Tag Archives: Business Technology

A Tip on the Long Tail of Top Management

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Taking risks is inherent in top management roles, but some often suppressed aspects are isolation and doubt. With the increase of economic and political uncertainly and complexity, top managers need to be able to ponder alternatives and decisions with stakeless peers – something that they cannot find in their Boards or management groups.

This need starts to be addressed through an innovative combination of people and technology.

It is no secret that the 50+ employment market for senior managers is shrinking at an accelerated pace. Many seniors turn to consultancy services as an alternative. This move is not only motivated by economic reasons (income), but also by professional and lifestyle reasons. Indeed, lifescience and healthcare extended our life expectancy to a point where many seniors are fit and eager to continue working well into their 70’s.

The Internet and related technologies prompted and enabled tailored and personalized conduct of business (“The Long Tail”), where individualized products and services are sold in unit quantities to large numbers of consumers – at mass market prices.

Emerging business consultancy practices build upon these new realities and offer long tail senior management consulting. The underlying idea is to promote the wealth of knowledge and experience of available senior managers via relevant internet platforms, offering very flexible and tailored engagements – a phone conference, web session, several day missions or long term engagements.

Now, top management roles can be more effective and less lonesome, and obtain stakeless peer support in virtually any field. When faced with a critical decision, top managers can resort to one of these practices and obtain just the right amount of the right support – without having to pay arm and leg.

For reference, here are a couple of long tail consulting practices: www.ceo-europe.com, www.zintro.com

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Cloud and the end of the PC era

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I was asked to comment on the question “Are we close to the end of the PC era?” at ebizQ. It was a good enough question to prompt this post.

Indeed we are – I’d say that we’re already beyond it. I think that the proliferation of web applications is the curtain call of the PC era, leading the way to the Cloud era. I consider myself an avid PC user and cherish its stand-alone autonomy, yet I already use my PC mostly to access web based applications. And without web access, much of the stand-alone value would become a moot (or should I say Stale?) point.

The PC era introduced the practice of Business Empowered IT, in which the central IT department was short-circuited by business units who needed situational solutions “now and here”. That practice is endowed to the Cloud era, but in a more mitigated manner.

After the heady drunkenness of Business Empowered IT adoption, enterprises woke up to the hangover of unmanageable application portfolios and business disruptions due to rogue code. The result was a backlash trend towards centralized IT, which made PC’s a physical extension of the computing centre.

But it did result in a role change, in which Business got the lead role in requisitioning new solutions and IT projects.

The introduction of the Cloud and SaaS brought back some of the PC era Business Empowered IT practices, as the well-known example of Salesforce.com demonstrated. But at a very different level. What we see now is actually Business Empowered Solutions (or Business Technology, as Forrester termed it), in which what really matters is the process and not the IT implementation.

That is further amplified by the rapid adoption of mobile computing, in particular smartphones and tablets. As long as you have web access, who cares about the device?

And as one would expect, in the Cloud era we see completely new business practices and enterprises, which are the embodiment of Business Technology.

Take for example eBay and its Partner Network business (ePN). This whole business revolves around web sites and applications which reference eBay offerings and catalyse sales of eBay merchants. That’s actually a business which is already derived from existing Cloud business, and which could not exist without a thriving internet economy.

The PC, or any other IT equipment, has become immaterial and a commodity.

So here we go – applause to the good old PC, and Hello Cloud.

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?

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.

How to survive the dark side of Cloud Computing

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The last couple of weeks were rich with meetings and discussions about SOA, RIA and Cloud, in between the Forrester IT Forum in the US and the SOA Forum in Switzerland. What strikes me is the “lemming behavior” of a lot of software vendors who decorate their offering with Cloud and XaaS feathers, oblivious of the revenue precipice that aTransition to a Cloud related revenue modelwaits them right ahead.

I have touched upon this subject in my article on RIA and Cloud Computing Apps, as well as in a blog post last year (The coming out of the hybrid SaaS model). It’s ripe for an update.

What we have seen in the last couple of years is an increasing offer of Infrastructure As A Service (IaaS) providing quite elastic on-demand pricing, and an increasing number of software vendors using such infrastructure to offer Cloud hosted applications. The evolution of IaaS technologies facilitates the deployment of traditional on-premise applications over the Cloud, and tempts their vendors to slap on those “Cloud Feathers”. What seems to be put aside are the business model implications.

What the pure SaaS vendors (such as Salesforce.com) experience is a growing pressure of SaaS users towards more granular pricing – real pay per use and not only flat subscriptions. And sooner or later we will see this becoming more and more available. The consequence is a further reduction of software usage costs for customers, and by implication lower revenue per user for the vendor. Vendors will try to compensate by looking for cost reductions – both in developing and maintaining the software and in deploying it. So how can software vendors make money and increase shareholder value in such conditions? They would have to look for more productive and cost efficient software platforms, and implement new business models that tap into the entire ecosystem for shared revenue. And they should be prepared for a very tough transition, which might become fatal.

I recently came across a comment by a Magic Software shareholder that “the licensing model is difficult to understand and costly compared to other tools many of which do not even have licensing models. (this makes MGIC less attractive to potential new developers)”. What is perceived by the commentator as a limitation is in fact one of the bright spots which gives this company a much better position in the growing Cloud market. Magic software already creates most of its revenue using a shared revenue model – tapping into its ecosystem for shared revenues with its customers and partners. It gives the company a very robust outlook and resilience to the upcoming shift in the software business model.

I’m looking forward for your opinions.