Tag Archives: RIA

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.

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.

A broader perspective on Google’s CHROME OS

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Following the Chrome OS announcement by Google and the hype it generated, I was asked be several people to comment on it. If you lean back and take a certain perspective, it is fascinating to realize how well it fits into the long term technology lifecycle evolution. Having hated History classes as a student, I’m becoming increasingly impressed by the insights it can provide as years go by…

What we see in computing technology is that initially, new features and products are delivered as independent products. Features that become successful and ubiquitous evolve in functionality and become more generic, often ending up as an infrastructure or Operating System option. One of the most dramatic examples that I experienced was the Image Viewer (that is today part of Windows) for TIFF images. In the early 90’s, when Document Imaging was introduced, you could only scan and view documents using specialized hardware accelerators (a dominant vendor was Kofax). The extra cost to support TIFF viewing on a PC was close to $2000, plus an expensive monitor. Many Document Imaging companies (mine included) made a lot of revenue developing and selling Software viewers, reducing user costs by half. Finally (about 8 years later), Microsoft purchased the TIFF viewer that Wang developed and incorporated it for free within Windows.

The evolving Internet now brings about Cloud Computing, and many new features and products are gaining wide adoption (I refer to this in my “living in SOA” post). The Browser was very material in making that happen. The Browser can be considered as a window to the internet. But as more and more users expect to use net-native applications and devices, the Browser is clearly outdated and underperforming. After all, it was designed to display information – not to contain and execute business logic.

What users want now is a door to the internet – designed for bi-directional exchange and more, not just for browsing. Some vendors with extensive web application experience already understood that, and have come up with alternatives to the Browser that support Rich Internet Applications – such as Adobe Air, Microsoft Silverlight or Magic Software uniPaaS RIA. These are very compact engines (the uniPaaS RIA Client is only 2MB) that are designed to execute net-native applications, where the application code resides “in the cloud” (like portals) yet the user gets a rich interactive desktop experience (unlike portals). As I describe in “A battle royale for RIA market” however, developing applications for most of these “new doors” is pretty complex. A handful of vendors started addressing this hurdle, led by Magic Software with uniPaaS and maybe followed by Microsoft with ‘Alexandria’

Google Chrome OS seems to be right in the same evolutionary line. From the scant information I was able to get, it is trying to move all those hurdles down into the OS level and abstract them from users, so that users and application developers would be able to once again focus most of their effort on business logic and user experience rather than on underlying technologies. But we have to be patient and wait for it to become available. And then wait a few years for it to mature.

In the meantime, why not go ahead and use what’s available? After all, history also shows us that those companies who used the early Document Imaging products and systems did gain competitive advantages and developed their business, independently of what became possible later.

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.

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 ).

Are we living in SOA?

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ebizQ is running a great complement of industry forums (www.ebizq.net/blogs/ebizq_forum/2009/05), which provide me with posting stimulus. I just posted a comment in the SOA forum, which I want to share here. The topic is “Do You Believe SOA Related Projects Will Increase or Decrease in the Future?”. It reminded me of the initial pitch we developed to explain SOA, and with the continuing noise around “is SOA dead” I think that it is a good occasion to bring it up again.

I want to give credit to my past colleague Avishai Shafir (presently Director of Product Marketing at BluePhoenix), who came up with the idea of the analogy: Imagine a world in which we have to supply all our needs on our own… – that would set us deeply back in time, won’t you agree? If you think about it, modern society is based almost exclusively on services: Trade, Health, Transportation, Finance, … and these services are founded upon Specialization, Standardization, Regulation and Scalability, among others. Come to think of it, we live in a SOA! Yet in the IT world, we’re still very much in the primitive autarchic era in which every solution/application has to supply all its needs on its own. Now, imagine how far could Business Technology (that’s the next thing beyond IT) evolve with SOA and ubiquitous services – may be as far or even beyond what modern human society achieved by building on a SOA.

So let me supplement this with a question of mine – Do you agree to the statement that we are living in SOA?

 

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.