Category Archives: Impressions

My personal take

The 3 U’s of Business Technology

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I attended yesterday the annual customer event of Creativ Software, and was dazed to see Business Technology at the down-to-earth level.

Creativ is a small ISV with a big part of the Swiss market for non-profit organization management software. Their customers are non-nonsense people who do not care much about technology, and the nature of their business forces them to run a lean operation with a very compelling and personalized attention to their constituencies.

Yesterday, I witnessed some 100 such users express “wows” and “aha!” and wide smiles when the Creativ team showed them their new “OM V10” product. It was not about the visual design, which is great. It was about the small things that you wish every day were done with more insight into your work. It starts with context persistence across the board, and reaches as far as automated background updates of the contact addresses via third party services. All of that, of course, without having to install anything on your workstation or device…

You may ask at this point where Business Technology comes into this. In my view, that IS Business Technology. It is the intimate and extended use of technology that performs parts of the business. Creativ’s solution is a useful and usable part of the NPO business environment and it is also used – in personalized and fit for the purpose variations – not only by a few subject matter specialists but by the broad community of stakeholders.

How did Creativ achieve such a feat?

About two years ago, when I worked with Magic Software on the elaboration of
the uniPaaS RIA platform, I met with Andy Schwengeler – Creativ’s CEO – to get his reaction to Magic’s new offering. Andy was adamant about usability and architecture. He told me that he was willing to go as far as to redevelop his entire solution if he could achieve a rich user experience as well as the latest flashy and intuitive designs, with zero Client management (or in other words a Cloud based RIA architecture) and a SaaS capability. He finally chose to work with uniPaaS RIA and the Extreme Programming methodology, and brought into the loop one of his most demanding customers as a watchdog. I heard very little from him until a few weeks ago, when he surfaced and invited me to the event.

I had the opportunity to chat a bit with some of the developers and get their take about this achievement. What they said further confirmed the blurring of the distinction between business and technology. In fact, technological advancement further challenges solution vendors for line-of-business expertise.

So there are some things that stay the same even in this age of accelerating change. The well-known recipe for success is still a valid one. If you want to be a successful solution vendor, you must know the relevant business practices better than most of your target customers. Because in order to achieve Usefulness, Usability and Usage, you will have to deliver a solution that embeds and abstracts much of the particular processes and practices which are the fundamentals of their business.

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Cloud Computing – Hype or Reality?

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Last week I spoke about this theme at the CON.ECT conference in Vienna with the same title. I found it a pretty representative sample of the present perception and market situation. Here are a few highlights.

There is a very live interest in Cloud Computing. This event managed to convince some 40 C level and Team Managers to spend most of a day learning more and getting acquainted with this topic.

Most of the effective projects are essentially hosting of traditional applications in a virtual hosting environment, driven essentially by cost savings and a measure of on-demand infrastructure features.

Google, Amazon and Microsoft were perceived by the audience as the key players in the foggy space of Cloud Computing. My presentation of effective Cloud based core applications and implementation examples, and the technical architecture required for such, raised a lot of interest and surprised many attendees. I was in turn surprised by the almost total unawareness of the architectural/technical issues related to the deployment of Cloud applications (as opposed to Cloud Infrastructure).

Another intriguing and highly demanded topic was the legal angle. Data Protection and Privacy legislation impose quite specific responsibilities and liabilities on IT operators and providers, and the multi-tier settings of data storage in the Cloud create potential liability exposures that must be assessed and dealt with before a business implements such a solution.

My conclusion – there’s still quite a lot of fog and hype surrounding Cloud Computing, and the industry must continue to educate and communicate in order to enable the potential it holds.

I’m keen to have more opinions on this.

Applying RIA and Web to the Extended Supply Chain

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Enterprise RIA adoption is growing. It helps businesses become more efficient and grow. It helps entire business ecosystems to work better together by applying modern information technology. Isn’t this what Business Technology is about?

I had in recent days further interaction with Extendas, in relation with their Flower Office project (mentioned in my post The Extended Enterprise – from vision to reality with Rich Internet Application technology). I was able to get additional details about the solution and its reach – all the way from the horn of Africa to the heart of Europe.

This is a great illustration of what can be accomplished with modern business technology and how it brings its benefits also to the developing economies.

FlowerOffice Portal  implements an Enterprise RIA solution from a joint venture of Extendas  (ISV specializing in ecommerce solutions and Dutch market leader in Petrol ERP) and Van Delft International (one of the leading suppliers of cut flowers in the Netherlands and award winning early adopter of mobile software technology).

The FlowerOffice Portal application spans the entire supply chain from flower growers from all over the world to the FloraHolland exchange through the flower trader (such as Van Delft) and finally to wholesalers or even flower shops.

This is an Enterprise Class application, requiring a rich user interaction and transactional capability that is beyond browser based applications. Implemented with uniPaaS, the application is available simply via a URL and login credentials.

The flower supply chain starts with Flower Growers. These supply their flowers to brokers who trade on the flower exchange. Flower wholesalers buy those flowers from the brokers, resell them to retailers and Flowers Shops.

So far, the Flower Exchange was computerized and accessible to ERP systems used by the brokers, and the trade with Growers and Shops was mostly done over the phone.

Flowersoffice has such an ERP system at its core, which is now extended with an Enterprise RIA applications targeted at the edges of the supply chain – the Flower Growers and Flower Shops. These access the application via a portal and can directly enter their data, which is updated in real time. It actually enables a flower shop to get a quote of the current price for a specific flower lot and place an order directly, without further human intervention. This reduces several steps in the process, adding value across the chain, all the way to the end-consumer.

The present beta test focuses on the rose trade, and involves a dozen farmers from Kenya and Ethiopia, FJ Zandbergen (Dutch flower broker) , Delft International (Dutch flower broker and wholeseller) and a few flowers shops.  Once released, it is expected to be used by some 1500 flower shops, streamlining the short-lived flower trade, accelerating logistics and reducing overhead.

Your thoughts? I’m also interested to know about similar experiences.

Green IT from a different angle

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I just returned from a few days of hiking in the Swiss National Park. Leaving behind the daily comforts and making do with whatever you can fit into the backpack is something I enjoy doing infrequently, yet this time IT just would not let us go. To start with, as we approached the park, we passed through Saas (no kidding – that’s a real village).

GreenIT
Stopping at the Park’s visitors’ center for a last update, we were offered the WebPark SNP (that is the device in the picture). As you can see, besides the basic trekking map and GPS you can also enable an attractions service, which alerts you to points of interest, plants and animals as you walk in their proximity. It can also alert you to specific conditions if such arise. As you can expect, payment is via a daily fee – a very tangible and pragmatic WaaS (widget as a service…).

Web Park is a European project focused on providing visitors of protected and recreation areas with location-aware services. These services can enhance the quality of the user experience and facilitate the protection of habitats and natural resources by better informing users on their surroundings. It offers a combination of pull and push services, multiple location technologies and multiple data sources.

Back in the office, it continues to provide food for thought – a good way to transition back from vacation.

Impressions from RIA World

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I attended today the RIA World convention in Munich, and took away some interesting observations and thoughts.

Enterprise 2.0 and RIA are still very fuzzy – used by everyone, but no one at my session ventured to offer a definition. Very much like Phil Wainewright suggested yesterday on ebizQ, many people associate Enterprise 2.0 with social networking in the enterprise context and RIA’s with flashy effects in the Browser. This being said, it was interesting to note the frequent nods and acknowledging expressions as I brought up Enterprise RIA issues and challenges – the tiered architecture, the connectivity iceberg, and the potential benefits.

Also interesting was to see the increasing awareness of uniPaaS, evidenced by Golo Roden in his sessions about RIA platforms, Ajax and Flex.

At the Microsoft pod I finally saw my first Silverlight based Enterprise RIA – a CRM implementation by Cas Software, with a Silverlight Client and a Linux and JEE backend…

I also met my old buddy Hans-Jochen Fink, one of the pioneering partners of Magic Software in Germany. As we were musing over some old “war stories” and our first encounter at Cebit over 20 years ago (we actually closed a deal at the show), we noted the amazing decline of trade shows and event attendance. That is where the web has tremendously changed the buying behavior. Nowadays, when buyers finally interact with a vendor, they often know more about the vendor’s product than the salesperson they talk to. That knowledge is obtained from the Web – so that’s where vendors should be, rather than at trade shows. The question that follows is what to do with the huge exhibition centers that proliferated in recent decades. RIA World was one of three Internet related conventions that ran simultaneously at the new Munich Trade Fare, but nevertheless these occupied a couple of small floors and the huge place remained mostly empty.

I’m looking for new ideas and reasons to have these conventions – it is still fun to meet the people, but we have find some good business reasons to drive these.

Enterprise 2.0 Applications actually deliver their promised value

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Last week I spent a lot of time going over case stories around application platform, trying to crystallize drivers and benefits. Yesterday came up a very related question at the ebizQ Web 2.0 Forum (www.ebizq.net/blogs/ebizq_forum/2009/05), in which I am a regular commentator: In What Area of an Enterprise is Web 2.0 Most Underutilized?. Here’s my comment on that.

While collaboration at large (including wikis, blogs and networking) is probably the most widespread Web 2.0 practice to penetrate the enterprise, I find that Enterprise 2.0 applications and UI’s are the most underutilized. That is understandable, since it is in that area that enterprises have extensive investments and legacies, and changing and evolving applications is complex and expensive. Yet, that is probably the area that will have a very significant business impact. We start to see the first implementations, which are indeed delivering the expected benefits. Here’s a recent example I came across – a project which I think is pretty representative of Enterprise 2.0 applications – in the general context of Web 2.0 and “millennial” lifestyle.

The enterprise at the heart of this story produces an innovative “millennial” outdoors consumer product, which is taking its time penetrating the market. In order to accelerate the penetration, they decided to accompany the web and viral marketing campaigns with group events, in which they let groups experience the product. That required their channel partners to organize such events, publish details, register participants, and handle the logistics. The solution had to deal with a combination of requirements that are usually handled by distinct software product – Content Management, Process Management, Procurement, Accounting, Resource Allocation and more. The business case did not justify a long and expensive project and the acquisition and integration of several systems, and this was well beyond the scope of Situational Applications. so the CIO saw here an opportunity to use one of the new platforms that claim agile development and Enterprise 2.0 capabilities. The objective was to provide the various functions in a “cloud” manner, from a single location and a single application to partners and visitors wherever they are. The specification described a Rich Internet Application for the use of the channel partners and implementers, and a dynamic web portal to promote the events and handle registration. Using one of the new RIA platforms (Magic Software’s uniPaaS in this case), they were able to address in one project the varied user personas and use cases, with the appropriate mix of Browser based interaction for visitors and rich interactive clients for power users – all part of a single application. Moreover, given the pure Web Architecture, the entire deployment is in a single data center and no local installation is required. It enables to on-board new partners and scale up the channel with practically no IT hassle – a truly agile operation.

I think that one of the reasons for the slow adoption is also the scarcity of appropriate application infrastructure. But it is probably only a matter of time before this would change.

“Private Cloud” and RIA gain momentum alongside SaaS

I wanted to share with you some results from a campaign we’re just concluding. The campaign targeted at CIO’s and Chief Architects of Switzerland’s large enterprises. We asked them about their interest or experience with RIA and Cloud development and implementations. Over 16%  responded positively – are both developing in-house and considering RIA’s.

I think that we see here a fundamental architectural shift, which is more visible perhaps in the SaaS application market but is nevertheless gaining significant foothold as “private cloud”.

It might be useful to segment the SaaS phenomenon between the Usability aspect and the Business Model. Private Clouds and RIA go after the Usability, which I start to think is a stronger driver than the Business Model.

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