Tag Archives: Enterprise RIA

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.

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.

Cloud semantics and Ground-Level observations

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I am commenting every once and a while on SOA and Cloud discussions at ebizQ forums. Recently I noticed a growing sensitivity to semantics – Private vs. Public Cloud, Web vs. Cloud, Web 3.0…

This prompted me to post here a couple of recent comments I made on the Cloud Computing forum

How much “Cloud” are “Private Clouds”?

I do not think that Cloud is about semantics, but rather about practice and reality within a concept. My personal experience shows that Enterprises are indeed implementing “Cloud Architecture” solutions which are substituting fat Client-Server implementations, but mostly using the traditional business model (perpetual ownership and in-house or hosted location) – when it concerns core and customized solutions. Cloud based infrastructure and applications delivered as a service and on-demand are indeed still limited to “commodity solutions” – collaboration, CRM, etc…

I described a couple of cases in The Extended Enterprise – from vision to reality with Rich Internet Application technology, and I find a consensus with many industry analysts that these types of implementations are well part of what they observe as Cloud implementations. I do not care much about how it is named, and if people prefer to reserve “Cloud” for a more restrictive checklisted definition that’s fine with me – but what I describe above is a very tangible reality of an application architecture that leverages internet based technologies – hosting resources, communications and clients.

Is “Web” distinct from “Cloud”?

I must admit that I do not understand very well the distinction between Web and Cloud. For me, Cloud is an integral part of the Web, relating to several aspects of it – in particular architecture and ubiquitous access to hardware and software resources. So they are converged already.

I perceive the Cloud “phenomenon” as firming up the business nature of the Web on the IT side, paving the way for Enterprises to exploit the Web not only for communication related aspects (from email to ecommerce and marketing) but also for the deployment of core applications. I am presently involved in such a project that brings the notion of “play list” to a composite application for financial brokers and portfolio managers in a global financial institution, incorporating most of the “bells and whistles” of Web2.0 user experience and a hybrid Cloud and Legacy backend. That is what I consider as Convergence – but the main converging domains here are Web and traditional Enterprise IT.

In my opinion, semantics are necessary for a meaningful communication, but let’s not overdo it. And how do you see it?

Being pragmatic about Multitenancy and Cloud Computing

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I used to think that multitenancy was a key incentive for Cloud Computing. The experience of the last couple of years leads me to a different view. The Cloud makes IT more ubiquitous, but multitenancy is far from being ubiquitous – so most of the services offered in the cloud are either not multitenant or use some kind of shared-hardware scheme (virtualization). So far there seems to be more cloud computing capacity than there is a demand for it – so the improved resource usage aspect is not so important. I also see that many enterprises adopt the Cloud advantages for their own software, for example rolling out core enterprise applications as RIA’s to their extended ecosystem partners and thus streamlining the supply chain and reducing costs.

My conclusion is that multitenancy is more of a future feature that would emerge when the economy would mandate it. So my recommendation is to adopt application platforms that enable multitenancy and develop future applications as such, and in the meantime take advantage of the Cloud using pragmatic approaches.

The Extended Enterprise – from vision to reality with Rich Internet Application technology

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In the past year I wrote frequently about the manner in which enterprises approach Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s) and Cloud Architecture. I’m happy to see now tangible evidence of this. During the last couple of weeks I received several case descriptions of productive systems, and I’d like to share a couple of particularly interesting cases. For some reason, the more interesting stories come from the Netherlands – I did not figure out yet what’s behind this, but the first RIA example that I described in “More about Enterprise RIA in practice” also originated in that country.

The “Flower Shop” solution is an Enterprise RIA coming from a joint venture of Extendas (ISV specialising in eCommerce solutions) and Van Delft International (one of the leading suppliers of cut flowers in the Netherlands and award winning early adopter of mobile software technology). This application spans the entire supply chain from the FloraHolland exchange through the flower trader (such as Van Delft) to the flower shop. 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. It is presently being rolled out and is expected to be used by some 1500 flower shops, streamlining the short-lived flower trade, accelerating logistics and reducing overhead.

Another amazing customer of Magic Software is the VanDrie Group, the World’s largest veal producer. VanDrie already had a browser based application, VealVision, providing the full historical details about your piece of Schnitzel from the farmer to the supermarket. This has been now replaced by a fully interactive RIA, enabling each party in the supply chain to feed the system directly – streamlining the short-lived veal trade, accelerating logistics and reducing overhead

As Redmonk analyst Michael Coté commented on these stories, Enterprise RIA’s bring the “boring back-office applications” to the Web era and the usability level which the millennial generation expects from IT. They also remind us the Cloud Computing is not only infrastructure on demand, but has a far reaching business impact and that its adopters already gain a lot from it.

More about Cloud Architecture and Serious Business

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An interesting discussion is developing on ebizQ whether Cloud Computing Too Embryonic to Use for Serious Business Purposes. It shows a consensus that we have to look at the meaning of Cloud Computing in the Enterprise context.

I tend to distinguish between the infrastructure and the software architecture that can support the delivery of enterprise applications in the Cloud (to power users over the web), and the acquisition of such infrastructure and software on a per-use (or other non perpetual) basis.

My personal experience shows that Enterprises are indeed implementing “Cloud Architecture” solutions which are substituting fat Client-Server implementations, but mostly using the traditional business model (perpetual ownership and in-house or hosted location) – when it concerns core and customized solutions. Cloud based infrastructure and applications delivered as a service and on-demand are indeed still limited to “commodity solutions” – collaboration, CRM, etc…

I have described a nice example of these a few months ago (the Segway story and their uniPaaS solution). I’d like to hear more if you have similar or contradictory experiences and observations.