Tag Archives: uniPaaS

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.

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.

About application developers, platform licensing and bananas.

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I took the time yesterday evening to catch up with my reading, and came across some great posts about Application Platforms. Forrester’s Mike Gualtieri was inspired by Michael Jackson’s “Man in the mirror” and posted “Do Application Developers Need To Change Their Ways?”. He makes four recommendations to application developers – Understand the business in your bones”, “Be a developer not a coder”, “Use new technologies, but only when they make a difference”, and “Become Architects again”. As someone who evangelizes the abstraction of technological issues as a way to facilitate quality application development with a focus on the business solution, I am fully in agreement with Mike’s post. My recent post about A broader perspective on Google’s CHROME OS is very much along the same lines.

Another entry that I found highly relevant is John Rymer’s “Developers Want Unrestricted Downloads” (also on the Forrester blog). John relates to the recent work he did with Mike on CEP platforms, and forwards the argument that Platform vendors should offer unrestricted downloads for developers, in order to encourage them to adopt the platform and use it in production projects. And as far as survival goes, those vendors would collect revenue “as serious shops come back for deployment support including paid licenses”. We have the same passionate discussion time and again at Magic Software, in each licensing and pricing policy meeting. It is much easier said than done, in particular when your core product is the Platform. Megavendors such as Microsoft or IBM can and do promote much of their development technologies as lost leaders, compensating the freebies via (sometimes hefty) licenses on other parts of their technology that are required to complement the application environment. Most pure play vendors cannot afford that luxury, and in order to continue and innovate and support their operations they need to get revenue from almost any value added activity they perform. And when it comes to Open Source, the harsh reality is that there are very few vendors in this space who manage to survive independently for an extended period – most flare and then are either acquired or just fade away.

Let’s take both posts together – after all, it’s all about application development and John and Mike jointly report about it. Paraphrasing on Jackson’s song, Mike asks “What if application development professionals look in the mirror? What changes would you make to develop better applications?”. They also report that “Developers consistently tell us they want unrestricted platform downloads — no time bombs, no forced contacts with the vendor’s sales staff, no limited-function versions”. Let me take this reasoning boldly further. In other words, those developers who want unrestricted free platform downloads should be willing to do their own development work for free – hoping that their employer would find their work useful enough to pay them for subsequent support! Or maybe they should look in the mirror, and apply the same criteria they’d like for themselves to their fellow developers who develop platforms.

There’s also something to be learned from the banana merchants and the Max Havelaar foundation (incidently, the original story is related to Java – the island…). The foundation promotes fair trade and pay, and certifies that a minimal fair portion of the revenue from agricultural products from developing countries reaches the farmers who produced it. In the supermarket, Max Havelaar branded bananas are a bit more expensive than the non certified ones, yet they are very popular and sell well.

Would you rather buy Max Havelaar bananas? How about seriously evaluating a non-production version of an application platform that supports Mike’s recommendations?

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.