Tonight’s British Computer Society (BCS) event in the Davidson Building opposite the Savoy in London was the first one I’ve attended for years. The subject was the Network Rail “ORBIS” programme which focuses on data asset management.

The attraction for me was three-fold: First, I’m developing a keen interest in the railways generally thanks to our work with ATOC RSP and second, because of Smart421′s focus on BigData challenges. Thirdly, the agenda mentioned something about specialist mobile apps, which is my main interest in leading our Enterprise Mobile capability in Smart421 which is backed with IBM Mobility solutions.

Secure end user enterprise mobile devices

The slick presentation from the impressive Davin Crowley-Sweet and his team brought out the approaches to data as an asset and highlighted the challenges of modernising an organisation that still collects much of its information, such as survey data, on paper. The slideshow was “Prezi” style zooming in and out like a game of Angry Birds and contained a LOT of detailed analysis and roadmaps which made me glad I sat in the front row to try and take it all in.

My rough notes are summarised here but I believe the interested reader can learn much more about ORBIS (which has been “reverse-acronymed” with the name “Offering Rail Better Information Services”) from the Network Rail website. The first point to note is that this is not another BigData experiment but an extremely far-reaching business transformation programme, focussing on business processes and aiming to be business-led. There are very serious business benefits already being gained and (according to the paper linked to above)

the £327 million total cost of ORBIS is expected to yield £270 million in asset benefits plus £100 million per year in maintenance improvements.

An iPhone for every maintenance engineer

Maintenance worker using new tablet technology

The company took the far-sighted step of giving every engineer their own ruggedized iPhone along with the request to use the built-in features as best they could to suggest what can be used. Not surprisingly, one of the most useful features was GPS, accurately pinpointing problems with rails. Then when engineering work comes along on the Sunday consigning us travellers to the replacement bus service the disruption should be minimised as engineers should be guided directly to the problem location. Taking photos with the iPhone of problems with rails was another obvious use and now there are Apps being developed (one per month on average) that can automate some of the data capture along with the photos. I asked the presenter Edward afterwards about the apps and he said there are now developments across other platforms and O/S to use other (perhaps cheaper Android-based) handsets. Having around 12,000 engineers with a ~£500 iPhone is significant cost although the positive aspect of the workers being given the desirable devices should not be overlooked.

These unstructured data inputs were combined with significant mapping data, collected using helicopters and cameras on trains similar to “Google Streetview”. I think they mentioned collecting a few Terabytes of data from each train journey that was recorded in this way. That is some BigData problem to deal with the analysis and Network Rail to develop some sophisticated decision support rules around which stretches of railway need maintenance work most urgently based on the data analysed around curvature of the line, weather conditions, etc.

Some 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and tunnels and huge electrical, telecoms and physical networks make for a highly complex set of problems to manage. The seven year mission focuses on 5 asset types: Fixed assets, Fleet assets, Topology, Topography, Unstructured data (schematics, drawings, etc). It has several defined stages, in stage 1 it asked “what?” and “where?” and continues in stage 2 to try joining up and optimising the collected asset data.

The Contribution of Data Analysis to saving lives

There is a strong emphasis on improving safety through improvements to data management; recommendations following rail disasters like the terrible Lambrigg crash in Cumbria, for which Network Rail are still apologising, said that the points failure could have been detected and fixed earlier with better data analysis. Literally a case of life and death software.

Davin answered questions after the presentation and made the very relevant observation that enterprises should manage their operational data in the same way as they manage any other (physical) asset: know what it is and where it is, monitor its quality, use it while it is relevant and when it reaches end of life get rid of it.

At Smart421, we actively get involved in many communities, from the Websphere User Group to Vbug, the British Computer Society to the local chamber of commerce, but often the most rewarding community we are part of is our local community.

It is great for us to be able to get involved with our community and help others within it, such as when we donated a laptop to Private Liam King who was injured during tour in Helmand Province, Afghanistan and was being treated in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham many miles away from his family. By having the laptop Liam was able to stay in touch with his friends and family back in Ipswich (please click here for more on this story).

Another great example of our involvement in the community was last Sunday (15th May) where Smart421 sponsored the Woodbridge 10K road race and entered a team of 20 members of staff (many of which are pictured here) who helped raise funds in memory of Helen Barrett who was step sister to one of our colleagues and a friend to many of us who sadly lost her battle with Cystic Fibrosis last year.

The whole team put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears in the hours training, but we all enjoyed the day with a few personal goals achieved and a great sense of the good we can do for our community as we have managed to raise over £800 so far (there is still time to donate).

It is this kind of involvement in the community and commitment, dedication and selflessness of the team that makes me proud to work for Smart421!

STOP PRESS

Woodbridge 10K – The Movie.  Released 25 May 2011.  Find it on YouTube click here

Samuel HolcmanThis evening I attended this BCS EA specialist group event at the IET building in London. The presentation was given by Samuel Holcman from EACOE, a US-based EA consultancy/training/certification organisation that are trying to break into the UK market. Consequently the presentation was a bit of a sales pitch and didn’t feel very “BCS-like”, but as always with these things whilst most of it was the usual familiar EA messages, there were a few interesting little snippets that I picked out.

I must admit to being pretty restless during the first 40 minutes (!) when Sam went over the usual intro material – definition of EA etc. Everything he said was sensible. But how many times can you have the basic interrogatives of the Zachman framework explained to you before you start to glaze over? I appear to have reached my limit anyway! To be fair, there was some interesting historical new ground covered when he was describing the pre-Zachman seminal paper days in IBM during the tenure of Dewey Walker.

Then he launched into the “Maximising Business Sponsorship” material. I was expecting the discussion to be about how to get the business excited about the possibilities of EA, why is it important to them, and how to keep that excitement/engagement alive over an extended period of time etc, but Sam focused on the initial EA engagement really and how to maximise business sponsorship during those early days. In our experience this is not the problem – not saying that it’s easy, but it’s keeping it going over the long term that is tougher. We were discussing this afterwards and someone proposed an interesting theory – that “organisational memory” is about 3 years long (related to organisations’ regular personnel changes and re-orgs), and so in that time period anything older is forgotten and tends to then get performed again (such as EA initiatives). The people you dealt with 3 years ago have all been replaced and moved on, and they didn’t tell their replacements which cupboard the corporate data model was put in…

His key message was that business engagement/sponsorship requires 3 things:

  • A clear methodology and defined roles/responsibilities for the EA effort. In a discussion afterwards with my BCS colleagues the general conclusion was that business guys generally won’t want to know the method you are using (in detail at least), but will want to be reassured that you have one, i.e. you’re not making it up as you go along. The method outlined by Sam was TOGAF-esque in nature – as we know there’s only so many ways of skinning that particular cat.
  • “Human consumable” outputs. Sam outlined some sensible practices and rules of thumb here for “consumability”. However I was pretty amazed when he said that all the outputs they produce are either in Visio or Excel. I like the idea of outputs being in a business-friendly format, but maintaining them in Visio? If you needed just to rename something used in more than on diagram, then…er…oh dear. Please… :)
  • Traceability. Now, I initially thought he meant traceability from corporate goals->strategy->divisional goals->divisional strategy->projects, or something similar – but maybe I jumped to that conclusion as that is one of my areas of work at present. But he meant traceability of everything (corporate goals etc) to the actual source document section that they were harvested/discovered from. This is new news to me and seems like a lot of work (and implies a kind of “plough through hundreds of documents to discover the enterprise architecture”-type approach), but I can see the benefits. It draws out and provides direct evidence for conflicts in the views between business stakeholders and also demonstrates that nothing has been “made up” by the EA team.

All in all, I’m glad I attended. It’s always a bit of a hassle to go to an event like this after your day job but Sam provided good sensible reminders of the EA basics (e.g. eat your own dog food, start scope small and build on success, communications strategy is key, have a method, timebox for frequent deliveries etc) and also threw in some good provocations to keep me interested. Thanks!

JohnZachmanPresentationOct09 3

As advertised in my notes from the last BCS EA specialist group event, myself and my Smart421 colleague (David Taylor, head of our internal WebSphere practice) attended this evening’s John Zachman presentation at Sun’s offices in London. I felt it was too good a chance to miss as I’ve not seen John present before – regardless of whether you agree with him or not, every self-respecting EA needs to have seen him at least once I think, and usually you have to shell out some hard-won training/conference budget to do so. I must admit I was expecting quite a hard sales pitch from him, having seen collateral for all the Zachman Framework materials and courses etc, and because he’s American :o …but this was not the case, and so I humbly apologise for my stereotypical assumptions.

He is a bit of a handful though – Mike Buck did his best to ‘manage’ John at the end – whilst the sandwiches outside started to curl up at the edges. As I expected he is a very engaging speaker, with some great anecdotes from his career and he spoke passionately about enterprise architecture. He kept speaking at a quite frightening rate and intensity for about 100 minutes, going 100mph and hammering home his messages using those good old speaking techniques of repetition, comedy and metaphor. I was glad I wasn’t at the front of the audience as I suspect that was a bit full-on – it’s a bit like when you go an see a stand-up comic – always best to sit a few rows back…

So what about the content? Well, he basically covered the need to enterprise architecture as a discipline and then spent the majority of the time explaining the Zachman Framework and the justification for it. So for most people in the room, I suspect they didn’t really hear anything new. It was really quite odd to hear him refer to that thing that we’ve all grown up with, the Zachman Framework, as “my framework”. There was no content about how to execute an enterprise architecture process and his viewpoint seems quite academic in nature. In his motivating way, for a moment you are led to feel that you could “model the world” – until your real world experiences kick in and you realise that this is nonsense in almost all current business environments. I must admit I feel bad criticising John Zachman in any way – it feels like complaining about your (very sharp, clever, transatlantic) grandad. To be fair to him, he didn’t try and cover the ‘delivery’ topic at all and could not of done so in the time he had. He’d be a great guy to wheel out in front of your CEO to ‘sell’ the idea of enterprise architecture to them, but you also get the impression that you don’t want to be the guy following up on the expectations he might have created. He neatly side-stepped a few audience questions, but you got the impression he had the answers if not the time to give them, e.g. the classic cross-cutting concerns challenge such as ‘how is security architecture represented in the framework?’. I was quite impressed that he openly volunteered that the framework was an ontology but not a method – whilst this is obvious, I thought he might spin this towards a method of his choosing but he didn’t try that at all.

In some ways the asides, anecdotes and little historical lessons were the most riveting part of the presentation – he talked about the process by which he originally “discovered” the framework, the reasons he changed some things in version 2 of it such as renaming some of the terms to make them more business-relevant and less IT-centric, and the history of System R, DB2, IMS, business process modelling and so on. Overall I am very glad I went…I’m richer for the experience although my ears do feel like they’ve been assaulted. Another excellent and very well attended BCS EA SG event – well done committee.

BCS SouthamptonStClockAs threatened, I attended the BCS Enterprise Architecture specialist group meeting in London near Covent Garden yesterday. There were two interesting presentations regarding EA case studies, both of which caused lots of debate and questions from the gathered audience.

Amit Apte from SITA presented an anonymised case study from the airline industry. As is always a good idea, he started off with a provocation – that “enterprise architecture is boring” – and I think he was a little disappointed with the lack of reaction he got to that statement. I tend to agree to the extent that if it’s all done well, then it should be largely mechanical in nature and so rather dull. However in general this is not the case – in fact it is far too exciting! But the key thing that attracts me to EA is the ability to influence with a more significant level of impact, e.g. stopping the wrong change projects and starting the right ones, rather than operating at a solution architecture level and only influencing with a smaller scope. Maybe it’s a power thing, anyway…

He got a fair amount of stick from the audience about whether this was really an overview of an EA initiative or a one-off enterprise-wide solution architecture that had used a modified version of TOGAF v8 as a method, and the discussion centred around whether a sustainable EA function had been created or not.

Andrew Jolly from Deloitte presented an anonymised case study from the TMT (technology, media, and telecom) sector – concerning the creation of an EA governance capability in an organisation of circa 29k staff/partner staff. Some interesting things came out…

  • Both presentations mentioned something like “the business don’t need to know about EA”, i.e. a rather depressing but not unusual admission that selling the concept of EA to the business community is in the too hard pile. Andrew added to this with the sage comment that brand awareness for your EA initiative with the wider stakeholder community is key though, even if it is a meaningful acronym. Call it A.A.R.D.V.A.R.K. (I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader to come up with) or whatever, but call it something so they can hang a label on what you are doing for them.
  • The usual general advice applied – start small to demonstrate value, winning over hearts and minds by demonstration of real value rather than selling potential future value. The good old “virtuous circle” that Smart421 (and especially Richard Latham) have been banging the drum about. I was going to ask about metrics etc but someone else got in before me – and got the answer I expected which was they set up some KPIs at the start, but eventually the qualitative measures took over, i.e. did the projects the EA function had cherry-picked to engage with ‘feel’ that they were adding sufficient value.
  • One of your selection criteria for where to start is on a project where you have influence (probably by chance, e.g. you know the project manager personally etc).
  • As a mechanism of starting to embed the idea of architects contributing to projects/programmes, Andrew’s suggestion was that you could provide a ‘free’ architect as projects will never turn away free resource. You need to ensure they are a good resource and then some benefit will naturally emerge and the project will see it, and so be more likely to ask for (and then pay for) architecture input next time round. Obviously this requires some seed funding which is non-trivial to find.
  • Even in what may appear to be an organisation that appears architecturally doomed initially, there are generally people inside the organisation who are performing a psuedo-architecture role some of their time even if they haven’t got the title and wondrous benefits package that goes with it. Otherwise how has the enterprise made it this far? Get these guys involved in some kind of virtual team as they hold the keys to your initial EA artefacts.
  • Publish EA materials early – don’t wait for perfection as you’ll never get there. Even if they’re wrong an early viewing so that they get ripped to bits (hopefully not too badly) and then improved is a good thing. Obviously they’ve got to be of a certain quality though. This point really reminded me of the practice recommended I read in a book from Guy Kawasaki about releasing new products to market early, which is completely common practice in the software industry. His quote – “Revolutionary products don’t fail because they are shipped too early; they fail because they are not revised fast enough”. Hence never buy a vs.0…
  • What was the biggest risk to the EA function that had now been established? Andrew’s view was that it was “taking our eye off the ball” and losing sight of the fact that the roadmap for the EA function itself must be maintained and pursued – just like the other roadmaps that the EA function might generate for business architecture etc.

Andrew’s parting message was an interesting one – that putting in place an EA capability is a business change project in itself and so should be treated as such, i.e. get the organisation’s “change” people involved to execute the business change.

It was good to put some faces to the names of some more of the the movers and shakers in the UK EA world – I can now point Amit, Andrew, Tom Graves and Sally Bean out of a line-up if required…

Specialist group chairman Mike Buck mentioned that the next event is a presentation by the grand-daddy of EA, a certain Mr John Zachman on October the 6th, so I expect that event to be very well attended…

mbcs-logo

I’ll be attending the BCS EA specialist group meeting tomorrow (10th Sept 2009) at 18:00, 5 Southampton Street, London – at this meeting there will be a presentation of case studies from specialist group members focusing on the following areas:

  • Business value delivered by EA
  • Professional development for enterprise architects
  • Governance of enterprise architecture

I’m looking forward to meeting my EA peers, and I’m keen to hear different perspectives on questions such as these…

  • If the EA effort has been going for a while, are they entering the “trough of disillusionment” and how have they addressed this?
  • What was the trigger event that meant they got funding/energy for an EA initiative? New CEO? A big disaster that they were rebounding from?
  • Are they well engaged with project/programme teams?
  • Architecture and/or project governance in place? Working well?
  • Centralised or decentralised model?
  • What lessons have they learned?
  • Views on TOGAF and other frameworks?
  • Any relationship to business process improvement teams, six sigma initiatives etc?
  • Budget, team size etc
  • EA cycle times
  • Communication approach?
  • Metrics in place?

MetHotel

Last evening another colleague from Smart421 (Nathan Pinkney) and I attended this inaugural meeting of the British Computer Society Enterprise Architecture specialist group in Leeds at the Met Hotel. The evening consisted of the procedural activities required to set up a new specialist group as part of the BCS, followed by a presentation.

The procedural aspects were interesting in themselves, as I learned about the scrutiny applied to organisations who have charitable status such as the BCS, and therefore the degree of rigour required in the constitution of the group, financial controls etc. Thanks are definitely due to Mike Buck and the other committee members for getting the group to the birthing pool…

But the most interesting parts of the evening were when debates and discussions kicked off concerning various aspects of the purpose of the group, and therefore enterprise architecture in general. The diversity of the audience surprised me – the turnout was good at about 30+ people of the 280 or so BCS members who have signed up to be part of the group. The level of debate showed that there was some great minds out there, which encouraged me as I wasn’t sure what the mix of skills/experience levels was going to be like. There’s something you get from chatting to your peers across other industry sectors that you just cannot get from any other source…I talked to people with an EA interest from a military perspective, banking (they got a “boo hiss”!), trading etc. It was great!

The key discussions that came out were:

  • The dreaded definition of EA vs IT architecture – eventually we managed to move on from this once will all agreed that it wasn’t massively productive. As it is necessarily mentioned in the group’s constitution – this was bound to come up.
  • Selling the benefits of EA – there was lots of healthy debate about whether it was arrogant of people from an IT background to claim a stake in the business architecture world, and whether this was credible. For me, this debate really brought out the different perspectives of the audience, e.g. when examples were used to amplify a point, they were almost exclusively IT examples, even though most of the group were saying that IT architecture was just a subset of enterprise architecture.
  • The group was not about creating yet another EA framework, i.e. a BCSEAF – thank God for that. There’s enough of them out there – it’s the application of them and the benefits that flow from them that is key IMHO.
  • The fact that the British Computer Society was the vehicle being used to progress EA in the UK was interesting – and in general we agreed that whilst this rather laid bare the IT heritage that the EA discipline has, it was the best and most obvious vehicle we had. An interesting analogy put forward by one attendee was the journey that project management has made – i.e. from being managing IT projects, to now a broad acceptance that we manage ‘change’, and IT change is just part of a project.

The presentation at the end was by Judith Jones of Architecting the Enterprise, a TOGAF training organisation that happens to be Smart421′s preferred training provider for TOGAF. As you’d expect, the presentation was very TOGAF-centric and 50%+ a sales pitch, and didn’t really address it’s key question (“EA in the credit crunch”) – but it still provided me with a few thought provoking moments where things that I’d realised but not really crystalised in my head became clear. I’ll write about these some other time…

I’m delighted that two of my colleagues from Smart421 (Nathan Pinkney and John Rutter) have been voted in as part of the committee so that we can give this fledgling group our support. I admire their energy :). Let’s see where we can take it.

Together with another EA colleague from Smart421, I’ll be attending the inaugural meeting of the BCS Enterprise Architecture Specialist Group this week on Wednesday in Leeds. We’ve also lined up another one of our EAs to present at a future event. I’m looking forward to meeting al the UK EA “movers and shakers” and seeing where this group goes…and it’s nice to be in at the start and see where we can all take it.

Thanks are due to Mike Buck for pulling this group together. More details are available at www.ea.bcs.org.uk.

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