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I Love Agile

AgileA month or so ago someone told me that they wanted to introduce Agile development but they had heard that I didn’t like Agile. I have to say that I was shocked by this as it isn’t true, I love Agile.

I love Agile for its flexibility, I love Agile as it brings the customer into the development process, I love Agile for the visibility it brings to projects, I love Agile for delivering better speed to market, I love Agile for the way it empowers the team and enables collaboration, and most of all I love Agile as a mindset.

What I don’t love is when Agile isn’t used properly, when people abuse Agile, when teams invent their own version of Agile, or when Agile is used as an excuse for lack of transparency, non-delivery or poor discipline.

Development teams that adopt Agile in a consistent way and share best practice deliver a step change for their organisation. However, to turn the step change into a giant leap, add the commercial teams into the mix and get everyone using Agile. You’ll be amazed with the results.

I love Agile (when it is done properly!)

Thanks for reading, whats your take on Agile?

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The World’s Favorite Airline – Not Today!

BA5I’ve travelled with British Airways a lot with business and pleasure over the years and I have to say my experience has generally been positive … until yesterday!

I’m off to New York on a short break with the family and my story begins upon receipt of the email from BA that check in is now open, yay!

Now, the trip involves two flights, one from NCL to LHR and then a second from LHR to JFK. I check into the LHR flight just fine, selecting new seats and printing boarding passes, great. I then check into the JFK flight, select new seats so the kids can have window seats, but is time I can’t print boarding passes, and I get an error message saying I have to go to the check in desk at the airport. This is odd as it’s never happened to me before so I pick up the phone to BA and this is where my poor experience begins…

I have to say that I found the BA IVR experience very poor… as someone who runs a large call centre telephony platform I appreciate the need for IVR, but I also know you need to put a lot of work into making them work well. It’s very obvious that the BA contact model is to push you to their digital channels and they don’t want you to ring them. Again I can appreciate that they are trying to manage costs and people manning telephony lines are very expensive.

However, support lines are very busy estimating a 50 minute wait so I give up. Instead I speculatively ask a question on twitter as to what the error message means. I’m really impressed with the speed of their response, this confirms to me the power of digital and social channels over traditional methods of contact…


I send them my flight number, but then they start to concern me with their next tweet.


So I do just that and contact my booking agent ‘Trailfinders’ who check everything out from their end and it looks just fine, no problems. I tweet back BA that the booking agent can’t see anything wrong at their end… again BA come back quickly with the even more worrying response of…


Now I’m thinking I’ll not be going to New York and so I ring back the booking agent who told me they would ring BA on my behalf… A little later the booking agent rings me back in a pretty annoyed state to tell me that they got through to BA after 45 minutes wait only for the BA agent to tell them they only speak to customers and promptly put the phone down on them. However, the booking agent then told me that they were ringing them back to complain about the hanging up and to escalate the call.

I sent another tweet to BA ask for more information but no reply this time… 😦

Whist this is going on I try again to print the boarding passes and I find that I can print one of the passes but not the others. So I log out and log back in again and this time I can print a couple of the other passes, log off and on again and then I can print the final pass. However, I’m still a little confused as the travel itinerary hasn’t updated with seat numbers etc.

Trailfinders ring back to say that they have finally spoken to someone at BA who would listen to them, and that they confirmed we were listed on the JFK flight. That brings us to the end of Saturday and I’m pretty confident we’ve done all we could to give us the peace of mind we were after.

Sunday morning arrives and low and behold I have a text waiting on my phone to say the LHR flight has been cancelled. Now, this is a huge disappointment but not really a surprise as BA have a tendency in my experience to pull the NCL-LHR flights all too often.

Time to ring the call centre, fight my way through the IVR (option 5 then option 1 is what you need in this instance), and speak to a very helpful chap who re-lists us on a later flight albeit much tighter for the connection, but promises us that BA will re-list us for a later NY flight should we miss the connection. He also says we need to go and check in for the re listed flight as this wouldn’t be done automatically.

A few minutes later I log onto BA.COM and I see the new flight, but it won’t let me check in! So I ring BA again… (option 5 and option 1) and I speak to another helpful agent who tells me we can’t check in online as he’d have to drop us off both flights in order for us to check in to the LHR flight and there would be a chance that we would lose our seat reservations on the JFK flight and the best thing to do would be to arrive at the airport check in desk where they have more options to check us iThat’s the story bang up to date… booking this holiday seemed like a good idea at the time, but I have to say our initial joy and excitement of looking forward to this break for quite some time has turned into quite a stressful experience and we haven’t even left the house yet!

I do hope this is the last you’ll hear about this particular journey!

Updated … A much better experience from arrival at the airport onwards. Check in staff were excellent, everything was sorted out swiftly, we made the connection to JFK and were delighted to discover we had been upgraded.


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Global technology company supporting the North East technology revolution

imageThis is a copy of a great article that one of my guys had published today.

Sage, the only FTSE 100 technology company is now 32 years old, and with over six million customers is the third largest business software company worldwide. In 1981 it was just another North East tech start-up with a feverish ambition to explore new ideas and innovate.

Whilst the company is now much bigger the ambition remains. “We’re always driving forwards,” says Graeme Fletcher, Head of Enterprise Technology & Development.  “Whilst we continue to develop the highly successful on premise products that our customers love, we’ve also embraced modern technology and moved into the world of cloud-computing.  For example, SageOne, our new proposition for start-up and small business, is delivered entirely online. Sage 200, our proven financial software for growing medium-size businesses, is now available in the cloud as well as being available as an ‘on premise’ version to give our customers more choice.”

Despite its huge success and global growth, the UK &Ireland, and Global headquarters remain in the North East.  The strikingly modern, glass-and-steel offices in Gosforth’s Great Park is home to over 1300 employees working in an atmosphere of relaxed but purposeful intent.

Apart from a pride in its roots, there are two main reasons why Sage continues to support the North East. The first is the quality of the workforce. “The capability is here, so why move?” shrugs Graeme. “Our people are highly skilled, and we can draw talent direct from the universities and the local rich talent pool”.

Sage has structured graduate and apprenticeship schemes and is eager to strengthen its links with the region’s universities and schools. For example, Sage mentors North East students for the annual international Microsoft Imagine Cup Challenge, which is open to students worldwide to create innovative and original software applications.  Mark Thompson, Development Team Leader, who mentored students for this year’s Challenge said: “It was fantastic to see the ideas the students came up with and their passion for software development.  The experience connected Sage to some of the brightest up and coming minds in the North East and offered some great examples of true innovation.”

Sage’s three-year apprenticeship scheme is possibly one of the most challenging, and exciting in the industry.  In the first year alone, apprentices are expected to make group presentations, participate in meetings, deliver work to deadlines, as well as get to grips with a wide range of technologies and methodologies, from testing applications to coding, from web development to data modelling.  “I gained an incredible amount of experience, skills and knowledge of the IT world during my first year,” says Ryan Burness, aged 19, of his first year as an apprentice.  “I worked with many teams within the development function which allowed me to gain so many new technical skills; an opportunity that not many people in the IT industry have the chance to experience.”

The second reason why Sage continues to support the North East is that the region is now a powerful and growing technology hub.  “It ranges from the large employers like us, to literally hundreds of small technology companies and start-ups,” says Graeme.  “and we are actively supporting the local technology industry”.

In the last few weeks, he points out, Sage has sponsored two local events: the fourth annual DIBI (Design It: Build It) conference at Gateshead’s BALTIC; and DDD North (Developer! Developer! Developer!North) at the University of Sunderland.  The latter attracted hundreds of technologists from around the UK and abroad to listen share and connect.  “It was a fantastic knowledge-sharing and networking forum with many different experts giving talks on varied topics, all voluntarily.” says Graeme “which we were very happy to support.”

But those North East roots are more than just skin – or soil – deep.  They permeate far into the region’s communities.  What many people may not realise is that every Sage member of staff is given two paid charity volunteering days a year, in addition to their holidays, and the activities undertaken vary widely.

Join Sage and, history shows, you may not want to leave.  “If you have the ability, you can go where you want,” promises Graeme.  “A lot of our senior leadership team have worked their way up through the organisation, where we support talent from within, and supplement with talent from outside.”

If I didn’t already work there I’d be sending in my application…

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Jaguar XK – The Seducer

Finally got round to taking some pictures of the new pride and joy…

Also been playing around with iPhoto which is really cool…

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The one question that every CIO should ask themselves… What are you going to do when (not if) your cloud systems fail?

I’ve deliberately used the word Cloud to grab your attention but the question is equally applicable if you use Cloud systems or in house systems.

This post was prompted following an interesting twitter conversation I had last night with Frank Scavo and Dennis Howlett around yesterday’s outage of the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

Frank started the conversation with this response to my tweet about Azure:

Frank: “Exactly the type of thing that reinforces CIO fears about cloud…”

Stuart: “working on the assumption that cloud outages are inevitable… I feel it’s how vendors respond that will give CIO’s confidence”

Frank: “No, fewer outages will give confidence…”

Stuart: “I’ll meet you half way… Fewer outages and proper service management around problems when they do happen…”

Frank makes the point that some of his CIO contacts were livid following this outage. And this is where this post really starts, as I challenged Frank as to exactly who they were livid at on the basis that to overall accountability for a company’s IT systems, whether they be on premise or in the cloud lies with the CIO.

Stuart: “as CIO you’re accountable for everything as you choose to use cloud or not!”

Alongside the Azure thread there was a parallel thread running on cloud security that had been started by Dennis Howlett in his Accman blog.

“Anything that connects to a network is vulnerable. That includes EVERY cloud player, regardless of the service they offer. What matters is the extent to which vulnerabilities exist AND are capable of exploitation.”

Let me share my belief here, these two topics are intrinsically linked, i.e. when you’re appointed as a CIO you’re trusted to deliver competitive advantage for your company through IT. Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you can’t maintain availability and adequate security of your systems then you’ll only manage to deliver disadvantage, and you probably won’t be around very long.

So, let’s get back to the title of the post… what are you going to do when your systems fail (which is inevitable)?

If you’re running in house, the apps themselves (if they are decent apps) are least likely to fail, more likely failures are from switches, disks, networks, cables and other parts of infrastructure. You protect yourself against this by designing your datacentre(s) around redundancy with zero single points of failure.

If you’re running cloud services, you pick a reputable supplier who works with a reputable hosting partner right? Well, yes but as we saw with Azure yesterday (and previously with Amazon and Rackspace and most other reputable cloud vendors) the same hardware failure points exist in cloud provider datacentres as they do in your own. If you appreciate and accept this this then you’ll also be mindful that you could be introducing a single point of failure in your enterprise platform and that your service availability is now at the mercy of their service availability.

When you running outside of your own bricks and mortar you also need a high bandwidth and high availability WAN, Firewalls and Proxies, etc  that all need to be fault tolerant and designed around redundancy to ensure adequate access and security at all times. Even then you can’t mitigate around someone digging up the cable which has happened to me twice this year and is more common than you might expect.

Is this a story of cloud bashing? No it isn’t, it’s a story of how the CIO needs to take full accountability for managing risk within their platform.

  • If you’re running mission critical systems and your business can’t afford any outage then you simply can’t design a single point of failure into your enterprise platform.
  • If you’re running non mission critical systems, then you may choose to take a little more risk around availability and accept a single point of failure and manage any disruptions that may arise.

What you deem to be mission critical or not is your own decision and it doesn’t have to be one or the other. For my part I run a hybrid platform where some parts are mission critical and some parts less so and the platform design and location of services (in house vs. cloud) reflects this.

Of course from a customer perspective people outside of IT expect things to work 100% of the time and if you’re running either of the above, or a combination, then any outage no matter what damages your credibility with users.

So as an effective CIO, you need to design an effective platform around what your business needs, you need to manage the risk, you need to pick the suppliers that you work with, and you need to take full accountability when things go wrong. Yes you can get livid with your suppliers, but just remember who picked them and remember who chose to introduce a single point of failure into your platform in the first place.

So, what are you going to do when (not if) your cloud systems fail? Make sure you know the answer today.

Footnote: This post relates to large enterprise businesses and the role of the CIO and the point I’m trying to make is you have to plan for failure to guarantee success.

Part of this cross posted here

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Amazon = Amazing Customer Experience

I’ve not posted for a while but I feel the need to blog tonight about the most fantastic service I experienced lately from Amazon.

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog you’ll know that I’ve previously raved about the Amazon Kindle. It’s a fantastic device and I have to say that it’s been used daily since the day I got it. Well sadly on Saturday gone it gave up the ghost, the screen was showing corruption and despite trying the reset instructions it was kaput.

So, I googled the problem and came across a URL for Amazon support. I logged in with my normal Amazon credentials and was presented with a support page with a button saying something like “press here if you would like someone to call you back.” Well the next bit was amazing, I pressed the button and my phone rang immediately, I mean within milliseconds.

Upon being greeted by an agent who was knowledgeable about the Kindle, as opposed to someone who merely logged my call and put me on hold for someone else, we went through the details of my problem.

When it was apparent that the device was faulty I was transferred to another department to sort out a replacement. Again this was instant, no being put on hold etc.

A few more details were taken about the source of the device etc, which happened to be a gift, but at no time did I think my integrity was being challenged.

Anyway the upshot was that two days later my replacement Kindle arrived free of charge, and Amazon have covered all costs to have the faulty one collected.

Now that’s an extraordinary customer experience… will I be shopping with Amazon again?

You bet I will…

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Time to invest in new tech stocks or time to buy lottery scratch cards?

A colleague pointed out this excellent article in the Financial Times recently by Richard Waters on the subject of the internet bubble.

There are lots of very good examples in the article of how tech companies are valuing themselves in order to look attractive to potential buyers. However the key word in that sentence is ‘themselves’ as there is a great example of self valuation around Groupon :

Applying Groupon’s preferred measure turned last year’s $420m loss under US accounting conventions into a $61m profit.

Does this lead one to believe that the laws of P&L accounting as we know it are being superseded in favour of something that looks favourable to the prospective buyer?

Where will it all end I wonder… time to invest in new tech stocks or time to buy scratch cards … are they both a lottery?

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