Time to Change Systems

With the issues over the last few days affecting RBS you have to ask the question is it time to replace these old archaic systems that have been patched over the years and the de-risk the business.

What these banks have done is apply sticking plaster to a gaping wound. The original systems were never designed for the 24/7 365 model. What these people should have done is invested when times were good and position themselves for the 21st-century.

We probably at the point now where the replacement of these systems is inevitable or even will be mandated by government.

As an independent IT consultant I welcome the challenge should these be presented to us. We certainly have the expertise within the UK to undertake such an endeavour.

If the investment is too big for one bank then why don’t the banks get together and specify and build a standard banking system. Adopting a standard system would enable certain controls and reporting to be mandated and if this is done in concert with the government regulation could be built into the system is as well as the controls.

We really can’t afford to put off these issues to the future. Every time a bank tries to upgrade standard software that comprise part of the batch system the risk of it going wrong increases.

As these systems get older and older the intellectual property of the bank is diminishing as people retire, get outsourced and leave. There has to be a point at which this must be done to such critical systems. We are trying to run 21st-century finance systems with late 20th century technology.

IT keyboardTechnology Glitch

A massive “Computer Glitch” at RBS group has caused incredible disruption to customers and has taken a long time to fix. Is this as a result of lack of investment in technology and the desire to constantly drive costs from running IT?

I understand that RBS/NatWest had just finished a massive restructuring and outsourcing of its technical teams so it is definitely an area to look at for fault.

As someone who works in the IT field I have seem first hand how business has expected IT year after year to reduce its costs. If it were a function that what not so important to businesses then I could understand it but IT is now THE fundamental tool that runs the business and banks more so. As a result of this constant race to the bottom more and more of the intellectual property of the business has been sold off.

I am a strong believer in Strategic outsourcing however you should only ever outsource “commodity skills”.  For example installing and supporting desktops is something that lends its self to an outsourced model. However is you need to have an understanding of the technology AND how the business uses that technology then it is not really something you should outsource, as that is the intellectual property of the business.

From reading the press it appears that this fundamental rule has not been followed with the RBS issue and a technology that was outsourced needed a thorough understanding of how it all worked together and not just the technology skill.

One question I would like someone to ask the executives of RBS is how much this will costs and how does this compare with the savings that were made.

As well as the news about RBS I heard on Radio 4 from Wilbur Ross, the US billionaire who has worked with Virgin Money on buying the Northern Rock business and he stated that the big banks in the UK have invested so little in technology that none of them are really prepared for the demands of the 21st Century.

Putting the two news items together you have to ask yourself where is the next Technology issue with the banks coming from? Who will be next?

UPDATE 28/6/2012 – Following on from my article yesterday Martin Taylor, the former chief executive of Barclays, stated that “There’s not much to a bank except its licence, computer systems and reputation” . So based on that its all pretty damaging for RBS.


Voice recognition

Voice Recognition

Over the last few years alternative ways to access computers have been sought. One of the most compelling has to be voice recognition. I have tried several versions of voice recognition software and have never really found it that accurate for daily use.

However is this all about change. What with Apple’s Siri and Dragon express I believe that voice recognition has now come of age.

I have used  previous versions of Dragon over the years and always found it very tedious to install and then train. This time however I downloaded Dragon Express, installed it, followed the wizard and then within 6 or 7 panels it was trained and ready to go.

In fact I’m now dictating this straight into Dragon and the accuracy is very good indeed. Not only is the accuracy good but I am dictating this where the television is quite loud and it seems to be working fine. With this in mind I really do believe that we are now entering a new age where the traditional keyboard and mouse will be replaced by touch and voice.

In the Windows arena the interface also changing with the development of a PC version of X boxes Kinect. Not only does this offer voice recognition it also offers gesture control.

So in conclusion the next few months and years are going to be very interesting as the new means of interaction gather pace with different types of form factor. I firmly believe that voice recognition will play a major role in this.

This article was created  using voice recognition from Dragon Express.

post-pc era

Post-PC era

I am fascinated to see the coverage in the press over the last few days raving about windows 8 and how this is a move to the post pc-era.

As someone who was working and delivering large technology programmes in the pre-pc era I have to ask myself if the pc has had its day.

My initial response is it may well be the post pc-era in terms of consumer devices and the use of technology in the home but in terms of the corporate world I really doubt it. How many people out there are still using XP service pack 2 (my current client has only recently moved to SP3!)?

What really is happening is the computer power that was once the domain of the PC can now put delivered in any form factor imaginable, tablet, smartphone, small screen devices what ever the human mind can dream up.

I think the term that should be used is not the post-pc era but the era of “ubiquitous computing”.

The fact that these new devices and form factors are providing opportunities to deliver new and exciting business solutions needs to be embraced and we should push to use them wherever possible.

In previous articles on this site I have said that IT needs to move away from and cant do attitude to a can do attitude. Well thinking differently can help in that re-alignment.

As the computer pervades more into day to day life there will be the demand to have the same in peoples professional life, how many are already asked about ipads!

I have always been someone who has looked forward in technology terms and I find what is happening now as one of the most exciting times to be around. The early promise of computing is now becoming a reality.

Crystal Ball2012 Predictions

So its that time of year when I start thinking about what is going to be the next big thing in the coming year in terms of corporate IT and technology generally.

Cloud Computing

As in my 2011 predictions article cloud computing will continue to be a major theme within IT. Cloud computing will go through a maturity stage in the coming year and the definition will become widely accepted as –

requires systems that run on a simplified data center architecture, operated largely by automated policies, not human hands. The architecture allows end users to self-provision their own servers, and has a billing mechanism that allows the supplier to charge only for the resource used, not the lifetime software license cost”.

Not just adding the word cloud to existing offerings as several of the large vendors have tried to do (termed as cloud-washing).

I believe that this concept will also move toward cloud based applications which does enable SME’s to use enterprise class applications at a fraction of the cost.

The major challenge for the big enterprise vendors is how they set up the billing for these kind of services and they will need to change the mind-set from the existing Processor based and other costing models.

Enterprise Apps

Again this was an area I touched on last year and this hasn’t moved as quickly as I thought it would, however there are signs of this market picking up.  The site www.getapp.com currently has over 4,580 apps available for download in many areas of business.

This area needs to become more mature before it becomes mainstream but the signs are there that this is happening and the trajectory is in the right direction.

Social Media/Collaboration

The one area that I see massive movement next year is the area of Social Media and collaboration. In the past collaboration would have been treated separately but until the drive of social media the collaboration would have been 1-to-1.

With social media the collaboration becomes many-2-many or any other combination you can think off.

It seems strange that this hasn’t happened sooner as a corporation has to be the best example of a social network in existence.

The tools are now there and a good example is www.yammer.com. This has aspects of Twitter and Facebook and is integrated into corporate infrastructures for security purposes but is cloud based.

Theses tools lend themselves to be department; company; interest group; Project  or any other configuration that suite the problem/need you currently have and facilitate communication interaction and inclusion.

Transform from Can’t do to Can do

Probably my most radical prediction for the coming year is the transformation of the IT department from a mentality of cant do to a can do mentality.

Its interesting to see that all of the predictions I have may so far are all around things that are or facilitate self service to the end user not the central IT department.

The central department is viewed as a hindrance to the organisation by many and as a result is often bypassed.

IT management need to change the culture and start to get things done. One of the most annoying things that business users experience is the SLA. Service Level Agreement, these were initially put in place to encourage requests to be seen to within a timeframe that can be measured for performance, what has happened over time is the SLA has become how long it will take – not the original intention.

This transformation will not happen overnight it will take years. If we don’t start this movement now we may end up with all IT roles being shifted to the cloud!

Well that’s it for my 2012 predictions it looks like we have an interesting year ahead.

Email PhotoEmail Banned by Consulting Company

There was an interesting segment on the BBC breakfast show last week discussing the fact that the consulting company ATOS has decided to ban its staff from using internal emails by 2014.

Whilst I think this is a bit of an overreaction it does highlight the fact that the use of email has got completely out of control.

Being of a certain age and in the industry for too long than I care to remember I am amongst a small group of professionals, who project managed and implemented massive systems without the use of email.

We can still remember when collaborating meant everyone in a project sitting in the same room and speaking to each other.

Email Introduced.

When email came along it was a godsend to project teams and really helped in the communications process. It probably helped us become more efficient. We were the masters for the technology and used it and loved it.

However email has become abused over time and we have now become the slave to the emails. Because of this ATOS have made their decision.

Obviously we now live in a connected world and are using social media more and more this means there are a plethora of tools that we can now use to communicate, or the real topic of the moment, COLABORATE.

There are many Instant-messaging platforms that are now getting the acceptance in the corporate market and these are being rolled out and used.

Email or others – Collaboration is the key.

I feel there is a place for all these tools in the IT professionals tool box and they should be used appropriately. The decision from ATOS, in my opinion,  on banning mail is down to misuse of the technology not the technology itself.

With a little discipline in using the technologies the can be used to their full potential. I will follow up on with a separate article on how I manage email and communications to avoid the overload scenario.

Lyons Electronic OfficeLyons Electronic Office

Today is a day that you should celebrate if you are currently employed in the IT field. Be you a project or programme manager or an IT analyst,  it is exactly 60 years ago to the day that the world’s first business computer was turned on and processed its first data. The business that created this machine was a catering company that sold tea and ran teashops called Lyons. The machine was called LEO (Lyons Electronic Office).

In the 40’s and 50’s Lyons was renowned for technological innovation and always looking for efficiencies. On a trip to the USA in 1947 2 mangers returned from a trip to the USA and reported that electronic computer held the secret to efficiencies and that investing £100,000 in this endeavor and building their own  could realize savings of £50,000 a year. They were granted the funds and the project went ahead. Work formally started in early 1949.

Over the next couple of years the project moved forward in building their own machine employing many difference skills and technologies that we would find really amusing by todays standards.

LEO First Operation

If was on 17th November 1951 that the first operation run was initiated to calculate the costs of Lyons’ weekly bakery distribution run. This task had previously been carried manually by accounts clerks. Initially the machine was unreliable but over the following weeks improvements were made and within 2 years LEO was trusted enough to run the Lyons Payroll.

The team that developed LEO were eventually spun off into a separate business that built machines for other business and was eventually nationalized by Harold Wilsons government in the 1960’s.

So there we have it from a British Catering company in the 1950’s we now have an IT industry worth trillions of pounds globally and employing millions of people. If it wasn’t for Lyons Electronic office where would we be today.

RIP Steve Jobs

Photograph of Steve JobsIt is with great sadness that we have learnt today of the death of Steve Jobs the co founder of Apple Computer Corporation.

He was a true visionary who moved the computer world away from grey boxes that were for grey accountants and into a world of different shapes, sizes and colours.

He also changed the way look at animation with the Pixar studios, my children were brought up on the studios offerings and their childhood was better because of that.

He changed the way we consume music and also changed the music industry as a result.

His vision and insight looked almost messianic by the Apple evangelists, very few people can turn a brand into a cult, but absolutely spot on with the average consumer.

I will always remember one thing I heard him say which some may find it hard to understand. He always said that Apple was not a hardware business but a software business.

It’s because of the approach to software and how it interacts with the user that we have these totally engaging form factors and interfaces that exist today.

As Bill Gates has said today his influence on the world will be present for generations to come.

He really was an agent of change.

Using the riight words is so importantChoose Words Well

When you are a Manager imparting information on a project you need to be extremely careful on the words you use to make sure that you convey authority and knowledge of the situation.

How many times do you hear Managers use the words “hopefully”; “probably”; “I think” and other weak words and phrases to get over the status or issues.

Most recipients of this type of response will pick up on these words and start questioning the status and the manager’s credibility and knowledge of the subject.  If you say that “hopefully a date will be met”, are you actually saying we are in danger of missing that date?

As with nearly everything you do with Management you need to concentrate on the presentation of the content not just the content. If you don’t know the current status of an item it is better to say “I do not know the answer to A, but I will get it for you by y” than “I think it is B, but I am not sure – let me check”.

The first example shows that you will go and get the definitive answer where as the second is a guess and then a reconfirmation.

As with most things we do it is all down to preparation; preparation; preparation when getting ready to issue a communication.

Assertive Words

You should try and put yourself in the recipients shoes and see what type of questions they are likely to ask and make sure that you use the correct type of words that reinforce action and assertiveness.

Even if you are having a weekly meeting don’t turn up without doing any preparation, its when you wing it that you start using the vague terminology I outline above.

Early in my career I would never prepare before meetings and thought no problem I can make it up as I go. That when you get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when asked a question you know full well you should have the answer at your finger tips.

I now prepare even for the briefest meeting to install the confidence in people that I am in control and know what I am doing. I avoid all the wishy-washy words mentioned above as well as others.

I also regularly prepare an update that I have in my back pocket for those times when you are cornered in the lift (the elevator pitch) or to and from your car.

Everything we do in Project and Programme management is related to people, people want us to do things, we need people to do things and so on, therefore we need to make sure that we present an image that we know what we are doing and are in total control of the situation.

The way we display that control and confidence to others is by using words so make sure we use them well.

As an exercise why not comment below with words you feel should be avoided when talking to stakeholders and others.

Here is your starter for 10 – should; might; possibly; hopefully,  could,

Team LaughingHumour – A Great Leadership Tool

When leading a project or programme I believe that one of the most valuable tools that the leader has is humour.

Humour can be used to foster team spirit, to relieve tension and for motivation. A lot of people can take themselves very seriously and this can have a detrimental effect on the team.

I am not saying don’t take what you are doing seriously, you should, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

Humour – The Carry On Moment

If you are at a particularly stressful stage in the life-cycle injecting what I can a “Carry-On Moment” can remove the stress and reinvigorate the team.

Meetings can be particularly tedious and an injection of humour can raise the spirits and refocus the participants.

It’s amazing how, in this connected and global world, humour crosses borders and cultures and has the same affect wherever you are. But be careful that you don’t make assumptions that things that are non-offensive where you come from are OK everywhere.

Humour – Careful How You Use It.

However you need to use the tool carefully. Don’t use it to belittle others or belittle the task at hand. Don’t use it to undermine others or other teams. Always use it in a positive and appropriate manner. Use it in an appropriate and none offensive manner.

In conclusion injecting a bit of humour can really brighten an endeavor and put a spring in people’s steps.

If you need a starter here is a joke that may help that was voted the best joke at the 2011 Edinburgh festival.

“I was asked for an eight character password so I gave snow white and the seven dwarfs”