I think it’s fair to say that I am something of a sceptic when it comes to outsourcing IT. In fact, I wrote my university dissertation on the subject and concluded that it only works for static IT functions (such as running a telephone system) and even then it is not without some significant flaws. It may therefore come as a surprise that I am a recent convert to the potential for outsourcing some of the most dynamic software development undertaken by a company.
The reason for this change of heart is a change in outsourcing itself. My dissertation was based on the outsourcing proposition of the nineties which was typically based on a handshake between a large corporate and an outsourcing giant. A director would decide that their IT department was a black hole for overheads and that the numbers offered by the outsourcing agency were considerably more favourable. They would sign a contract, sit back, and wait for their bottom line to soar. Sadly, many are still waiting.
The traditional model of outsourcing is still out there, and my attitude towards it remains unchanged, however I have recently been introduced to a new way, and it seems much more powerful. New websites offer the ability to find and recruit developers on an individual basis for modules of work as small or large as the hiring company desires. They act like an international IT skills dating agency, allowing overworked IT departments to find underworked professionals from around the world with the exact skills they require for a specific task. The sites offer facilities to ensure that the hired professional can only bill for the time spent working, and that they receive fair payment for that time. This allows both sides to work in a very flexible manner which suits them both. All this is a far cry from the traditional outsourcing model.
You may wonder why, in the title of this blog, I compare outsourcing to a programming language in itself, and for that we need a (VERY) brief walk through the history of programming languages. Originally computers could only be programmed with 1s or 0s but soon this process was simplified with what have since become known as 2nd generation languages, most notably Assembler. From this an additional level of abstraction was added and 3rd generation languages (3GL) such as C were born making programming faster and easier. It is in 3GL that most programming happens today. In the eighties and nineties the idea of 4GL was popular with the intention that for specific areas of operation the programming language could be so abstracted that a non-programmer could do it. There was some success with this which naturally led onto the concept of fifth generation languages (5GL) where a non-programmer sets required constraints and the algorithms are generated for them.
In its truest sense 5GL is heavily rooted in Artificial Intelligence research; however its aspirations are achieved through modern outsourcing techniques. I write tasks into project management software in plain English which a team of remote developers pick off and complete one by one. So I can write “I would like my form to be blue” and – after a short wait – the form is blue. It certainly feels like a fifth generation language to me.
Written by: John Kiernander
Published April 12, 2012
Tags: BI Software, Business Intelligence, classic AMIGA, COGNOS, enterprise-it, gaming, geocoding, MAPPING, mobile, old computer games, software-development, taubleuPublic, technology
After seeing a demo of some of the latest BI (Business Intelligence) software and how they use mapping or geocoding software I was reminded of some of the computer games I grew up playing.
I’ve recently seen demos of various BI tools that are utilising various mapping extensions. The results are really impressive and fantastic at highlighting interesting areas of your business, related to a geographical area. However as I sat through these I began thinking I’d seen this sort of thing before. Probably about 15 years ago. They all remind me of the various computer games that have been around for ages – the specific area was top down strategy if I remember correctly. Games such as SimCity and Theme Park jump out at me as being of a similar style. You’d have a map of your area of interest – whether it was building a city, running a theme park or conquering the world – you’d deal with scarce resources, make decisions based on these restrictions and await the outcomes to react to. Sound familiar? Maybe this isn’t a surprising observation. The people developing BI tools are from a generation that grew up playing these games – actually many are probably from a generation that plays a more modern equivalent but I’m sure the point holds. Also many managers who use BI tools probably grew up using the interfaces of top down strategy games, so does this mean modern BI software development has been driven by some rather old computer games?
At PMSI we actually run a workshop program called ‘The Game’ in conjunction with COGNOS. In simplistic terms it uses the COGNOS BI platform to give you access to a fictional company’s performance data and the markets that they operate in. Utilising their dashboards you learn about the products they sell, how the sales are spread geographically and what sort of resources you have available. You then create a strategy, make choices about resource allocation and see how your decisions pan out. You can then forge on with your original strategy or react to the outcomes of your original choices. As I went through the workshop I was reminded of another classic computer game series – Championship Manager. Here you play a football manager who has limited money. You think about the style you want your team to play (your strategy) buy your players, set your tactics and play your match. After this you can continue to tweak tactics or be consistent with your original plan. Again you see similar themes and interfaces between BI tools and popular computer games.
None of these comparisons are derogatory to BI software. The 2 things are essentially doing the same thing – trying to give you access to as much information as possible in the simplest most presentable way. The complication that BI software has is that the underlying datasets are often much more complex so much more attention is paid to the back-end crunching of data as to the front-end interfaces. Recently however BI software does seem to have made a leap forward in the standard of front-end dashboards, suggesting that companies now see these polished interfaces as an important way of driving effective decision making, alongside the back-end toolkit. In the 1994 computer game ‘Theme Park’ the gamer had to build various rides on his empty land and then hire staff, attract customers and run a profitable park. You’d see your various workers walking to sites to fix or clean them and customers would come and go based on the quality of the park.
Perhaps this 18 year old game will give some clues as to where BI software is going. Could management be looking at real time views of sales reps moving around city maps trying to get to client sites before competitor reps!? As this happens could analysts already be trying to tweak prices and bundle products into contracts to win the deal!? Would customers be seen leaving in droves because of poor customer service!? All this would make business management sound quite fun with perhaps the main caveat being the fact that the concept of having 3 lives might not transfer as easily from the game world to the real world, or would it?
Written by: Gus Urquhart
I have seen the future of Advanced Analytics and it’s bright. As I walked into the room, 40 blank faces stared back at me. Within the first 10 mins of my presentation I realised I was in another world. A world from a distant memory, where anything was possible and cynicism was a boring foreigner.
Yes, I was back at University, where everything was new and survival was simply not enough. As these faces looked to me for guidance on how to take on the fictional role of a management board for Nano-Mircro International, you could see the sheer determination to differentiate and win. As they worked their way through the numbers and the decisions we needed them to consider for the coming weeks, differentiate themselves they did. We worked through the mix of markets, the portfolio of products and the complexity of the pricing strategy they’d inherited. In their teams of 4 they needed to understand the business and where they could take it with the right insight and decisions.
As they progressed the results began to show the same patterns we see across most markets. A front runner; a follower snapping at their heels; and the more competitive pack fighting for every market share point they could lay their hands on.
They were all making good decisions but what was it that was differentiating the front runners. It was the interpretation of the analytics; they were nailing the detail and making those all important differences. They were inspiring their team and were articulate in their delivery of the results. There was energy, quiet intellect, team dynamics, challengers, and innovators. They were all there and you could see the roles they’ll go on to play as they take on the world I inhabit where I pray they don’t forget the passion they currently enjoy. It’s that passion that will differentiate all of them.
PMSI has recently undertaken facilitation of an analytics based business game for Kingston University undergraduates and Masters students. Final results will be out in the coming weeks. I can’t wait to introduce you to the winners and some of the other exceptional sutdents later this month.
Written by: Pamela Edmond