Benchmarking: sources 17 Apr 2013Posted by Tony Law in Insight services, IT marketplace, ITasITis, Managing IT, Tech Watch, Technorati.
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I’m facilitating tomorrow a Corporate IT Forum discussion on twenty-first century benchmarking. It’s a wide topic. This post is a set of links and some comments, based on the InformationSpan database of 700 research and analyst firms. But I’m always grateful for updates: please comment!
The Forum itself operates a benchmarking service for clients, so there’s a declaration of interest to make but I am not myself a member of it. Primarily this is crowd sourced: it invites members to contribute their own data, and to compare themselves against their peers.
• Computer Economics provides a range of benchmarking data, not all financial. I’d consider it a primary source and worth a subscription. It provides a wide range of data. Major studies include IT Spending and Staffing Benchmarks and Worldwide Technology Trends. Their Management Advisories look at ROI and TCO, Risk Management and other topics. Too many to list here. Take a look for yourself.
• InterUnity Group “provides leading companies with strategy, competitive intelligence, and benchmarking to improve business performance.” It’s not clear what areas of benchmarking are actually covered or whether the focus is primarily financial
• The component services of the Corporate Executive Board will be worth investigating. Using the Researched Sharing model for content, CEB services such as the CIO Executive Board link and correlate information and tools from clients.
• Ventana Research undertakes benchmark research as one of its primary activities, drawing information from its own community, social media and the company’s “media partners”.
• The Data Warehousing Institute undertakes benchmarking in its key area, primarily business intelligence. They publish an annual BI Benchmark Report.
This is a rapid post in advance of the event. Look for a wider-ranging Coverage Report from InformationSpan when I’ve time to develop the theme.
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I teach a couple of Open University courses. In one of them, I’ve just got to the point where we encourage the students to work through the industry skills frameworks. The aim is to benchmark their skills and to identify both longer term career direction and short term professional development targets.
A few years ago it was confusing, but manageable. My first contact with this area was quite some years ago when the British Computer Society began to develop from an academic interest group into the professional organisation it is today. It began to review applications for membership. To benchmark (that word again) applicants’ status and career progression, it needed a framework. Out of this grew the Industry Structure Model, which identified a number of career tracks. This developed into the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), which is still a great set of definitions for ICT career people. More below, about SFIA.
When I first came back to this teaching, five years ago, the then government had created an enormous, wide-ranging family of National Occupational Standards (NOS). These were divided among a number of defined industry sectors and Sector Skills Councils. Some of the areas were fairly obvious, like Engineering. Others, perhaps less so, like Contact Centres. The general principle was a good one: that in the main, skills were only defined once. So, anyone whose role included management looked to the Management framework. It wasn’t re-defined in every profession. Anyone who used IT (and I mean, used as a user) could benchmark those skills against the IT User NOS standard. These “generic” skills were, as it were, imported into the professional portfolio which defined actual roles in real organisations.
Well, what have we now?
1. Originally, there was the overall IT Professional Competency model (e-skills Procom). This has been discontinued so far as I can tell. It now exists only in the National Archive – under the “NVQ” section although Procom is not an NVQ framework (!).
Procom provided a framework of seven disciplines:
- Sales and marketing
- Business change
- Programme and project management
- Solutions architecture
- Solution development and implementation
- Information management and security
- IT service management and delivery
2. Of these, disciplines 4, 5, 6, 7 are represented in the IT/Telecom Professional NOS of 2009. The SSC, e-skills UK, still exists and this framework is still current on the e-skills website. These are, though, hidden in a link right at the bottom of the page. Currently, look for “NOS” in the purple footer.
The IT/Telecom Professional framework categorises capabilities at five levels: Junior Technician; Associate Professional; Professional; Lead Professional; Senior Professional. It categorises its criteria according to Performance; Knowledge; and Understanding.
Alongside this, e-skills maintains the IT User NOS which is valuable for almost anyone, We all use IT user skills. This framework defines three levels: Foundation, Intermediate, and Advanced. The Advanced level overlaps into the IT Professional framework, covering user application development (Access, say, or Excel). This is also the framework where you’ll find user skills with software, be they office tools or specialised business applications.
3. The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) still exists and is now at version 5. It’s available as a spreadsheet download.
SFIA defines the following skill areas:
- Strategy and architecture
- Business Change
- Solution development and implementation
- Service Management
- Procurement & management support
- Client interface (i.e. sales & marketing)
It defines levels from 1 (junior) to 7 (which equates to senior management or CIO). Not all cells in the model have definitions at all levels: for example, within Strategy & Architecture the cell “Corporate governance of IT” begins at level 6. SFIA does have the advantage that it encompasses management to the most senior levels as well as technical capabilities.
4. Since late 2012 there is the IT Skills Academy. It is itself confusing.
First, it references a full set of role descriptions in its Standards section. The rubric says that “The IT Professional Standards have been organised and aligned to the relevant SFIA skills and levels.”. What this actually means is that the Standards are not aligned to SFIA, but there is a correlation table showing where matches have been identified.
They are not aligned to the NOS either. Again, some areas map across although the names are not quite the same. The disciplines here are:
- Architecture, Analysis & Design
- Business Change
- Information Management and Security
- IT Project Management
- IT Service Management and Delivery
- Sales & Marketing
- Solution Development & Implementation
- Transferable Competencies (three flavours: Personal, Business and Leadership).
The sub-categories of each discipline have definitions from Level 3 to level 6. The definitions are, like the NOS, divided as Performance; Knowledge; Understanding.
The Transferable section is well worth having. With the change to the NOS database overall, these general skills are now much harder to find elsewhere.
5. The Skills Academy website also offers the Professional Profile. This matches the categories and levels (3-6) of the Framework, but the descriptions are considerably simplified with a handful of “Do you do these things?” criteria.
6. Finally there is what you get to from the new NOS website. Searching this website is now far inferior to what used to be provided. The Search delivers only PDF documents for individual “cells” in the overall model, with titles such as “Software Development Level 5 Role”. Note the use of “Level 5″ which is not the categorisation used in the NOS. The content appears to be cloned from the NOS, but the sub-elements have been reorganised and you have to look at the content to infer that Level 5 equates to Professional.
There’s no link, as there used to be, back from these framework documents to the Sector Council or to the overall Suite, and there’s no search which will identify appropriate suites for a capability (as was the case on the old NOS website). Link to Search for indexes for both “Occupations” and “Suites”, but this assumes you already know what you’re looking for …
This is a horribly confused and confusing situation.
• IT Professional Competency model (e-skills Procom), in the National Archive
• e-skills NOS page: look for links to IT/Telecom Professional and IT User frameworks
• Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA)
• IT Skills Academy: IT Professional Standards, and the simplified My IT Professional Profile tool
• See: National Skills academy framework backed by UK employers, Computer Weekly, 4 Oct 2012
• The NOS website is now maintained by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). The former URL (ukstandards.org.uk) redirects here.
• The NOS Search page is indexes, not searches. It has tabs for Organisations, Occupations and Suites.
Some Open Source notes 9 Feb 2013Posted by Tony Law in Consumerization, IT marketplace, ITasITis, Tech Watch, Technorati.
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In my persona as an Associate Lecturer of the Open University, I promised some brief notes on Open Source software to help a colleague who’s leading a Staff Development workshop in a couple of weeks’ time.
Educational providers always need to find workable inexpensive software to provision their students. Around 1990 I taught the first Open University course which took ICT facilities to the students in their homes, rather than requiring them to book time on terminals hosted by friendly local institutions. The DT200 course existed in the days of DOS, but it used an early on-screen word processor (FirstWordPlus on the GEM GUI), a cut-down version of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, and the CoSy conferencing system. The configuration was an Amstrad 640 with two 5.25 inch floppy drives and no hard disk. Oh, and the mouse port was on the left hand side which is why, more than 20 years later, I still use my mouse left handed.
I promised some notes, as I said. And I thought I’d share them more widely. I use Open Source software quite freely but nothing startling. I also use other freeware and a handful of niche purchased products, such as Graphic Converter for the relatively limited image manipulation I need to do.
My main OU course now is the ICT foundation course which introduces students to a range of practical ICT tools as well as the social and global context in which the technologies operate. It uses Audacity for audio recording, which I’d been using for some time already for creating podcasts for students on another course. It uses FreeMind for mind maps. Alongside this it uses tools like Picasa for image manipulation which is free (from Google) but of course isn’t Open Source.
I use a Mac but run it sometimes as a Windows machine using BootCamp. On Windows I don’t maintain a Microsoft Office licence so I use Open Office. While there are some compatibility issues with on-screen presentation I haven’t hit any significant problems. I know there are some, but they haven’t affected anything I’ve needed to do. I use the VLC media player on Mac for Windows Media Player formats, since Microsoft no longer make a player for Mac.
The Firefox browser and other elements of the Mozilla family are of course Open Sourced and Firefox is my browser of choice. I use the internal web server on my Mac which is a version of Apache.
For application development I use Cincom Smalltalk which is a full object-oriented environment and although it’s commercially owned it’s developed by its OS community. I learned Smalltalk, also 20 years ago, when working on a collaborative academic-industry research project and I still love it.
Working in industry, as I did until recently, I encountered a lot of suspicion about Open Source. More recently I think it’s abated somewhat but it’s still there.
The debate around OS in the commercial IT sector focusses on accountability – not knowing who is accountable for quality or who can be sued (to put it bluntly) for any real problems. It’s difficult for procurement-minded professionals to accept that a community of interest is likely to have higher quality standards and to identify and fix problems more quickly than a major for-profit software supplier.
This attitude has softened over the past several years, not least because some software (such as Apache and Linux) has become widely used in the enterprise. To my reading there are (at least) two reasons. Cost (obviously) but also licensing.
It’s a lot easier to promote a web service when you don’t have to license according to the number of users. Quality has become a given for the most widely used products. Security can be easier to assure and handle when there can be access to source code. And acquiring OS software through a distributor does offer some assurance of quality. There have been some high profile espousals of OS software, such as Linux or Open Office in government departments which are supremely cost-conscious, but these haven’t had an enormous impact in the wider commercial marketplace.
What is, I think, true is that as more specialised niche requirements have been accepted within the enterprise, there’s a recognition that either open source or niche (= small startup) providers may be the only route to a solution. Someone, somewhere, has created an open source community around your need.
There are various definitions of what constitutes Open Source. By one definition, a specification is “Open” if it is published, so that it can be used by other platforms – as other word processing software can create documents in Microsoft’s format. Conversely, the Open Document Format was defined through an open process: but isn’t yet accepted as the leading standard for interoperability. This is the open process I learned about through by participation in the Object Management Group’s work. Building consensus and reconciling different viewpoints, including those of commercial developers, takes time: but there is often a strong academic foundation, and academic rigour often sustains a longer-lasting and more effective standard. Or, again, there is development through an open community which brings many minds to bear on problems; which converges on useful solutions; but which can become self-perpetuating so that the vision does not always grow or, where necessary, change.
• Sourceforge: one of the strongest groups of Open source communities
• Sourceforge is host to Audacity and to FreeMind
• Linux (of course)
• Apache (the Apache Software Foundation) also hosts Open Office
• Mozilla for Firefox, Thunderbird and more
• Smalltalk (see this page for versions)
• VLC media player
• Graphic Converter from Lemkesoft
• Picasa from Google
• Gem Desktop
Green IT Expo: presentations published 8 Nov 2011Posted by Tony Law in IT marketplace, ITasITis, Managing IT, Tech Watch, Technorati.
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Keynote presentations from the Green IT Expo (see previous postings) have now been posted. Simon Mingay’s presentation from Gartner is not available (now there’s a surprise) and be warned that the link behind the rubric “Presentation Unavailable” goes to the following presentation from Verdantix.
• Green IT Expo presentations
• A Gartner perspective on Green IT, ITasITis, 1 Nov 2011
• Green IT; encountering Connection Research, ITasITis, 1 Nov 2011
• Green 3: Andy Lawrence of 451, ITasITis, 1 Nov 2011
Catch-up: Jobs and Windows 20 Oct 2011Posted by Tony Law in IT marketplace, ITasITis, Tech Watch, Technorati.
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Travelling yesterday, I caught up on a couple of Tech Weekly podcasts from The Guardian featuring reactions to Steve Jobs’ death, and an earlier feature on the announcements of Windows 8. These podcasts are good value: 20-30 minutes of serious comment bringing together people with real expertise.
For the Steve Jobs special edition, The Guardian brought in not only its tech people but its editors for design, film, and music alongside a Gartner VP who specialises in smartphones. This wove a coherent picture of Jobs’ impact. In design, the point was made that he (or Jonathan Ive, that is) didn’t try to align with the latest design fashions; Jonathan Glancey referred to Apple’s design roots in the Bauhaus movement which is culturally well established (we might say de-bugged) and, to a significant degree now, has become timeless. What’s now Disney Pixar was Jobs’ initiative after he left Apple – and the same perfection of design shows in Pixar’s animation. The coherence of the iTunes/iPod ecosystem turned the threat of downloaded music on its head, making it easy for people to legitimately buy music – and has led to a resurgence of individual songs rather than albums. And, looking forward with Gartner’s Carolina Milanesi, the impact of the iPhone (and iPad) are only just starting to be felt.
Throughout, the speakers developed a picture of Jobs as an holistic, user-centred entrepreneur. The question he asked himself and his designers wasn’t “What can we do with this new tech stuff?” Rather, it was “What will the users like/want/need? Now how do we provide it?” Implementation is secondary, which is why it doesn’t matter that the iPhone and iPad aren’t built on MacOS. The iPad doesn’t feel wildly different from the Mac – although it is, just as OS X is different from Classic. The same understanding informs the design.
Then, backtracking a few editions, there was a review of early information on Windows 8. I was left, there, with quite the opposite feel. The reviewers seemed to be saying that Microsoft is working very hard to build a common code base that will service different platforms: from standard PCs to tablets to smartphones. But the resulting compromises will affect the user experience on all of them. For example: in an OS created for the tablet’s swipe-screen paradigm, conventional mouse operation is less well supported. Somehow the feel was exactly the opposite of what I’d been hearing about the way Steve Jobs worked. The conclusion seemed to be that Windows 8 will either be a miracle, if they pull it off, or a car crash. We’ll see; the developer beta is available.
This week produced favourite short from the Guardian letters page. “Blackberry jam helps Apple turnover” … The earlier podcast had some comments on RiM and the future of the BlackBerry service and other communication channels. BlackBerry Messaging (BBM) scores with Generation Y through its realtime presence; as we all know, SMS text messages can get delayed. Email in that generation is dead: JP Rangaswami quoted his daughter as saying, of one of her friends, “His phone’s dead. You’ll have to inbox him on Facebook”. Yet RiM is having trouble shifting both older models still in the channel, and newer ones which they can’t abandon because they are leading in the new OS. Step forward both Apple with the iPhone, which knows its market, and the multitude of Android models.
• Steve Jobs special, The Guardian Tech Weekly podcast, 6 Oct 2011
• Windows 8, bad news for Rim, JP Rangaswami, The Guardian Tech Weekly podcast,20 Sep 2011
• Carolina Milanesi, Gartner blog (though the most recent post is February 2011)
• Previewing Windows 8, Microsoft
Hype Cycle thoughts 17 Oct 2011Posted by Tony Law in Impact of IT, Insight services, IT marketplace, ITasITis, Managing IT, Technorati.
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Gartner’s Hype Cycle is one of the most widely recognised technology assessment tools. Right now, in the run-up to Gartner’s Symposium season, there’s activity around this so a review is timely.
Before I forget: well worth watching the Gartner website while Symposium progresses round the world, because some keynotes tend to be webcast for open access. Symposium was in Orlando last week, and comes to Europe next month (Barcelona, 7-10 Nov, since the Cannes facility isn’t available this year).
First off, of course, the Hype Cycle concept has exploded in the past few years. It has, though, gone through its own hype cycle and is now, I suggest, on its Plateau of Productivity. Not least because Gartner, under Jackie Fenn’s tutelage, have surrounded it with other related tools and a much better published understanding of how it should be used. It’s not an easy guide to where to invest (or not); it’s more a guide to what the parameters are for an investment decision as technologies move through what is, in fact, a version of an economist’s standard adoption cycle.
Right now, there’s a short video from Jackie on Gartner’s home page outlining what the hype cycle is and how it’s intended to be used (C S Lewis’s “corkscrew or cathedral” test). And there are some overview reports on Gartner’s library which, if you’re registered as a free user, you can access in full. These list all the current Hype Cycle reports – though these, of course, are not on open access.
Gartner added their “Market Clock” some while ago, and now have released a tool called the Priority Matrix which partitions emerging technologies according to their potential benefit (from “low” to “transformational”) and (estimated) time to mainstream adoption. There’s a note on its use in the Hype Cycle 2011 review. I think what’s missing, here and elsewhere – though I’m not sure how you’d bring it in to the tool – is how to factor in an organisation’s risk appetite and strategy. Do you want to be transformed? Can you afford not to be?
Gartner’s list of around 90 current Hype Cycles covers Technology and Appplication; Information and IT Services; and vertical Industry sectors. Clients can also make use of the data through the My Hype Cycle toolkit, which can filter data for a specified subset of the 1800 technologies covered by the reports and create a tailored Hype Cycle graphic for use in internal strategy discussions.
My own guide to using the Hype Cycle is embodied in this comment I added to some verses posted on the Mastering the Hype Cycle blog two and a half years ago. The blog, incidentally, has emerged from a dormant period and is publishing again.
The strategists won’t allow hype to dictate:
It’s a servant to them, not a master.
They let it inform, and they factor the risk
‘Twixt competitive edge and disaster.
Or they hold for a while, till it’s over the peak -
Or even invest in the trough,
When the prices are low, and there’s knowledge around
To ensure the return is enough.
Hype can be a snare: but provides a great guide
If your buyer’s informed and is practical,
And knows when investment is for the long haul
Or when it’s short term, and is tactical.
• Hype Cycles 2011, Gartner website section, with links to these downloadable documents:
•• Gartner’s Hype Cycle Special Report for 2011, 2 Aug 2011
•• Understanding Hype Cycles, 19 Jul 2011
•• Toolkit: My Hype Cycle, 2011, 12 Sep 2011
• Gartner IT Market Clock website section, and see also:
•• Understanding Gartner’s IT Market Clocks, 2011, 8 Sep 2011
• Technology adoption lifecycle, Wikipedia
• The Hype Cycle as Art part 2 – poetry, Mastering the Hype Cycle, 27 Mar 2009 (see comment)
• Gartner Symposium