Friday, December 5, 2008

Think? I don’t think so!

I have just returned from spending the Thanksgiving weekend in London. For those returning to this blog on a regular basis, you may recall that I was in Singapore for last year’s Thanksgiving and posted a blog entry at that time (“What do you mean, legacy?” November 27th, ’07). This is not the first time that I have been out of the country for the holiday, and it has given me a little down time from blogging. The picture I have included here is of me settling in for the long flight across the Atlantic.

One of the benefits that come with regular air travel is that the airlines still look after their frequent flyers – and upgrades are often made available. And as much as I enjoy the additional space that the upgrades provides, it is the ability to “fast-track” security, and even immigration services, that I have come to appreciate. Anytime I can get out of the airport without breaking stride makes the trip a little more bearable. Even if it does mean passing long lines of bedraggled passengers slowly snaking their way to the thinly-staffed counters poorly set up to handle the crowds that stream from today’s jumbo jets.

The availability of fast-track services, whether in support of pre-boarding security screening or post-arrival flight arrival, recognizes that extending services to higher-value customers is not just limited to their time on the plane. And it is greatly appreciated by those with jobs that mandate frequent travel – the “road warriors” on whose support the airline industry depends so much for simple survival in these hard times.

While I am among the first to appreciate the investments airlines have made in simplifying web access and navigation that help me book flights, and in making it easy to print boarding passes from my hotel anywhere in the world, being directed to the front of the line is a service that continues to be appreciated as much as anything else the airline provides! And airlines that maintain a close dialogue with their customers ensure a lengthy partnership develops that is beneficial for both of them. Communicating with their customers is so often downplayed or even overlooked entirely – watching the antics of the leaders of America’s automobile industry is a clear example of the failures than can occur when communication ceases – but it remains the most important aspect in business today.

I was reminded of this as I read the International Herald Tribune (December 2nd, ’08) on the flight back. There was a full page advertisement by Thomson Reuters that led with the statement “The end of think. The beginning of know.” Reading this advertisement made me wonder – have we really progressed beyond the need to think and can we just now know what’s required of us? Has our considerable experience gained over many years of open dialogues with our customers truly brought us closer to knowing what we need to do in every customer situation?

We are increasingly being driven to a service orientation as we develop more services, and these services are often the only differentiations that matters in the end. Customers often remember the service provided long after the product involved has been forgotten, or even when associated with different products entirely. Part of the attraction of embracing a service-orientation is the ability to easily plug and play with the products beneath the covers of services.

The picture I have added here is of me on the London Eye looking down on the British Houses of Parliament alongside the Thames River. British Airways (BA) has been running the London Eye since 2006 – the biggest Ferris-wheel in Europe, and still the worlds’ tallest cantilevered observation wheel, according to BA. And now trips on the wheel are being called “flights” and individual capsules can be reserved for private functions with first class service. What BA provides for its airline passengers is now being offered to the casual, sight-seeing, public. Well-established services are being reused in new and attractive ways.

In a posting I made earlier this year (“Wake up call!” January 18th, ‘08) I made the observation “in the NonStop space we are beginning to see very serious deployments of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) … we may not all enjoy the same degree of comfort undertaking application integration and not take to it as easily as we did integrating hardware, but there will be integration architects and managers within our companies aggressively pursuing integration.”

And last year, I wrote a blog posting (“Don’t change my toys!” October 6th, ’07) where I saw how “There is much anticipation that with web services and increased support of Services-Oriented Architecture (SOA) the interface into any application, even those running on NonStop, will be greatly simplified. The ease with which we navigate the web, and retrieve data today, should be replicated across all business environments and in so doing, help dummies like me get to what I need to see.”

In their exuberance to present the tremendous power and flexibility that can come with SOA, some vendors have overwhelmed their prospects. When viewed from a very high level, not every component defined within SOA is needed first up – it’s an architecture that really does lend itself to an incremental, baby-steps, approach. Often times, it’s just a case of settling on which library contains the Web Services Definition Language (WSDL) “contract” information that a client developer may need. But externalizing applications as services, and pursuing integration through the interconnection of these services, gives businesses their first insight into knowing what they can do!

And vendors should be clearly pointing them in the right direction and lighten-up with the complex rhetoric! After all, vendors that develop a close relationship with businesses and maintain an open dialogue, are more likely to be responsive to the opportunities their business customers identify. And these vendors will better communicate their products’ benefits as a result, and be less likely to overwhelm them when they need help the most.

Reservations, ticket purchases, and seat assignments are exactly the same processes you would find for any other BA flight – the London Eye has become an integral part of BA’s operations and is a clear example of how a service can be extended to embrace non-traditional products. Could we see the airline business embrace the theater business with the same services? possibly restaurants as well? With what they support today, airlines know what they can do from the services already being provided, so why not? Perhaps we are getting to the end of think and into the era of knowing after all.

I have been taking my car out on to the race track this year, and one of the first things you learn in any High Performance Driving Education (HPDE) program is how to communicate. You need to know what all the flags used by the trackside flag-marshals mean, and whether it’s a F1, a NASCAR, or just a local club race, their meaning is consistent worldwide. You also need to know how to communicate with your fellow drivers –particularly in passing situations – and communication develops camaraderie between the drivers. Who will stay left and who goes right – every action on the track has to be weighed against risk and communicating your intent is extremely important.

Over the years, the courteous driver in front always signals a point-by to the faster driver behind – extending a hand out of the car and signaling which side the faster driver should pass on. And the picture above, taken earlier this year, shows our Corvette being given a point by from the driver in front - nothing ambiguous or confusing, the faster driver being given a clear directive as to where to pass. As comradeship develops among the drivers, the level of communications increases even more, and the skill levels of all drivers improves significantly.

Coming to terms with passing is only one aspect of communication. Developing a working knowledge of any track, and coming to terms with it depends a lot on a free and open dialogue with your peers. Sharing information learnt, while laying down laps, is the best way to know what to expect around each corner – what to be aware of and what to take advantage of. There’s nothing better than picking up tips from those who have more experience with the track and there’s nothing worse than being left to think it all through on your own.

Communications – whether between businesses and their customers, vendors and their business customers, or even among your peers, has never been more important than it is today. No more so than when the topic is services and the integrations of processes to be offered as services – customer engagement is crucial at every turn. Many watching the performance of the leaders of America’s automobile industry can’t escape wondering what were these men thinking?

And as we move to computing models and architectures heavily services focused, we would err appreciatively if we didn’t enjoy open communication with out customers and peers. Maybe, as Thomson Reuters advertised, we are at the beginning of know!


Anonymous said...

Richard, Some of your pictures aren't showing up. Sorry to say :(

Have a great Holiday season, and we'll see you both next year at the track


Richard Buckle said...

Thanks John - I didn't know about the pictures and from my browser they are still OK ...

Is anyone else having problems with the pictures? Please let me know and I will dig a little deeper into this.

And yes, we are both looking forward to next year - I am planning a "final post" wrap-up for '08 shortly on