When there are many organisations involved in a project, the danger is increasing bureaucracy and unnecessary work performances. The N4S Program utilises the principles of good software design also in the management of the entire project.
In software design, it is essential to grasp the factors that hinder the project’s progress. The aim of agile and lean methods is to quickly obtain concrete and usable intermediate results, to reduce futile bureaucracy and improve the quality of the work. The aim is that the software and its sub-areas gradually change to become more correct and complete during several rounds of implementation, i.e. sprints.
N4S Program Coordinator Dr. Tua Huomo was involved in the -year Cloud Software Program, where these principles were tested for the first time in the management of a research project.
“We discovered that the research projects cannot be isolated from the ever-changing business environment. Therefore an agile approach was integrated into project management. The aim was the quick utilisation of the research results in business operations, as well as an iterative manner of disseminating the results to the entire consortium,” says Huomo.
Nowadays, a similar model is utilised also in other DIGILE programs, as well as in the new N4S Program, which was launched in the beginning of 2014. Huomo believes that the agility of large projects can and should be increased. If the vision and the goals are clear, the sprint model also works well in large joint projects between many organisations.
“We discovered that the research projects cannot be isolated from the ever-changing business environment. Therefore an agile approach was integrated into project management.”
Added value for business operations
Since changes in the ICT field are rapid, planning a vast research program is challenging. The research program must prepare its own guidelines and profit targets. It is particularly important to invest in the initial preparations of the program.
“You must consider carefully for what purpose the research program is needed. Often joint projects only seem to engage in cooperation and the common goals are mere rhetoric.”
Huomo believes that the research operations in the field of ICT should always include a clear link to business operations and their exploitability. It is also essential to achieve good cooperation between the industry and research organisations.
“In research, scientific advancement is of the essence, but it is also important that the research results provide real impact on business operations.”
“You must consider carefully for what purpose the research program is needed. Often joint projects only seem to engage in cooperation and common goals are mere rhetoric.”
Sprint model for administration
Huomo emphasises that the results of a program such as N4S are evaluated based on its impact on business operations. Therefore it is important to understand what happens in the surrounding world, and how companies could be at the forefront as exploiters of new opportunities. “In the rapidly changing world, we should not prepare 4-year project plans with result lists. It would be better to focus on long-term vision and goals, and plan concrete action and results in the short term. For example, in large projects, presenting and critical evaluation of results every three months saves time and resources.”
In joint projects, it is essential that all results are disseminated as transparently as possible. This can be easily done with the sprint model and the right tools and methods.
In a research project, the sprint model functions so that the organisations involved develop products, services or even operations in cooperation, within a certain framework and in a manner agreed upon together. The goal is that the whole and its sub-areas gradually change to become more correct and complete during several rounds of implementation. These rounds are referred to as sprints. A sprint ends with a demo and result evaluation event, where, for example, the next software version can be introduced. Within different sub-areas, smaller sprints can be made according to need. In software development, the length of a sprint may vary from a few days to a few weeks.
The sprint model turned out to work particularly well in the Cloud Software project. It was not used only in software planning, but also in the management of the entire project.
“The sprint model focuses on creating results regularly. As a result, the manner of proceeding has supported the profit-orientation during the entire project, and there was no final rush typical of joint projects to finalise the promised results before the end of the project.”
During the Cloud Software Program, all in all more than one hundred demos were presented and the events were held every quarter of a year. These events called bazaars were open for all organisations participating in the project. The idea was to introduce the results with a few minutes’ pitch. In this manner, the information travelled efficiently and, at the same time, premises for utilising the results and generating new cooperation were created.
“I consider the biggest advantage of the sprint model to be that it supports cooperation, dissemination of results and, above all, regular networking between the people working for the project, so that they get to know each other on an organisation and personal level. With these sprint model working methods, the information within the project has travelled better, the utilisability of the results has been more efficient and time has been saved for promoting important issues.”
According to Tua Huomo, a similar model has not yet been used elsewhere in jointly funded projects. “However, this is not merely a matter of regular meetings but a “change of mindset”—focusing on creating results and learning. The focus is on creating results and learning. The project plans and profit targets can be changed if the surrounding world changes. The focus is on value creation and not following the reports in the project plan.”
The goal is to advance global business operations
There are many Finnish information technology innovations out in the world that have been financially exploited outside the borders of Finland. One of the aims of the N4S is that the productification of innovations happens in Finland, launched by Finnish companies. In Tua Huomo’s view, one important area is data-intensive cloud services and their utilisation.
“There are many companies in the N4S consortium that have competence in data utilisation. On the other hand, this area also has potential for significant new business operations.”
Open Software Cloud
Information security also provides many different opportunities. The need for secure data-intensive cloud services will increase in the coming years. The Cloud Software Program had its own information security section, led by Ericsson Finland and the University of Oulu. During the Cloud Software Program, Ericsson and F-Secure developed their own cloud services. Ericsson’s virtual cloud service platform has been optimised for the needs of telecommunication companies’ communication services. F-Secure’s cloud service is independent of the device environment and it has also incorporated e.g. virus protection.
At the moment, Tua Huomo has an excellent view over the development of European secure cloud services, because she is also the action line leader of the Future Cloud area at the ICT laboratory of the European Institution of Innovation and Technology (EIT ICT Labs). The partner network is vast and it covers a significant part of ICT research and companies in Europe.
”The aim of the Future Cloud area is to develop reliable European cloud services and solutions that are successful globally.”