The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Automation and business restraints…

any ideas illustration.pngThe concept of ‘golden handcuffs’ has been around for a long time. This is a job that has such good benefits or salary that it can be very difficult to leave, no matter how much it frustrates you.


As we move into a work environment that has ever greater use of automation in knowledge management roles, there is the likelihood of a ‘steel handcuff’ scenario, where a business benefits greatly from automation but eventually loses the ability to effectively maintain their rules and models. They maximize the financial benefits and reduce the workforce to the point where they no longer have the critical mass of industry knowledge to adjust to future business demands. They essentially get locked into the current model.


This issue can be overcome by understanding the skills and value of the industry expertise they have as well as the dynamics and value of the automation components. If they feel they can’t afford to have that expertise available full time, they need to devise a consulting supported approach to keep the expertise available, since it will be needed sometime. Tweaks and experiments should be part of the automation strategic model, since it should never be considered done.


Some organizations have experienced this scenario with their existing COBOL environments, for example. Their systems work today, but most of the people who understood it have either retired or been let go. To make a change may require a total redesign/rewrite, to develop a new crop of people who understand the business needs.


My view is that the foundations and rules should be viewed as a starting point for continuous adjustment and understanding and not a final product that can be declared complete.  On-going interaction with the business will be needed.

Who is required for effective knowledge sharing activities… and other lessons learned

knowledge management.pngAs I mentioned last week I presented on the importance of understanding Attention in business to the New Horizons Forum , part of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) conference. I put the Attention Scarcity in a Connected World presentation out in slideshare, if anyone is interested.


The nice thing about going to a conference outside your normal area of concentration is that it allows you to look at things differently. One thing that caught me a bit by surprise at the conference was the degree of overlap with the concepts presented in the New Horizons’ keynote titled "Big Bets in USAF Research and Development" by Maj General William Neil McCasland, Commander, Air Force Research.


Much of his presentation was about the impact autonomous and semi-autonomous systems were having on the military and the shifts that need to take place in both the implementation, validation and testing of these systems, as well as the processes that surround them. Granted he was coming at the problem from a different perspective and was focused much more on the automation side than the interaction between the humans and automation, but he touched on many of the same points as my brief presentation.


These overlaps drove home the “perfect storm” that is taking place in automation, regardless of the industry. Many people realize that the tools are out there and have different perspective of what the tools can do. These differences are actually what innovators need to look out for, since in many cases they can complement an approach. Even when they are not complimentary, the lessons learned may still be applicable.


The panel I was part of at the conference was moderated by Rupak Biswas, NASA Advanced Supercomputing division chief. After our panel, we had a long discussion about the shifting role and capabilities of automation, behavior modification and the role of IT organizations within organizations.


One of the areas we discussed was the use and deployment of gamification within an organization, specifically related to knowledge management and sharing of expertise. Although the IT organization definitely needs to be involved in the integration of information and its flow related to knowledge management and collaboration tools, the business side needs to be responsible for the goals, metrics, rewards and behavior changes that are required. They are the ones who will judge success of the project.


Collaboration between these two groups will be required, since neither can accomplish the task effectively on their own. This may seem obvious, but since some organizations view the IT team as a more cost conscious, support organization and that core business process tasks need to be funded and attacked separately from the IT efforts, this isolationist view may be a luxury that is too expensive to maintain.

Will there be a day where the computers have all the answers?

computer with answers.pngA few weeks ago, I blogged about the kind of things that computers can do today that we just would not have thought possible just a few years back and the new types of automation that are possible.


Here is another story along this line. It is about an Online Encyclopedia project that essentially writes itself. Remember back when some people thought that Wikipedia would never be all that useful. I bet you’ll hear the same kind of discussion about a computer generated encyclopedia.


There is a project in HP labs that is somewhat akin to this that I mentioned a few weeks back called Compass. When organizations can mine their interactions for context and show relationships we’re in for a quite different ride from a knowledge management perspective than we’ve had in the past.

Pivot: Web Data Visual Analysis

I have been a fan of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) lecture series for some time, and have come across very insightful and cool ideas. Last week, I saw a good presentation by Gary Flake (a Technical Fellow at Microsoft), who presented Pivot, an experimental tool for visual analysis of web content.

The presentation was excellent, and the tool is available for downloaded. An Excel interface is available for experimentation. I can't help but imagine the business applications of this type of visualization, including:

  • Competitive analysis

  • Sales performance analysis

  • Customer demographics

  • Political and regulatory landscape

  • Product sales and characteristics

  • Blog search

  • Patent analysis

 I don't know if the tool is scriptable at this time, but that should also add another dimension for unattended analysis.

 What other business applications come to your mind for a tool like this?

CMMI for Services: New, but necessary?

I read frequently that ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) is the most widely-used set of best practices in our industry today. That is no surprise considering the importance of service management in delivering the full value of IT in support of the business. But while the "infrastructure" side of IT has endorsed ITIL, applications engineers and software organizations are just catching on.  Just about this time last year, the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) released a new model in its constellation of CMMI reference models called the CMMI for Services (CMMI-SVC).

The SEI was looking to fill a need for its current users seeking service establishment, management, and delivery best practices. So they kept the project management, process management, and support discipline process areas fairly intact from the CMMI for Development (CMMI-DEV), but replaced the engineering process areas with seven ITIL-like ones: Strategic Service Management, Service System Development, Service System Transition, Service Delivery, Capacity and Availability Management, Incident Resolution and Prevention, and Service Continuity.

Here's my take on it. ITIL V3 was designed to extend IT Service Management into a holistic end-to-end lifecycle capability for the enterprise.  CMMI-SVC allows current CMMI-DEV users to get a "taste of ITIL" and gain some process and performance benefits (including a more relevant CMMI rating if services are what they do). It's a step in the right direction to get software and systems engineering organizations and their processes more integrated with operations and infrastructure engineering, and what they do. The CMMI models do integrate well with ITIL, and provide complementary best practices beyond the new services practices that are critical to any IT organization. The depth of detail and guidance that the ITIL V3 books provide still mean they should be your first reference for IT service management, however.

My recommendation is that all services organizations continue to implement ITIL V3 practices taking a full services lifecycle view.  If you already have CMMI-Dev process credentials, keep them.  Together, this will give you more than sufficient CMMI-SVC "cover" if you need to achieve or maintain a CMMI rating.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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