Archive for the ‘Random Thoughts’ Category

May 26, 2017
Filed Under (Random Thoughts, Technology) by Ollie Cronk on 26-05-2017

Just realised I have been blogging for 10 years this month! Including a post about AI that is really pertinent today. Particularly when you think about how elections are have recently been influenced by AI and social media meta data.

I’ve mostly moved to using LinkedIn and Medium – write a lot less than when I was a hard core geek as I have less time these days.

I really need to update the look and feel of this site (as it is based on a 10 year old template it is not responsive or HTML5 based). But it is not exactly at the top of my to do list!



June 28, 2013
Filed Under (Architecture and Strategy, Random Thoughts, Technology) by Ollie Cronk on 28-06-2013

Disclaimer – this doesn’t really describe a single organisation that I have worked at – it’s a collective summary of my experience of working in IT (and that of present and former colleagues) working in medium and large sized organisations. Also the core message probably applies to many other business areas and not just IT in  the value of thinking strategically (and the value of Enterprise Architecture).

Many of you reading this working in an organisation over a few hundred people will recognise that IT is often not able deliver effectively. Either in its ability to provide what the business needs today or its ability to be adapted quickly to the demands of the markets it operates in. Often IT systems are fragmented, silo’d and un-able to share data with each other. This leads to horrible/bizarre manual processes (such as manual re-keying of information) to allow business units to work effectively with each other, cross-functionally. It often seems too much of a bold move to take step back and plan or focus on internal IT improvements when there is so much demand for business driven change that needs to be done yesterday.

The key thing that needs to happen to most organisations IT landscape is that it needs to be simplified. The horrible evolved mess needs to be analysed and worked through to understand how to make it simpler. Some technical teams may criticise architects for wanting to make the IT landscape “look prettier”. However I believe that simplicity = ease of understanding, ease of use, faster to change and crucially lower cost to operate. All good things surely? Sometimes a team mentality might be to keep things as complex, messy or misunderstood as possible – so that they are “indispensable”. But that also means they can’t really be promoted. In technical terms – just like you can have very bad messy programming code – the same applies at the IT landscape level across all the different systems and teams.

I believe a lot of the problems are down to the fact that IT systems tend to evolve rather than being properly planned. Of course there is going to be a degree of emergence when organisations are big and complex and not everything can be planned for; but to me if feels a little like many organisations are in a hole and keep digging themselves deeper. By this I mean that due to the lack of roadmapping and thinking more end to end about what data, systems, processes and skills are needed it results in more and more tactical workarounds to keep delivering. Each time a new solution is added it just makes things more complex and harder to change in the future.

Its easier to be reactive and been seen to deliver, deliver, deliver than think strategically alongside delivery. Also thinking strategically is hard work. It takes time to understand the bigger picture, abstract problems, create models and think about where things should go and how they should work. Not only that but its also hard to think about how to transition from the mess you are in today to your target state once you have come up with it.

I fear this is one of the reasons IT professionals can become reactive – simply responding to the next request from the business to deliver something as quickly as possible. And of course delivering for the business isn’t a bad thing –  just if its done in a way which doesn’t think about the future state of the organisation or the architecture where problems creep (or flood!) in over time.

IT personnel can promoted to recognise their loyalty (and because of the detailed understanding of the mess that has evolved, and they may even be a one man dependency) rather than their ability to take the next step up (and think more strategically). Sometimes this means that they still have to do elements of their previous roles and don’t actually have time to do their new roles properly. So all this compounds the problem – as they often created the problems in the first place they may not radically change approach – if they even recognise some of the problems they need to be brave to admit they made mistakes in the past that need to be put right. That is if they even have the time to think about them – their may simply be fighting the next fire.

“We’ll fix that in the next phase” – How often are promises made to unpick tactical work arounds and technical debt later on but then never happens.

“This is just how it works around here – we don’t have time to improve our processes and systems as we are too busy delivering”

“Our funding is based on a 12 month period – all work needs to deliver by the end of the year – we cannot have projects that go over multiple financial years its just not how the planning cycle works”.

“We don’t ever decommission anything – we just add new systems but as we don’t know if the old ones are still used for something business critical we leave them alone.”

IT costs then simply build up over time to a point where almost all the budget is spent on running stuff that the business is already reliant on and there is then less and less time or money to work strategically. Leading to a vicious cycle.

What is the answer? Well of course there isn’t a magic bullet but I do think some maturing is needed – becoming more confident in pushing back on certain things in order that a better long term path can be taken. Becoming confident in challenging not only the business but technology management. Making sure that business sponsors prioritise and not just claim that everything is top priority and needs to be done now. But also thinking about the full lifecycle of a solution – not just implementing it rolling it out and then letting it rust. Very few people seem to consider how long systems will be used for – 5 years? 10 years? When should you consider to retire an application? Talking about retirement of  a system you are just rolling out seems to be taboo.

Personally I believe you have to try and make time to consider the possibilities of new technology or process approach on your organisation or department – not because you want the technology on your CV but because you can see clear business value – that you can articulate to others. Sell your ideas, if you have to use some of your own time to create roadmaps – they don’t have to be long and complex they can be 1 or 2 page diagrams (showing as is and to be; along with supporting business justification).

Explain the risks of taking a reactive approach – one man dependencies are a massive operational risk for example. Not considering how a solution will scale to meet demand is a reputational risk waiting to happen – run through what if scenarios with your stakeholders to get them to understand why things need to change and/or why investment in internal improvement is crucial. The improvement to IT employee engagement can be a key selling point too – particularly if you have a churn issue in your IT team – ask yourself why people aren’t happy and engaged.

And of course its a balance between getting something out the door quickly which might open up a market opportunity, being engaged with the business and longer term simplicity. You can fall into a trap of being very academic by following architectural frameworks to the letter and getting very theoretical (although a dose of that – i.e. 1-2 determined, principled, purist architects to pull things in a different direction can be healthy for very immature organisations).

One thing I would say is don’t give up on trying to improve – even if its just incremental improvements – maybe to the data models to begin with, introducing a principle, improving documentation, making something more portable or secure (as its generally the non functional requirements like security and scalability that suffer). Think about what the biggest impact will be to the organisation (and in fact what will free up technology team time so you can pick off the next challenge?)

You should reach a tipping point where you can start to deliver things more consistently and with a high level of quality – and then it will then click with everyone else and people will wonder why they didn’t plan more and consider things over a longer time frame before!

Hopefully some food for thought anyway…

 



August 26, 2010
Filed Under (Architecture and Strategy, Random Thoughts) by Ollie Cronk on 26-08-2010

Those of us in the IT profession (or Information Management as one colleage recently suggested as an alternative*) don’t do ourselves many favours when it comes to using complex terminology and also expecting business people to understand and embrace IT best practises…

Whilst adopting concepts/practises such as Enterprise Architecture (EA), Data Governance, Information Management (IM), Knowledge Management (KM) are all well and good, the sheer number of buzz phrases and concepts must be bewildering for most  non techies. I will admit that sometimes I struggle with the difference for example with Master Data Management vs Master Reference Data without resorting to Google or Wikipedia.

Of course some will argue that is what the Architect or Analyst roles are all about – to match business requirements to IT solutions. But if we ever want colleagues or clients or stakeholders to truely embrace the concepts of Knowledge Management or Data Management / Governance we need to break down these barriers.

Its all too easy to get DM/IM/KM confused if its not the way you think. Generally / at a high level its accepted that Data can be converted into useful Information and that humans (eg employees) walk around with a lot of Knowledge that often needs to be managed (and shared) more effectively. But often we don’t take the time to even explain these concepts – we just jump into enterprise IT lingo and expect others to know what we are on about (or why it makes business sense). Sometimes colleagues can get confused by products such as Sharepoint and what they do – as they can think they are the solution to Knowledge Management – when actually they are just the product or underlying tool that can enable Knowledge Management – its embracing the core concepts of KM that is key.

If we are not careful we will go start to regress back to the bad old days of IT where the IT guy was locked in the cupboard as no one understood him…. Ok maybe thats going too far but you know what I mean!

Or maybe I am being unfair? After all every different business area I have worked in seems to have its own Acronyms (finance is a nightmare with IPOs, CFA, Swaps, Deratives etc etc etc) – is it now accepted practise to just Google terms you don’t understand and be proactive about learning these things? Unfortunately in my experience some people aren’t prepared to do that (unless its in their area of expertise) – and you just switch them off or loose them before you can sell them the juicy or beneficial part of the story.

* Information Management was selected as to not confuse people with “plain old Information Technology” – the physical desktop PCs, laptops etc and kit that every business needs. Information Management it was argued is different as it is the leveraging of IT capability (where IM people are part of the core business team) to improve the way Information is managed (or processes are operated) and used as an Asset rather than something just delegated to IT to “sort out”.



January 07, 2010
Filed Under (Environment, Life, Random Thoughts) by Ollie Cronk on 07-01-2010

Thought it might be worth posting about the Big Freeze, seeing as we seem to have been hit quite badly here in my Village (just north of Newbury near J13 of the M4)…

I’ve taken some photos and videos: Update – I’ve now embeded some of them – note that they were shot in HD (click the HD button at the bottom of the videos) to enjoy in full 1080!)

Facebook Public Photo Gallery


Right now I should be in Copenhagen, not still in Berkshire, but that trip has been canned as although the flight might still be running I don’t fancy the very early hours of the morning / late at night coming back drive to and from the Airport.

I plan to go into work tomorrow as things seem to be improving enough – to get the cars out my neighbours and I cleared the 25-30 metres of 7″-10″ of snow (I have only seen snowfall like this in the Alps previously!) and all 4 of us blokes who live next to each other got 3 cars out (1 driving 3 pushing!!) onto the road which is reasonable (although it is like a snow rally stage in places – in my VW Passat you have to turn off traction control, use 2nd, 3rd and 4th with minimal-ish revs and go no faster than 40 (although to prevent getting stuck up hills when you see a hill you need to give it some beans – otherwise you just wheelspin!)

Managed to get into Newbury at Lunch to get some essential supplies from Sainsburys (they are well stocked, and there was a petrol tanker there too) so filled up with Diesel to be safe (as was almost empty) and bought food essentials for me and my neighbour and a colleague in the next village to me

After lunch drove the other way to Compton (where my Colleague lives) and delivered his food and we worked together on a bid. On the way back  I had to rock the car back and forth using the clutch to get back on the main road but once there no worries as long as you stay at 20-40 (20 ish downhill, 30 ish on the flat and 40 ish uphill to prevent getting stuck)  and steer, accelerate etc smoothly! Shame some people are idiots and tailgate you on an uncleared B road when you are doing 35mph!!!

Have started a working from home pattern of get up early assess weather do work until the conditions outside warm up enough to clear snow and ice and drive, then work late into the evening to make up the lost time at lunch. Can’t clear snow in the evening (too icy/cold/dark) or drive (ditto) as its getting down to below -8 at night, was -6 this morning and -3 most of the day.

My pet theory (as of course everyone in the world with a blog has pet theories!) is that this could be the first signs of the Trans Atlantic Conveyor (that keeps the UK warmer that its latitude would normally allow for – eg we should technically get Canada / Norway-ish style weather) shifting course…? But this link offers the BBC’s take on things. Whatever the science the reality is that its crazy cold here right now!

Keep safe everyone – as by all  accounts its not going to get better for a few days (depending on which forecasts you believe it could get worse over the weekend – fingers crossed it doesn’t). I am supposed to be going to Kiev, Ukraine next week – we’ll just have to see if that can happen…



March 15, 2009
Filed Under (Random Thoughts) by Ollie Cronk on 15-03-2009

When I publish this blog article it should update my Twitter status, my Twitter status is linked to my Facebook status via the Twitter Application.

Hmm I wonder whether these could get caught up in an infinite loop – updating themselves and annoying the hell out of everyone…!

I know – This is all very very sad – but maybe it will save me some time to do something useful for a change!



May 27, 2007
Filed Under (Life, Random Thoughts) by Ollie Cronk on 27-05-2007

Facebook tagging - picture of me with some former colleagues

Heres a random thought pattern I had today – could Internet content one day be used a massive database for Artificial intelligence? Sure Google search or Wikipedia could provide facts etc but what about tagging friends on Facebook? In the future could a computer based system start to identify who people are in real life from this? (Think Terminator!)

I am aware that there is already face recognition on devices such as web cams (that can track your movements around the room for example) and also for CCTV systems (back at Essex Uni I was told about a research project for a system that could identify known thieves and track them through retail stores). But I am thinking more about an AI system using the richer content that is coming online to connect more stuff together. Also on this thought pattern is a reoccuring thought pattern that I’ve had since Uni and learning about Object Orientated Programming and Database relationships – representing the world as structured objects in a Virtual Reality type application (think Second life combined with Google Earth / 3D Live Maps and real world data on everything).

There is also a more real and here and now threat from this – the erosion of privacy which is obviously a topic of concern at the moment as a downside to all this Web 2.0 / community site shenanigans. So more likely is the fact that unfriendly strangers could use this information and photos to find you / scam you etc.