Who needs another framework?

Carnegie Mellon – the brand behind the global CMM standard for software providers,– or rather another part of Carnegie Mellon called the ITSQC -has another model available specifically for e-sourcing: the eSCM-SP and eSCM-CL or eSourcing Capability Model for Service Providers and Client Organizations respectively. Wikipedia link here. ITSQC homepage here.

I’ve had a read of the eSCM-SP and am struggling to see what value it adds, certainly in terms of how I understand sourcing and eSourcing. Two things to bear in mind with this model:

  1. The acknowledgements list includes contributers from Satyam, IBM, HP, Accenture, Deloitte etc. No mention of an Ariba or a Freemarkets (let alone anyone else in the space). No long list of CPOs from major organisations. No mention even of any organisations that track and analyse the space. Yet the ITSqc says in its description of the ITSqc research consortium that Our members consist of international industry leaders in eSourcing on both the Client Organization and Service Provider Sides of the relationship, including clients, service providers, advisors or consultants, and the standards community.
  2. I’m dubious about the value of their definition of sourcing vs e-sourcing. You’ll have to download the documents yourself to see the graphic I’m referring to – in the meantime here are the definitions:
  • IT Sourcing contains Applications Development & Management, Desktop Maintenance, Application Service Provider, Data Center Support, Telecommunications Network Support
  • Task & Business Process Outsourcing contains everything from IT Sourcing and also includes Finance & Accounting, Engineering Services, Human Resources, Data Capture, Integration & Analysis, Call Center, Medical/Legal Transcription, Purchasing
  • eSourcing covers IT Sourcing and also Task & Business Process Outsourcing
  • Sourcing contains everything in IT Sourcing and Task & Business Processing Outsourcing and also the likes of Janitorial Services, Lines Services

Clear? Like I said – you’ll need to look at the graphic in their documentation to get a better understanding. In the meantime here is my interpretation:

According to the model the core of sourcing is the sourcing of IT-related services, e.g. Desktop Maintenance, Applications Development, Data Center support.

The next level up in the sourcing definition brings in the sourcing of what has become known as BPO (Business Process Outsourcing), e.g. the sourcing of Accouting services, the sourcing of Legal Transcription services, the sourcing of HR services, putting together call centers.

Both of these levels are covered by the model’s eSourcing definition. The sourcing stuff that is outside of scope of the model is, for example, Janitorial Services and Linen Services.

There is a pattern in all of this: The model defines eSourcing as the stuff you can outsource to a 3rd party offshore provider. It excludes from scope the stuff that needs people onsite, or transportaton of physical goods.

Now – if you look back at the list of the contributors of companies to the definition of the model you’ll see that, surprise surprise, they tend to be the providers of the outsourced services that can be provided offshore (e.g. legal transcription, application development services).

But when someone tells me that they are looking for eSourcing or IT-enabled sourcing, to me that means using IT to help make sourcing better. This can mean anything from using SAP to using Excel templates (or anything in between) and can certainly by used to source Janitorial Services better just as it can be used to source Desktop Maintenance better. The definitions used by the eSCM suggest that they see eSourcing as the procurement of services that can be provided remotely using the internet.

So is the model going to help you decide whether to go Ariba or SAP, or whether to outsource the whole of your sourcing function to China? Probably not. But will the model help you decide whether Accenture or Wipro will be best to run your 400 person call center? Possibly yes.

So tread carefully – and beware that just because people are using the same words doesn’t mean they are talking about the same thing.

While I’m on the subject of the eSCM here are a few more thoughts:

The eSCM shares the same brand as the CMMI that has become very popular with IT service providers over the past decade. But it doesn’t follow that just because the CMMI is a de facto standard in the IT industry that the eSCM will become a standard in the procurement space. In fact CMMI level 5 certification is not in itself a guarantee of a stable, quality provider: Satyam (coincidentally one of the contributors to the eSCM) are CMMI level 5 certified (check their awards page and scroll down to 2005-2006 for CMMI and pre-2001 for SEI-CMM, the predecessor of CMMI) and yet its leaders are at the centre of a fraud probe.

As far as 5-level maturity models go in the sourcing space I am quite taken with Hackett’s one. Incidentally my post on the subject is one of the most popular pages on this blog.

Till next time.

Build what I do, not what I say

As developers we keep on asking people to tell us their requirements. And then when we give them something that meets those requirements, surprise, surprise, it turns out that something got lost in translation.

And yet we persist in interviewing key users and running workshops to find out how to build our systems. Even though we know that the resulting documentation is often very wide of the mark.

An article in the 17th Jan edition of The Economist, called The Price Of Prejudice makes some strong arguments that not only is what people say they do often different from what they really do … what people think they would do is often different from what they would do in reality.

From the 2nd paragraph:

[T]he implicit association test measures how quickly people associate words describing facial characteristics with different types of faces that display these characterisitcs. When such characteristics are favourable – “laughter” or “joy”, for example – it often takes someone longer to match them with faces that they may, unconsciously, view unfavourably (old, if the participant is young, or non-white if he is white). This procedure thus picks up biases that the participants say they are not aware of having.

They cite three other fascinating experiments. The first two are by conjoint analysis experiments by Dr Eugene Caruso and the third is by Kerry Kawakami.

In the first, students were asked to pick team mates for a hypothetical trivia game. Potential team mates differed in their education level, IQ, previous experience with the game and their weight. When asked to rate the importance of the different characteristics, students put weight last …

However, their actual decisions revealed that no other attributes counted more heavily. In fact, they were willing to sacrifice quite a bit to have a thin team-mate. They would trade 11 IQ points  – about 50% of the range of IQs available – for a colleague who was suitably slender.

In the second, students were asked to consider hypothetical job opportunities that varied in starting salary, location, holiday time and the sex of the potential boss.

When it came to salary, location and holiday, the students’ decisions matched their stated preferences. However, the boss’s sex turned out to be far more important than they said it was (this was true whether a student was male or female). In effect, they were willing to pay a 22% tax on their starting salary to have a male boss.

The last example looks at attitudes to race. In this experiment a non-black student enters a waiting room in which there is a white “student” and a black “student” (these last two are in on the experiment). The black “student” leaves the room and gently bumps the white “student” on the way out. This white “student” either ignores the bump or might say something racist about black people. The real student’s emotional state is then measured and the student is asked which of the two “students” they would pick as a partner for a subsequent test.

A second group of non-black students, rather than going into the waiting room either read a description of the proceedings or are shown a video recording of the scenario and asked to imagine how they would react.

Both those who read what had happened and those who witnessed it on television thought they would be much more upset in the cases involving racist comment than the one involving no comment at all. However, those who had actually been in the waiting room showed little distress in any of the three cases.

In addition, a majority of those imagining the encounter predicted that they would not pick the racist student as their partner. However, those who were actually present in the room showed no tendency to shun the white student, even when he had been rude about the black one

More grist to the mill for an ethnographic approach to software development: one in which we build what people do rather than what people say they do, or say they think they might like to do; one in which the software developer spends significant time doing participant observation with the end users to really understand what she is going to build.

Inconsolata and Jedit on Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron)

The installation process for Jedit(*) on Ubuntu is pretty well documented – as long as you follow option 2 from the jedit download instructions. It’s well worth going for the latest release – as a lot of the plugins don’t work on earlier versions.

But the edit area font looked very uninviting, even with aliasing configured

The fabulous new Inconsolata font looked like the solution. You can install it (or at least the .otf version) as per usual.

But Jedit leans on Java and Java (apparently) requires ttf files, not otf files.

Here’s my workaround which, although a bit hacky, works for me.

  1. Install FontForge
  2. Download the FontForge sources
  3. Open the FontForge source in FontForge
  4. Export it as inconsolata.ttf (ignore any warnings)
  5. Copy it to the ttf-inconsolata font directory that was created as part of the installation of the ubuntu package, e.g: sudo cp inconsolata.ttf /usr/share/fonts/truetype/ttf-inconsolata
  6. Now edit fontconfig.properties.src in /etc/java-6-openjdk and add the following four lines
filename.Inconsolata-Regular=/usr/share/fonts/truetype/ttf-inconsolata/inconsolata.ttf
filename.Inconsolata-Bold=/usr/share/fonts/truetype/ttf-inconsolata/inconsolata.ttf
filename.Inconsolata-Oblique=/usr/share/fonts/truetype/ttf-inconsolata/inconsolata.ttf
filename.Inconsolata-BoldOblique=/usr/share/fonts/truetype/ttf-inconsolata/inconsolata.ttf

There you are, now you can use Inconsolata in your Jedit.

Was it worth it? For me – being used to Windows and Mac it has made my Ubuntu dev environment much more friendly than it was before. YMMV: screenshots of different fonts on my machine are below.

Bitstream Vera Sans 12
Bitstream Vera Sans 12
Courier New 12
Courier New 12
Deja Vu Mono 12
Deja Vu Mono 12
Inconsolata 12
Inconsolata 12

(*) FWIW – I do my RoR hacking on Textmate on the Mac and recently moved from Aptana to Jedit on Windows (I didn’t need the full-on IDE features). On Ubuntu I was looking for an alternative to Eclipse. I started with Gedit for a while but syntax highlighting was pretty poor and I spent too long chasing down all the different advice available on the interwebs and still not getting anywhere. IMHO Jedit is an altogether simpler option for RoR as it needs only a few tweaks as documented by the likes of Eadz and Xiabozz to get you moving in the right direction.

Inspiring Apps: Deadline

Today I love Deadline (http://www.deadlineapp.com/)

They’ve taken on one feature and implemented it really, really well.

You simply type in your calendar item using one box (e.g. lunch with john tomorrow 1pm). It then parses out the date and time and sends you email reminders.

The web user interface is brilliant. It really does invite you to enter your calendar items. Not sure what it is about the UI, but I think it’s something to do with the big typeface and the little flash you get as the screen updates with your new entry.

But even better – you don’t need to use the web UI at all. You can send your invites in by IM and receive updates by email. I am a big fan of apps that don’t need you to log into a website every time you want to do something. And I am a big fan of leveraging email more in apps.

Thank you, Alex Young.

Nice weather for buyers

In England we have a phrase: nice weather for ducks. It means it’s miserable, rainy and wet. But still … nice if you’re a duck.

Reading me Economist this week (10th Jan issue) for the first time in a few months. First article in the Britain section is called Combating the Recession. Here’s paragraph 2:

The bank’s [latest rate cut] means that the base rate has now fallen by an extraordinary 3.5 percentage points since the start of October. It followed a clutch of closely watched business surveys of purchasing managers that painted a dismal picture of the economy in December. (my emphasis)

It’s a bit of a commonplace that the worse things get for a business the more it looks to departments such as procurement to dig it out of a hole. But even so: What an opportunity! If more and more people are sitting up and paying attention when buyers speak, perhaps now, finally, “the business” will act on all those things you’ve been hammering on about for goodness knows how long.

Of course the attention on buyers and the opportunity this represents only exist  because of the wider crisis going on. So this opportunity for buyers also represents a challenge: Develop the necessary credibility within your organisation so your views are taken equally seriously once we are out of this recession …. and so business don’t wait until the next economic slowdown to consult their procurement departments again.

Farewell-ish

Those of you who follow the TradingPartners Senior Management Team pages will have noticed that I’m no longer there. Yes, it’s right, I have departed TradingPartners.

Over the past half decade with TradingPartners and the decade before with SAP and Ariba I’ve had the good fortune of being involved in a number of great projects and learning a lot about what makes a good piece of business software (hint: it’s not just what they teach you in project management school).

I’m looking forward to putting these ideas into practice in the next piece of business software I build. I expect to be posting less and less here, at least for a while – but at least you’ll know that what I do post will become more and more impartial 🙂 In the meantime I expect to post more regularly over at my other blog – it would be great to see some of you over there.

All the best

Alan

Ethnography in enterprise software development

We need more ethnographers in the (enterprise) software industry. 

We would produce better software (by which I mean software that achieves its intended benefits more) if we started our projects off with an understanding of how people really work in their day to day lives.

Instead we start off with interviews and workshops in which we gather a view of what managers say their staff do. Or rather, what they say they think their staff do. Which is often several steps removed from what people really do. 

The only way to really understand what people do is to spend time with those people. If you were to take this kind of approach in enterprise software development you would spend a year or even 18 months figuring out how people really work, and only then would you start designing new software. But your software would be better.

On one cynical level I wonder whether this happens anyway. The first version of an enterprise system is implemented based on what key individuals have said they think the organisation needs to do. It fails to deliver its benefits. Then it is reworked and reworked over the next 18 months.

If so it would definitely be better to do some ethnography first, before implementing your new system.