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The Nexus Will Demand Continuous Everything and Smart Systems

by David Norton  |  June 28, 2013  |  Comments Off on The Nexus Will Demand Continuous Everything and Smart Systems

I have been thinking about the Nexus of forces; cloud, mobile, social, big data and what does it really mean to me and my clients! I have come up with an analogy; bit of an odd one but it demonstrates two areas I think are important.

Imagine there is a spoon you have been asked to balance in a jar of three liquids.  The first is jam! (not technically a liquid but never mind).  You place your spoon in the middle of the pot of jam, remove your fingers, and wait!! The spoon will stay upright in the jam with no help from you, it balances easily.  Why? Because the viscosity of jam is (8.500 mPas), so high it stops the spoon from moving.  You will notice the spoon over time will fall towards the edge of the jar, but its so slow your can correct it by either moving the angle of the jar or by poking the spoon back into the vertical position with your finger.   

Now you have to repeat the trick with honey.  Honey has a much lower viscosity compared to jam, about a ¼.  Once you place the spoon in the vertical position and remove your finger it will start to fall towards the edge of the jar. But it falls really slowly – you have time to correct the fall by moving the angle of the jar. Unlike jam, which only required infrequent intervention honey needs you to make many little adjustments each minute.         

The final liquid is water.  Not surprisingly given the viscosity of water (0.0009 mPas), once you place the spoon in and remove your finger it instantly falls towards the jar edge. It’s almost impossible for you to balance the spoon, it’s moving too quickly and you react too slowly.  The only way to keep the spoon vertical is to keep your finger on it i.e. cheat.

With all three liquids, you are sensing the position of the spoon relative to the edge of the jar, deciding which is the best way to correct the spoons position then moving the jar accordingly.  Its classic John Boyd’s  OODA loop  – observe, orient, decide, and act (John Boyd’s is one my heroes if you want to read more have a look my paper “The Fly By Wire Organization” 2007).   

At this point you are asking what does spoon balancing have to do with the Nexus ?  Well let me explain.  The liquid “viscosity” is the business and IT environment while the “spoon” is the systems.  Jam was the late 80’s and early 90’s where the viscosity of business change and IT systems was relatively high.  Systems delivery was measured in years (average delivery time for mid size system was 2yr 6mo), applications languages and architectures did not lend themselves to rapid change. For most people desk top support meant the legs that held the table up.  The internet had only just started (remember Gopher before WWW ?) no mobile apps, and the closest thing to social media was IRC and USENET.  

Honey is the late 90’s and 00’s where the pace of change picked up rapidly. The internet became all pervasive and mobile computing was taken more seriously.  The business woke up to IT as a business differentiator and CIO’s found “balancing the spoon” was much much harder.  But legacy process and legacy systems acted like a brake and in fact did us a favour by allowing us time to catch our breath and decide which way the “spoon” was falling and what to do about it.          

Now we come to the last jar – water.  This is the period we are moving into now with low business and IT “viscosity”, the period of the digital native, cloud, BYOD, “gold” in the data and everyone connecting to everyone else – in short the Nexus.  Process and capability owners, CIO’s and application managers will not have time to balance the spoon using the old approach’s the pace of change will just be too fast.

So what to do?

First let’s look at the systems. In the future humans will be removed from “balancing the spoon”.  In our last jar (water) imagine if the spoon was somehow self-aware and could change its own direction to keep itself vertical?  Now a spoon cannot do this unless it’s some sort of Hogwarts magic spoon but IT systems can.  Applications can be built in such a way that they can sense their environment, autonomously decide a course of action and monitor the outcome. In the future applications will use many of the techniques associated with agent based systems by being goal directed with learning capabilities.  High frequency trading systems already do this, and I worked on a logistics system that dynamically changed based on the goals of the business without human intervention, and we have networks that can self-diagnose and self-heal.  The application will “balance the spoon” in ways we have never even thought of – the spoons are getting smart. 

The second change is how we react to the lowering of the business and IT viscosity and the demand for faster response.  We are all going to have to get used to a world of continuous delivery where features are added, updated and removed based on customer feedback and big data opportunity’s.  The current shift to agile development, PaaS, iBPMS and DevOps will be the tip of the iceberg. PMO and application governance will have to be continuous and less reliant on stage gates. The application will be managed as products continuously from concept to retirement instead of stop start projects.  We will need to constantly look at our application and projects portfolio to maintain business value and quality.   

The Nexus CIO will have to look at every function from enterprise architecture to help desk and ask how they can add business value on a continuous basis. And the Nexus CIO will have to makes sure that this continuous IT delivery is all joined up end to end. 

There will be a more practical follow up to this blog in the coming months as I take some of the ideas and put them into a systems dynamic model I been working on.  Until then see how long you can balance a spoon in a glass of water, and don’t cheat by using ice !


David Norton
Research Director
7 years at Gartner
25 years IT industry

In his role as research director with Gartner's application development and architecture team, David Norton supports clients by developing and delivering quality and timely research. Read Full Bio

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