Using Software Value to Drive Organizational Transformation

I was delighted to read a thought leadership article from McKinsey recently, “How to start building your next-generation operating model,” that emphasizes some key themes that I have been pushing for years (the quotes below are from the article):

  • The importance of orienting the organization around value streams to maximize the flow of business value – “One credit-card company, for example, shifted its operating model in IT from alignment around systems to alignment with value streams within the business.
  • Perfection is the enemy of good enough – “Successful companies prioritize speed and execution over perfection.
  • Continuous improvement relies on metrics to identify which incremental, experimental improvements work and which don’t.  Benchmarking and trend analysis help to prioritize areas where process improvement can offer the most business value – “Performance management is becoming much more real time, with metrics and goals used daily and weekly to guide decision making.”
  • Senior leaders, “hold themselves accountable for delivering on value quickly, and establish transparency and rigor in their operations.
  • “Leading technology teams collaborate with business leaders to assess which systems need to move faster.”

Using Software Value to Drive Organizational Transformation

There is one “building block” for transformation in the article to which I am a recent convert and so kudos to the McKinsey team for including it in this context.   Their “Building Block #2” is “Flexible and modular architecture, infrastructure and software delivery.”  We are all familiar with the flexible infrastructure that cloud provides, but I have been learning a lot recently about the flexible, modular architecture and software delivery for application development and application integration that is provided by microservices frameworks such as the AnyPoint PlatformTM from Mulesoft.

While they promote organizing IT around business value streams, the McKinsey authors identify a risk to be mitigated in that value streams should start to build up software, tools and skills specific to each value stream.  This might be contrary to the tendency in many organizations to make life easier for IT by picking a standard set of software, tools and skills across the whole organization.  I agree that it would be a shame indeed if agile and lean principles that started life in IT software development are constrained by legacy IT attitudes as the agile and lean principles roll out into the broader organization.

There are a lot more positive ideas for organizational transformation in the article, so I recommend that you take a few minutes to read it.  My only small gripe is that while the authors emphasize organizing around value throughout, they do not mention prioritizing by business value.  Maybe at the high level that McKinsey operates in organizations that concept is taken for granted.  My experience is that as soon as you move away from the top level, if business value priorities are not explicit, then managers and teams will use various other criteria for prioritization and the overall results may be compromised. 

Written by Michael D. Harris at 14:16
Categories :

Algorithms: What are They Worth and What Might They Cost You?

Every so often, I read an article that gets me thinking in a different way about software value and software risk.  Danilo Doneda of Rio de Janeiro State University and Virgilio Almeida of Harvard University recently published an article entitled, “What is Algorithm Governance?[1]

Doneda and Almeida suggest that the time may have come to apply governance to algorithms because of the growing risks of intentional or unintentional, “… manipulation, biases, censorship, social discrimination, violations of privacy and property rights and more,” through the dynamic application of a relatively static algorithm to a relatively dynamic data set.  

By way of example, we have probably all experienced the unintended consequences of the application of a reasonably well understood algorithm to new data.  We all have a basic grasp of what the Google search algorithm will do for us but some of you might have experienced embarrassment like mine when I typed in a perfectly innocent search term without thinking through the possible alternative meanings of that set of words (No, I’m not going to share).  At the other end of the spectrum from the risk of relatively harmless misunderstandings, there is a risk that algorithms can be intentionally manipulative – the VW emission control algorithm that directed different behavior when it detected a test environment is a good example. 

For those of us who deal with outsourcing software development, it is impossible to test every delivered algorithm against every possible set of data and then validate the outcomes. Algorithm Governance, Software risk management consulting by DCG Software Value

If we consider software value, from a governance perspective, it should be desirable to understand how many algorithms we own and what they are worth.  Clearly, the Google search algorithm is worth more than my company.  But, are there any algorithms in your company’s software that represent trade secrets or even simple competitive differentiators?  Which are the most valuable? How could their value be improved?  Are they software assets that should be inventoried and managed?  Are they software assets that could be sold or licensed?  If data can gather and sell data then why not algorithms?

From a software metrics perspective, it should be easy to identify and count the algorithms in a piece of software.  Indeed, function point analysis might be a starting point using its rules for counting unique transactions, each of which presumably involves one or more algorithms, though it would be necessary to identify those algorithms that are used by many unique transactions (perhaps as a measure of the value of the algorithm?).  Another possible perspective on the value of the algorithm might be on the nature of the data it processes.  Again, function points might offer a starting point here but Doneda and Almeida offer a slightly different perspective.  They mention three characteristics of the data that feeds “Big Data” algorithms, “… the 3 V’s: volume (more data are available), variety (from a wider number of sources), and velocity (at an increasing pace, even in real time).  It seems to me that these characteristics could be used to form a parametric estimate of the risk and value associated with each algorithm. 

It is interesting to me that these potential software metrics appear to scale similarly for software value and software risk.  That is, algorithms that are used more often are more valuable yet carry with them more risk.  The same applies to algorithms that are potentially exposed to more data. 

[1] Doneda, Danilo & Almeida, Virgilio A.F. “What is Algorithm Governance.” IEEE Computer Edge. December 2016.

 

Mike Harris, CEO

Written by Michael D. Harris at 15:07

How Does Cybersecurity Drive the Business Value of Software?

cyber-security drives business value of softwareSoftware brings tremendous value to organizations, but in today’s day and age, it also carries significant risk.  Malicious cyberattacks continue to rise at a rapid pace.  According to the Identity Theft Resource Center and CyberScout, data breaches increased by 40 percent in 2016 – that’s after a record year in 2015.  With the ongoing upsurge in data breaches, software can be seen by many as a potential liability for an organization.  We are such a data-driven economy today that criminals have realized that they can cause serious damages to companies, governments and other entities by hacking into their information systems and stealing, corrupting or deleting valuable data.  These breaches are extremely costly to organizations – not only financially, but also to their reputations. 

 Just look at Target.  In 2013, hackers stole credit card numbers of 110 million customers costing the retail giant approximately $162 million, in addition to a decrease in sales and a black eye to their reputation (for a short period of time). 

 It’s no wonder that “94 percent of CISOs are concerned about breaches in their publicly facing assets in the next 12 months, particularly within their applications,” according to a January 2017 Bugcrowd study.  However, despite these concerns, another survey of over 500 IT decision makers found that 83 percent of the respondents actually release their code before testing it or resolving known weaknesses (Veracode, September 2016). 

Software is typically at the foundation of all cybersecurity attacks.  In fact, the Software Engineering Institute stated that 90 percent of reported security incidents result from exploits against defects in the design or code of software.  If a network router is hacked, most likely the hacker went through the router’s software, not hardware.  These breaches can pose such a significant threat to an organization’s value that software developers must make application security an integral part of the software development lifecycle. 

By finding and fixing vulnerabilities early in the software development lifecycle, there is less risk to the business and more potential for increased business value from the software.  For example, Adobe Flash player is a product used by many websites to enable interactivity and multimedia.  In 2015, it had more than 300 patches (TechBeacon’s Application Security Buyer’s Guide).  Developing these patches is a resource drain (both time and money).  On balance though the risk Adobe would run by not providing these patches could be significant and negatively impact the Adobe’s value as well as the value of the organizations using its product. 

So, if an application has, let’s say, 500 known weaknesses, the organization may not have the time or money to fix all of them before an imminent release.  They need to collaborate with the business unit and determine which vulnerabilities pose the highest risk to the business (negative business value) and which ones, if remediated, will help to deliver the most value to the business if they are fixed.  It is not unusual for developers to fix those vulnerabilities that are easiest to resolve; however, it is critical to take a step back and prioritize identified vulnerabilities based on business value.  

 

Mike Harris, CEO

Written by Mike Harris at 12:29
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UK HMG (Her Majesty's Government) Departments Shift from One Mega Technology Supplier to Many Suppliers

The UK government has long published plans to help small and medium-sized enterprises to gain a greater share of central government business.

Their goal is for 25% of central government spending to go to SMEs rather than large organisations.

In recent years we can see that the large scale contracts with the likes of HP, Accenture and Cap-Gemini have been replaced with open frameworks allowing smaller companies to try to get a share of the pie.

From frameworks like the G-cloud, this will allow the more specialised but smaller suppliers their opportunity to deliver better value for money to the UK public.

It should also drive up competition, as in the past, long term contracts with a number of Government departments ensured a great deal of systems knowledge transfer into one supplier. By moving supplier you lost key business knowledge making it very difficult to change and so made it difficult to access SMEs not directly employed by the big boys.

There is also a shift to rebuild their internal digital expertise with government owned companies like Department for Work & Pensions ‘s (DWP) Liberata and HMRC’s Revenue & Customs Digital Technology Services Ltd (RCDTS) taking IT work back in-house. However, there will still be the need for niche skills.

With Brexit looming, it will be interesting to see what the future tendering processes UK Government has to follow given the current compulsory OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union) tenders.

Certainly interesting days lie ahead.

 

READ HOW DCG UK is a designated Digital Outcomes and Specialists Provider.

Written by Steve Kitching at 13:06

Function Points and Agile

I participated in an interesting conversation on Function Points and Agile with members of the software development group at a federal agency recently.  We, the DCG team, were explaining how we would start the process of measuring how much value they are delivering from software development by measuring how much functionality they are delivering in function points.  For an organization with immature metrics and, perhaps, lack of user trust, this starting point takes the question of productivity off of the table to allow us to move on to end user value delivery

All of the participants in the meeting quickly recognized the value of having a standard metric, function points, to measure the size of the functionality being delivered (and with SNAP – the non-functional size too) but I could see on their faces the sort of trusting disbelief that might be associated with my pulling a rabbit out of my bag.   Some of the participants in the meeting were not familiar with function points and asked for a quick, five minute explanation.  I get asked this a lot so here it is (before I get inundated with corrections – I know - this is an over-simplification):

Imagine a software application and draw an imaginary boundary around it in your mind to include all its functionality but not the functionality of other applications that it communicates with or draws information from.  Now consider the diagram below.

Function Points and Agile

From a user perspective, looking at the application from outside the application boundary, I can interact with the application in three ways, called transaction functions: external inputs (EIs), external outputs (Eos) and external inquiries (same as input and output but with no change of data or state - EQs).  From within the application, I can access data in two places – inside the application boundary or outside the application boundary.  My interactions with these files are the two types of data functions: internal logical files (ILFs) where data is stored within the application boundary and external interface files (EIFs) where data is stored outside our application boundary. 

Most of you will be able to easily imagine that these five types of user interaction with our application can be more or less complex.  If I want to produce a function point count, the next step is to consider the first of the transactions that the user wishes to perform on the application (as defined in the requirements, user stories or whatever) and to identify how many of each of the five function types is involved in the transaction and how complex that involvement is (low, average or high).  Predetermined rules govern the weights that apply to each function type based on the complexity of the function in this transaction.  With all this information gathered, we can calculate the number of function points using the simple table shown below.

Function Point Counting Weights

Type

 

Low

Avg

High

Total

EI

 

__ x 3 +

__ x 4 +

__ x 6 =

___

EO

 

__ x 4 +

__ x 5 +

__ x 7 =

___

EQ

 

__ x 3 +

__ x 4 +

__ x 6 =

___

ILF

 

__ x 7 +

__ x10 +

__ x15 =

___

EIF

 

__ x 5 +

__ x 7 +

__ x10 =

___

 

 

 

 

Total

____

 

One of the participants offered a very perceptive observation, “Isn’t this a lot of work for every user story in Agile?”  It could be.  In practice though, by the time a user story is defined and understood, the software problem has been decomposed to the point where identifying the FPA functions and complexities is fairly simple.  That said, we don’t recommend this for all agile team members.  Story points work fine for most agile teams.  Where function points (and SNAP) can and must be used for Agile is where there is a need to aggregate the delivered functionality (and non-functional elements) into higher level metrics  for reporting to management.  This level of function point analysis is often better done by a separate, central team rather than the agile team members themselves.

 

Written by Mike Harris at 15:17
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"It's frustrating that there are so many failed software projects when I know from personal experience that it's possible to do so much better - and we can help." 
- Mike Harris, DCG President

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