For the first time, I had the opportunity to attend the "Universite du SI" conference in Paris, organized by Octo Technology. That's a huge IT conference (for Paris), with famous international speakers and a lot of people to meet between talks. The talks are rich and inspiring ; I learned a lot, and it gave me a lot of ideas for the next months. The venue is fantastic, chairs are extremely comfortable, and the food is delicious. Read on for an extract of my notes about the sessions of the first day that I could attend.
The opening talk was a variant of Jane McGonigal's TED talk, more focused on the influence of games in business. Interesting talk but too single-sided: if Jane stressed the positive effects of games on cognitive abilities, company engagement, creativity, and so on, she never talked about the negative sides of gaming. It's easy to "sell" games if you simply ignore their side effects. The whole talk used statistics about games in general but seemed to focus only on video games examples. Also, Jane promised to explain how video games could compensate the lack of engagement at work, but failed to do so. Nevertheless, Jane is a great speaker, and despite her spectacular boots, she managed to teach the whole audience how games can make your life better. As a father of two, I disagree on many parts, but I left the talk with a list of interesting facts:
Closing quote: "The opposite of play isn't work. It's depression".
Next came a talk by Ross Pettit, Director of ThoughWorks (of Martin Fowler fame), targeted at CIOs and helping them to understand how the CFOs see IT in general. Since CFOs mostly worry about cash flow, the volatility of agile development scares them. They want predictability, while the agile manifesto stipulates that software development is, by nature, unpredictable. So how can you reassure the CFOs? Not by compromising your agile process into predictability, but by making IT financially rational. You can do that by separating your IT activities between utility IT and strategic IT, and by managing the latter as a Venture Capitalist would. If your Strategic IT is managed like an investment portfolio, the CFO will trust your capacity to turn ideas into active investments.
Very high level talk, sometimes difficult to follow if you're not familiar with the English terms for accountancy and corporate organization, but overall very refreshing. I could recognize some of the challenges I face every day at my work in Ross' depiction of the CIO fight for more agility. I earned a couple definitive arguments in favor of Agile for my next Board of Directors.
Favorite quote: "Software development is a way to transform capital into volatile assets by way of workforce" (of course, this is the CFO's point of view).
Either I was too dumb, or the speaker of the third talk was too smart. Either way, I didn't understand half of that conference, focused on IT operating models. I must say that poorly constructed slides and consulting gibberish doesn't help. Maybe it's because John Clarke now works for the BCG, which only the biggest IT departments in the world can afford to pay for. Definitely not a talk for me.
A question from the audience made me notice that, in some companies, IT becomes so strategic that it's taken out of the CIO's hands, and back into the Business Units. John encourages a "federal IT governance", where the responsibility of Strategic IT is shared between BUs and centralized IT departments.
As you could guess from his name, Marc Goodman is a law enforcement agent. His experience from Interpol and the LAPD in cybercrime gave him plenty of anecdotes to illustrate his talk in a brilliant way. The main focus was on Big Data, and how criminals use the same technologies as we do to make money illegally. Even if Marc's tone was funny (especially when he used buzzwords applied to crime, like "crime-as-a-service", or "app-ification of crime"), what he revealed was frightening. The amount of data we leak every day is astounding, the ecosystem to sell this data is already in place and very sophisticated, risks are diluted among various actors that don't know each other but communicate through the Underground Internet. And the criminals master all the modern Big Data technology. Fascinating talk, a must see for every IT worker to realize the importance of security. The talk was similar to his talk at Stanford, which you can watch online on YouTube.
Favorite quote: "Be afraid".
Another TED-like talk, not particularly tied to the IT world, my first talk in the afternoon was nice. Watch the short version online on TED.com. Kathryn probably repeated this talk a lot of times, and she is a very talented speaker, so she knows how to captivate the audience. The subject is mostly the rehabilitation of mistakes, why our education gives us the wrong habits (of trying not to be wrong), and how we can be happier by embracing the idea that to err is human. Not revolutionary, not superior to a good philosophy book read, but a pleasant way to think beyond IT and business for an hour. I already use the "I don't know" sentence quite often in my work, so I know how it can open a lot of doors. Anyway, Octo offered Kathryn's book to the whole audience, so I may discover new bits of illumination in the future.
Favorite quote: "A mistake is a mistake, whether you pay for it or not".
One of the brightest figures of the Lean Startup / Customer Development movement, Bob Dorf is also a great speaker. Whether you want to bootstrap your own startup, or use the same tools for a project in an existing IT department, Bob's experience as a startup founder is extremely valuable. My last talk for the day was an extract from Bob's "The Startup Owner's Manual" book. He focused on the Business Model rather than the Business Plan, and on customers rather than products. Bob is enthusiastic and convincing on stage, and he is so convincing that you could almost give him all your savings to invest them in IT startups.
Favorite quote: "Test your guesses... and look for insight"
I'm excited to come back to USI 2012 this Tuesday. There are many more high quality talks to attend, including a closing talk by Philippe Stark. I'm looking forward to seeing you there!
Update: I also published a post about the second day.
Published on 25 Jun 2012
with tags conference management not technical