Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Service management in the rural sector

I've just got back from a trip to India, and have been thinking about interesting ways in which our recent work on service management tools and methodologies could be applied to the rural sector. One thing led to another, and I'm now talking about things that I had (sadly) not considered in a long time...So there is a humanitarian dimension to most computer science research, but we don't seem to pay enough attention to it (note this is not "development informatics"). In any case, I'm giving a talk on the topic, and the title and abstract below might jog some thinking.

TITLE: Computing for humanity: Have computer scientists neglected their social responsibility?

Abstract: Like any other discipline, computer science imposes social obligations on its practitioners. Many facets of this (the obligations and the feeble efforts we have made to meet them) are well-known. We know that computer science can offer solutions to the challenges of climate change and environmental sustainability (the UoW Carbon-Centric Computing Initiative provides research leadership on some aspects of these). We know that low-cost computing technology can make a wealth of otherwise difficult to obtain information available to under-privileged sections of society. We know that computing technology underpins many of the scientific and engineering innovations that contribute to a better quality of life for many. But not all. For a very large proportion of humanity, computing research and its outcomes have impacted life in minimal ways or not at all. I will argue that greater emphasis needs to be placed on computing research and development that targets this section of humanity (under-privileged sections of society within our national borders, as well the very many who live elsewhere). I recognize that many before me have argued similarly, but I will differ by outlining two concrete propositions. First, I will argue that this shift in emphasis raises substantive research questions, taking us into territory that we would have otherwise ignored. I will illustrate this proposition by using examples from areas that I am actively engaged in (business process and services management systems, supply chain management technology, decision support technology and so on). This suggests that computer scientists of all hues will find research inspiration from this shift in emphasis. Second, I will suggest that computer scientists learn from some other disciplines that have been more pro-active than us in setting up NGOs that take practitioners/academics/students to settings where their skills can be directly used to help the disadvantaged ("Medicins sans Frontiers" is one good example, "Engineers without Borders" another). The talk will be deliberately provocative, and is intended as a call to arms.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The buzzword half-life

At a conference a couple of years back, I asked a plenary speaker if "service-orientation" had neared the end of its half-life (most such buzzwords - "object-orientation" being a good example - seem to have a 0.5-life of 8-10 years). The question flustered the speaker somewhat, but many in the conference seemed to think I had a valid point. At a more recent conference, having listened to panels on "cloud computing - present and future", "innovations in cloud computing" etc., etc., the future was looking very "over-clouded". I put the proposition to my fellow delegates that the future cloud might in fact be a grid, powered, say, by a few thousand mobile phones (with more processing and storage grunt than they have now), and we might have come full circle again.

I worry about buzzwords and hype, and force myself to be sceptical. As a counterpoint, I've been thinking about service science-style questions recently. That buzzword's been around near 8 years, but I think there's still interesting meat in the proposition. But for the rest of them, I am reminded of Alfred Tennyson's poem, "The Brook", for buzzwords may may come and buzzwords may go, but the search for better tools must go on forever....

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Algorithmic Management

Algorithmic management!!! So this is what I’ve been doing all along. I’ve spent the last couple of years working on the problem of strategic alignment of services. We’re now looking at the problem of business modeling, and the problem of aligning enterprise architectures. A lot of this work touches on services science, and a lot on questions that have traditionally been in the domain of management (the academic discipline). I’ve always wondered where this sort of work places my research. It’s not traditional computer science or software engineering (although I borrow heavily from these disciplines). It’s not information systems in the traditional sense. It is certainly not management, although that’s the discipline that seems to have raised the questions and identified the research problems. I was telling some members of my group on the train from Brisbane airport into downtown Brisbane a couple of days back – we need a name for this new territory. And now I have it: Algorithmic Management! You heard it here first.

Saving the planet the Green BPM way

I’ve been thinking about “green”. The best way we can address the climate change challenge (outside of some of the “big science” and “big engineering” innovations – e.g., the solar car, seeding the upper atmosphere with various gases and such) is to make better use of what we have. In other words, if we optimize our operations, we save energy – ergo save the planet.

So a possible unit of analysis for us is the business process. These are intended to be descriptions of recipes, or the ways in which we do things. If these could be optimized, we’re in happy territory. For starters, we need to be able to understand the sustainability profile of a given process (e.g., the cumulative carbon footprint). That isn’t easy. How do we accumulate the footprints of the individual tasks in a process model to obtain the cumulative footprint of an entire process? Being able to do that makes all manner of interesting things possible…For instance, I might want to assess the carbon footprint of my process model even as I’m partway through building it. If it looks like the footprint is likely to turn out to be unacceptably high, I might consider designing the process differently.

Part of the problem with assessing the carbon footprint of a process model is the absence of process provisioning information. A process task that seeks to “copy document” might be provisioned in many different ways. I might choose to hand-copy the document. Or I might choose to use a high-speed, high resolution energy-guzzling copier. The carbon footprint is going to be different – depending on the provisioning choices I make. So a solution might be to build a separate resource model, and correlate process steps to this resource model.

That’s sort of stuff I’ve written about in a paper that I’m off to Miami to present (at the IEEE Services Computing Conference). Read about it at

Monday, June 21, 2010

Introducing my blog

I teach computer science and research services science, business process management (BPM) and business execution frameworks in their many glorious manifestations. These are things we've been looking at in the Decision Systems Lab for over a decade. There is much to say about what has been happening and what could happen in this space - so I've been talked into setting up a blog by my many colleagues, graduate students and co-conspirators. I propose to talk about strategic service management, flexible process management, lifecycle management, compliance management and a host of related issues. I will also talk about Green BPM and how green thinking can influence systems development (these are questions that we've been looking at in the Carbon-Centric Computing Initiative). Some of the discussion will involve clinical process and service management - questions that we're addressing within the Centre for Oncology Informatics. If nothing else, I will hopefully feel good about putting in the public domain some of my thinking about these challenging issues . At least, I will have said it...