Tag Archives: Application Infrastructure

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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A cut through the hype of Enterprise Mobility

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During the last few months I did a deep dive into the Mobile Apps world, in particular in the Enterprise context. I talked with a lot of industry analysts, vendors and enterprise customers and I would like to clear away some of the smoke and mirrors that abound in this bubbling market.

A first distinction must be made between large “desktop” format mobile devices and the smaller smartphone devices. Even though netbooks and some laptops are very mobile, they provide a very similar user experience and usability to the ubiquitous Desktop PC’s. The availability of thin clients such as Silverlight, Air or uniPaaS extends the reach of the Desktop beyond the office, but it is an evolution – not a revolution. And it’s not what is usually meant by Enterprise Mobility.

The seeds of an upcoming revolution are in the mobile app style, which is exclusively the domain of handheld devices. The usability patterns of apps are very different. One could compare this difference to what happened when the world moved from “green screen” character terminals to “grey screen” graphical user interfaces and powerful personal computers. That is the magnitude of the change to expect.

Another similarity to the early PC era is the proliferation of hardware and operating systems with no or poor compatibility and a very fast rate of change. For an individual developing one app this might be manageable, but for an enterprise that wants to deploy some functionality this becomes very fast a costly nightmare.

Newcomers to Enterprise Mobility often start by thinking that the idea is to transpose an important desktop process to the mobile device “the Citrix way”. Reality is different – mobile apps address specific and concise functions that are very simple to use yet are intimately tied and related to the core enterprise IT.

That is the real challenge and benefit of enterprise mobility. I’ll look at some related technology in a forthcoming post.

How will cloud computing change the IT organization?

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With the proliferation of 2011 forecasts for Cloud Computing, it might be worthwhile to take a step back and look at a longer term horizon. Clearly, Cloud Computing would significantly impact the IT organization. I am probably not the only one to expect it to push IT further away from the technical terrain to the functional one.

That trend is not new. About 30 years ago , Alvin Toffler wrote In his futurology book “The Third Wave” that most upcoming IT professionals would not do programming but rather adapt pre-programmed software to business needs. Indeed, Enterprise Architects, Solution Specialists and Business Process Experts have already substituted Programmers and System Analysts in most IT organizations (in the Enterprise). It is about time for a name change: from IT to BT (Business Technology)…

Cloud Computing brings what might be “The Forth Wave”, in which the technology itself is abstracted –replaced by increasingly complex and intertwined application services which support business processes. The technology – both the hardware infrastructure and the fine grained software functions – is being offered as a consumable commodity, often as a service. BT is about selecting and orchestrating these consumables to fit and support the business activity of the enterprise. Programming and Software Development is relegated to specialized organizations. Analogies that come to my mind are car manufacturers and garages, although their products and services are much simpler.

Banking is a major early adopter of computing, and this move to BT is very visible when one examines the personnel composition of a bank. BT has taken over many processes that were previously performed by specialized back-office employees, and many consumers prefer to use self-service BT processes rather than be waited upon. That’s Convergence – a topic that merits quite a few dedicated discussions.

So here’s my question – how would you define the profession of a banking BT employee – a Banker, or a Computing Professional?

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.

More action in the Cloud with VMWare+SpringSource – and ISV’s getting encouraging results

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The proliferation of “everything-as-a-service” acronyms is often confusing, and merits an explanation and simplification. The VMware acquisition of SpringSource is an excellent illustration of the architecture. At the infrastructure level we find Operating System resources, which VMware encapsulates and virtualizes, offering shared hardware multitenancy but very limited elasticity. In order to increase the resource elasticity – which is the key factor of cost savings – virtualization needs to extend to the application level. That is the next layer, and I would expect that a tight integration of SpringSource with VMware would in fact provide this for Java based applications.

 This evolution has a lot of similarities to Microsoft’s move with Azure. Whereas Azure offers Cloud enablement for .NET applications, VMware+SpringSource would do the same for Java applications. However, in both cases this applies rather to newly developed applications – existing applications need to be redesigned in order to take advantage of the virtualization and resource abstraction features.

As I have noted in other posts, ISV’s who want to extend their portfolio and take advantage of the growing demand for SaaS need to work across multiple deployment models, where development and maintenance costs can double if they need to create the same application in more than one format.

 So the main challenge for most ISV’s is to manage an extended solution portfolio, continuing to service their current customer base with current deployment models while driving growth through Cloud Based deployment. VMware+SpringSource will facilitate this for Java oriented ISV’s, as the announcement states support for both traditional JEE deployments as well as Cloud based deployments.

 An alternative to the bottom-up approach of system infrastructure vendors such as VMware or Microsoft, comes from some Application Infrastructure vendors such as SalesForce.com or Magic Software. These vendors provide for some time already PaaS and SaaS/Cloud Enabled Application Platforms (SEAP), which deal with virtualization and elasticity by abstracting system resources from the applications, so that XaaS can be achieved at conventional data centres.

 Today I came across an account of a UK based ISV whose been there and done that – successfully, even in the present economy climate. Take a look at the story of FactoryMaster and how they manage take advantage of the new platforms.

Qualifying the need for Enterprise RIA

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I have frequently written and commented about Enterprise RIA’s, here and elsewhere. One of my concerns in relation to RIA is terminology, and I’ve asked around for idea’s about a more appropriate name – to no avail. Yet, my colleagues did relate to it and brought up a few ideas and findings.

You might want to have a look at Ofer Spiegel’s blog posting on the topic. Also Amit Ben-Zvi recently summarized a discussion on this topic that a group of us had recently, trying to define the application context best suited for Enterprise Rich Internet Applications. We identified 5 key attributes, which need to be present simultaneously in order to qualify a good context for a RIA:

  • The users are away from the office, and require remote (Internet) access
  • The application is actually a stateful process, is highly interactive, and requires a rich and dynamic front end with many data fields. If a static HTML form is good enough for the process then look no further – but if it is a dynamic form that keeps changing according to the input provided then RIA might be appropriate
  • The application should be a core process for the organization (e.g. CRM, finance/ERP, marketing, inventory)
  • Requires on-line connectivity/synchronization
  • It is a centralized process with significant human interaction

We did find, though, a pretty broad consens in differentiating Enterprise from Consumer RIA’s:  the “Richness” in Enterprise RIA’s is first and foremost about the interaction, in contrast to Consumer RIA’s which focus essentially on Rich Media output (which brings me back to propose to use different terms for Enterprise RIA and Consumer RIA ).

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.