Monday, December 29, 2008

Watch out for Yahoo's Net-Enabled TVs!

This is really Cool!.
Its a news that re-affirms my viewpoint that Future of IT is all about Highly Personalized & Innovative User Experiences.
Yahoo and Intel are working together along with a whole list of partners to bring the Internet experience to TV.
Yahoo aims to transform the TV watching experience from a passive mode to much more active activity. It plans to bring its most-popular Widget Technology to the TV, that can be controlled from a remote control. The Widgets can be downloaded at real-time from a Widget Gallery. And Widgets themselves can connect to the Internet in real-time and download data such as Weather, Stock Quotes, etc. And All this experience comes at no cost of compromising the TV experience.
Yahoo has made significant progress in this area. Do check out the wonderful demo and the follow-up update. Yahoo believes that the technology will penetrate the mainstream market in 2009 and will be dominating the Consumer Electronics Market in 2010.
What does this mean to Business Technology/Enterprise IT? - You have got a new channel to deal with. :-) Especially for Media, Publishing and Entertainment verticals, its a revolutionary technology development that will take those industries to new markets.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Biz Development 2.0

I don’t know if any company in the world has opened up its core business data as Open APIs for free consumption. Best Buy has done it recently with the help of Mashery. Mashery, the API management services company calls it as Business Development 2.0. Want to know Why?. Continue to read further.

Best Buy has taken all its product data such as product images, descriptions, user comments, pricing and make it available in the form of APIs. These APIs can potentially be used by bloggers, social applications, or Mobile Application Developers to develop new touch point applications for interacting with Best Buy.

While the results of this move are yet to be seen, the initiative itself is indeed adventurous and ground-breaking from business perspective. Am sure the Open APIs would certainly lead to proliferation of innovative applications/Widgets in innumerable delivery channels.

For example, an end-user can built a wish list out of the Best Buy products and place it as a Widget in iGoogle homepage. An expert blogger who constantly reviews digital cameras can embed a Point-of-Sale widget right next to the same blog post.

What does this all mean to its business? – More Touch-Points lead to Increased Traffic. And Increased Traffic would result in Enhanced Revenue. Another interesting claim that Mashery makes is that, by introducing these Free APIs, the business can acquire new Partners without depending much from IT. Isn't that threatening to Enterprise IT shops?. Its high-time that Enterprise IT wakes up.

Best Buy claims that this could lead to new Business Model Innovations.

I would go to the extent of categorizing this initiative under Open Innovation. It truly demonstrates the Openness characteristic of the Internet and holds the network effect of web 2.0. As mentioned in O’Reilly Technology Blog, these initiatives re-draw the boundaries of the traditional organization. Closed companies are going to find it more and more difficult to survive against Open companies. I couldn’t agree more!

Some of the other companies that follow this Open Path are – MTV Networks, World Bank and Reuters. World Bank has opened its Global data sources in the form of free programmable APIs. According to the bank, the data can be mapped, visualized and mashed in unlimited number of ways that will help develop a better understanding of trends and patterns around key development issues.

It looks like the trend is to essentially translate internal, once-proprietary corporate data into free-flowing rivers of information so that the Internet can consume it instantly & innovatively.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No Excuse for not having Enterprise Architecture

If you are observing clearly in Enterprise IT shops, a new governance practice has gained significant ground over the last few years. And that is ‘Project Management Office’. The mission of the Project Management Office is to establish standard Project Management System of processes and Tools that ensures consistency in Project Management methods practiced across the organization. The key objective behind PMO office is to ensure sustained success in project execution by adhering to best practices.

The need for PMO must have arrived with the increase in the volumes of projects and top management needed new ways to manage the risks and ensure the predictability of those projects in terms of cost/schedule and resource parameters.

Now, take a look at this perspective. The PMO office, however small or large it may be, is a support function to the actual delivery. It performs Governance, Mentors, Audits, Tracks and Reports the Projects/Project Managers. It provides indirect benefits to the IT organization and not contributing to the project directly.

Now look at this, as mentioned in this blog, the value (of PMO) is not always measurable in the company’s financials. But the increase in predictability and control can be related to the bottom-line, with a proper governance structure and controls.

I also had a chat with PMO focal in my company. And He reconfirmed the fact that his office is often challenged / questioned to assert its value.

Now, If you are an architect, Does it sound like a déjà vu?. I see a strong similarity between the PMO functions/challenges with Enterprise Architecture office.

But, my observation is – the CIOs who are not sold on Enterprise Architecture Office and its value have invested significantly on PMO offices. Howz that possible? Do you see a interesting conflict here?

The fact is simple – Enterprise Architecture is not understood. Period.

If CIOs can unquestionably invest in PMO offices and depend on its services to ensure their success, why don’t they invest on EA office?. As a matter of fact, PMO’s value cannot be directly measured.

As my fellow architects, I did have suspicions on the EA practice and its value and read about various new thought processes EA 2.0, etc. But, Am completely convinced that EA can add significantly value to the IT organization irrespective of its position within the company (say cost centre, service centre, or strategic partner). Here, I refer EA as a IT management discipline (not necessarily business architecture)

In fact, as a starting point, for cost starved IT shops, EA elements can be included in the PMO office. Sounds like a Good Idea?

Now, Who has the responsibility to sell ‘Enterprise Architecture’ same way as PMO office?. Who else – We, the People – The Enterprise Architects.

1. We ourselves should be first convinced about EA and its value for the company
2. We should have the ability to communicate the value of EA to the CIO and Leadership in unambiguous terms with lot of conviction. A Lot!
3. We should Deliver Value and Live upto the promises!

The mission statement for EA Office can be as simple as - To enable the IT in implementing consistent, reliable, secure and useful IT solutions that are aligned (to strategic business goals), responsive (to changes in business/Technology) and cost-effective.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Who leads the RIA space?. Adobe or Microsoft?

The battle for RIA market share is clearly intense between Adobe and Microsoft. Existing install base, browser/device support may indicate that Adobe is evidently leading the pack. However, Microsoft has its own advantages. I wouldn’t have thought in favor of Microsoft, had I not seen these wonderful Siverlight demos. It’s exciting and never before seen user experience in RIA space. I would love to see both of these companies to compete in the business applications market in addition to media/entertainment market.

In the recent Adobe MAX 2008 event, it has been announced that Adobe has plans to expand the collaboration with SAP. I see more advantage to SAP compared to Adobe in this deal. The key question to be asked is ‘How does Adobe leverage the experience of working with SAP to evolve its RIA product portfolio? Do they use that experience to nurture and mature the RIA platform, so that it becomes a preferred standard for developing RIA clients for critical business applications?

Apparently, Microsoft doesn’t need such a partnership because Microsoft itself is a provider in the Enterprise Business Applications/Infrastructure/Platform segment. (e.g. BizTalk, Microsoft Dynamics/Commerce Server & .NET framework)

The silver bullet that I see in Silverlight that has the potential to kill Adobe is the support for .NET framework. Building applications in Silverlight means that the developer can take advantage of the languages such as C#, VB, Python or Ruby, whereas Adobe has only one choice ActionScript. In the Silverlight 2, the Windows Presentation Framework has been fully integrated. Hence, the .NET developer base can take advantage of their existing skills to build new, powerful cross-browser Rich Internet applications or Windows applications using Silverlight. And remember, the .NET framework is built and time-tested to develop enterprise-class applications.

Adobe’s ActionScript is clearly evolving over the last few years to achieve the maturity required for building strong Enterprise client applications. I still remember the times in 2002 when I evaluated Macromedia Royale (the code name for Flex then) to transform a product’s user interface from its traditional HTML to RIA. Those days I believed RIA was a radical change. I still do, in the way web applications can be conceived and designed with RIA paradigm. But the difference is – We have more choices now in 2008, in addition to Flex.

Sure, Adobe has been aggressive. BBC has built its iPlayer using Adobe AIR. (AIR being an RIA & offline web app platform). Some of the Silverlight enabled Websites have migrated themselves to Adobe Flex. However, will it be sustainable to compete with Microsoft in the long run?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Live Mesh Possibilities!

Couple of years ago, when I was designing a custom application over BlackBerry sync, I was facing some real technical challenges - like interfacing with Device driver libraries, handling character encoding between PC and BlackBerry device, etc.
Hopefully, Live Mesh would solve most of these issues for Windows based devices once it's released. The prime objective of the Live Mesh, as I understand, is to provide a developer friendly interface to the Mesh Platform so that useful applications can be seamlessly written. So I expect a much more user-friendly, coarse-grained services from Live Mesh platform that will relieve the developer from handling low-level issues.
On seeing NetFlix Taps Microsoft's Silverlight for Streaming movies, Blockbuster working on a Live Mesh app to deliver video on demand and seeing a whole set of Hosted services release from Microsoft, I am starting to believe that Microsoft is steering the industry in the new direction, as it claims 'Software+Services'.
To be specific, I was curious to understand the possibilities of LiveMesh, beyond File and App synchronization. Obviously, File sharing/Device syncrhonization alone cannot be the USP of LiveMesh. And I hoped there must be something more to that...And I was not wrong.
Got some interesting findings about Live Mesh possibilities..
- Live Mesh is not just a point solution for file sharing. It is a 'Platform' in the Cloud that is intended to provide synchronization services across various devices including SmartPhones and PCs.
- The main intention is to provide developer friendly platform & services so that useful applications can be built on top of the platform. Developers can sync not just folders/files. They can design custom objects and sync across devices/apps. Yes, I said 'apps' across devices.
- There are two aspects to Live Mesh. 1. Building Rich applications in the PCs that can synch/transmit data and settings across devices. 2. Ability to extend Websites to a world of devices (The second one is really interesting)
- What are the new capabilities a Live Mesh enabled Website will provide? Here are some scenarios.
- You will be able to export your transactional data from an online banking website into your personal device of choice. And you will be able to do this when you are online and logged into Online Banking website. We can expect to see lot more websites Mesh enabled, as it moves to Production ready status.
- If you are a frequent travel website user, the website can pickup your calender data from the Mesh (Your own personal Mesh, It could be from your PC or a SmartPhone) and recommend travel plans accordingly. Sounds cool! It may also mean that you will be able to perform a Single Sign-On from the Travel website to your Live mesh account?. May be :-)
- Now, add to this Live Mesh technology, some juice of data semantics and custom logic, you get a new range of 'highly personalized' applications that truly implements the software+services hybrid architecture.
But, We will have to wait and see how long its going to take to see these kind of apps in reality!

Fast Track to Enterprise Architecture!

Microsoft may get criticized for their exclusive pro-Windows solutions. However, I have found their contributions in MSDN towards SOA, Design Patterns, Software Factories and Architectural Journal are significant and much more open. I have found some of their SOA literatures are technology-agnostic and architecture-centric.
Continuing on the Enterprise Architecture topic, I would like to bring the recent update from Microsoft on EA to my readers. Microsoft is coming with an Enterprise Architecture Toolkit, essentially a ‘Software Factory’ for Enterprise Architecture. Sounds very interesting!.
The EA toolkit is not released yet, as far as I know. However, in one of the msdn blogs, the toolkit’s offerings are listed. If someone is building a EA for their enterprise by preparing some of the EA artifacts and developing new processes, the good news is – You don’t need to start from scratch. All the templates that you will need, the processes that you will need to define are available in the Toolkit pack. All you need to do is leverage those base templates to customize for your Enterprise specific needs.
Typically, Software Factories are applied for Software Development requirements like Web Services or Smart Clients. For the first time, the concept of Solution Accelerator / Software Factory is applied to the Highest-level of Abstraction.
However, the catch here is that, the toolkit is based on Microsoft product set – Microsoft Visio, Word, etc. Not bad!. Most of the times, architects use those tools anyway to prepare EA artifacts. And the traditional EA tools are expensive!.
Some of the cool things which I liked are – Templates for ARB, Using Portal and Workflow features essentially bringing the collaboration aspects into the architecting process!.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Cloud Computing Consequences!

What is the impact on Enterprise Architecture with the introduction of Cloud Computing and SaaS?
One word – ‘Serious’.
Here is my perspective.
- On the first look, it may seem like Enterprise Architecture is irrelevant in a company if your complete IT is running on Cloud Computing, SaaS and Outsourcing/Offshoring. In fact, I was of the same opinion last year. However, Its not the case. In fact, the complexity is going to get multiplied.
- We have moved from Monolithic systems to Client-Server to Tiered Architectures. With SOA comes the truly Distributed Architecture. And with Cloud Computing and SaaS, We are moving to “Globally Decentralized/Distributed Architecture”.
- With Global distribution, we will be able to compose business processes out of services from, Services running on Azure/Amazon and host the resulting composite in another cloud platform. Does that sound too Cool and Flexible!. Of course. But, It is also exponentially complex to manage in the long-run!
- Some of the challenges - What are the failure modes in these Global composites? Can we optimize the attributes of those composites? How do we trace/troubleshoot, version control these composites? What are the foreseeable security threats in these Global platforms?
- Integration between these huge Clouds/SaaS platforms? - Welcome to the world of Software-Intensive, Massive System of Systems! :-)
- If the first generation EA guided us in dealing with System of Systems within an Enterprise, the next generation EA should help us in addressing ‘Massive System of Systems’.
- With this new complexity, not only Enterprise Architecture gets necessary, but becomes absolutely critical in the IT ecosystem.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Business Case for Enterprise Architecture

This is my 100th Blog Post!. :-). Thanks to all the readers who frequent to my blog!.

Well, Contrary to this blog post title, am not going to talk about the finer details of preparing a business case for an Enterprise Architecture initiative. Rather, I am going to talk about ‘What makes the client to ask for a Business Case?”.
Here is a little background…
Statistics assert that only 5% of the companies practice Enterprise Architecture. And Most of them are successful leaders in their businesses, not just IT.
When I attended Zachman’s conference last year, I was surprised to see Zachman being cynical about the realization of EA in the industry. He, in fact, went on to add that it may take next 10-20 years to see EA truly alive in the companies.
I am also closely watching some of the Enterprise Architects’ blogs. I don’t see convictions by looking at their blog posts titled – ‘Enterprise is a Joke’. ‘Enterprise Architects do only powerpoint presentations’. ‘There are not enough skilled architects’, etc.
In the recent past, when I was evangelizing EA among the Top IT leadership, I often get questions on ‘short-term quick hits that can be achieved by EA’. That’s a tough one to answer!
Now the question is – ‘Why there is lack of faith in IT?’
And many of us know the answer – Because, the teams often fail to deliver, despite spending lot of cash, effort and energy. The harsh reality is that IT does not believe in itself that it can deliver something significant, valuable and comprehensive.
If IT doesn’t believe in itself, How can we expect Business to believe in us to treat us like partners and not as order takers?
Now, getting to metrics…I happened to read this revealing Datamonitor whitepaper on EDS site. Though the intent of the paper is to analyze the maintenance issues Vs adopting new innovations in existing applications, I found something very relevant and interesting to our topic of discussion here.
Some of the observations are:
- IT departments that are overwhelmed by application maintenance do not see the benefit of planning
- Datamonitor believes that skepticism of these overwhelmed decision makers can be largely attributed to a sense of ‘hopelessness’ or ‘burn out’ over formalized IT strategies. Such decision makers are operating in a state of survival rather than one of enthusiastic Optimism
- IT departments see the value of planning primarily in the ‘build’ phase and not in the ‘run’ phase. They don’t really care too much about the ‘lifecycle’ of those application in the ‘planning’ phase.
- And now, this compounds the maintenance complexity and inhibits the company from embarking into new initiatives – creating a vicious cycle.

What a resounding observation!

As someone said, adopting EA is like a lifestyle change – like following a fitness regime. And that cannot be realized without discipline and commitment to change!. The problem is not with EA. But, the way we look at it!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Software to Change Human Behaviors

The title looks persuasive? Yes. It is!
When I looked at the list of new management gurus by CNN, one of the Gurus who generated curiosity was BJ Fogg, Founder and Director, Persuasive Technology Lab, Stanford University. As mentioned in CNN site, the Big idea of Fogg is that ‘Mobile technology will be the most powerful way to influence customers in the next 15 years’.
Well, I am not going to talk about Mobile technology in this blog post. And I am not going to talk about web 2.0 either. This topic has relevance but not much significance with Web 2.0.
But, my interest was, How Software applications in general, used in combination with specific media like Web/Mobile, can change the attitude and behaviors of humans. The pitfall in this approach is that it can impact the customers both in the right way and the wrong way!
And for all you know, sites like Amazon are already leveraging these concepts for quite a few years. The amazon’s reputed ‘Recommendation engine’ that suggests books based on the past like-minded buyer’s preferences/behaviors, is actually trying to influence you saying ‘Why don’t you buy that book as well?. It seems to be good (by displaying the rankings)’ Well, this may be called as Marketing, to be precise in the business context. But, It is actually ‘persuasion’ in a larger context. Same with, Amazon reader list application recently added in LinkedIn.
For the first time, I am hearing somebody deeply thinking about how technology can be linked to human attitude, their thoughts and behaviors. This perspective empowers the technology field like never before and I see a ‘Wow!’ factor!. As Software Developers/Designers, we might have done this persuation in the past unconsciously. Now, the same design theory is being approached in more formal and scientific manner.
Now, if Technology and Software applications has so much of power, the question is, what are we doing with that? Are we leveraging those technologies to write powerful applications that generate positive impact among people?.
Stanford is working on an interesting field named as ‘Captology’. Captology is defined as the design, research, and analysis of interactive computing products/technologies created for the purpose of changing people's attitudes or behaviors. In fact, Stanford has already published couple of books on the same topic and they are available on Sale in amazon.
I happen to read the excerpt in the book and the author talks about some of the interesting thoughts on how Captology can have a deeper impact to the level of user interface design of graphical applications.
It would be interesting to explore how these concepts and technologies can be applied towards ‘change management’ / ‘Organizational Design’ in the context of Enterprise 2.0.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Beyond Application Virtualization

If one has observed, Microsoft has really been aggressive in terms of venturing into Cloud computing and Hosted Services offerings recently. One of the latest additions to its Hosted Services portfolio is the release of ‘Application Virtualization’ products. With Application virtualization, windows applications can be streamed to the Desktop from the Intranet/Web, cached locally and stored with end-user specific preferences. This solution will eliminate the installation requirements of thick client applications.
Ok. What does this mean to the Enterprises?
For me, it looked like another way of delivering services to the end-users (applications-as-services??). Users who are tired of click-and-walk HTML applications have already migrated to Rich-Internet-Applications. Large product vendors like SAP have embraced RIA significantly in their product roadmap. I am not surprised, given the limited choice available in the RIA technologies and the ‘cool’ effects bought by Adobe Flex/Java Fx. However, these RIAs are predominantly built on top of scripting technology platforms such as JavaScript and ActionScript. These technologies have their own strengths and weaknesses. But, in my view, they don’t come closer to traditional and mature programming platforms such as VC++, especially when considering aspects such as Security. RIA platforms themselves are maturing and they have a long way to go.
My intent is not to say ‘Streaming’ applications will replace ‘RIAs’ or vice versa. They will co-exist. But, I foresee Streaming applications will be much more powerful compared to RIA in terms of bringing enterprise features and rich user experience. Some of the considerations which I can think of when evaluating Streaming applications are:
- Intranet deployments, Native applications, Maximum usage of local processor, Feature/Functionality Rich, Composite applications (Intranet/Web), Binary streaming resulting in improved performance of apps
I also believe ‘Streaming’ applications can be the door-opener for developing ‘Composite applications’ over Services. I have always thought, like Services in SOA world, which are composable, reusable and discovered, we should have a way to find, compose and reuse ‘Service Client applications’. Do you agree? And ‘Application Virtualization’ & RIA together can serve this purpose.
Today, we have marketplaces for Web Services. We have app stores for Smart phones. But, Pls note these apps available for iPhones are tightly integrated to their back-end Services (Service Providers). So, you get to download the entire application as ‘one capsule’. But, Is it possible to download just the client module/service consumer and talk to different service providers?. And ‘app virtualization’ and ‘RIA’ can lead to that possibility.
In future, we may be able to all the following in the ‘Cloud’
- Find services
- Find Aggregators / Composite services
- Find ‘application clients’ of different types (virtualized, web, mobile)
- Find Infrastructure services for clients (security modules, preferences, caching)
- Compose all these diversified services and make a personalized cocktail out of it J
- And finally, install this composite app as a simple Shortcut in our desktop.
- And this combination can be dismantled and remixed based on the end-user preferences and business needs on an ongoing basis.
Read this interesting prediction on ‘Hardware virualization’. I was inspired by this story to think about the possibilities in ‘Software world’.
In this story, I am not just fascinated by the technology/platform’s technical strengths. But I am truly excited about the kind of choices and valuable features these technologies can bring to the end-users.
To start with, I would be interested to see ‘SAP’ client available as a virtualized client app!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Top 10 IT Trends for 2009

While Gartner has published the Top 10 technologies for 2009, I wanted to take a closer look at the trends and identify what would be important from CIO office perspective. I give significant focus to CIO office because the spending from his office is going to have a ripple effect on the whole ecosystem of Enterprise IT – be it hardware vendors or software product vendors or outsourcing/offshoring vendors.
Given the current climate of economic conditions, if one would need to describe today’s state of CIO office, it would be ‘frugal’. Everyone in the industry will know this open secret. However, the dollars spent on these gloomy days are expected to generate more value when compared to spending on cheerful days!. The key challenge for the CIO would be ‘How to act creatively when being stingy? & How do I generate more value for the money?’.
I have always believed technologies that bring real&tangible economic value will outshine the technologies that are darlings of soft benefits/tall promises. I believe the following 10 Trends will help the CIO to find the answers:
1. Data Center Rationalization
Like the fragmented spaces in the computer memory gets compressed and made available for applications, the under-utilized data centers across regions will be rationalized / consolidated
2. Virtualization
Within the Data center, the under-utilized servers will again be consolidated and virtualized to save cost and space.
3. Open-Source Migration
The companies that have always endorsed licensed products will embark on the iniatives to evaluate everything from Open –source community – right from OS to application frameworks. Every COTS product in the company will be evaluated for their necessity and alternatives.
4. Custom applications rationalization
The application portfolio will be under manifying glass to see the alignment and value. Poor performing apps will be evaluated for layoff!
5. SaaS Adoption
The high-expensive on-premise software apps will be questioned and SaaS offerings will be tried out in pilot mode. This will be a perfect opportunity for SaaS vendors to prove and get their new clients!
6. IT Security
As the IT ecosystem welcomes new entrants like Virtualization, Open-Source and SaaS, there will be re-newed focus on existing IT security practices. However, this activity will not be a choice, but a mandatory activity!. If any enterprise chooses to skip this step are putting themselves into danger!. We may see new set of enterprise IT security products emerging in this area!.
In fact, these factors will also lead to re-look of licensing models of products within the enterprise!.
7. Innovation in Offshoring/Outsourcing contracts
OK, How do we get money to do all this?. Who is going to pay for it?. That’s where the innovation lies. No vendor will do it for free. Neither the CIO would wish to pay for it. Here comes the testing time for the relationship maturity of CIO office and IT outsourcing/offshoring vendors. There will be a call for new contracting models where the vendors will be required to innovate and come out with options for rolling out these cost-conserving initiatives in a multi-year roadmap. Whichever vendor gives a helping hand to the CIO will go a long way!.
8. Metrics based IT Management
CIO would question his own management on the way the IT is being managed for efficiency and effectiveness. New way of demonstrating the business value of IT needs to be in place to get funding for new development projects. Which means, get ready to be number-savvy!. This will have implications on PMO-centric organizations as well as Enterprise architecture centric organizations.
9. License negotiations
Product license newels/upgrades will be challenged and asked for alternatives. If a cost-effective alternative is feasible and can be developed, the IT will not hesitate to say good bye to those products!
10. Enterprise Architecture
Really smart CIOs will do serious introspection on their IT strategy and they may realize the need for an Enterprise Architecture! And certainly they will not implement all the above 9 steps in bits and piences but within the framework of their rejuvenated IT strategy!.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Beginning of the End of ATM cards?

Can you draw money from ATM without using ATM card? Sounds innovative?. Our conventional thinking says thats not possible!. And thats where lies the potential for innovation. Business case - In US, there are 106 million people who do not have bank accounts. If there is no bank account, there is no card. But how do they transact?. Can banks ignore that customer segment?. In fact, the banks have to help them to transact.
And here is the solution - A new vendor - Privier has comeup with an innovative solution where an existing account holder can transfer funds to another person, who is in immediate need of cash and does not have a bank account. The fund transfer can happen from ATM to ATM, Web to ATM or Mobile to ATM. Note, the fund transfer doesnot happen from one account holder to another. Instead, it happens from one person to the bank. Along with the transfer, a 10 digit code is sent to the recipient. The recipient can then walk-in to an ATM, key-in the 10 digit code and withdraw the money.
Are we seeing the beginning of the end of Cards in Banking?

'IT matters' for Google

I would recommend you to check out what does. In short, aims to use the power of IT to address the global challenges of our age. First, I should say, the aim itslef is so high, that it positions Google as a special company that cares for the world.

Today, I came across an interesting initiative by - To track Flu Trends in United States. It could look like Google Trends, that projects the patterns and trends in search of specific keywords. However, the key distinguishing factor in Google.Org initiative is that Google is trying to accurately model real-world phenomena using patterns in search queries. In simpler terms, if there are more searches for Flu symptoms, there is a possibility that there is a flu breakout in that specific state/region. It gives a state-wise graphical representation of Flu Trends in US based on the aggregation of related search queries.

Now, if the tool can help predict the outbreak, it would certainly help a lot in preventing too. And early detection of the outbreak can reduce the number of actual people who get affected. Instead of constanly debating whether IT matters or not, I think we should appreciate companies like Google that really does something about and makes us believe that IT can help in solving real-world problems

High Performance Computing - Return of Mainframes?

On this Monday, I attended a conference on High Performance Computing sponsored by Microsoft. The keynote was delivered by Microsoft HPC Division General Manager. It was good to see that HPC is slowing transitioning from Research use to commercial use. Of late, there has been lot of interest in Manufacturing companies to explore HPC capabilities for Engineering and Simulation. I see lot of possibilities in Global Datawarehousing and Fraud Detection in Financial services too.

But, we have miles to go before we those apps in mainstream. As we have witenessed in the industry for quite sometime, the progress in Hardware space always outperforms the progress in software product industry. Today, we are capable of talking about HPC, Grid and Large scale computing. However, we dont have intelligent software products or applications that can leverage the full power of those powerful systems. There are couple of reasons - 1. The fundamental way of programming software applications has so far been single threaded. We dont have an out-of-the-box programming model or a product infrastructure that would seamlessly enable today's developers to write applications that can execute in parallel within themselves. Of course, Intel and Microsoft are working hard in bringing advancements in those areas. 2. Only when the foundational infrastructure software becomes available, the toppings or so-called end-user applications will start to emerge (for example, engineering applications or animation applications) including Developer tools.

On the same conference, I asked the Microsoft GM about the possibilities of running MS SQL Server on Windows 2008 HPC server and the answer was 'Not Yet'. Of course, the SQL Server product has to be re-architected to run on the HPC platform. The same applies to rest of the commercial products like analytics services or integration services.

It sounded to me that we are returning to Mainframes era with Open standards! :-). Here too, Windows HPC has the concept of Job Schedulers which the old mainframes used to have. But this time, You can execute WCF compliant services too as part of Job. So, the HPC platform is 'Service-Oriented'.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Doing Business with Social Applications

Sometime back, I was discussing with my fellow architect – ‘I am reading a lot of books on the topics of my interest & am also part of lot of special interest groups online. It would be interesting to know what the revered members of those groups are reading and if I find them too valuable, I may eventually buy those books as well’. Sounds very natural. Isn’t it?
Last week, I see LinkedIn launching a social application platform with 10 different applications. And one of them is Amazon Reader, which enables sharing the reading list with one’s network. On seeing the application snippet in LinkedIn home page, I said to myself ‘Wow!!’. There are two reasons behind the Wow factor – One, my idea was kind of realized J and another on the true platform potential of LinkedIn that can open up whole new set of opportunities. But I do feel LinkedIn is slow in innovating and it could have rolled-out these applications much faster to the market earlier.
The surprise does not end there. There is much more exciting partnership announced between and Facebook. Now, people can develop ‘business’ applications using platform and host it on site. However, they can integrate those apps with Facebook using Facebook provided toolkit.
Yes, I said ‘Business applications’. They are not just ‘Social applications’. If you want to just develop ‘Social Applications’, you can just go ahead and use Facebook’s F8 platform. However, the intent here is to merge the business/Enterprise world with Social world. And I see this partnership as the first step towards that trend.
The business applications developed using can easily leverage the social graph and network of Facebook. It really meshes the two different worlds. As an example, can I mesh the Sales leads with Social Graph or Recruitment Ads with my network? The possibilities are endless.
When the Big product vendors are taking years of time to deliver incremental innovation, Here we are Social /Web 2.0 companies showing the way with radical innovation! Kudos!
Am looking forward to see exciting new business apps within the social network!.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Its raining from the Cloud!

If you are running an Enterprise Data Center, will you be able to give an itemized billing to your customers as Telecom companies do for every month? Can your customers pay using their corporate credit cards? Will you be able to provision and de-provision servers / resources in couple of minutes instead of huge ramp-up time and Bureaucracy?
And that is what, Cloud Computing promises to offer. While Amazon’s cloud offerings are production-ready, Microsoft’s latest Azure has just been announced. While there is lot of debate going on the industry about the viability of cloud business model in the long-term from providers’ perspective, I clearly see the end consumers being the beneficiaries. A whole new ecosystem is developing around the Cloud computing model. And if Enterprise IT is not taking a note on this model, it may not be good for them in the long run.
Yet again, I see ‘SOA’ hype being overtaken by one more useful and economical solution – Cloud computing. The takeaway from this trend is that – Enterprise IT is much more disciplined than in the past, where they specifically ask ‘What is in it for me?’ rather than getting carried away by a ‘Technology Hype’ story.
And SOA analysts have started confirming that SOA will fade and morph into much broader solution areas like SaaS and Cloud Computing. My take is that SOA will get into the infrastructural layer of enterprise applications where it becomes an enterprise fabric for connecting various entities within and beyond the corporate firewalls.
What would be interesting to see is an evolution of ‘Internal Cloud Platform’ which the Enterprise Data Center Team can just buy such platform off-the-shelf and start provisioning it from day one, rather than building one such platform by themselves.

Imagine the possibilities! The more the savings, there is greater potential to divert those funds to innovative projects.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What is common between SOA and BI projects?

(This is one of my favorite topics, so please bear with the long post…)

Both kinds of projects fail to deliver their promises most of the times…! :-)

Here are some evidences – Anne from Burton group reports that SOA is not working in most of the organizations. She also adds that many companies have stunningly beautiful SOA infrastructure and deployed the best technology. Yet those initiatives fall out. I can personally vouch for this statement. I have seen the same experience in the recent past. And more importantly, she says Techies have not been able to communicate the value of SOA to business partners!. Absolutely true! Out of the interviews she conducted so far, She confirms there is only one company that can be classified to have done true SOA.

What a startling observation?

While System Integrators are boasting of 100s and even 1000s of SOA case studies, an industry analyst says there is only one. It all boils down to the question of - do we understand SOA enough?

Now coming to BI projects, my fellow architect in the team confirms 40% of BI projects typically fail to meet their objectives purely because of data quality, data ownership issues. 40% is not a small number, especially when we deploy fancy DW/BI tools in place.

Now, what is so common between these projects?

As I have written in mashup posts, anything beyond plain vanilla operations – say Operational Excellence, Generating Insights/Analytics, Growth, Innovation, Governance, Reuse and Sharing – requires not just ‘tools and technologies’ but the ‘people’s hearts and soul/Passion & Energy’.

If the SOA/BI/Mashup initiatives do not culturally transform the company in terms of org structure & collaboration, they are bound to fail immediately.

As I have written a comment in Anne’s post, these projects to take off and provide real business value, it requires change agents in the company. And IT architects/ consultants and Project Managers do not have enough credibility or skills in performing the role of change agents and that’s where the root cause of the problem lies. To perform real changes, it requires a leader who understands the potential of SOA/BI projects, articulates effectively to stakeholders and persuades the people to buy it for their goodness. And that’s not easy!. And that is typically thankless job!

Some of the similarities I could list:
1. SOA deals with owenership of services. BI has to deal with Ownership of data. When the projects need to deal with multiple owners for a single initiative where they have no immediate benefits, there is a challenge
2. Semantics is important to SOA. Data Quality and Semantics are both important to BI projects. Both cannot be achieved easily / automated easily and requires peoples’ knowledge and collaboration.
3. Both initiatives require Strong Governance processes
4. Both the initiatives have challenges in terms of defining the ROI and achieving it pragmatically.
And there could be few more…

Monday, October 20, 2008

Windows 7 Sensors!

Another revolution in waiting…! The ‘internet of Things’ could soon become a reality!.
While lot of unofficial news floating around about Windows 7 and its features!. I was curious about one feature that is ‘Sensors’, naturally because of my company’s expertise in Sensors market.
Though Microsoft has not clearly articulated the features of Windows 7 in detail, it was exciting to imagine the potential of this new feature. It is stated that one of the goals of sensor-enabling Windows is to provide a platform for enabling ‘context-aware’ applications in Windows. The sensors will provide the context of where the PC is in current location and the Windows app will react based on the context.
Some of the windows applications that could be sensor enabled are – Outlook where the app interacts with Multi-touch sensors to drag and drop emails from/to folders, Windows App automatically adjusts the monitor brightness/contract based on the room lighting arrangements using a light sensor, etc.
Now, this is just the beginning…!
Imagine the possibilities – Like Windows automatically detects the standard devices like USB, Cameras, etc, will the new Windows 7 automatically detect the sensors like accelerometers & barometers?
And the biggest advantage will arrive when Windows application starts to interact with those sensors in bi-directional communication. That’s when the Windows starts directly to interact with real world in real-time and becomes truly enabled to provide a whole new range of new applications – like Thermostats/Temperature control, device control/remote control for home based devices. Nokia is already doing lot of experiments with Mobile Sensors. And it would be a great to see the sensory mechanism is built directly into the hardware and software/OS infrastructure so that value-added business applications can be easily developed on top of the platform. This could be the beginning of next generation business applications!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Are you ready to develop Smart Web Apps?

When I am trying to hard to create just a ‘tag cloud’ in this blog, Reuters, using its Calais web services takes any unstructured content, understands it and discovers the entities, events, relations and categories in the text and returns the results in RDF context.
Now backtracking a little…
What if your traditional business model gets challenged by the Globalized and Connected Environment?. Will you Surrender, survive or Lead?. The ‘Reuters’ says it will Lead. Very Timely, Intelligent and Courageous Move by the Leadership at Reuters.
When the information is redundant, open and freely available in the internet, why would any one want to pay for the information (to Reuters)?. It looks like Reuters has clearly understood threats and opportunities in the changing world and responded with not just a fitting response but leads the way for information-centric companies.
In the world of abundant information, it’s the ‘attention’ and ‘quality of information’ is scarce and that is what Reuters planning to monetize on. To provide high-quality content that would be useful to its customers, Reuters have turned to one of the most promising technologies of the next generation Internet – that is – Semantic Web. And the result is its acquisition of ClearForest technologies.
The smarter the web gets using Calais Web Services, the more the benefits for Reuters. The fact is Reuters will be in a much better position to deliver high-quality information and insights into its customers, not just raw data.
As far as end-users are concerned, pls do check out Open Calais website. The potential of these services look promising. As a blogger keys-in the text in the blog post, the wordpress blog plugin enriched by the Calais will understand the patterns and recommend pictures from Flickr. Sounds Cool!
Think about these possibilities in real business applications…And am sure the Semantic Web has the potential to generate the next killer app!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pervasive Computing @ LeapFrog

Couple of Years before, I bought a LeapFrog learning pad in Canada for my son. I found the experience very impressive. The device enables a range of catridges to be loaded and learning different subjects with kids-specific themes. The catridges are sold separately and it works offline independently with no need to connect to computer to play those catridges.
Now back to 2008/2009, Same company is set for launching next-generation transformational services. The same LeapPad devices can be connected to internet. By connecting the leappad devices to your computer which in turn connected to the net, the device can directly talk to LeapPad Services hosted on the web. There is a host of services to be made available - like new games/learning modules, tracking kids' learning pace/activities, Sharing the learning with Teachers via Web. Now, thats what I call as a True Transformation towards SOA. A device that was once passive and selling only standalone products, comesup with a 'services' business model. The business model opens immense opportunties for LeapPad as well as for Parents and Children. It adds more interactivity and liveliness to the learning experience. Above all, it turns the device 'smarter' and 'connected'. And Look at the way things change where connectivity becomes Ubiquitous. But what would have been really nice is that - if the devices themselves could talk to the Web Services directly without needing for connecting to a computer. Maybe that will follow next...
Now, coming to the IT part, the way they have built the IT system that supports this service-oriented business model is also impressive. No Big-Bang System Integrators, No Complex Vendor Products, Open-Source style development, Geographically distributed teams, Empowered Team members, Specification-driven Development, Least-expensive, Open-Source software and Faster Time-to-Market. If you are seriously thinking about achieving a 'Faster' SOA, then you should not miss this story. This case study also disproves the fact that SOA is complex and time-consuming. There are many different ways one can venture into SOA and which class to follow purely depends solely on one's Organizational needs and culture.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Oracle Fusion Apps in 2010 : Anyone waiting?

Are you surprised that Oracle Fusion was not in the limelight during the recent Oracle OpenWorld 2008 event?. Well, it looks like there are valid reasons. For one, Oracle Fusion Apps may not be available to the customers until 2010. And the rest of the reasons follow...
I have always questioned the value of 'Big SOA' as called by ERP vendors. And this recent CIO article only helps to validate my opinion. Some of the important observations from the article:
1. It is going to be hard to justify a ROI for the new product (Fusion)
2. There is no competitive pressure from other vendors like Microsoft and SAP to achieve a faster time-to-market
3. Above all, there is no pressure / demand from customers for the new product
Same goes with SAP's SOA story as well. But, SAP is committing billions of dollars towards revamping their product and creating a completely new breed of ecosystem to support ESOA. But, What is the business case for an existing SAP ERP customer to move to ESOA ecosystem?. I have not found a compelling answer yet.
Given the fact that SAP/Microsoft and Oracle are delaying their SOA offerings,Guess who is benefitting from it?. Its none other than IBM. If an existing ERP customer wants to do SOA 'today', the cohesive & comprehensive solution could be built out using IBM SOA infrastructure.
Am not trying to sell IBM products here. But the message I wanted to pass across is that 'There is no SOA without a compelling business case. And Make sure you have one before deep diving into SOA, especially Big SOA'.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Google Patent hints at new dimension of Mobile Applications

Google has filed a patent application which "suggests it is planning to rid users of the need to choose a single network at all. The patent describes a system where instead of always connecting to one network, a phone, laptop or other wireless device invites all available networks to bid for your business."
If this patent comes to reality, it will mean a lot of convinience for end-users - Switching from one network to another multiple times a day to get the best rate for more bandwidth. Yes, changing the cellular/connectivity network and mode of communication on demand!. (Wi-Fi/CDMA or GSM). Ok!. This is purely from economic perspective!.
What does this mean for Mobile apps?. Hypothetically, for this patent to work, a thick client has to be installed in the Mobile device that directly communicates with service providers or to a central Google gateway to perform the tariff negotiations. The negotiations and agreements can be based on pre-configured preferences/business rules or the application can automatically pick up the best rate. Now, doesn't this sound like a B2B scenario where the buyer and seller gets into receiving quotes, negotiating over the quotes and making a purchase order?.
It sounds exactly the same.
So what we are talking about is that - Mobile applications would be Smarter, Intelligent and Do more Hardwork than in the past, Can work in the background while the user is working on some other application on the device. I could see these applications getting directly into the OS layer like Android to enable the app to execute seamlessly in the background.
Am sure more such apps would emerge in the future that would 'quietly' do the value addition. Incidentally, this idea alignes with Microsoft's strategy on Software + Services, where the Services are delivered from the cloud and Software sits on your device and possess the intelligence!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Oracle on Amazon Cloud

Amazon Cloud computing is gaining enterprise credibility. Now with the biggest announcement, Oracle Database, Oracle Fusion Middleware and Oracle Enterprise Manager can be licensed to run within Amazon EC2 Cloud. Customers can even reuse their existing licenses with no additional licensing fees to run in the cloud. These products along with Oracle Enterprise Linux are prepackaged and ready to run in the Amazon cloud. In addition to that, Oracle Developer tools and Middleware are readily availabile to build and host enterprise applications on the cloud.
Thats definitely a welcome change!. Now, Provisioning, Building and Deploying applications on the Oracle suite does not need a huge upfront / capital expenditure on the hardware infrastructure and all can be done within minutes!.
But, this only means that the enterprise customers will get an advantage at leveraging Hardware/Infrastructure-as-a-Service and they may need to wait till the next level of granularity of services arrive, which is Oracle itself becoming available as Software-as-Service.
One more interesting observation was - with recent acquisition Oracle has made out of BEA systems, having double the power of SOA/middlware platforms, Why didn't Oracle decide to build and host its own SaaS platform?. Instead, why did it decide to partner with Amazon's cloud?
The answer only adds credibility to Amazon in the Cloud Market and I believe this move by Oracle may invite some more Enterprise vendors to Amazon Cloud. Would it be SAP?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Social Media - Yet another Delivery Channel?

While we talk about Multi-channel / Pervasive applications, have we ever thought of Social Media websites as one of the delivery channels?. And thats the news today...Gone are the days where the customers will reach out to company's website to access their applications.
The trend today is that...Apps are reaching out to customers where they are...
I was thrilled to see this - Online Banking Module for Facebook called MyMoney. This module offers transactional online banking services to Facebook users such as view account balances, review account history and transfer funds right within the Facebook itself.
What this means is that Facebook / Social Media websites are slowly emerging as Enterprise Application Delivery platforms where company's can unleash a whole new set of services targeted at Generation Y. And the added bonus is the viral marketing where the existing connections among members can be easily leveraged for marketing new products/services. The possibilities are immense.
And it looks like Top banks have realised the potential as well. Its impressive to see what Wells Forgo is doing in web 2.0 / Social Media space. And as of yesterday, Wachovia Bank has ventured into using Twitter to reach out to customers.
And Apple iPhone Store has quite a few serious apps including Financial services.
This proliferation of apps trend in web 2.0 can be taken for granted by the Gen Y customers and companies may need to seriously evaluate the options for venturing into web 2.0 / Social Media. Today, if a company does not have an online presence / very good online presence, its brand value may be affected which may eventually lead to reduced sales / customers. Similarly, in future, the company's may be forced to have a presence in the Social media sites as well..

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Can your competitor innovate for you?

Yes, its possible...and thats called 'Open Innovation'. :-)
SAP attempts to innovate in web 2.0 style. It has tied up 'Innocentive', an Open Innovation marketplace. It connects people from various organizations, academia, talented people across the world who are looking for breakthrough innovation. The platform has so far been used for Pharma, and Retail industries and this is the first time a technology company like SAP has ventured into this paradigm. Am sure there would be tons of IP issues involved in terms of incorporating the open ideas into the product and licensing it out.
But, its a good start. Now, anyone in the world can contribute to the product development at SAP. I have been a subscriber to Innocentive mailing list for quite sometime now. It is interesting to see such a quiet firm suddenly getting the media attention by association with industry leader like SAP. I wouldn't be surprised if more such technology industry leaders join the bandwagon!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Do you know what is Imagineering?

Of course, you can guess - Imagination + Engineering. Walt Disney is the pioneer in creating a Organization known as 'Imagineering' that does the master planning, creative development, design, engineering, production, project management, and research and development arm of The Walt Disney Company and its affiliates. Representing more than 150 disciplines, its talented corps of Imagineers is responsible for the creation of Disney resorts, theme parks and attractions, hotels, water parks, real estate developments, regional entertainment venues, cruise ships and new media technology projects.
In simple terms, Imagineering is defined as 'the fine art of deciding where we go from here'. What a simple and elegant definition!.
In this discipline, imagination/innovation is not seen as extra frills. It is blended with the actual engineering work!.
Now, you may be wondering why am I talking about it in Enterprise Technology blog!.
Here is where I come from ... SAP has setup a similar 'Imagineering' organization whose main purpose is to help SAP and its customer navigate the future. You can visualize this department as a Startup within a Large company like SAP. The imagineering dept works on cutting-edge new/futuristic technologies & business models (yes not just technologies, but business models as well) and comes out with Proof-of-Concepts and Pilots within SAP. The dept currently works predominantly on web 2.0 technologies and pilots them in SAP employee community.
Here is a podcast from the Head of Imagineering at SAP. Don't miss it, if you are curious to know where the Enterprise Software is headed in the future.

Remote Infrastructure Management - the 3D way!

If you think Virtual Worlds/Second Life are only for fun & marketing hype, think again!. Big Vendors like IBM, SAP and their partners have started experimenting the Virtual World platform for more serious applications.
If we can have clones for humans, called 'Avatars', Why not 'clone' your infrastructure? - Thats the idea.
Implenia, a Swiss based Building Mangement company is trying unique and innovative solutions to build more sophisticated services such as Remote Building Management, Carbon Emission/Energy efficiency and Temprature control. The idea here is to link your real world buildings to virtual world buildings in real-time. Sounds Exhilarating!.
Have a look at this article. If you have your little window in the house is open, Close it via Virtual world. Control the real world using Virtual world from being anywhere in the World!. And thats the novelty!.
And take this idea and dip into business scenarios and you get intuitive solutions!. And thats what IBM is experimenting with 3D data center management!.
And You may ask - Can't I do all of this in conventional 2D world using Web/HTML interfaces?. Of course, you can. But the intuitiveness and the exploration the 3D could offer is far ahead of 2D interfaces.
The only bottleneck that I see is the bandwidh availability to support those huge amounts of visual elements data transfer over the internet.
But, if the internet bandwidth becomes a commodity like the mobile airtime has, the 3D world would take off!.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Visual SOA on your way!

Have you ever wondered why Google Maps leads over others in the mashups world?. Why do you think iPhone is so attractive over other phones? In India, iPhone 3G was recently launched and it costs $800, twice as much as the US price and people are still buying it. Why? - I strongly believe it is because of its visual appeal, ease of use and the purpose it serves. The user interface doesn't make one to 'think' to figure out what purpose it serves and how to use it. And thats the quality of good UI.
Now, let us come back to SOA world. Have you ever convinced a business analyst about why SOA is required? or beneficial to the company?. If you have had, you would know what I am talking about.
Whether its an Operational SLA explanation, product issue, or new strategic initiative like SOA - The communication between IT and business holds the key. If you are unable to communicate the technical message that is understandable and appreciatable to the business, your success is uncertain. Especially in the case of SOA, without business involvement, its just not qualified to be called as 'SOA'.
Take the case of next level from business owners to business process analysts. I couldnt think of business analysts modeling complicated business process diagrams using the famous, sophisticated modeling tools. I have interacted with those business analysts in SOA initiatives and their experience most of the times is found to be 'messy'. Though they may be able to create and author certain artificats for a while, ongoing maintenance and governance is a nightmare in those modeling tools.
So what is the solution?. - Zapthink has a take here. Zapthink is one of my favorite and admired analysts in the SOA space. And I have heard its lead Analyst Jason Bloomberg speak in one of the events. Zapthink is vendor agnostic and approaches SOA purely from business drivers perspective.
In this article, Zapthink analyst Jason Bloomberg ideates that applying 'Semiotics' to the SOA will ease the communication of Service abstraction to business. Semiotics is a study of sign processes using signs and symbols and typically used in communication. In this article, Jason gives a simple but an illuminating example of how we all use the 'Window' symbol in our Desktop to manage applications within the System.
The point Jason makes is that SOA will not be useful to the business without working visualizations. And we have a living example - Mashups. Consumers all around the world have created so many visual mashups only to prove that, if they find something visually appealing and understandable, they can put their imagniative ideas around it and create a all new business purpose serving mashups. Can we create this magic in the enterprise world?. Can we expose our business services in a Visual appealing environment?. Not in the form of 'Service repositories'.
If we can, and I would call that as SOA tipping point.
And one can see for himself the progressions being made in the visual environments. We are moving from web 1.0 to web 2.0/RIA. And from web 2.0 to Virtual worlds. Intel is actively working on a whole new paradigm called 'Visual computing' to provide a new visual computing environment for graphically intensive computing environments such as Gaming and Engineering.
I strongly believe there is one disruptive innovation that is waiting to happen between RIA and Virtual Worlds. Virtual Worlds interface is just processor-hungry. (When I tried Second Life in my Laptop, it simply hung). RIA is so good but I find it not so mature to front-end business applications. So an interim technology that brings the benefits RIA/Virtual World and a mature programming model coupled with SOA Semiotics is waiting to create a magic.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Phone Banking in 150 languages!

Can you believe it!. Its yet another innovation by Royal Bank of Canada. In order to respect the diversity in Canada and to assit and attract new immigrant customers in Canada, RBC has recently rolled-out a customer service help line that works 24/7 and assits clients in more than 150 languages. I love Toronto!. I had been to the city twice and worked with major banks in the city. I can understand and appreciate how valuable the service would be!. The RBC bank has roped-in 2600 interpreters for this service.
More than this, I found another idea interesting...where in the Bank's website, the new immigrants can locate a RBC branch where their preferred language is spoken by more than three people. Guess what, its a Google Maps mashup!. If an immigrant is going to stay in canada for few months, I am sure this service would be invaluable. Apart from this, the website also provides various such as locating a house where a preferred cultural composition is high (sounds like BI heatmaps to me! :-))
Now, thats what I call Business Innovation that is truly sensitive to the local context!.
On a side note, RBC is also working on a Pilot with Visa to launch Contactless payments in Mobile devices. Just swipe your phone with the cash register at the merchant store and payment is done. Absolutely no contacts and no bills either!.

Monday, August 25, 2008

New way of Banking @ ATM

Bank of America has recently rolled-out an enhanced ATM facility where customers can deposit cash and get immediate credit on their account for the same-day deposits. The ATM also includes a fake currency detector that can immediately alert about fake notes in the deposited cash.
For cheques, the ATM gives out a receipt that contains the 'scanned image' of the cheque that was deposited. On seeing the cheque image in the ATM transaction slip, the customers will be immediately assured of the deposited cheque and the exact amount. There is no need for math and fill-up deposit slips as the ATM automatically adds-up if there are multiple cheques.
Some of the benefits that are quoted:
- Paperless transaction in the deposits
- Improved Customer Experience
- Real-time security
Its interesting to see the way technology & innovation touching consumers' lives. :-).
Slowly, but steadily, innovation is making inroads into the enterprise. Looking forward to the tipping point!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Integrated Tech & Ops

In times where CIOs themselves dont see their positions attractive or influencing in the corporate, the article recently published in CIO magazine raises hope. The gist of this article is that the new role of the CIO could be a SVP for Technology & Operations. One can find many number of instances in the industry where CIO is complemented with additional responsibility to IT. In most cases, the Operations is merged with IT. In other cases, the CIO is given additional responsibility for other support functions such as HR, Infrastructure/Real Estate, etc.
I see this transition as a very good opportunity for bringing IT close to business. Under the unified umbrella of Technology & Operations, IT can influence lot of business process automations/optimizations and Business Processes can benefit a lot from IT. Of course, there is a catch, provided if they both work together.
Having an Enterprise Architecture body that talks to business trying to create a business-IT alignment is a top-down approach, whereas having a SVP who heads both Technology& Operations can be a bottom-up door opener for achieving business-IT alignment. I will be curious to read successful case studies where these two functions really sit along the same side of the table , 'not' across the table to discuss their problems and improve them together.
On these lines, I would like to bring up a fact that a company in India, called iGATE, have sensed the significance of this organization model five years ago and came out with a integrated tech & ops offering for Mortgage/Insurance and Banking industry. It was a really interesting and visionary model for the maket, to start with. It will be interesting to see how this model shapes up and how this model gets adopted by other IT majors in India.
The consequence of my earlier apprehension - only if the tech & ops in the customer organization are really integrated and working together in spirit, not in letter - the vendor outsourcing will happen as a unified entity. Otherwise, it would still be treated as two different offerings - one for BPO and another for IT.

Monday, August 18, 2008

MBA is a course that is dead on its feet!

How is the title?. :-) . This is something I didnt make it up. And its a reference from an interesting article in India business magazine 'Businessworld'.
I was tempted to pickup the last week edition of Businessworld, as it was a special issue having the theme called 'Using Design as Competitive Advantage'. Of course, the title is so tempting to read in detail, because of its one of my favorite subjects and me being an architect! :-)
The point in story is that, in recent past, the companies that are admired most are the ones that have achieved global success though design!. Do you agree?. I do. Examples - Apple, Intel and Sony. Apple was rated as the No.1 Admired company in the World by Forbes magazine recently. The next No.2 being GE. The rating indicates that it does not matter what products that you manufacture - whether its for lifestyle segment or aerospace segment - the question is how well do you manufacture? - It matters how well the product is designed and whether the product explictely demonstrates the company's vision, passion, creativity and innovation. So, the question for successful companies of the future would be - Not how much revenue you generate, but how well do you design your product/service that will truly 'delight' your customers?. Of course, this yardstick cannot be applied to all companies. But, it will be really be applicable to companies that want to make a difference to their respective industries.
Another key point to be noted from the story goes like this - "Design when practiced at strategic level, it can alter the fortunes of the business dramatically as it engages the core offering of the company - be it product or service". Absolutely!. This is exactly what Zachman said in his conference on how Enterprise Architecture can be positioned strategically within the company to give itself a competitive advantage.
Now, coming to the 'impeachment' on MBA, it is a part of a Indian CEO's interview. He states "MBA degree signifies nothing more than the acquisition of a resource allocation skill, and now it is time to move from that to a more creativity-based mode where design becomes the heart of problem solving, the driving seat of business innovation.” And interestingly, the CEO himself is an MBA.
Not to trvialize the degree, the point the story wants us to buy is that that design has to be given equal importance as Management within any company. And I endorse it! :-)

Software+Services gaining momentum!

Internally, we have played with Microsoft Office Business Applications for quite sometime now. But, its very exciting to see industry majors like FedEx experimenting with those ideas.
Fedex has recently launched an application called 'QuickShip' which lets you to execute critical functions like shipping&tracking without leaving Microsoft Outlook. It is basically a Microsoft Outlook add-in that talks to FedEx services. I looked at the demo and I should say it was impressive and exhaustive. It has forms and menus built right into your outlook. Above all, FedEx distributes the app for free!.
Its a paradigm shift where companies are moving away from websites to consumer-side apps. And the next logical step would be composite apps that integrates not just FedEx services but with other external/commercial services as well.
Have a look at a list of other experiments that FedEx is engaged with, in Microsoft Sharepoint / Office areas. In one of the offerings, the FedEx data is integrated with Virtual Earth as well.
I firmly believe that we are few steps away from the tipping point for Composite applications.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What does it take to create Mashup Corporations?

I was recently discussing with a Business Objects report designer regarding a customer's requirement for Ad-Hoc Reports. The Ad-Hoc Reports are targeted for Business Users, who are not really IT savvy. That scenario flashed me an interesting thought on the lines of web 2.0.
If the business-users/Operational users are comfortable in composing 'Ad-Hoc Reports' on their own, why not 'Ad-Hoc Solutions'?. 'Ad-HoC solutions'= 'Mashups'.
If the business users are provided a platform for composing their own mashups, I am sure they would love to compose their own solutions. The million dollar question is - How easy the mashup platform would be for the end users to compose their own solutions?
But beyond Technical limitations, I see the cultural factors play a stronger role in rolling-out Mashup platforms
- Need for educating/informing the business users regarding the new 'Empowerment' of composing apps on their own
- The comfort factor of the new empowerment from all quarters including the security department
- Joint Governance of mashups created by both Business IT

Whether a user constructs a data mashup or a business process mashup, the need for a mashup will typically arise from the respective business user's curiosity/ambition and deeper commitment towards his day-to-day operations. One can correlate this scenario to a well- known situation - How can we make the business users interested towards using Business Intelligence solutions? There is no easy way to sell BI solutions. Similarly there is no easy way to sell web 2.0 or Mashups as well.
They are not just IT solutions. These are solutions have deeper impact in a person's motivation, organization structure and culture.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Risks in Composite Applications

Here is my recent experience on Composite Applications. Yes, Composite Applications are cousin brothers of Mashups in Enterprise World! :-). While Mashups are situational apps that are predominantly built using Web Interfaces (SOAP/REST), Composite Applications are custom applications that are defined around existing assets in the enterprise. The assets can belong to any technology and be available in any consumable form, not necessarily in the form of Web Services.
If you google for Composite Applications, You will get different definitions from different vendors each of them woven around their own set of products/technology stack. But, Ultimately they all define the same. These are the applications that are composed to serve the unstructured needs of the customer. For the same reason, you will find Microsoft weaves around Office Business Applications, IBM tells the story around Lotus Notes and SAP has Adobe Forms. And have a look at this Microsoft blog which explains the architectural differences between traditional apps and composite apps.
Of couse, the very idea of 'Composing' apps (and not 'building' apps) looks tempting and interesting!. Of couse, the idea of getting apps to the clients, instead of clients reaching out to apps, looks enriching and rewarding!.
Some of the interesting apps could be - clients accessing a purchase order information from SAP without even leaving his Microsoft Outlook and working through the Order collaboratively with his peers.
But, be warned for the following reasons:
- We are increasing the number of tiers in the application. Two-Tier / Three-tier no longer hold good.
- We are increasing the number of COTS in one vertical slice of the application. Its no longer pure custom app (100% coded). You will have participants from multiple platforms/products/technologies in a single business process.
- Security. The whole game would be easy if all the tiers in the app belong to single vendor/single technology/single OS. The moment where we compose the app out of assets from different participants, the security reconciliation of ID and Roles will be cumbersome!. In my recent experience, I realized that a Security platform, something like TransactionMinder, that would ensure end-to-end security across all tiers will help.
- System Management. If your custom apps have some footprint of desktop elements, then we are going a couple of decades back (unknowingly) in the app architectures. Performance - In Three tier web apps themselves, there is no single product/tool that is available in the market that would give me end-to-end performance of a vertical slice in the app. Imagine the amount of complexity involved in tracking the performance and other SLAs in a multi-tiered composite apps!.
- Last but not the least - the composite apps are pervasive and multi-channel enabled. We need new set of tools and techniques to manage the SLAs across channels for a single business capability that is exposed as composite!.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Analytics beyond Technology Boundary!

This is another interesting story from Outlook Business. There was an interview with Future Group Chief Kishore Biyani in this month edition. In this interview, Kishore talks about his future plans in retailing & customer experience. Future Group is a large Indian business conglomorate that has its presence in vairous sectors including Retail, Media, Logistics and Finance. The Flagship business of this group is Retail and its one of the pioneers in low-cost large-scale retailing in India.
When we consider Technology and Business Intelligence as key sources of increasing sales in retailing business, Kishore thinks differently. This is what he has to say about his plans...
"We have a chief customer director. We have also appointed mythologists, sociologists, and anthropologists. We monitor everything that is happening in this country, and we try to respond as fast as possible. We’ve been building this team over the last six to eight months.".
I can understand psychologists. But look at the list - he has mythologists, sociologists and anthropologists. And for me who is from a Tech mindset, this perspective was a revelation!.
Yes, Technology, BI and Analytics alone may not be enough for driving business in your stores. While at one end, we are increasingly codifying the user experience using personalization, rule engines, inferencing and recommendation engines, the other end, another set of people are seriously looking for ways that would interact with Humans with Humanity!. And that is unique!.
Am sure, this approach will certainly and significantly improve the customer experience at Retail stores in the days to come...!
My thought is - How to match that unique customer experience in online stores using Technology?

Now, SaaS is a Corporate Social Responsibility!

WoW!. It was quite a revelation when I read the column by Arun Maira, Senior Advisor, Boston Consulting Group in Outlook Business titled 'Look beyond Products and Profits'.
In this column, Arun proposes five new dimensions to the next generation of business models. The article is completely technology-agnostic and talks purely about inclusive growth. When I was reading one of the dimension for the new framework of business, he says - "The second is the distinction between having access to a product or service and owning it. The more business models are geared towards providing access rather than insisting that people own the stuff, the less stuff will be put through our production and supply processes, and the less will be the pressure on the earth’s resources".
After reading this, I said to myself 'Wow!', How clearly this dimension correlates with SaaS business model? It makes the end consumers to access the resources without owning it, and that saves not just money, but lot of resources, including earth's resources'.
Now, I would say 'SaaS is a corporate social responsibility'. Like various other social-sensitive initiatives like recycling paper, green IT - SaaS also makes a company unique by consuming less resources.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A new language for SOA!

While the end objective of SOA is to achieve enterprise agility, the actual path to achieving the same is 'counter-agile', as Thomas Erl states. The actual process of building and hosting the services in a distributed environment is not simple. And on top of it, if you add the products that promise to implement successful SOA, the complexity will only multiply.
This post is a continuation of my two previous posts - IT industrialization and Product Line Architecture. When I was discussing with my fellow Architect in this regard, we concluded that the need of the hour is 'simplicity'. And I can no way refer any of the existing products in this category.
And there is also lot of discussion going on in the web about the promise of SOA. Someone has asked, if SOA is evolutionary and promising to bring tremendous benefits to the enterprise, how come we are building SOA with same old technologies?. - very thought provoking. You may say - Web services is new technology. But, the fundamentals are still the same.
The only way I see the complexity can be reduced is by bringing a fundamentally new technology or language that would simplify 'building' SOA. And I am not wrong!. Check out this language - Somebody is not only thinking but working on those lines.
Another way of looking at simplicity is use of 'Domain Specific Languages'. I see DSLs are the only thing that is common between Agile Camp and SOA. Both of them agree to gain benefit out of them. While the 'Agile' camp approaches DSL for productivity/Accleration in Development cycle, SOA approaches DSL from 'semantics' perspective. Both stand to gain from it. I believe well designed DSLs would make the 'building' part of SOA lot more 'faster', not necessarily 'simpler'.
But unfortunately, it looks like DSLs are going to become obsolete even before they mature! Yes, Microsoft is planning to adopt UML instead of DSLs for modeling SOA.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

IT industrialization is a Mirage?

Gartner has recently identified 'Seven Grand Challenges for IT' during next 25 years. Interestingly one of the challenge that is mentioned is - 'Increase Programmer productivity by 100 fold'. Though I find the number - 100 fold - to be too greedy :-), I have to admit that I see this challenge as the fundamental to the IT industry for the years to come.
IBM endorses this view saying IT industrialization is still in early stages. While recent developments like SOA, SaaS and Utility computing have industrialized the buying and selling side of IT, we have not seen anything that is concrete that will truly industrialize the way we 'build' our software.
There are so many enablers such as Open source frameworks, SOA, sophisticated IDEs, but none of them have seems to have solved the problem to a greater extent. I practically experience in my company where developers are still burdened with mundane activities such as UI issues/Table-to-Object mappings. And we have not achieved significant reduction in the development time as well. Am not talking about rapid application languages such as Ruby, etc. They can help to certain extent, but they have not made inroads to enterprise apps yet.
So, the need of the hour is a magic bullet that would slash the development time spent in mechanics of the actual application.
If MDAs, Software Factories are answers to this problem,we would not have seen this in Gartner Report as a challenge for next 25 years.
I believe one way of improving the developer productivity is to enhace the capabilities of application server platforms. Its the right time to elevate the application server platforms to provide application related capabilities from pure infrastructure capabilities.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

SOA Vs Product Line Architecture

While I was contemplating with an idea of Product-Line Architecture concept to a series of projects in my company, it triggered me the thought of comparing the same with Service-Oriented Architecture. I plunged myself into this comparison of Product-Line Architecture and Service-Oriented Architecture and the journey was quite interesting and insightful.
I also saw that CMU is doing lot of work in bringing the synergies between the two paradigms. The university views that both paradigms can complement each other and each can add value to the other at broader architecture level - Applying Service-Orientation to the Product-Lines and Applying Product-Line approach to Service-Orientation / Composition. While I completely agree with this idea, I believe a greater synergy can be achieved when they are applied at their respective contexts, where they are best at.
To explain a bit more, in one of the scenarios, SOA and Product Line Approach can perfectly co-exist, where SOA addresses the interface part of Services and Product-Line addresses the implementation of components behind the services. The Product Line concepts can be applied to model the service inventory within a specific domain in the enterprise. Applying Product-Line concepts to the implementation portion of SOA will significantly benefit in terms of accelerating the development time of services.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rise of new ERP

Came across this interesting article titled 'The Next Revolution in Productivity' in Harvard Business Review few days ago. The article advocates that - To harvest the maximum benefits out of an SOA initiative, it is required for the companies to revisit the fundamental design of their operations & their organizational structure. If they dont do that, all they will achieve is just IT efficiency, while SOA's true potential can achieve lot more than that.
This perspective generates a lot of thought process. I always tried to understand the value proposition behind the SOA strategy of bigger ERP vendors. The ERP vendors' SOA stack primarily unwraps its huge monolithic bundle in the form of prolific services and encourages the ecosystem to innovate and compose new business processes. However, I would see this model as 'innovation' happening on the 'Edge'. The true innovation in this space would be the one that could be applied at the 'roots' of the business processes.
As mentioned in the above article, using ERP vendors' SOA stack, is it possible to fundamentally redesign a specific business process?. Is it possible hot swap, sell or buy the inner most activities of a business process that is composed around ERP?. If the HBR hypothesis cannot be delivered out of today's ERP ecosystems, then as the article states, one may not leverage the fullest potential of SOA. And the one that supports the complete enterprise transformation with innovative business processes would be the new ERP...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Virtualization overtakes SOA?

Am not trying to draw any parallels between Virtualization Technology and SOA Architecture here. Am classifying both of them in the category of emerging trends and trying to see which one is progressing faster.
Though I am an ardent fan of SOA and the potential impact it could create on the IT and Business, I should acknowledge that there are significant complexities involved in implementing SOA. Zapthink partner David Linthicum talks about it persistently in his blog. SOA makes tall promises. However, to realize the promises, it requires skilled SOA architects/designers, business consultants, sponsors and above all patience. :-)
Having said that, I should say Virtualization leads the game in terms of realizing the promises and achieving the benefits. Here is a reference. PC Quest has recently announced the Top IT implementations for the year 2008 and I couldnt find a single SOA focused project. Almost all of them are pointed solutions that are targeted towards solving a specific business problem. Am not saying that pointed solutions are bad. The point here is SOA has not been mentioned as a key stragic enabler in any of those implementations.
However, I could see a virtualization success story. ICICI bank has recently completed the enterprise server virtualization project and this project has been selected as one of the best implementations. More than the project, the metrics made me to say Wow!. Here it is - The bank was able to condense more than 550 servers in about 43 servers using VMWare Virtualization Technology. This is a strong metric that speaks the benefits of Virtualization.
Virtualization as a technology concept is slowly making in-roads into the industry and Even conservative IT shops are bound to invest in this technology for the solid proof statements that can be seen around the industry.
There are plenty of SOA case studies as well. Am not denying that. However, I strongly believe that virtualization has a direct impact on the fundamental economics of an IT shop and hence it succeeds, whereas SOA has an indirect impact via the business solutions and the actual architecture that gets implemented.

So My suggestion would be - Invest in virtualization today to save money so that You can invest in SOA tomorrow! :-)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

SaaS is rocket science!

Yes...Am not talking about a SaaS consumer here...but the provider.
This is what analysts quote when SAP delays its SaaS offering. I was surprised to see SAP officials saying the SaaS offering will prove to be expensive for SAP itself. This is what SAP co-CEO says...
"We have to work out how expensive it will be for SAP if we run this product in a hosted environment. We have to make sure we make enough money with the product"
The offering is targeted at SME businesses and supposed to be cost-efficient for them. While the offering may prove cost-effective for end customers, it looks like it will prove the other way for the provider.

Having this story, I was trying to understand why is it so complex? What could be the technical barriers in building a platform and rolling-out the services, considering the fact that you have so many appliation platforms in the market?
ButI couldn't agree more that its not going to be a cake walk, because of the following reasons:
1. Multi-tenancy architecture is not easy. If the SaaS vendor wants to host multiple tenants in the same infrastructure and still able to deliver the SLAs which are different for different tennants, thats not a default feature of conventional platforms. You will need a new architecture to address the challenges.
2. Only if the multi-tenancy is in place, it would prove to be profitable for the service provider, where you get to host more tenants on less number of instances.
The same challenges apply to in-house shared service providers as well..who would build and host services that are consumed by different LOBs within the same company.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Enterprise Mobile Wars - iPhone 2.0, BlackBerry and Google Android

I thought blogging about Google Android platform few days ago. But, then I was waiting for iPhone 3G launch to happen...
First and foremost, have you had a chance to view the Google Android application gallery?...If not, I would strongly recommend to checkout...It has an interesting range of applications - personal productivity, social networking, context-aware apps, m-commerce to carbon credit measurements. I also happen to view the Google Android Demo that looked like iPhone's cousin in touch-screen interface.
As some of the bloggers are writing, there must be something cooking behind Google Android and Google is not disclosing the actual plans and potential of the platform. It always says...It is the developers who would come out with a killer application for the platform and not Google. Hard to believe!. Couple of other reasons;
1. In the application gallery that consists of 50 applications, I agree that many of them are innovative and interesting. But, none of them would qualify for a 'killer' application that would give a competetive edge to the platform itself.
2. There are speculations that Google is planning a GPhone in collaboration with Dell, Google is interested in only grabbing a ad space in mobile...But, the actual intent is not known yet.
3. From all of the above, I see Google Android to be only next to BlackBerry and iPhone. While BlackBerry clearly scores in enterprise market and gets into significant partnership with Enterprise technology vendors such as SAP, iPhone is clearly targeted at consumer space (to start with) and leads brilliantly in multimedia space. If the market is segmented that way, Google Android can be positioned for low-cost phones with innovative apps for the common man.

Now, after yesterday's announcement of iPhone 2.0, Apple is readying iPhone slowly into enterprise email market in collaboration with Cisco. And tons of consumer apps with blistering speed!. If Apple continues to invest in enterprise readiness, it could give BlackBerry a run for its money in near future.

Whether its Apple or RIM or Google, I strongly believe its going to make good for mobile customers as it increases competition and it will continue to bring new releases to the market with innovative features!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Next Generation Outsourcing

Few years before, I had read Cognizant CEO sharing his thought process on how would the next generation of outsourcing look like?. His vision was to move from labor-arbitrage to intellectural-arbitrage combined with global sourcing. Ok, that sounds like obvious?. Let me get into details...The service value chain can become atomically global. Each step of the process can be decontructed to set of activities to find out the most appropriate location which is best suited to perform that specific activity at a given point of time.

And yesterday, when I read a IT magazine, I found a company which has just ventured to realize the very same idea what Cognizant CEO talked about. The company name is called 'Anantara Solutions'. The company defines itself as a SGO / Second Generation Outsourcing company. It acts as a master system integrated and works with an ecosystem of partners who build and deliver solutions in specific technology areas. But, Anantara owns the final responsibility of delivering the business solution to the client, combined with its own business consulting skills. Sounds intesting!. The company has only 40 people and already works with an ecosystem of 25 companies that are spread across various geographies. Sounds definitely innovative..and interesting.
Now, I would be interested to know further...
1. The SGO can be more valuable compared to FGO (First Generation Outsourcing :-). But Would it be cost-effective as well on an on-going basis?
2. The SGO certainly creates an edge for the solution provider. It creates a unique value to the provider. But, it requires a lot of intellectual property to sustain it on a longer term. Will it be sustainable?
3. As Cognizant CEO has talked about being an enabler of next generation outsourcing, What would be Company like Anantara's business model, if other big players venture into this model?
4. Some of the analysts being skeptical about a smaller player's success in this market.
All these questions will be answered while we wait and watch Anantara growing...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Telepresence Wonder

Ever since Cisco announced their Telepresence product, I thought it would be affordable and appicable only in Corporate context.

However, I recently read that Wachovia Bank is planning to deploy the Telepresence solution for a specific customer service segment. That was interesting!.

I wonder the Telepresence channel will compliment / replace Branch Banking in future...

Some of the other contexts where the solution will largely add value are Telemedicine (especially in Rural areas), Offshore-based Consulting. (This is one area where we have not figured out how to improve the effectiveness of consulting without being at onsite).

But, the price points are inhibiting the potential early pilots!. Hope to see more such business solutions in near future!.