Monday, October 31, 2011

Creativity at Scale

I stumbled across this article by Grady Booch today whilst doing some research on complex systems. It's quite old (well 3 years is an age in this profession) but what it has to say about developing complex systems is, I believe, timeless. In particular I loved Grady's point about the importance of "developing social structures that encourage innovation whilst still preserving predictability".

Interestingly another post by Seth Godin says:  

"The challenge of our time may be to build organizations and platforms that engage and coordinate the elites, wherever they are. After all, this is where change and productivity come from."

Seth's definition of an "elite" is anyone who is "actively engaged in new ideas, actively seeking out change, actively engaging."

The internet is a great platform for bringing people together. The challenge is in how to scale the creativity, that can be easily bought to focus in a small, co-located team, across the internet. The boundaries of the enterprises that used to do this are beginning to crumble. There is often more creativity outside the enterprise than is in it and new architectures (new platforms) need to learn how to make use of this. This is more than just what has been happening with the open source movement, where a group of people come together to build new products, its about how to use creativity at scale to build new platforms.

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Spookily (well it is Halloween) and with a great bit of webendipity just as I was about to push the publish button on this article up popped in my twitter feed this article by my colleague Jeremy Caine about platforms (e.g. Facebook, iTunes, Twitter) and the creatives that build them.

Five IT Trends for Architects to Ponder

This article on five big IT trends is interesting and highlights those areas you might want to consider improving your knowledge and skills in if you want to remain in-demand in the coming year or two. The trends are:
  • Mobile
  • Social Computing
  • Cloud
  • Consumerization
  • Big Data
After this bit of new I would also add cyber-security as a sixth!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Blackberry's Perfect Storm

A perfect storm is defined as being: a critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors.

A perfect storm is certainly what RIM, makers of the Blackberry, have been experiencing recently. For three days, starting on 10th October a problem caused by a router in an unassuming two-storey building in Slough, UK affected almost every one of its users around the world. Not only were users unable to Twitter, or Facebook, more seriously, those users who rely on their Blackberrys for email to do their business may have lost valuable work. Whilst many commentators may have made light of the situation, because people could no longer tweet their every movement, there is a far more serious message here which is that as a civilisation we are now completely dependent on software and hardware technology that runs our daily lives.

Here's what Blackberry had to say on their service bulletin board on 11th October, mid-way through the crisis:

The messaging and browsing delays that some of you are still experiencing were caused by a core switch failure within RIM’s infrastructure. Although the system is designed to failover to a back-up switch, the failover did not function as previously tested...

Unfortunately for Blackberry it was not only this technical and process failure that formed part of their perfect storm but two other factors, they could not hoped to have predicted, also occurred recently. One was the launch of the latest iPhone 4S from Apple which was released the very same week as Blackberry's network failure. The other is the allegation that Blackberry's, or more precisely the Blackberry Messaging Service (BBM), were implicated in the recent riots that took place in London and other UK cities in the summer.  For many teens armed with a BlackBerry, BBM has replaced text messaging because it is free, instant and more part of a much larger community than regular SMS. Also, unlike Twitter or Facebook, many BBM messages are untraceable by the authorities.

From an IT architecture point of view clearly the technical and process failure of such a crucial data centre should just not have been allowed to happen. In some ways Blackberry has been a victim of its own success with the number of users growing from 10 million in 2005 to 70 million now without a corresponding increase in capacity of its network and fully functioning failover facility. However the more interesting, and in some ways more intractable, problem is the competitive, sociological and even ethical aspects of the situation. When Apple launched the first iPhone back in 2007 they changed forever the way people interacted with their phones. Some people have observed that the tactile way in which people "stroke" an iPhone rather than jab at tiny buttons has led to their more widespread adoption. Clearly a case of getting the human-computer interface right paying great dividends. Who would have thought however that the very aspect that once made Blackberry's so popular with business users (their security) could backfire on them in quite such a significant way? Architecture (and design) is not just about getting the right features at the right price it is also about thinking through the likely impact of those features in contexts that may not initially have been envisaged.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs 1955 - 2011

During the coming days and weeks millions of words will be written about Steve Jobs, many of them on devices he created. Why does the world care so much about an American CEO and computer nerd?

For those of us that work with technology, and hope to use it to make the world a better place, the reason Steve Jobs was such a role model is that he not only had great vision and a brilliant understanding of design but also knew how to deliver technology in a form that was usable by everyone, not just technophiles, nerds and developers. Steve Jobs and Apple have transformed the way we interact with data, and the way that we think about computing, moving it from the desktop to the palm of our hands. As IT becomes ever more pervasive we could all learn from that and maybe even hope to emulate Steve Jobs a little.