Time’s up! Changing core IT principles

There is a theme gaining ground within IT organizations. In truth, there are a number of examples that support a common theme coming up for IT organizations. And this very theme will change the way solutions are built, configured, sold and used. Even the ecosystems and ancillary services will change. It also changes how we think, organize, lead and manage IT organizations. The theme is:

Just because you (IT) can do something does not mean you should.

Ironically, there are plenty of examples in the history of IT where the converse of this principle served IT well. Well, times have changed and so must the principles that govern the IT organization.

Take it to the customization of applications and you get this:

Just because IT can customize applications to the nth degree does not mean they necessarily should.

A great example of this is in the configuration and customization of applications. Just because IT could customize the heck out of it, should they have? Now, the argument often made here is that it provides some value, somewhere, either real or (more often) perceived. However, the reality is that it comes at a cost, sometimes, a very significant and real cost.

Making it real

Here is a real example that has played out time and time again. Take application XYZ. It is customized to the nth degree for ACME Company. Preferences are set, not necessarily because they should be, but rather because they could. Fast-forward a year or two. Now it is time to upgrade XYZ. The costs are significantly higher due to the customizations done. It requires more planning, more testing, more work all around. Were those costs justified by the benefit of the customizations? Typically not.

Now it is time to evaluate alternatives for XYZ. ACME builds a requirements document based on XYZ (including the myriad of customizations). Once the alternatives are matched against the requirements, the only solution that really fits the need is the incumbent. This approach actually gives significant weight to the incumbent solution therefore limiting alternatives.

These examples are not fictitious scenarios. They are very real and have played out in just about every organization I have come across. The lesson here is not that customizations should be avoided. The lesson is to limit customizations to only those necessary and provide significant value.

And the lesson goes beyond just configurations to understanding what IT’s true value is based on what they should and should not do.

Leveraging alternative approaches

Much is written about the value of new methodologies and technologies. Understanding IT’s true core value opportunity is paramount. The value proposition starts with understanding how the business operates. How does it make money? How does it spend money? Where are the opportunities for IT to contribute to these activities?

Every good strategy starts with a firm understanding of the ecosystem of the business. That is, how the company operates and it’s interactions. A good target that many are finding success with sits furthest away from the core company operations and therefore hardest to explain true business value…in business terms. For many, it starts with the data center and moves up the infrastructure stack. For a bit more detail: CIOs are getting out of the data center business.

Preparing for the future today

Is your IT organization ready for today? How prepared is your organization, processes and systems to handle real-time analytics? As companies consider how to engage customers from a mobile platform in real-time, the shift from batch-mode to real-time data analytics quickly takes shape. Yet many of the core systems and infrastructure are nowhere ready to take on the changing requirements.

Beyond data, are the systems ready to respond to the changing business climate? What is IT’s holistic cloud strategy? Is a DevOps methodology engaged? What about container-based architectures?

These are only a few of the core changes in play today…not in the future. If organizations are to keep up, they need to start making the evolutionary turn now.

Virgin’s new shared data plans swap customization for simplicity

When Virgin Mobile launched its Custom plans at Walmart last summer, it created the most flexible prepaid family plans in the U.S. Thanks to technology provided by ItsOn, customers could pick specific buckets of minutes, texts and megabytes and share them with family members. They could even tailor individual phone plans for services like social networking and navigation.

There was only one problem: If anything, the plans were too flexible.

Virgin encountered situations where five different people on a custom family plan would all opt for different minute, text and data buckets and then start swapping their allocations between each other at the end of the month, Virgin director of corporate communications Jayne Wallace told me. It became very difficult and confusing to manage such accounts, she said, so Virgin decided to simplify its structure.

Starting on Saturday, Virgin and [company]Walmart[/company] will begin replacing Virgin Custom phone kits with a new Walmart exclusive program called Data Done Right. The new program definitely makes these service plans easier to manage, though a lot of the granular customization features are sacrificed.

All but the cheapest $35 individual plan come with unlimited voice and SMS, and from there, the pricing varies based on how many lines you purchase and the size of your data bucket. $45 gets you 2.5GB on a single line, while $65 gets you 4GB shared between two lines, $90 8GB over three lines and $115 12GB over four lines. You can add additional gigabytes to a plan for $10 a pop.

Virgin, which is one of [company]Sprint[/company]’s prepaid arms, is also offering a much better selection of phones in the new plans, all of which support Sprint’s LTE service: The [company]HTC[/company] Desire 510 ($99.88), [company]LG[/company] Tribute ($79.88) and LG Volt ($149.88), and the new [company]Samsung[/company] Galaxy Core Prime ($129.88). All of the phones also have mobile hotspot features so you can share that data plan with other devices.

These plans are easier to comprehend, but it’s a shame that the ability to tailor your own plan is left on the wayside. Previously, you could create any manner of plan that reflected how you and each member of your family used their mobile service. Ultimately, though, Virgin’s new rates are pretty cheap, so the price difference between customizing a family plan and opting for a pre-packaged tier isn’t going to be much different. In fact, in many cases, you’ll probably see cost savings. If you’re on a custom plan today, though, Virgin will continue to maintain it, Wallace said.

And Virgin isn’t doing away with customization entirely. It’s keeping some of the add-on features that made the program unique, such as $5 a month for unlimited social media and music stream usage (data from apps like [company]Facebook[/company] and [company]Pandora[/company] won’t count against your data allotment). It’s also keeping the ItsOn-designed management app in place, which lets parents fine-tune the usage of every line on their accounts. For instance, they could restrict certain apps from being used on a child’s device or set a “data curfew” for 10 PM, after which a phone would stop surfing the internet.

Google wants to mobilize your Web site – for free

Google(s goog) is wants to bring more small websites to the mobile phone, and to help nudge those sites along it’s willing to foot the bill for a year. Google and Duda Mobile are offering free hosting and customization of Web sites for mobile browsers.

Apple Reintroduces 15-inch MacBook Pro Matte Screen Option

Good news for those of you who were holding out for a matte screen option from Apple (s aapl) on something other than the most expensive, 17-inch MacBook Pro, and bad news for image and video professionals who already bit the bullet and picked up a 15-incher recently. Apple now offers a matte screen option on the 15-inch model.

glossy_antiglare
The new customization option appeared sometime early this morning in Apple’s online store, and allows you to choose an “Antiglare Widescreen Display,” instead of the usual “Glossy” option, for an additional $50. For those unaware, the modification also rids your computer of the pretty black bezel that frames the notebook’s screen, and instead introduces a silver bezel that looks decidedly old school. Aesthetics aside, though, the antiglare option is reportedly a thousand times better for professional usage, and if you find the new glossy optical glass displays distracting. Read More about Apple Reintroduces 15-inch MacBook Pro Matte Screen Option

How-To: Change the Default OS X Boot Icon

bootexchanger

The OS X boot image epitomizes the simplicity and elegance of the operating system itself, showing a basic Apple (s aapl) logo set against a light grey background. I’m a huge fan of this simple layout, but was very interested to hear about BootXChanger, a tiny application that can alter the boot image to anything you’d like.

BootXChanger comes with an excellent set of PNG images already at a boot-screen-appropriate size and resolution, along with a set of instructions for creating your own. It makes this Mac customization, which would otherwise require some fairly complex digging around, remarkably simple. Read More about How-To: Change the Default OS X Boot Icon

UI Customization in Leopard

As you might have guessed from my past articles here, I tend to heavily customize the appearance of OS X on any machines I use regularly. Looking at my desktop, I see no default icons, my dock isn’t much better, and every time I use someone else’s machine, I’m generally surprised by the candy-colored dots springing out of the top of my windows.
Then I upgraded to Leopard.
To my faint surprise, most of my icons were gone. Some, fortunately, stuck around – the sea serpent body parts that I use for drive icons, notably – but others, including the complete replacement of the system icons (David Lanham’s Agua set; see my previous posts for a link) had gone. My utter loathing of the boring, front-on, barely-embossed Leopard default folders began. The candy buttons were back, too. The new install ate ShapeShifter and Samui. As if that weren’t enough, I keep my dock on the left, meaning I’m left out of all the fun of customizing my dock; the dark-glass theme completely overrides any modifications made, even if they show up when the dock is at the bottom of the screen.
The Leopard-default replacements aren’t particularly good, either, failing usual interface guidelines in terms of color, shape, and aesthetic rules. For example, take the icon for the music folder. On the left, Leopard’s default; on the right, a Tiger-style music folder. Note how the rich green of the music note really makes the purpose of the folder pop. Look, too, at the difference in shape – the off-center cant and the overrun of the default folder shape by the note make the music folder stand out from any other folder. Why, if the point of different icons for different purposes is to make finding what you want easier and quicker, would anyone choose icons that look all the same?
folder-icons.png
To my dismay, there doesn’t seem to be any solutions for this. Pixadex’s website doesn’t mention Leopard at all. CandyBar is incompatible with Leopard. So is ClearDock, ShapeShifter, FruitMenu, WindowShade…. all the Unsanity apps, in fact.
Is the fate of all the customization apps Apple’s way of telling users to leave the UI alone? I certainly hope not. That said, though, does anyone know of any solutions to this, short of changing each and every icon manually? For that matter, what about all the UI elements – the toolbars, the buttons – that can’t be changed through the Get Info pane?

Color Your iPhone: Let your teenage girl come out

Don’t think that just because you’ve got a new phone that cost as much as some PC’s that you are somehow above customizing the look of your phone. You know good and well you want to be in the crowd of 13-year-old teenage girls who customize their phones by changing out the shell of their phone with something pink and then sticking on fake diamonds all over it. Admit it.
Unfortunately I can’t help you out with your freak need to look like a 13-year-old girl, but I do have something here that can help you out with changing the color of your iPhone!
ColorWare iPhone
ColorWare has just released their Customized ColorWare iPhone product.
You can send in your iPhone to get colorized for $149 (you’ll need to part ways with it for 8-10 days). Or you can purchase a new iPhone at $649 for the 4GB or $749 for the 8GB.
They have 29 color combinations available letting you pick practically any color you want.
This certainly isn’t for everybody (I personally love the simplicity of the iPhone’s design)…but if you’ve got the cash and your in to it, then these are guys to do it for you.