Micro-strangulation vs COTS customisation

Over the last couple of posts, we’ve referred to the following diagram and its ability to create a glass ceiling on OSS feature releases:
The increasing percentage of tech debt

Yesterday’s post indicated that the current proliferation of microservices has the potential to amplify the strangulation.

So how does that compare with the previous approach that was built around COTS (Commercial off-the-shelf) OSS packages?

With COTS, the same time-series chart exists, just that it sees the management of legacy, etc fall largely with the COTS vendor, freeing up the service provider… until the service provider starts building customisations and the overhead becomes shared.

With microservices, the rationalisation responsibility is shifted to the in-house (or insourced) microservice developers.

And a third option: If the COTS is actually delivered via a cloud “OSS as a service” (OSSaaS) model, then there’s a greater incentive for the vendor to constantly re-factor and reduce clutter.

A fourth option, which I haven’t actually seen as a business model yet, is once an accumulation of modular microservices begins to grow, vendors might begin to offer microservices as a COTS offering.

10 ways to #GetOutOfTheBuilding

Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup,” has a short chapter entitled, “Get out of the Building.” It basically describes getting away from your screen – away from reading market research, white papers, your business plan, your code, etc – and out into customer-land. Out of your comfort zone and into a world of primary research that extends beyond talking to your uncle (see video below for that reference!).

This concept applies equally well to OSS product developers as it does to start-up entrepreneurs. In fact the concept is so important that the chapter name has inspired it’s own hashtag (#GetOutOfTheBuilding).

This YouTube video provides 10 tips for getting out of the building (I’ve started the clip at Tendai Charasika’s list of 10 ways but you may want to scroll back a bit for his more detailed descriptions).

But there’s one thing that’s even better than getting out of the building and asking questions of customers. After all, customers don’t always tell the complete truth (even when they have good intentions). No, the better research is to observe what they do, not what they say. #ObserveWhatTheyDoNotWhatTheySay

This could be by being out of the building and observing customer behaviour… or it could be through looking at customer usage statistics generated by your OSS. That data might just show what a customer is doing… or not doing (eg customers might do small volume transactions through the OSS user interface, but have a hack for bulk transactions because the UI isn’t efficient at scale).

Not sure if it’s indicative of the industry as a whole, but my experience working for / with vendors is that they don’t heavily subscribe to either of these hashtags when designing and refining their products.

Does your OSS collect primary data to #ObserveWhatTheyDoNotWhatTheySay? If it does, do you ever make use of it? Or do you prefer to talk with your uncle (does he know much about OSS BTW)?

5 principles for your OSS Innovation Lab

Corporate innovation is far more dependent on external collaboration and customer insight than having a ‘lab’.”
Andy Howard
in a fabulous LinkedIn post.

Like so many other industries, OSS is ripe for disruption through innovation. Andy Howard’s post provides a number of sobering statistics for any large OSS vendors thinking of embarking on an Innovation Lab journey as a way of triggering innovation. Andy quotes the New York Times as follows, “The last three years have seen Nordstrom, Microsoft, Disney, Target, Coca-Cola, British Airways and The New York Times either close or dramatically downsize their innovation labs. 90% of innovation labs are failing.”

He also proposes five principles for corporate innovation success (Andy’s comments are in italics, mine follow):

  1. People. Will taking people out of the business and placing them into a new department change their thinking? No way. Those successful in corporate innovation are more entrepreneurial and more customer-centered, and usually come from outside of the organisation.
    Are you identifying (and then leveraging) those with an entrepreneurial bent in your organisation?
  2. Commercial intent. Every innovation project requires a commercial forecast. To progress, a venture must demonstrate how it could ultimately generate at least €100 million in annual revenue from a market worth at least €1 billion, and promise higher profit margins than usual.
    The numbers quoted above come from Daimler’s (wildly successful) Innovation Lab. Have you noticed that they’ve set the bar high for their innovation teams? They’re seeking the moonshots, not the incremental change.
  3. Organisational architecture. Whether it’s an innovation lab or simply an innovation department, separating the innovation team from the rest of the business is important. While the team may be bound by the same organisational policies, separation has cultural benefits. The most critical separation is not in terms of physical space, but in the team’s roles and responsibilities. Having employees attempt to function in both an ‘innovation’ role and ‘business as usual’ role is counterproductive and confusing. Innovation is an exclusive job.
    I’m 50/50 on this one. Having a gemba / coal-face / BAU role provides a much better understanding of real customer challenges. However, having BAU responsibilities can detract from a focus on innovation. The question is how to find a balance that works.
  4. External collaboration. Working with consultants and customers from outside of the organisation has long been a contributor to corporate innovation success. Companies attempting a Silicon Valley-style ‘lone genius’ breakthrough are headed towards failure. P&G’s ‘Connect and Develop’ innovation model, designed to bring outside thinking together with P&G’s own teams, is attributed with helping to double the P&G share price within five years.
    Where do you source your external collaboration on OSS innovation? Dirty or clean consultants? Contractors? Training of staff? Delegating to vendors?
  5. Customer insight. Innovations solve real customer problems. Staying close to customers and getting out of the building is how customer problems are discovered.
    As indicated under point 3 above, how do you ensure your innovators are also deeply connected with the customer psyche? Getting the team out of the ivory tower and onto the customer site is a key here

The biggest moonshot facing OSS today

Moonshot thinking is about making something 10x better. This forces you to throw away the existing assumptions and create something bold and new. Reality will eat into your 10x. At the end of the process it may only be 2x, but that’s still amazing.”
Brian Jansen
‘s Book Summary: “Bold: How To Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World,” by Peter Diamandis & Steven Kotler.

I think the biggest moonshot facing OSS today is the design and implementation of an architecture that allows other moonshots to happen.

Take a moment to reflect on that…

As of today, our OSS tend to be complex, entangled beasts, governed by the chess-board analogy. The entanglement is so profound that we tend to only do small, incremental charges. Moving a single piece on the chess-board takes soooo much planning to avoid negative consequences. lt’s the reason that some of our high-profile OSS probably still contain chunks of code that were written in the 1990’s or 2000’s.

In the world of OSS, the 10x moonshot comes with a risk of delivering -5x not just the 2x mentioned in the quote above.

Having said that, I’m all for a good moonshot project. It might take just one disentanglement moonshot to allow 1000 subsequent moonshots to fire! A disentanglement moonshot like the small-grid approach described here.

6 principles of OSS UI design

When we talk about building capabilities by design, there are a set of four core capabilities that you should keep in mind:

  • Designed for self-sufficiency: Enable an environment where the business user is capable of acquiring, blending, presenting, and visualizing their data discoveries. IT needs to move away from being command and control to being an information broker in a new kind of business-IT partnership that removes barriers, so that users have more options, more empowerment, and greater autonomy.
  • Designed for collaboration: Have tools and platforms that allow people to share and work together on different ideas for review and contribution. This further closes that business-IT gap, establishes transparency, and fosters a collective learning culture.
  • Designed for visualization: Data visualizations have been elevated to a whole new form of communication that leverages cognitive hardwiring, enriches visual discovery, and helps tell a story about data to move from understanding to insight.
  • Designed for mobility: It is not enough to be just able to consume information on mobile devices, instead users must be able to work and play with data “on the go” and make discovery a portable, personalized experience.

Lindy Ryan in the book, “The Visual Imperative: Creating a Visual Culture of Data Discovery.”

When it comes to OSS specifically, I have two additional design principles:

  • Designed for Search – there is so much data in our OSS / BSS suites; some linked, some not; some normalised, some not; some cleansed, some not; This design principle allows abstraction from all those data challenges to allow operators to make psuedo-natural language requests for information. Noting that this could be considered an overlap between points 1 and 3 in the prior list
  • Designed for user journeys – in an omni-channel world, the entry point and traversal of any OSS workflow could cross multiple channels (eg online, retail store, IVR, app, etc). This makes pre-defined workflows almost impossible to design / predict. Instead, on OSS / BSS suite must be able to handle complete flexibility of user journeys between state / event transitions

OSS User Experiences at 3.5 inches

The far-reaching impact of the technology revolution of 2007 with the launch of the Apple iPhone is not to be underestimated. Across every industry, Apple has had a profound influence through the psychological effect of how consumers expect technology to interact with them. People now expect good design as part of their visual communication and interactivity with information. In obsessing over simple, intuitive design, Apple sets a new standard for visual communication. It was necessary to design a completely original visualization experience because when converting from the real estate of a computer monitor to a 3.5-inch screen, smart choices must be made to effectively communicate visually and create intuitive interaction with the device. Not that Apple has always done this perfectly, but it has always focused on aesthetics and the user experience.
Lindy Ryan
in the book, “The Visual Imperative: Creating a Visual Culture of Data Discovery.”

Great point by Lindy Ryan above, but I’d probably suggest that Apple re-set consumer expectations about 5 years earlier with the iPod.  Anyway, here’s what a typical OSS looks like today:
Current OSS UI

Not exactly clean and elegant. Go on. Tell me it’s not true? How many OSS have you used that have a User Interface as cluttered and un-intuitive as the tongue-in-cheek sample shown above?

What if we took the perspective of having to design our OSS for a 3.5″ screen? Would we have to simplify? Would we have to reduce the design and workflows down to their very essence?

Humour me. Just as an experiment, what happens if you set exactly this task to your OSS UI designers (do you even have UI / UX designers or just devs)? Then ask them to expand any learnings back out to the full-sized monitors. I’d love to hear what you come back with.

Put it this way, I’m doubting the designs will be worse.

Big circle. Little circle. Crossing the red line

Data quality is the bane of many a telco. If the data quality is rubbish then the OSS tools effectively become rubbish too.

Feedback loops are one of the most underutilised tools in a data fix arsenal. However, few people realise that there are what I call big circle feedback loops as well as little circles.

The little circle is using feedback in data alone, using data to compare and reconcile other data. That can produce good results, but it’s only part of the story. Many data challenges extend further than that if you’re seeking a resolution.

The big circle is designing feedback loops that incorporate data quality into end-to-end processes, which includes the field-work part of the process.

Redline markups have been the traditional mechanism to get feedback from the field back into improving OSS data. For example, if designers issue a design pack out to field techs that prove to be incorrect, then techs return the design with redline markups to show what they’ve implemented in the field instead.

With mobile technology and the right software tools, field workers could directly update data. Unfortunately this model doesn’t seem to fit into practices that have been around for decades.

There remain great opportunities to improve the efficiency of big circle feedback loops. They probably need a new way of thinking, but still need to fit into the existing context of field workers.

An uncommon list of OSS books

Since reading the first book on this list, I’ve become a very avid and wide-ranging reader. The seeds sown by the book list below have immensely helped enrich the content you see here on the PAOSS blog and other PAOSS content.

You’ll begin to notice a very curious thing about this list though. There are only two books in the entire list that are actually about OSS. I have many OSS books in my library, but most struggle for relevance beyond the author’s frame of reference – they have been written from the specific technical experiences of the author, which are rarely transferable to other OSS. Either the technologies are now out of date and/or the details / terminologies were pertinent only to that OSS time and place. It’s one of the reasons that PAOSS content is specifically intended to abstract from technology and deliver insights, methodologies, processes and frameworks that have a broader relevance and greater longevity (hopefully).

The remaining books in the list have not been written with OSS in mind but definitely provide insights and perspectives that are transferable to the challenges we face in the OSS industry. In no particular order (except the first being the first…)

Rich Dad, Poor DadRich Dad, Poor Dad
by Sharon L. Lechter Robert T. Kiyosaki
This was the book that changed it all for me. Whilst its intent is to educate on personal finance, the effect it had was to lift my eyes beyond the purely technical. Like 95%+ of people in our industry, I had previously only ever focused on delivering the best technical solution I could with the assumption that this would deliver a great customer outcome. I now know that the challenges we face are far  bigger than that!
Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's SuccessInsanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success
by Ken Segall
The greatest OSS (but non-OSS) book I’ve read. The first half of this book in particular delivers powerful examples of simplification at all levels of an organisation as experienced by an advertising executive working alongside Steve Jobs at Apple. The OSS and communications industry need more people who are able to wield the simple stick like Steve did.
ReworkRework
by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
These gentlemen have built a strong business around the Basecamp project management suite of tools. In Rework, just like their blog at 37signals, they provide brilliant contrarian insights into how to run a software business… Or any business for that matter. Efficiency and simplicity are the mantra ahead of the Red-Bull fuelled heroics spouted by many organisations in the software industry. One of my all-time favourite business books.
Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and ActionsEnchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions
by Guy Kawasaki
Guy defines enchantment as, “the process of delighting people with a product, service, organisation or idea. The outcome of enchantment is voluntary and long-lasting support that is mutually beneficial.” If there was ever an industry that was in need of enchantment, it is the OSS industry right now.
Rain: What a Paperboy Learned About BusinessRain: What a Paperboy Learned About Business
by Jeffrey J. Fox
An easy to digest story about a boy with a paper-route learning the key tenets of rainmaking, the ability to delight customers and make sales (and projects) happen.
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any AudienceThe Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience
by Carmine Gallo
There are two acronyms that pervade in the OSS / telco / tech industry; DBA (Death by Acronym) and DBP (Death by Powerpoint). This book provides some stunning insights into how to make a compelling presentation on your latest OSS project.
Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your IndustryKilling Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your Industry
by Stephen Denny
There are a number of goliath incumbents in our industry. However, I suspect that most of the required disruption is coming from the Davids of our industry, despite the burning platforms at the goliaths. Interesting reading for a different perspective on innovation and change.
Jack Welch & The G.E. Way: Management Insights and Leadership Secrets of the Legendary CEOJack Welch & The G.E. Way: Management Insights and Leadership Secrets of the Legendary CEO
by Robert Slater
This book describes a number of key strategies for how Jack Welch pared back the weighty bureaucracy of General Electric upon his ascension to CEO. I suspect our industry needs similarly brutal change leadership to thrive into the future
The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control CostsThe Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control Costs
by Bill Price, David Jaffe
There is a distinct difference between the customer service models of the typical communications service provider (CSP) and digital service providers (DSP) like Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al. Most CSPs can only wish for the level of customer self-service that the DSPs enjoy. I was working on a project for a customer-facing business unit of a CSP whilst reading this book and the parallels were almost scary.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of LessEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown
Think: Less but better. A motto for our industry, one individual at a time.
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of EntrepreneurAnything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur
by Derek Sivers
Derek Sivers was a professional musician before starting his own business, one that helped sell the CDs of the long tail of the music industry, musicians overlooked by the big labels. This might sound barely relevant to the OSS industry but there is an uncommon clarity in the way that Sivers views businesses, customers and delivery. Many of his thoughts really struck a chord with me (bad pun intended).
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy IndustryBrick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry
by David Robertson, Bill Breen
Bespoke creativity took this icon of childrens’ toys to the brink of bankruptcy. Perhaps counter-intuitively, paring it back to the basic building blocks (another bad pun) allowed creativity and profitability to thrive at Lego.
Principles: Life and WorkPrinciples: Life and Work
by Ray Dalio
Built around the principles that Ray Dalio codified at his company, Bridgewater Associates. Many of his principles of team and culture seem like common sense, but helpfully compiled into a single volume. Not all OSS teams have these principles mastered.
Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition IrrelevantBlue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant
by W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne
This book provides frameworks for shifting an organisation out of fragmented, highly competitive markets (bloody red oceans) into a unique market segment (blue oceans). I’ve even added some of the concepts in this book into a framework that helps my clients plot differentiated strategic roadmaps and product evaluations.
Leading ChangeLeading Change
by John P. Kotter
OSS projects are challenging to implement. Through harsh experience, I’ve learnt that even technically perfect implementations are prone to fail if the organisational change effort hasn’t been managed well. Whilst there are newer change management methodologies available, I still find that Kotter’s 8 steps provide a valuable framework for building OSS change management strategies around.
Everything Is Negotiable: How to Get the Best Deal Every TimeEverything Is Negotiable: How to Get the Best Deal Every Time
by Gavin Kennedy
Introduces some fascinating negotiation tactics such as “The Mother Hubbard” (ie the cupboard is bare). There is more negotiation required in OSS than I first gave it credit for.
Endless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts into SalesEndless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts into Sales
by Bob Burg
In the early days of my career, I’d gone from one project to the next, with my head down focusing on delivery. This book opened my eyes to the value of staying in touch with past colleagues and adding value to my network. The results have surprised me so I recommend this book’s teachings to anyone who is purely tech-focused.
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American InnovationThe Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
by Jon Gertner
Put simply, this is probably the most inspiring book I’ve read in relation to the communications industry. The groundbreaking innovations (including OSS) that were developed within R&D powerhouses like Bell Labs during the 1900’s are staggering and something that we can barely even aspire to today. It’s no coincidence that the OSS Call for Innovation references this book
nullLinchpin: Are You Indispensable?
by Seth Godin
A call to action to become a linchpin, someone who delivers in territory where there is no map / rule-book, someone who inspires those around them. OSS needs more linchpins.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others DieMade to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
by Chip Heath, Dan Heath
The term “stickiness” was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point.” This book borrows the term and looks to explain why an idea or concept remains sticky. OSS tend to be so sticky, in many cases to the detriment of the customer experience, but our industry is also in desperate need for powerfully sticky new ideas and approaches.
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About ItThe E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
by Michael E. Gerber
The ideas in this book are based on growing small businesses, but there are certainly take-aways for OSS. The biggest for me is the need for repeatability. We need to codify and systematise if we are to refine and improve.
Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being RemarkablePurple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable
by Seth Godin
In a cluttered or fragmented marketplace, like OSS, it is difficult to stand out from all other suppliers. Seth Godin introduces the concept of the purple cow – when you’re on a long trip in the countryside, seeing lots of brown or black cows soon gets boring, but if you saw a purple cow, you’d immediately take notice. This book provides the impetus to make your products stand out and drive word of mouth rather than having to differentiate via your marketing.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True InspirationCreativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace
From the creative brilliance of Pixar Studios comes this book of how to cultivate inspired creativity. My biggest take-away was the amount of time and money Pixar spends on upgrading its hardware and software platforms between films…. unlike some of our OSS that are still rooted in tech from the 1990s.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New RichThe 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
by Timothy Ferriss
Starts off strongly but drops away rapidly in the second half IMHO. The words of a friend of mine aptly paraphrase what Tim Ferris talks about in this book, “Only do what only you can do.” Prioritise your efforts on what make you truly unique and use other efficiency tools and/or engage others to do the rest
OSS Essentials: Support System Solutions for Service ProvidersOSS Essentials: Support System Solutions for Service Providers
by Kornel Terplan
Finally, a book that’s actually about OSS. Whilst covering some obsolete technologies, this is one of the very few OSS books that retains a longevity of relevance (it was published in 2001)
Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional's Guide to Growing a Practice, Fifth EditionMillion Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice, Fifth Edition
by Alan Weiss
Alan Weiss has the ability to cut through the waffle that’s offered in many consultancy how-to manuals. He provides insightful and often contrarian advice that will make you a more professional consultant, no matter what area of expertise you cover.
Mastering your OSS: Operational Support System Implementation Tips and TechniquesMastering your OSS: Operational Support System Implementation Tips and Techniques
by Ryan Jeffery
This is the best OSS book that I’ve written (so far), but with new material in the pipeline, watch this space for even better publications. It provides the frameworks, processes, insights and recommendations that will help guide you through the myriad of challenges, technical or otherwise, that you will face in the world of OSS.
Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of AllPower Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All
by Bernard T. Ferrari
Bernard Ferrari advises the use of the Pareto Principle to listening. In other words, spending 80% of the time listening and only 20% talking. It’s such an important trait for all technical resources, yet perhaps somewhat uncommon unfortunately. As the “hired gun,” there is a tendency to start firing from both barrels verbally as soon as you meet with the customer. But the most insightful insights are the ones that are understandable to the customer. They have to be relevant in terminology, desired outcomes, roles/responsibilities, respective capabilities, etc, etc. You only get that context from Power Listening.
The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable WorldThe Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World
by Frans Johansson
Johansson also introduces the concept of the “smallest executable step” as a mechanism for harnessing the apparent randomness of our modern, rapidly changing world. He suggests that we make many small bets rather than one massive bet as a means of improving success rates. OSS are complex systems so any small deviation makes predictions of completion time, resources and cost difficult. As implementers, it’s our job to remove as much complexity as possible
 Harder Than I Thought: Adventures of a Twenty-First Century LeaderHarder Than I Thought: Adventures of a Twenty-First Century Leader
by Robert D. Austin, Richard L. Nolan
More than anything else, one paragraph has stuck with me from this guide to project change leadership, “….once you start a company transformation, it’s like a stampede. If you try to lead from the front, you get trampled; if you try to lead from the back, you have no impact. Best to lead from the side by carefully nudging and turning the stampede to avoid everyone going over the cliff.”
Waging War on Complexity Costs: Reshape Your Cost Structure, Free Up Cash Flows and Boost Productivity by Attacking Process, Product and Organizational ComplexityWaging War on Complexity Costs: Reshape Your Cost Structure, Free Up Cash Flows and Boost Productivity by Attacking Process, Product and Organizational Complexity
by Stephen A. Wilson, Andrei Perumal.
Amongst other things, this book introduces the concept of The Whale Curve, a model that breaks products into the profitable or the cannibalistic.
Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic OrderCryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order
by Paul Vigna, Michael J. Casey
You may (or may not) be interested in cryptocurrencies right now, but this book provides brilliant context for two concepts that are likely to have a big impact on future OSS – blockchains and smart contracts.

What have I missed? What should I be adding to my reading list? Alternatively, which books on the list do you think I’ve over-rated?

This is NEVER going to happen

Have you noticed all the recent headlines about the big, iconic brands in our industry struggling to make targets, cutting headcounts, etc.? This covers vendors and service providers alike.

As a complete generalisation:

  • Vendors are going backwards
  • Traditional CSPs are going backwards
  • Profit decline means projects and investments in OSS can only be trending downwards too

We know it’s a burning platform. We know that the current arc isn’t working. We know that change isn’t just an option, but a necessity.

Given this environment, today I’ll talk about an idea that will never happen, but I’d love to imagine just for the purpose of experimentation – to see whether it would disrupt in a positive way or just cause destruction.

The one big impetus we need is increasing eyeballs on a smaller number of OSS (ie decreasing fragmentation) – a critical mass of eyeballs on a smaller number of code bases. That means all the big, but flailing OSS vendors throw their code over to an independent arbiter to make a unified, powerful core product suite that then becomes open-sourced.

The core manages inventory, alarms, performance, workflows, service ordering, provisioning, security, scalability, APIs and all the other elements of a foundational OSS.

The vendors can then just innovate and differentiate with add-ins and services and content since there’s currently marginal differentiation in the core anyway (ie everyone has the “entry” functionality).

What are your completely contrarian ideas that will never happen but you’d like to trial just to see the outcomes?

Dirty tickets done dirt cheap

The only way to get rid of Dirty Tickets of Work (DToW) is to get rid of Tickets of Work (ToW)

DToW is terminology used in Telstra to indicate that incorrect information has been entered into the ToW or where the field tech hasn’t been able to complete the ToW as originally designed / planned. I’m not sure if only Telstra uses this terminology. I haven’t heard it used at any other service provider I’ve worked at.

A DToW is an important metric because it effectively means the job has just got more expensive due to quality issues. lt probably means re- design effort,perhaps data audit / remediation and an extra truck roll… at a minimum.

I love the concept and am proposing to extend it to other workflows like Dirty Service Orders, Dirty Trouble Tickets, Dirty API calls, Dirty Processing (fall-outs), etc.

Because of the quality / cost implications, many very clever people have spent a lot of effort wrestling with solutions to this problem. Technical solutions, process solutions, data solutions, user interface solutions. To my knowledge, the problem remains to be solved, not just at Telstra, but at every other Telco that uses a different name for the same metric.

Now we could take the traditional (eg Six Sigma) approach, which is improving the quality of all the ingredients of a ToW. Or, we could take the lightbulb perspective posed in the opening quote and ask how we can build a solution that doesn’t require ToWs or SOs or TTs, etc.

That might just start a revolution for OSS.

How do we get to zero field work? Ubiquitous and over-provisioned connectivity, virtualised networks and CPE (vCPE) and colour-palette solution simplicity are surely a starting point. Blanket wireless networks and a greater use of feedback loop thinking probably help too.

How do we get to no service orders? I’m thinking consumption-based billing here, not your first reaction – thinking I’m espousing free use. But perhaps free use is an option as there are plenty of other revenue models available to clever service providers.

How do we get to no trouble tickets?
Self-healing, highly resilient, elastic networks (and OSS). Also, robotic event processing and automated pattern-recognition / decision-support / root-cause. The perspective here is a “no moving parts” electronics analogy – where Solid State Drives (SSD) tend to be more reliable than spinning drives.

Hat tip to Roger Gibson again for seeding a couple of ideas here.

The PAOSS Call for Innovation has been released

I’ve been promising to release an OSS Call for Innovation, a manifesto of what OSS can become – a manifesto that also describes areas where exponential improvements are just waiting to happen .

It can be found here:
http://passionateaboutoss.com/oss-call-for-innovation/
And you’ll also notice that it’s a new top-level menu item here on PAOSS.

Each time I’ve released one of these vision-statement style reports in the past, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that some of the visions are already being worked on by someone in the industry.

Are there any visions that I’ve overlooked? I’d love to see your comments on the page and spread the word on all the amazing innovations that you’re working on and/or dreaming about.

Who can make your OSS dance?

OSS tend to be powerful software suites that can do millions of things. Experts at the vendors / integrators know how to pull the puppet’s strings and make it dance. As a reader of PAOSS, chances are that you are one of those experts. I’ve sat through countless vendor demonstrations, but I’m sure you’ll still be able to wow me with a demo of what your OSS can do.

Unfortunately, most OSS users don’t have that level of expertise, nor experiences or training, to pull all of your OSS‘s strings. Most only use the tiniest sub-set of functionality.

If we look at the millions of features of your OSS in a decision tree format, how easy will it be for the regular user to find a single leaf on your million-leaf tree? To increase complexity further, OSS workflows actually require the user group to hop from one leaf, to another, to another. Perhaps it’s not even as conceptually simple as a tree structure, but a complex inter-meshing of leaves. That’s a lot of puppet-strings to know and control.

A question for you – You can make your OSS dance, but can your customers / users?

What can you do to assist users to navigate the decision tree? A few thoughts below:

  1. Prune the decision tree – chances are that many of the branches of your OSS are never / rarely used, so why are they there?
  2. Natural language search – a UI that allows users to just ask questions. The tool interprets those questions and navigates the tree by itself (ie it abstracts the decision tree from the user, so they never need to learn how to navigate it)
  3. Use decision support – machine assistance to guide users in navigating efficiently through the decision tree
  4. Restrict access to essential branches – design the GUI to ensure a given persona can only see the clusters of options they will use (eg via the use of role-based functionality filtering)

I’d love to hear your additional thoughts how to make it easier for users to make your  (their) OSS dance.

Linus’s Law of OSS defects

Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”
Eric S. Raymond
, whose quote is now known as Linus’ Law in honour of Linus Torvalds.

In other words, if you have enough people looking at the code, someone will surely categorise the problem and then the community will also figure out a way to solve it.

The fragmentation of the OSS industry means that OSS eyeballs are spread across thousands of code bases. Based on the inverse of Linus’ Law, there’s an implication that OSS bugs are deep. In fact, there are so many defects and/or enhancements waiting to be resolved across our industry that only the highest priority tickets tend to get any eyeballs at all.

The open-source revolution has ensured that the code of the most important applications (I use the word “important” figuratively) get lots of eyeballs. It’s one of the reasons that I believe the next OSS revolution will come about when an open-source OSS (an OSS OSS??) starts getting a critical mass of eyeballs. That OSS OSS just needs to be compelling enough to draw the eyeballs to it.

This is one of the pillars in the Call for Innovation that will be released here on PAOSS shortly.

Call for Innovation by Swisscom, Telia and Proximus

Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) are about to transform and disrupt the network operator industry.

That’s why Swisscom, Telia Company and Proximus, three leading telco providers from across Europe, are jointly issuing this unique Call for Innovation and invite startups and innovators developing “Next Generation Virtual Telco Functions & Services (SDN / NFV 2.0)” to apply until 23 October 2016.

The best startups will be able to pitch their solution in front of an expert jury and have the chance to be selected for a PoC project and future collaboration with all three telcos..
What we are looking for

The topics considered for this call are related to SDN/NFV development within the telecommunication industry. The baseline infrastructure for SDN/NFV is available and is largely based on the de-facto standards and open source-based systems of OpenStack/OPNVF/CloudFoundry. The next steps and next wave of innovations should be using that infrastructure for new networking functions, cloud-native implementation of existing network functions, and new Telco services we could offer in the market.”

From http://call-for-innovation.com/sdn-nfv

Let me start out with an apology. This is old news. The Swisscom / Telia Company / Proximus Call for Innovation closed nearly a year ago. However, I’m bringing it to your attention for what it means to the telco industry. It’s acknowledging that traditional suppliers to telcos are not always servicing the need for innovative approaches to the problems the telcos are facing. It’s targeting the long tail of innovation.

Whilst this is specifically seeking SDN/NFV innovations, what does a Call for Innovation look like for OSS? Keep an eye out here on PAOSS, as I’ll be publishing an OSS Call for Innovation shortly.

One of the biggest insights we had…

One of the biggest insights we had was that we decided not to try to manage your music library on the iPod, but to manage it in iTunes. Other companies tried to do everything on the device itself and made it so complicated that it was useless.”
Steve Jobs
.

How does this insight apply to OSS? Can this “off device” perspective help us in designing better OSS?

Let’s face it – many OSS are bordering on useless due to the complexity that’s build in to the user experience. So what complexity can we take off the “device?” Let’s start by saying “the device” is the UI of our OSS (although noting the off-device perspective could be viewed much more broadly than that).

What are the complexities that we face when using an OSS;

  • The process of order entry / service design / service parameters / provisioning can be time consuming and prone to errors,
  • Searching / choosing / tracing resources, particularly on large networks, can result in very slow response times,
  • Navigating through multiple layers of inventory in CLI or tabular forms can be challenging,
  • Dealing with fixed processes that don’t accommodate the many weird and wonderful variants that we encounter
  • Dealing with workflows that cross multiple integration boundaries and slip through the cracks,
  • Analysing data that is flawed generally produces flawed results
  • Identifying the proverbial needle in the haystack when something goes wrong
  • And many, many more

How can we take some of those complexities “off-device”

  • Abstracting order and provisioning complexity through the use of catalogs and auto-populating as many values as possible,
  • Using augmented decision support to assist operators through complex processes, choosing from layers of resources, finding root-causes to problems, etc,
  • Using event-based processes that traverse process states rather than fixed processes, particularly where omni-channel interactions are available to customers
  • Using inventory discovery (and automated build-up / tear-down in virtualised networks) and decision support to present simpler navigations and views of resources
  • Off-device data grooming / curation to make data analysis more intuitive on-device
  • etc

In effect, we’re describing the tasks of an “on-device” persona (typically day-to-day OSS operators that need greater efficiency) and “off-device” persona/s (these are typically OSS admins, configuration experts, integrators, data scientists, UI/UX experts, automation developers, etc who tune the OSS).

The augmented analytics journey

Smart Data Discovery goes beyond data monitoring to help business users discover subtle and important factors and identify issues and patterns within the data so the organization can identify challenges and capitalize on opportunities. These tools allow business users to leverage sophisticated analytical techniques without the assistance of technical professionals or analysts. Users can perform advanced analytics in an easy-to-use, drag and drop interface without knowledge of statistical analysis or algorithms. Smart Data Discovery tools should enable gathering, preparation, integration and analysis of data and allow users to share findings and apply strategic, operational and tactical activities and will suggest relationships, identifies patterns, suggests visualization techniques and formats, highlights trends and patterns and helps to forecast and predict results for planning activities.

Augmented Data Preparation empowers business users with access to meaningful data to test theories and hypotheses without the assistance of data scientists or IT staff. It allows users access to crucial data and Information and allows them to connect to various data sources (personal, external, cloud, and IT provisioned). Users can mash-up and integrate data in a single, uniform, interactive view and leverage auto-suggested relationships, JOINs, type casts, hierarchies and clean, reduce and clarify data so that it is easier to use and interpret, using integrated statistical algorithms like binning, clustering and regression for noise reduction and identification of trends and patterns. The ideal solution should balance agility with data governance to provide data quality and clear watermarks to identify the source of data.

Augmented Analytics automates data insight by utilizing machine learning and natural language to automate data preparation and enable data sharing. This advanced use, manipulation and presentation of data simplifies data to present clear results and provides access to sophisticated tools so business users can make day-to-day decisions with confidence. Users can go beyond opinion and bias to get real insight and act on data quickly and accurately.”
The definitions above come from a post by Kartik Patel entitled, “What is Augmented Analytics and Why Does it Matter?.”

Over the years I’ve loved playing with data and learnt so much from it – about networks, about services, about opportunities, about failures, about gaps, etc. However, modern statistical analysis techniques fall into one of the categories described in “You have to love being incompetent“, where I’m yet to develop the skills to a comfortable level. Revisiting my fifth year uni mathematics content is more nightmare than dream, so if augmented analytics tools can bypass the stats, I can’t wait to try them out.

The concepts described by Kartik above would take those data learning opportunities out of the data science labs and into the hands of the masses. Having worked with data science labs in the past, the value of the information has been mixed, all dependent upon which data scientist I dealt with. Some were great and had their fingers on the pulse of what data could resolve the questions asked. Others, not so much.

I’m excited about augmented analytics, but I’m even more excited about the layer that sits on top of it – the layer that manages, shares and socialises the aggregation of questions (and their answers). Data in itself doesn’t provide any great insight. It only responds when clever questions are asked of it.

OSS data has an immeasurable number of profound insights just waiting to be unlocked, so I can’t wait to see where this relatively nascent field of augmented analytics takes us.

Deciding whether to PoC or to doc

As recently discussed with two friends and colleagues, Raman and Darko, Proofs of Concept (PoC) or Minimum Viable Product (MVP) implementations can be a double-edged sword.

By building something without fully knowing the end-game, you are potentially building tech-debt that may be very difficult to work around without massive (or complete) overhaul of what you’ve built.

The alternative is to go through a process of discovery to build a detailed document showing what you think the end product might look like.

I’m all for leaving important documentation behind for those who come after us, for those who maintain the solutions we create or for those who build upon our solutions. But you’ll notice the past-tense in the sentence above.

There are pros and cons with each approach, but I tend to believe in documentation in the “as-built” sense. However, there is a definite need for some up-front diagrams/docs too (eg inspiring vision statements, use cases, architecture diagrams, GUI/UX designs, etc).

The two biggest reasons I find for conducting PoCs are:

  • Your PoC delivers something tangible, something that stakeholders far and wide can interact with to test assumptions, usefulness, usability, boundary cases, etc. The creation of a doc can devolve into an almost endless set of “what-if” scenarios and opinions, especially when there are large groups of (sometimes militant) stakeholders
  • You’ve already built something – your PoC establishes the momentum that is oh-so-vital on OSS projects. Even if you incur tech-debt, or completely overhaul what you’ve worked on, you’re still further into the delivery cycle than if you spend months documenting. Often OSS change management can be a bigger obstacle than the technical challenge and momentum is one of change management’s strongest tools

I’m all for deep, reflective thinking but that can happen during the PoC process too. To paraphrase John Kennedy, “Don’t think, don’t hope, (don’t document), DO!” 🙂

OSS brand building with the simple stick

Today’s consumers want to get the best prices, but offering your brand at a discount can undermine profits and threaten viability. Smart brands utilize strategies to create and sustain a meaningful difference that helps consumers justify spending more.”
Nigel Hollis
, in his PoV on branding.

I once read a statistic that at one point Apple owned 6.5% of the total handset market, but accounted for 75% of the entire industry’s operating profit. Now that’s a premium brand!

Whilst some in the OSS industry may claim their brand is the strongest, none come close to having the fanatic customer base that Apple has built. This makes me ponder what it would take to create a truly premium OSS brand.

People buy a premium brand for the enjoyment it brings them, either in the experience, the status, the prestige, the satisfaction of having a need met efficiently and probably many other variants on these reasons.

Three questions for you:

  1. For how many customers is the OSS buying experience an enjoyable one?
  2. For how many customers is the implementation / integration experience an enjoyable one?
  3. For how many customers is the user experience an enjoyable one?

Actual customer experiences in relation to the questions above might be 1) Confusing, 2) Arduous and 3) Unintuitive.

I’m going to take a completely contrarian view because the status quo clearly isn’t working. This contrarian view focuses squarely on simplicity. It seems that our developers are always building new functionality. However, most of the OSS functionality that users will ever need has already been around for decades. Rather than new functionality, how about a focus on making old functionality vastly more simple?

Rather than with Engineers, how about beating OSS with the simple stick by engaging marketers, designers, artists, stylists – the creatives – to improve the three experiences above?

Increasing the percentage of digital revenues

Digital revenues
The diagram above comes from research by AT Kearney and Delta Partners courtesy of an article by Mark Newman of TM Forum.

It provides an interesting perspective on CSPs‘ ability to “compete” with a broader, more digitally native group of service providers.

The golden age for CSPs was when they transported data from point A to point B (ie data and voice services) and people performed the value-add on top of those communications (ie business development, marketing, etc). DSPs have disrupted this model by now providing the value-added as digital services on top of base comms services (ie the over-the-top play).

The breadth of OTT services means that CSPs can’t possibly create the whole long tail of offerings. However, like DoCoMo, they can create partnerships and/or platforms that support the long tail of third-party offerings. It’s no coincidence that DoCoMo is the clear leader in the graph above as they have a long history of deriving revenues from third-party partnerships.

The question for an industry where 3.8% of revenues are from digital sources is not so much how to transition to an OTT model themselves, but how to provide digital delivery platforms that support third-party revenue streams and to do so more profitably (for all parts of the supply chain).

In desperate search of OSS flow

Flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.”
Wikipedia.

It’s almost definitely no coincidence that a majority of the achievements I’m most proud of within the context of OSS have been originated outside business hours. I strongly believe it all comes down to flow. In a day that is punctuated by meeting after meeting, there is no flow, no ability to get into deep focus. In the world of transaction-based doing, there is rarely the opportunity to generate flow.

Every OSS project I’ve worked on has been in desperate need of innovation. That’s not a criticism, but a statement of the whole industry having so many areas in which improvement is possible. But on your current and/or past projects, how many have fostered an environment where deep focus was possible for you or your colleagues? Where have your greatest achievements been spawned from?

Jason Fried of Basecamp and 37signals fame is an advocate of building an environment where flow can happen and starts with manager and meeting minimisation. The best managers I’ve worked with have been great at facilitating flow for their teams and buffered them from the M&M noise.

How can we all build an OSS environment where the thinkers get more time to think… about improving every facet of ideating, creating, building and implementing?