Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writing Apps is Wrong!

Yes, this is what ZDNet Blogger Brian Sommer says!. In the post, Brian argues that 'Applications' are wrong perspective to have in todays' times. He adds businesses today don't want apps. Instead they need 'capabilities' to serve different kinds of information to a variety of users in different kind of devices.

Do I agree?. Partly, Yes - to the point that we need a different paradigm to deliver business capabilities.

Let's deep dive a little from this viewpoint.

Adding to Brian's message, my thoughts on Apps follow:

- Applications are old school of thinking.
They are good for accounting/transactional systems but not suitable for unstructured /
dynamic business scenarios.
- They are highly introverted & technical!. [No offense to Introversion! :-) ]
It simply means Apps think about themselves, their structure & data exchange rather than
connectivity to end users and their context.
- Applications are fragmented. Users need to hop-on and hop-off between applications to
accomplish tasks/processes. This gives a disjointed experience in terms of security,
profiling, etc.
- Applications are limited in their orientations - either processes or data.
[Today, we have lot more dimensions to express - social, multi-media, visual, spatial]

Despite new ages capabilities brought by mobile internet devices, We still keep developing applications and deliver in old ways. In fact, We are facing the problem of plenty where there are hundreds/thousands of apps. And We need another new range of apps called 'Helpers' which can assist in navigating the apps market place. (Guided Search).

What is the alternative?

Brian suggests delivering context-specific, Role-based, "smart" information to mobile internet devices through a common UI. He claims such a delivery would empower the end-users by enhancing their "business capabilities". Sounds convincing?. While I agree to the perspective that Apps are old-school, I dont quite agree 'Capabilities' are the way ahead. IMHO, Applications have always been capability enhancers to end users. Its just that they were not smart.

Where do I differ?

In some way, Brian's suggestion of - context-specific, role-based, common UI - reminds me another old school paradigm called 'Portals'. We all had portals in in the past, in the Web world. We have incarnations, in the mobile world as well. And there are quite a few Mobile Portal offerings that aggregate and provide context-specific, role based access to Apps. Yes, You would still have apps. But they would run behind the scenes - behind a Portal facade. And Portals came up with Single Sign-On, Context-Switching, Inter-connectivity, etc.

So, Do Portals solve the Fragementation Problem?. To certain extent, Yes. The flip side was Portals were heavy, resource-intensive and required wiring of applications. Portals were actually "Mega" Apps!.

So, What would be the new paradigm?

In my opinion, Apps and services are inevitable. They will continue to exist in near future as well, from technical implementation perspective. They are the modular units/building blocks of end user capabilities. They can be made "smart" by adding some intelligence to those applications. It is in the hands of the designers/developers to make it smart.

What we need today are - "Coherent Experiences".

For example, any user would have few limited profiles - Family, Work, Leisure, Travel, Learning. Users when login to those respective profiles, they should be able to accomplish their respective tasks/processes with much more ease - because the system proactively understands the context and prepares itself to serve smart information by leveraging the new technical capabilities such as social/video/spatial, etc. They would be inherently capable to provide a coherent experience by interoperating with various apps/services behind the scenes.

I am imagining such a solution would look wonderful on a tablet device or a Microsoft Surface kind of a device that can orchestrate various hardware/software components. Remember - You may still write apps. But the focus is more on orchestration and experience and not on 'creating' or 'building' applications.

I would like to ask - What experience are you trying to orchestrate for your customers?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Are you ready for "Grand-Renewal"?

Its interesting to hear the need for 'Grand Renewals' constantly from the Tech industry. Few years ago, it was Web 2.0, Enterprise SOA. Today, it's about Cloud, Mobility/Tablets and Analytics.

Wanted to highlight two of the "Grand Rewneal" stories that are worth watching...Will add more on the same lines in coming days.

1. SAP

One of my colleagues made a recent comment that SAP's marketing team has been working overtime to promote HANA, its latest offering - a high-performance analytic appliance that runs in-memory. In the recently concluded SAP SAPPHIRE event, its CTO Vishal Shikka made a flamboyant pitch for HANA, that makes you to believe as if HANA is the next big thing not just for SAP, but for the entire business applications & analytics space!.

It is touted as the non-intrusive platform that can boost the performance problems of existing business intelligence/analytics solutions protecting customers' existing investments. In fact, in long run, SAP even wants to migrate the SAP R3 ERP suite to HANA. In a nutshell, HANA is a new generation platform where the business applications and analytics solutions can offload their transaction processing workload for faster performance. [It reminds me old transaction monitor softwares suchas Tuxedo :-)]

In its maximum capacity, HANA has been tested with a processor of 1000 cores (yes, you read it right!!), 16 Terrabytes of RAM. SAP is also working on a cloud version of HANA.

Now, coming to the core question - What kind of problems can be solved by HANA?. Simply - Big Problems. If you have business problems that need scale - scale in data volume, scale in complex processing, Demanding expectations on high-performance and Real-Time - then HANA may be right for you. SAP's key customers have already started to experiment with HANA in their respective businesses. For example, Infosys, an IT services company having employees close to hundred thousand people has experimented with HANA to track the project-level profitability or margins. Considering the size of Infosys, Am sure it will have thousands of projects at any point of time.

The keynotes by Vishal Shikka has been interesting in the last couple of years. Unlike other CTOs, Vishal gives a philosophical/conceptual approach for SAP's Technology/Product directions. He has earlier talked about some of the key concepts like Timeless software, Pace-Layered Architecture. In the recent keynote, giving an example of paper books moving to eBooks, Vishal mentions the "content" of the book has been liberated to take advantage of the "container". In this case, the container being transitioned is the hard-bound paper medium to an electronic device. And the liberation leads to new possibilities/new experiences. Having mentioned, he further makes the case for the "content" in business applications - the actual business information - be liberated to new "containers". In SAP case, the new container is "HANA".

2. SalesForce.com

SalesForce's annual event Dreamforce recently concluded. In the keynote given by company's CEO Marc Benioff articulates the vision of Social Enterprise. Social Enterprise is all about democratizing the business processes, eliminating barriers for employees, customers, suppliers to collaborate and share information/ideas and thereby increasing the opportunities for high performance of the enterprise. SalesForce has been making significant investments in the past by introducing offerings such as Chatter that are aligned to Social Enterprise vision. Some of the companies have started exerimenting with Chatter to be deployed as the collaboration platform between the Service representatives and Customers.

While the vision of Social Enterprise may sound like brand new and relevant these days, I see it as the re-incarnation of Web 2.0 concepts that we saw few years ago. Again, Social Enterprise is not a pure-play technology solution. Becoming a Social Enterprise would require companies to fundamentally re-think their organizational culture, processes, Employees & Reward mechanisms. In that sense, it can also be qualifed as a 'Business Technology solution', when collaboration happens not just between people. In addition, with across enterprise information systems.

There is a similar interesting observation on Cap Gemini blog quoting SalesForce.com becoming the new Front Office of enterprises. While SalesForce.com positions itself as a Front Office, SAP HANA positions itself as the solid engine for Transaction Processing and Business Analytics. It would be interesting to see how other players respond these positions!.

The key takeaway is that the key technology players want you to fundamentally re-think the way business are run / think about brand new opportunities that your business can advantage of, using their innovative new technologies. They don't position their offering as 'Technology infrastructure'. In fact, SAP positions its HANA as a business-technology platform when comparing Oracle's Exadata as a Technology infrastructure.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

How do you see your profession changing?

Am referring to your profession not your job.

To set the context, Am going to talk only about functions only within Enterprise IT (CIO organization).

You may be a Project Manager, Architect, Vice-President - Operations, Compliance Officer, Quality Assurance Provider, Accountant, HR, Developer - There are chances that your stakeholders might have added new expectations to your function without your notice!.

Let me quote few examples.

1. There is no dearth of discussion around the topic of Enterprise Architecture & Enterprise Architects. People across networks keep debating about the pros and cons of this Role all the time. Recently, there was an article published from Zapthink on some of those provocative topics - What will it take for enterprise architecture to become a profession?. And Why nobody is doing enterprise architecture?.

2. Forrester has been publishing some very interesting research on Why do some Strategic Roles fail?. The roles include Enterprise Architects, PMO, Planning, Relationship Management, Vendor Management etc.

3. TechTarget predicting the future roles of Enterprise IT with the advent of Software-as-a-Service. It predicts Enterprise IT would dwindle and become a Service Broker rather than a Solution Constructor. With this change, it claims coding/development functions will become less important and eventually transition to IT Service companies/Product Companies.

4. The emergence of new roles such as Data Scientists may be a threat for some and opportunity for others.

If Strategic functions have these challenges, one may get an impression that Operational functions are safe haven! Not Really! :-)

5. Rakesh Khurana of Princeton University argues whether management itself can be considered as a profession. That's startling!. Of course, the context of this perspective is not specific to Enterprise IT. It applies to General management across industries.

What do we mean by Profession? Making a function as a Profession requires codifying the practices and enforcing the code of conduct for practitioners. (e.g. Medicine, Law). A Job provides a channel to deliver the standard functions of a Profession.

Why is this issue important for Enterprise IT? Because, its the only unit within the organization that gets continuously disrupted both with emerging technologies and changing business needs!. Enterprise IT needs to balance the expectations of being a rock-solid infrastructure provider to business enabler and innovative technology solution partner.

In progressive organizations, the disruptions in the demand/supply chains of Enterprise IT (be it business stakeholders on the demand side or IT service providers/technology vendors on the supply side) will call for profound changes in individual functions within the unit!.

Let's face it!. Functions in Enterprise IT are moving targets!. The solution is to continuously deliver "value" in current function and stay alert!. To stay alert, it is required to understand the movements/disruptions a lot more better in terms of its direction, velocity & impact and respond appropriately and timely!.