Tuesday, 27 February 2007

The Beauty of Software

Peter writes ...

The beauty of software or a five minute guide to software development.

The beauty of software is that we have never known a product like it. We invented software engineering to cure a disease of low product quality. But there never was engineering like this. Our engineering forebears, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Victorians, did not know software. For them, engineering was the beauty of calculation and design, and then the reification of that design in stone, glass and iron. Software isn’t like this. You never stand back and let the design be converted to a physical reality. The drawing never becomes the pillar. The drawing is the pillar. With software, you always have control of the design. You just press ‘run.’

And software engineering didn’t exactly cure the disease, it just made us more ambitious. You will find software in you car. It has flown you to business and holiday destinations. It looks after your money. It pays you. It recognises that it is you who is stood at the Tesco checkout. It knows your criminal records. It knows your children. It can tell you the whereabouts of that book you ordered. It checks every incoming flight to British airspace and is ready to aim missiles towards any that it does not recognise.

The beauty of software is that it makes you think. It is, intrinsically, concerned with modelling complex systems. So, you can build categories, classes, objects and processes. You can specialise and re-use. Software is built out of defined languages but its design in itself becomes a language: knowledge of class structures and objects allows developers to collaborate on complex designs, without ever having the need to meet each other or even to know with whom they are collaborating.

The beauty of software is, perhaps, that it is only just leaving its teenage years. There are those who lament a craft based childhood where every solution was bespoke. But software had to grow up. The standard package had to be born. There have been enormous problems, but the rise of the Enterprise System was born of the interests of quality and economics. These systems have allowed software to proliferate and to run business operations that were previously out of reach. Today every major company in the world has enterprise systems. And the huge complexity that has resulted has given birth to a new architecture. This is not the architecture of buildings. This is the architecture of software. We talk about classes and objects again, services, layers, and cathedrals and bazaars. Software is growing up.

The beauty of software is that it has allowed the expression of ideals. People talk about the .com ‘bubble,’ usually by chastising imprudent investors but failing to see the cultural shift that lay beneath. The .com, and its three years of hard-labour with friends, is a cultural alternative to the corporate ladder. It is the counter-culture that has assembled a younger, richer, more lauded set of icons than rock ‘n’ roll, than Hollywood (see for example, Hurley, Chen, Page, Brin, Fake). Meanwhile, whilst the mass-media still vaunts the 60s as an age of ideals, they are blind to what is happening now. It is now that ideals are being converted into action. The internet is the greatest collaborative platform ever. And with open source, more people are sharing more of their economic worth than ever before. Who knows where the ideal of open source will lead? What will be its ramifications for wider society? For against it, Woodstock looks just like what it was; a party.

The beauty of software is that it has allowed unlikely British innovators to occupy many of the stellar positions in the history of Computer Science. See Tom Kilburn, Freddie Williams, Tim Berners-Lee, and Alan Turing.

In the end, though, the Americans were king. They got rich on the “stuff”. The British didn’t. And today, a software developer in India can be hired for 20,000 rupees per month. That is the price of laying riches for tomorrow. India's riches. The world's.

This is the world’s product.


The picture is Grady Booch who gave the Turing lecture at Manchester in 2007.

Thank you to Russell Bee and Mike Newman for their contributions to our recent classes.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

You Still Have To Be Good To Be Big

Peter writes ...

I am trying to wrap up my thoughts on Social Computing as we move deeper into big systems and change.

And so I offer the opinion that you still have to be good to be big. Perhaps this is even more the case in the blogosphere than it is with conventional journalism. As a blogger you have to construct your reputation from scratch. The star witness to this, as ever, is Tom Reynolds. After years of spin, misrepresentation and tabloidism, one independent voice was enough to reveal the true temper of work in the frontline of Britain's public services. You might start your encounters with Tom's blog by looking at These Boots and The Slow Attrition of the Soul.

See also this out-take featuring Tom from Alan Yentob's BBC documentary on Web 2.0 last year. It proves again that you have to be good to be big. Alternatively, just have a one track mind.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Mash Up!!

Peter writes ...

1. Mash-up your web content and services.
2. Mash-up your organizational forms. (If it is good enough for McKinsey and Visa).
3. Mash-up world leaders, John Lennon and Lou Reed. (Thanks to Stephen for this).

..a walk on the wild side.

Kendrick's Library

Peter writes ...

Here are book recommendations from Ian Kendrick. These are for life, not specifically this course. So, at your leisure, and in Ian's own words...

"Geoffrey Moore

Check out chasmgroup.com You can subscribe to a free email newsletter. I do.

Crossing the Chasm
The original work from the early ‘90s. Now revised so that the case studies/examples are more up to date. Still an excellent read, in Moore’s conversational style. Essential, unless you get a copy of….

Inside the Tornado
The follow on from CTC, focuses on what it is like to be in the hyper growth Tornado phase of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle. Includes an overview of CTC. Probably the best “Chasm” book, if you only want one.

Living on the Fault Line
Again from Moore, covers life in the internet age. Some say it is dated now, being pre dot com fiasco era. I still reckon it is very good. The slide that I use about risk, capitalisation etc is from this, as is the culture model of William Schneider. Recommended.

The Gorilla Game
Supposedly a guide to how to “read” technology companies and spot the emerging Gorillas. Never achieved the success of his other works and possibly his weakest, IMHO.

Dealing with Darwin
Moore’s latest work, focuses on what happens after the original Chasm crossing and the category matures. Feels like a response/trump to Clayton Christensen’s works on innovation. It is here that Moore reveals 14 innovation types. Excellent, highly recommended.

Clayton M Christensen

Another Harvard guy. Made his reputation by focusing on how innovation works.

The Innovator’s dilemma
The original work from Christensen. Introduces the concept of disruptive innovation and how large companies put themselves in potentially fatal danger by focusing on satisfying their customers and continuous improvement. Meanwhile a disruptive innovation comes along that seems trivial but ends up taking customers and business away from the large incumbent market leaders. After this book, Silicon Valley firms started to hire Vice Presidents of Disruption. No, really. An excellent work, Christensen is more academic in his style that Moore.

The Innovator’s Solution
A guide to how incumbents can deal with disruptive innovation. A well argued, rational read. Recommended.

Seeing Whats Next
A bit like Moore’s Gorilla Game, Christensen shows how to use knowledge of how disruptive innovation works to spot how winning disruptors configure themselves for success. One of the best books on high tech strategy, IMHO. Highly Recommended.

Other authors

Kim and Burgoyne – Blue Ocean Strategy
A Blue Ocean is a nice place to be. Full of oxygen and empty apart from you, no competition. The opposite is a Red Ocean, full of competition, red with blood. K&B show how to establish Blue Oceans in a very practical and sensible way. Entirely compatible with Moore and Christensen but easier than either of them. Chapters on Bill Bratten, the man who turned around New York from being crime ridden and dangerous into a much safer place. One of the greatest leaders I have ever read about and certainly one who understands the principles of variety management/requisite variety espoused by Stafford Beer and W Ross Ashby. Very good read.

Markides and Geroski - Fast Second
An examination of companies who prosper by waiting until a category is established and then stepping in to win the big prize. A great idea for a book…..but….. I could not get into this one. Feels like a rehashing of Moore and Christensen without adding too much value. Worth a look though.

Warren Bennis - Organising Genius
An examination of a number of “great groups” from history, including Disney, Apple, Xerox PARC, the team who got Clinton into the White House, Los Alamos (original A bomb) team and the original Skonk Works at Lockheed, (forever referred to as Skunk Works) at Lockheed. Bennis explores what it is that separates these groups from history. He draws some very interesting conclusions. A great read and highly recommended. I have a short form/summary PDF of this if anyone wants a copy.

Stafford Beer
Where to begin? ... All of Stafford’s books are serious works but can be a bit daunting. For those who would like an introduction without having to read Stafford, check out Barry Clemson, Cybernetics: A New Management Tool, Volume Four. Specifically commissioned to be an introduction to the VSM.

Arie de Geus – The Living Company
A look at how to build and lead in a company that works as a living entity rather than a machine. An excellent read, it is here that Arie introduces his 4 rules of long lived organisations. Recommended

Kees Van Der Heijden – Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation
Probably the most authoritative work on scenario thinking. Excellent but not one to skim read.

Gill Ringland – Scenario Planning
Gill was the person who led the ICL team that produced Coral Reef and Deep Sea. Her book is a good set of case studies and different approaches. Not as heavyweight as Kees’s work but recommended all the same."

Friday, 16 February 2007

DIY tv

Peter writes ...

Did you see The Money Programme tonight?

"DIY TV is here to stay because of one inescapable fact: anyone can have an audience of millions at the cost of virtually nothing."

See also, The People Formerly Known As The Audience.

A Whole Lot of Spilt Milk

Peter writes...

We could have trained a lot of nurses, paid a lot more to a lot more staff. Never mind. But it does seem like that NHS patients records system just isn't going to work.

Has more money ever been wasted on anything?

In the words of Andrew Rollerson of Fujitsu, “There is a belief that the national programme is somehow going to propel transformation in the NHS simply by delivering an IT system,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. A vacuum, a chasm, is opening up. It was always there.”

I have not found the original text of Rollerson's presentation, but I note that from the press reports that he seems to focus on issues of project management and technology adoption (transformation). Presumably it is safe ground for Fujitsu, a technology supplier to the project, to criticise these aspects.

In this light, maybe he is making informed use of the word "chasm."

It would have been good, but nobody wanted to use it.

Later in this course, the true story of Salford Council, skunk works, and a project that really did work. There wasn't a management consultant in sight.

See also The Lingering Death of the NHS Computer.

PS. You might also be interested in an MBS project we are undertaking. It looks at the conditions that make a public sector organisation amenable to successful engagement with management consultants, and those that ae associated with a negative outcome. Any management consultancy contract is at heart a relationship. You can get relationships more right or more wrong, depending on how you go about them.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

1,000 Campfires

Peter writes ...

The music industry stepped up for its annual Brit awards on St Valentine's night but, somehow, it felt like the end of an era. Was it just me? Perhaps, it was that I had been reading this article in the Sunday Times. Or maybe it was that the double winning Arctic Monkeys did not turn up to collect. Their reason? "Rehearsals." It somehow seemed symbolic that it was they, alone of all the winning acts, that did not make it to the ceremony. After all, the Arctic Monkeys had an alternative birth.

I am too old to be asking these questions, but going on regardless, I reflect on other news stories these week, like the recent Unicef report and this on teenage victims of gun crime. If the UK is indeed the pantheon of youth culture, then one question might be, is this a good thing? Would it be better to be a lot worse at youth culture but a lot better at parenting? I am the right age to be asking this particular question.

Coming back to the Brits, it was Noel Gallagher who predictably enough had the best one-liners: “The reason Oasis are accepting the BRITs Outstanding Contribution Award is that I want to do it before I go bald. Simple as that.” But perhaps the most astonishing quote was to be found in that Sunday Times article. It is attributed to Ian Grenfell, MD of simplyred.com “We felt we’d rather die on our feet than live on our knees.” In it he articulates the frustration motivating Mick Hucknall's decision to live without a major record deal.

So, with Simply Red, we see one model emerging of how the future music business will be organised. It applies to those like Hucknall who already possess high brand value. Its key principle is disintermediation. The product grabs control of the sales channel and, in many cases, distribution too. Alongside this is a principle of product variety, the brand sells as much as it can e.g. CDs, downloads, t-shirts, tickets. Marketing is direct, and key gateways (such as radio and music press sites) are addressed as peers.

However, for the fledglings without brand, alternate strategies apply. The key in this case, surely, is to generate an effective viral action. The new artist seeks to light a thousand campfires of approval across the internet, each campfire igniting more interest and activity. One thousand campfires becomes ten thousand etc. Marketing is thus indirect, and key gateways are converted through a kind of tipping point pressure. To make this work, product focus is beneficial, at least in the early stages. The good news is that like their established rivals, the fledglings can also sell direct, and even make profit if costs are tightly controlled (no long sessions in residential recording studios).

What goes for the music business will be replicated in similar industries such as book publishing and video production. The only other thing you will need, then, I guess, is talent.

See also Martin Cahill's musing on the music business as an innovation process.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Social computing hypotheses - The machine is Us/ing Us

Paul writes...

Social computing...or Web2.0? Whatever moniker we give it, our message is the same. These technologies are going to cause revolutions. Revolutions in the way we collaborate, network, do our jobs, locate each other, learn about each other, communicate, redefine bureaucracy - I could go on.

But let's think about this in a more focused way. In three domains - the media industry, knowledge management and 'bureaucracy' - we could start to build hypotheses about how social computing will impact.

Media hypotheses
  • In media industries, content production will become increasingly disparate and communal, but commercial opportunities will arise around gateways, standards and analysers. Typical commercial opportunities include but are not limited to key word search, advertising, click through, database access, revshare, and pre roll.

  • In media industries, individuals and group content producers will still be able to build superstar reputations through one or more of the following;

    • association with gateways, standards and analysers
    • raw community approval.
Knowledge Management Hypotheses
  • A new generation of stakeholder will be skilled in new content production techniques and will use these in their business activities. Examples include, but are not limited to, wikis, blogs, folksonomies, mash ups, podcasts and tag clouds.

  • Organisations will be increasingly able and willing to institutionalise organisational learning and knowledge management practices through the use of these new content production techniques which foster a truly collaborative approach and invert the traditional organisational hierarchy.
Bureaucracy Hypothesis
  • Web 2.0 will supplant and eventually surpass existing technologies of reporting, minutes and meetings, effectively revolutionising the traditional bureaucratic model of an organisation.
A question for you: How could we build on or rebuild these hypotheses?

Before you answer that question, take a look at this video on YouTube. I guarantee it will evoke a response and possibly one that is different from how you may have answered before viewing it.


Monday, 5 February 2007

Anticipating Poppy's World

Peter writes...

These are musings on two bold initiatives that seek to place Manchester at the forefront of the digital world.

Media City:UK. Tomorrow's media will belong to the people. This will not be naive and silly, quality will still be quality, but access and know-how will be shared much more widely. With wider access and know-how, more people will be able to say more things well. These things will be said to audiences large and small: that's the point, the new technology will not reconstruct a mass media model. Some of it will be big or bigger, but much of it will be smaller. The term 'campfire media' is very eloquent, I suggest. In essence, it is describing 'The Long Tail' effect for media.

Innovation theory tells us that successful new technologies tend to be socially inclusive (the alphabet, the printing press, the Model T, the wide-bodied jet). You can see this hallmark in the campfire concept. So, what's the next step for Media City? Well, whilst the developers get on with their side of things perhaps the city's educators should set out to see that every child is media savvy: understanding of the technology, art and psychology of media creation. Perhaps 'computer literacy' as a major educational concern was only ever a stepping-stone to 'media literacy.' Discuss.

ONE Manchester: Whilst celebrating Media City:UK, we can also cheer the ONE Manchester bid and hope that it wins the country's Digital Challenge. Have a look at the video featuring Poppy (pictured) and listen to the council folk and citizens expressing their wishes for a digital future. It is, as Poppy says, her future that is at stake. So my best advice is that we get the highest speed access to as many people as possible. The rest will follow. For the truth is that electronic media profoundly affect the economics of organisation. This is what is so often missing from the analyses of a digital future. Proponents and sceptics alike too often fail to see the link between technology and organisation. This is why people struggle to make it 'real'.

With digital technology we can organise in different ways. For example, more people can find their entrepreneurial niche because more niches can be sustained (Long Tail, again). Large corporate bodies and public institutions can divest themselves of functionality and pursue network relationships (lots of references but I like Unleashing the Killer App.) So, we get more and more organisations working with more and more organisations. The networked economy is born, new business takes advantage, builds position, and defends position as first-mover advantage is somehow made to apply. But business is still business, the winners still win and become a new sort of giant; a networked giant. The winners become intersections.


Sunday, 4 February 2007

A Whole New World

Peter writes...

Are these customer reviews what Surowiecki meant by The Wisdom of Crowds?

Some art is so great that no man can speak with more eloquence than another. Each must have his say.

Disintermediating the critics; now that really is A Whole New World.

Friday, 2 February 2007

The 'D' Word Again...

Peter writes ...

It is that 'D' word again; disintermediation.

It is also a reminder to me that I am perhaps over-emphasizing the small, the upstart, the campfire. If you already have an established brand, however this was achieved, then the possibilities of the internet open to you.

So, step forward Clive James, The Rolling Stones, Darcey Bussell, Stephen King, Manchester United, Take That, U2, JK Rowling, Mick Hucknall and so on. In the information age you will, or do, sell direct.

And so it may well be that one day, soon, Manchester United will stream matches all over the world, selling access for a few dollars each to millions. And yet, it should also be acknowledged that selling, that commerce, is only part of what is going on here. This is most evident in Clive James's site where he is mainly concerned with the continuation and development of his creative self. That simple germ, the desire to be creative, seems to underwrite so much of the explosion of social activity in the virtual world. And in this Clive James is no different to all the unsung bloggers, to all the anonymous open-source creators, to the commentors and the MySpacers: he just wants to develop his creative self.

To understand this, business theory will no longer suffice. We have to reach for The Gift.