Sunday, September 30, 2007

Software Architecture: Profession and Skills

Paul Preiss, president of the International Association of Software Architects (IASA) spoke on "Software Architecture: Profession and Skills" at the SDForum SAM SIG September meeting. Paul founded the IASA as a professional association for Information Technology (IT) Architects 4 years ago and since then it has grown to almost 7000 members in 50 countries.

Paul started off by talking about his career and how through a series of jobs at different companies he came to understand that the role of IT Architect is often unacknowledged and unappreciated. Also came the realization that IT Architect is an emerging profession and that the profession needs a professional body. One pressing reason for having a professional body is that he believes that the profession will be regulated within the next 5 years and that practitioners should have a say in writing the legislation.

The kernel of talk was about defining what an IT Architect is and does. We all understand the profession of being a Lawyer or Doctor or Accountant, thus we need a similar simple understanding of IT Architect. Paul attacked the problem from several different directions, eventually coming up with two words: Technology Strategy. Just as the Chief Financial Officer is in charge of directing the financial strategy of a business, the Chief Architect is in charge of directing the Technology Strategy. In particular, the role of the architect it to deploy just enough software to enable a competitive advantage for the business. I have been rolling this around in my mind for a couple of days and it seems to make sense.

The IT Architect has to at least understand a business problem and know the technologies that are available to solve it. The choice of the right technologies is not always easy. Technologies are changing fast, resources are limited and implementations do not always succeed. Moreover, other players may have their own agendas. For example, developers may want to use some new technology so that they can put it on their resume. Paul gave us a specific example. He came into a situation where the business was already using several object relational mapping tools and the developers wanted to adopt yet another one for a new project.

Paul ended his talk by plugging the IT Regional Conference in San Diego in October. Everyone who is involved in IT Architecture should check out the conference and the IASA

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Evolution of Web Analytics

We have not had a talk on Web Analytics for many years at the SDForum Business Intelligence SIG, so it was great to hear Stephen Oachs, founder and CTO of VisiStat, speak on "The Evolution of Web Analytics" at our September meeting. VisiStat is a two year old start-up that provides a web site performance measurement and analytics service (Software as a Service model) in the Small and Medium Business market.

As Stephen told us, first generation web analytics was about collecting data from web logs, integrating that with data from other sources and presenting historical results to IT specialists. The current generation, which he called web site performance management, collects data by page tagging, which entails adding a small snippet of JavaScript to each page. In practice the code snippet is added to a common page header or footer so it only needs to be added once to cover all pages in a site.

Page tagging collects more information than can be extracted from web server logs and it does not require difficult integration to make sense of the data. With better analysis software, the results of page tagging are ready to show directly to end users like the marketing and sales people who are responsible for the contents of the web site. Also, with page tagging we can see the data in real time, which allows the following of a user as they browse around the web site.

Real time access to information opens new doors. Stephen told us about a specific case where a bank became aware that it was subject to a phishing attack on its customers when the bank noticed an unusual change in the patterns of access to their web site. Similarly, click fraud can be detected by unusually high bounce rates from specific a key word. If detected in time the click fraud may be subverted by changing the price for the specific keyword. Finally, real time data provides web site availability monitoring, an additional service that for example, VisiStat offers for free.

The evening ended with a demo of the VisiStat product by Tina Bean, VisiStat Director of Sales and Marketing. The demo involved logging into real live customer web sites. You can see much of the same thing by visiting the VisiStat web site and looking at their live demo. VisiStat is a powerful tool for understanding how a web site is being used. At the same time we could see that it is designed from the end user perspective, so that typical small business user can use it effectively without needing support from an IT department or consultant. Most impressive is the fact that all the power of VisiStat is available to a small web sites for as little as $20 a month.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

iPhones in the Bargain Bin

The big technology news of last week was the iPhone price reduction from $600 to $400 (plus tax). Pundits were crawling out of the woodwork to voice their opinion. Negative sentiment drove Apple's stock price down a bit. Here is my view of what it means.

The iPhone is worth $600. We know that because almost a million of America's brightest and best were willing to pay that price for for it. Now you can own it for $400. What a bargain!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Google Flight Simulator Earth

Last Year I wrote about Microsoft re-purposing their Flight Simulator program for their Live search engine. Now comes word that Google is fighting back by adding a flight simulator to Google Earth. While playing with a flight simulator can be fun, I still do not see what it has to do with search.