The Necessity of a Service Catalog

Thomas Failor, AIM class of 2014.This is a guest post by AIM alum Thomas Failor, 2014, about the benefits and necessity of having an Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) service catalog in your IT or operations department.

Sometimes painful lessons are good ones in hindsight. In a previous life I moved from sales management to operations and one of my first tasks was to write a service catalog for my department’s offerings. Let’s just say my early efforts weren’t a hit, but with a little help I pulled it together. Learn from the error of my ways.

So what’s a service catalog? Service catalogs are just that, a catalog of the services your department provides. Formally identified in the 2007 Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) V3 as a suggested best practice, service catalogs have been used in well run organizations since at least the early 2000s. Most were justified in the return on investment of reducing cycle times and improving outcomes. With the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, service catalogs gained importance as a way to document processes for audits.

Everything your group does is likely regarded as a service for someone or some group in the company. Does your work stream have a service level agreement (SLA) you’re required to meet? If so, your group provides a service and you need a service catalog. The main reason service catalogs are so important is that they provide a vehicle for your group to communicate and negotiate SLA agreements with other groups or customers, both internal and external. Without a document to formalize these relationships, your group will be tone deaf to your customers and likely provide poor service.

Service catalogs have some common ingredients, but overall they are a managed document that describes:

  • what you do and what it’s called,
  • who owns your service,
  • when you do it,
  • to whom you provide the service,
  • how to request the service,
  • how service is delivered,
  • what you charge for the service,
  • any SLAs related to your service.

More formally, a service catalog is implemented “in a manner that facilitates the ‘registration, discovery, request, execution, and tracking of desired services for catalog users.’” – Wikipedia.

There are many free templates on the web to get you started writing a service catalog, but it may benefit you to produce a high-level diagram listing suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, and customers of your particular business process to help identify who ALL of your customers are and what teams supply your various processes. You’d be surprised how little agreement there can be about who the customer is. Try it, you may be amazed at what you discover.

An ITIL trade group in the UK provides some detailed Service information on Catalogs on their website.

In essence, a service catalog provides two benefits. It allows you to clarify the services and service levels that you provide and it provides a clear advertisement to your customers as to your offerings. If nothing else, a service catalog is a great exercise in seeing your services from your internal and external customers, and hopefully acting to improve them over time.

Print Friendly

When the Lights Go Out: Protecting Personal Digital Assets

Photo of a man reading a book by candlelight.Earlier this month I wrote a post about how our digital assets are protected in the cloud in the event of a disaster such as an earthquake. A recent incident at my house helped me understand the importance of protecting my personal digital assets. I was reminded how essential it is to protect my data and my equipment in the event of a disruption.

When The Lights Go Out

Last week I lost power at my house for several hours because a driver barreled down my gravel road at twice the posted speed, at night, missed a corner, and plowed into a power pole. Luckily he was fine, but the pole was not and neither was his truck. My work came to a crawl as I realized that while my laptop would last a few more hours, I was an island in terms of my Internet connection. Without power I had no router and without a working router I had no access to my remote files. I was uncomfortably aware of the holes in my personal continuity plan.

Backups

In the event of an outage I want to know that my cloud data is secure and that I have backed up my local disks. The cloud data is largely up to my service provider, whether it be Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or any number of other providers that store data. If it is a localized interruption then my data will be secure in a remote data center. If I have data on a local disk then I need to remember to back it up onto another physical disk or back it up to the cloud. The key here is “remember,” which I sometimes forget, so an automatic scheduler is important.

Line Conditioning

In case of a power outage of any kind, it is important to ensure that your computing equipment is safe from voltage spikes and drops. A line conditioner attached to your home equipment will mitigate these problems. Even better is a line conditioner with battery backup such as the APC home unit. This will protect against voltage spikes and drops but it will also give you enough time after an outage to close all of your files and shut down your equipment properly. If your router is plugged into this unit, it could give you time to download important files to a local drive in the event of a prolonged outage.

Alternative Power

Portable battery chargers are useful for rescuing dead smartphones but they can also extend the life of a tablet or even a laptop. If you are experiencing a long outage, this could give you the power you need to post that last tweet or answer that important text message. It is necessary to make sure that you keep your backup battery charged at all times or it will be useless in an emergency. Some portable batteries charge using solar energy. The Biolite camp stove charges a device by burning small twigs and leaves, which is perfect if you want to warm yourself and charge your device at the same time.

Thoughts

It is important to have a personal continuity plan for your digital devices as well as for your own personal safety. It takes planning and preparation but can pay off if you ever face an emergency where someone or something interrupts the power supply. Tell me about your personal continuity plan. Has it ever been put to the test? Did it work? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Print Friendly

Congratulations to Our 2015 Graduates!

Photograph of AIM Program Director Kara McFall, EdDThis week’s post is the transcript of AIM Program Director Kara McFall’s 2015 commencement address. Commencement took place Saturday, August 15 on the University of Oregon main campus in Eugene.

To our 2015 AIM graduates, their families and supporters; our AIM faculty and staff; and all others who are here to join in the celebration of our 2015 AIM graduating class—welcome. I’d like to start by asking the graduates, faculty, and staff to stand and join me in honoring the families and friends who supported our graduates throughout the AIM Program. Every one of our AIM graduates has worked hard to achieve the right to stand here today as a graduate of the program; but every graduate also had the help and support of their families and loved ones, who agonized along with them over proper APA citations, assignment deadlines, and their nitpicky Capstone 1 instructor. The role that each of you played—as supporters of our AIM graduates—is an important one, and I would like to say thank you.

Today is a big day. Each of you started the AIM Program with a plan, and with hopes—for the knowledge you would gain in the program, the connections you would make with your classmates and faculty, or the impact this degree would have on your career upon graduation. I hope that now, with no looming paper deadlines facing you, you can stand back and take stock of what you achieved and realize that you achieved your hopes, or replaced them with even greater achievements that you couldn’t even visualize when you started this journey.

I also have hopes for you as AIM graduates. Most of you have more experience with me as an AIM faculty member than as the AIM director. My ten years in the AIM Program serving as a faculty member have been a pleasure, and I am honored to now serve as the AIM director. As I was preparing this first commencement speech, I thought about what I wanted to say to you as we all celebrate your achievements in the program. I decided to keep it simple and share my hopes for you as you graduate from the AIM Program. I’ll keep the message short and focus on my top three hopes for you.

I hope you met with adversity during your AIM studies. For some of you, this may have meant a team member who had a different philosophy of how to approach a team project, or who submitted work right before a due date while you liked to get the work done early. For others, it might have been a faculty member whose teaching style did not perfectly gel with your learning style, or a class whose content did not immediately capture your interest. Whatever adversity you were faced with in the AIM Program, I hope you took the opportunity to learn the lessons of compromise, seeking out guidance from trusted colleagues and advisors, delayed gratification, and working hard to achieve a goal even when the work required is unpleasant. As an instructor and now as director, I sometime receive phone calls and e-mails from students who are faced with challenging issues like team conflicts. I usually remark at some point in the conversation that I’m glad the student is getting the opportunity to work through the issue in my class; typically, the response to this statement is less than enthusiastic. But my point is that no one makes it through life without adversity. For our AIM graduates, we fully expect you to be successful in your chosen careers—to be leaders. You are the people that others will turn to when times are tough and there are adversities to overcome. I hope that the AIM Program provided you with sufficient adversity to hone your skills in meeting a challenge with grace.

I hope you missed out on some things while you were in the AIM Program—sleep, the luxury of kicking back on the couch when you got home from work, or even a special occasion. I recognize that this sounds cold hearted, so let me explain my point. No worthwhile goal is achieved without sacrifice. Getting a master’s degree is not meant to be easy or effortless; if it were, more people would pursue their master’s. Instead, you join only 12% of Americans who currently hold a master’s or professional degree. I hope you take away from the AIM Program not only new knowledge and abilities but also the recognition that any goal that is worthy of your time and passion is going to require you to sacrifice something in order to achieve it. Those of you who are parents already know the huge sacrifices that come with having children, mainly from loss of sleep and an astonishing diversity of ways that your kids can spend your money, but you also know that no sacrifice is too great for your children. I hope that your achievements in the AIM Program provide further proof that any meaningful goal is worthy of your time, your passion, and the occasional sacrifice.

Finally, I hope you take the time to appreciate the role your family, friends, classmates, and support system played during your pursuit of your the AIM degree. All of you are high achievers—you would not have pursued a challenging master’s degree, or even qualified to enter the AIM Program, unless you were goal-oriented individuals who know how to work hard to achieve those goals. But the pursuit of a challenging goal is rarely an individual effort. This can be a humbling thought for the high achiever, who has been taught that individual talent and hard work lead to success. At some point during the program though, you undoubtedly faced a situation where you couldn’t succeed on your own—you needed someone to take care of things at home while you finished a final paper, you needed an understanding boss to let you leave early to work on homework, or you needed to vent to a classmate in order to relieve the pressure you felt in a particularly challenging class. Instead of feeling like you need to rely only on yourself to achieve your goals, I hope that the AIM Program taught you that relying on others makes you more capable of aiming high and succeeding.

AIM class of 2015, I am proud of each one of you. I hope you will take the opportunity to keep in touch with us as you move into your next phase as AIM graduates. Congratulations to you, AIM Class of 2015!

Print Friendly

High Tech Fire Watch

Photograph of smoke from wildfire in the mountains.We are in the middle of fire season here in the Northwest. This has been a hot, dry summer so the threat of wildfire is great. Several of my friends have worked on fire crews at some point so I wondered about the role technology plays in fighting wildfires. I was delighted to find that someone had blazed that trail before me and technology plays a role not only in fire fighting but also in fire protection. In this blog post I will focus on technology in fire protection. I will dedicate an upcoming post to technology in fire fighting.

Eye In The Sky

I was amazed to find that many of the rustic fire towers perched on mountaintops in California, Oregon, and Washington are decommissioned. In a recent article in Outside magazine the authors report that fewer than 35% of the towers are still manned. Due to budget cuts, fire watchers have largely been replaced by a network of cameras. According to the article, a camera can spot a fire up to 100 miles away and can spot fires at night through near infrared vision.

ForestWatch

Oregon has a network of cameras called ForestWatch by Envirovision Solutions. These cameras are networked to provide coverage over the most fire prone areas of the state. They are all monitored remotely and can detect a change in the terrain from a digital model. Through mathematical algorithms, the cameras send an alarm when it detects anomalies or pattern differences such as fire or smoke. The remote monitoring station can then focus the camera or cameras on the suspicious area and collect GPS coordinates in case they need to send in a ground or air crew. Fires are spotted quicker and their specific location is known much faster, which may reduce the spread and damage of a fire.

Education

This is a great use of technology but what kind of education does it take to install, program, and monitor these cameras? My research shows knowledge in the following areas is required:

GIS—A strong background in geographical information systems (GIS). This includes mapping and data analysis.

Data modeling—A strong background in data modeling and database management. There are many data points involved here, from GPS coordinates to topographical data to wind speed to moisture index, and they all need to be combined and modeled to show the monitor what fire crews will encounter.

Wireless networking—These cameras are networked to the central monitoring station and often to each other. In a suspected fire, multiple cameras from various angles can verify the validity of the alarm. A person would need a strong background in wireless networking to establish and maintain these cameras.

Thoughts

Fire watch cameras are a good use of technology and a reminder that new jobs often require a strong education in math and science as well as specific technical skills. As the technology moves from human fire watchers to sophisticated data collecting cameras, we must continue updating our education to be prepared for these jobs of the 21st century.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Print Friendly

All Shook Up: What Happens To Your Data When The Earth Moves?

Illustration of seismometer graph, indicating a period of seismic activity.On the morning of July 4 there was a magnitude 4.2 earthquake just east of Eugene. The jolt shook everyone, but there was no significant damage to homes and businesses or the road system. The earthquake temporarily rattled nerves and it has renewed the conversation about “the big one” here in the Pacific Northwest. The Cascadia subduction zone, running off the west coast between California and Vancouver, BC is overdue for what is expected to be an 8.0–9.0 magnitude earthquake and accompanying tsunami. While it is important that we plan ahead to protect our homes and infrastructure from earthquakes, I wondered what we are doing to protect our digital assets. I decided to do some research.

Data Centers In The Northwest

There are several data centers in the Pacific Northwest, primarily because of inexpensive power, relatively cool weather, abundant water, and a talented workforce. These data centers are operated by companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook. They were all built after we began to emphasize earthquake ready infrastructure.

New buildings are designed to withstand at least some lateral movement due to seismic activity. They are secured to the foundation and multistory buildings are heavily braced but they can still sway up to a certain amount to counteract the effects of an earthquake. The new data center for Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) for example is designed as a geodesic dome to “…provide superior resistance to seismic events.” While doing this research I came across an inventive solution in Japan that floats a home or building on air during an earthquake and then returns it to the foundation after the event.

Inside The Data Center

Servers inside the data center are often housed in seismic frame cabinets, which are anchored to the building but still allow for a minimal amount of movement. This keeps the server rack from falling over or dancing across the floor. Another option for flexibility is a product called ISO-Base, a two-part device that uses an isolation base. The bottom of the base is bolted to the floor and the top is bolted to the bottom of the server rack or cabinet. There is significant flexibility between the two levels of the base so in an earthquake the cabinet has controlled movement within the confines of the base. This means that cabling has to also be flexible.

Components that are seismic rated, including the backup generator outside, are tested on a shake table. This is a platform that simulates an earthquake and can test buildings or components to make sure they can withstand seismic force. The largest shake table is outside of Kobe, Japan and measures 65 x 49 feet and can hold structures weighing 2.5 million pounds. The shake table test is part of a seismic certification process for equipment, including computer infrastructure and components.

Thoughts

Computer centers in earthquake prone areas of the country have secured your cloud data as part of their business continuity plans. They employ several products and techniques to secure facilities, equipment, and data in the event the earth moves under their feet.

In a future blog post I will talk about products that let us secure equipment and data in our home office.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Print Friendly

A Hat of a Different Color

Dapper man in white fedora, face partially obscured.It used to be that computer hackers came in two shades, black hat and white hat. Black hat refers to the nefarious hacker illegally trying to exploit network and computer security holes for gain or simple malice. White hat refers to hackers trying to highlight security lapses in order to warn others and work to patch vulnerabilities. With the recent hack of Ashley Madison, it appears that there is a third type of hacker trying to right moral or political wrongs instead of or in addition to potential economic gain.

History

In the early days of hacking I read about the exploits of Kevin Mitnick. As a teenager, he hacked into the networks and systems of technology and telecommunications companies and spent over five years in prison on two different occasions after being sentenced on federal wire fraud charges. Much of his success he attributes to social engineering, or the ability to charm passwords out of unsuspecting people. Now he is an information security consultant. He is a case of a black hat turned into a white hat.

I also enjoyed the 1989 book “The Cuckoo’s Egg,” by astrophysicist Clifford Stoll, which relates the tale of tracking a hacker who broke into Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and used it as a jumping off point to burrow into military and defense systems. The hacker was eventually caught, with Stoll’s help, and it was discovered that he was selling stolen information to the KGB.

Computer hacking has existed since computers were connected together in a network and people sought vulnerabilities in the technology. As computer code becomes ever more complicated, it raises the possibility of errors that can and will be exploited by either the black hats for monetary gain or malice or the white hats trying to highlight the vulnerability.

Ashley Madison

The Ashley Madison hack seems at first blush to be a hack of a different color. AshleyMadison.com is a website that matches people seeking adulterous affairs. Hackers identifying themselves as The Impact Team took over the site and announced they had stolen identity information of 33 million subscribers and threatened to publish that information unless the parent company, Avid Life Media (ALM), agreed to shut down the site. It appears the hackers were angry over the content and purpose of the site but in their manifesto they also blasted the practice of ALM charging $19 to have a profile removed from the site. To prove that a profile was not completely removed from databases, they released the names of two members who had paid to be eliminated from the site.

Whether the hackers were incensed with the moral foundation of the site or the economical injustice against members, this seems to be a different type of exploit. The Impact Team could still demand ransom for the stolen information, in which case I would put them squarely in the black hat camp, or they could use this hack as a platform for their cause, whatever that may be. Either way, this will no doubt be a topic of conversation at the upcoming information security conference sponsored by the likes of Microsoft and Cisco, which is oddly named the Black Hat Conference.

Thoughts

What do you think? While hacks of this type are still clearly illegal, their aim seems to be to prove a point instead of seeking monetary gain or notoriety. I wonder what’s next? Other dating websites? Perhaps gambling sites? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Print Friendly

The Quest for Elegant Simplicity

Photograph of three stones stacked in the center of a pattern raked into the sand of a Zen garden.In our business solutions class we have been studying product and process innovation and the need to maintain the right balance between desired features and unmanageable complexity. After the recent high profile outages at the New York Stock Exchange and United Airlines, I wonder if the balance has tipped toward the latter. Both outages reportedly happened because of software upgrades and the interaction between the old code and the new code. In some instances, there is so much complex code that no one can tell what is going to happen.

Elegant Simplicity

I believe that there is a sweet spot between simplicity and complexity that I call elegant simplicity. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. is reported to have said: “For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.” There is a big difference between crude simplicity and elegant simplicity. Perhaps you have come across a product, service, or process that is well thought out and just works, every time. Here are a couple of my favorites, and I invite you to write to me about yours.

Netflix

As I shared with our class, I love the Netflix service. I have been a customer for several years and it always works as promised. I am a DVD customer and I have established a personal queue from their selection. As soon as I am done watching the current DVD, I send it back in the prepaid envelope and the next one in my queue comes very quickly. They send me unobtrusive e-mails to let me know that they have received my DVD, and another e-mail to let me know that my next movie is on its way. I just received notification that they are consolidating both of those e-mails into one, to further reduce the mail in my inbox. They read my mind. Netflix does the job I need to have done and no more. They have fulfilled my definition of elegant simplicity.

Internet Radio

Another example of a product that for me just works is my internet radio. This is a recent purchase that I easily connected to my home sound system and my wireless router. I then found several stations that I listen to on a regular basis. This product is complicated, but the interface is intuitive, either from the front panel, the remote, or from the smartphone app. I can access several thousand stations and it delivers exactly what I need and no more. It can be as elaborate or as simple as I want it to be.

These examples highlight products that are complex under the surface but provide a simple user experience and are reliable. In these I have found elegant simplicity free of the complexity that could make them unreliable.

Thoughts

I am going to strive to find that spot of simplicity on the other side of complexity in my writing, my work, and my life. Will you join me? Do you have examples of products, processes, or services that make you smile? Our innovation class would love to hear from you and learn from your experiences.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Print Friendly

Robotic-Assisted Surgical Technology

Photograph of a human hand shaking a robot hand in solidarity.Last week my wife and I were driving down the road and came across a billboard advertising “robot-assisted bariatric surgery” at our local hospital. While we weren’t interested in the particular surgery, it did spur one of our many philosophical debates. Our topic of conversation was this: would you rather be operated on by a robot or by a human? I would take the robot any day of the week. They are steadier, more consistent, and they have nothing on their mind but my surgery. The downside is that they are not as creative. My wife would prefer the human. She fears the robot would crash in the middle of the surgery or the pinwheel of doom would appear and stop the surgery prematurely. But this is robot-assisted, so it is a marriage of consistency, accuracy, and creativity. In any case, I had not heard of robot-assisted surgery so I had to learn more.

Blessed by the FDA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved robot-assisted surgery in 2000 with the introduction of the daVinci Surgery robot. This tool allows a doctor to sit at a console near the patient and control robotic arms. These arms enter the body through tiny incisions and have a camera, a light, or a selection of wristed instruments on the end. The surgeon can then see a magnified, high definition picture of the area and can guide the tools through the body using a joystick-like interface. The doctor’s movements are translated into much smaller motions by the instruments, which have humanlike wrist movement. The upsides are:

  1. Small incisions vs. open surgery.
  2. Quicker recovery.
  3. Less chance of infection.
  4. Potentially greater accuracy.
  5. Less invasive procedure may mean faster healing.

Since being approved, surgeons using these robots have performed thousands of surgeries in areas such as gastroenterology and cardiac surgery. This is laparoscopic surgery merged with robotic technology to provide for even more accuracy and finesse.

The Future

This is an incredible use of technology to assist skilled doctors in performing critical and delicate surgeries. One of the future improvements is telerobotic surgery where the surgeon is not even in the room and could control the robot from anywhere. This requires rock solid networking. Another potential development is completely robotic surgery. This would require preprogramming and very accurate vision and recognition systems.

Thoughts

I am excited about this use of technology and the future possibilities of advancements in this field. This will require new technical skills and new training to ensure that all systems are functioning and that the infrastructure supplying these systems is foolproof. How would you feel about being worked over by a robot directed by a skilled surgeon? Do you trust the two working together? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Print Friendly

Why I Chose an Online Education

Color photograph of guest blogger Jason James, a 2012 graduate of the UO AIM Program.Today’s post is written by Jason James, 2012 graduate of the AIM Program. We asked Jason to share his thoughts on his experience with online education.

In 1996, I was a junior at Auburn University majoring in management information systems. Like many college students, I couldn’t afford to go to school full-time and cover all of my living expenses. Bar tabs, video games, and framed pop art can really eat into a student’s budget. I was working over 30 hours a week at a value added reseller (VAR) upgrading, repairing, and selling personal computers and peripherals while balancing a full course load. That same year, I was presented the opportunity of buying the company I was working for. After much deliberation, I took the opportunity. I quickly realized that being an entrepreneur means working 80 hours a week for yourself so you don’t have to work 40 hours a week for someone else. The workload was overwhelming and I decided to drop out of school to focus on my career. Besides, that worked for Bill Gates and Michael Dell, right?

Fast forward to 2002, and I was director of IT for a growing global software company in Atlanta, GA. While my career was on solid ground and growing, I felt that something was missing. Keep in mind, not having a degree never impacted my work nor kept me from promotions. Even though I had years of hands-on technical and management skills, I felt I needed to have a degree in order to remain competitive.

Going back to school to finish my degree would prove challenging. After all, working in technology often requires long hours with plenty of unforeseen issues. It’s difficult to make it to a 6:30 p.m. class when a server in your data center goes offline at 6:00 p.m. While more colleges were embracing non-traditional students, class schedules were fairly rigid. In 2002, more colleges were offering online studies, but only a few had online degree programs. Out of hundreds of schools I researched, only about 10 or so had fully online degree programs that did not have at least some on-campus requirement.

In 2002 I started my online education. After years of sleep deprivation, I finished an associate’s degree from the University of Wisconsin Colleges, a bachelor of science from Oregon State University, and in 2012 I finished my master of science in Applied Information Management (AIM) from the University of Oregon, all entirely online and without ever stepping foot on campus. Don’t tell anyone, but the only time I have ever been to Oregon was to attend the commencement ceremony when I completed my bachelor’s. I should probably visit Oregon soon.

Online education has given me a competitive advantage. In the last decade or so I have been able to grow my career without sacrificing my education. The flexibility of online courses allowed me take classes while working in India, China, Japan, Germany, France, and the UK. Mark Twain is often quoted as saying, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Well, choosing an online education never let schooling interfere with my career.

Print Friendly

Benefits of the Greenfield Approach

Green meadow under a  blue sky.In the AIM course that I am leading right now, we talk a lot about innovation and the best ways to introduce a new product, process, or technology. One way to introduce new products or features is the incremental approach. This adds new features to an existing technology. Another method is the greenfield approach, where a new application or technology is developed with no consideration of what has been developed in the past. The term greenfield comes from the construction and development industry to define land that has never been developed, as opposed to brownfield, where you need to demolish or build around an existing structure. There are advantages and disadvantages to the greenfield approach that I would like to explore in this post.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantage to a greenfield approach is that you can start fresh without any legacy equipment or applications to work with. You are free to innovate without having to consider previous iterations and restrictions. You are not tempted to create a small incremental change but are free to reinvent the core processes that were in place.

The disadvantages are high startup costs. With nothing already in place, you need to create new infrastructure, procedures, and applications. The fresh possibilities can be exhilarating, but the high initial costs can be daunting.

Greenfield in Action

In 2006, Hewlett-Packard used the greenfield approach when deploying new worldwide data centers for internal applications. They built six new data centers in Austin, Houston, and Atlanta and stocked them with new HP servers. All applications were ported to these new servers and off of the local servers in computer rooms and data centers around the world. I was involved in transitioning applications and shutting down the small computer rooms. There was a lot of weeping and wailing because people could no longer walk down the hall to visit their favorite computer. Some applications had to be shut down because they could not be ported to the new computers. In the end though, this approach yielded three main benefits:

  1. Reduced infrastructure and support costs from shutting down inefficient small computer rooms in many locations around the world;
  2. Decreased number of applications and data stores; and
  3. Improved computing capabilities, including enhanced disaster recovery.

There was an initial $600 million investment into these new data centers and equipment, but the cost was quickly recovered in better efficiencies and reduced support costs. This also showcased HP capabilities for external customers.

Greenfield Innovation At Work

When I was in Dubai in 2013, my host explained to me how a speeding ticket is distributed in that country. There are cameras located along the main highways and when you exceed the posted speed limit, the camera takes a picture of you, complete with license plate, and sends a text message to the phone that is registered to the owner. The owner can then pay the fine from their smart phone. Dubai is a relatively new country without a traditional traffic control system so they abandoned the old school police speed trap and court systems for this streamlined fine and pay system.

While not completely greenfield, I am also excited about the new parkbytext system in Ireland, the UK, and other locations, and a similar system in Russia. You can pay for a parking spot by texting your information and—in the case of the Russian system—you even get a refund if you leave the parking spot before your time expires. Associated with these systems is an app that allows you to locate an available parking spot. These are examples of where the traditional infrastructure and processes were abandoned in favor of a completely new approach.

Thoughts

It’s not always possible to start fresh, but it frees you up to imagine different innovations without being encumbered by structures and legacy systems. Do you have any examples where you were able to design something from scratch? Was it daunting or liberating? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Print Friendly