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#noestimates

Prior to the popular Agile era which started roughly in the late 90’s, The waterfall model was widely recognized as the most popular, and involved a  sequential software design process, in which progress is seen as flowing steadily downwards (like a waterfall) through the phases of Conception, Initiation, Analysis, Design, Construction, Testing, Production/Implementation and Maintenance.

The down-sides included time-lines and budgets.  A typical software build could take 6 to 9 months, during which time the stakeholder had little or no interaction with the product and what seemed to be business critical at the start of the build would often be deemed unnecessary or secondary months later. The client also realized no benefit from the project until the very end when the entire system was presented in one wave- not always the all-singing, all-dancing system it might have been sold as.

The four core values of agile software development as stated by the Agile Manifesto emphasize: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Working software over comprehensive documentation. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

The Agile Manifesto, above,  evolved processes somewhat and gives the stakeholder a greater level of control at a much earlier phase of the build time-line. As functionality is released, it can delivered incrementally, enabling some benefits to be realized early as the product continues to develop. This Speed-to-market can be beneficial for cost control and monitoring quality before it’s too late to do anything about it. Should requirements alter, subsequent functionality and system design can be changed before being developed, saving large amounts of wasted development costs. The end result is optimum business Engagement and Customer Satisfaction.

Agile is not without its own challenges though… with daily stand up meetings not always being possible and regular involvement from stakeholders can be limited due to time and distance. Business Analysis, Requirements Planning and Estimates might not always be totally accurate and can change along the way, proving to slow down development and be seen by developers as a distraction.

Ask any developer using Agile, they would still rather not have estimates and planning around every corner and the #noestimates movement is gaining momentum, adding the need for even better tools to unsure that quality is not compromised by frequent delivery dates.The #NoEstimates hash tag on twitter has caused a whirlwind of discussion about the role of estimates in software development, with several books already writtenon the subject.

The basic idea, is that it is possible to do small chunks of work incrementally, leading as rapidly as possible to a desired usable product, and that when you do that there is no need to do much of anything in the way of estimating stories or the project. Estimates present another challenge all together. When requirements are vague — and it seems that they always are — then the best conceivable estimates could also be guestimates rather than estimates. Accurate estimation of complex functionality often requires a fair amount of work and quite frequently some initial coding to validate. It is still almost impossible to know how long something will take, without research and validation.

Estimation is challenging and we would be well off if we could avoid it, that’s why the #NoEstimates idea is so compelling, however there are many real business questions that will always need to be answered before they become obsolete. “When will it be ready?” “How much will it cost?”

“Accurate estimation is impossible for complex technical projects, but keeping to agreed budgets and deadlines is achievable by using feedback and change.” Seb Rose from Clay Snow

George Toursoulopoulos, CEO at Synetec Ltd, who delivers bespoke software to small and medium size hedge funds is aware of his development team shouting No Estimates, yet insists that his clients require commitment in terms of deliverables and costs and estimates are currently still essential.

 

George Toursoulopoulos is a technology specialist and CEO of Synetec, one of the UK’s leading providers of bespoke software solutions.

Tech trends in financial services

The UK’s financial services have entered a period of unprecedented turbulence, further enhanced by the Brexit vote. This has brought a sharper focus on to the wider challenges facing the more established players, namely driving down cost, increasing security and improving the client experience. All have technology as the key enabler.The tech sector , being dynamic and rapidly evolving, leaves a strong temptation to adopt the latest ‘breakthrough’ or ‘gamechanging’ application, but a key aspect of exploring digital business models and processes is understanding how technology can facilitate and streamline all aspects of the business, while supporting a longer-term strategy. Brexit makes this more imperative with the pressure on the financial services industry to diversify their USPs if they are to retain global pre-eminence. This diversification is key in before the potential regulatory impacts and talent outflow start to bite.

This risk of talent outflow is a focus of the Mayor of London. His office launched London’s Digital Future – Mayoral Tech Manifesto 2016 alongside the #LondonIsOpen campaign, to show international entrepreneurs and investors that London retains its entrepreneurial spirit and status as the top tech city in Europe.

Back to financial services – how should they monetise knowledge capital and innovation to ensure they stay profitable, technologically competitive and continue to pull in diverse international talent? Technology is the key enabler, particularly around providing a continually improving and seamless service no matter where the platform, staff and knowledge are based. As financial services companies are under cost pressure to run a more dispersed business, both through geographic footprint and 4-D teams (dispersed, diverse, digital and dynamic), clients’ requirements to feel safe are emphatic. Technology needs to ethically facilitate this. Recent incidents such as the hack of SWIFT and the loss of funds from a blockchain segment have an exponential impact on clients’ security fears.

Consumer driven demand for financial services to be innovative and shareholder demand for cost reductions have to be balanced against regulatory requirements. One can’t afford to be left behind; there is absolute expectation that financial services are on top of the new technological themes, such as block chain, yet capital requirements have a direct link to operational risk, which includes IT and IT processes. If systems or processes are flawed, the capital requirement could increase. Hence technological innovation needs to be carefully balanced.

According to McKinsey (5 questions boards should ask about IT in a digital world, July ’16), executives should be routinely asking these five critical questions relating to the organisation’s performance: • How well does technology enable the core business? • What value is the business getting from its most important IT projects? • How long does it take the IT organisation to develop and deploy new features and functionality? • How efficient is IT at rolling out technologies and achieving desired outcomes? • How strong is our supply of next-generation IT talent?

To the last point, I would add ‘and ideas’. How are financial services firms staying on top of all the new ideas being developed? How are they building both interaction with external technology firms and investment, into their business strategy? There has been an explosion in the number of new technology entrants, each typically offering aniche, nimble and flexible solution to a particular area of inefficiency, rather than a full service offering. One useful piece of reading material is the newWorld Economic Forum report (http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-financial-services-2015/executive-summary/), which reviews what the future holds for the finance industry, drawing on interviews and workshops with industry experts, global financial institution strategy officers and high-flying fintech innovators. Their findings suggest that the upcoming innovations will encourage a fundamental review of business models in financial services.

There is disruption to come and it is going to shake the industry to its core

Rachel Barnes is a financial services industry adviser to Synetec, one of the UK’s leading providers of bespoke software solutions.

References: World Economic Forum report (http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-financial-services-2015/executive-summary/) McKinsey (5 questions boards should ask about IT in a digital world, July ’16) London’s Digital Future – Mayoral Tech Manifesto 2016

Should you Buy or Build your Intranet

 

Every organisation that has more than a handful of employees can benefit from having an intranet. It offers a casual, multi user, easy to access, up-to-date means of communication. Communication is key in any business, therefore so is an intranet.

The big question for business decision makers is whether to buy ready-to-go intranet software or build your own bespoke software. The correct answer depends on your business needs, your combined technical ability and of course, budget. Because there are so many great intranet ‘Ready to use’ products available, it does seem wise to buy unless you have very specific requirements. Products such as SharePoint or Confluence offer intranet, document management and workflow systems with out-of-the-box functionality that you can quickly deploy and set up. Other reputable systems include Huddle and Slack.

Key considerations when making your decision include hosting and usability. Will you be hosting the intranet internally or on the cloud? Are you geared up for remote access over a VPN type connection or is the cloud better.

The standard functionality of any intranet includes integration with email and calendars, the ability to collaborate on documents and pages, company communications, How-To articles, People search or ‘Who-is directory’. It should offer remote access, be secure and provide a user-friendly environment, even for non-technical users.

Less frequently required features include blogs, company workflow and integration with other in-house systems or programs. Some users might also require remote access from mobile devices.

Before deciding which way forward, you should also establish who is going to be maintaining the intranet. It should have a dedicated editor or curator that can ensure accuracy and keep pages up-to-date and relevant with easy-to-use page creation, widgets, notifications and comments. If users become swamped with old, out-of-date information that cannot be relied on for accuracy, your team will very quickly abandon the intranet and it will become useless. Before looking at any of the products available, the team should be considered. Who will be editing, who will be contributing. How much technical expertise do they have? Start with the team, not the technology.

If building a bespoke product is the only way you will get the full control offunctionality and the integration that you require or meet any other specific needs, you should still consider the team first, and then other key factors like time scales and budget. Should you require bespoke intranet software, Synetec can advise, build and integrate your intranet to ensure you end up meeting all your business needs. Alternatively, you might simply require advice on software selection and set-up which they will be happy to offer.

George Toursoulopoulos is a technology specialist and CEO of Synetec, one of the UK’s leading providers of bespoke software solutions.

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