Saturday, June 22, 2002

Tools of the Trade. Since I've dragged a business-oriented discussion into this weblog, I'll continue until Linda jumps in and changes the direction. One of the most valuable skills an analyst can develop and build upon is decision making. Not making snap decisions based on gut feeling, but doing it the right way. The foundation for decision making is in Decision Analysis for the Professional.This book is an excellent intermediate-level text on decision analysis that deals with both uncertainty and risk. It uses realistic examples that working professionals will appreciate and to which they can relate.

It's written as a tutorial that uses two tools, Sensitivity, which is used with the chapters dealing with decisions under uncertainty, and Supertree for developing decision trees related to risk analysis. Instructions on obtaining the student versions of these programs are included in the book. Note that the student version of Supertree accommodates trees with up to 250 endpoints, and the student version of Sensitivity performs sensitivity for up to 12 variables.

My most used text on decision analysis is Making Hard Decisions by Robert T. Clemen. Where that book is more comprehensive, it's also less suitable for the working professional who needs a refresher and a desk reference. Therein lies the main value of this book - it's more aligned to real world problems that you'll find in the workplace and is written to be both a tutorial and a reference.

Consultant, Manage Thyself - Part II. In my last entry I discussed Building Professional Services. This book, in my opinion, is the best starting point for anyone who is involved in establishing and managing technical services or starting a consulting company. PSA: Professional Services Automation by Rudolf Melik, et al is the second book you should read because of the way both books complement one another. Actually, one should follow the other because PSA: Professional Services Automation is about automating the professional services organization after it has been established.

In the past I gleaned information and techniques from books about managing professional services from the perspective of law firms and other industries - good information to be sure, but fell short of the realities of technical services.

What I like about this book is the complete look at professional service management, with an emphasis on both personnel and cost management. I especially like the way the authors show how to go beyond mere cost management to optimize revenue and profit. The information and strategies they provide reflect extensive experience and a strong focus on the business aspects of professional services. I also like the ties to customer relationship management and various types of services, and the PSA components. This first decomposes the components of professional services management (manual or automated) into the critical success factors, then reconnects them into a coherent whole.

Although this book is about automating professional services management, most of the information, especially part 2, can be used effectively without automation. Therein lies the main value of this book and the reason why I think it's simply the singlemost important book a professional services manager can have. In order to get the information collected between the covers of this book you'd have to purchase a pile of related books from other industries, and spend a significant amount of time reading articles and surfing the net. If you are a professional services manager you already know that you don't have time for that. If you're being placed in a professional services management position you need this book.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Something New. If you are a consulting, and particularly if you manage a services group, you'll find that Building Professional Services fills a sorely needed gap in the computer consulting industry, and is especially valuable for start-up consulting companies, established companies that want to achieve higher profitability, and for internal IT organizations that are seeking a way to move from a cost center to a profit center.

Regardless of your goals or motivations, the first two chapters helps you to clarify your objectives, decide on the appropriate business model and mission statement, and introduces key concepts that will be used throughout the book. One of the most effective techniques in this section of the book is the way the authors lead you through framing your mission and goals and employing a service alignment risk factor to test the clarity of your mission and how it aligns to other business processes. This is especially important if technical services is not your core business.

Chapters 3 and 4 are, in my opinion, the heart of the book because they address revenue and profitability, and organizational structure - two areas with which many companies struggle. The information in these chapters will show you what you need to do to become and remain profitable, as well as how to best organize your resources to deliver in accordance with your chosen business model. For start-ups Chapter 3 provides an excellent framework for business plan pro formas. Chapter 5, Selling, thoroughly covers the critical success factors and metrics for selling services.

In chapters 6 through 8 services delivery, productizing and promotion are given the same thorough and insightful treatment. Of particular value is the customer engagement workflow that is provided in Chapter 11, and the four phases of professional services given in chapter 12. The phases provide a path by establishing basic implementation services as a service offering, then building upon these to provide integration services, consulting services and productized services - each phase represents an increase in what you offer customers (external or internal). For each of the phases the authors address the following factors: value proposition, profitability triangle focus, critical skills, required operational infrastructure, target mix, revenue growth rate, target gross margin and target operating profit.

I like the way that these (and all of the chapters) end with sample budgets and issues to watch, and the key financial models provided in Appendix D.

You can get more information about this book, including associated articles and PowerPoint presentations, from the author's webpage.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Building a Bridge. Building systems in a vacuum results in technical achievements that fail to meet business requirements. In other words, a disaster. One book, Totally Integrated Enterprises, bridges the business and IT domains. It educates business process owners on the capabilities and technologies that provide tools to support operations, and gives IT insights into how to best develop and deploy systems that meet business requirements.

Integration is assumed to be within the context of ERP systems, which are enterprise-wide in scope. The level of detail is kept reasonably high so that both audiences can easily grasp the key issues and understand the challenges and needs of the other. What I like about the book is the fact that it never loses sight of business requirements, and the manner in which it stays focused on quality and real world issues. I also like the way case studies are used to reinforce some of the more abstract aspects of enterprise integration.

Highlights of this book that will interest both business and IT include:

Because this book is a high level view of enterprise integration many details that support the decision to employ integrated systems and how to implement them are missing. However, the true value of this book is the way it brings together business and technical information and the way the authors have managed to address both groups that are normally widely separated.

If you are seeking a book about deciding whether of not to implement an enterprise-wide system I recommend Enterprise Resource Planning Systems: Systems, Life Cycle, Electronic Commerce, and Risk by Daniel Edmund O'Leary. If you are more interested in an implementation methodology I recommend E-Business and ERP: Rapid Implementation and Project Planningby Murrell G. Shields.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Then There's That Stuff in the Middle. One of the biggest challenges in designing, building and implementing an enterprise-wide system is the middleware component. Enter The Complete Book of Middleware, which is a collection of papers divided among eight major topic areas, each on a specific middleware category. The main value of this book is the wide range of technologies and vendor solutions, and the fact that it's up to date.

I like the complete coverage of both transaction and queuing approaches, and the vendor-specific information that includes Microsoft's .NET and Sun's Java, as well as everything in between. The sections database middleware and middleware performance are especially valuable because they are more generic and applicable to a wider audience than the MS- and Java-centric sections.

While individual papers have a slight vendor bias, the book as a whole is vendor neutral. This is not a book for learning about middleware as much as a good description of what's currently available and their strengths and weaknesses. If you are looking for a more general book I recommend Chris Britton's IT Architectures and Middleware: Strategies for Building Large, Integrated Systems for the fundamentals, and David Linthicum's B2B Application Integration for a detailed text on how to employ middleware in practice. However, this book will give vendor-specific details and a more up-to-date view of middleware that are missing from Britton's and Linthicum's books. If you're a system architect or consultant this book is an excellent desk reference.

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