Monday, March 28, 2011

IT Isn't Dead. 100% Guaranteed Approach to Keep your CEO Happy

If there is one constant with IT, it is the guarantee of change. Whether its new regulations, corporate leadership, changing business models, regulation and legislation, upcoming technologies, customer demands, changing marketplaces and global conditions, or company re-organization, there are many pressures on today’s modern IT department to always adapt to these latest changes to keep the business functioning and properly positioned. With the added pressure of the recent economic downturns, IT is being asked to deliver the same or more solutions, with less capital funding. The risks to companies following such an approach are glaringly obvious—do they sacrifice quality for agility? Do they comply with regulations sooner rather than later? Do they change their systems based on market conditions? All these aspects combined, can easily cause heartburn to today’s CEO’s. So, how do you keep your CEO (and CIO) happy and more importantly keep them employed? By following an application modernization strategy and approach, your IT department will remain ahead of the always changing curve, with a low risk profile, and be fully prepared for future-proofing your IT solutions.

Adoption of the internet has caused frenzied investment in new business ideas creating rapid advancement in technology, services, and standards. This is driving wide spread adoption of web-based technologies resulting in existing technology becoming outdated and software lifecycles becoming shorter. This leads to constant fluctuation in IT trends, many of which must be adopted to remain competitive with your organization’s business goals and to respond to the changes aforementioned. What are the IT trends of today that will dictate a company’s success? Do they require every IT department’s attention? Do they add value to the organization? Listed below are IT trends that every company should be considering in order to keep their company strategically aligned for high value gains:

• Cloud Computing: The ability to take commoditized assets off premise and follow a consumption cost model.
• System Consolidation: virtualizing and combining hardware, sun setting redundant systems, standardize on vendors.
• Enterprise Re-usability: Re-use and integrate existing assets, create single information sources, and sunset redundant systems.
• Mobile Solutions: Access business relevant information through mobile devices and perform business process remotely
• Portfolio Management: Manage and maintain corporate assets just like your stock portfolio; buy/sell in the marketplace through effective metrics.
• Technology Lifecycle Management: Manage vendor relationships, standards. Sunset technologies before workforce or vendor support become scarce or costly
• Off-shore management: manage cost-effective off-shore teams for effective and quality-driven results.
• Agile Methodologies: Follow an incremental approach that has rapid, value-driven milestones
• Technology Selection: Embrace open standards and technologies that are mature and sustainable.

There are many drivers to adopting such leading edge IT initiatives, some of which include the following: vendor drops support of products or technologies, modern skilled workforce and lack of legacy skilled professionals, new software programming languages, competitive pressures, and more. These all lead to following constant modernization and rationalization process that continuously re-evaluates the technologies, products, and corporate assets. By following a modernization strategy, that includes identifying application profiles for each corporate IT asset, will allow organizations to measure, monitor, and target their future IT portfolio. Having a continuous rationalization process through source selection techniques, will benefit companies looking for not only continuous improvement, but continuous optimization. This includes defining a prioritization framework so that each initiative can be ranked and selected based on the value it brings to the organization. Once such levels of maturity are achieved, organizations reap the ultimate benefit—re-allocating funding from maintenance-type initiatives to innovation-type initiatives. Re-focus IT from managing the day-to-day operations, to helping the business solve real business problems. This is often accomplished through a centralized, integrated, flexible framework that has been through the rigor of business case justification, performance and risk management, and strategy drivers.

Studies have shown that world-class companies have reaped the benefit of such initiatives: firms with world-class performance management outperform their peers by 240% (The Hacket Group), 404% ROI for customers leveraging SaaS delivery models (IDC), and 150% ROI for Grid customers (Mainstay Partners). These are figures to keep your CEO happy and are accomplishable by following a structured approach that stresses standardization, rapid value, vendor management, and commoditization of tactical and non-strategic functions.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mobile Computing Primer for IT Developers

With over 5 billion mobile users worldwide, it’s clear that mobile applications are the cornerstone of our daily lives. Applications range from productivity tools to entertainment and games, and the usage of day-to-day applications is continually evolving with the influence of technology and cultural shifts. For example, certain technological achievements have enabled us to do more with our phones each year. Recent technological achievements include: greater mobile data bandwidth, Cloud Computing, feature-rich Smartphone devices, and adoption of ever improving industry standards. These technology enablers have provided the platform for mobile cultural shifts that include: use of social networks through mobile devices, increased use of text messaging, and more use of mobile cameras in unique ways (streaming video, barcode scanner).

Even though 93% of Americans have a mobile phone, there are still many unique challenges that exist when developing mobile applications, especially when designing for the expectations of today’s consumer. Today’s user is unlike the computer user of yesterday--multitasking is a way of life, typing is preferred over handwriting, staying connected is essential, zero tolerance for device delays, and the lines between consumer and creator are blurring. There are some interesting constraints in mobile computing that haven’t presented themselves in User Interface development for a long time, going back to the advent of the common desktop monitor when UI developers had to pay attention to screen size, memory usage, and limited disk space. Mobile computing constraints include: maintaining awareness of a limited screen size, allocating and releasing memory for devices with limited memory (for the time being, until mobile devices are equipped with larger memory capacity), security concerns with mobility, accessibility, and potential to lose a phone easily; and accounting for precision of the user (i.e. fat fingers punching small keys). These limitations can also be coupled with the realization that even more challenges exist when you factor in the number of device platforms, programming languages, adoption of the tablet device with unique parameters, wireless carrier contracts and exclusivities, incompatible radio frequencies across devices, and demand for backwards compatibility. Conclusion: developing mobile applications is not necessarily as easy as it looks.

The good news is that there are a plethora of tools, frameworks, and platforms to help us develop applications and streamline some of the more tactical aspects of development that often requires a lot of plumbing. Most development environments are cloud-based so that users don’t need to stand up the infrastructure in-house to develop applications. Most platforms have a standard development kit (SDK), emulator tools, and configurable attributes so that development and unit testing can be accomplished without even owning a mobile device or having a certain carrier’s plan. Coupled this with some of the more mature integration and interoperability tools available on the market, including Oracle ADF, Rho Mobile, and Oracle Mobile Framework to allow cross-platform and enterprise system integration. These provide framework building blocks that include: launching and displaying applications, displaying controls, responding to user actions, accessing the Internet, managing user preferences, playing sounds and videos, and much more.

There are some leading practices to mobile development. These can range from providing end users immediate feedback to their action (such as highlighting the item they selected), making applications forgiving to account for fat fingers, and to always follow the KISS philosophy (Keep it Simple Stupid). The economics of developing an application are very compelling, since a developer is on average entitled to a 70% fund of what is sold in the platforms application store, free promotion in the application store and community, and the low barriers to entry for getting started.

With nearly 70% of the Fortune 500 having budgeted plans to launch mobile solutions for their enterprise, it only makes sense for today’s IT developer to spend time learning and adjusting to the nuances of architecting, designing, and building mobile applications.