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Monday, January 31, 2005

IT Metrics

Like many, I'm looking for better IT metrics. Translation: I need a better way to communicate IT to my company. I'm playing with various financial ratios to see if they make sense as a measure of IT performance; ratios like ROA and IT asset turnover.

Expressing IT in financial ratio terms seems better to me than using some kind of IT productivity measurement. As you well know, IT productivity is a hard thing to measure. If you talk only in terms of requests handled, you leave out measures of complexity of task. If you talk in terms of hours worked, even if you slice the hours into separate tasks, you miss something. All to often, companies want to make IT into assembly line processes...something that just doesn't work.

Whatever. As I find measures that make sense, I'll let you know. You let me know if there are metrics you like to use to tell your story to your company


Sunday, January 30, 2005

Upcoming Article on Creating Java Web Services

I've just completed an article on turning servlets into web services for the Borland Developer Network. Click here for a sneak peek at the code.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Java Confession

I have a confession to make about Java. As much as I like the language for its portability, features, etc., I hate Java Swing. I understand why Swing is the way it is. But, I don't have to like it. And I don't.

The problem is in order to maintain the "write once run anywhere" philosophy, Swing adds a layer of complexity not present in platform specific GUI development languages. I'm not saying I can't develop in Swing...I can and have on multiple platforms. I'm just saying I will do anything to avoid using it. Often I look for solutions that can be JSP/servlet based instead. While I think that Java is a cool feature rich language, I must confess that, at least to me, Swing is one of its least desirable features.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

IT/Business Alignment

I have a question for you: when did IT and business units fall out of alignment? In every organization I've worked for, IT existed at the behest of business units. Without a business need, there would be no need for an IT department...or at least one of any size. Yet in those companies, there we were serving business unit needs.

Sometimes there were over 100 employees in IT and sometimes as few as 20. Regardless of size, the IT departments worked for the business units. Does this mean that IT was always working on the best interest of the overall company? Not necessarily. In cases where strong executive leadership drove the company's priorities, IT and the business units were perfectly aligned. In cases where there was chaos at the top and no clear direction, IT departments struggled to figure out how to best align with business units. Regardless, IT was serving the business.

Does IT/Business unit alignment mean IT is serving all the needs of all the business units? Nope. Sometimes issues that seem important to a business unit are not important to the overall organization. Small departments that, while they play a role in running the company, do not bring much to the table in the way of revenues or cost savings cannot expect IT departments to drop everything to work on their requests. Those department heads would say that IT is not aligned with their department.

So...even though I've read the myriad of books and articles on the subject...I'm still very confused about the apparent lack of IT/Business alignment. It's very odd.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Learning From the Past

As I was recently reading the book "Why Smart Executives Fail: and What You Can Learn From Their Mistakes" by Sydney Finkelstein, I was reminded of when I worked for IBM in the early 90's. At that time, IBM was an incredibly large, bureaucratic nightmare of a corporation. I was hired by their recently formed technology services and outsourcing division, Integrated Systems Solutions Corporation or ISSC (later known as IBM Global Services). ISSC was the new model for IBM; a tougher leaner organization where things like "a job for life" weren't a given. Most of the company did not know we existed. Those who did called us "light blue" as if to say we really weren't "true blue" IBM employees.

Shortly after I was hired, I moved into a management position on an outsourcing contract. As a new manager with IBM I was sent to IBM Leadership Development a.k.a New Manager School in Raleigh, NC. I was the only ISSC employee in a class of about 20 people. The first thing I noticed was the shock and disdain the IBM lifers had for me. Not only was I a professional hire, but I was also a manager. How dare the company promote someone from the outside so early in their IBM career. I found the whole situation very funny.

One of the things I remember about the class was the instructors' insistence that my division (ISSC) was going to be the model for the whole company. We talked about company loyalty. I offered that I was loyal to the company as long as they were paying me and there was a job for me to do in IBM. There was an audible gasp in the room. People argued with me that unconditional loyalty to the company was the right way to go. I argued that ISSC didn't promise me a life long proposition. Instead, I was offered a position at an outsourcing contract that had a finite life span. After the contract was over there was no guarantee of another contract for me to go to. To the surprise of most of the class, the instructors agreed with me.

Not long after that class IBM North America went through a massive restructuring effort, laying off thousands of employees. I wonder how many of the new IBM leaders I went to class with got caught in the layoff. Of those that did, what would they say about unconditional loyalty today?

Another memorable moment from that trip was a tour I took of an IBM PC manufacturing facility. I was surprised by the lack of automation. Prior to the tour I had visions of machinery and robots working endlessly buidling computer equipment. I was disappointed to see that instead of high tech, there were lots of people putting boards into PCs. But, the biggest surprise was that within a few blocks of this facility there were 2 other manufacturing sites making competing IBM PC models. IBM was so big and behemoth like, that the company was competing against itself.

IBM of the late 1980's early 1990's was what Mr. Finkelstein calls a "zombie business". According to Mr. Finkelstein, zombie businesses are companies that have a such an insulated corporate culture, so many employees with deep loyalties, and have an emphasis so focused on the positive that they fail to see negative business signals. These companies are often the biggest in their industry. They maintain a "constant awareness of their closest competitor" and they are always trying to improve internal metrics.

In Mr. Finkelstein's opinion, these zombie businesses fail to see not only what's happening in their industry, but also fail to take into account their customers and the customers' needs. The positive attitudes are so bad that people do not want to tell bad news...even to the point of not telling the CEO the truth out of fear of disappointment.

In all honesty, I can't tell you what was going on at the top of IBM...I was too far removed from it. But I can tell you from where I sat, the company was in bad shape. I don't want to imply that IBM was a bad company, or unpleasant to work for. It wasn't and there were a great many benefits. IBM just believed its own press and lost sight of reality.

When Lou Gerstner came on board, things changed for the better. Gerstner took the company through some hard times and ultimately produced a much different company. He "rocked the world" of many IBM lifers. I'll bet you they are still bitter about it.

Having been gone from IBM for about 7 years, I can't tell you too much about them today. The outsourcing contract I was on has run its the way I left the company before the contract ended in case you're wondering. I still maintain some friendships with those IBM employees who found either found jobs within the company and those who didn't.

What's the point of all this you ask? Well the point is...Sydney Finkelstein is right when he talks about zombie businesses. They exist. On the surface they can seem like great places. Underneath, there is trouble. It is tempting to focus on how well your company is doing and how great a place it is to be. However, remember to pay attention to your customers, industry, etc. If you don't, you may end up a zombie. =:-o

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Socket Programming in Java

It's funny what you find on the Internet. Several months ago I submitted a couple of articles to Borland Developer Network. Receiving no communication back, I assumed that the articles were rejected. A couple of evenings ago I stumbled across a reference to one of the articles on the site. I was floored. It seems that Borland did decide to post the articles after all...they just decided to wait till December to do it. Go figure.

Click here for my article about socket programming in Java.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Windows Service Article

A few months ago I sent one of my blog entries "Running Java Applications as a Windows Service" to the Borland Developer Network. Click here for the article.

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