Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Why service practitioners should care about SSME

Since I had already planned to be in Finland for educational purposes, I had offered Juha Hulkkonen (country manager for IBM Global Business Services) some of my time for purposes that might help the company. He asked me to coordinate with Jyrgi Koskinen, who has a more formal role in university relations for IBM in Finland. In addition to lecturing in the afternoon on research that I’m likely to publish over the next year or so, I was asked to give a morning lecture on SSME (Services Science, Management and Engineering) at a Friday morning coffee gathering at the IBM office.

I had seen Jim Spohrer give a version of this talk at the ISSS conference in Cancun last July, and then stepped up as a last-minute speaker on SSME at the IT Strategy Consulting conference in Toronto a few weeks ago. After more than a year of seeing similar presentations based on Jim’s slides, I wasn’t comfortable in presenting that content at IBM Finland. Firstly, Jim’s presentation is deep, and I only had 30 minutes with a casual audience. Secondly, Jim’s presentation is targeted more at universities and researchers, and my audience would likely be management consultants, technical services professionals, and some sales personnel. I decided to customize my own version of the presentation.

Lecturing at an automotive engineering class at Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia

Following on from David Hawk‘s practice, I’ve continued to lecture at the Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia for the past 3 years when I’ve been visiting Finland. On this visit, I was able to draw on some of the work presented a few weeks earlier at the IT Strategy Consulting conference in Toronto.

I lecture in Ritva Laamanen‘s classes, which are designed for Finnish undergraduate students to pick up greater English fluency that will advance their professional capabilities. The sections that I teach vary. I’ve spoken with business students (easy), and software engineering students (a snap). Since I’ve been studying and working in those domains on the order of 20-plus years, it’s second nature for me to pick some subject that has relevance to the current business climate and to students’ interests. My goal actually isn’t to lecture, as much as it is to encourage students to speak up and practice their English. On my visit last November, I spoke to a class working their way through an English operating system textbook (uggh!) on my personal history with operating system. This included being one of the first IBMers to work with Metaphor Computer Systems, participating in the OS/2 Warp beta, and observing the evolution of Patriot Partners into Taligent. On another lecture with the Stadia Formula Engineering Team has prepared for competitions in Detroit, I’ve spoken on Canadian and U.S. geography and cultural differences. Relevance is important to maintaining interest.

IT Strategy Consulting conference, Toronto

Consistent with IBM’s direction on innovation, the Global (IT) Technology Strategy community of IBM Global Business Services held a two-day even in the Toronto area. After four months of planning, about 120 IBMers convened at the Toronto Lab at 8200 Warden (actually in Markham). Although this internal conference was named the “IT Strategy Master Class”, it was in fact a pilot for a series of IBM events.

The theme of “Business Innovation through IT Strategy” brought together IBM consultants from Canada, the United States, Europe (UK, Netherlands, Germany) and Asia (Japan, China). The approach was not to “invent” a program, but, in the belief that innovation occurs by practitioners at work within a community, request content from practitioners that they themselves believe is exciting and leading edge. From over 100 submissions, 20 breakout sessions were selected. Wrapped around the breakouts were some keynote speakers that provided big picture insight.

  • Mark Behrsin, Global Leader, IBM Technology Strategy Consulting, framed the meeting as responding to the needs expressed in the Global CEO Study 2006, recently released. CEOs are focusing on three imperatives: to grow (i.e. products, services and markets), to improve (operations and efficiency), and to transform (business and enterprise models).

Requirements … or … dreams?

This blogging area is about coevolution, and specifically coevolution of technology and culture. OK, maybe we haven’t said that so explicitly, but that is the larger process that would include coevolution of technology and business, or technology and work, or technology and enterprise.

How much of this is really about “requirements” at all? The definitions of requirements, as Martin has pointed out, are so dry and pedestrian. Requirements may be compulsory, requirements may be needs.

I like to think that much of what we do, even in business applications of technology, is about desires. Or, in the words of one of our IBM colleagues Sukanya Patwardhan, maybe it is about dreams.

What is it that gets right to the heart of what a user of technology aspires to? What can fulfill their human desires for success? How does this trace back to the levels of the Maslow hierarchy, from physiological survival to psychological actualization?

What is a ‘Requirement’?

I have set out my intention before to argue that Requirements Gathering does more harm than good. The first step was to argue simply that ‘Gathering’ is a passive affair. Now I want to raise a more substantive objection. I want to explore what we mean by ‘Requirements’. I believe that what we mean:

  1. is too varied and contradictory to be useful
  2. does not differentiate between ends and means and is therefore dangerous

If I’m right, it means that the term ‘Requirements’ cannot be used effectively in practice and does more harm than good.

So, taking each point in turn.

1. What we mean by requirements is too varied and contradictory to be useful.

At its simplest a requirement is a noun

1 something required; a need.

2 something specified as compulsory.
(Oxford Compact Dictionary)

At once we can see that there is at least a dichotomy if not a contradiction.

A need can be challenged and explored. ‘Why do you need that’? ‘What goal are you trying to satisfy’? ‘Is the need you have expressed the best way to satisfy that goal’?

Something specified as compulsory is not.

Curriculum in a coevolving world

If the world is changing so that co-evolution of organizations and technology is required, what is the content that students should be trained in?

Here’s an interesting high-level view of “New ICT Curricula for the 21st Century“:

… the Career Space consortium recommends that ICT Curricula should consist of the following core elements:

  • a scientific base of 30%,
  • a technology base of 30%,
  • an application base and systems thinking of 25% and,
  • a personal and business skills element of up to 15%.

It’s probably something that should be noted, given the “brand name” recognition of sponsors associated with the consortium.

I’m active in the systems science community, so I find it interesting that “systems thinking” is named on the list. This requirement is less surprising, given the origins of the initiative in Europe.

So, should we have a similar interest in “systems thinking” in North America?

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