11 years, 11 months ago

St Davids Day

It seems fitting that my blog should start on St. David’s Day – the beginning of Welsh pride as the year begins, flowing with Daffodils, Cawl Cennin (Leek and Lamb stew), all kinds of goodies for children and the flow of love and kindness towards all.T…

11 years, 11 months ago

St Davids Day

It seems fitting that my blog should start on St. David’s Day – the beginning of Welsh pride as the year begins, flowing with Daffodils, Cawl Cennin (Leek and Lamb stew), all kinds of goodies for children and the flow of love and kindness towards all.T…

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12 years, 14 days ago

Conway’s Law

The Wikipedia community describes Conway’s Law like this; I paraphrase it like this: if the architecture of the system and the architecture of the organization are at odds, the architecture of the organization wins. The organizational divides are going to drive the true seams in the system.
The architecture of the system gets cemented in the […]

12 years, 29 days ago

SaaS Service Offerings redefine what’s in a product

As I continue my work on my little nook of Microsoft’s S+S business strategy, the team I work with has noticed something peculiar about what exactly a Service Offering really is. Because we know the packaged software business so well, we sometimes overlook what at first seems like a subtle difference in the SaaS business but eventuates into something quite substantial. One such situations is the understanding of what a Service Offering is compared to a packaged software product.

Service Offerings via SaaS redefine what a product is

In the traditional packaged software business, product features define what a product is but Customer 2.0 expects to have direct access to operational features within the Service Offering itself.

Take for example Microsoft Word. Product Features such as Import/Export, Mail Merge, Rich Editing, HTML support, Charts and Graphs and Templates are the types of features that Customer 1.0 values most in a product. SaaS Products are much different because Customer 2.0 demands it. Not only must a product include traditional product features, it must also include operational features such as Configure Service, Manage Service SLA, Manage Add-On Features, Monitor Service Usage Statistics, Self-Service Incident Resolution as well. In traditional packaged software products, these features were either supported manually, didn’t exist or were change requests to a supporting IT department.

Service Offering = (Product Features) + (Operational Features)

Operational features directly impact the most valuable aspect of the Software Service Provider business…service quality for customer retention. Dr. Nilesh Bhide, one of my esteemed colleagues wrote a great blog post on the value of the qualitative customer experience for a Service Provider business (see here). This is a fascinating reality online Service Provider businesses have.

So, what downstream impacts are there for SaaS products? There are two that I’d like to look at; operational business processes and their supporting business systems.

The operational business processes must now include Self-Service Incident Management and Self-Service Service Management to streamline and enable the direct interaction between Customer 2.0 and the Operational systems to make real-time incident resolution and service configuration changes on the fly. Inability to have these automated business systems result in a degradation of service quality and inevitably customer attrition.

Product Managers of SaaS Service Offerings must include into the Service Offering operational features to optimize customer retention. They cannot be an afterthought nor can they be lower in priority. They are a key ‘feature’ of the Service Offering itself.

This assumption implies that the systems providing the operational features must also have the highest system quality that product features have. System quality attributes such as system reliability, system security, system performance and system usability. Any downtime, lack of usability or any other poor experience with these features naturally reflect the rest of the Service Offering itself. This is the point I want to make with this article. Guess who builds and supports these Operational Features? Your friendly neighborhood IT department in conjunction with the Operations and Service Offering product group. This raises the quality bar for your traditional IT shop.

Oh, and by the way, these must be provided at a very low maintenance cost so as not to cut into the profit of the low profit-margin SaaS business. As noted in the Wall Street Journal the other day “Microsoft’s troubles in online services grew in the quarter as losses widened – to $245 million – due in part to increased costs of data centers…” (“Microsoft Net Surges With Help From Vista”, Robert A. Guth, Wall Street Journal, Friday January 25, 2008). Of course, data center cost isn’t the only factor to the $245 million dollar loss but it was a significant contributor. This is a sharp reminder that online Service Provider business must have efficient data center operations to be profitable.

The need to focus quality on the operational features to run a successful business isn’t all that surprising. Geoffrey Moore once wrote “For core activities, the goal is to differentiate as much as possible on any variable that impacts customers’ purchase decisions and to assign one’s best resources to that challenge. By contrast, every other activity in the corporation is not core, it is context. And the winning approach to context tasks is not to differentiate but rather to execute them effectively and efficiently in as standardized a manner as possible.” Business processes such as the customer-facing sales, fulfillment, assurance/support and billing are all core because they have direct interaction with the qualitative customer experience.  Therefore, these processes become a top priority in order to be competitive in the online software service market. This understanding is a critical component for software service providers today.

12 years, 4 months ago

SWABOK, Archipedia, Uber Architecture Framework, xyz?

Nick Malik wrote blog post “The culture of art vs. the culture of engineering” that described the problem of architects and developers being caught up in invention rather than reusing software system definitions and concepts.

I wholeheartedly agree with Nick. We’ve all struggled with this problem it seems. The situation I observe is when I point Architects and Dev Leads to reference material with the intention of pointing them to reusable content (albeit a design pattern, a design process, reference architecture, reference model, or a theoretical concept), 9 times out of 10 they don’t readily see what it is I meant for them to learn from it. Btw, by learn I mean; a) becoming aware, b) gaining an understanding and b) applying what was understood. A lot of this is dependent on me not being able to convey a message clearly but much of it depends on the recipient not understanding the purpose and context of the problem they have nor being familiar with the material out there to see how the material can help.

Reusing architectural references is not as easy as pointing people to a published copy of documentation. It often involves a lot of handholding and a bit of luck. Only when there is a fully complete, prescriptive methodology to follow that surrounds the nugget of knowledge I find important, do most feel comfortable.

It is rather confusing, let’s face it. There are plenty of proprietary and public concepts, frameworks, processes, models and other material that covers bits of the overall knowledge a senior software system architect needs. The problem is that in the nascent world of software system architecture, there simply is no such thing as the uber methodology that explains how it all fits together and be used for all software system architecture planning, designing, building and operation activities from the Enterprise Architecture to Solution Delivery to Operations Support points of view. To top it all off, when a new good idea comes into the fray (eg SOA, ESB, MDM, S+S, System Quality), rarely do people understand how it fits into the overall software system architecture picture. The result is building yet another methodology, process, framework, etc and the opportunity for old concepts to be renamed and tagged as being ‘new’. Confusion compounds.

There have been attempts in the scope of software engineering such as the Software Engineering Book of Knowledge (SWEBOK) found here http://www.swebok.org/. This is an interesting attempt at building the uber reference for software engineering. I wonder if we could build on top of or expand SWEBOK to include all software system architecture stuff and reuse SWEBOK to form a Software Architecture Book of Knowledge (SWABOK). Essentially, it would be a place that hosts best practices that is anchored to an information metamodel to help connect them together and help readers navigate between the references in a structured, hierarchical model.

Alternatively, we could build a site structured on the encyclopedia metaphor – sort of like Archipedia that is a wiki-format software system architecture site that hosts all best practices and links them together. This approach is a little less intentional and a bit more open but maybe the right path to take.

Or, maybe we need to go down the path of building another framework or methodology. But instead of inventing a new concept we invent only what we have to and then point to best practices already out there. This would give us the opportunity to build out a comprehensive and prescriptive framework including team model, process model, and risk management, templates, and examples. Of course, this would require a lot more work and a tighter community to ensure consistency.

It very well could be we need a combination of all of the above at varying levels of depth. I don’t really know the answer but am interested to hear from others that have an opinion.

12 years, 4 months ago

Elementary Lessons in Vision and Teaming

Have you read The Goal? It is (still) a pivotal book in the Lean movement. I’ve been telling architects that The Wheel on the School (a children’s story by Meindert deJong) is the hidden jewel of that genre—namely novelization of business fundamentals. I believe it could be a pivotal book in the networked, collaborative, dynamic […]

12 years, 5 months ago

The New Unconscious (Social Cognition and Social Neuroscience): Books: Ran R. Hassin,James S. Uleman,John A. Bargh

Amazon.co.uk: The New Unconscious (Social Cognition and Social Neuroscience): Books: Ran R. Hassin,James S. Uleman,John A. Bargh This book accidentally got my attention while surfing. I have only just begun reading it but several thoughts came to my mind I would like to share with you. First of all it is always a surprise to […]

Het bericht The New Unconscious (Social Cognition and Social Neuroscience): Books: Ran R. Hassin,James S. Uleman,John A. Bargh verscheen eerst op Rob Vens.

12 years, 5 months ago

Enterprise Architect vs Solution Architect

What exactly is an Enterprise Architect versus a Solution Architect? I’d like to chat about the difference because I’m not confident everyone understands this well.
It’s actually quite simple. I propose that a Solution Architect is a project team …