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Conclusion: To date vendors such as Microsoft and Apple have been able to exploit operating systems as an effective mechanism for creating locked-in technology ecosystems, but the emergence of the HTML5 standard and Google Chrome sees the value of such ecosystems tending towards zero.

Providers of Cloud Computing services are united by the goal of minimising the relevance of in-house IT, from hardware right up to operating systems and higher-level infrastructure software. Enterprise application vendors such as SAP1 and Salesforce.com are pulling in the same direction. To avoid sunk IT costs and a dangerous level of technology lock-in, any further developments of in-house architectures and applications that ignore this trend should be re-examined.

Related Articles:

"The Art of Lock-In Part 2" IBRS, 2011-07-26 00:00:00

"The Art of lock-in Part 3" IBRS, 2011-08-24 00:00:00

The CIO walks into the boardroom. He proudly tells the board that he‘s hired “Global System Integration Leader” to be the prime SI for the organisation’s upgraded ERP system. The board fires him on the spot. When he asks for an explanation for his firing, the board tells him that it’s the third time that he’s hired the “Global System Integration Leader” for a major system integration engagement and the first two times failed to achieve objectives. He wouldn’t get a third chance. As he made his way to the lift well he was heard to exclaim in a loud high pitched voice; “But you don’t understand, they get it right once in every three times – they’re due”.

Conclusion: In many organisations there is a major disconnect between user expectations relating to software quality attributes (reliability of applications, intuitive user interfaces, correctness of data, fast recovery from service disruption, and so on.) and expectations relating to the costs of providing applications that meet those attributes.The desire to reduce IT costs easily leads to a situation where quality is compromised to a degree that is unacceptable to users. There are three possible solutions:

  1.  Invest heavily in quality assurance measures,
  2.  Focus on the most important software features at the expense of less important ones, or
  3. Tap into available tacit domain knowledge to simplify the organisation, its processes, and its systems.

Conclusion: What the apps will be for NBN is unclear: even NBN Co. is not sure. It need not be so difficult as NBN can be seen simply as a national grid, and therefore conquer distance, regardless of its bandwidth capacity and other correlated benefits of such a network. It could run all the apps that are common amongst the metropolitan areas and for specific industries in remote areas.

Of course, that is not what NBN is intended to do, but rather enable the apps of a new generation that human creativity will forge one day in the future.

Software: Ah, what a day. Do you know you’re the 53,184th person today asking me for an account balance? What is it with humans, can’t you even remember the transactions you’ve performed over the last month? Anyway, your balance is $13,587.52. Is there anything else that I can help you with?

Customer: Hmm, I would have expected a balance of at least $15,000. Are you sure it’s 13,500?

Software: 13,500? I said $13,587.52. Look, I’m keeping track of all the transactions I get, and I never make any mistakes in adding numbers.

Customer: This doesn’t make sense. You should have received a payment of more than $2,000 earlier this week.

Conclusion: Business intelligence has traditionally served as an after-the-fact reporting and analysis capability that drifts weeks or months behind current events. Modern enterprises demand timelier access to integrated information. This demand cannot be met by conventional business intelligence approaches and requires a variety of new techniques targeted at the immediacy of the information required.

 

Conclusion: They usually begin with starry-eyed stakeholders. Too often they end in tears. After several years of fiscal restraint, blockbuster projects are back on the agenda. Many will fail. Others will fall well short of organisational expectations.

Conclusion: In order to be effective, Quality Assurance must be woven into all parts of the organisational fabric. Designing, implementing, and monitoring the use of an appropriate quality management framework is the role performed by a dedicated Quality Assurance Centre of Excellence in the organisation. This internal organisation ties together QA measures that apply to core business processes and the technical QA measures that apply to IT system development and operations. Unless the QA CoE provides useful tools and metrics back to other business units, quality assurance will not be perceived as an essential activity that increases customer satisfaction ratings.

Conclusion: The prototyping of user interfaces is moving beyond traditional low-fidelity static wireframes and embracing more sophisticated approaches to simulate the entire application experience. Modern solution visualisation tools can deliver a more accurate and dynamic rendition of complex enterprise applications before a line of code is cut. This can significantly reduce delivery risk and improve development productivity. Beware though the diminishing returns from overly complex solution visualisation tools that absorb the cost and risk that they should be offsetting.

Observations: Prototyping has long been a means to visualise early in the system development lifecycle how a system should look and behave. This has the benefit of allowing a system design to be validated as early as possible by subject matter experts. While textual based requirements remain the primary contractual specification for system development, they are often hard to fully comprehend without the kinesthetic aid of a visual prototype.

A good prototype should put abstract and generalised requirements into the context of real life business processes and user interactions, creating a rich dialogue between system designers and users around the system’s expected behaviour. The use of a prototype to assist in the harvesting of correct, concise and consistent requirements can pay off considerably in the long term. Studies show that addressing defects in the requirements phase can be 100 times cheaper than fixing them as post-implementation defects.

Traditional prototyping: Low tech prototyping tools such as butchers paper, white board markers and post-it notes can be immensely valuable design tools when combined with adept user interaction facilitators and knowledgeable subject matter experts. Rapid storyboarding of anticipated system behaviour from a variety of stakeholder perspectives can generate a robust high-level shared view of system functionality. This can help establish, or challenge, the important assumptions and principles that will guide detailed design work.

The use of productivity applications to generate basic user interface mockups (Powerpoint, Visio, OmniGraffle) or RAD development tools (such as Dreamweaver and Visual Studio) to create HTML or native-app click-models have become common prototyping tools. In the case of RAD development tools the lurking danger is that users or (even more worryingly) executives, begin to see the prototype as almost the finished system. This can lead to pressure to “put the prototype into production” without the required underlying architectural support, or set false expectations about the considerable extra effort required to implement complex integration and business rule support. To avoid this situation a common rule is to implement a “throw away” prototype using a technology that is impossible to deploy into production.

Solution visualisation: New prototyping tools (such as iRise, Axure and SketchFlow) have emerged that support the end-to-end simulation of applications without the overhead of custom development. These “solution visualisation” tools enable the definition of rich visual user interfaces with advanced interactive features such as data entry, simulated business rules and complex navigation logic. Supporting these design elements are collaborative features that enable applications to be reviewed, annotated and critically evaluated in a fashion similar to the “mark-up” features of modern word processors. These prototype applications can often be packaged for easy distribution by email, facilitating analysis and review without the overhead of maintaining access to prototype infrastructure.

While solution visualisation tools can quickly deliver rich prototypes that flesh out high-fidelity representations of desired systems, the cost of purchasing such software and the effort to maintain complex prototype models can undermine the core benefits of prototyping. The benefit of common tools such as HTML editors or office productivity application lies in their ubiquitous availability and universal accessibility. Complex solution visualisation tools may require expensive up front license costs and/or proprietary file formats that require specific reader software to be installed for the viewing of applications. They may also require centralised repositories to be installed into server environments. These tradeoffs need to be carefully considered before embracing a solution visualisation toolset.

Multiple device simulation. The enterprise application landscape is changing. Touch phones and tablets have established a need for mobile “finger-driven” apps as much as there is a need for “mouse-driven” desktop apps. Corporate applications are demanding dual-mode solutions that support finger operated Android and iOS access just as they do web-based or rich native applications. This need is adding an extra burden on prototyping efforts to support multiple target platforms. Solution visualisation tools can help manage consistent requirements across a multitude of platforms.

ALM tool integration. The key outcome of solution visualisation or prototyping efforts is a consistent and complete set of requirements. In the modern software world applications are often managed by dedicated tools or as part of application lifecycle management (ALM) suites. Effective solution visualisation tools need to be able to integrate into the requirements and design management tools that support the end-to-end development lifecycle. This allows solution visualisation tools to be institutionalised in the core process of application delivery, rather than sidelined as a niche user experience activity.

Next steps:

  1. Organisations should carefully evaluate the use of prototyping in supporting custom application development. Is it effectively contributing to the quality of application design before moving into the development phase?

  2. If basic prototyping tools are not being used effectively start with the low fidelity approach and embed their use into upstream requirements and design activities.

  3. If basic prototyping has reached a ceiling of either design richness or stakeholder reach, consider solution visualisation toolsets. Consider carefully the Total Cost of Ownership of such tools against the anticipated benefits.

McConnell, Steve (2004). Code Complete (2nd ed.). Microsoft Press. ISBN 0-7356-1967-0.

 

Conclusion: The evolution of the social web 2.0 is creating a plethora of technologies for conducting transactions, with eBay, Amazon and PayPal being the most prominent players. The global financial crisis has sped up a trend towards specialised markets for peer-to-peer transactions and towards radically new business models that have the potential to transform entire industries. Consumers and SMEs are driving the change, and traditional banks and established corporations must re-focus part of their competitive edge on those areas that complement peer-to-peer transactions. Peer-to-peer exchange is as old as recorded human history, but traditionally it was limited in scope, leading to the creation of financial institutions that perform the role of a broker of trust between sellers and buyers, a role that is now being challenged by web based alternatives.

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