Pulse of the Software World: 5 Software Links to Read this Week (Mar 21, 2017)

by Rick Bowman
March 21, 2017

Following up from my inaugural edition, for my recap of the last week's interesting technology articles, I'm going to jump right in. There were some great articles about disruption in traditional financial services, how to approach agility, speed to market, and complexity, and getting more comfortable talking about the issues in our industry from a diversity perspective. 

Complexity and Strategy 

Terry Crowley's Complexity and Strategy piece is a really thoughtful review of how to think about systems, the pace of development, new vs. old technology, how to manage complexity with his experience leading MS Office development. We've all felt systems that have been hard to make progress in, where each new capability breaks something, is hard to test and deliver, vs. the new upstart product team who is pumping out great new capabilities every sprint. Terry covers a key point, "I found … advocates for these new technologies tended to confuse the productivity benefits of working on a small code base with the benefits of the new technology itself — efforts using a new technology inherently start small so the benefits get conflated. " 

Terry Crowley reminds us that "getting teams to agree and unify on them rather than letting 'a thousand flowers bloom' is hard ongoing work. It does not end up looking like a breakthrough — it looks like an engineering team that is just getting things done." Certainly an on-going issue in Morningstar, where we have many products that serve different target audiences from advisors, individual investors, asset and wealth managers, and have ended up with many products that are tweaked versions with much that is similar, creating many complexities of interconnected systems. 

Continuing on the theme of complexity, I really like Vitaly Friedman's coverage of Smashing Magazine's transition from the ubiquitous WordPress content management system. They've exchanged it for a very simple conversion tool that converts all of the content into pages, and literally just generates a static website, that can be shot out to CDNs all over the world. Their content platform requires effectively no backend servers. This will certainly be of interest to other content producing companies, like us at Morningstar (for instance, morningstar.com). We have multiple generations of CMS technologies, having in the last couple of years deciding to leverage Adobe Experience Manager. It is a complex and heavy system that offers enormous user control, but engineering and testing has been slow and costly. 

FinTech Disruption 

Randy Bean posts at Forbes on new survey results from executives of the major financial services organizations on whether they thought their firms are at risk of major disruption in the next 10 years. Depending on your perspective, I'd say the percentage is surprisingly low. As the article mentions, rumors of major technology companies like Amazon getting involved in financial services are surfacing, and the very nature of the "consumer landscape is likely to evolve, as customers continue to become self-service oriented, more reliant on digital services, increasingly data-driven and data-savvy, and as non-traditional companies potentially encroach on the financial services marketplace." 

Speaking of financial services firms competing in a changing landscape, Schwab's launch of Intelligent Advisory makes a new hybrid of technology and people available for much lower costs and broader access than most other advisory services in the market. Another case of AI being capable of taking on 80% cases, leaving people free to deal with exception cases and more specialized customers. 

Some things aren't changing fast enough 

In our world of extreme disruption and an incredible pace of change, one thing hasn't changed anywhere near fast enough, which is the lack of diversity in the computer science and technology field. Liza Mundy's article in the Atlantic provides new vignettes in an increasingly public set of stories where women are speaking out on the atrocities they face in the tech field. A former employee of Second Life has created a new group called Project Include to uncover ways for companies to improve. I'm so happy to see Morningstar's Women-in-Technology group is one of the strongest and most thriving advocacy groups within our company, and I think our recognition of these issues inside of our own company, technology companies, and financial companies is critical. But even we definitely aren't where we want to be, and I'm committed to keep looking for opportunities to improve. 

Also! Come join us in Chicago 

Ok, and one last thing. This doesn't count as one of my five links :-). There is still time to register for the GOTO Nights event happening at the Morningstar offices tomorrow night, Wednesday March 21st. We'll have food, drinks, and what promises to be a really interesting talk from Dave Thomas the issues with object-oriented software development, and its limits with more agile approaches to delivery. 

 

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