Archive for the 'architecture' Category

Enterprise Social Software and Collaboration Report 2009 – More Doorway than Doorstop

Enterprise Social Software Report 2009I have to admit – when my copy of the Enterprise Social Software and Collaboration Report 2009 from CMS Watch arrived, I was a bit daunted when I heaved the envelope – this thing seemed like a doorstop.  I opened it and typically just fanned open to a few pages, catching glimpses of catalog-like inventory pages on various enterprise software products… honestly?  Is this just a huge, expensive collection of RFP responses?  Having other reading material ahead of it in line, I set it on the pile.  Honestly, I procrastinated a bit before tackling it. 

Big mistake.

When I finally dove in I was pleasantly surprised.  The extensive introduction is a fantastic foundational read for anyone getting into social software or social media in an enterprise setting.  There are well over 100 pages of detailed analysis on topics such as the business case for social software, a vivisection of social software types and services, and scenario-based vignettes of social software.  There is an extremely deep dive into the actual inventory of software products and platforms, with descriptions, ratings, feature matrices and screenshots.  And in classic fashion, the executive summary is saved until the end.

What’s so great about this report is that it is more enterprisey than wonk-ish.  Of course, social software is still new-but-busting-into many large enterprises.  The Social Software Report is a playbook for this market.  The analysts provide fantastic feature descriptions and real-world usage patterns, but also cover fun topics like Compliance in detail just as great.  Describing the differences between real-time versus cached LDAP credentials from both compliance- and point-of-failure angles is Good Stuff for the Enterprise Architect.  Covering archiving is good (they do this), but doing it within a section called “Lifecycle Management” shows you they get it.

There are suitably large sections on the big platform vendors (30-ish pages on Sharepoint), since many enterprises own one or many of those already.  But there is still plenty of coverage on best-of-breeds like SocialText and Jive.  Detailed functional reviews are followed by technical architecture descriptions – which, I know from my own tedious research experience, don’t always jump off the vendor sites at you.

If you are engaged in any explorations of social software, don’t make the same mistake I did.  If you are going through a selection process, it’s ridiculous to not check this report out.  But even if you have constrained options or a preferred vendor that’s already a done deal – this report will flesh out your understanding of the marketplace for social software enough to get you kicked out of the next BarCamp for being a suit.

Good stuff, this report – check it out!

Technorati tags: social software, social media, cms watch, enterprise 2.0, web 2.0, collaboration, research, industry analysts

Getting Real Value Out of Sales Pitches

Tony Byrne is right on when he says:

Increasingly I find SEs somewhat removed from actual implementation details (except what they’ve customized on their own laptops). While comfortable issuing jargon about “persistence layers” and “dynamic cache invalidation,” they don’t always have much depth on the mechanics of how their tools actually work behind the scenes.

Amen.  How tired are we in large enterprises of product pitch teams actually composed of all sales staff?  The ostensibly technical people in the room, as Tony says, often really understand just how to install and manage their demo environments.  If technical people are on the customer end, they need to be on the sales end as well.  We want to know how it runs in virtualized environments, how it integrates with policy server environments (read:  not just LDAP), how we can comply with policy around electronic records, electronic signatures, and audit trails.

These come from the professional services domain, not the sales domain – at least in a meaningful way.  Sales people are important too – but don’t forget to invite PS along next time you come calling.

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Book Review: Web 2.0 Design Patterns – Must Read

I had the pleasure of reading the soon-to-be-published Web 2.0 Design Patterns, but am seriously late getting my thoughts out (sorry guys!). In short, this book is well worth the read.

Duane, James, and Dion captured a high-speed drive by of all things 2.0, carefully deconstructing all of the cool tools we’ve been having so much fun with recently. They setup the book with a dissection of some flagship Web 2.0 properties, and contextualization of key memes. Next they define applicable models for capturing Web 2.0 in a pattern language. One my favorite aspects of this chapter was the use of “low end” modeling techniques – such as concept maps, and HTML <meta> tags as a form of WSDL for simple HTTP services. Being an Agilist and a practicalist, I like to see less well refined techniques legitimized. In true 2.0 style, the authors use what works, not just what is academically proscribed.

But the core of the book is a pattern reference. As they state in the intro to that section, it’s not likely something you will read straight through – though it’s certainly well written enough to do so. Each pattern is appropriately brief, but still hangs meat off the bone enough to be useful. The landscape of defined patterns is broad, and oddly shaped. SOA and Mashup are patterns, as are Semantic Web and Microformats. This struck me oddly at first – maybe I was hoping for something more homogenous from a developer’s point of view. But the authors make it work. I have to admit it was amusing to see memes like SOA and SaaS reduced to a pattern template. (Though where is the missing reference to in the Known Uses for the SaaS pattern?) The authors also extract new patterns native to the Web 2.0 landscape that are very insightful: Participation-Collaboration and Asynchronous Particle Update are very well done.

This book has a definite place on my bookshelf. Useful reference to be sure, but I can also imagine using this as a tool for evangelizing inside a large enterprise. To convert some minds, a pattern-based description might give some of these approaches more legitimacy. But the simple descriptions, useful models, and thoughtful examples in any context will provide the basis for a common understanding of Web 2.0 techniques.

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Will the Real SOA Please Stand Up

Jon Udell’s post around a podcast he did is a great read – check out A conversation with Rohit Khare about syndication-oriented architecture.  I’m so much more interested in feed/syndication oriented architectures, rather than SOA.  Maybe that’s just because I’m a content nut, and haven’t had to deal with heavy transactional systems.

Or maybe it’s because I value loose coupling, lightweight aggregation, and mashability over process and governance woes, and never ending abstract specifications.

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IT As A Competitive Asset (was: How To Keep Water Off the Floor)

I’m struck by the continuing view of IT as a means of just keeping lights running in a business. There are no doubt many fundamentals and a fair share of IT behavior continually renews the sense of ennui that business partners feel when working with IT, but it’s not always that bad.

I was amused by an audience question from Susan Scrupski at my Office 2.0 panel about how often the panelists regarded IT as a barrier to adoption of web 2.0 initiatives. It was nice to get the question out for discussion, as it is too often taken as a given (I joked that I didn’t know what they were talking about). But there are indeed various real barriers in IT to adopting new technologies, and re-orienting thinking towards social software: preferred vendors, security concerns, and traditional thinking about productivity are among them.

But I was even more struck while doing recent research among analysts. I was researching an area that is more on the outward facing side of our business and was shocked to find little clear guidance from a certain firm I love. The analysts at that firm clearly get it – if you read their blogs they get it, and if you talk to them, they get it. So where is the research?

Keeping water off the floor of the data center and such operational concerns are the foundation of good IT and enterprise architecture. But many enterprises are evolving their IT organizations around the products and services they provide, and are blurring lines between core infrastructure and lines of business. IT is getting focus both as an area of cost control, but also an enabler for revenue growth.

Analysts should be mindful about helping companies grow the top line, not just control expense.

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ESBs vs. Smart Routers

I went to a great presentation by Paul Fremantle about building an ESB using Synapse. Paul is a co-founder of and VP at WSO2 and very sharp. He did a great job distilling down the key pieces of Synapse and what it looks like to define service endpoints and do transformations. Synapse deals in various messaging formats like a good ESB, but made the interesting decision to internally treat everything as a SOAP message. If you make a REST call into the ESB, it internally gets wrapped as a SOAP message so you can add headers, reply tos, etc. Probably makes for a more sane server-side model.

But an audience member at the end asked what I consider to be a very prescient question about overlap with capabilities that are continually being added to routers – things like content based routing and filtering. Depending on who you talk to, BPM is supposed to be handled outside the ESB and the ESB should focus on lower level services like routing, filtering, and transformation. I can’t help but think that ESBs are hot for that right now mainly because it’s much easier to innovate and collaborate in the software domain. It seems to me that ESBs are almost commodity out of the gates, and these needs will ultimately be met in the firmware/hardware domain.

Could smarter routers just end up being the deployment node for more elaborate ESB-like routing and filtering logic? Will ESBs (if they are limited to that low level) survive much longer when the hardware can ultimately do it faster?

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Governance 2.0

According to tradition, John Soyring, a VP at IBM, gave the keynote at CSS this morning and did not disappoint. John toured a wide variety of disruptive influences on the current technology market – the first baby boomers turning 60 this year, the voracious appetite that developing economies (China and India receiving key mention) have for raw materials, and all of the * 2.0 disrupters.

He spoke a lot about SOA governance which is of current interest to me, but imagine my surprise when he also brought up long tails as a target of enterprise interest, which is a declared interest of mine. He also covered mashups as a key enterprise intiative, and posited it as the business end of SOA (my words, not his). I was reminded of Brenda’s Office 2.0 podcast.

I asked a question about how traditional enterprise governance practices will need to change from what was needed to manage a portfolio of software assets to practices for managing services and mashup components. John and his colleague David Barnes actually had refreshingly good answers to that. They talked about the importance of managing services for shareability and enhanceability. But they also talked frankly about the fact that mashups are often on the experimental end of the spectrum and that part of improved governance is going to have to be around learning to harvest enterprise-quality assets from the mashup incubators. Embrace the enterprise incubators rather than scold them.

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Cynicism Is Not A Recreational Drug

Many enterprise architects seem to feel persecuted or at least undervalued in their organizations. Some talk about the impacts of reorgs, some talk about being keepers of the flame. There are debates about the ivory tower syndrome. I can relate to many of these feelings, and believe that the worst possible outcome of these thoughts is cynicism. (Disclosure: I am frequently a cynic, so the title of this post could just be a case of public self-help). Why is it that EAs feel undervalued?

Some EAs rant about the prominence given to PMO-type organizations and project management over architecture. Maybe that is because PMs generally have better communication skills than the average EA? I think James has been talking up elevator pitches as a response to this feeling. It’s also possible this is because PMs have traditionally been tied to financials as a measure of their performance, and have a more tangible handle on how to tell their story in financial terms. No doubt this sells well with upper management, who are (1) used to talking in those terms all day long and (2) are themselves measured in the same vernacular.

Unfortunately for EAs, the story of value is often less tangible. Good architecture is often felt more than it is seen. It is often about risk management more than immediate revenue generation, EA deals in the intangibles. There are some QoS measures that EAs can fall back on to attempt a demonstration of objective value, but you are frequently back to the communication problem. Many of the people you need to convince of value won’t understand or appreciate QoS measures without significant explanation.

Portfolio management and governance are very management-friendly activities for demonstrating the value of EA through participation. Great architecture includes these activities, and provides a subjective measure of value that is essential. But their value in pure communication terms is difficult to package as a story. It again relies on conversation and explanation, rather than objective data. The true success of these activities is also often personality-driven by the leaders.

This is not to say that the value of communicating and promoting EA is lost, just that it is often difficult. The worst outcome is for EAs to become cynical in the face of these challenges. Cynicism only hurts the message, and makes it easier for people who are hard to convince to not even listen in the first place. The bricks of cynicism pave the path to the ivory tower.

UPDATE: Have to laugh at the timing of this report from Gartner

Go Gophers! Minnesota Joins the Pull for Open Data Formats

I suppose I should be embarassed when someone based halfway around the world brings me news in my own backyard, but thanks anyhow Simon!

Glad to see that my own state has joined the fray on open formats. I’m no lawyer, but I like the sound of the proposed amendments. Need to follow up with the state CIO to see if there is a citizens council or something… 😉

Yet More Architecture Podcasts

I posted recently on some architecture-related podcasts… here are a few more thoughts…

  • Tried listening to this podcast on enterprise portals – because I think Gotta is a bright guy in the area of portals and social software. First, how hard do you actually want people to work to listen to your content? I swear I had to go through registration like 5 times, and my lucky reward was getting to listen through embedded Windows Media Player. I’m thinking about the basics here – podcast, RSS feed, MP3s, etc. – you would be surprised how many more listeners you get if you free up the content a little. (Note: these comments are directed at CIO Talk Radio, not Mike.) If someone out there had the patience to get through this, please comment and let me know if I missed enough to go back to it.
  • Maybe this stretches the bounds of both “architecture” and “podcast” but one of my favorite books is available as a stream or download for free. How cool is that!! I’m going to listen again. What a great thing to be involved in – I would love to read a chapter of Code: Version 2.0 when that comes out. Note that you can contribute to that book.
  • Another Burton Group Inflection Point – this time on Skype. Actually a good technical breakdown of the Skype network architecture, things like SuperNodes. A good listen for enterprise folks. Curious why they only let 1 outside person review and publicly report on their encryption practices? You are fully Web 2.0, Skype, and transparency is the name of the game.
  • More RedMonk Radio – episodes 4 and 5 – always good. I am working a podcast idea with these folks that will hopefully come to fruition in the next few weeks… stay tuned.

On the to-do list are some architecture-related shows at IT Conversations. Thinking about Lessig and Joel for starters.

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