we increasingly depend on vendor-less open-source software.  Instead, we regularly deploy portfolios of products and technologies to meet a business’s needs.

This style of enterprise computing isn’t new but what’s becoming more common is for a single project to use and integrate multiple products and technologies.  To find an example, we need look no further than modern business intelligence solutions.

Regardless of where it happens, deploying multi-vendor solutions increases risk – the risk of increased complexity, increased costs and project delays.

This session’s objective is to help us manage multi-vendor environments.  We’ll consider when to decide if a single vendor’s “just good enough” solution may actually be the best decision – or how to manage the inevitable – the complexities of integrating, supporting and purchasing in multi-vendor environments.

Download Link

Here

Review of Open2Study’s “Introduction to Enterprise Architecture”

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Recently, I took an online training course provided by Open2Study – an open learning initiative by Australia’s Open Universities. Its title was an “Introduction to Enterprise Architecture” and I’m providing an overview and review of it.

Course Logistics

Firstly, the course is free – all you need to invest is about 10 hours of your time over a month. From what I can see, the course runs every four or five weeks. You can find all the information at this web page: https://www.open2study.com/courses/introduction-to-enterprise-architecture

Course Delivery

Open2Study deliver the course online over four weeks – not a single lazy Sunday afternoon when you can rush through it – using ten minute YouTube videos. Each video ends with a “pop quiz” and each module ends with an assessment. They each use multiple-choice questions, but as I’ll comment later that doesn’t make them easy.

Craig Martin presents the videos and in my view is the best person in the world to teach you about enterprise architecture. I’ve linked to an overview about him here. http://enterprisearchitects.com/learning/instructors/craig-martin/  I first knew about him after finding some videos on YouTube about similar subjects and realised how much I liked his teaching style.

“Real enterprise architecture”

Very quickly you realise this course is about enterprise architecture – the discipline of making businesses more effective, and not enterprise IT architecture – dealing with large numbers of IT systems.  Expect to learn about business processes, business capabilities and industry reference models – rather than how networks or servers work.

I’d say about 30% of the content discusses “traditional IT”, the remaining 70% is about business architecture and how to implement transformational change within a business.

If you want to learn how to design technically large and complex IT systems – look elsewhere.

If you want to know how deliver business value and business transformation using IT, read on.

Seven out of ten

Having completed, and passed, the course I’ve given the course a score of 7/10. To understand why, I’ve broken my score into 7 good points and 3 bad points:

Good points

  1. The course was about “proper” enterprise architecture and not advanced IT design – previously I’ve found these types of courses always end up swaying towards just IT or just project delivery techniques
  2. I actually learned, a lot.  Too often we find ourselves sat in training where we know more than half of the material already but we have to sit through it to learn the bits we don’t know.  I’d estimate I knew about 20% of the training material before I started.
  3. The ten minute videos were just long enough to cover a complex subject but short enough so I didn’t get bored and just listen to it in the background.
  4. The videos each had a transcript that you could read either in sync with the video or without watching the video at all – sometimes I needed to read what had just been said slowly to understand it said rather than listen to it again.
  5. Craig Martin’s delivery used straight forward real world examples to compliment his academic material – sometimes instructors get carried away telling you long and complex stories rather than just the relevant details
  6. The videos used a clever “transparent whiteboard” to draw diagrams that allowed me to take good screenshots for my notes – there’s no slides for this course.
  7. The web site was easy to use – sadly that still has to be said and not taken for granted.

Bad points

  1. The course was both an introduction to enterprise architecture and an introduction to TOGAF.  Although there’s four modules to cover both of these topics it’s a lot of material for “an introduction”.  The pace in module 2 that went through TOGAF in quite some detail meant a lot of stopping to catch up on my notes and then work out what was just said.  A slowdown in pace at the expense of some content would’ve been better.
  2. The questions in the pop quiz at the end of each module weren’t always covered in the video!    The difference in terminology or even material often meant I had a blank face when I read the questions, that didn’t help morale after a hardcore module.
  3. The lack of download materials obviously helped keep the training free but also made it hard to do any “offline” studying.

Overall : Recommended

A few new IT/EA architect blogs

 

I’ve previously written about my habit of reading blogs/RSS feeds related to IT and enterprise architecture, and wanted to share/promote a couple more that have joined my reading list lately.

  • The Value Realization Blog from Microsoft
    I think I’ve written about this before but it’s worth mentioning again – a great place to learn about communicating and managing value to IT leaders, in this case written in the context of Microsoft consulting engagements.
    http://blogs.technet.com/b/valuerealization/

  • J. D. Meier’s blog at MSDN
    It’s purely coincidence that this blog is hosted by this guy’s employer – Microsoft.  His blog article titles include topics such as: 10 high-value activities in the enterprise, success articles for work and life, and Agile and the definition of quality.  A very senior architect at Microsoft who shares his wisdom about delivering quality solutions.   http://blogs.msdn.com/b/jmeier/

 

  • J. D. Meier’s personal blog
    Putting the constraints of his day job to one site, J. D. again shares his experience about helping people “get better results in work and life”.  http://blogs.msdn.com/b/jmeier/

 

  • Enterprise Architect Voices
    A syndicating site that everyday collects a broad range of articles relating to enterprise architecture.  One in ten will jump out as a must-read while the rest help you understand “what other people need to read about for their jobs”  http://eavoices.com/

 

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New online resources for architects from Microsoft

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Those who’ve read my previous blog articles, or who know me, know my frustration at finding good educational resources for IT architects.  I’m not an enterprise architect or a senior developer, yet a lot of “architect” resources online are for just those audiences.

 

Microsoft’s older architect resources

About 10 years ago, Microsoft started publishing a lot of good academic material for IT architects.  This is the type of material that doesn’t really age, unlike technology specific resources, but for many reasons it started to disappear, not get updated, or not get added to.  Then the .net era took off and their attention shifted to the developer audiences.  You can find what remains online here.

 

Three great new architect resources from Microsoft

Very recently, some good new technology agnostic IT architect resources started appearing on Microsoft’s web sites.  I found them through the MSDN and TechNet blog RSS feeds I scan through every day and wanted to share them further.

The Value Realization blog

This blog compliments an enterprise strategy service that Microsoft Consulting Services offer their enterprise customers BUT the descriptions of the services it provides are useful to ALL IT architects.

Even though this blog uses the context of enterprise IT strategy guidance to CIOs – the same guidance can apply to your much smaller project that only has two or three stakeholders and a single sponsor.  The same processes for identifying, communicating, and measuring should still apply to your project as it does to an enterprise wide strategy.  Lots of good information here – thank you Microsoft for sharing!

Link to it here.

The Microsoft Architecture mini-site and blog

A key skill as an architect is knowing what other architects know even if it’s not your domain area.  For example, it’s useful to know that the key trends in IT right now are cloud, big data, enterprise mobility, and enterprise social media.  Knowing what our peers are working on stops us working in a silo and making decisions that could hinder future integration or re-use.

The blog and blueprints section of this mini-site are excellent technology agnostic (I know they’re not vendor agnostic!) resources for key architectural trends right now.

Link to the blog here and the mini-site here.

 

The Microsoft Virtual Academy architect training

The free online training resource provides the equivalent of a day’s training about one of many architecture processes and using it to scope Microsoft product based solutions.  There’s a lot of pre-sales content in there, but if you’re not interested in that it’s worth skipping through to learn about generic architecture concepts.

I wouldn’t call it enterprise architect training like Microsoft have, but for someone in the Microsoft technology space and new for the IT architect world it’s a good resource:

Link to the training course here.

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