Problem solving -Define the problem

“Until the problem is well defined and articulated it is impossible to arrive at a solution”

The first step to solving any software engineering problem is to define the problem. Articulate the problem and eliminate all unnecessary terminologies and jargons. Start by reading the problem completely at least twice. Read and establish the context of each key word. If time allows, research about the problem.

Ensure that there is agreement on the problem to be solved. Try to restate the problem in you own understanding.  Find out from the person who posed the problem whether the restated problem is the same as the original problem. Identify instances of the problem and see it is possible to solve an instance or example problem A solution to the example problem may lead to insights about how to solve the general problem or bring about any remaining misunderstanding.

Look at the problem from multiple perspectives. Each perspective may reveal additional information about the problem. The problem should be distinguished from its symptoms such that the root cause properly identified and stated.

The output of this step is a well-defined and articulated problem that focuses on what is required for its solution.


Software programming and problem solving

Programming is the process of planning a sequence of steps called instructions for the computer to follow. The fact that you are reading this post you already know that computers lack common sense and cannot make any judgment. So the computer will do as instructed by the programmer through the computer program. Programming is more about problem solving than coding.

A problem is the difference between things as perceived and things as desired. A solution will move the situation from the things as perceived to the things as desired.

Programmers are problem solvers and need to improve the art and science of problem solving. On one hand problem solving involves an element of art in that experience, judgment and common sense can help deliver smart solutions. On the other hand problems solving is a science involving scientific means of arriving at solutions. Overall, there are several steps to be taken to solve problems

  • Define the problem
  • Analyse the problem
  • List/Identify  alternative solutions
  • Select the best solution
  • List instructions that lead to the solution using the selected solution
  • Evaluate the solution

in the next post, more details on each step shall be discussed


10 indicators why your Information Technology Strategy Needs alignment

Ask any executive A, dealing in fast moving products the total sales, or purchases of any consumables and the answer will be either to make a phone call to the IT department, secretary or a guessed number. Worse still s/he will give you historical data. Just ask another executive B, on any aspect say total collections, or the current stage of some critical ongoing processes and chances are that the response will not be different from executive A. I have had these encounters with private business executives as well as executives of top government agencies. This challenge that is sometime called ‘information blindness’ is not lack of information, but the inability to see it when it is silently passing by within the computers and network without anybody taking notice.

This blindness is a serious hindrance in today’s organizations that are required to live in the fast lane. Static monthly,or weekly or daily reports no longer suffice for todays modern executives and managers. They need full-time, minute-by-minute up-to-date, complete, accurate, and visually interactive information for efficient business combat in order to outsmart their business adversaries and optimally benefit from partners. Information blindness leads to missed opportunities and risks or catastrophic situations that could have been avoided. In almost all cases there will be sufficient information within the organization to detect an opportunity just-in-time. Similarly there will be sufficient information to avert pending crisis because an opportunity or a crisis is most often preceded by a sequence of events that get captured by the different information systems and computers albeit as independent and meaningless pieces of data where no meaningful inference can be made.

Partial information blindness in organizations is where out-of-time monthly, weekly or daily reports where risks can no-longer be averted or opportunities nipped in the bud is considered state-of-the art. Any organization’s have a life – a life defined by a complex combination of past experience, current and external circumstances in the environment where they operate. This combination is a cumulative occurrence of the important events in time-space that happen in the history of the company. Complete automation should capture this experience, present it meaningfully for decision making. Computers, networking the computers and different information systems are the foundation of this automation. This foundation should be followed by ensuring that information is available to all those concerned in real-time. Computerization seeks to improve processes, and create a basis for accurate decision making. However if despite investment in information communication technologies (ICT) and an entity still has some of the following symptoms, then your ICT setup needs ‘information surgery’ to arrest the information blindness. These symptoms include:-

1. Top executives are fed with static reports. By static we mean a report where you cannot directly interact with data to explore from different dimensions including representations. Lingering questions that relate to how, when and who should not be a reason to summon the author of the report for explanation, but should be self answered by zooming the data and drill down – what experts call root-cause-analysis.

2. Partial process are not transparent. All processes that are in progress should be visible to all those concerned. Processes that have partially progressed are factual steps towards an eventual desired or undesired result. Visibility to all concerned ensures immediate action or just-in-time interventions where possible and can save resources both human and financial.

3. Company meetings still ask for various updates from departmental heads. If this information supplied by head of department is necessary to the membership of the meeting, then it should have been automatically relayed incrementally as it happened for immediate action.

4. Have a team of staff to generate regular reports. I can tell you that what these folks do can be efficiently automated, because every body should be directly connected to the information grid. Generation of reports should be as easy as drag-drop, and click. Regular reports for archiving should be auto-generated. I am sure smart IT techies in these positions have already automated the regular reports. No wonder this position traditionally has high staff turnover.

5. Top managers still refer back reports for answers on why it happened and when it happened: When you are connected on the information, full automation should give you the power to zoom in, zoom out of aggregated figures, graphs and charts to see the actual data that is is responsible for those figures.

6. Events outside your organization are not captured: No organization lives in isolation, its operations are affected by other events outside its boundaries. For instance does a bank effectively capture an ‘event’ of opening of school term to prepare cashiers and banking needs just-in-time? Such events that happen outside your organization should be integrated into your process to reflect accurate information as per prevailing circumstances inside and outside the company.

7. The company has no memory. Duplication of tasks across departments, or repeating tasks done in the past is an indicator of acute information blindness. Whether repeated by different staff several years later, or same staff redoing anew a previous process cannot be explained other that information blindness.

8. Cannot playback your data to study the past: Just like a good movie can be watched over and over again, analytical executives want to study the past. Executives should be equipped with the ability to replay and recombine different scenarios to understand the past and improve the future. The automation should support executive tools for top managers to dissect, merge, enrich the data in game like manner. Replays can allow identification of winning strategies, critical seasons, and means to efficiently predict the future.

9. You still stock products, consumables in large quantities for just-in-case: One of the reasons people store products in excess is because they have not have any idea on what they can consume in a specific period. Over stocking creates challenges of theft, expiry, locking of capital and others. But if you have been consuming these products since the existence of the entity why would you not correctly determine what you need at any point in time? Better still if your automation is complete why wouldn’t the procurement process be kick started at the right moment? The answer is to replace inventory with information.

10. Top Managers have no direct access to the current data – at least up to last-minute detail of key information: As a manager you need accurate and real data. Lack of a minute-by-minute information on the key critical indicators anytime is like driving a car without a dashboard. You are driving in total blindness without a fuel gauge, a speedometer, a temperature gauge, side-mirrors – just the entire dashboard. Executives have to call the ‘mechanic’ – the IT staff to know how much fuel, how much mileage, and what speed the the company is running at. By the time the mechanic has returned the result, the car is has moved several miles and same blindness prevails again.

To say the least, relying on IT staff to send monthly,weekly or daily reports whose data you cannot interact with to answer the how, why and when by twisting and turning the data directly is like looking a static picture where you need a 3D movie with a touch screen. Fast moving and dynamic companies need to quickly eliminate information blindness. It is common knowledge that the fast you move the more risks you are exposed to and susceptible to fatal accidents. The more the information you can gather the higher the chances of avoiding these accidents without missing any opportunities.


Benefits And Advantages of Webservices

To begin with there has been considerable attention to web services  in the last couple of years since early 2000. For starters  web service are no more that applications that are designed to be used across the web. Web services provide a program-to-program programming model where one service invokes another using web standards including the well known HTTP and XML. Here I outline the main benefits, some technical others business.

  1. Interoperability – when faced with a challenge varying systems architectures, legacy  systems, a cocktail of programming languages that make up systems that make up systems which need to be integrated then web services come in handy. Perhaps the most important benefit of web services they provide a non proprietary means of interactions. Web services only need to speak the same message protocol for them to inter-operate. So far a common set of standards-based communications method that include HTTP, WSDL, SOAP have been developed. These make it possible for web services to be platform-independent.
  2. Usability – web services are designed to be used over the web, that is just in the same way a page is fetched, one can fetch web services capability over the web. The capability of a web services varies from simple information lookup to complex algorithmic computations. Therefore when a service is used to expose a business logic, then it can easily used.
  3. Re-usability – Web Services are designed to be combined to deliver more added value services. Web services serve as building blocks and this makes it easy to reuse Web Service components as appropriate in other services. Also legacy applications can be wrapped into web services for use by others
  4. Deploy ability – Web Services are deployed over standard Internet technologies. For instance using Apache, Axis2 to provide HTTP, WSDL driven services. This makes it simple to deploy
  5. Agility – this looks at ability to change. When a an enterprise IT infrastructure is streamlined into services, new functionality to address new business demands is a matter of assembling existing services. Of course a few more services may need to build, but overall it is easier that re-building a new system from scratch.
  6. Quality – Related to reuse, because web service development approaches allows services to be built by assembling existing existing services, it logical to expect that such services are already tested with known performance characteristics. Therefore new systems will be less buggy.
  7. Cost – The cost of developing new systems reduces significantly since such systems are assembled from ready made web services. Such cost reductions translate into profits on may be passed on the customers. The customers stand to win from cost cuts and efficiency brought in by web service

Overall, an enterprise that streamlines its operations into web services stands to benefit in many aspects.