samedi 23 novembre 2013

IT department organization

During a training, I recently had the chance to meet the CIOs of two big establishments, the first in the French health care industry (10 000 employees) and the second in the field of European air navigation (50 000 employees). They explained to us the governance and the challenges of their IT departments. What I liked the most is the common vision of this department as a dynamic "small company" inside the establishment. This vision is reflected by the organization of the department and the interactions with its environment:


The organization is shaped by the demand side, the final users of IT services. Through a team of account managers, the IT department not only understands IT needs of the different internal customers but develops them in order to drive innovation in the business. For example, an account manager will continuously accompany the business unit 1 in its development by providing required services through the service catalog, and by proposing new services (ERP, SAP, BI..) that help the business unit 1 to reach its strategic goals. Account managers play an important role in IT strategic alignment.

The service catalog is somehow the offer portfolio of this "small company".  Each service is subscribed by the internal customer according to a contract, in which service scope, features, SLAs and maybe internal price are agreed upon.

Each service is built with different components. For example, in order to deliver visio-conferencing, visio QoS must be enabled on WAN/LAN, reservation application should be implemented on a server, conferencing equipments must be hosted and help desk must be able to give support on this service. The service manager is responsible of the life cycle of the service, and he is helped by the project managers team in the build phase. He works closely with the account manager to design the required service and then delivers it.

Each component is provided and operated by a component factory. For example the WAN/LAN component is manged by networks team and specific internal software development is delivered by the competence center. A factory can produce the service internally or rely on an external provider. The trend is to rely more and more on external providers in order to focus more on core business and on strategic alignment. 

Finally, some transversal entities may be needed. When the IT department rely strongly on external providers, supplier management is critical to assure quality and minimize outsourcing risks. PMO office can be also interesting to improve project management practices.

In conclusion, IT governance must be well thought because it is a success key for business since business becomes intrinsically dependent on IT!

samedi 19 octobre 2013

Music in success

In my professional experience, I have noticed that high profile people were often musicians: at Devoteam our branch director was a violinist, and in Orange she was a pianist.

I believe that playing music is an important advantage for those seeking success in their career.

The first skill acquired by a musician is discipline. As opposed to what a lot of people think, natural gift only doesn't make a good musician, but practice, exercises and eternal hard work. I can't but think of Charly Parker (AKA Bird), the virtuoso saxophonist who developed the Bebop current in Jazz. Bird used to practice up to 15 hours a day for several years in the 30s in order to achieve his ingenuity.

Secondly, playing music in public allows you to develop public speaking skills, self expression and stress management which results in gains in self confidence.

Another consequence of music is unleashing creativity. Some practices in music, like composing and improvisation, just sharpen creative thinking skills. It's the skill of continuously exploring new worlds of sounds and rhythms.

Finally, ensemble playing is a great field for developing relational and teamwork skills. The key of playing with others is listening to them, in order to know when to start, when to stop, when to solo, when to follow, when to be piano and when to be forte. Music teaches you to appreciate silence as much as music itself. You learn how to listen to others while playing, and continuously how to adapt yourself to others in real time for succeeding all together the piece of music.
I noticed that musical activities are more and more used in corporate team building; Once I had the occasion to participate in a team building activity through Brazilian Batucada: we witnessed a enormously strong cohesive energy forming around us!

mercredi 31 juillet 2013

Optimize your solution by better knowing your service provider

I've been working in presales with a service provider since a couple of years, during which I witnessed different kinds of relations with customers. In this post, I will give my recommendations for improving the relation with your service provider in order to optimize your solution (quality, price..). The following does not apply on one shot providers.

The most important step is to understand well the organization of your provider:
  • Understand his commercial organization and the role of each representative (Account Manager, Business Manager..). Is the there any hidden influent positions? who is the decision maker? for example who validates margins and discounts for your account?
    To analyze well the organization of your provider, you should diversify his representatives as much as possible, and try to target the best representative for each specific subject.
  • Anticipate any risk due to the organization of your provider and overcome it. For example, if you realize by time that your provider doesn't have an efficient internal communication plan among different actors involved in your complex project, you can play an active role to improve this communication.
  • Understand the commission structure of the sales representatives: based on turnover? on margin? on quality? any representative who is not commissioned? This information reveals the development strategy of your provider and its values, and helps you avoid any possible perversion of his management system.
  • Understand the sales cycles of your provider: monthly based? or based on trimester? this helps you adapt the phasing of your service procurement to your provider's sales cycle in order to get the best financial offers.

Another aspect, which is rarely considered, is the motivation of your provider's team. It is very important to consider his team as a part of your project team in order to motivate them and succeed your project. Some hints for smartly managing your provider's team:
  • Empower your provider's team by giving the complete picture and explaining the stakes of your project in an atmosphere of trust and partnership.
  • Try to play the fair game of competition, in order to challenge enough the provider's team, yet maintain it's motivation in the same time.
  • Put the right amount of pressure on the provider's team for the same reason as described before. To know what is the right amount of pressure, you must understand well the processes of your provider: how do they function, what is their average delays..


lundi 15 juillet 2013

Content Delivery Networks

As promised previously, I'll dedicate this post to Content Delivery Networks. The goal of CDN is to improve the performance of networked applications, whether on a private network or over the Internet.
CDN is a distributed set of interconnected surrogate servers offloading traffic from the origin server. When a user makes a request, the intelligent CDN platform redirects the request to the best server capable of answering, in order to deliver the best performance and user experience.

CDN's performance is measured by the hit ratio, the ratio of requests served by surrogates instead of the origin server. Hit ratio depends on the nature of data: It is more suited to static and basic dynamic data and it's not suited to security sensitive data and data modified concurrently by different users.

CDN is a great solution for businesses that depend on networked applications, typically online e-commerce websites. First, the CDN solution will improve and harmonize the customer's experience, leading to a more loyal customer and a better conversion rate thus generating more revenues. Second, a CDN System will help simplifying and improving the efficiency of the webserver infrastructure:
  • Reduce infrastructure (Internet access, servers..) by offloading traffic to CDN provider's surrogate servers.
  • Avoid sizing the infrastructure to the peak traffic making it more effcient.
  • Avoid the complexity of evolving the infrastructure in order to absorb more traffic (load balancing systems, heavy investments ..).
  • Increase the availability of infrastructure by leveraging the availability of a redundant and distributed CDN platform.
In the following Prezi slides, I try to explain the different components building a CDN system and the different possible architectures and their stakes. This presentation is inspired from the great book by Dinesh Verma on CDNs.

Personnaly, my first experience on CDN was with Orange Labs, where we tried to leverage a CDN for a Video on Demand service. And now, I am excited about designing and proposing CDN solutions to my customers, since Orange Business Services and Akamai (leader global CDN provider) have signed a strategic partnership in November 2012: Orange will commercialize Akamai's solutions and will extend Akamai's CDN on their networks.


mardi 30 avril 2013

The generation Y manifesto

I have recently read several articles on the rebellious behavior of generation Y in the professional environment. I was very intrigued by the exactitude of the this generation's description since I belong to it. Therefore, I decided to write a manifesto of my generation, explaining our professional expectations and our vision of the Enterprise.

I - We simply want to have fun at work! it doesn't mean we are not serious in what we do, because when we believe in something we will do the impossible to realize it. Fun in work means good working environment: interesting nature of work, informal and dynamic social interactions and playful-comfortable office environment.
We haven't built a wall between professional life and personal life. One is the continuation of the other. We don't compromise either one of our lives: we want to continue our boxing and piano courses, spend time with our family, travel the world, but in the same time we aspire continuous professional evolution. The companies who understood this paradox have put in place flexible work environment: flexibility in work time and work place. Of course this flexibility is built on the foundation of mutual trust.

II - We don't believe in pyramid organizations! we grew up on social networks, where organization is flat. Anyone can poke anyone.

III - We want modern working tools. We want a Google like Information System: simple and accessible anytime from anywhere. We want an open Information System: full access to Internet (multimedia, social networks...) and enabled on our personal devices.

IV - We are radical in our relation with our company. In order to be loyal, the company has to prove its investment in this relation: career development, training, promotion, responsibility. Otherwise, we won't wait a lot before starting a new relation with a new company. Nevertheless, when the relation is going well, we are extreme in it, we put all of our energy in it, and we talk proudly about it on every occasion.

V - We are not afraid of asking questions. We don't take everything as a sacred postulate, and dare to ask why.

VI - We want to make the world a better place.

samedi 13 avril 2013

The importance of Application QoS in the transformation of telcos

Currently, I am working on a WAN optimization RFP. The goal is to optimize the performance of the customer's networked applications by deploying physical probes behind WAN accesses.
there are two main domains in WAN optimization:
  • Application QoS: It's about monitoring and controlling the traffic of networked applications in order to satisfy the performance requirement of these applications according to their business importance.
  • Application Acceleration & Optimization: Accelerating the performance of an application can be done on different levels:
    • Network level: TCP optimization, byte caching and compression..
    • Application level: there is a myriad of solutions on this level, starting by simple protocol spoofing (ex: CIFS) to advanced solutions like Content Delivery Networks. I'll dedicate a post to CDNs very soon.
Many constructors provide WAN optimization solutions: Riverbed, Ipanema, Cisco... each constructor is more specialized in a domain. below is an image provided by Ipanema on their optimization solution:

I think that these technologies will be more and more critical to business in the future. Nowdays, business rely totally on the Information System which is being moved to the cloud. It means that everything passes through the WAN access, and thus critical applications should be protected smartly.

Telecom service providers are integrating this approach more and more. The historical proposed solution is to upgrade the WAN access and increase bandwidth. This approach doesn't resolve the problem, it just  postpones it. On modern WAN networks, Class of Services is implemented, and it allows the prioritization of important traffic in case of network congestion. Its a good basic network level solution but it's very limited. It should be combined with previous solutions to have a serious application optimization.

I believe that telecom service providers should start thinking about integrating these solutions in their standard network products in order to accelerate their transformation into service providers and not only dumb bit pipes.
This approach will help them get to know more their customers by understanding their applications, and thus detecting big business opportunities.

Achraf Souk

dimanche 31 mars 2013

Understand price discrimination and take advantage of it!

It has been ages since I've written in my blog! I haven't lacked inspiration nor ideas, but I haven't respected two rules for materializing them:
  • When inspired, you just go and start writing! don't postpone it until "you have the complete text ready in your mind"!
  • Shut off all sources of diversion while writing! (facebook for example ;p )

In this article I am sharing with you some techniques in order to save money in your online shopping.

First, I will start with some theory. Price Discrimination is a marketing concept of pricing same goods differently in order to maximize the value of sales and profits. The concept is explained in the following supply&demand graphs (Wikipedia) :

In the top diagram, a single price strategy is applied to all customers. The total revenue generated by this strategy is represented by area PAQO.
In the bottom diagram, a price discrimination strategy is applied to customers by dividing them into two segments:
  • D1 segment: it's the low elasticity segment, non sensitive to price.
  • D2 segment: it's the high elasticity segment, very sensitive to price.
According to the strategy of price discrimination, a higher price is charged to D1 segment, and a lower price is charges to D2 segment. By doing so, the total revenue generated is the sum of the two areas: P1BQ1O and ECQ2Q1. The sum of these areas will always be greater than the area without discrimination. In this way, we maximize the value of sales and profits!

To set up price discrimination, we must know how to recognize the category of a customer (which segment) in order to apply the appropriate pricing scheme.
Many e-commerce websites have implemented intelligence modules to classify customers by analyzing their behavior on the website. When you understand the logic of these modules, you can adapt your behavior in order to be classified in the D2 segment and have better prices!

The typical behavior of D2 segment is hesitation before undertaking a transaction. For example, you create a profile on the e-commerce website, then add a product to your basket, and continue with the buying process until the payment phase, and then cancel everything!! Normally, if some intelligence is implemented on the website, you will later have a personal promotion, coupon or even a call from the company!

Another typical characteristic of D2 segment, is its low fidelity to his current provider. This provider continuously verify the willingness of their customer to leave to another provider. When the provider identify this intent, he proposes some promotions to the customer in order to retain him. For example, many Mobile Operators (in highly competitive markets like France) implement on their websites an alert that is triggered whenever a customer goes to the line cancellation section to read the contractual conditions.

Now go and make the most of these techniques !