Note to CEO from your shareholders: If you think cloud IT is optional, please resign now.

When I first joined Microsoft in 2001 I met the indomitable Bob McDowell, the founder of Microsoft Consulting Services and the author of “Driving Digital” (yes in 2001). He relayed a story of his meeting with a CEO of a financial institution, where his secretary brought him his email printed out on paper for him to read. When the CEO asked Bob what recommendations could be made, Bob’s response was “you should resign”. The point being that by 2001 if you were not using email yourself, you were totally missing the power of technology to transform your business. We are at another such point.

Niagara Falls sends about 2.2 Million litres/second (600,000 gallons/second) over the edge. That’s a good analogy to the velocity and volume of cloud computing now. Some technology trends have been fads that start and then fizzle, some are persistent. This is one of the persistent ones with well over $200 Billion invested by the major cloud players today. There may be people in your organization that still want to paddle upstream and continue trying to serve your company with traditional technology, but it is only a matter of time before they physically exhaust themselves and get swept over the edge, perhaps unprepared to have your company make the journey safely. The key point being is all that time spent paddling against the current, just lets your competitors get further downstream and you may never catch them again.

The most important thing you need to realize about Cloud Computing is not the inherent cost savings. It is the velocity. Innovations and new competitive capabilities are delivered on the cloud daily, not in the 3, 5 or 10 year cycles of traditional on-premise computing. If you as CEO are not being told what machine learning or BOT technology or cognitive services can do for your business from your IT group, go ask them.

 

 

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Real Digital Transformation vs. Snake Oil

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I had dinner with a very good friend of mine last week. He asked me what I was working on these days, but before I could answer he said laughing “Please tell me it’s NOT Digital Transformation”.

So, in the past 24 months you have heard all the IT terms or the associated acronyms for:
• Digital Transformation (DT)
• Augmented Reality (AR)
• Big Data
• Machine Learning (ML)
• Artificial Intelligence (AI)
• Blockchain
• Everything on Demand (EOD)
• Internet of Things (IOT)
• Self Serve Analytics
• And of course, Cloud etc.

Are they just buzzwords or is it something real that 10 years from now you are going to really, really wish you had paid closer attention to? Let’s check history.
In the 80’s, these buzzwords were around:

• Personal Computing (PC)
• Windows
• Local Area Networking (LAN)
• Open Systems (Unix)
• Relational Databases (RDBMS)
• Electronic Mail (email)
• AOL

In the 90’s,

• Wireless Fidelity (WiFi)
• eCommerce (eBay, Amazon)
• World Wide Web (www)
• Google, Yahoo
• Laptop Computer

In the first decade of 2000,

• Bluetooth
• Voice over IP (VOIP)
• Search Engine
• Facebook
• Social Networking
• Twitter
• Smartphone (Blackberry, iPhone etc.)

In the 2010’s

• Tablets
• iPad
• Android

Historically, many buzzwords are associated with technology that has fundamentally changed our lives and changed the world. However, everyone likes to jump on the buzzword bandwagon, some without crystalizing what it actually means and some purveyors of “Digital Transformation” are no different than snake-oil salespersons and that’s why, rightfully, it gets a laugh at the dinner table.

However, real Digital Transformation means that there are and will be completely new ways of how you conduct business enabled by technologies that are being created at an ever-accelerating pace. It took 20+ years for email to be pervasive but it took less than 10 years for Facebook to be ubiquitous. Today no business would ignore either of these channels as they are both core to their consumer contact. In 5 years, UBER changed transportation globally as we know it. The time from concept to production in new technologies and services is continually shrinking. This is why Digital Transformation is critical to any business and even more critical, what partner you pick to go on that journey with. Your partner cannot be someone that just see’s today’s technologies, because by the time you implement them, the next generation is already upon you. Pick someone with vision and a true understanding of digital transformation … not just a snake-oil salesperson.

 

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You are running out of pencils….

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Eventually you will run out of pencils and can’t give your users any more. Faber-Castell was one of the first to mass manufacture introduce this awesome productivity tool in the mid 1700’s. We have received more than 250 years use across the globe from this innovation. Today, most organizations have found even better ways for communication…. but some enterprises ….

My children have never known life without a computer, my grandchildren don’t comprehend a world without a smartphone and ubiquitous internet access. Knowledge is always accessible, human interaction with friends, family anywhere in the world is a click away for a face to face conversation yet in the business world, some IT organizations are still metaphorically handing out pencils to their users. I can tell you today that my grandchildren entering the workforce in the next 5 years or so, won’t take a job where you point them at the desk and say, “enjoy your 3270.. use the F keys to submit”. They expect mobile, tablets, intuitive interfaces, speed and parity with today’s omnipresent cloud tools and devices , or they won’t work for you and you will need them.

The cloud is no longer new. It is well established and quite frankly if you think you can do a better job of service, operations, admin, CapEx/OpEx cost control or security in your data center than the cloud today, you are simply wrong.

Security

When nefarious people hack an enterprise class cloud service, a dedicated team responds to address it and fixes the issue then inoculates and immunizes thousands of other customer’s systems as a preventive measure, many times without any requirement for them to even know. You don’t have that team, you don’t know about the dangers you have not experienced and you can’t be proactive to the same level. You’re not as good. Period. With Scale and dedicated responsiveness, the enterprise cloud is better. Need a case study, just think about the factors in the last US election for on-premise services.

Innovation Cycle

The second factor is the rate of innovation and improvement. If you took two organizations, one with on-premise software and the other with cloud that initially did the same functions at day zero of implementation what would happen?

On-premise software is known in the industry as a “packaged product”. This stems back from its days when software was purchased and then shipped out to the datacenter on tapes, CD’s, DVD’s or now electronic downloads. It has an update cycle generally measured in years. Release 1, Release 2 etc.

On the cloud, new capabilities are tested and released sometimes daily. Major enhancements every quarter and within a year (even if the products were identical day 0) the cloud version is likely a full year ahead of the on-premise solution. Application developers now build for the cloud first and then they retrofit those changes into an on-premise product lifecycle at defined intervals. 3 years out, an on-premise solution can easily be 2 full years behind in features and capabilities from the cloud version. You can create competitive business advantage by being on the cloud.

Cloud Ecosystem

The third factor is the cloud ecosystem. One of the biggest myths is that running a solution on-premise and in the cloud is identical because it’s just “where you run it”. No, it’s not. Perhaps more correctly, no it’s not if you are actually leveraging the cloud, not just running on it.

  • Elasticity, the ability to perform better during peak usage periods like month-end, year-end, retail seasons etc.
  • Business Intelligence, Analytical tools that can easily and securely leverage cloud data and generate insights and power better decisions.
  • Eliminate help desk calls by leveraging self-serve capabilities inherent in the cloud.
  • Be instantly mobile and secure on smartphones and tablets at a higher level of security than you could provide on-premise with more features, more integration and better user experiences.
  • Empower your businesses to find what they need in the cloud marketplace and use it with full enterprise controls for security, audit and compliance.

Cost

The fourth factor is cost. I can speak with some authority on this topic as a decade ago, I led an initiative to build a 150 Megawatt Cloud DC. The key adjective in the description is megawatt. 150 MW is 150 million watts. Now think about your electricity bill. In Ontario Canada today the rates are $.09, $.13 and $.18 per Kilowatt hour for off-peak, mid and peak usage. Simple math, drop 3 zeros from 150MW. Is .150 million watts times (pick an average $.13) You have an electricity bill of $19,500 per hour, $468,000 per day, $171 Million per year. It is your biggest cost.

Because of the scale of the consumption, cloud providers lock in bulk power rates you can only dream of. Cloud providers do not order servers from Dell.com, they custom build ultra-energy-efficient servers and match the servers to the workload. Then the cloud provider, micro manages power consumption taking resources off-line when not in use and uses sophisticated load forecasting to spool up capacity. Cloud providers have a service fabric that allows for near-instant instantiation of capacity on demand. You don’t have equivalent economies of scale.

From a Cloud DC operations perspective, it’s all about scale. A very small operations staff is required for a massive datacenter and most things can be done “lights-out” without ever stepping foot in the actual DC. Cloud DC’s in most cases are connected with vendor-owned dark fibre with multi TB/second capacities and ultra-low data transmission costs that even the largest commercial enterprises could not fund for themselves. Once again, it’s about scale.

The bottom line is that you will never approach the cost-efficiency of a cloud mega-datacenter. Your competitors have or will go to the cloud and if you want to keep your CapEx/OpEx costs in line, you need to go also, because you will never achieve similar cost savings on-premise. Anyone who tells you differently is practicing “alternative facts”.

The cloud is no longer new. It has proven itself and IT organizations that are “too proud to do cloud” just need to keep sharpening those pencils a little longer.

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The Rise of the Personal Non-Maskable Interrupt (NMI)

 

In computer technology a processor interrupt is a signal to the processor indicating an event that needs attention. The processor responds by suspending its current activities, saving its state and executing a routine to deal with the event. This interruption is temporary and after the interrupt handler finishes, the processor resumes normal activities.

As an interrupt is expensive for processors, most interrupts are maskable. Basically, they can be ignored or delayed. A good example is your mouse. As you slide it across the desk it generates signals on its motions. In fact, it generates way more signals than are actually required to position your cursor on the screen, therefore most of them are ignored.

The counter example is holding the ctrl-alt-delete key combination down on your Windows device. This is a non-maskable interrupt. It says, stop whatever you are doing and ask me if it’s time to reboot the computer or kill a process.

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One of the biggest challenges we face as connected humans these days is the pernicious rise of the non-maskable personal interrupt. In the 1970’s if you called someone’s telephone and they were not at their desk, you simply tried again later or someone answered and took a message for you to call them back. There was no expectation on the part of the caller of an immediate response.

In 1979, voicemail systems started to arrive on the scene, where a verbal message could be left for the person, they could dial in and pick up messages and return your call. The expectation was now that the time to return the call was shorter.

In 1983 the first analog cell phones were launched. When the recipient of a call was in range of a cell tower, the caller could get through. If the person was in a meeting, very likely the brick sized cell phone was not with them. It would simply ring. Whether a call was received or returned quickly was random.

It was 1992 when the first SMS message was sent. Here was a great answer to send someone a short message asynchronously and they could call back or text a response when it was convenient. Again, there was no expectation of the caller of immediate response.

In 2002 the first high speed cellular digital networks went into global use. With this, internet tools and instant messaging were now mobile. Unlike SMS, it was now expected that you were always connected and always available to response. Then in 2006 Facebook launched globally and mobile with global social networking added to the capabilities and higher subsequent expectation of responsiveness.

Today, I carry an advanced Windows smartphone with me almost 100% of the time. I am rarely in an area where there is no high speed data service and there is a deluge of information that pours into this device daily.

Each day, on average, I receive a few hundred corporate emails, dozens of Yammer notifications, Facebook notifications, Linkedin notifications and a few dozen personal emails across a few accounts. Oh… and not to forget text messages and proxied text messages (sent from another IM source such as Facebook to my SMS device channel)

So when you receive a text, what happens if you don’t respond quickly?

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As it is with processors, human interrupts are expensive, distracting and for the most part unnecessary where a delayed response may be perfectly fine. The expectation that any text sent will be treated as a non-maskable interrupt is an expectation we need to reset with people who communicate with us. Simply by letting everyone know that your SLA for returning a message is 3-4 hours will fix this problem.

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Don’t Migrate to the Cloud … Restart on it

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There are two philosophies of using cloud: moving workloads to the cloud and using cloud to move workloads. They are two very different approaches. When you move a workload to the cloud, you take what you are doing today and move it from your datacenter to a cloud datacenter. It’s the same service but now runs in the cloud. You get the benefit of cloud efficiencies and you retain your existing service more or less as is. It is an infrastructure change. Now using cloud to move a workload is a different approach. You can use cloud services to extend your existing capabilities, effectively harnessing the new services to the old or you can start with the solitary cloud approach, start new and build again; a second chance so to speak.

One of the most common myths of cloud computing is that you need to use your same directory approach and network for access. It can be a cumbersome process to ready your local directory services and network for the cloud, or… you can choose a solitary approach. The solitary cloud uses its own domain, establishes identities and then federates the identities back to the corporate directory for access validation. You still have full control but without the headache of maintaining identities. Why do you ask is this important? Here’s why.

The solitary cloud approach means that you can turn on new cloud services for your users TODAY, with no major migration projects, very minimal integration and most importantly virtually no impact on your already stretched internal IT Operations. Solitary clouds are self-sustaining.

Let’s pick an example to highlight the difference. Your corporate communications portal. On this site you have company vision, strategy, messages from the CEO, health and workplace safety, employee surveys and some discussion boards. Today it runs on servers in your datacenter and it’s a decade or so old. Functional but not up to date and certainly not driving engagement with your employees.

Options:

A. You can move it to a cloud service and reduce the IT operations costs of the service

B. You can reinvent the service on the cloud

Which one to you think will take longer? If you said “B”, you will be wrong 9 times of out 10. It is actually less work to restart on the cloud than to migrate to it.

To establish our new company communications portal on the cloud I

  • create a new domain, cloud.mycompany.com
  • create a new corporate site on the cloud for corporate communications and social networking (SharePoint On-line and Yammer from Microsoft)
  • grab my HR file with employee email addresses personal or corporate
  • I send them an email to self-provision an account with the email account of their choice (facebook, Microsoft ID, corporate, gmail etc.)
  • They now have full (and secure access [could even be two factor]) to the corporate site and yammer from ANY device from the internet in a fully responsive design (PC, Android, iPhone, WindowsPhone, Blackberry etc.)
  • If they leave the company for any reason, the federation of their ID is automatically removed by an HR feed and they no longer have access to the site.
  • If they need a password reset, they call Facebook, Microsoft or Google, not your IT Department.

What did we NOT do.

  • We did not migrate the current portal
  • We did not reuse the internal ID’s from the directory service
  • We did not do any integration with our local systems/datacenter except for federating the Identity and sending out 1 original on-boarding email.

We simply used the cloud to move a workload. When you are considering the cloud, consider moving to the cloud but also consider if you can use the cloud to move you.

 

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Five Years of Grey

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Infinite Shades of Grey is about advanced consulting skills. The point of the blog and book was to share tips and techniques that can make good technical consultants into great consultants. One of the key things I propose is a consulting process. With a process, you can evaluate how you did and make changes to improve. So it is time to apply that to the blog writing after 5 years of grey.

The top 10 blog posts of all time of the 150+ I have made have generated over 50% of the total volume to the site and over 15,000 unique visitors. Let’s look at why that is the case.

Post Rank Topic
So you are an Associate Consultant and want to be a Partner? 1 Career and Money
Golgafrincham “B” Ark – What to do when you don’t have one handy 2 Skill
The World’s Most Expensive Consultant 3 Career and Money
What’s the cost of bad IT architecture? 4 Business
Why is Enterprise Architecture failing? 5 Business
How to deal with the Consultant Performance Review or a.k.a. Mastering the Unbalanced Scorecard 6 Career and Money
Thanks for Noticing – Responding to Criticism 7 Skill
Learning from Other’s Mistakes– The Power of the Anti-Pattern 8 Skill
The perfect consultant – The Ambivert? 9 Skill
Facilitating the “Angry Mob” meeting Part 3 10 Skill

Let’s look at the site’s raison d’être first, skills training. The most popular posts on skills are, in order:

  1. Dealing with idiots
  2. Dealing with Criticism leveled at me
  3. Recognizing problem situations
  4. Introspection on my personal abilities and ability to be a good consultant. Is it for me?
  5. Dealing with problem people. ( in 3 parts )

What these have in common is they all have a direct correlation to personal stress and emotions. What I would take from that, is the majority of people searching are looking for help because they have encountered a problem of their own.

The next category is career and money.

  1. moving up the food chain
  2. how rich can I get?
  3. getting more money and recognition

Therefore clearly a second popular reason to search for answers is career and money.

Lastly, there are industry pieces with a decidedly negative tone. Why a service is failing or the results of bad work creating failures. My only assumption after reviewing the search terms used is that people are looking to debunk certain trends. I know for certain that Enterprise Architects get a rough ride from their more technology-focused counterparts who believe EA’s mostly sell snake-oil to management. Unfortunately it is sometimes true and that doesn’t help the profession. The point however is that there seems to be a need (or market) for honest appraisals of things that don’t work as well as they should in the architecture industry.

The fourth learning was that of the other 140+ posts that some of the posts I consider personally to be real gems of learning in advanced consulting skills have minimal popularity. An example of that is my post on influencing styles.

Ambidextrous Influence

The techniques contained in this post were some of the most important consulting skills I have ever learned in over 30 years in this business. I believe many consultants would benefit from learning and applying these skills. However, very few people ever searched for “how to influence”. In fact it was one of the least visited posts with fewer than 100 visits over 5 years.

The analysis reveals to me the following 2 key things:

  • People search for things that are either causing them pain or have direct financial benefit.
  • They don’t search for skills that would make them better or more proficient

Therefore from a blog perspective, if I want to drive value from this effort (which only occurs when people read it), I need to tailor the content in two ways:

  • Focus on what consultants struggle with and cause them pain
  • Convince them that core skills have a direct correlation to their financial future.

Let’s see what the new focus brings!

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Is your IT architecture going in the right direction?

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“Architects, if they are really to be comprehensive, must assume the enormous task of thinking in terms always disciplined to the scale of the total world pattern of needs, its resource flows, its recirculatory and regenerative processes.” – Buckminster Fuller, Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure

There are lots of architectural principles that form the total world pattern of needs in IT including but not limited to:

  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Availability
  • Business alignment & Benefits Management
  • Business continuity
  • Compliance
  • Component reusability and simplicity
  • Control of technical diversity (Service Depth and Lifecycle Control)
  • Cost Efficiency across the lifecycle
  • Deliverability
  • Differentiating for Advantage and Benefit
  • Encapsulation
  • Equitable and Flexibility in use (User Persona Sensitive)
  • Information security & privacy
  • Interoperability
  • Isolation
  • Low-coupling interfaces
  • Maintainability & Sustainability over Lifecycle
  • Managed Risk
  • Modularity
  • Operations Efficiency & Administration
  • Performance
  • Quality management
  • Resilience
  • Resources management
  • Safety
  • Scalability
  • Tolerance for error in use or administration
  • Usability and Adoption

Over a decade ago the University of Florida and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ran a multi-year study on large scale Collaborative Design Processes. One of the key findings was in the big-picture architecture visioning process, that a collaborative approach failed miserably. The model that worked was called “over-the-wall”. In the “over-the-wall” process, a single resource would work a design and then pass it “over-the-wall” for feedback, refinement and then back again. It could be done either serially or on parallel tracks (multiple architects) but working it simultaneously on the same vision was problematic. What the study conclusively proved was that the smallest teams, where the individual roles were the largest and most discrete always generated the best design. In short, 1 architect in control is better than 2 and way better than 3. That does not mean the design should not have feedback or collaborative input, it means that there should be one driver for each vision.

Bucky uses the terms “always disciplined to the scale of the total world pattern of needs, its resource flows, its recirculatory and regenerative processes”. In other words, the very biggest picture, with very complex interactions and numbers of interwoven attributes and variables that make sharing the birth of the vision virtually impossible.

One of the things about IT systems architecture is we rarely realize when it’s good only when it’s bad. We know it’s bad when we hear;

  • ”can’t make that change it’s too expensive”
  • “going to take too long”
  • “we don’t touch that, it’s too risky”
  • “Only Fred understands it, and he’s on sabbatical [ code word for stress leave ]”
  • “It’s down, and it’s staying down”

If you hear those words there is likely only two options.

  1. Your architect wasn’t up to the task at hand or
  2. You had multiple people driving the architecture vision at the same time.

So what kind of architect do you need to drive?

“The ideal architect should be a person of letters, a skillful draftsman, a mathematician, familiar with historical studies, a diligent student of philosophy, acquainted with music, not ignorant of medicine, learned in the responses of jurisconsults, familiar with astronomy and astronomical calculations.” – ― Vitruvius

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