The North Star

William Ulrich

The North Star takes a deep dive into the topic of strategy execution, often challenging conventional wisdom for achieving an organization’s strategic vision. The host and thought leaders from multiple fields explore concepts that include rethinking innovation, increasing enterprise agility, transitioning to the circular economy, managing enterprise risk and becoming a cognitive enterprise. Setting sights on one’s “north star” is only half the story. Decades of experience point to the headwinds organizations have faced in pursuit of their strategic vision. To that end, the North Star examines how organizations can more effectively deliver on critical business strategies in these uncertain times. The show tackles intractable challenges that many organizations have historically sidestepped, such as optimizing major program investments and untangling high risk technology deployments. While the show often points toward the road less traveled, that road that can make all the difference.
Strategy Execution: Closing the Loop on Best PracticesQuick Wins: Transforming Organizations at the Periphery
Organizations around the globe rely on manual work, spreadsheets, and similar desktop tools to perform both mundane and sophisticated tasks. In some cases, desktop solutions take on appropriate tasks, like crunching data, but in other cases spreadsheets have taken a dominant role in keeping organizations running. In the latter case, spreadsheets serve as a vital link for transforming and porting data between systems, managing operational business data, running assembly lines, automating financial work, and automating other capabilities. These “shadow systems” represent significant risks to organizations as they tend to be undocumented, poorly architected, and largely ungoverned. Consider a large daisy chain of complex interlocking spreadsheets; if one breaks, the ripple effects could easily undermine a variety of internal and customer-facing functionality. Shadow systems undermine security, auditability, business performance, and future efforts to deliver automation to the business areas that rely on them. This episode of The North Star will explore the role of the “Quick Win” approach in strategy execution and business transformation. William Ulrich will discuss how the Quick Win approach was used to transform an organization at the periphery while building a foundation for more extensive, future transformation initiatives. Please join Mr. Ulrich as he explores the Quick Win approach and how it can impact your IT investment strategy and related transformation efforts for years to come.
Dec 2 2021
1 hr
Encore Charting a Path to Your North Star via Strategy Execution
This encore of Episode 1 of the North Star establishes the show's purpose, basic themes and range of topics to be covered. Host William Ulrich will discuss the suboptimal strategy execution track record that organizations share across the private and public sector, consider the root causes of these execution performance issues and lay the groundwork for optimizing strategy execution. He will share his experiences and lessons learned over the course of his 40-plus year career that has shifted his thinking from a technology-first to a business-first and customer-first perspective. William will also provide insights into why the success or failure of a given strategy can be predetermined well before programs and projects are established and corresponding investments are allocated. Two areas that he plans to explore include the lack of upfront problem diagnosis and holistic solution design, along with the tendency to execute strategies in splintered fragments that invariably create unworkable or unimplementable results. He will share a variety of real-world stories that are likely to leave you shaking your head, thinking how can these things be possible. Another topic he will address involves the penchant that business leaders often have for being drawn into major investments in shiny objects, where those shiny objects become a poor substitute for well-crafted business goals and objectives. Finally, William will provide an overview of upcoming topics and guests who will include thought leaders, researchers, authors and experts from a variety of business and technology disciplines.
Nov 25 2021
1 hr
The Business Architect: What HR and Hiring Managers Need to Know
Prior episodes of The North Star identified business architecture as a positive factor in successful strategy execution. It should come as little surprise then that, as business architecture has gained traction, the demand for skilled practitioners has grown. One association’s career center that specializes in job opportunities for business architects has scores of job openings. In addition to the fact that there is an actual shortage of skilled practitioners, the lack of well-formed job descriptions makes it difficult to attract talent. Many open requisitions expect every business architect to be a polymath, skilled in everything except those skills desired in a business architect. Misleading, unrealistic job descriptions not only undermine an organization’s ability to attract talent, but also to retain talent. When skilled business architects are placed into jobs that have little to do with business architecture and fail to leverage their unique skills, they will leave. The inability to clearly articulate the skills required in a business architect and leverage those skills as part of a viable practice undermine an organization’s ability to maximize the value of the discipline. On this episode of The North Star, William Ulrich welcomes back popular guests Kelley Eckmayer and Teresa Garcia-Holm, senior business professionals with extensive experience in maximizing the value of business architecture. They will discuss the role of the business architect and skills an organization should look for during the hiring process and when establishing job performance standards and titles. If you are looking to build and staff a business architecture team, or seeking to ensure that your skilled business architects do not walk out the door, tune in to this discussion and learn what every human resource and hiring manager should know.
Nov 18 2021
1 hr
Dynamic Strategy Setting in a Digital WorldEnterprise Design: The Missing Link in Strategy ExecutionPolitics, Culture and Sabotage: Roadmap to Program Failure
Every project has opponents who try to manipulate that project for their own gain. This is a well-hidden truth. As most people who have been associated with executing strategy are aware, good projects intentionally gone bad is a reality. But no one wants to be associated with a failed or underperforming project, which is why the current state of projects is often portrayed in a better light than what is happening in reality. Shading the truth of a failing project is often done to maintain or gain more power, income, and respect. Yet the industry cannot run from reality. Based on 25 years of tracking data, only one third or fewer of projects are executed successfully. Could at least a percentage of failed and challenged projects be related to intentional sabotage, aided by enablers who shade the truth for their own gain? Little attention has been paid to the art of undermining and manipulating projects, yet millions of dollars are squandered annually due to project sabotage. If more attention is given to the motivation and methods of project saboteurs, the practice could be combatted, leading to significant cost savings and better results. Join William Ulrich as he welcomes guest Dion Kotteman to The North Star. Dion, a former CIO, will provide insights from the perspective of the project saboteur and explain how to deal with the manipulation of the truth and the influence this manipulation can have on projects. If you have a stake in any aspect of project success, you will not want to miss this episode of The North Star.
Oct 28 2021
1 hr
Cyber Security: Neutralizing Threat RisksThe Rise and Fall of Software RecipesIndustry Standards: Why Your Organization Should Care
Long ago, U.S. states set their own standards for railroads, meaning tracks did not align as trains traveled cross country, creating more than an inconvenience. The technology industry also requires standards, which underpin a wide swath of technical and analytical work at organizations. Standards dictate how data is exchanged, business processes are structured, software is designed, mobile phones work and governments stave off cyberattacks. Is your manufacturing, financial services, insurance, transportation or telecommunications company engaged in standards work? As a rule, the answer would be no. Standards tend to be created by a small number of technology companies and, while many vendors donate time on behalf of their customers, self-serving elements are at work. Ever wonder why certain, widely practiced disciplines like requirements definition, customer journey mapping and “high-level process” design lack standards, or why your requirements tool does not integrate with other tools? There are 100s of thousands of business professionals engaged in these disciplines, yet few if any standards support their work. In spite of these factors, the majority of companies across multiple industries are not involved in standards development, even as their work products continue to be misaligned or poorly defined, driving up costs and degrading the customer experience. This episode of The North Star will focus on the important, often overlooked role of industry standards and discuss why organizations should get involved in standards creation. William Ulrich welcomes Steve Nunn, CEO of The Open Group, and Dr. Richard Soley, CEO of the Object Management Group, two global industry standards associations that have a greater impact on your organization than you might imagine. The discussion will explore the current state of standards work and why more organizations should get involved. Check out this episode and get a behind the scenes look at this critically important, yet largely ignored topic.
Oct 7 2021
1 hr
Seven Deadly Sins and the Strategy Execution Blues
The last 16 episodes of The North Star examined strategy execution from a variety of perspectives, looking at a diverse set of topics that included innovation, risk management, net income maximization, artificial intelligence, program execution, organizational design, the circular economy, information issues and technology challenges. Across this wide range of topics, seven self-inflicted troubling patterns or sins emerged. These include: the Strategy Execution Chain is Broken; Culture, Politics, and Siloes Form an Evil Triad; Good Ideas Arise Outside the C-Suite; Program Delivery Blues Undermine Strategy; Organizations Lack Holistic Perspective; Data is the Weak Link in the Chain; and Strategy is Captive to Technological Immaturity. In this episode of The North Star, William Ulrich will break down each of the problematic patterns that undercut strategy execution, citing interviews he held with various experts over the past several months. While many of these strategy execution issues were identified in episode 1, the fact that experts from a wide variety of fields surfaced these same issues through widely divergent conversations was highly revealing. Correcting a problem requires identifying that problem. What organizations are doing today to execute strategy is not working because they continue to repeat the mistakes of the past. These issues are not isolated to a given industry or geography, but are rather built into how organizations think and act as a whole. Ignore these seven patterns at your peril. Or face the facts, take a realistic look into what multiple experts have repeatedly reinforced, and change course on strategy execution now.
Sep 30 2021
1 hr
Mainframe Computers: Dispelling Myths, Getting to the Facts
Is your organization making major investments in cloud and other digital technologies? Concerned that your organization has been left behind in the digital revolution? Does the cost and time spent on information technology grow even as time-to-market, the ability to innovate, and enterprise agility degrade? Is leadership pointing the finger at your mainframe computers as the root of all evil? Are consultants and analysts saying that mainframes belong in a museum, not in a modern enterprise? If so, you may find your organization ensconced in a multiyear, multimillion dollar mainframe migration that strains your budget along with business leaders’ patience and the ability to compete. Reality challenges the mainframe migration myth. Mainframes are still in use by more than 70% of the Fortune 500, handle 90% of global credit card transactions, manage 68% of the world’s computing workload at 6% of the cost, and are more resilient and reliable than their non-mainframe counterparts. Mainframe revenue for IBM’s latest model grew year-over-year 62% in 2019. Yet the drumbeat to migrate from the mainframe seems to just grow louder. Join William Ulrich and his guest, Kevin Stoodley, as they examine the stark reality behind the mainframe migration movement. Mr. Stoodley is currently CTO for IBM Z. William and Kevin will look at the root cause of the challenges facing organizations today that are driving the perception behind the migration movement and deep dive into why many of these massive, high risk mainframe migration efforts may be harming your organization and its reputation in ways you may not even imagine. Listen in to find out why your organization’s technical future may be based on the very hardware systems that are automating your organization today.
Sep 23 2021
1 hr
Architecting for Good: Making a Social ImpactImproving Corporate Earnings Through Swarm IntelligenceStrategy Execution: Preparing Business Leaders of the FutureIncorporating AI and Cognitive Computing into Business StrategyBreaking Through the Legacy Systems Strategy Execution Barricade
When a business executive told the board of directors of their financial services firm that their computer systems were preventing them from offering a new type of fund to their customers, he was met with looks of disbelief. While details vary, the storyline is familiar to business leaders across every industry. Legacy software systems that have been running for decades undermine strategy execution across a wide-range of critical business areas. These include customer engagement, regulatory compliance, risk management, security, billing, procurement, production, fulfillment, shipping, payment allocations, and the trading of financial instruments, to name a few. And while new software is created all the time, most of it relies on underlying legacy software systems for core capability automation and access to enterprise data. Legacy software system challenges are first and foremost a business problem and should be treated as such. When business leaders encounter customer discontinuity, a diminished ability to manage risk, regulatory violations, and a wide range of other system-related, strategy-stifling roadblocks, they often make decisions that cost millions and do little to address the underlying issues. One common reaction is to blame the hardware platform, even when the problem lies in the software itself. Moving ineffective, inflexible software systems from one hardware platform to another, or to the cloud, simply moves the problem around, often at the cost of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. This assumes that these projects are not cancelled outright. This episode of The North Star will tackle the issue of how to address legacy software system challenges head on. Host William Ulrich will welcome guest and leading expert Don Estes to discuss the real issues behind the legacy systems challenge, including how one-size-fits-all solutions can be a fast path disaster. Tune in as William and his guest cut through the hype to share insights into the best ways to break through the legacy systems, strategy execution barricade.
Aug 19 2021
1 hr
Business-Driven Software DesignThe AI-Powered Enterprise: Is Your Organization Prepared?
More and more organizations are seeking to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. AI is promoted as being able to transform every aspect of how organizations function, yet this vision is far from reality. As episode guest Seth Earley said in his recent book, The AI-Powered Enterprise, in spite of multiple generations of investments and billions of dollars of digital transformations, organizations are still struggling with information overload, which undercuts efforts to excel at customer service, reduce costs, and maximize efficiency. The foundation of ensuring that an organization can function as an efficient biological ecosystem is the accurate perception, interpretation, and communication of data. When organizations are broken into silos that do not or cannot communicate, rely on incompatible information and vocabularies, and are drowning in “junk” data, the overall ecosystem cannot function effectively and AI projects fall well short of expectations. The result of these challenges is degradation of the customer experience and corresponding reductions in revenue and market share. William Ulrich and his guest, Seth Earley, will discuss what it takes to deliver effective AI solutions, including effective ontologies or knowledge domains and relationships. AI tools may sound like an easy path to AI deployment, but when underlying information required by those solutions is incomprehensible at scale, AI technology will not come close to reaching its potential. Check out this episode of The North Star to gain practical insights into the essential aspects of AI deployment as William and his guest take the conversation well beyond the vendor hype to gain clarity for a path forward.
Aug 5 2021
1 hr
Reenvisioning How Organizations Define and Automate Work
This episode of The North Star challenges what has been a long-held assumption by business professionals around the world – that formally defined, automated business process models increase efficiency, effectiveness, and resiliency. Fifty years ago, computer programs were based on flowcharts, step-by-step decision structures that programmers turned into software. That software, much of which still runs today, could not adapt to conditions not considered in the original flowchart, which forced programmers to build more software. Decades later, organizations are collectively stuck with billions of lines of redundant, bloated software systems that are less adaptable than ever. Fast forward to the 1990s, where the concept of business process modeling first emerged and was ultimately adopted by thousands of organizations. Business process models are essentially flowcharts that business analysts define to optimize work and communicate automation requirements to software developers. Those developers then use these process models to design even more inflexible software, stifling agility further in an increasingly unpredictable world. This episode of The North Star will explore the challenges organizations face when they define, manage, and automate work using models that software developers abandoned decades ago. William Ulrich and his guests, Keith Swenson and Dana Khoyi, will examine these challenges and what organizations can do to reverse a trend that has until now been largely unquestioned. Swenson and Khoyi have led efforts to create multiple work management-related standards, patents, and software tools. They have also authored multiple books, such as Mastering the Unpredictable, that reimagine how organizations should define and manage work to increase ecosystem-wide agility while streamlining software solutions. Tune in to this episode of The North Star and learn if everything you know about defining and managing work may be misplaced.
Jul 29 2021
1 hr