Tag Archives: Situational Applications

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.

How about a “Personal Cloud”?

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Mike Gualtieri recently posted “Cloudmania: Developers Need A Personal Cloud”, which I find very pertinent and descriptive of developer’s views. I must say that  I do not know professional developers who entertain the idea of their development baby being hooked with an umbilical cord to another mother (such as a hosted PaaS). But they certainly want the ability to test it whenever they want in the target environment.

One thing that probably contributes to the confusion is the almost non-existent distinction between situational applications and core applications. Mike evoked in the past the emergence of “enlightened developers”, who produce situational apps with highly abstracting Platform as a Service environments. But what he is discussing here are not those type of apps and developers but the more professional breed, that develops Enterprise Applications.

I am still perplex at the reasons that made the Application Development community regress from the productive 4GL platforms that emerged in the early 90’s back to 3GL environments such as C and Java. The increasing technical complexity of the Cloud finally halted this and is a fertile ground for the revival and emergence of Metadata Driven Application Platforms, which abstract the technical constraints by pre-programming optimized engines, which feed on Metadata based business logic. And we have to distinguish here very clearly between platforms designed for situational applications, with coarse grained widgets and services, and platforms designed for enterprise applications, that offer the entire granularity spectrum from application and process templates down to embedding code snippets.

Salesforce.com showed the way with Force.com, but it is still Cloud only and pretty much tied to the basic CRM environment. uniPaaS from Magic Software is leveraging its past 4GL experience to provide probably the first Application Platform that corresponds to what you describe as “a Personal Cloud that would allow them to configure their local environment in multiple way and take it with them wherever they go”. My recent interactions at industry events such as RIA World and with many enterprises and ISV’s confirm the growing interest and adoption of these platforms. That’s good news for us all.

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.

Differentiating Situational and Systematic Applications

I think that there is not sufficient distinction in the industry between Situational Applications and more persistent solutions (how would you call that type of apps? Systematic? Core? Persistent?).

I have witnessed the deep frustrations of IT managers who adopted a Situational Apps tool thinking it could be used for any type of solution, and running into walls late in projects, ending up with unsatisfactory solutions both from functional and technical aspects.

That does not mean that Situational is not good – just that one should use it for what it is meant for.

The story (rather history) of Magic Software is quite enlightening in this respect. When we first launched Magic II in the mid-80’s, we were in the midst of the first wave of the situational buzz with data oriented application tools such as Framework, dBase, etc… Magic II innovated by offering a metadata driven environment, which was much easier to master for business professionals than code driven tools. So we happily promoted it to ISV’s and Enterprises, with a silver bullet message and doing away with waterfall or other development models. It worked great for a while, but as applications reached the production stage their design flaws became apparent. I recall being summoned to a large pharma enterprise by the head of their clinical tests department, because the application he proudly developed was gradually slowing down to a halt. It did not take long to discover that the data structure was so convoluted, that some lookups ended up sequentially scanning tens of thousands of records.

The majority of the PaaS offerings today are for Situational Applications. That is quite understandable, since it take a significant effort and time to develop PaaS with highly granular widgets that enable the same power of implementation as coded environments. The danger though, is that the hype and buzz are so high and blinding that many prospects to not perceive the limitations (ending up as I described above).

So my call to action is to offer more down to earth information and transparency about what a technology is good for, so that those in need for situational tools are not overwhelmed with complexity and those looking for persistent and core solutions do not try to implement them on straws.