Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Briefings Direct Podcast

I recorded another podcast about my book, SOA Governance, and also a little bit of discussion on President-Elect Obama’s call for a federal CTO. This was part of Dana Garnder’s Briefings Direct Insights Edition, sponsored by Active Endpoints. Joining the podcast with myself and Dana were Jim Kobielus of Forrester Research and Tony Baer of Ovum.

Listen to the podcast. Download the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Read a full transcript of the discussion. Purchase the book.

We need a CIO and CTO of the USA

In a soon-to-be-released podcast I did with Dana Gardner, Tony Baer, and Jim Kobielus, we briefly discussed the topic of President-Elect Obama’s desire to create a federal CTO position. Some articles are now coming out about this topic, including this one on ZDNet’s Between The Lines blog, this one from Business Week, and this one from the Wall Street Journal. Unlike these articels, I’m not going to pontificate on who might make a good CTO of the USA. Rather, I’m interested in what a CTO of the USA must do, and whether one person is enough.

One of the very early decisions that will help determine the right person for this role is whether the whole take on technology will be inwardly focused or externally focused. Compare this to SOA adoption in an enterprise. Two common questions that must be addressed are, “how do I build services the right way?” and “how do I build the right services?” Both of these questions are important. The first is more inwardly focused, the second is more externally focused. What is the more pressing question for the CTO of the USA? Is more about fixing the way we leverage information technology within the federal government and its multitude of agencies? Or, is this more about how the government makes information technology services available to the constituents?

Interestingly, if we look at President-Elect Obama’s policies in this space, he actually addresses both sides of this, but only one of them references the creation of a CTO position. Both of them are under the header of “Create a Transparent and Connected Democracy.” The first bullet item in this section is “Open Up Government to its Citizens.” Specific actions (not all are listed here) he calls out include:

  • Making government data available online in universally accessible formats to allow citizens to make use of that data to comment, derive value, and take action in their own communities.
  • Establishing pilot programs to open up government decision-making and involve the public in the work of agencies …
  • Lifting the veil from secret deals in Washington with a web site, a search engine, and other web tools…
  • Employing technologies, including blogs, wikis and social networking tools, to modernize internal, cross-agency, and public communication and information sharing to improve government decision-making.

Clearly, this seems all about the external view of the federal government and its interaction with the constituents. Note, however, that there is no mention of the CTO position in this bullet point. Where the CTO is mentioned is in the next bullet point, “Bring Government into the 21st Century.” Here, he calls out:

  • Appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century.
  • The CTO will have a specific focus on transparency… The CTO will also focus on using new technologies to solicit and receive information back from citizens to improve the functioning of democratic government
  • The CTO will … ensure technological interoperability of key government functions.

The bullet items here are much more inwardly focused, with the exception of the “also focus” portion of the second one.

I think these two areas actually each require their own dedicated attention. Interesting, the two articles I mentioned earlier that call out people for the CTO role are all tapping the private sector for people that would seemingly be more appropriate for handling the portions of President-Elect Obama’s policies on opening up government to its citizens, the externally-focused portion. For the role where the CTO position is called out, the important factor here seems to be an ability to implement consistent technologies and interoperable messaging across all of the federal agencies. While you can argue that an outsider may be required to actually get these legacy agencies to change, I would think that someone with strong familiarity with the operation of these federal agencies is going to be critical.

What I think would be the perfect situation would be to have both a federal CIO and a federal CTO. The CIO would likely come from the private sector and be focused on opening up the government to its citizens through the use of information technology. The CTO, on the other hand, would have more experience in the public sector and would be focused on fixing things on the inside to ensure the goals of the CIO and the administration can be met.

One final comment on this. In this blog, Jim Kobelius calls out the need for an “online presidential scorecard.” The fourth process of governance that I define is “measure and feedback,” so I think a scorecard makes great sense, although I also think that this could be a very difficult scorecard to create and make consumable for the average citizen. That sounds like a great task for a federal CIO tasked with opening up government to its citizens. What better way to show transparency than to present a scorecard that shows how the administration is viewing its own efforts toward its goals.

Go out and vote

No SOA Governance today, it is all about the governance of the United States. Look at the people, the policies they will put in place, and the processes used to support them, and then place your vote!

Policies and SOA Governance

Unless you’re completely disconnected from mainstream media, you’ve certainly heard the word “policy” in the news recently. It’s been frequently prefaced with two additional words: “failed economic” as in “the failed economic policies of this administration.” With this, there should be no doubt that there is a connection between policy and governance. Policies are the rules that, if followed, should lead to the desired behavior for an organization. In the case of the current financial crisis, economic policies are ones that should lead to the desired behavior of the economy.

The current situation actually serves as a very good example for a discussion on policy and governance. First off, I’ve yet to hear any of the candidates call out the specific policies that they believe were wrong. The closest that they have come is to attack the deregulation that went on the 90’s. Now, you can argue that deregulation is a policy. In effect, it’s a policy that says, “We’re going to make this domain someone else’s responsibility” and that’s perfectly all right. If your view of governance is that it’s all about decision rights, this is in line with that approach. The policies don’t end there, however. The next policy that could be examined is the lending policies of the institutions that gave mortgages to people who had no hope of ever paying them off. My personal opinion is that this is the failed policy, which wasn’t a policy put in place by democrats or republicans, but by the lending institutions.

Now that the candidates are now trying to offer solutions for the situation, it shows that there are many ways of addressing the fact that the desired economic behavior is not being achieved. We can certainly change the people involved, and I think there’s an underlying assumption that with a change in people, the policies will change too. Second, we can change the policies. In this example, there are two areas for change, however. Changing the policies around regulation only changes who can set the policies around lending. It could be just as easy for a different set of people to keep the same bad lending policies in place. The second area is the lending policies used by the banks. Clearly, changes here would certainly stop the bleeding, so to speak. Finally, we can change the processes. Perhaps the lending policies on paper were fine, but were routinely ignored. Putting more rigid enforcement and auditing in place would be one way of addressing this.

So how does all of this apply to SOA Governance? The same general approach is applicable to the world of SOA governance. If you’re not getting the desired outcome from your SOA efforts, then perhaps you need to look at the policies you have that govern your SOA efforts. Have you “deregulated” your SOA and simply expect your projects to do the right thing? Do those projects care about the greater corporate economy, or are they simply concerned about the project “shareholders” and focused on delivering on-time and on-budget and nothing else? Perhaps the problem isn’t that critical, but the efforts are disjointed. A centralization of policy administration into a Center of Excellence may be in order. Or, perhaps the policies are there, but aren’t being followed, so a change in processes is needed. Finally, it could be in such dire straits that a complete change in leadership is needed. In my opinion, however, it all begins with policies. If you’re not getting the results you want, take a look at the policies you have (or the lack thereof). Either the policies are not yielding the results desired, or the policies are not being followed. If the latter, look at your processes and make changes there. If the former, you need a policy change. Your current SOA leadership can change the policies, or if they are blind to the problems in front of them, then make a change to the leadership to people that will put new policies in place. A change in personnel with no corresponding change to policies or processes is no change, and a change in personnel without an analysis of the policies they will put in place to determine if they will yield the desired behavior will also fail.

Want to learn more about governance as people, policies, and process? Check out my book on SOA Governance available now from Packt Publishing, and from other online book stores soon!

Lobbyists and Governance

I’ve had this topic on my list for some time now. I’ve used analogies to municipal/local/state/federal governance in past posts, and in a conversation someone made a comment that they thought I was going to continue the analogy on to include lobbyists. I made a mental note, because I knew there were definitely some parallels that could make for good blog fodder.

So, in a typical government, what do lobbyists do? In a nutshell, they do whatever they can to influence the policy makers to establish policies that are benefits the lobbyists or whoever they represent. In general, I think most individual voters probably have a negative view of lobbyists, except those whose beliefs happen to align with their own. So, are they a good thing or a bad thing?

Let’s come back to the whole purpose of governance. My definition of governance is that is the combination of people, policies, and processes that an entity utilizes to achieve a desired behavior. People set policies and processes ensure they are followed. As a reminder, enforcement processes are only one subset of processes that can be used. An organization could just as easily focus on education processes rather than enforcement and achieve the desired behavior. I stated earlier that lobbyists try to influence the policy makers (people) to establish policies in the interest of the lobbyists. Where this becomes a problem is when the people involved in governance lose sight of the objective of governance. Lobbyists are frequently associated with or simply referred to as “special interests.” By that term alone, there’s an obvious risk. Policies should be set to achieve the desired behavior of the organization, not the desired behavior of any special interest.

This is actually a frequent problem in the typical corporate enterprise. The first potential scenario is when the desired behavior of the enterprise isn’t well defined. Therefore, the policy makers won’t base their policies on enterprise behavior, but rather on the desired behavior of the people in the organization who have their ear (the lobbyists). This can go down a really bad path, because it’s likely to lead to infighting within the governance structure, and most likely ineffective governance.

The second scenario is when the desired behavior of the organization is well known to the policy makers, but not to the rest of the organization. Once again, the rest of the organization will operate like a bunch of lobbyists, trying to sway policy in their direction so they can do what they think is best. The governance team will likely be perceived as being in an ivory tower and out of touch. The real problem in this scenarion is that the constituents in the enterprise don’t know what the desired behavior is, and as a result, they’re guessing. Some will be right, many will be wrong, and all will be unhappy.

A third scenario, which can’t be forgotten is the role of vendors and other third parties. Once again, their vested interest is not in your desired behavior, but theirs. Buy our products, buy our services. You need to be in control of the desired behavior and choose vendors and services that are in alignment, rather than letting them try to change your policies to something more amenable to them.

The whole point of this is that the presence of lobbyists in the entity being governed has the potential for problems. If you see a lot of lobbying in your organization, the first place to go back to is your desired behavior. If that behavior is well understood by the organization, your need for active enforcement should be far less because people understand and want to do the right thing. If the desired behavior isn’t known by the governors or the constituents, you’ve open the doors to outside influence and controversy. This doesn’t imply that a governor shouldn’t have advisors, but the first question that should always be asked is, “Is this action consistent with the desired behavior we want?”

Perception Management

James McGovern frequently uses the term “perception management” in his blog, and there’s no doubt that it’s a function that most enterprise architects have to do. It’s an incredibly difficult task, however. Everyone is going to bring some amount of vested interests to the table, and when there’s conflict in those interests, that can create a challenge.

A recent effort I was involved in required me to facilitate a discussion around several options. I was putting together some background material for the discussion, and started grouping points into pros and cons. I quickly realized, however, that by doing so, I was potentially making subjective judgements on those points. What I may have considered a positive point, someone else may have considered it a negative point. If there isn’t agreement on what’s good and what’s bad, you’re going to have a hard time. In the end, I left things as pros and cons, since I had a high degree of confidence that the people involved had this shared understanding, but I made a mental note to be cautious about using this approach when the vested interests of the participants are an unknown.

This whole space of perception management is very interesting to me. More often than not, the people with strong, unwavering opinions tend to attract more attention. Just look at the political process. It’s very difficult for a moderate to gain a lot of attention, while someone who is far to the left or far to the right can easily attract it. At the same time, when the elections are over, the candidates typically have to move back toward the middle to get anything done. Candidates who are in the middle get accused of flip-flopping. Now, put this in the context of a discussion facilitator. The best facilitator is probably one who has no interests of his or her own, but who is able to see the interests of all involved, pointing out areas of commonality and contention. In other words, they’re the flip-floppers.

I like acting as a facilitator, because I feel like I’ve had a knack for putting myself in someone else’s shoes. I think it’s evident in the fact that you don’t see me putting too many bold, controversial statements up on this blog, but rather talking about the interesting challenges that exist in getting things done. At the same time, I really like participating in the discussions because it drives me nuts when people won’t take a position and just muddle along with indecision. It’s hard to participate and facilitate at the same time.

My parting words on the subject come from my Dad. Back in those fun, formative high school years as I struggled through all of the social dynamics of that age group, my Dad told me, “you can’t control what other people will do or think, you can only control your own thoughts or actions.” Now, while some may read this and think that this means you’re free to be an arrogant jerk and not give a hoot what anyone thinks about you, I took it a different way. First and foremost, you do have to be confident in your own thoughts and beliefs. This is important, because if you don’t have certain ideals and values on who you want to be, then you’re at risk for being someone that will sacrifice anything just to gain what it is you desire, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Second, the only way to change people’s perception of you is by changing your own actions, not by doing the same thing the same way, and hoping they see the light. I can’t expect everyone to read the topics in this blog and suddenly change their IT departments. Some may read it and not get it at all. Some may. For those that don’t, I may need to pursue other options for demonstrating the principles and thus change their perceptions. At the same time, there will always be those who are set in their ways because they have a fundamental different set of values. Until they choose to change those values, your energy is best spent elsewhere.

Don’t vote? Don’t complain.

On my way home from work today, the news on the radio was talking about how the precincts in my area were seeing a voter turnout of 30-40%, and viewing it as a good thing. I think it is pathetic. There are many countries where individual citizens don’t have the right to vote, and here we can’t even get a simple majority to show up, and that’s only of the people who have taken the time to register. My parents always voted, and I’m proud to do the same, no matter how insignificant a particular ballot might be. My Dad told me, “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain if you don’t like the way things turned out.” Think of what could happen in the current political races if even half of those non-voters cast their ballot. I exercised my right this morning. While most Super-Duper Tuesday polls will have closed when this gets read, I hope those of you who live in areas that haven’t voted yet do the right thing and cast your ballot.


This blog represents my own personal views, and not those of my employer or any third party. Any use of the material in articles, whitepapers, blogs, etc. must be attributed to me alone without any reference to my employer. Use of my employers name is NOT authorized.