Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How To Question Developers and Learn What is Really Going On

Anyone who's ever worked with me knows that I love spending time with developers. I will ask simple questions, "What are you working on?", "Can I see the code?", "Who is also working on this requirement and what are they doing?", and my favorite question, "How will your work help customers?"

This is far more than just getting in touch with the staff and understanding what's going on at a ground level. While this is part of my intention, my real motivation is far more substantial. You see, I firmly believe that Developers represent the organization's strength to innovate, change, and differentiate through their selection,  application, and integration of different technologies.

So when I ask Developers questions, I'm trying to learn a lot from them using some very simple questions. There is no right or wrong answer,  but some things become apparent very quickly

  • Is the Developer comfortable answering questions from an executive?
  • How does the Developer respond to these questions? From what lens - technical, functional, business, customer or user?
  • How quickly can they show me their work, is the code readable,  and can they simplify the technicalities to something anyone can understand
  • Do they understand the bigger picture of how their work is connected to the broader requirements and business need?
  • How is the Developer working with his or her team? 
  • What new ideas does she/he have and are they being considered?

These questions also give me a lens into the team's management

  • Are the Developers working on the top priorities?
  • Are they working well as a team with a firm grasp of the business value of their work and the requirements?
  • Which Developers can be challenged to take on more, or be handed more innovative assignments?
  • Is there a healthy balance of feature development and addressing technical debt?
  • How is management helping the team address risk?

These are not perscreptive questions because if they were, it would come across as formulaic and difficult to answer. Instead, I start off with some simple questions and use the responses to learn and challenge.
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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Database Decision that Will Hurt Your Company's Big Data Opportunities

One year ago, I completed the controversial post, Please Stop Creating Microsoft Access Databases. It drew an onslaught of comments from those that have been successful developing on this platform and others who struggle with the issues caused by siloed databases. Now, one year later I've decided to revisit this topic.

Developers Love their Platforms - But Big Data Platforms Are Strategic

Developers tend to be passionate about the platforms that they are most knowledgeable on and have had the most success. Fifteen years ago when there were fewer mainstream platforms, there were significant debates on Java versus .Net versus ColdFusion or MySQL versus Oracle versus Microsoft. It was rare to find someone who was technically proficient and objective about these platforms and in most situations, one could substitute one platform for the other, leverage its strengths and compensate for its weaknesses. The scope for selecting a platform was largely around application development, maintenance, scalability and performance.

But I maintain that databases today are a different and changed domain. Their importance far exceeds internal and external application development needs - database platforms are the foundation for most corporations' big data, analytics, and data driven practices. The schemas developed will likely be connected to other databases and leveraged for many needs beyond their original purposes. They will most definitely be maintained and extended by developers that didn't author them, and ideally they will be interfaced by business users leveraging self-service tools to perform analytics.

Database technologies have also changed significantly including the more mainstream adoption of NoSQL and Big Data platforms. We now debate the virtues of key value stores, tuple spaces, xml repositories, columnar databases, and graph databases. Larger scaled relational databases also include some of these capabilities and provide development tools from rapid and simple to enterprise or complex.

Database Platforms are Strategic Investments

So, while it is true that many developers can learn to do a lot with Microsoft Access, the question I ask is, why? Why stick with a platform that was largely designed for desktop data stores when there are cloud databases offering similar RAD capabilities and significantly better scalability? Why stick with a database approach that has limited tools to connect, develop relationships, and share information with other data sources? Why limit your organizations to 2GB and other physical limitations?

Mind you, that I am usually support RAD and simple development tools - tools that get things done quickly and easily. But developers need to have a target reference architecture and a target data model, and I fail to see how a collection of MS Access databases is a smart long term play when connected, transparent, and quality data sources are so key to business.

If you see your role as database developer, perhaps you should have higher aspirations. You create and maintain the databases, but you should be (or aspire to be) a data technology expert and a subject matter expert on the data, its data quality, and its analytics potential. I would suggest thinking broadly about your role and the technologies where you develop your expertise. Look beyond getting today's needs 'done'.


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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why CIO Should Participate on Twitter

100 Most Social CIOs on Twitter
@ValaAfshar on @HuffPostTech
You blog? You post frequently on Twitter? You have the time? 

These are frequent questions I here from CIOs and other professionals. In addition to these questions, some voice security concerns or worry about how to interpret their corporate social media policies. When they think about participating - not just joining - a social networking platform, they question "What would I talk about?"

So allow me to answer this question for myself. Why do I participate on Twitter - and why other CIOs and IT executives should consider it. Here's why I tweet -

Share knowledge - Most CIOs agree that an important part of their role is to teach and educate others about technology, information, and business process. So when I read a good article, I share it on Twitter with followers.

Network with CIOs - I get out to events as much as I can, but not frequently. Twitter offer  an easy, low investment tool to network with CIOs by following them, retweeting them, or replying to their posts.

Be a spokesperson - As a CIO, I am a leader with a voice that should reach customers, suppliers, employees and investors. Though I tweet and add the disclaimer, "Tweets are my own", my participation is thought leadership and promotes my company and personal brand.

Share interests and values - Being human online, within your boundaries for your privacy, has some advantages. I've developed more meaningful connections and learned from others that share common interests. My team learns about me, making it easier to engage with me on a personal level. 

Identify experts and recruit talent - I use Twitter to identify talented individuals based on their contributions and online personas. I then establish a dialogue and relationship with them well before I need to recruit or hire for a position.

Participate during conferences - by sharing my key takeaways and following the conversation using the event's hashtag. It's an easy way to meet new people when at an event.

Get some recognition - Thanks @ValaAfshar for listing me on the Top Social CIO on Huffington Post.

One of my related posts from the archives: Top CIOs talk Social Networking and Policy

What did I miss?

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

What Agile Teams Can Learn From 1st Graders

When I saw this hanging in my daughter's classroom I knew it needed to be shared with Scrum Masters and other agile team members. So much what makes agile teams successful is dependent on their collaboration - establishing a shared understanding of priorities, solving problems, developing solutions, resolving blocks, and improving practices. A big part of this collaboration occurs in both formal and informal meetings, and good teams establish a culture, protocol and practice to insure these meetings are productive.

The 1st grade rules are a great start and offer some suggestions. Rules like "I will be nice" and "I will use good manners" are worth calling out because teams sometimes forget the basics when deadlines and other pressures mount.  Many of the other rules can be adapted to professional environments -

  • I will listen when someone is talking - Very important to remind people to truly listen to what is being asked and to stay on topic
  • I will raise my hand to talk - I will listen first and won't cut off my colleague.
  • I will always try my best - to stay focused on the agenda and make valuable contributions 
  • I will keep my desk clean - by shutting off phones, tablets, and laptops during the meeting
  • I will practice reading every night - and make sure I come prepared for the meeting
  • I will help my friend or teacher - by following meeting protocols and practices to insure that the agenda is addressed.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

3 Big Data Platforms Needed for Marketing Automation Success

Big Data Platforms for Marketing
Technologists and CIOs looking for businesses partners to invest in Big Data platforms should begin their hunt with their Marketing departments and CMOs. As I've been covering in this blog, CMOs looking to become more data driven as they perform multiple digital marketing experiments and are likely to select a marketing automation platform. Even when the CMO and CIO have worked together to select and implement a marketing platform, there is still much work to be done integrating data sources, crunching analytics, and visualizing results.

Siloed Marketing Platforms?

Even if one vendor for Marketing and CRM platforms is selected, these two platforms do not live in isolation. Chances are the organization has a separate financial platform and multiple product delivery platforms with their own transaction data. Digital marketing practices often have to tap into this data to help segment prospects or better communicate to existing customers, so some form of data integration or ETL is needed to fulfill marketing automation.

Garbage in, Garbage Out?

The next challenge for Marketing is to develop processes to improve data quality. Data duplication, bad addresses, incomplete records, and unstructured data fields are just the tip of the iceberg. Data isn't static, and external data sources can often be used to validate, cleanse, and enrich data. To tap into these data sources efficiently and to enable Marketing to create data cleansing rules, a combination of ETL, Data Quality, and ideally Master Data Management platforms are useful.

Getting to Data Driven Decisions

Once data from disparate systems are connected, cleansed, and maintained then there is the challenge to establish platforms and tools to drive data decisions. Data crunching platforms such as Hadoop, analytics languages such as R, or self service business intelligence platforms are all designed to visualize, cluster, or find outliers in the data. They platforms should be used to perform data discovery exercises and enable data scientists to ask smart big data questions. These platforms can also be used to help segment customers and prospects and tapped into by marketing automation platforms to drive targeted marketing messages.

Now, Here's The Hard Part

In one of my recent posts, I claimed that the CIO and technologists are in a different time zone than their Marketing colleagues. Chances are, the technology organization hasn't invested in all these platforms and even if they did, they are probably lacking sufficient talent to operate them perfectly. Marketing needs these capabilities today, but the technology department can't respond with a long up front project to invest in platforms, integrations, and talent development.

IT needs to partner with Marketing and deliver incrementally while investing.

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Monday, March 03, 2014

Dear CIO, Here's How To Help the CMO with Marketing Automation

Are you a CIO or IT Leader that "get's it"? Are you a CIO or an IT leader that wants to provide technology services to the CMO and Marketing department? Perhaps you started small and partnered with the CMO on understanding goals, continued to develop pilot programs, collaborated on data driven programs, and then established lunch/learns so your staff were able to participate in Marketing's time zone.

CIOs often think "people, process, and technology". My earlier CIO - CMO posts largely concentrated on the first two, people and process, because without them technology is far less important. So in this post, let's look at some technology.

In 2011, there were perhaps 100 companies offering tech-based marketing solutions. In 2012, that jumped to over 350. And in early 2014, the number ballooned to almost 1,000 — and counting. - John Koetsier of VentureBeat

Why the sudden jump in marketing solutions? What problems are these technologies solving?

The Big Three of Marketing Automation

Marketing technology has exploded with lots of small companies offer point solutions in every marketing discipline from SEO/SEM to social media marketing. But one of the real changes in the last couple of years has been in the maturing of enterprise ready marketing automation platforms by the three big players in the space and fueled by mergers and acquisition completed over the last 18 months. I'm referring to SalesForce's acquisition of ExactTarget, Oracle's acquisition of Eloqua, and Microsoft's acquisition of MarketingPilot and two other companies.

The big three enterprise software companies certainly understand that servicing the Business with technology has gone beyond ERP for finance and CRM for sales and their platform investments now reflect Marketing's importance to an organization's ability to grow revenue.

So if you're a CIO - have any of these companies come to visit you and try to sell you on an enterprise marketing automation platform? Chances are, they haven't. First, none of these companies are using the word enterprise when selling marketing capabilities, and second, they don't need you. All three are SaaS platforms and have some built in integration capabilities even with competitive platforms. So, if the IT role is to install, manage, or integrate the platform guess what, you're not needed and out of the picture.

The CIO Role in Marketing Automation

But, like all software sales, fully achieving "marketing automation" is no where as easy as SalesForce, Microsoft, or Oracle will sell your CMO. There is certainly a lot less coding involved to develop workflows, produce dashboards, or integrate data but some of the same problems exist such as cleaning duplicate/dirty data, developing audit-able workflows, improving the usability of dashboards, crunching large data sets, securing private/financial data, or maintaining master data.

Is the Marketing department skilled to solve these issues on their own? Welcome CIO to your new role/responsibility working with the CMO!

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

5 Ways IT Pros Can Help Marketing

My last four posts have covered the whys and hows on establishing a CIO partnership with the CMO especially around digital marketing. The post Five Tips on Starting a Killer CIO CMO relationships covers the basics of understanding goals, drivers, and KPIs. The next post covers partnering on technology selections and proof of concepts, an area where CMOs need technical guidance and CIOs have to adapt their vendor selection practices for marketing needs. The next two posts illustrate why the CMO job is hard, first because simple techniques can block many marketing efforts and second because data driven marketing requires new data and technology skills.

In this post and the next, I offer ten practical ways IT department can provide services to marketing departments. This post covers workflow and services and the next one will cover technologies.

  • Provide Workflow and Collaboration Tools - How do Marketing departments on-board, process, and fulfill new needs? How do they collaborate with global business units? How do they get sign-offs on proposed work? If you work in a small or medium sized business, the marketing department may not be using a defined process and is likely managing intake using an excel spreadsheet. Consider helping the department by either building workflow into existing CRM, document management, or BPM tools, or selecting light weight project management tools. Better yet, if the IT department is already using agile development practices, consider steering them into agile marketing.  

  • Schedule Lunch and Learns - Lets face it, marketing and IT are in two time zones with marketing often running week to week and IT from release to release. Technology and marketing jargon are two foreign languages. You can break these barriers by scheduling informal educational sessions like lunch and learns to educate members of the IT and Marketing staff and help form relationships.

  • Challenge and Collaborate with Consultants - Marketing departments often employ consultants to provide expertise and services in many technical areas such as SEO/SEM and Social Media Marketing. In addition, creative agencies are often used to develop marketing materials including websites, marketing content, and even mobile applications. IT should look to collaborate with consultants and agencies to insure their deliverables align with existing platforms and can be implemented. IT pros may also be better equipped to ask good questions of consultants to insure their recommendations make sense technically and align with marketing priorities.

  • Provide Vendor Management Services - When new SaaS vendors are selected, go deeper reviewing their SLAs and insure they provide more significant operational metrics beyond 99.9% uptime. Review and advise on cost structures, evaluate security, and provide guidance on exit clauses. Once a SaaS vendor is selected, provide technical capabilities to monitor  their service levels such as uptime, response time, and service desk KPIs.

  • Establish Technical Leads - Who can become subject matter experts and provide technical expertise and consulting even if marketing doesn't require explicit technology services. Align these technical leads with marketing groups or practices and provide them training on the appropriate technologies. Insure that these leads are collaborative and provide them tools to on-board new technology needs or communicate special marketing events.

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