Information Systems

Project Management Applications

This list of 14 project management applications is worth a look, if only because it provides a number of very different options for interaction, rather than the countless cookie-cutter versions of task lists that exist.

System sequence diagrams

One of the more common requirements for the modern IT department is to customize an commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, software package to fulfil a complex business requirement.

However, in these situations it is rare for the COTS package to stand alone. Typically it will be a central "hub" for multiple actors to interact (eg your typical HR package) and/or will integrate with other business systems, such as a central authentication directory, a custom data entry point etc.

Drupal Apps

UPDATE: Fixed some errors which prevented a true vanilla install.

Drupal has a very powerful framework for building Content Management applications, but it's also got some great features for general web application development. In particular, Drupal 6 comes with a very powerful Forms API which greatly simplifies data capture and validation.

I've been working on ways to remove the dependency on core Drupal modules (particularly the 'node' module, which just isn't necessary or useful in some cases) and produced a patch which can be installed using the Drupal "profile" method.

Why ODF beats OOXML

While any documented, open standard is better than none at all, I have to agree with Rob Weir when he says:

[Does] a standard ... [represent] reasonable engineering decisions, not just for that one application, but for general use? Or in ISO terms, does it represent the "consolidated results of science, technology and experience"? ...

[L]et's take a look at how OOXML and ODF represent a staple of document formats: text color and alignment. I created six documents: word processor, spreadsheet and presentation graphics, in OOXML and ODF formats. In each case I entered one simple string "This is red text". In each case I made the word "red" red, and right aligned the entire string. The following table shows the representation of this formatting instruction in OOXML and ODF, for each of the three application types:

Fujitsu BToPPe & Results Chains

At a meeting a few weeks ago with Fujitsu representatives, I heard about their BToPPe framework. This is a system that can help to ensure that companies understand all relevant dimensions of investments which are made.

I hadn't heard of this framework before, but found it interesting:

Essentially, it's just a SWOT analysis, but focusing the enterprise on overlapping domains that may impact on the potential success of a project. For complex issues, it may be a good tool to examine possible impacts in a structured way.

The limits of reductionism

If you've been trained in Computer Science, there's a good chance that you see problem solving as primarily about breaking down big problems into lots of small, solvable problems.

(Alternatively, you may have learnt to create solutions to small problems independent of the big problem, which might then be usable when solving the big problem, but either way, it's the same pattern: small used to solve big.)

The drawback with this approach is that it leads to a tendency for reductionism; the idea that the universe is just a big problem waiting to be broken down into ever-smaller problems that need solving. The ideal reductionist position is to prove everything from the theorems of physics (dealing as it does with the fundamental particles of the universe).

Producing consistency in complex environments

(An edited version of a post to Bob Lewis's Advice Line)

CMMI has evolved to handle the complexities of trying to standardize processes across a large enterprise.

Beyond a certain size, even finding out the current state of play is difficult, let alone trying to co-ordinate standards through a centralized body. Attempts to do this include Enterprise Architecture, CMMI, Six Sigma etc etc.

The problem is that "one size fits all" can easily turn into "one size fits none". Innovation is easily stifled when all changes have to go through layers of bureaucracy (which I presume CMMI imposes).

Biculturalism

My previous post took on a life of its own, which was originally intended to highlight a Joel on Software article on Biculturalism from 2003:

... So you get these religious arguments. Unix is better because you can debug into libraries. Windows is better because Aunt Marge gets some confirmation that her email was actually sent. Actually, one is not better than another, they simply have different values: in Unix making things better for other programmers is a core value and in Windows making things better for Aunt Marge is a core value.

Metadata is...

All too often, people refer to metadata as "data about data". But while this literal definition is occasionally useful, the line between data and metadata gets blurred too often.

For example, take an object catalogued by a museum.

  • Is its height and width... data or metadata?
  • Is its barcode... data or metadata?
  • Is the donor of the object... data or metadata?

Karen Coyle has a beautiful definition of metadata (you should read the whole article, it's really good):

    What is metadata?
     

    Metadata is ...

      constructed... (Metadata is wholly artificial, created by human beings.)
      for a purpose... (There is no universal metadata. For metadata to be useful it has to serve a purpose.)
      to facilitate an activity. (There's something that you do with metadata)

Atom + RSS feed readers & servers

Given the explosion of interesting in feed technologies such as RSS and now particularly Atom, I find it slightly bewildering that it's so hard to find a web-based aggregator which works well inside a corporate firewall.

Why? Well, quite simply, I think that employees are increasingly demanding what amounts to pub/sub technologies to exchange information and status amongst themselves.

There are some signs of life, e.g.

IBM Mashup Startup Kit (complex, but looks very powerful)
SimplePie (a PHP library)

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