Sunday, January 3, 2016

Enterprise Architecture - Guiding Principles

Enterprise Architecture (EA) artifacts must be developed with a clear understanding of how the EA will be used and who will use it. The EA may be used as a tool for evaluating design alternatives and selecting optimal solutions, as a guide providng insights into how practices will be streamlined or improved through automation or as a plan for needed investments and an understanding of what costs savings will be achieved through consolidation. Throughout, the people involved in the development and maintenance of an EA Framework shall consistently follow certain guiding principles, so that the EA contributes to the vision and mission of the enterprise. That makes the guiding principles of most important and mostly the first step in developing EA.


Enterprise architecture principles serve as a Framework for decision making by providing guidance about the preferred outcomes of a decision in a given context. This acts as a mechanism for harmonizing decision making across organization functions & departments in addition to guiding the selection and evolution of information systems to be as consistent and cost effective as possible. Alignment with enterprise architecture principles should be a goal for any initiative and will result in fewer obstacles, surprises and course corrections later in the project.


The usefulness of principles is in their general orientation and perspective; they do not prescribe specific actions. A given principle applies in some contexts but not all contexts. Different principles may conflict with each other, such as the principle of accessibility and the principle of security. Therefore, applying principles in the development of EA requires deliberation and often tradeoffs. The selection of principles to apply to a given EA is based on a combination of the general environment of the enterprise and the specifics of the goals and purpose of the EA. The application of appropriate principles facilitates grounding, balance, and positioning of an EA. Deviating from the principles may result in unnecessary and avoidable long-term costs and risks.


Typically there will be a set of overarching general principles and specific principles with respect to Business Architecture, Application & Systems, Data & Information, Security, etc. The following are some of the generic guiding principles that could be applicable to all enterprises.


Maximize Value

Architectures are designed to provide long-term benefits to the enterprise. Decisions must balance multiple criteria based on business needs. Every strategic decision must be assessed from a cost, risk and benefit perspective. Maximizing the benefit to the enterprise requires that information system decisions adhere to enterprise-wide drivers and priorities. Achieving maximum enterprise-wide benefits will require changes in the way information systems are planned and managed. Technology alone will not bring about change. To maximize utility, some functions or departments may have to concede their preferences for the benefit of the entire enterprise.


Business Continuity

As system operations become more pervasive, the enterprise become more dependent on them. This calls for ensuring reliability and scalability to suit the current and perceived future use of such systems throughout their design and use. Business premises throughout the enterprise must be provided with the capability to continue their business functions regardless of external events. Hardware failure, natural disasters, and data corruption should not be allowed to disrupt or stop enterprise activities. The enterprise business functions must be capable of operating on alternative information delivery mechanisms. Applications and systems must be assessed for criticality and impact on the enterprise's mission in order to determine the level of continuity that is required as well as on the need for an appropriate recovery plan.


Applications & Systems Architecture

Applications and Systems should be scalable to support use by different size organizations and to handle decline or growth in business levels. While the unexpected surge or decline in the volumes are to be handled, support for horizontal scaling is also essential. Enterprise applications should be easy to support, maintain, and modify. Enterprise applications that are easy to support, maintain, and modify lower the cost of support, and improve the user experience. Applications and Systems shall have the following characteristics: Flexibility, Extensibility, Availability, Interoperability, Maintainability, Manageability and Scalability


Legal and Regulatory Compliance

Information system management processes must comply with all relevant contracts, laws, regulations and policies. Enterprise policy is to abide by laws, policies, and regulations. This will not preclude business process improvements that lead to changes in policies and regulations. The enterprise must be mindful to comply with laws, regulations, and external policies regarding the collection, retention, and management of data.Education and access to the rules. Efficiency, need, and common sense are not the only drivers. Changes in the law and changes in regulations may drive changes in our processes or applications. Staff need to be educated about the importance of regulatory compliance and their responsibility to maintain it. Where existing information systems are non-compliant they must be strategically brought into compliance.


Leverage investments

All systems shall leverage existing and planned components, enterprise software, management systems, infrastructure, and standards. It is impossible to accurately predict everything upfront. A try before you buy approach validates investment plans, designs and technologies. Prototypes enable users to provide early feedback about the design of the solution. If the enterprise capability is incomplete or deficient, efforts will be made to address the deficiency as against duplicating or investing further in building such new capabilities. This will allow us to achieve maximum utility from existing investments.


Risk Based Approach to Security

Following a risk-based approach provides the enterprise with an opportunity to: Identify threats to projects, initiatives, data and the ongoing operation of information systems; Effectively allocate and use resources to manage those risks; Avoid unwarranted speculation, misinterpretation and inappropriate use; and Improve stakeholder confidence and trust. Information systems, data and technologies must be protected from unauthorized access and manipulation. Enterprise information must be safe-guarded against inadvertent or unauthorized alteration, sabotage, disaster or disclosure. The cost and level of safeguards and security controls must be appropriate and proportional to the value of the information assets and the severity, probability and extent of harm


Continuous Improvement

The rate of change and improvement in the worldwide information technology market has led to extremely high expectations regarding quality, availability and accessibility. As a result, ICT must deliver projects and service-level agreements (SLAs) on progressively shorter deadlines and information systems with increasingly higher quality in an effective cost-control manner. This demand requires an operating model that continuously reviews and improves upon current practices and processes. Routine tasks that can be automated should be, but only where the benefit justifies the cost. The complexity of the process, the potential time savings and the potential for error reduction should be factored into the benefit. Processes and tasks must be analyzed and understood to determine the opportunity for improvement and automation. Service outages, errors and problems need to be analyzed to understand and improve upon deficiencies in existing processes and practises. Manual integration, where data is copied from one information system to another by hand, should give way to automated processes that are repeatable, timely and less prone to error.


Responsive Change Management

Changes to the enterprise information environment are implemented in a timely manner. If people are to be expected to work within the enterprise information environment, that information environment must be responsive to their needs. Processes may need to be developed to manage priorities and expectations. This principle will, at times conflict with other principles. When this occurs, the business need must be considered but initiatives must also be balanced with other enterprise architecture principles. Without this balanced perspective short-term considerations, supposedly convenient exceptions and inconsistencies, will rapidly undermine the management of information systems.


Technology Independence

Business architecture describes the business model independent of its supporting technology and provides the foundation for the analysis of opportunities for automation. Eliminate technology constraints when defining business architecture and ensure automated processes are described at the business process level for analysis and design. Enterprise functions and IT organizations must have a common vision of both a unit’s business functions and the role of technology in them. They have joint responsibility for defining the IT needs and ensuring that the solutions delivered by the development teams meet expectations and provide the projected benefits. Independence of applications from the supporting technology allows applications to be developed, upgraded and operated under the best cost-to-benefit ratio. Otherwise technology, which is subject to continual obsolescence and vendor dependence, becomes the driver rather than the user requirements themselves.


Data is a Shared Resource

Timely access to accurate data is essential to improving the quality and efficiency of enterprise decision making. It is less costly to maintain timely, accurate data and share it from a single application than it is to maintain duplicate data in multiple applications with multiple rules and disparate management practices. The speed of data collection, creation, transfer and assimilation is driven by the ability of the enterprise to efficiently share these islands of data across the organizations. A shared data environment will result in improved decision making and support activities as we will rely on fewer sources (ultimately one) of accurate and timely managed data. Data sharing will require a significant cultural change. This principle of data sharing will need to be balanced with the principle of data security. Under no circumstance will the data sharing principle cause confidential data to be compromised.

The above is not an exhaustive list. The set of principles actually depends on the enterprise's vision and mission and as the EA is aligned to such vision and mission, the principles should also be formulated with alignment in mind. While the above principles are generic and may be used by all enterprises, it is important to state the principle in a structured manner. The principle shall be supported with a rationale, so that the users can understand, why this principle exist and to what extent the same can be traded-off when a conflict arise. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Teachability - a Significant Soft Skill for Leaders

"If You Want to Learn, Be Teachable" -- By John C. Maxwell

There is an old saying that “you can't teach an old dog new tricks,” but the concept called “teachability” remains a key component for ensuring that the professionals of all walks are successful in their pursuit. This is all the more important in the IT because the "Change" here happens at a faster pace and those being teachable get better in their career towards becoming a leader.


Today's educational methods and curriculum are designed with a basic assumption that the students are teachabile. But when teachers find few students who lack this skill, they get into frustration. This makes the gap between teaching and teachability widening. The teachability factor should form part of the early school curriculum, so that it pays the fruits as the student pass through the further stages of education. 


Today's kids are smarter and they are born with Smart gadgets and devices and they handle these devices far better than their grandfathers. But this smartness does not mean that they are teachable. Being teachable is closely related to adaptability and being Curious. To be teachable, one has to be: quick to learn and observe; take direction, advice, correction when you make a mistake, etc.; and learn from all of those. Both parents and the teachers should be trained to improve these teachability traits of the students right from the childhood.

The character of Teachability has two aspects to it; one is being a learner and the other is to pass it on, to share insights and what we have learned with others. It is first being a learner, absorbing and applying what one has come through, then replicating that in others. To be a person who can teach we have to be a person who is teachable. Being teachable is a choice. We choose whether we are open or closed to new ideas, new experiences, others’ ideas, people’s feedback, and willingness to change. The key to teachability is not just that we try ideas on for size, but that we actually learn from others and change our point of view, process, and future decision making based on the what we have learned.


We all know that "Change is the only Constant thing" and the change is happening every where. For IT, the change happens in a faster pace. Newer tools and technologies emerge quite faster, needing the IT professionals on the run to learn things continuously. One of the important characteristic required to adapt change is being Teachable. Today’s competitive advantage goes to those who can learn and adapt faster, which are the important traits of being teachable. 


The work and decision making enviornment is different across work places. One should be willing to adapt and learn to these changing enviornment and circumstances and simply put be teachable.

Here are the important traits of Teachability:


Conducive to Learning - Approach each day as an opportunity for new learning experience. Have open minded and listen to people. There is a certain learning opportunity from every person you meet. Teachable persons remain alert for new ideas and always expect something to learn in every problem they face. They know that success has less to do with possessing natural talent and more to do with choosing to learn.

Be a Beginner for ever - When people are actually beginners, they have the mind set to be trained and learn. But as we all know, once they get better in the subject and reap more and more successes, they tend to get carried away and get to a state of closed minded. To be teachable, one has to stay in the beginner's mind-set for ever. The more success you have, the harder it is to maintain the beginner's mind-set because you are much more likely to think you know the answer and have less to learn. Believing in and practicing the following will help one to keep the beginners' mind-set: everyone has something to teach me; every day I have something to learn; and every time I learn something, I benefit.

Reflect and Change -Becoming and remaining teachable requires people to honestly and openly reflect and evaluate themselves continuously. Any time you face a challenge, loss, or problem, one of the first things you need to ask yourself is, “Am I the cause?” If the answer is yes, then you need to be ready to make changes. Recognizing your own part in your failings, no matter how painful, and working hard to correct your mistakes, leads to the ability to change, grow, and move forward in life.

Inter-Personal Skill - Inter-Personal skill will help nurture the art of learning from perople around. Be open minded and freely speaking to those around you to openly, yet honestly share the facts of not only work but also personal life. This will help strengthen the relationship, being approachable with those around and thus help get honest feedback. This will also make them courageous and honest enough to speak freely. Be willing to accept such feedback and criticism.

Learn Unto Death - The secret to any person’s success can be found in his or her daily agenda. People grow and improve, not by huge leaps and bounds, but by small, incremental changes. Teachable people try to leverage this truth by learning something new every day. A single day is enough to make us a little larger or a little smaller. Several single days strung together will make us a lot larger or a lot smaller. If we do that every day, day upon day, there is great power for change.

Non-Defensive - After you receive any form of constructive criticism, think about it and decide how you will act differently in the future. Don't get defensive when called out. Instead, learn from it and improve, so you don't make the same mistake again. Many of these lessons will come from the school of hard knocks. A teachable person is non-defensive. When they are wrong they quickly admit their wrongdoing and seek to learn how to be better next time. A teachable person allows others to speak truths learned from experience into their lives. A teachable person does not make unilateral decisions but seeks wisdom and knowledge from multiple people.

As you would have observed, Teachability requires certain soft skills, which are not easy to acquire. Though this is not to "born-with" skill, one can put in efforts to become teachable. Most of the organizations today are considering soft skills as most valuable than the hard skills, because, hard skills can be acquired on the job, but soft skills are not as easy to acquire. Thougn many of the recruiters are looking for Teachability as a soft skill, they are certainly looking for the traits that form part of Teachability. Like for instance, for most of the recruiters, the above mentioned traits figure in their evaluation checklist.

John C Maxwell suggests the following to pursue Teachability:

Learn to Listen - As the old saying goes, “There’s a reason you have one mouth and two ears.” Listen to others and remain humble, and you will learn things that can help you expand your talent.

Understand the Learning Process - Act, Reflect, Improve and Repeat

Look for and Plan Teachable Moments - By reading books, visiting places that inspire you, attending events that prompt you to pursue change, and spending time with people who stretch you and expose you to new experiences.

Make your teachable moments count - Pay attention to:
  • Points they need to think about
  • Changes they need to make
  • Lessons they need to apply
  • Information that they need to share
Ask yourself, “Am I really teachable?” - Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I open to other people’s ideas?
  • Do I listen more than I talk?
  • Am I open to changing my opinion based on new information?
  • Do I readily admit when I am wrong?
  • Do I observe before acting on a situation?
  • Do I ask questions?
  • Am I willing to ask a question that will expose my ignorance?
  • Am I open to doing things in a way I haven’t done before?
  • Am I willing to ask for directions?
  • Do I act defensive when criticized, or do I listen openly for truth?
A "no" to one or more questions above would mean that you have something to work on.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Promise and Peril of IoT

The Internet of Things can be defined as below:
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected.

As we can see today, there are many things that we use in our daily livelihood are becoming smarter as they have embedded sensors and related electronics and algorithms, so thay they collect data in real time and convert the same into useful information. The most common smart things that we see now range from tracking devices, cars, refridgerators, security cameras, ovens and even dustbins. The Healthcare industry is leading in adopting the IoT devices and we have devices which are worn under the skin, that on the positive side help address many of the health concerns.


The IoT ecosystem primarily has three things: the device itself, with necessary sensors to collect data; the network that the devices use to share the data with the back end systems; and the back end system which apart from applying various analytical and algorithmic processes on the collected data also manages the devices, like rolling out updates, patches, etc. Certain devices may not have the ability to connect to the internet, in which case, the devices reach out to the back end through intermediate broker devices, like smart phones.

IoT is here to Stay

More and more IoT devices are coming out and will soon be everywhere and experts predict that the number can grow to 50 billion by year 2020. The IoT will undoubtedly be beneficial, but not without any perils. The pervasive interconnectedness of the IoT devices will also help the businesses in better understanding customer behavior and adopt appropriate business and marketing strategies targeting the specific customers. While the businesses like healthcare service provicers may make the most out of this IoT push, it poses many concerns ranging from data security to life safety of those who either directly or indirectly use such devices.

As the benefits seem to outweigh the drawbacks, it is very likely that IoT is here to stay and the concerns have to be addressed as it matures in the coming years. Let us examine the Promises that IoT era is about to bring in and also the Perils that come along.


The Promise

Healthcare

As mentioned earlier, healthcare providers are among the earliest to adopt the IoT. The wider deployment of electronic medical records (EMRs) and deployment of telemedicine technology that relies heavily on the type of remote data collection needed IoT to take it further and this convergence is expected to fuel the growth of IoT. With IoT, patients can submit their vitals from home without having to personally visit their physician and thus experiencing an enhanced and timely care, which could be life saving many times. This also helps in healthcare providers innovate further and come up with preventive care plans. Typical IoT devices that we see now are the fitness trackers, smart watches and other wearable devices like smart shoes.

Automobile

Next to Healthcare, Automobiles makers have shown greater interest in leveraging the IoT and thus the cars are becoming smart with capabilities like driverless cars, parking assist, switching on the A/c remotely, etc. IoT, if not already, will enrich the in car experience of the driver and passengers. The applications include enhanced in-car infotainment, improved safety controls and improved remote maintenance. For example, the car tyres are getting smarter with the ability to notify the tyre pressure in real time and even extend it further to automatically inflate or deflate the tyre on the go. The cars rolling out today already have some level of smartness built in, giving an enhanced safety and driving experience.

Manufacturing

The IoT brings revolutionary changes to society, economy, and technology, in such a manner that no one can just ignore to leverage it for its benefits. Manufacturing companies for that matter are seriously working to leverage IoT to: gain enhanced visibility over the production process; link the production to the business processes; and build responsive monitoring processes that improves the efficiency and quality of the products and services. Application of IoT in the above areas will lead to significants benefits like, securing and monitoring the movement of goods within and outside the factory, improving the quality of the products, preventive maintenance and upkeep of the plant & machinery, etc. When implemented correctly in every stage of the manufacturing process, IoT will be a significant benefit to employees on the manufacturing floor to the shippers and finally to the customer.

Retail

Retail industry would not want to be left out in this race of adopting the IoT as it has the biggest potential to leverage for a better business results. Being in direct contact with the end consumers, retailers can make use of in-store sensors and can track smartphones throughout the store and record path-to-purchase data that can later be used to optimize store layouts. Check out process can be made easier with smart shopping bags, so that the moment an item is dropped into the bag, the same is added to the order making the billing process a lot easier. IoT is likely to be very useful in fraud prevention, like theft of inventory, etc. Early adopters will be positioned to more quickly deliver IoT-enabled capabilities that can increase revenue, reduce costs and drive a differentiated brand experience. The IoT will be a disruptive force in retail operations.

Other Benefits

Energy sector is adopting IoT with smart meters and grids to gather real-time data for remote monitoring of resource consumption, malfunctions, etc. Needless to mention, IoT enables buidling of smarter homes with smart-connected home appliances and thermostats giving an ability to the users to remotely monitor and manage. IoT is also entering our homes in the form of internet-connected lightbulb, thermostat, door lock, washing machine or oven you can control from inside or outside your house.  IoT has the power of transforming our lives by offering the needed sensing, connectivity and intelligennce to improve our wellbeing. 

Having seen the some of the promises, some of which are already real, let us now check out the dangers that come along.

The Perils
With IoT devices, consumers are often exposed to newer risks and concerns that these new generation devices and gadgets bring in. The concerns include their own safety, possible effects on networks used apart from the data protection and legal issues.

Another concern for the businesses is the amount of data produced by all IoT devices. The enormous data produced by various sensors must be transmitted over the networks, needing high performance networks and stored calling for the storage and related infrastructure. The volume of data managed by enterprises between 2015 and 2020 is expected to grow 50 times year-over-year. The concern is not just on the volume, but also on the quality and security of the data. The legal issues around the data ownership, accountability and responsibility cannot be ruled out as well.

Security & Privacy

IT professionals are no longer just protecting data, circuits, and transmissions, but need to focus on the relationships between “things”, “service to things” and “things to people.” Safety must be ensured along with availability, confidentiality and integrity. IoT devices might expose vlunerabilities, exposing an easy way for hackers to get into networks and databases of personal data. While manufacturers are responsible for the security of their products, organizations and end users are equally responsible deploying and monoitoring within their network. 

The ways and means of securing IoT is unclear as the industry is still evolving with thousands of start ups coming with cheaper and basic connected devices, ignoring security and safety in mind. The concerns around security and privacy stems out basically at three levels. The first being from the device itself. The device containing sensors to gather data and to perform certain actions should have a mechanism securely identify and authenticate the host system, so that it respond to the authorized hosts only and not to any. The second being the network used for sending and receiving data. Most of the IoT devices use the wireless protocols like bluetooth, to reach out to an intermediate device for further connectivity with internet. Securing these networks is very important as well to ensure data protection. The third is the Back End, where the huge volume of data gathered are stored for making it into more meaningful information for further actions.

The Internet of Things can be a complex market with multiple nodes, and businesses should aim to simplify this process. There’s no better way to assure a customer of the simplicity and security, than communicating regularly. It might seem like a rudimentary thing to do, but the true test of a successful business is to ensure that there’s a process in place amidst all that clutter. 

Other Concerns

Today's connected cars contain a multitude of computers collecting data, from driving habits to location data to media or entertainment use. With connectivity, data collected by the vehicle’s computers are sent to a manufacturer or third-party and data is received as well in the form of command & control or as updates to the programs & algortihms. In addition to privacy concerns, these technologies potentially allow hackers to remotely access a vehicle’s control systems and thus impact the safety of the human life

The consumer behavior is being used to the advantage of the retailers. For example, your trousers might get horrified by your weight gain and in turn will have the TV showing contextual ads about new fad diets, the fridge selling you low-fat yogurt, etc.

By getting smarter, the things get expensive with a shorter life span. For instance, your mattress may not need replacing every couple of years, but the smart mattress with a sensor inside may need a maintenance and replacement sooner than that. For cheaper connected devices like the kettle, toaster, waist belt, light switches and door knobs; expect replacement of these components to become a new, regular expense.
The current generation kids are born with smart devices on hand and are extremely addicted to digital gadgets and the smartphone notifications keep them busy staying away from in-person socilaization, leading up for a complete digital burn-out.