Friday 27 June 2008

Justifying a large scale Vista migration

Over the past couple of months, I have had in-depth conversations with five CIOs that have made a significant commitment to Windows Vista.

One of the main issues I explored with each of them was the foundation upon which the business case for migration was made. The responses I received were remarkably consistent, and not completely in tune with the way Microsoft articulates the Vista proposition.

What all these guys said was that their business case for Vista, i.e. the one put before the board, CFO and/or other significant stakeholders, was founded on benefits in two key areas - security risk management and operational cost control.

From a security perspective, the focus tended to be on three specific attributes of Vista - better run-time security in the operating system itself, more effective policy enforcement, and the ability to encrypt data on notebook PCs through BitLocker.

What I found interesting was the view that while all three of these security related benefits were considered to be significant, it was the last one in particular that was most frequently highlighted as resonating directly with business stakeholders. Recent high profile press coverage about notebooks storing sensitive data being lost or stolen was seen to have an influence here in terms of awareness. Against this background, Vista’s ability to deal with an acknowledged business risk straight out-of-the-box was perceived to be of significant value.

Beyond security, double-digit reductions in operational cost generally formed the substance of the business case in financial terms. The general streamlining of the management and maintenance process was highlighted as part of this, and the dramatic simplification of image management in particular was seen as a significant contributor to the savings in the large multi-national environment.

Something I was personally very sceptical about, but which three of the five CIOs defended very strongly, were the savings in relation to desktop power consumption. Numbers from 50 Euros per year per desktop upwards were cited as savings, though to be absolutely clear, the benefit comes from better centralised control and enforcement of power management policies rather than efficiencies in the way Vista uses hardware resources.

When asked about the element that was clearly missing from these business cases, namely improved user productivity, the general consensus was that this was a red herring. The most positive view was that there is likely to be some impact in this area, but it is impossible to measure in any tangible way, so why would you dilute an otherwise solid business case with something that could easily discredit it? Best to stick the list of intangibles in your bottom drawer and run with what you can defend with confidence.

And it is on this point that the CIOs I have been speaking with diverge from the view articulated by Microsoft. In fact one said the obsessive reference to the great user interface, user facing productivity features, etc caused a lot of distraction and confusion when he invited a Microsoft executive to meet some of his business sponsors. When a stakeholder says, “I don’t understand, I thought we were doing this to save money”, it doesn’t actually help to get the investment case signed off.

There are a couple of lessons that fall out of this. Firstly, if you are going through the process of evaluating the business case for Vista yourself, the abovementioned criteria will hopefully provide some thoughts based on where at least a few others have put the emphasis – particularly in a large corporate or public sector environment.

Secondly, the feedback suggests that you should be prepared for business sponsors to get confused about the rationale for migrating based on the messages broadcast by Microsoft both directly and indirectly through advertising, the media, marketing collateral, etc. The trick here is agreeing that it will be a great spin-off benefit if all of the claimed or suspected end user productivity gains are realised, but keep the investment case itself focused on the more solid stuff that can be defended under cross-examination.

Finally, there is a message in here for any Microsoft executives reading this. If you can curb your enthusiasm for obsessing about the Wow! and focus on the things that drive decisions, you might see more movement in the market.

Thursday 12 June 2008

Business Intelligence and the bolting horse

There appears to be a revival of interest in Business Intelligence (BI) among IT vendors at the moment. Some pretty big guns, the likes of Oracle, IBM, SAP and Microsoft, are trying to position themselves more aggressively in this space following the spate of acquisitions.

So is this renewed vigour justified?

Well from a customer perspective it undoubtedly is. It is pretty clear when you research BI that the gap between business need and IT capability is as great as ever. When we interviewed a bunch of senior business managers from City of London financial institutions last year, for example, they were very clear about this gap:

And if you look at this chart closely, you will notice something quite interesting. While business information availability isn't that bad at an overall financial and arguably operational performance level, it is not very good when you look at more detailed measures and indicators.

Why is this interesting?

Well because it tells us that by the time those managing the business find out about something important, it is often too late to do anything about it. Stories of product, client or partner related issues only coming to light when someone starts investigating why a higher level number has been missed are quite common.

To put it another way, business managers usually have what they need to monitor the ‘effects’ of doing business, but are typically underserved when it comes to the information required to manage the underlying ‘causes’ of those effects. We discuss this more in the research report from the study if you are interested, but it does bring home the importance of incorporating continuous analytics capability into the business process itself, as well as having traditional retrospective BI operating off to one side.

The aforementioned vendors are therefore spot-on when it comes to making a big noise about the principle of integrating BI capability into applications in a more embedded fashion. Now, whether they have done a good of integrating their recent acquisitions into their broader solution set in practice is another question, but it is at least worth hearing them out.

Sunday 1 June 2008

Talking at cross purposes, or being deliberately misled?

Ever had one of those conversations where you debate something for a while then it dawns on you that each party has been talking about something different? It has happened to me quite a few times recently.

One example was in relation to Business Process Modelling (BPM), which is something I grew up with and in my mind is about, well, modelling business processes. It’s a discipline that business analysts have been involved with for a years, and while the technology to support it has moved on, and arguably some of the methodologies too, the fundamental principles haven’t changed that much for a long time now. Then someone asked Freeform Dynamics to design a research study to figure out the level to which organisations had adopted BPM. When I argued during an internal project start-up meeting that you couldn’t really ask someone about when and how they were taking something on board that they had been doing for a decade or two, it turned out that the ‘BPM’ we were being asked to investigate was actually 'Business Process Management' and was based on a definition which included the technical side of things – workflow rules engines, SOA orchestration, and so on. Not quite the technology-independent business view of BPM that I was taught earlier in my career, but as soon as the misunderstanding was cleared up, we could design the research accordingly.

Another example was prompted by a report I read the other day claiming that Software as a Service (SaaS) is now a mature and pervasive model. This was reminiscent of claims made during a number of other conversations I have had recently with SaaS advocates, that I have been struggling to reconcile with the findings of our own research. The latter has shown quite conclusively that while larger organisations are starting to make selective use of SaaS for delivering business application functionality, 'pervasive' is certainly not a word that applies in this area. Then I realised that some of the advocates were throwing a whole bunch of stuff into their definition of SaaS (or the related S+S model) that I would never dream of including when discussing the delivery of business application functionality. Internet search, traditional ISP services, and even things like consumer content services, online help and automatic updates associated with desktop software can sometimes be lumped together when referring the 'SaaS market'. Again, once the ambiguity is cleared up, you can see where people are coming from, and make a judgement on the usefulness (or otherwise) of what they are saying.

I guess we at Freeform are particularly sensitive to precision when it comes to discussing market activity, as primary research designed to figure out what’s really going on behind the buzzwords and the hype is so central to what we do. The experiences I have outlined, however, highlight how easily people can be misled by imprecise or ambiguous definitions if they are not on their guard. And with so much vested interest and evangelism driving the market, the temptation for some to spin and exploit our ever changing vocabulary is significant, so we all need to careful about what is behind those stats and definitions.