Sunday, January 30, 2011

What's new in Microsoft ERP Architecture?

One of the news that caught my attention in the last couple of weeks is Microsoft Dynamics AX Technical Conference. As many of you know,Dynamics is the ERP & CRM suite from Microsoft. Though Microsoft is not having a significant pie in the ERP market, it is still pumping money in R&D and subsequent product releases.The next version of the product is due to release in 2012 and claims to have a Generational shift in ERP architecture. And that is what I was interested to know more..

One of the key features of the next version is touted as layered, model-based architecture. We discussed about Pace-Layering of SAP Architecture sometime ago. And it looks like Microsoft Dynamics follows the similar concept. Some of the key challenges in the ERP sector are:

1. How do we customize the modules without sabotaging the standard, out-of-the-box functionality?. In case, the customer wants to revert to the standard/default functionality, would it be possible to do it seamlessly?

2. In case of ERP, How do we bridge the gap between functional and technical consultants?

3. How do we manage the unused modules in a ERP suite?

4. How can we have an ERP that would enable an organization to anticpate and embrace change?
Looks like, Microsoft has tried to answer most of these challenges in tne new ERP architecture. By adopting a layered approach, the standard/default features are clearly isolated from multi-level customizations (Country level, Business Unit level, or even at Person level customizations) and the customizations are stored separately.

The key feature that got my attention was the model-based approach. Using this approach, the functional consultants would be able to model the customizations (without requiring significant coding or technical plumbing) and the models can be translated to Tech specifications/implementations.

This is a significant improvement in ERP architecture. I don't think SAP ERP follows a similar approach for functional consultants. All I know is they develop functional blueprints before the implementation. And someone needs to bridge the gap between those blueprints to tech specs. Microsoft made significant investments towards modeling when it announced Oslo initiative in 2007. But later dropped the same and pursued SQL Server based modeling repository. I believe the same has been integrated with the new ERP architecture. I do think if this model based repository is provisioned as a platform/service, it would open up to wide array of opportunities for custom development of new business applications.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

HCL Technologies - Vision 2015

Few weeks ago, I had criticized in this blog about HCL Technologies CEO Vineet Nayar's comment on Cloud Computing...

Now, its time to give a Bouquet!. In India, its Quarterly Financial Results season for the companies. And IT services companies' results are making headlines in Indian newspapers. Some are encouraging, Some are upsetting, Some are optimistic!. Overall, the Growth Story of Indian IT services companies are in good shape and continue to progress..

Ok, the reason for Bouqet is this - In an interview, Vineet has articulated the Vision for his company, HCL, in 2015. The vision for the company is to transform itself from being a services company to a utility company, that is backed by good amount of Intellectual Property. Vineet is banking big time on Cloud Computing to accomplish his vision of becoming a Utility Company!.

For the first time, I am coming across a CEO who is able to articulate a visionary statement rather than mincing words like - becoming a world class company, becoming a first class supplier of IT services, high-end value chain, outcome based services, etc...All these are mechanics or means, not the end. In Vineet's case, He is clearly able to articulate a Future State for the company. Thats'a big deal!.

When I heard the utility company lingo, it reminds me similar companies that I am aware of - my telephone service, electricity service or even water service. I often interact with Telephone / Broadband service provider and often get a compliant number to track. Usually, the services are always-on, always available, and service person turns up promptly on request. The requirements of a Utility company in my perspectives are - a Good Product, Good Customer Care/Exceptional Service, Great Tariffs/Inexpensive Rate Plans, Solid/Reliable Service Delivery Platform/Accessibility. Can we expect a similar business model from IT services company in future?

Now, some of the hard-pressed questions:

1. How much of the investments HCL is making in R&D towards achieving its vision?
2. Utility Computing, Means, Transfer of Ownership of Systems and Platforms, Not just Transfer of People (outsourcing). Utility Computing is a captial-intensive business, where the service provider is expected to own and manage the actual productized service. Is HCL ready for it?
3. What is the positive/negative impact of becoming a utility company to its stakeholders (including employees)?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Next Generation Mobile Advertising!

This particular post may not be very relevant to Enterprise IT. But I wanted to cover it more from the mobile technology perspective especially in the areas of marketing, customer analytics.

If your IT unit is working with Marketing to design Tech-enabled marketing solutions, this post is a must-read.

For the past couple of weeks, i have been watching the new ad from an Indian Telecom Service Provider AirCel on its new service offering - Blyk. Blyk is a youth-centric mobile service that brings exciting MMS and SMS on events/updates, offers, trivia and opionion polls from their favorite brands. Now, doesn't sound like a mobile advertising campaign?. Yes, it is. But, the difference is in the delivery model.

First, the service is a permission based marketing. Users need to subscribe to the service to receive the ads. Ok, Why would anyone want to receive ads on their mobile phones?. The claim is you will receive highly personalized targeted offers which will be useful to you. Ok, How would you deliver personalized messages to someone?. Know them in detail to serve them better. At the time of subscribing to the service, you will be asked for interests, like, dislikes, brands, etc. which will enable the service provider to serve targeted messages. Ok, What is the bottomline?...You will get paid to receive the ads.

Now, doesn't that sound interesting?. Yes, the operator would give bonus talk times or free text messaging service to receive ads on your phones. Blyk is also positioned in the social context. You can refer friends and get bonus talk times, etc.

In the current mobility boom in India, I strongly believe this service could catchup big time among young adults, in the age group of 16-24.

Ok, This is all about the service. What is so techie about this idea?

When Google entered into mobile business, lots of people were speculating that Google is entering only to monetize their advertising business in mobile media. But, they are proved wrong as Google is mainly focusing on Operating System, Applications, In-App Advertising, and even Mobile Phone devices (with Nexus One and Nexus S Series).

With these developments, I dont think Google is leading the mobile advertising technology.

I have an android phone and I don't think the In-app advertisements that I receive are relevant. Most of the times I get to see ads that push me to buy Galaxy Tablet, which I dont like it anyway.

Some of the interesting aspects that I observed in Blyk are:

- Permission & Profile based Marketing. The concept has evolved from getting the permission of the customer to understanding his preferences. This will eventually help build a persona or profile with the service provider so that future communication between the two will be much more useful. Unlike Print/TV media, Mobile per se is a personalized channel and understanding the preferences will make the service much more exclusive.
- Engagement based Marketing. It is not just spam. It is about co-creation, engaging with the customer segment that is interactive and responsive. Customer can answer queries, participate in polls, influence the compaigns and eventually empowers the customer.
- Mobile Advertising Analytics. Now the icing on the cake. With the profiling, targeted messaging and two-way communication, the analytics on top of these campaigns would truly reflect the customer's interests, key trends that would influence the market. This would enable creating new services/products.

Of course, there is whole lots of other issues like Data privacy that needs to be resolved on the way of next generation marketing.

Marketing is getting redefined with the advent of mobile technologies. In future, the marketing channels could evolve from being mere information providers to highly personalized service assistants for individual customers. These service assistants could either help you get things done or achieve your aspirations or be more efficient.