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The Challenges of Disrupting ITSM Through Automation

Automation has often generated negative reactions throughout History, from the fears of machinery that inspired many cinematographic and literary dystopias to the social criticism it received during the Industrial Revolution.

While it is not surprising to see its emergence in IT set off negative feelings again, those should not be simply dismissed as Luddism. Instead, any player that promotes automation needs to engage in constructive discussions with anyone who will be involved in this transition.

It is only natural for IT experts and clients to have doubts when faced with fundamental change in their work practices. Rather than ignored, their questioning has to be answered to make sure that they will actively embrace automation, and not merely endure it. Quoting arago's whitepaper that inspired this post: “Dealing openly with mistrust builds trust.”

How to convince clients: the AutoPilot approach

The mistrust of IT automation comes in many forms, the mildest one being disbelief: “How could the job be properly done on auto-pilot mode?” The easiest answer to technical skepticism is to point out to the track record of companies such as arago, which has been partnering with major clients since 1996 without hiccups.

More often than not, prospective partners are also concerned about security and compliance. In the case of arago, this suspicion can be dispelled by explaining that the AutoPilot for IT Operations works in the same way as an administrator, and is therefore subject to similar processes and checks.

In addition, the company decided to let clients verify that the AutoPilot does what it says by developing its Issue Visualizer, which gives them a transparent window into the system’s decision-making process in real-time. This tool is a good example of how important it is to make the onboarding as painless as possible; to dissipate initial fears, it is crucial for engineers to know that they can easily understand decisions.

This also applies to the business model of automation providers, as they need to convince their clients that they can start small before expanding the integration once it proves successful. From a cost perspective, arago’s preferred approach is to only get paid when the AutoPilot actually starts to perform tasks, which limits risks from the client’s perspective while demonstrating confidence in the results its solution can achieve.

Same workers, new roles

Convincing companies that IT automation can improve their productivity without hassle is not an easy task, but their doubts are usually rational, which means that they can be answered with concrete arguments and tangible results.

On the other hand, their employees’ reluctance to embrace automation is often rooted in an unspoken fear: “What if it replaces me?” Arago noticed this reaction when it first started to help its clients implement AutoPilot, as some of their staff members were worried they might make themselves redundant by writing knowledge items. 

However, the administrators’ attitude quickly changed as they understood that they could have the machine do all the boring tasks they were too often burdened with, freeing up time for them to perform strategic tasks.

While the productivity gain for employers is obvious, it is still necessary to address the elephant in the room: will IT workers lose their jobs en masse because of automation? The answer is a clear no, for several reasons.

One of them is that the IT experts who are directly involved with automation will benefit from it. Not only will their work become more interesting as they increasingly focus on value-adding tasks, but their personal situation within the company they work for is likely to improve.

In other words, if you want to be in the best position to succeed in the IT world of tomorrow, you should overcome your fear of change and actively embrace automation; as Forrester analyst Glenn O’Donnell puts it: "Be the automator, not the automated."

Nevertheless, even workers whose tasks can be performed by machines may not lose their jobs. After all, it is difficult to hire and train talent in the IT world, which means that companies are reluctant to let good employees go.

In that context, chances are that many IT workers will simply see their job descriptions change. In his report “Become Customer-Centric, Service-Focused, And Automated,” O’Donnell predicts a dramatic decline in infrastructure administrator positions through 2015, while professionals such as automation architects and knowledge engineers will be in high demand.

In short, IT experts will increasingly be able to focus on engineering, while delegating routine operations to machine – as long as they embrace automation and its potential. It is also the role of automation players to facilitate this shift. Ultimately, automation is a matter of trust, and the only way to build that trust is to answer any questioning as transparently as possible while adopting measures that will dispel doubts.

Image credit: Matt From London / Creative Commons

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Why Standardization is Irrelevant to IT and How to Avoid It

There's no doubt about it: ITSM is too often modelled on the principles of industrialization, as if all companies were factories. This results in an over-emphasis on processes, but also on standardization, despite the fact that this approach is not necessarily relevant to IT.

Time is the main factor that differentiates IT operations from their manufacturing counterparts. For instance, it is not uncommon in automotive production to spend several years designing a standardized platform that won't bear fruits until completion. This is obviously unimaginable in the world of IT: which product manager could request so much patience?

The reason why automotive companies can afford long production cycles is simple; their average monetization period for a given platform is more than double the development phase. Again, this is unthinkable in IT, where minor tweaks wouldn't be able to prevent such an old platform to be severely outdated.

Unfortunately, many IT players ignore these irreconcilable differences and try to bring standardization where it doesn't belong. All in vain efforts to avoid accepting complexity as a fact in any IT environment. In most cases, IT's reluctance to rigid standards means that they are set for failure. After all, there is a reason why our sector hasn't been able to agree on a single CPU or OS over the last decades.

The worst scenario, however, is the one in which companies succeed in creating a standardized environment in which to operate, and subsequently build processes that the smallest change could endanger.

As senior automation expert Thorsten Hilger previously explained, this is a lesson that arago learned early on when experimenting with scripts:

"Scripts are only suitable for automation to a very limited degree because they only ever cover precisely the type of situation the script envisages. If just a small change was made in the system with the last release, the event occurrence conditions will no longer be the same.

If you really wanted to maintain all scripts and occurrence conditions continuously, the effort involved would be greater than operating the configuration by hand."

Even though there are much better ways of doing “standard operating procedures”-based automation today, at their core they are still scripts. These RunBooks or recipes are fantastic when you have to do the exact same job many many times (like rolling out 20.000 PCs once every two years), but they lack flexibility, agility and learning from experience. These kind of tools are available from any of the big ITSM tool providers and there are great versions in the open source community, with Chris’ favorites being Puppet and Chef.

Understanding that flexibility was the key to a sustainable reduction in time spent on operational tasks, arago came to the conclusion that scripts were only automation 1.0, and would only ever cover small parts of everyday work. The logical consequence was a new kind of automation that would be based on reusable knowledge items rather than processes.

On a higher level, this also exemplify how generalized standardization generates inertia and disincentivizes adaptation. Once an IT department relies on certain standards, its team become averse to change, and may be inclined to put a vast amount of efforts into making sure the system remains unchanged as long as possible. 

In other words, the time that should be spent on innovation is wasted on keeping obsolete environments alive. Not only is this bad for productivity in the short-term, but it also causes long-lasting damage to IT, which must rely on constant change and complexity.

Don't get this wrong: we don't suggest that standardization can't apply to IT at all. Nevertheless, it should be limited to the small portion of the IT stack to which it is often applicable, such as infrastructure and the lower part of the value chain. More importantly, there is no golden rule on what to standardize or not; if you want to attract and retain top IT talent, you need to standardize along knowledge.

Image credit: Valerie Everett / Creative Commons

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Why IT Service Management and Automation Should Be Knowledge-Based, Not Process-Based

If you think IT service management (ITSM) is similar to industrial production, think again. While it too often follows the same structure, its optimization actually requires a whole different approach.

Over the last decades, IT operations have commonly been modelled on the principles of industrialization, such as standardization and scientific management, also known as Taylorism.

This has resulted in a focus on processes, which have become the standard road map in ITSM. In practical terms, this means that IT operations typically take a task along all experts possibly needed, like an assembly line would.

Now let’s take a step back and consider the employee’s profile that Frederick Winslow Taylor had in mind when he defined his scientific management theory in the 19th century: unskilled factory workers, who wouldn’t be able to handle the production cycle from A to Z.

Conversely, IT engineers are skilled professionals whose training and experience prepared to handle large portions of these operations. Yet, too many companies rely on an approach that neither fosters innovation nor creates an environment where talent can thrive.

To be fair, finding experts is difficult and expensive enough not to bother them with minor tasks once hired. This is where a new productivity booster comes into play: knowledge-based automation.

While many automation tools try to ensure proper process completion, automation at its best needs to have expert knowledge as its starting point. Once entered into the engine, this data can later be actioned to solve similar problems in the most efficient manner.

To make a difference in this new world, the leading IT provider of the future will be the one that can hire the best experts to constantly feed its knowledge pool, which it will excel at archiving and subsequently using in an automated way.

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PULSE 2012 – Between Technology 2.0 and Enterprise IT – Happy 5th Birthday PULSE

This year will not only be my 5th visit to IBM PULSE, it is also the 5th birthday of this unique IT operations community event. I do not have much time, so take for granted, I don’t waste any – not even in Vegas – and by returning to PULSE for the 5th year in a row, I make a statement about PULSE as the most content rich event for talking about, evolving and networking around IT operations (I think IT service management is the correct term, but I believe ITSM is only part of the game and what it is all about is the whole of operations).

Happy Birthday IBM PULSE

PULSE has seen the introduction of the Control Visualize Automate paradigm as well as the rising of the Smarter Planet initiative with its offspring (Smarter Computing, Smarter Cities, Green IT, etc.). With PULSE’s audience being mainly large enterprise customers I would have expected to see less enthusiasm about more modern approaches to operations like devops or even towards BigData and Cloud. But despite the focus on enterprise IT – which is changing at a slower pace than high tech IT environments – PULSE has never failed to point out where IT operations is heading and PULSE has never missed a beat in explaining why radical change can hold so much potential for enterprise users who are willing to adapt.
The gap between high tech companies and large enterprise is ever growing and IBM itself is one of the few big enterprises initiating change in their midst, so just that would make listening to their experience worthwhile. Adding the concentration of technical expertise as well as the network of fellow architects and decision makers shaping the future of enterprise AND high tech IT, this is an event anyone taking IT operations seriously can hardly miss.
Why am I saying that there is an ever-growing gap? Well take a look at the “infrastructure operational staff” at any major bank and the “infrastructure operations team” at Google. Or take a look at Cassandra or HBase as large-scale data stores and the relational DB technology and resources needed to be able to at least store the same amount of data. Change is knocking on the door of all of us established IT guys and I have a feeling that we are not good enough in embracing this change and adapting our comfortable concepts. This is why an event like IBM PULSE – where the enterprise community is strong and healthy, yet the organizers do not lock out modern IT concepts – is so important in building a bridge for all enterprise IT environments and all experts involved with them.
So what do I expect from this year’s PULSE? I think I’ve said it more or less directly. I expect PULSE and the network around PULSE to build a bridge for enterprise IT operations people to the new age of technology. An age where results outrank standardization, where data handled exceeds even the most outrageous predictions made just two years ago, an age where hardware becomes software and even infrastructure operations becomes configuration – which is what happens in a cloud environment – and an age where the network is not just the computer, but so much more.

Meet me au IBM PULSE 2012I am looking forward to a few great days in Las Vegas, many discussions and a lot of interesting sessions on technology, strategy and experience. My special focus will of course be automation or autonomous system operations but I will definitely attend devops, cloud and BigData sessions. If you are looking to engage and have a chat about IT automation, please tweet me at @boosc.
So happy birthday PULSE and happy service management to all of us.

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Finally Learning How to Web

I already said that the service for speakers was amazing at this year’s How to Web conference in Bucharest Romania. I wish other conferences would treat their speakers similarly. The only bad thing about the event I can say is that it was so enthralling that I never had time to see even a bit of the city in the two days I spent in Bucharest. I encountered great enthusiasm in the crowd who organized the conference and the many volunteers who helped to make it a great event. I would however like to say a big thank you to Bogdan, who obviously has his heart invested into making eastern European tech people more competitive, engaged, passionate and thus successful. If there were more people like Bogdan Sandulescu in the world, the technology sector would not only evolve as fast as it is now, but it would also create less complicated processes for innovation and a better network of cool people.

Well, but let me start form the beginning I was at “How to Web” only for the second day and I want to share my favorite moments from the conference here. I absolutely enjoyed the 2nd keynote <Link> from Mark Randall who is now with Adobe . He talked about how to find “Your Big Idea” and how to develop such an idea in an evolutionary fashion to be successful. There was a lot of great advice and insight in his presentation. From my point of view – as a person who is often approached for feedback on concepts and ideas – there is one message of the presentation I’d love to repeat to you: “DO NOT MAKE IT A SECRET”. Personally I just find it annoying when someone uses my time to get feedback on something they have in mind and when it comes to the interesting questions they say “I cannot tell you that, this is secret/stealth” or “We do not talk about this”. It is entirely your decision not to reveal information, but please don’t use my time if your do not plan on actually having a conversation about things (consulting is only free, if both sides enjoy the conversation). Mark explained this a lot less personal and a lot more helpful by saying “Many more ideas did not succeed due to lack of data and feedback than due to them getting stolen by someone else”.

I also liked the presentation given by Carlos Espinal – one of the Seedcamp Partners – who categorized the lifecycle of a company into “Start-Ups”, “Grow-Ups” and “Finish-Ups” (there is the feeling, that especially in Europe the last phase if normally not going so well) <LINK>. He has a very clear message that each of these phases needs different skills at the helm of the company and that many founders make the mistake to hang onto their position too long for final success. He either suggests getting in someone for the other phases to head the company or at least – and here his example was Apple and how Steve Jobs combined with different talents in top management – to get different people in during the different stages to partner with. He also gave out the well-known but unfortunately rarely followed statement that you should always look to hire smarter people than yourself.

I had fun giving my talk and as Bogdan had requested I did not hold back any challenge I see resulting from the status quo of development best pracices. You can see the slides at SlideShare. The slides are fairly abstract and will only give you a jist of the message. If they get you interested, maybe you should consider coming to the next How to Web conference and see me jumping up and down the stage emotionally talking about why writing code is not programming and why common technologies have slowed down the development of new development initiatives we need for the evolving web.

You can find – as promised – a list of my favorite development links here. This cannot be a full list, it is just a collection of a few sites, articles and tools I enjoy reading and use as reference for designing, building and refactoring highly scalable and well developed environments.

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We Rate – first talk at HackFwd Build 08

Today I had the pleasure of introducing the idea of using the Internet, open data and actual people to build a trustworthy rating infrastructure for the future, I asked all the geeks at HackFwd to join in the effort to actually create this system and early next week I will post the URL to a site with additional information and a page where you can sign up to participate.

So stay tuned, return on Tuesday and sign up to support We Rate

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Arriving at “How to Web”

WOW! I´ve jst checked into the hotel at this year´s "How to Web" event in Bukarest Romania and I am impressed. First of all a big thank you to Bogdan Iordache who invited me to give a talk tomorrow. He asked me to shake up the event a little by getting out of the normal development talk and so I will try my best. But what I actually wanted to tell you about was my first impression coming here. Ok, I had a tough week so far with about 4 hours of sleep overal. When I came here and the "How to Web" crowd welcomed us very warmly. This feels almost like a mental spa for geeks. We were picked up at the airport, got a personal welcome at the hotel and even had a coockie (there goes the sweet tooth). Up in the room there is a nice bottle of wine and the internet is actually FAST. I have been speaking at many events and I have rarely ever had such a great welcome and a well organized reception for speakers. If the rest of the conference gets even close to that standard I promise to return next year right away. Also Eric Wahlforss – Co-Founder and CTO of SoundCloud – arrived at the same time and I had a chance to talk to him during our ride into the ciry. SoundCloud is actually one of these Apps that I use on a regular basis and never bothered to lok at the company, just because the App does exactly what I need it for and I am just a happy customer. 

I am very much looking forward to seeing all the cool people at "How to Web" tomorrow. 

 

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When Momentum Turns into Passion

I have written about HackFwd before and I am an adoring fan of the concept. I think the whole IT industry should acknowledge what Lars Hinrichs has done by starting this movement. Obviously many have seen the enormous potential and HackFwd is now being copied more or less exactly all over the world.

Well I am writing now, because I have just attended the 6th Build event (at least that was when I wrote the post, but I wanted to wait for all the videos) –the HackFwd conference for all HackBoxes (Investments) and the HackFwd network. With 50+ attendees this was the biggest build event so far and in my opinion also the best one.

HackFwd Build 06

You may follow some of the content of the conference on Twitter when looking for the hashtag #build06. Still I want to give my summery here to make it more concise and because I think HackFwd should get much more publicity (and that is after Germany´s most known management newspaper just wrote an article about it)

I would like to share my take on two of the HackBoxes in a future post – that does not mean I think any of the others have less potential, I just picked out two stories I like and if I get around to writing more posts on HackBoxes I will cover the other ones, because they are all great. I also want to recommend some of the speakers at the event. If you ever get the chance to see them at an event, stop caring about entrance fees, just go, it will be worth your while.

Let´s start with my favourite four presenters and their presentationhere. I will list them in alphabetical order so don´t read any preference into this.

First I would like to recommend Mike Butcher – not that he needs any more recommending…, but…. This was the most entertaining and well-presented talk I ever heard about PR and dealing with the press. Ok, Mike is a well-trained presenter and all, but his presentations are very obviously coming from “within”. I also had the chance to talk to Mike, and even though I would have much preferred to talk about automation instead of past merits and eccentric holidays I can now – from personal experience – say that Mike is – despite his tremendous reach in the industry – a polite guy, someone who actually listens to what people have to say and someone who understates his knowledge of the industry up to a degree where modesty seems too weak a word. Yes he comes across as an ego, but that is part of the job or would any of us read his articles otherwise? I was seriously positively surprised, because I was actually expecting a super arrogant know-it-all as I have experienced before with other journalists with less insight into the industry. Don´t get me wrong, this is not brown nosing; as you know TechCrunch does not cover our customers or industry focus but is just a source of up to date information and opinion read by a lot of people in our company – so there is nothing to gain for us from praising TechCrunch or its senior staff. This is my opinion and as I believe positive surprises are worth mentioning I do.

How To Deal With TechCrunch – And Maybe Other Media – Mike Butcher from HackFwd on Vimeo.

Second I would like to recommend Stephanie Kaiser. She is product lead at Wooga and responsible for three of their games – two of them being under construction and one of the being “Monster World“, their biggest hit. And in my books it is no wonder that her projects work out. She is KPI driven, yet passionate about every detail (let me just mention orange monsters for those who were at the event). Stephanie made me think that we should start looking at enterprise applications as games and she made me look at the topic of user tests and user relations in a completely new way. If you want to see someone who is PASSIONATE about her job, talk to her or let her talk to your audience (if you can persuade her to take time off from grooming monsters that is).

How Wooga Cares About Monsters – Stephanie Kaiser from HackFwd on Vimeo.

Third I would like to recommend Josep M. Pujol, who is now working at 3scale.com. Very few people want to talk to me about algorithms but with Josep I was in the details within 5 minutes. In some areas he has a very strong opinion coming out of commercial research, which I prefere much to the pure intellectual discussion of theory. I would love to regularly talk to Josep, just to check up on my thoughts on parallel programming, AI and distributive development. Well, one thing that we definitely agree upon is that it is the API you need to standardize, not the program itself. He is one of the smartest guys I have met lately and he is so modest about it that you only find out when you listen closely. If you ever need advice on APIs, distributed systems or AI data structures he certainly is a good starting point.

More Than The Sum Of Its Parts, The API’s Whole – Josep Pujol from HackFwd on Vimeo.

Last but not least I would like to recommend Charles Wiles. His distinguished career as a product manager at Google in Europe should tell us a great deal about his abilities. The talk he gave at the event – 7 good tips for startups – was not just applicable to startups. I felt like telegraphing most of the points home to my guys at arago right away. Absolutely great! And he definitely knew what he was talking about. And then at lunch he showed me the iPhone App he was programming at night over that last 6 months (Huntzz), which is not only educational, but also a lot of fun. So if you are looking for someone who knows where startups can go wrong and need to avoid exactly that, Charles is a great contact. Other than that, just download Huntzz and you can judge yourself, what kind of a guy would program an app like that at night besides his day job.

7 Product Tips for Startups – Charles Wiles from HackFwd on Vimeo.

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Open or De Facto Standards – the Battle of the Giants

On 24th August 2011 using twitter gave me more than just news and interesting articles for the first time. On August 24th I was witness to the battle of the giants when I watched a discussion between Sam Johnston (@samj) and Simon Wardly (@swardly) on APIs, the possibility to patent APIs and much deeper on weather standards and thus APIs needed to be open or proprietary de factor standards were all right.

To give you an impression on who I was listening to – besides that I personally think they both are two of the most important guys to follow on twitter on the topic of cloud computing – I give a brief overview. Simon used to be Cloud Computing strategist at Canonical (the guys who do Ubuntu) after being Chief Economic Office at Fotango and is now researcher at the Leading Edge Forum of CSC. Simon also gives one of the most compelling and best presentations on the topic of “what is Cloud Computing”, which you can find <HERE>. Sam Johnston – successful tech entrepreneur – was technical program manager at Google Switzerland and is now director for Cloud Computing at Equinix. Sam was part of the Open Cloud Initiative and is now pushing OpenStack.

I do not know how their discussion started, but I have made a screenshot of the discussion and put it in this post (which like any twitter discussion you will have to read bottom to top) but it turned out that two worlds collided on the topic of standards and how they should be created and maintained.

Simon made the argument that as long as the API is public anything that is practical and seems to be used by many people (the de facto approach) can legitimately be called a standard and that in case the company who´s proprietary implementation was used to implement the standard could always be circumvented by reengineering the functionality behind the API.

Sam on the other hand argued that standards, the API AND their implementation needed to be open and agreed upon between as many parties as possible to make the base for using and developing them as free as possible and especially to prevent any company who might have originally created the implementation behind an API to do anything “evil” in the future.

I find myself naturally siding with Simon on this argument because it has been a long crusade for me to convince people that the actual implementation is not worth talking about as long as you knew the API and could out whatever you like behind the API (or reengineer the original functionality). Also I believe that corporate interests are not necessarily evil and that the market is actually a fairly good regulator (especially the mrket that is created by engineers having their ideas and concepts compete against each other).

Thinking along these lines I found myself longing for that raised finger that Sam put up “what if someone abuses the power they get through owning an implementation of an API” because there obviously is a lot of power behind this and the most absurd example is the completely useless battle of egos between Adobe and Apple about Flash on the iPad. An open standard for what browsers had to support and how plugins have to work in order to make users want to use them would keep us all from having to stand in the middle of this stupid war.

My personal actions in coding and in designing architectures strongly reflect what Simon is saying. I do not believe in reinventing the wheel just because I like or do not like the original inventor, as long as I feel I could do so if that inventor and his terms turned nasty on my. But in many arguments I have sided with Sam´s open standard arguments.

And as I don´t much like it –especially in myself – when I seem to say one thing and behave differently I tried to look behind the scene, made some interesting observations and came to an important conclusion.

One of the more interesting observations was that Simon and Sam, two guys whom I have seen interact in person and on twitter for a long time, who are normally on a friendly basis and agree in most of their conclusions get religious and almost personal on this topic. This is a strong hint to me that this topic is loaded with emotion and there is always a question weather this helps or is a deterrent.

The second interesting observation was that fact that Sam and Simon were sometimes talking about different things. Where Simon was talking about the API, Sam was talking about an implementation or when Sam was talking about the ownership of an API Simon was talking about the legal strength of this ownership. Many interesting discussions can be spawned from this about software patents and the value of knowledge and intellectual property in general.

My conclusion is that there is no “right” way to go, because if there was only Simons argument it would be very simple for the owners and developers of de facto standards to abuse their position and even make strategies o explicitly do so. If there was only Sam´s world we would try to make an exact plan of the future and have a democratic decision on every variable name in the universe (sorry, I am just exaggerating to make a point) and that would slow us down immensely. Thus my conclusion is that we need this battle between open standards and proprietary de facto standards because they act as a catalyst for innovation and as an evolutionary safe guard against going down one direction too far. This is also why we need people who are very convinced of their position and less distant to make these points, because someone who does not come across as authentic (and you know what I mean when talking about authentic when you have seen Sam market Open Stack and condemn everyone creating proprietary software to the lowest realm of hell) would have no audience and all the safeguard and innovation power for long term development would be lost. On the other hand it is easy to argue why Simon´s part of the argument is emotional, simply because it is about profit. And arguing profit is always an emotional topic.

For me and my software development this means that we will go on supporting the open source community where we can – financially and with code contributions – but that we will not be religious about using none open standards. On the other hand my respect for guys like Sam Johnston has increased by actually thinking about this argument, because these guys (and there is one of them behind every open idea on the net) put themselves into the firing line of very powerful opponents, to keep the rest of us safe for the future, weather we completely buy into the open argument or not.

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Investment Conferences Can Be Exciting, Sexy and Fun

I attended CFP and Founders Forum 2011 and finally get around to doing a short write-up. For those of you who do not know CFP (Corporate Financial Partners), it is about the most not banking like investment bank and private equity funds company possible. Andreas Thümmler who gives the whole network around CFP its unique way of doing things founded CFP. This special way is more uncomplicated, more creative and more innovative than the investment banking 1.0 you see across the board. Thus it is not too surprising that CFP is specialized on technology deals. Besides the pure M&A business CFP has created their own PE fund, because they saw that most of the entrepreneurs for whom CFP works would reinvest part of their money into other technology companies. This makes their fund (CFP and Founders Fund) an unique opportunity for innovative approaches in technology, because they do not just have the money but also an amazing network of successful technology people who hold a stake in the investment the fund takes on.

Andy at CFP Forum

At this year’s Founders Forum there was a crowd of more than 200 investors, founders and experienced technology and banking people who discussed the current market situation, opportunities and the merits of entrepreneurial endeavors especially in a time where the general financial market seems to be unpredictable at best. After the substantial decline in stock and bond markets preceding the event it was not surprising that the star of the event was James Turk from GoldMoney.com. GoldMoney.com basically makes gold available as an every day currency and is of course profiting from the uncertainties in the market and the general movement towards commodities since the 2008 financial crises. Personally I can see the logic behind the approach and I quite like the idea of an independent gold based currency, but I do not agree with the notion, that this is the only way to survive any doom and gloom scenario. Personally I believe that equity in companies producing actual assets and consumer services in an element just as important as putting money behind the firewall of a gold currency. This is why I also liked the talk given by Oliver N. Hagedorn from avesco Financial Services AG – a financial service provider specialized in delivering services to entrepreneurs who have made one or more exits He was not only speaking his mind that financial consulting can never be done for free – which is obviously something most people still expect – because independence in consultancy can only be guaranteed if you pay for the advice you get. Mr. Hagedorn was also strongly emphasizing that cash behind the firewall is not a single strategy approach (like just investing everything into gold) but should be more like a fort with different protections for the wealth to be preserved, different levels and mechanisms of protection for different needs and different market situations. And I could not agree more.

One very important keynote speech – especially given the current situation in Africa – was given by Dr. Michael Hoppe who is running the very special aid organization Steps for Children. This organization is not only special because it focuses on giving children a good education and thus solving the under development problem and possible risk of extremism at the same time – in the long run that is – but also because they do not give away the assets donated to them simply to fund their program but they use the assets to build up small enterprises that will finance the program in the long run. And as I happen to believe that the best help you can get is help to learn to help yourself and be entrepreneurial this is an approach I not only personally support but would recommend to anyone who is considering sharing some of the wealth they have earned. At this point it is a good example to mention Matthias Hunecke, the founder and CEO of Brille24.de who has donated a share of his company to Steps for Children – a very brave, admirable and humbling example to all of us.

But now to the most important part of the 2011 CFP and Founders Forum – the founders who presented their companies and approaches. I will not write about each and everyone, because you can check that out yourself. I would like to write about three very interesting examples. These examples are three very different ones but three companies, executives and concepts that I personally find intriguing and would thus like to promote to you (and I have not included brille24 here because I already mentioned their great service in other places).

First let me start out with zuuka! a mobile development company specialized on building the coolest applications for kids for this new generation of devices. The founders of zuuka! – Susanne and Dirk Busshart – obviously did not just have a love for good educational material for children they also realized the potential of the post book and post TV area where entertainment does not have to be dull and education does not have to be nerdy anymore. I believe the market of educational and entertainment applications for children is huge and that these applications are a good thing for our society at the same time. Susanne and Dirk have realized this and started cooperations with many of the best known children’s book publishers and authors to put well known characters at the center of new concepts. They were also able to acquire the rights to some of the coolest child material through an acquisition in the US and I believe we can expect great applications and an excellent corporate development from them – and an improvement in our kids entertainment and learning patterns which will leave all of us in a multi-tier win situation.

Second I would like to mention Kognitio a company providing “big data” services as in house or cloud solutions to everyone who really wants to squeeze the value out of all the great data they own. Customers of Kognitio could be super markets who want to know what to sell to whom when and where based on all the trillions of sales made in all their stores over a long period of time. With a technology like Kognitio´s this kind of analysis becomes possible at a reasonable pricing. I believe that Roger Llewellyn – founder and CEO of Kognitio (yes I spelled the name correctly and even I with an Irish family connection cannot remember how to pronounce this Scottish name) – has been ahead of his time in developing this technology for the past years but he is in a great position to have a proven technology in a market where “big data” is all of a sudden a hype and where large players like SAP try to move into this market with new and fairly untested solutions like their in memory HANA package (which I like, but I think Kognitio just has more experience in the realm). In my book Kognitio is also worth mentioning here, because the CFP and Founders Fund only rarely invests into completely enterprise focused and solely technology driven approaches and I think they have done so with Kognitio for a very good reason.

Last I would like to mention a company that is so far out o my field of knowledge that I might be opening up a lot of doors to criticism here, but it is my personal feeling that they are doing a great thing and thus you read about Agrarius here. This publically traded company is focused on agricultural production on a corporate scale in Romania. They have a good point about the slow down in innovation in the food industry while at the same time the global population is increasing steadily. I believe a new wave value will be induced into food production and thus I think that proper management and corporate organization to this field will give investors a wonderful long term pay off. Also Ottmar Lotz – founder and CEO of Agrarius – gave me some insights into the modern agricultural industry and the idea of city farming (vertical farms) that are fascinating me and give me hope that we will be able to deal with the mega cities building up all over the globe.

Unfortunately I could not attend the evening party at the CFP and Founders Forum – and that is seriously bad, because I missed out on great networking and also parties in which Andy Thümmler is involved have the nimbus of being legendary by definition – but I heard from attendees that I really missed out on a wonderful evening event.

Well I am already looking forward to another year following CFP’s activities and I am sure I will write about next year’s Founders Forum with even more great examples for entrepreneurial engagement and innovative approaches that will rock the world.