What kind of cultural barriers did you see (at Jive) among your customers when they are trying to embrace collaboration?

In the video below on CxO Talk, I asked Elisa Steele, CEO of Jive Software about thier customers.
 

In my opinion, culture is about people but it is also about processes, products, services and technologies.

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Is the Internet a Distributed System?

Tanenbaum and Steen describe a distributed system as “a collection of independent computers that appears to its users as a coherent system.” This means that even if there are multiple heterogeneous components within the distributed system communicating with each other, but from a user’s point of view it is a single system. An example of a distributed system would be the World Wide Web (WWW) where there are multiple components under the hood that help browsers display content but from a user’s point of view, all they are doing is accessing the web via a medium (i.e., browsers). The following figure from Tanenbaum and Steen below helps visualize their definition of a distributed system.

Distributed Systems Organized as Middleware

From the above figure, we can observe that the distributed systems layer sits in-between the various computer applications and the independent computer operating systems. What the authors are trying to show here is that distributed systems are at a software layer level that acts as the “glue” which helps in sharing of resources across various independent components (i.e., computers) but at the same time seems like a single system to the end-users. The authors call this type of distributed system middleware. Additionally, we notice that these components are connected via a network. While it is not clear what kind of network this is but we can extrapolate that these independent computers are on the same network.

As we can see that the importance of the network cannot be minimized. For if there is no network then it becomes difficult for independent components to talk to each other and share resources hence there is no distributed system. The importance of the network is such that when we look at the 8 fallacies formulated by Peter Deutsch 8 out of the 8 fallacies when developing distributed applications are about the network. Following are these 8 fallacies:

  1. The network is reliable
  2. The network is secure
  3. The network is homogenous
  4. The topology does not change
  5. Latency is zero
  6. Bandwidth is infinite
  7. Transport cost is zero
  8. There is one administrator

Despite the importance of the network for distributed systems, can we truly claim that the Internet, which is a network of networks, is really a distributed system? I would say no since while a network provides the essential connectivity and communication channels for a distributed system but the network itself is not a distributed system. From an end-user perspective, the Internet might appear to be a single system (e.g., email) but in reality, email is not the Internet but a service provided on top of the Internet utilizing existing Internet infrastructure. Vera-Ssmio and Rodrigues agree with the claim that there is a distinction between a network and a distributed system. They emphatically say that “a computer network is not a distributed system.” 

Beyond the technological aspects though, should we be looking at distributed systems from a broader lens. Should we be looking at distributed systems from security and privacy perspectives? The answer is of course yes. The reason is that by definition within a distributed system components share resources. Some examples of sharing resources would include memory allocation and computing power optimization to name a few. But the sharing of resources opens up a Pandora’s box of issues related to security and privacy. This is due to the fact that when sharing resources, certain information (e.g., computer IP addresses, open ports, etc.) needs to be shared as well. The exposure of this information can result in unintentional consequences on one end or deliberate attacks on the other end. We need to ask ourselves: How much information sharing is too much? What happens when information is compromised? Should the Internet become a Distributed System? What happens if one computer is exposed and an intruder has gotten onto the network? How do you safeguard other computers on the same network that share resources?

In conclusion, in the 21st century, the Internet has become a necessary tool for businesses and individuals to interact with each other and share information. Some examples of this information sharing include emails, browsing the World Wide Web, conducting a financial transaction, sharing photos, etc. As time progresses, the importance of the Internet will only increase which would result in improvements and the creation of new services and business models. Thus, in order for businesses and individuals who are interested in leveraging the power of the Internet, it is useful to understand what the Internet is and what it is not. So, when we hear that if the Internet is a distributed system, the immediate reaction for some people is of course it is. But if we dig a little deeper, we would realize that the answer is not as simple. The reason is that the Internet itself is a network of networks and does not necessarily fall under the classic definition of a distributed system. Thus, in this paper, we have made the argument about the Internet not being a distributed system and raised some issues that go beyond the technological realm.

References:

  1. Tanenbaum, Andrew S., and Maarten Van. Steen. Distributed Systems: Principles and Paradigms. Harlow: Prentice Hall, 2006. Print.
  2. Veríssimo, Paulo, and Luís Rodrigues. Distributed Systems for System Architects. Boston: Kluwer Academic, 2001. Print.

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Does IT Matter for Internet and Internet Technologies?

In his article, Nick Carr argues that in the current business environment Information Technology (IT) does not provide any strategic advantage but it is merely an operational necessity. He equates IT to a commodity much like electricity and mainly talks about IT infrastructure becoming a commodity. Let’s explore this in the context of the Internet and Internet technologies:

The Internet:

The Internet is a network of networks that connects varied computers via switches to allow transmission of data across multiple networks using Internet protocols. Some of the popular uses of the Internet include email, instant messaging, browsing the World Wide Web (WWW) to name a few. In today’s society, the Internet has become an important tool for individuals and organizations to conduct their business. It seems like the use of the Internet has become so ubiquitous that individuals and organizations don’t even think about it and assume it to be always available but does that mean the Internet has become a commodity. In this context, I would agree with Nick that the Internet has now become very similar to a commodity since we are all accessing the same Internet despite the mediums by which we access it.

Internet Technologies:

Internet technologies include browsers and search engines that help us navigate the WWW of the Internet. From Nick Carr’s perspective, these Internet Technologies are commodities and do not provide any strategic value. I disagree with this claim and here is why:

  1. Browsers: Currently browsers are used to browse the WWW and used internally by organizations to access their corporate systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relation Management (CRM) systems via a web interface. Thus, the security and privacy capabilities of these browsers become paramount in safeguarding the organizations against malicious attacks. While from the surface it may seem that these browser issues are operational in nature but from a closer inspection we can understand their strategic importance. For example, if an organization chooses one browser over another browser that has less security then the organization becomes vulnerable to exploits of that browser. These exploits can entail simple hacking attacks on the siphoning of organizational data. So, the selection of a browser is not just an operational activity but I believe it to be a strategic necessity.
  1. Search: A McKinsey report, The Impact of Internet technologies: Search, indicated that web search provides value that includes the creation of new business models. An example of this would be price comparisons where users can essentially compare prices of what they are buying (e.g., airline tickets, hotel rooms, etc.) from various vendors on one website. This price comparison is not only useful for users but for corporations, this could also be used to determine if they are competitively priced. Since making your organization competitive is also a strategic consideration thus search capabilities are important for the organization’s future.

In conclusion, the oversimplification and lack of understanding of how the nuances of technology can affect organizations strategically are not only unsettling but also ill-informed. IT is not just one thing and by saying it is and cherry-picking the data to show this can lead to unintentional consequences.

References:

  1. http://hbr.org/2003/05/it-doesnt-matter/ar/1
  2. http://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/dotcom/client_service/high%20tech/pdfs/impact_of_internet_technologies_search_final2.ashx
  3. http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/25/5431382/the-internet-is-fucked

Net Neutrality and Quality of Service

Net Neutrality is the concept that no company should be able to determine what level of services it can provide based on the content that passes through it. In other words, this means that there should be a level playing field for everyone to use the Internet and its content.

Companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon that provide the underlying Internet “wires” as cable companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are now interested in producing content. From their corporate standpoint, this makes sense since these companies are exploring new areas for revenue generation to maximize profits. At the same time, this new direction also puts these companies in direct competition with content providers such as Netflix and HBO. While competition is good in the marketplace but this new direction gives the cable companies and ISPs an unfair advantage of delivering their own content faster than their competition since they own the wire.

From a network management perspective, in order to eliminate Net Neutrality, cable companies and ISPs would be looking at Quality of Service (QoS) specifically related to network traffic shaping and metrics.

Traffic Shaping – The main purpose of traffic shaping is to restrict network traffic entering the network at access points. This is done to prevent overloading of the network and to assign queuing priorities based on complex algorithms. Depending upon corporate preferences these algorithms can filter content that is deemed not necessary and assign certain percentages of capacity to some applications. What this means from a Net Neutrality point of view is that cable companies and ISPs can completely filter out their competitor’s content, can significantly slow competitor’s content and increase the percentage capacity of their own applications.

The big question is not if this will happen but what can the government do to monitor this and prevent this from happening. Due to the current state of government budgets, I would argue that the government would not be actively monitoring the networks but instead be more reactive and wait on complaints from cable companies and ISPs competitors. Even if these complaints are legitimate and can indicate unfair competition, the loss of revenue during litigation might be insurmountable for these competitors. Thus, not only would these competitors be slowly eliminated but also prevent future competitors from coming into the market place since they will be aware that cable companies and ISPs would have an unfair advantage of manipulating network traffic.

Metrics – In order to measure QoS, we need to have certain metrics. These metrics help us compare and contrast to understand and improve services. Additionally, these metrics also arm us with information that can be used to make decisions as individuals and organizations. What this means from a Net Neutrality point of view is that cable companies and ISPs can increase or decrease the QoS simply based on their own criterions. These criterions might include affecting the availability of a competitor’s network, increasing error rates due to retransmission, affecting latency and jitter where competitor’s customer satisfaction declines, slow loading of applications and creating Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that guarantee best services to only a select few who can afford premium prices.

For larger and well-funded organizations, the manipulation of QoS metrics with the help from cable companies and ISPs would guarantee their survival and drastically reduce the startup mentality that new companies embrace to fully utilize the power of the Internet as a fair playground for everyone to compete in. For a regular consumer, they might not see how these mafia-style tactics would affect them but in the long-term by the time they realize it would be too late and they would be left with only a few choices from whom they get their services from. Eventually, this lack of choice would result in customers feeling helpless and questioning why there are not any innovative companies out there to increase competition. The reason unbeknown to the customers would be how large corporate lobbying and individual self-interest twisted the arms of the government to create an unfair advantage for them decades down the road.

In conclusion, the concept of free and openness, the very basis that the United States was based on under its constitution is being threatened in the age of the Internet. Not only would Net Neutrality affect domestic competition but it also significantly affect global growth since most of the Internet wires are owned by US-owned corporations. Perhaps this is a way to stay competitive by being unfair to the rest of the world. At the end of the day, the power of the individual would be taken away and the power of the select few will continue to increase. Perhaps it is time to have leaders who can understand technology in a global context and not be afraid of healthy global competition.

References:

  1. http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~raylin/whatisnetneutrality.htm
  2. http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/downloads/20120611-NetworkNeutrality.pdf

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Information Technology (IT) with sprinkles of Enterprise Architecture (EA)

A few weeks back I posted an article (Why IT Should Be on the CEO’s Agenda) on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) LinkedIn group about why Information Technology (IT) should matter to the CEO. A reader commented and referred me to his blog post. After reviewing his post, I have the following responses:

  • I would argue the perception that IT is too complex and decision-makers need to have a deep understanding of IT in order to leverage it. For most organizational decision-makers, simply recognizing that IT can be leveraged for competitive advantage can be sufficient to have a leg up over the competition. Think about it, although the CEO might have a high-level understanding of Finance, Accounting, Operations, and Sales but does s/he needs to be an expert in all of them? Absolutely not and similarly CEO does not need to have a deep understanding of IT although the better understanding s/he has, the better-equipped s/he will be to face the challenges of the future.
  • On the point that IT has “complex processes and structures” is a blanket statement and would not apply to each and every organization. I would say that it all depends upon the organization and careful review should be done to understand the reasons for the existence of these processes and structures. This review can help in improving the organization and create an appreciation for all sides.
  • In terms of Enterprise Architecture (EA),
    • it has many flavors to it but it almost always starts with strategy/analysis and should result in execution/operations. While EA cannot predict each and every scenario that can happen but by involving the people who are doing the day-to-day operations, EA is able to create concrete solutions that work in the real world and is not merely theory.
    • one of the biggest mistakes organizations make is that they think EA is only an IT-thing, only about artifact development, only about future planning and only about software application development. While all of these are noble pursuits, EA has a much broader view of the world that goes beyond the IT world. A well-run EA practice will consistently produce qualitative (e.g., management best practices, better communications, etc.) and quantitative (e.g., increased productivity/sales, cost savings, etc.) benefits for both IT and business. So, EA sits in between IT and business and whenever you limit it to an IT-thing then it defeats the overarching purpose of EA.
    • organizations already “do” EA, no matter what they call it, how broken it is and no matter if they use custom or industry frameworks to capture the information. Each framework has its pros and cons but organizations simply cannot put the blame on EA when the business itself is not aware of how it can leverage EA across the organization.
    • since EA is the highest level of abstraction, it looks at the business and IT sides holistically and is used to drive various objectives such as organization change, business intelligence, and portfolio management to name a few. It is up to the organization collectively to understand this and then help themselves to continuously improve organizational assets such as people, processes and technologies.

I hope the above response helps shed some light on the different things that organizations need to consider. I would leave you with some questions to think about?

  • Does the organization really know what it wants to be when it grows up?
  • Does the organization really know who it wants as friends?
  • Does the organization really know what house it wants to build?
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