I believe technology can be exploited to greater levels than we have allowed. We are constrained by 20th century business models and ideas. Collectively, we need to move past technology for the sake of technology and truly focus on moving markets beyond the status quo!

Monday, June 26, 2006

I thought of this Tommy Tutone 1982 one hit wonder as I wrestled with the latest machinations of my mobile carrier. And, quite honestly, no blog is complete without some overt reference to 1980’s nonsensical music!

Let me get to my problem. I spend quite a bit of time on my bicycle. These rides are not just around the block to visit friends, rather they are Lance Armstrong inspired long distance events of 100 miles or more. One minor problem, I don’t have the luxury of having Johan Bruynell and the Disco team trailing me to provide food and support. Without the resources of the Team Discovery, I have to take my own food as well as communication device. This means a light weight, durable, and reliable cell phone. Easy problem to solve, right? Wrong!!!! I recently had to expand my Cingular calling plan to a family plan – even though I am the only person on the plan. So why does a family of one need a multi-number plan? Good question – here’s the problem and the solution…

When you are 50 miles or so from home and night is falling and the wind picks up and you just had your third flat tire of the day, the most important possession in the world is a working cell phone. But, in order for the cell phone to have enough importance to bring along on the ride, it has to be light weight, durable, and offer some ability to provide a connection. Nobody wants to take their Smart Phone on an athletic event and risk damage or loss. Given this scenario I thought of the perfect solution to my cell phone / cycling woes. I would buy a small, light weight, reliable practically disposable cell phone to take with me on my bicycle and leave my bulky yet feature rich Smart Phone at home. After some amount of investigation, I decided upon the 2 ounce Firefly. This meant I could leave my 5.8 ounce HP iPAQ at home.

This seemed to make perfect sense – two phones or an extension, if you will, and one number, right? Wrong!!! It seems in their infinite wisdom, the mobile carriers have deemed that only one number can be assigned per smart chip. If I wanted to have the same number on both phones, I would have to fumble around with the smart chip each time I wanted to use the less important but more durable Firefly. This did not seem logical or even remotely sensible. Again, after some amount of investigation I found it to be true. Why was I not surprised that the inflexible, rigid, and outdated business model of the mobile carriers again rendered a logical and simple problem complex and cumbersome.

In the long run, my safety on a bicycle is far more important than the illogical business model of the mobile carriers. I took the only solution I could – create a “family” plan for my Firefly and my HP iPAQ. Yes, this solution works, but I have another phone number to manage. I remember the promise of a single universal phone number for each person. That vision went by the wayside as soon as new area codes were granted.

It would be refreshing if the mobile carriers were to spend one day in the real world and modify their plans to reflect what people really do. We are in an unfortunate situation where the carriers have customers locked in to contracts and provide at best, pathetic to mediocre service. These problems all come back to not understanding the usage requirements of the customer. And, the lackluster service offered by the mobile carriers points to a massive failure of the much ballyhooed customer relationship management (CRM) systems. If the CRM systems really worked, we as a collective population would not have to be held hostage to the mobile carriers.

The huge lesson learned here is…understand use requirements before you begin anything lest you end up like the mobile carriers – that is a warning that will frighten anyone! And, realize the majority of the world does not have the resources of the Disco boys for their SAG needs!

Go Team Discovery!!! Vive le Tour de France!!!

What’s next?...what's the word?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Think Before You Leap…
At Microsoft Tech Ed, I had an informative conversation with Jason Beaudreau, Director of IT for Altair Global Relocation. When I first met Jason, I had no idea who or what Altair Global Relocation was. I figured they moved people around, but really did not think a relocation company would be a poster enterprise for technology. Think again!

Jason told me Altair was a global company and gave me an impressive list of corporate clients, all household names. He then told me that Altair employed a mere 200 people with a scant 20 in the roles of IT. And, the next thing Jason said was Altair wins business because they can differentiate themselves from the competition through technology. The technology helped them be more efficient and accommodating to their customers. Jason really stressed the people aspect of the business describing how understanding the customer’s needs was the major focus of the business.

My next logical question was around outsourcing. No, Jason informed me all of their technology, which is the lynchpin of their organization, was crafted inside Altair in their Dallas, TX office. Wow!!

As Jason explained their application life cycle, I realized that Altair was the embodiment of something I have been an advocate since the last century. Altair’s internal technology team operated and behaved like a commercial software company. They understood the benefits of and the necessity of requirements. They understood the user / customer and worked with them throughout the life cycle to make sure the aforementioned requirements were being met. And, they tailored popular development processes to meet their own unique needs. Think about the magnitude of what they are doing. Altair has a minimal, tightly integrated staff, knows their customer, and focuses on requirements along with usability. Brilliant! Altair works like a commercial software company. The difference is Altair is able to deliver relocation services because of the custom software they identify and create internally.

Altair has clearly made a good decision. They know their business but realize it is imperative to have compelling technology to meet the demands of their customers. Altair can be proud of their choices and the way they behave.

What’s next?...the idea of service providers

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Er / Ment…
At Tech Ed, the Microsoft spokespeople were certain to stress that the company was moving from supporting the developer to supporting development. This may seem like a big case of over analyzing semantics and word parsing. Trust me, this is a major statement.

By publicly communicating the movement from er to ment, Microsoft is saying they are serious about the application life cycle. Microsoft understands and knows the developer, but what about the rest of the players in the application life cycle chain – the development and deployment aspect? This is something Microsoft has been wrestling with for a while. How do they move up the all-important stack from er to ment? Start by introducing products (of course we should expect products from Microsoft) that will attract other members of the life cycle…architects, quality assurance groups, business analysts, project mangers, etc. A big check mark on the product side with Visual Studio Team System, however, Microsoft is still in search of the acceptance and understanding of the other participants in the application life cycle. Hence, their focus on moving from er to ment.

I am encouraged that Microsoft will do more to make this transition than ship products and modify SKUs. Their language will change, it will be subtle at firs but will ultimately be peppered with terms such as “design and architect”. Watch for the outward signs that Microsoft is moving in the direction of supplying, supporting, understanding, and working within the entire application life cycle.

A subtle, yet telltale change going from er to ment. Can Microsoft do it? Their long term success depends upon it.

What’s next?...behavior.

It’s the Little Things That Count, Really…
I left Boston and Microsoft Tech Ed 2006 today. As a road warrior and conference veteran I must say the Tech Ed experience in Boston was superb.

The show, as always, was well organized and met the needs of a variety of attendees…developers, architects, analysts, managers, students, purchasers, executives, partners, and even competitors.

Microsoft has really set the standard for hi-tech events. Realize, this event was attended by well over 13,000 people. To scale quality to that size takes some effort. Microsoft always manages to take care of the creature comforts at its events. With Tech Ed being a developer-centric event, the typical staples were on hand. For those not familiar with the care and feeding of developers, that means plenty of caffeine and processed sugar along with wireless internet access, plenty of power, and comfortable seating. Microsoft delivers on that 100%. But what about the rest of us, those that see white food as something to avoid and couldn’t identify a “vente” (I think that’s what they call it) from a tall in a Starbuck’s lineup. Microsoft consistently delivers a stream of fresh water and an assortment of healthy snacks such as fresh fruit and nuts. I stress the fresh part of the previous statement. I commend the Microsoft events team for really understanding their customer’s needs. And, most importantly, they make sure the attendees really have no reason to leave the show, after all, isn’t that the ultimate goal?

As I return home, I do not have that post-conference fatigue associated with navigating an unwieldy venue and constantly searching for hydration and healthy fuel for the body.

Microsoft Tech Ed is one of my favorite annual events. And, even as the conference grows in size, it continues to deliver value and a quality experience.

What’s next?...the importance of understanding your customer, it is far more than words.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

When It’s Time to Change, You’ve Got to Rearrange…
I’ll admit it, I am a product of 70’s sitcoms, primarily The Brady Bunch. Who among us cannot remember Peter Brady belting out his memorable line “when it’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange…” about change in the midst of teenage angst and puberty Brady style!

Well, the software industry is well beyond puberty and really has to change and rearrange. The software industry is no longer about software…it has to change and rearrange to be a hybrid.

Microsoft is, without question the definitive quintessential software company. The problem is the company is, at its core, an operating system company. Everything Microsoft is and does is about selling and installing more copies of Microsoft Windows. Windows is the franchise product – period – full stop! Now, this is not an entirely bad problem to have, but what about the future. People and enterprises are no longer paying in excess of $500 (US) for a single productivity application to put on a proprietary closed operating system.

Microsoft has to change from being a software company and figure out how to become more of a hybrid company. Hybrid is defined as providing solid software but supplementing that software with some sort of viable services. The services supplementing the software can be either professional or managed. Given Microsoft’s ability to build out an ecosystem of partners and in effect show more feet on the street, it makes sense for Microsoft to look at ways to deliver managed services as well as figure out some crafty way to extend the usefulness of its traditional Microsoft Office product line. True to its ways, Microsoft is attempting to achieve both by delivering managed services as well as exposing the Microsoft Office line as a development platform.

At the Tech Ed 2006 keynote, Bob Muglia, Microsoft’s Senior Vice President, Server and Tools business eloquently stated how the new Office 2007 will really extend the development platform by being extensible and by becoming truly integrated and most importantly, just working. The just working part of this equation is the piece that will make interrupt driven knowledge workers and field workers take notice.

What Microsoft has been wise enough to realize is they have won, hands down, the desktop productivity war. It is beyond ridiculous for anyone to even attempt to erode that market. But, this realization has two parts…Microsoft also realizes that we have become e-mail addicts and most of us are addicted to Outlook – this bodes well for Microsoft. We live on our desktops in Outlook, a push sort of environment. And, for those of us with Smart Phones, what do we do most frequently? We obsessively check our e-mail. So, this simple realization gave birth to what may very well be Microsoft’s most brilliant plan. The plan is simple…give people what they need where they spend the most time. Microsoft realized the abysmal failure (my assessment) of the promised land of CRM. Microsoft also realized the promises of CRM , while never delivered, are not all bad, it is really a matter of implementation and understanding the human way people work. Hence, we will soon see Outlook, the addictive application, be used for everything we want and need to search on, store, and send. After all, we have so much information that we always need to figure out where it is.

Microsoft took a fundamental assumption of massive market penetration of the Office product line and inverted it. By doing this, we are going to see something bold and new come to something reliable and familiar.

Microsoft is figuring out how to change and rearrange.

What’s next?...less is more, especially in software development.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Expression in the Land of Beige?!
Americans are obsessed with beige. They live in beige houses with beige furniture, beige floors, and beige walls. They wear beige pants and drive beige cars. They use beige computers and beige monitors and eat from beige plates atop beige tables and beige counters.

OK, maybe I am exaggerating, Americans choose from a palette consisting of eggshell, taupe, sand, nougat, tumbleweed, caramel, mocha, latte, stone, and light tan. Guess what, it is still beige by any other name!

As a society ensconced in beige it seems only logical that the human interface of the software designed by primarily Americans has been anything except revolutionary. Admit it, software interfaces have been rather beige!

At Tech Ed 2006, Microsoft is presenting its four new tenets for “People_Ready” software. As part of making the tenets reality, they are focusing on the correlation of said tenets and their products. One of the highlights of this movement has been the little publicized, but ultra cool Microsoft Expression product line.

Microsoft Expression is targeted to the designers of applications. That’s right, the people focused on human engineering and user interface! The people who work in lofts with exposed bricks and beams and studios with multi-colored walls, not beige carpeted cubicles with faux wood beige desks! Microsoft is targeting the designer!!! Microsoft is paying homage to the saviors from all that is beige!

Microsoft is the quintessential software company with a franchise business to preserve and protect. Part of that franchise preservation is coming through products for real live designers. Microsoft envisions a day when designers will be part of the development process. I do not think it is going to be that simple, but this is a start in the right direction. Microsoft has the clout, talent, and presence to build out the ecosystem required for design and subsequently designers. Microsoft can arm a cadre of partners with design experience to work with their tools. Realize design knowledge and expertise is not something that can be institutionalized through a few training classes. This is why Eichler’s are creating such a stir at the moment and mid-century modernism is gaining in appeal.

Solid design is critical and necessary for highly reliable and functioning software, regardless of where it is residing. Microsoft can help shape a culture of expression through software. This need to design more effectively must be part of the overall process, because some aspects of software creation are still art with some discipline.

What’s next?...technology is on a roll, where are we headed?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Red Sox Nation and Microsoft?
I spent a productive afternoon of doing nothing taking in all that is Boston. Boston is one of the greatest, if not the greatest American city. It has history, music, culture, art, august educational institutions, an efficient and well used transit system, architecture and, of course, the Boston Red Sox. I love Boston and I love the Red Sox, but I do not randomly clad myself in their logo. As I meandered from one section of town to the next I was struck by all of the Bostonians showing their support for the Boston Red Sox. These were not people on their way to or from a game – these were people out for Sunday brunch, shopping, meeting friends, enjoying the bucolic Sunday afternoon. There were people in pink Red Sox hats, the St. Patrick’s Day green Red Sox hats, jaunty tweed Red Sox hats in the tony Beacon Hill area, Red Sox t-shirts, jackets, blankets, and umbrellas, and the traditional good old fashioned Red Sox logo hat. Why was everyone so willing to express their support for the Red Sox? The team was not engaged in a summertime showdown or playoff game with the reviled New York Yankees nor had they just won a championship. I thought about this and then realized – this city is on message. They are all saying “we are loyal to and support our Boston Red Sox”, the city is passionate about the team and the support transcends everything. I submit that no other American city shows this much enthusiasm for a team on a regular basis. Throughout the afternoon, I noticed a few interlopers trying to distract from the Red Sox message – there were some from Detroit, some from Chicago, some from the University of Rhode Island, and certainly a smattering of MIT supporters. None of the interlopers were able to achieve critical mass to overtake the zeal and support found for the Boston Red Sox.

I thought about how on message the city was with their support of the team and realized that Microsoft Tech Ed was in the perfect city in 2006. Microsoft is the company it is because they have an uncanny ability to stay on message. The company has a well crafted communications plan and everyone in the company is passionate about it. There have been and continue to be technology interlopers who attempt to gain recognition but none can stay on message quite like Microsoft.

At the opening keynote for Tech Ed 2006, Microsoft unveiled its vision of “People_Ready” software and its four tenets:
Manage complexity and achieve agility
Protect information and control access
Advance business with IT solutions
Amplify the impact of people

And, true to their amazing ability to stay on message, several Microsoft product people used the keynote as a platform to describe through demos how these tenets are going to be realized now and within the near future.

Long after Tech Ed 2006 is through, Microsoft will be touting the promises of “People_Ready” software and its tenets. And, anyone you encounter from Microsoft will be able to tell you the tenets and their value propositions. That is staying on message and that is truly powerful.

What’s next?...technology disruptions – where do we go from here?


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Life is a Database Old Chum…
We are rabid consumers of information. We want our information fast. We want our information to be accurate. And, we want our information any time and any where. We can be this demanding because we know everything of importance has been cataloged, filed, arranged, and assigned a key field – at least electronically. Now, as consumers of data we are not too concerned about the infrastructure supporting our insatiable need for fast, reliable, and on the go information. However, someone has to do the behind the scenes work so we don’t suffer in our quest for information. For years we have had developers toiling over performance algorithms to help us over the hurdle of server constraints. It was the best we could do.

Enter ENCIRQ. The ENCIRQ Data Foundation Framework gives developers everything they have been wanting…a way to get away from the classic client / server database architecture. Client / server is so 1980’s. With this model, ENCIRQ just moved a rather classic industry into the 21st century.

ENCIRQ does not need an operating system, but is certainly capable of working with a variety of them if you desire. But, the biggest breakthrough for ENCIRQ comes because of the breaking of the client / server mold. ENCIRQ’s data foundation is inline code. Inline code – this means no performance or size constraints of a server. To the masses this means a quick, simple, elegant, modern, reliable solution to the quest for information. And, we can free up all of those developer ergs to work on other things.

ENCIRQ is acting as a liberator from the shackles of 20th century computing: operating systems, IDEs, and proprietary API’s. What does this mean…it means the devices we carry will be unified in their approach to giving us what we need, when we need it, and where we need it. It’s time to move to the 21st century and realize traditional client / server models have a purpose, but to be truly free, we need to lose the overhead constraints a server imposes.

Demand your information be fast, reliable, and available.

What’s next?...Microsoft Tech Ed 2006 in Boston, MA. It’s not really a conference as much as an experience. Microsoft always makes you think, so watch for the Tech Ed posts.

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