Moving on

Career news: I am leaving iET Solutions to pursue other opportunities. It’s been a great ride, and I’ve learned a lot about the enterprise software business, from working with analysts to managing cross-market requirements and building roadmaps for complex suites of technology.

My favorite project is the one that we just shipped: we took the old, C++/MFC Windows client for our application suite and rewrote it from the ground up in .NET technologies, specifically the Windows Presentation Foundation and the Windows Communication Foundation. It’s a beautiful app now, as you would expect from a program with a XAML UI, and even better, it’s more usable because we took the opportunity to do a lot of redesign of basic features in the process. My favorite metric: going from five toolbars to one. And it was an important rewrite, because it gave us a ton more flexibility to add new features as well as giving us a better face to the market.

The team at iET Solutions is really talented, and I’m grateful they gave me a chance to shine. I look forward to continuing to see good analyst coverage on them and hearing good things about them in the future.

I’m taking a little break from the working world now, just a week off. I’ll be back with more updates about where I land once I start in a week. I will probably post a few things over the next week from the funeral and about my family’s history in Pennsylvania.

Service Request takes front stage

Rob England writes in a recent ITSMWatch article about the evolution of the ITIL Request, from not even being mentioned to being a peer with Incidents, and points out that ITIL could go further:

ITIL v4 will, most likely, I predict, finally recognise that the Service Desk deals with generic Requests/Tickets/Issues/Incoming. These Requests have multiple categories. Each category has its own variant of a more general process that applies to all of them, in much the same way as there are several categories of Change which all undergo variants of the general Change process.

Oddly enough, iET ITSM has dealt with incoming issues in this way for years. Each incoming issue (these were actually called inquiries in earlier versions of the software) could be an incident, a request, a question, a complaint, or some other type of action. The logic behind this approach is that the end user’s interaction with the service desk may be fulfilled using one of several processes depending on the type of issue.

The important thing to do is not to oversimplify this concept. There is a big difference between simply flagging an inbound customer issue as a “request” and providing the right data and behavior to correctly automate the request process. The ITSM software must provide support for those processes that goes beyond simple categorization.

itSMF show notes: don’t fear ITIL v.3

I have been at the itSMF Fusion conference in Charlotte, NC for the past two days; today is the last day for the vendor exhibits, so I’ll be packing up tomorrow morning to head back to Boston.

It’s been fairly eventful. We announced a new version of our flagship ITSM product yesterday; completed a rigorous verification process of our new functionality against the ITIL standards; and are chugging ahead on a number of other fronts.

One question that I had coming to the show was about the adoption of ITIL v.3. The new version of the IT Infrastructure Library best practices has changed a lot of the way the information is structured and caused a little market confusion, with some companies asking whether they need to restart all their ITIL efforts to recenter around ITIL v.3. Adding to the confusion is the growth in the document set, which has gone from two core books to five, and added a large number of satellite books—a real wall of documentation that can daunt even the most determined prospective adopter.

The answers I have been hearing at the show have been heartening, both from consultants and companies. The basic take on v.3 that seems to be emerging is that there are places where it definitely adds value, but that the core value proposition of v.2 around systemizing IT Service Management is really intact. A number of customers have said to me that they value the additional clarity in v.3 around areas like service request, but they aren’t planning to rethink their entire implementation of incident through change.

The big danger with new versions of standards is that they create barriers to adoption for companies that have already started the process; in this case, those barriers seem to be easily surmountable.

iET Solutions in the Gartner Magic Quadrant

Last Friday, Gartner released the Magic Quadrant for the IT Services Desk, a research report that identifies the top players in the enterprise market for IT service desk software. iET Solutions made the Magic Quadrant for the first time this year. The report costs $1,995 from Gartner, but you will be able to access the report from the iET Solutions corporate site this week.

Gartner describes IT Service Desk as a standalone market; our experience, as they say in the document, is that many customers are looking for an integrated solution that treats IT service delivery as a full integrated lifecycle, from incident through change and release management. We have always believed that an integrated approach was important in this context and our addition to the quadrant helps to validate that.

The points Gartner makes about innovation in core service desk functionality are well taken, I think. The service desk market is crowded and in danger of commoditization, but at the same time many organizations fail to achieve the benefits from their service desk implementations because they are implemented with weak processes or as standalone functions that have no connection to the management of the infrastructure. This is why our company’s focus on IT Service Management best practices, particularly ITIL, is so important, and paradoxically why so many vendors have left the core service desk functionality alone to focus on other areas of ITIL. I think that now that there are a number of players who have built out a strong vision in the core ITIL v.2 areas (Incident, Problem, Change, Configuration, Release, Service Level, Availability), the market will split. Some players will continue to build out support for the new ITIL v.3 processes; others will retrench and seek to differentiate themselves in core functionality like incident and problem management.

It is amazing that after all this time there is still activity in something as basic as “helpdesk” software. And you know what? It’s a lot of fun, too.

ITXpo Wrap Up

I spent the day today bouncing back and forth between sessions that were a little closer to our product’s core functionality (service desk, asset management) and actually doing product demo. I had a demo via Webex that ended just twenty minutes before I had to check out of my hotel room.

An aside to the Gartner folks: please try not to stack the ITXpo on the same week as JavaOne again. There weren’t any non-smoking rooms available in any hotels, and my congestion is killing me after three nights (and one two-hour demo) in the sour stale smoke in my room at the Renaissance.

ITXpo: Jonathan Schwarz keynote

Below is a partial transcript of new Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwarz’s Q and A at the Gartner Symposium.

Q: Let’s talk about StorageTek — loyal following but what’s next?

A: Talked to a board member who lost their tapes. I said, “What’s the big deal? The tapes are encrypted, right?” But tape data isn’t encrypted. So the new StorageTek products support encryption, tie into the public key infrastructure…that seems like a simple requirement, a great synergy.

Q: Thumper (codename) is the best and worst of Sun. There are so many platforms in Sun that do what Thumper does.

A: Three weeks ago we moved into a new set of opportunities. the thing about Thumper is it runs across all Sun’s R&D. and we want to see that happen over and over again–look at Southwest. They’re the most successful airline because among other things they run only one airplane, the 737.

Q: What about your other businesses? Sparc and x86 and … A: We have to meet our customers where they are.

Q: How do you characterize your customers? A: Developers don’t buy things, they join things. They love creative disruption. It’s like social experiment. IT has some of that too, but the difference between them and you is that you have money. Developers love free. You guys hear free and think “free puppy.”

Q: If developers love free, how does that affect your business? A: Developers are the leading indicator. Java started with developers. Now it’s in the enterprise.

Q: But how do you move from a billion handsets with Java and 5 million Solaris downloads to revenue? A: We will add value. The amount of value that Sun receives is directly tied to how many of you use our customers’ services.

Q: What’s the value of Java to Sun? A: What’s the value of a standard plug in the wall to the generator business? Q: Oh but what about investment in R&D? A: GE doesn’t have to worry about someone plugging in a vacuum cleaner that won’t let its electricity expand. And Java is fundamentally the Internet, which drives all our business. Java is about modular architecture on millions of devices. The more handsets with Java, the more the Internet is important and the more they need our support to build the architecture. It’s hard for the Street to understand, but revenue is a lagging indicator of the developer’s adoption of Java. Q: How lagging? A: Well, the day someone starts using Java, Sun is relevant to you. Q: But how much will they pay you for Java?

A: There is a division in the world–those for whom IT is a competitive weapon and those for whom IT is THE competitive weapon. We want the latter, and they will pay to support the infrastructure that underlies that competitive weapon. Q: What about your former customers, those who are running Java but not on Solaris or Sparc? What is attractive about that to you?

A: If you look at the numbers for middleware and servers, we are the leading performance, the best reference platforms for Java. We can deliver a better developer environment. Secondly, OS consolidation. Every large enterprise has cats and dogs. we can offer Solaris that runs on every major platform and is remarkably scalable. Third, we can offer the systems infrastructure (Opteron and Niagara) to affect the productivity and efficiency of their data centers.

Lots of argument about whether Sun is giving away too much value. Q: How do you translate the value from Java into people writing checks? How do you translate the technology lead into marketing? A: You have to understand that while I am deeply focused on financial performance–I need to be focused on the long run.

Q: But Sun lingers too long on Solaris, on Linux… A: Do I get to play the new guy card now or later? Let’s think about mainframes. I went to talk to a now-bankrupt large airline one time about their mainframe, and the guy said, “Son, we installed the mainframe before you were born and will retire it after you die.” Infrastructure sticks around.

Q: But how does Sun manage to exploit its innovation? A: You look at the airplane industry. The engine makers mint money, the airplane manufacturers sometimes make money, and the carriers never make money. Money accrues to fundamental R&D.

So ZFS is a 128 bit file system–do you need 128 bits? Maybe not but you might need the 65th bit. Solaris with ZFS eliminates the need for RAID controllers…

Q: So let’s talk about open sourcing Java. Why is open sourcing Java without forking so hard? A: Look at the history of standards. Volume is the primary driver and standards bodies are secondary. And Microsoft is the biggest platform out there and Java on Microsoft is rife with litigation. So we have to be concerned about forking if we open source. Interoperability is hugely important to our customers.

Q: Top three reasons that Sun will be more successful in two years? A: 1. Leading indicators–lots of new customer interest. 2. Market opportunity–the need for reliable scalable infrastructure and solid development platforms isn’t going away. 3. Management team. And we have boomerangs coming back all over the place. I talked to Ed Zander yesterday on stage at JavaOne and asked if he wanted to come back, and he said, “You got a job for me?” Now I don’t know if he was serious…

ITXpo: Microsoft Vista and app dev

Spent some time this afternoon looking at Vista and talking to the Microsoft team here (which includes some folks I know from my past life at and my internship—hi Arvind! hi Peg!) about what’s coming down the pipe that our company needs to know about from an application development perspective. The guidance I got from the team there is that the major thing to pay attention to is the change in the privilege model—User Account Protection—and how that affects the installation and running of applications. Other than that, there are plenty of cool new features to take advantage of, of course. And the eye candy is impressive.

I also liked the built in RSS widget on the Sidebar. It does appear to be a little funky though—not in parsing the RSS, which is fine, but in loading it in chronological order rather than reverse-chronological order. I loaded my RSS feed for kicks on one of their Vista test machines and was surprised to see that the top entry was an old one—then surprised again to load the feed source in IE 7 and to see the same thing. Apparently the default XSLT+CSS orders the items oldest first. That kind of detracts from the usefulness for me. Maybe there’s a way to change it. I walked away with a beta CD and will check it out once I can install it on Virtual PC.

ITXpo: “Consumerization”

If you know me, you already know one of my points about a few of the sessions that in a well-intentioned and generally thorough way address the question of “consumer” technologies in the enterprise. That’s the C-word itself. Our employees are not gullets that crap cash, and talking about technology expectations set by “consumer-grade” services like Google, desktop search, and IM that are all actually free brings some real cognitive conflict. How can it be consumer technology if there is no money changing hands?

The Docs (Searls and Weinberger) et al have done us a tremendous service in making us aware of the naming problem that the “consumer” label brings. I’m not sure they’ve done a good job of identifying alternative labels. “Producer” has been floated in the case of bloggers and other user-authored media creators, but it doesn’t generalize well; “human being” and “citizen” have the opposite problem—they’re too general. From a technology perspective, is there a useful way to talk about technologies that stand in opposition to the enterprise central-control model that doesn’t use the C word?

This is, I think, an important question. Anyone who has been around “consumer” driven businesses knows it can be like pulling teeth to get them to acknowledge that consumers are the same people who are inside enterprises, just seen at different times. And some of it has to do with the label. If IT organizations are to take “consumer” technologies seriously, as the Gartner mavericks suggest that they should, maybe finding a different word is a good starting point. The session I just was in, led by David Smith and Tom Austin, indirectly suggested one alternative: open market technologies. But of course this suggests that enterprise technologies are not open market. sideways smiley

The question of what to call it (reluctantly) put aside, the idea that systematically bringing non-enterprise technologies inside the enterprise could drive real benefits—not just to the end user but to the enterprise as a whole—is I think worth taking seriously. The speakers cited a case study of a company (which I think was Ford) which hardened its internal systems, then piloted an approach in which rather than providing a corporate desktop it gave its users a stipend with which they could buy their own—shifting the burden of administering and supporting the desktop to the end user, but also allowing them to take advantage of rapidly shifting consumer technology. They also discuss possible worlds where the base OS on an office machine is a consumer OS, and that the standard corporate desktop runs as an image inside a virtualization environment. How silly it is, they point out, to be a consumer service like Google or Ebay and to say that you can’t do business with me unless you have an approved, hardened browser that I provide and can guarantee is secure.

What I found interesting about all of these scenarios, and what they pointed out toward the end of the discussion, is that these trends could open the door for players like Apple—not iPods but Macs—to be dragged into the enterprise by end users who are comfortable and productive with them and can do most if not all of their jobs on them, once the users are given the leeway to provide their own desktop machine. Now that’s interesting.

ITXpo: Business service management

One of the pitfalls (or blessings, depending on your perspective) of being a small software company is that you get laser-like focus on your core business problem out of necessity. For me as a vendor, one of the real value points about the Gartner show is getting exposed to other market segments that touch ours that I might not run across otherwise. That’s the case with the session I just attended on BSM (Business Service Management).

BSM is essentially a live dependency map, integrated to monitoring tools, that escalates only the monitoring events that have a real impact on the business and presents them in a business-consumable format. This is a goal for a lot of IT organizations—I know the operations team was trying to implement something like this using the Microsoft server product stack plus homegrown tools about five years ago before the BSM market was grown, and knowing them they now have a complete solution. What was interesting to me was how BSM seems to dovetail with the work that my company has done in the last year on the CMDB, which really is about creating and documenting the service dependency map that BSM needs as a starting point.

When you combine a good CMDB with robust change management, and then tie in a good monitoring API and logic about how component status rolls up (or doesn’t) to the status of a service, then all of a sudden the time and effort spent on building that CMDB has paid some unexpected dividends.

Gartner ITXpo 2006

I’m back at Gartner’s ITXpo after liveblogging parts of it last year. I’ve decided this year to pseudo-live-blog—to take notes during the session and post them later. Pulling out a laptop during one of the keynotes last year just felt too weird. Blogger culture hasn’t totally permeated the IT universe, and I drew too many stares.

However, I did notice a blogger’s lounge is available on the show floor alongside all the media lounges. So maybe things are changing… albeit really slowly.

It will be interesting to see if this year’s official conference blog actually writes anything about any of the sessions, rather than the conference events.

ITxpo: Keynote with Eric Schmidt of Google

The keynote interview with Dr. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, was as interesting for what he didn’t reveal as what he said. Eric has a bracingly dry sense of humor about his business and the industry, but he is deadly serious about the company and its responsibilities and challenges. He is also skilled at the art of offering insightful answers that do not directly answer the questions he is asked, so be forewarned as you read my notes. (Unless noted, everything below that is not a question is a paraphrase or direct quote of Eric.)

Q:Has the Internet leveled the playing field such that the dominant players in the industry can’t exercise their power? A:You know, “dominant” has a specific legal meaning…

There have been a lot of changes in the industry over the last 10-15 years. Back then, email was something you had to get in the car and drive to the office to do. I’d drop my daughter off, go to the office, do email, finish email and then hop in the car and go home…

(On how Google solves the performance and responsiveness issues that other companies might face online:) The problems are easier for Google because our data tends to be more static and lends itself to being replicated, as opposed to transaction based data that changes frequently.

(On Google’s internal systemsπŸ™‚ When I got to Google we were going to build our own financial system because we were frustrated with the limitations of Intuit’s Quickbooks and its five-user license. Seriously. So I said that isn’t going to work exceptionally well when it comes to Sarbanes Oxley and auditing. We implemented Oracle Financials and put it in a box, and said “we aren’t going to change this.” Then we built a system around it to manage the business’s contact with it and we change that frequently.

Our focus is on personalization and comprehensiveness. For instance, you can see Google internet search results, your intranet (with the Google search appliance), and your hard drive all in one results list. Of course that brings in the issue of privacy, and that is where the “don’t be evil” corporate culture comes in. …Anyone can pull the ripcord and say “that’s evil” from an end user perspective and stop the train. [And no, Dave, I didn’t get a chance to ask him about autolinking, and he didn’t volunteer an opinion.]

We’re not in the information technology business, we’re in the information business. We have only digitized a very small percentage of all available content. There is a lot of room in the market.

(On advertisingπŸ™‚ We don’t run the business as an advertising business. We run it based on end user satisfaction. If we keep our users satisfied, we keep our ad inventory up, which keeps advertisers happy. Q: You’ve taken away ad revenue from magazines and other traditional content players…. A: I prefer to think we’ve grown the market. There is a growing shift to more contextual ads and we are playing in that market. Q: You also seem to be important to a very large base of very small companies…. AIt is scary to understand that you are fundamentally in the revenue chain of a small business. We disseminate that information across the company and use it in planning products.

Q: You hired the lead developer of Firefox. Are you going to build a browser? A: We decided a long time ago that we would pursue a browser independence strategy, so that our services would work well on all browsers. These people, like the one you mentioned, are working on that, and do important work with the open source community as well.

Respecting your customers

Catching up on non-ITxpo related topics this morning, two things caught my eye. First, my delayed reaction to the announcement that the New York Times will be putting some of its content, notably op-ed columns, behind a for-pay wall starting in September. This is of course brilliant because the Times’s editorial opposite number, the Wall Street Journal, has its constellation of right wing editorial columnists available for free. So now there will be even less of an opposing voice online. What’s most depressing as a user and reader of the Times is that this move comes after a history of reader-and-blogger-friendly decisions, including RSS support. So long, NYT, we’ll miss you. Is there an editorial forum out there that wants to stay on the record, and stay in the conversation? (For straight news, the BBC is looking better all the time.)

Second, the announcement from Microsoft about their new ID infrastructure, InfoCard. On the surface, the announcement sounds a lot like Apple’s Keychain; a local system solution to hold identity information such as login names, passports, and certificates. The difference is that InfoCard, like its failed Passport predecessor, can also hold credit card information. The shift in Microsoft’s identity management strategy, from central control to user application, represents a clear victory for Microsoft’s customers, and may be a pretty good indication that Microsoft is doing a better job of listening than it was four years ago. (More information about InfoCard, including a description of the user experience and some underlying technology notes, courtesy Johannes Ernst.)

Connection? Your customers will be the people who tell you whether your new business plans will succeed or fail. Learning to listen to them is an essential skill that must be mastered if you are to compete.

—Which gets me nice and warmed up for the final session I’ll attend at ITxpo, Are Your Customers and Users Revolting?, where three Gartner analysts will discuss customer collaboration and communication technologies and the implications for enterprises. I’m going to see if I can arrange some sort of connectivity in the room so I can blog the session, but otherwise I’ll take notes and post later.

ITxpo: Cisco and IBM

Charles Giancarlo and Steve Mills are on a panel with two Gartner officers. Giancarlo defines “complexity” as anything that causes customers headaches in implementation. Customers want simplicity, by which they mean that solutions are thoroughly tested for their environment, not fewer features. He points out that we simplify the mundane (networking protocols) and then build greater complexity atop the newly simplified stack. He also correctly points out that the desire for differentiation is a big source of complexity.

Mills says that complexity in software is a reflection of the desire for more autonomy from central IT control, and stems in some respect from the decentralization of IT infrastructure starting with the shift to minicomputers in the 1970s. He also says that software will continue to get more complex: “software developers, given enough resources in time, will reinvent the work of everyone who’s come before them.” He suggests that encouraging reuse and adoption of open source can help to simplify the stack by not encouraging the development of new code, and that bloat is primarily caused by a cultural issue among software programmers. Giancarlo agrees: if improvement in software code doesn’t directly drive customer benefit, then it isn’t worth doing.

Mills says that defeating the developer’s cultural tendency toward re-creating the wheel requires: time-boxing, or defining short-term incremental projects; starving the team for resources; and embracing user-centered design.

(My battery is dying; more to come.)

Later: In discussing how to improve reliability in the face of proliferating software versions, Mills talked about reducing redundancy in code and reproducing known configurations and feature paths in the test environment. Giancarlo talked about lessons learned from integrating Linksys’s consumer business in creating a balance between complexity and functionality.

Causes: infrastructure is cumulative (earlier today someone said applications never die; the consensus appears to be that retiring outdated IT offerings is almost impossible). One thing that might help is, following Drucker, to continue to push good ideas down into silicon so that they move lower in the stack. Unfortunately, says Giancarlo, complexity grows organically: today’s skunkworks project is tomorrow’s killer competitive advantage, so it adds to the complexity. The wrong thing to do is to try to remove complexity from new products; rather, look at them when they provide comparatively less value and try to remove complexity then. Also, the multiplicity of architectures can be a political issue.

Why to reduce complexity through SOA: Mills: money is lost in the cracks between all the handoffs between different legacy systems. You need to add some IT complexity in end-to-end monitoring to enable the business to reclaim the money lost in its patchwork of pre-SOA systems. Governance is one of the most important solutions for reducing complexity.

ITxpo side note: blogging

feedster search results

One thing I find interesting is the small number of bloggers in attendance at the conference. I’m currently sitting next to the only other blogger on the conference blogroll, Boris Pevzner of Centrata (and of MIT Course 6 mid-90s). Feedster and Technorati don’t turn up many hits for ITxpo; in fact, Feedster notes that this site is the biggest contributor and helpfully offers to scope the search relative to this site, which is a little scary. Likewise, most of the hits in Technorati are follow-ups to press releases or announcements made at the symposium. Is there so little of value that happens at the ITxpo that no one has thought to do it before, or is it just that the sort of organizations that have embraced blogging are under-represented among the attendees?

Certainly the logistics have a way to go before the conference becomes truly blog-friendly, with none of the socratic dialog (or good WiFi) that characterize the best of the unconferences I’ve attended. But the presence of the conference blog is a nice first step.