TECH TALK: Email: The Future of Email

Today, the dominant enterprise messaging and collaboration platforms are Microsoft Exhcange (with Outlook as the client) and Lotus Notes. On the Internet, Hotmail and Yahoo are the two dominant free Web mail services. Messaging ASPs (who provide outsourced mail hosting) include Critical Path and Commtouch. Popular Instant Messaging platforms include AIM and ICQ from AOL, Yahoo IM and MSN Messenger.

Email will also serve as the building block for collaborative applications. Email can have forms embedded in them, and I can respond in place, and the action can be either the generation of a response email or the update to a website (in case I am connected). Either way, email will go beyond text and becomes “actionable”. An example of a company which is working in this area is Zaplet.

As we look ahead to the future of email, first let us first take a look at the Messaging value chain.

Device Message Client Software LAN Server
Hardware
LAN Server
Software
Internet Mail
Server
Network
PC
Telephone
Cellphone
Email
Pager
PDA

Email
Instant Message
SMS
Continuous Media
(Audio/Video)
Unified Message
(Fax, Voice Mail)
Actionable Mail

Notifications

POP client
IMAP client
Web Mail
Filters
Translation
Unicode support

Net Connectivity

PABX (Voice)
Storage
Backup
Wireless LAN Support

Mail Server
(SMTP, POP, IMAP)
Global Address Book (LDAP)
Anti-Virus
Anti-Spam

Security
Authentication
Mail Prioritisation

Routing
(via sendmail)
Filtering
Reformating for
different devices
Mail Sync – across accounts / devices

Instant Messaging
Analytics
Bulk Mail Support

Internet
Cellular Network
Paging Network

There will be multiple devices from which we will access email in the future. Ideally, we would like to use an integrated mailbox, with multiple folders, with a single view which is irrespective of the device from which the access is being done. Messages will comprise of not just text, but also audio and video, and could come in different languages.

The need for a LAN server comes in because at least for the foreseeable future, the connectivity bottleneck is going to remain, and so I would like emails delivered on a server in the office LAN from where I can access them quickly. Of course, when I am away from the office, these messages would need to be sync-ed with my mailbox on the Internet (same email address), so that I can access them from home or a cybercafe through a Web browser in case I am traveling.

Since all emails come and go through a central server in the enterprise, it also becomes possible to do analytics on the text and the senders and recipients. Email is where a significant portion of the knowledge base of a company is getting captured. To be able to distill it is what Tacit does.

Email in the future will become even more tightly integrated with other applications and our lives. It has been the Internet’s killer app, and will continue to remain so as it evolves. Email-for-all is on its way.

TECH TALK: Email: Email Solutions

Let us take a look at how IMAP and other technologies can help solve the problems (outlined earlier) which we face with today’s email systems.

Spam: Filters on the server will allow for the automatic deletion of messages identified as spam. Filters can learn not just from the headers of the message, but also action taken by me and others in my company.

Cc: Sub-addressing, filters and shareable folders can help reduce the “occupational spam”. For example, when I am working on a project, the project leader can create a shared folder which is available for reading and writing by all (with deletion rights resting with the project leader). This way, all the team members can email to the folder, rather than to the individuals directly, thus reducing the Inbox clutter.

Viruses: By selectively downloading attachments, one can reduce the risk of viruses infecting the local system. Also, since IMAP allows for mails to be kept on the server (instead of the client), this can also help reduce the client machine getting infected. Ultimately, inspite of all the anti-virus software that is available, being careful about the kinds of attachments one opens can help reduce, if not eliminate, the risk of being attacked by a virus.

Storage: Since IMAP stores emails on the server, backing up mail becomes easier and the responsibility of the network administrator or the service provider. The user does not have to be worry about local backups.

Search: Since all emails are stored on the server, it is possible to deploy sophisticated search technology on the server, instead of on myriad clients.

Composing: The newer generation of mail clients and Web-based HTML editors will allow for the creation of formatted email.

Notifications: When mail is stored on the server, it becomes possible to alert the sender when messages are delivered and read. Alternately, as IM systems get integrated with email (at some point in the future), an instant message can be used to send the notification.

Security: There are standards like S/MIME and PGP which need to be used for ensuring security. Authentication is done via a login-password, and perhaps through a digital certificate.

Payment Model: For email which has multimedia email, the storage will need to be done by the sender. In this case, the email will need to be sent with a URL which points to where the attachment is. This way, there is only a single (and always updated) copy of the attachment. This reduces the burden on the recipient.

Instant Messaging Integration: This is tricky! Today’s IM systems are like the email systems of two decades ago. They have their own name spaces and are not interoperable. Like email systems first had gateways and then a common namespace, so will IM systems evolve in the years to come.

TECH TALK: Email: Email Protocols

To understand how email can be made more effective, it is important to understand the two key protocols which the email client uses to interact with the email server. These two protocols are POP and IMAP.

POP, the older and simpler of the protocols, downloads all the emails from the server to the client (there are options now available to leave mail on the server). The assumption here is that the user will want to connect to the server, pick up the emails and then disconnect. Management of the emails is done on the user’s computers. POP minimizes the connect-time needed to access the emails. The disadvantages are that since mails are downloaded sequentially, it becomes difficult to eliminate the junk mail that comes in (since there is no way of knowing till all the emails are downloaded), and mail is not necessarily available from anywhere on the Internet (since it is downloaded to the client computer).

To a limited extent, browser-based mail (also called Web mail, and akin to the free service offered by Hotmail and Yahoo) can ensure that email is stored on a server. The problem here, though, is that one needs to be connected to the Internet for managing the emails.

IMAP, the newer and more complicated of the mail protocols, takes a different approach to mail management. It allows for mails to be stored on the server, with a copy downloaded to the client computer upon request for offline processing. This offline mode of processing synchronises the client state with the state on the server when the user goes back online.

Users can also create folders on the server and manage them, thus ensuring availability of email from any computer which has an IMAP client or uses Web mail that supports IMAP. The flip side is that the server now has to store all the mails for users.

IMAP also allows for the message to be selectively downloaded. The way this comes in handy is to first download only the headers of messages. Messages can be deleted or marked for later downloading (if they have large attachments or access is over a low-speed line). Thus, the user gets greater control on which messages to check first.

A feature of IMAP called sub-addressing also allows specific folders other than the Inbox to be directly accessed. For example, I can subscribe to a mailing list with the email address rajesh.news@indiaworld.co.in, and the email will then go directly into a folder called news (as long as I have created one). IMAP also allows folders to be shared between users, and thus can be used as a building block to facilitate sharing of information and collaboration.

A good comparison of POP and IMAP appears in the paper by Terry Gray at http://www.imap.org/imap.vs.pop.brief.html

IMAP is an ideal protocol for today’s world wherein people are mobile, may access their emails from more than one computer (or device), have a lot of junk mail coming in (so filtering and sub-addressing is needed), and storage space is cheap.

TECH TALK: Email: Email Problems

During the last 5-6 years, email has become a “mission-critical” business tool. Executives spend at least 1-2 hours every day in email. In many ways, email has become the “front-end”, the user interface to the Internet. But email still has certain problems.

Spam: A couple years ago, 80% of the email we received would be useful. Today, the percentage is more likely to be 20%. As email marketing has taken off and tools to send out email to large mailing lists have become available, just about anyone can send email to a large number of people – almost at no price. The problem of spam does not seem likely to go away any time soon. In the next few years, not only will the number of emails rise, but so will be the percentage of spam.

Cc: The fact that email is so easy to spend (and to the sender has no real cost) has meant that emails get sent and cc-ed, even though there may be no real reason. Rather than thinking about whether the recipient really needs to get the email, the approach has become that everyone should know (as if sharing knowledge absolves responsibility). This “occupational spam” includes joke e-mails, copying somebody unnecessarily and hitting “reply all” instead of targeting individuals.

Viruses: Email attachments have now become quite lethal due to the emergence of viruses as payloads. In the fast few years, on more than a few occasions, corporate messaging networks have been brought to their knees due to viruses sending out emails to the entire address books of individuals.

Storage: A significant portion of business communications is happening via email. This means that it is important to be able to archive messages for the future. In many cases, email is downloaded on the desktop, which makes storage the responsibility of each individual.

Search: One needs the equivalent of a Google for email. The search tools available with many of the email clients are quite limiting. The ability to search must go beyond just the headers and into the attachments.

Composing: The formatting available in most email clients is still quite limited. While it is easy to send HTML pages as attachments, it is still a challenge to compose better formatted email.

Notifications: A courier package can be tracked all the way through to delivery. Yet, emails have very limited tracking capabilities – one still doesn’t know (seamlessly across all mailing systems) on delivery of a message, or if it has been read or deleted.

Security: Most email communications is still open and unencrypted – it is estimated that only 10-15% email sent is encrypted. Sending open email is like sending business letters in unsealed envelopes. Besides, it is also possible to spoof the sender, so one can never be sure that the sender is indeed the person who you think it is.

Payment model: It is interesting that the cost of storage in email is borne by the recipient. On the sending side, there is only transient storage that is needed. So, assuming the bandwidth costs are the same, the recipient actually incurs greater costs than the sender. This problem is going to get worse as email size increases, especially with multimedia email.

Instant Messaging Integration: The email namespace is independent of the IM name space, and there is no integration between these two-related messaging applications.

TECH TALK: Email: Email Evolution

A lot of what we do today involves email and working in teams. In this context, it is interesting to see how things have changed in the last few years, and what can be done to make people more productive using available and coming technologies.

According to a recent study by United Messaging, there were a total of 891 million mailboxes in the world at the end of 2000 (a growth of 67% from the previous year), making email the most successful communications technology since the television. The figure includes corporate email boxes (using software like Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes), ISP mailboxes, Web mail (from service providers like Yahoo and Hotmail) and wireless mailboxes. The US with 5% of the world’s population has nearly half of the world’s mailboxes, so there is still plenty of growth that is likely to happen in the coming years.

Yet, email by itself has had only a few changes in the past decade. The biggest changes have been:

  • Shift from a text-based interface to a graphical interface, piggybacking on the growth of Windows and the Web
  • HTML Email, allows for emails to be embedded links and images, allowing for richer formatting of emails. It is, however, hard to actually create HTML documents to be sent as email
  • Address Book, allows for communications with a lot more people by storing email addresses (in many cases, automatically, and embellished with name completion when sending email)
  • Attachments support, allows for almost anything to be sent via email, through the MIME protocol
  • Filtering (which few use), allows for automated management of incoming emails

During the same time, the number of emails that people receive and send has multiplied exponentially. There are so many more people to communicate with. For many, email, more than the browser, has become the real window to the Internet. Also, the growth in a real-time variation of email, Instant Messaging, has been even faster. In the years to come, the number of emails and instant messages that we are expected to process is likely to increase even more, with the growth in devices connected to the Internet.

A view from Gordon Moore, Intel’s co-founder, on the change being brought about by email (as quoted in a New York Times interview):

What keeps me up at night is doing my own e-mail. I wouldn’t say anything keeps me up at night worrying. Anything that changes – in a dramatic way – the way we do things, requires us to give up doing things that may have been attractive before. I’m amazed to see how many people working at Intel are sitting at terminals pushing buttons where previously they may have been working together. I guess that does introduce a kind of an isolation but it sure is an effective way to do things, essentially 24 hours a day. It gives a lot of capability for which there is a sacrifice. I’m not sure it sacrifices much more than did the introduction of the automobile assembly line, where employees could see each other but not hear each other. I’m not sure it’s a qualitative difference.

TECH TALK: The Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise: Business Model (continued)

One approach to the distribution challenge to reaching Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is to build a franchise network of “7-11” type kirana (neigbourhood) “eStores”. These serve two purposes: the last link in the distribution chain, and also locating the Enterprise Servers in case they cannot be bought by the very small enterprises (in this case, the SMEs will have the Enterprise Clients; the last-feet connectivity will be via wireless through 802.11b). These eStores also serve as “showcase” points for the enterprise technology infrastructure that we are proposing. The aim should be to make computing like a utility service for SMEs. (It is also worthwhile noting here that people rarely change utilities!)

The Enterprise Client-Software mix is akin to a “razor-blade” combo. The Enterprise Clients are needed to multiply the number of users in the enterprise, and work like the razors. The blades are the monthly charges for the use of the Enterprise Software. Even at USD 5-10 per person month for the Enterprise Software, the rewards can be large in targeting the “world’s corporate poor”.

There is also a potential for two extensions to the SME market – one which builds on the SME market, and the other which extends the Enterprise Clients to the Consumer market.

Deepen Relationship with SMEs via Outsourced Services: Services offer the advantage of locking in the SMEs by understanding their business processes. These services must make it easy for SMEs to start and manage businesses by taking care of the “non-value-adding” services as far as the SME is concerned. Business Process Outsourcing is going to increase going ahead, and this can also leverage India’s skillsets well.

Extend Devices to build the Mass Market Consumer Market: The Enterprise Client can be extended to the Consumer market, to build out a mass-market vision of offering low-cost computing to the world. The consumer market volumes for the devices can also help in bringing down the unit cost dramatically. Seeding first in the Enterprise market helps build out some volumes, along with word-of-sight (i.e., people start seeing these devices). This will create the pull from the mass market. The eStores can also serve as 802.11b wireless hubs, thus creating a near-ubiquitous wireless network. Today, there are cybercafes in India. The problem is that one has to go inside the cybercafe to use the computing resource. Since the Enterprise Clients will be 802.11b, users could be standing 100 feet outside the cybercafe and still use the connectivity from the cybercafe. This can dramatically multiply usage.

Targeting SMEs in a range of diverse Emerging Markets with a bouquet of custom-built hardware and software is undoubtedly the counter-intuitive business strategy. The risks and odds against success are high. But, then, with a potential market of tens of millions of SMEs across the world, so are the rewards.

TECH TALK: The Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise: Business Model

Can companies make money selling to the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Emerging Markets? Do the Enterprise Hardware and Software solutions provide the platform to build a large, successful company? What is the business model in selling to SMEs? How do you reach SMEs?

By SMEs, I mean those companies outside the Global 5-10,000 biggest companies. These large companies will be targeted by all the world’s big software and b2b players. That still leaves 25+ million SMEs in the world. SMEs are defined as companies with 1-500 people, or companies with upto USD 50 million in revenue. There are estimated to be 8 million such SMEs in the US, and another 8 million in Europe, with a similar figure in Asia. My guess is that in Asia the number of SMEs will probably be much larger as a percentage of the companies.

There are lots of these smaller and medium companies who all are faced with one big challenge: Survivial. They need to compete and live. Yes, they are hard to reach, especially the ones in the emerging markets. No one really cares about these companies in these countries. At the same time, SMEs in Emerging Markets are also aspirational.

Many of them are exporters, and part of global supply chains. Adoption of effective technology is very important for their business. Just buying a PC and a Net connection is not the answer – what they need is a “whole solution” which is what we are putting forth / postulating here.

The solutions which are good for the “developed” market will not necessarily work for the emerging markets. One has to rethink how the technology infrastructure (software, hardware and services) can be provided but at a fraction of the price. What is proposed here is exactly that – a “whole solution” comprising of the Enterprise Server, Enterprise Client, shareable monitors, and the Enterprise Software stack. One needs to go in with a “whole product” to target these enterprises. The message: Do you want to be an “eBusiness winner” (or even a survivor in tomorrow’s world). If so, we have the technology and services mix for you.

SMEs are also the hardest market to reach and that is why few have succeeded in targeting them. The margin on each sale is low. The problem needs to be treated like an FMCG product selling. A distribution pipeline, which can be fed with incremental products and services for the SMEs, is needed.

TECH TALK: The Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise: Enterprise Hardware Solution

The complete Enterprise Hardware solution consists of the following four components:

Enterprise Server PC Enterprise Client Monitor + Keyboard
Connects to the Internet, Telephone Network (built-in PABX and Voice Mail), Cable TV Network; Storage; also runs the Enterprise Software; Price-point: USD 1500 (Rs 75,000) 1 for every 5-6 people, full-featured desktop; Price-point Rs USD 800 (Rs 40,000) PDA+Phone; one device for everyone in the company, mobile “always-on” connectivity with the enterprise; can also be used from home or outside via RJ11 Tel Line connection; Price-point: USD 100 (Rs 5,000) Shared infrastructure including monitor, keyboard and perhaps a webcam (1 for every 5-6 people), provides a bigger viewing area for the Enterprise Clients and Video (TV); Price-point: USD 500 (Rs 25,000)

SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) need to reliably connected to the Internet and its services. The key here is to create a nearly “always-on” (intermittently connected) infrastructure – without this, they cannot be offered software as a service. The solution for this is to offer an Enterprise Server which sits on the company’s LAN, and takes care of not just connectivity and communications needs, but also has the enterprise software stack running locally. This way, the company feels more secure and has access to the service even if the network connectivity is not available. It also gets the benefit of speed and “always-on” connectivity.

The Enterprise Server can connect to three networks: the Internet, the telephone network (also serving as a PABX for the enterprise) and the cable TV network. It also gives the service provider the ability to help manage their local IT infrastructure. Data should be replicated on servers on the Internet also, thus offering redundancy and availability from other locations also.

The cost of a PC at USD 600-700 is still significant for SMEs in emerging markets. The result is that PC penetration in enterprises is low (for example, in India, there are only 3.5 million PCs for a workforce in excess of 100 million). Yet, to get the full benefits of the Internet and collaboration, everyone in the enterprise needs to be enabled with computing and communications. The solution is the Enterprise Client.

The Enterprise Client is basically a low-cost (less than USD 100) PDA with wireless support (802.11b), and supports voice/data. The software needed on the Client is a Web browser, which can interface with the Enterprise Software and other Web servers elsewhere on the Internet. The Client is the window to all the Enterprise Software applications.

The shared monitors (1 for every 5-6 people) create shared resources which can be used as and when desired by employees for needs which require a bigger screen and full-sized keyboard (e.g. attachments, substantial typing).

TECH TALK: The Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise: Enterprise Software Solution

SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) need a complete solution. The pure-ASP solution will not work because of issues of trust and connectivity challenges. We need a solution which combines the best of the software CD with the ASP. We also need this to be on a robust hardware platform, which is remotely managed. So, software applications and data need to be available locally, but also replicated remotely on the server. This means, we need to create a very low-cost and footprint server which is extremely robust, and which has the software applications as components. This server has to take care of all business needs. Data also needs to be entered only once, which means an integrated XML database is needed at the backend.

The real value of the Internet is in helping businesses becoming efficient, in helping them grow their revenues while cutting costs at the same time, about getting access to information in real-time and leveraging it in ways previously not even thought of. This wave in enterprise software is only just beginning. There are millions of companies using computers across the world, but few are using it in an integrated sense.

This is where the opportunity of tomorrow lies: creating a set of standardised applications for companies which can be used across their functions internally, and collaboratively externally – with suppliers, customers and partners. Organisations need to be beyond using Messaging and Collaboration – they need to e-enable the enterprise, create the “intelligent, real-time enterprise”. This means having a suite of applications to support ERP, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and SCM (Supply Chain Management) – but from an SME viewpoint.

SMEs globally need an e-business suite for automating and integrating not just their internal functions, and also helping them collaborate with its partners. The suite should provide a single offering covering internal processes (ERP) and external interactions (CRM, SCM). It should be modular and Lego-like: SMEs can use it the way they want, piecing together the building blocks. Also needed: a library of business processes, models and architectures which SMEs can draw upon, and put in place not just its internal processes but also the software support for them through the suite.

The solution is to build out a complete Enterprise Software Stack as follows:

Industry Applications CRM SCM Marketplace Auctions ePayments CollaborativePlanning
ForecastingReplenishment(CPFR)
eBusiness Suite
Enterprise Applications Finance HR Admin Procurement Content/CatalogManagement Analytics Website/eCommerce(Storefront) Marketing Sales EnterpriseInformationPortal ProductDevelopment Logistics InventoryManagement Training
Enterprise Platform OfficeApps(Word,Excel,Powerpoint-equivalent) Calendar Scheduling InstantMessaging ContactDatabase Forums Collaboration VoiceOverIP GlobalAddressBook VirtualPrivateNetwork WebConferencing UnifiedMessaging Business Operating
System
Core Infrastructure Database Mail FaxServer FileSharing/Server PrintServer ApplicationServer Backup DialIn/Out InternetAccess Anti-Virus WebServer Proxy Caching Firewall Router Anti-Spam ContentReplication FileTransferProtocol Internet-PABX
Integrated XML Database
Linux Operating System
Physical Layer Ethernet Telephone ISDN Printer WirelessLAN(802.11b) Interfaces


Software upgrades should be seamless and transparent to the end-users. There should be no customization. What is needed is a minimalist system which is built ground-up from the OS. Strip out all that is not needed, adhere to standard protocols, and store everything in an XML database to achieve integration.

This full-featured set of applications for the core enterprise processes should be priced at about USD 5-10 per person per month, thus making it extremely affordable. Such a solution would be at least 10 times more cost-effective.

TECH TALK: The Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise: Enterprise Software Solution

SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) need a complete solution. The pure-ASP solution will not work because of issues of trust and connectivity challenges. We need a solution which combines the best of the software CD with the ASP. We also need this to be on a robust hardware platform, which is remotely managed. So, software applications and data need to be available locally, but also replicated remotely on the server. This means, we need to create a very low-cost and footprint server which is extremely robust, and which has the software applications as components. This server has to take care of all business needs. Data also needs to be entered only once, which means an integrated XML database is needed at the backend.

The real value of the Internet is in helping businesses becoming efficient, in helping them grow their revenues while cutting costs at the same time, about getting access to information in real-time and leveraging it in ways previously not even thought of. This wave in enterprise software is only just beginning. There are millions of companies using computers across the world, but few are using it in an integrated sense.

This is where the opportunity of tomorrow lies: creating a set of standardised applications for companies which can be used across their functions internally, and collaboratively externally – with suppliers, customers and partners. Organisations need to be beyond using Messaging and Collaboration – they need to e-enable the enterprise, create the “intelligent, real-time enterprise”. This means having a suite of applications to support ERP, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and SCM (Supply Chain Management) – but from an SME viewpoint.

SMEs globally need an e-business suite for automating and integrating not just their internal functions, and also helping them collaborate with its partners. The suite should provide a single offering covering internal processes (ERP) and external interactions (CRM, SCM). It should be modular and Lego-like: SMEs can use it the way they want, piecing together the building blocks. Also needed: a library of business processes, models and architectures which SMEs can draw upon, and put in place not just its internal processes but also the software support for them through the suite.

The solution is to build out a complete Enterprise Software Stack as follows:

Industry Applications CRM SCM Marketplace Auctions ePayments CollaborativePlanning
ForecastingReplenishment(CPFR)
eBusiness Suite
Enterprise Applications Finance HR Admin Procurement Content/CatalogManagement Analytics Website/eCommerce(Storefront) Marketing Sales EnterpriseInformationPortal ProductDevelopment Logistics InventoryManagement Training
Enterprise Platform OfficeApps(Word,Excel,Powerpoint-equivalent) Calendar Scheduling InstantMessaging ContactDatabase Forums Collaboration VoiceOverIP GlobalAddressBook VirtualPrivateNetwork WebConferencing UnifiedMessaging Business Operating System
Core Infrastructure Database Mail FaxServer FileSharing/Server PrintServer ApplicationServer Backup DialIn/Out InternetAccess Anti-Virus WebServer Proxy Caching Firewall Router Anti-Spam ContentReplication FileTransferProtocol Internet-PABX
Integrated XML Database
Linux Operating System
Physical Layer Ethernet Telephone ISDN Printer WirelessLAN(802.11b) Interfaces


Software upgrades should be seamless and transparent to the end-users. There should be no customization. What is needed is a minimalist system which is built ground-up from the OS. Strip out all that is not needed, adhere to standard protocols, and store everything in an XML database to achieve integration.

This full-featured set of applications for the core enterprise processes should be priced at about USD 5-10 per person per month, thus making it extremely affordable. Such a solution would be at least 10 times more cost-effective.

TECH TALK: The Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise: Enterprise Technology Infrastructure

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Emerging Markets cannot afford the high cost of computers and software. Yet, to survive and thrive in the Internet Age, they need to use computing, communications and software. They are part of the supply chains of larger companies, they face competition not just within their country but from other players globally. So, it is important for these enterprises to use technology to empower become intelligent and real-time, so that employees can be empowered to make decisions rapidly and the decision-makers have all the necessary information available to them from across the value chain.

What are the characteristics of this Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise? A viewpoint from an Asera (http://www.asera.com) white paper:

The Real-time Enterprise facilitates spontaneous transaction flow and information transparency throughout the extended enterprise, minimizing latency and labor. The Real-Time Enterprise:

  • Provides 24×7 availability, flexible demand-driven scalability, security and administration
  • Enhances revenue through superior market access, intelligence and time-to-revenue
  • Reduces costs by streamlining every process using the Web
  • Decreases excess inventory through improved analytics
  • Enables device-independent mobile commerce
  • Makes its information transparent
  • Assumes a dynamic network, enabling instant collaboration and low-cost, real-time interaction
  • Uses a distributed architecture that works with the applications, systems and processes a business already has in place
  • Allows non-intrusive customization and configuration, enabling businesses to better differentiate their brand
  • Is highly adaptive-because change is constant and it happens fast
  • Integrates data, applications and workflow
  • Gives customers a single user interface across disparate applications

Small or big, every enterprise needs to think of how it can leverage technology to embed intelligence in its processes and leverage real-time information. The challenge for SMEs is to do so in a cost-efficient manner. What SMEs need is a new technology infrastructure – both hardware and software – which can help them create the foundation for the Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise.

One of the key requirements for the real-time enterprise is to ensure that the power of computing and communications are available to each and every employee. Email, for example, is not effective if half the enterprise has it and the other half does not. The limited availability of computing infrastructure also reduces the demand for bandwidth and applications which can work across the enterprise. Organisations need to adopt technology as “DNA”, if they have to become more competitive in the face of increasing international competition.

Enterprise Software: Messaging, Collaboration and eBusiness are the key applications which an enterprise needs. Value-added email is the killer application. Collaboration enables information to be shared across the enterprise. eBusiness applications are at the heart of the processes – within the enterprise, and in its interactions with other enterprises.

Enterprise Hardware: The Enterprise Server on the LAN becomes the hub of the enterprise. In the “bandwidth-challenged” emerging markets, the Server becomes the computing service provider. It has the applications and data, which can also be replicated on servers on the Internet. The Enterprise Client is a low-cost, wireless device (like PDAs) which is available to everyone in the organization, and connects to the Server. Shared monitors with keyboards provide the big screens necessary to view attachments.

TECH TALK: The Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise: Wireless Networks and Devices

The recent communications revolution driven by optics promises huge bandwidth across the world. Even India, which has a total of 1 Gbps connectivity to the Internet, is likely to see this explode manifold, driven by undersea cables. This still does not bring enough connectivity to the enterprise. While a mix of cable, optics, fixed wireless and even lasers offer promising answers, a dark horse is emerging to offer the last-mile and last-feet connectivity. The answer lies in an extension of the protocol we are all so familiar with on the LAN – Ethernet. The use: creation of wireless networks in the office and neighbourhoods.

The two protocols to watch are 802.11b (also called Wi-Fi) which uses the 2.4 Ghz spectrum and offers connectivity at up to 11 Mbps, and the much faster 802.11a which uses the 5.4 Ghz spectrum and can offer speeds of up to 54 Mbps. These technologies will serve as the basis for the creation of “wireless Internet Access Points”. Connectivity from these points to the Internet will be at high-speed via fibre or DSL.

(Of course, there is the other alternative: 3G, for which cellular companies worldwide have bet tens of billions of dollars. If history is any precedent in technology, keep an eye open for the dark horse!)

In the next year, computers, especially laptops, will come built-in with 802.11b connectivity. Internationally, many public places will have 802.11b networks. In India, the 600,000 telephone booths (the Public Call Offices – PCOs), the million-plus kirana stores and the tens of thousands of petrol pumps can serve as 802.11b hubs.

The second development to watch for will be the availability of devices which can plug into these wireless networks. From cellphones to PDAs to sensors, there will be millions of these “data devices” which will use the wireless envelope to communicate with each other and with Web services.

These wireless devices become important considering the low penetration of PCs in the “emerging markets” of the world. In India, for example, there are less than 4 million PCs in corporates. The high cost of the PC (and the associated costs of software and maintenance) have stunted use. Data devices enabled with wireless connectivity at price points which are much lower than PCs can help in ensuring computing and communications for the entire enterprise, thus making technology a utility.

These then are the two key building blocks of the New Enterprise: Software as a Web Service on a subscription-basis and low-cost, wireless-enabled Internet Access Devices. Taken together, they form the foundation for a new technology architecture for small and medium enterprises in emerging markets.

TECH TALK: The Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise: The Software Discontinuity (Part 2)

The other shift is towards charging subscription fees for software. Microsoft is the latest and most important company to push towards the software subscription model with its new licencing policies for Office. Writes Rebecca Buckman in the Wall Street Journal:

With sales of traditional desktop software not growing like they used to, Microsoft is shifting toward a revenue model based on subscriptions. That means old, cash-cow products like Office will soon be retooled so Microsoft can sell them — as well as their separate features such as e-mail and word processing — for recurring fees.

The crucial piece of Microsoft’s new strategy: Many of [its] businesses will sell subscription, Web-based services instead of charging a set price for a box of shrink-wrapped software. “The future of software is subscriptions,” Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said at a company event in March.

Writes Amy Wohl:

Access to products or services will ultimately be secured not by purchasing permanent licenses (which is why so many customers still use Office 95), but rather by annual subscriptions that include the use of base software, its upgrades, support, and some level of web services.
Premium services will probably – not unlike cable TV offerings – be charged separately, in groups or singly. So you might purchase an annual premium subscription for graphic services or statistical analysis, but “pay per use” for the budget software you need once a year.

At the same time, there is another interesting trend. Our world on the desktop has now coalesced into four primary applications: Email, Web, Instant Messaging and Productivity Applications. In fact, in the past few years, one distinct shift has been the increasing amount of time being spent in the Email client.

What is therefore clear is there is a discontinuity happening in the world of software which is being brought about by the Internet. Open-source software has also added to the disruption. While so far all this has not yet made much of an impact on the software used on the client side (most of us are stuck with Windows, Internet Explorer and MS-Office), there is an opening for innovation driven by Web Services, which is all about software components being aggregated together from the Internet.

What this mix of Web services and subscription model for software will do is to make state-of-the-art software affordable for a lot of the world which does not either use it. It also creates opportunities for creating software for the New Enterprise. We will explore this further next week.

There are two other interesting developments which will have a major impact on the enterprise: the creation of an envelope of ubiquitous network connectivity, and devices which plug into this network.

TECH TALK: The Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise: The Software Discontinuity

Software is at the heart of the enterprise. So far, it has been quite
simple: the software companies have been selling shrink-wrapped
software. This is about to change. Software is becoming a
service. What this means is that both applications and data will
reside on the Internet (in the “cloud”) – software as a “web service”.

Business applications like MS-Office have so far been on the desktop
(the client). In contrast, applications like MS-Exchange and file
servers store data on the server. Enterprise applications like SAP and
PeopleSoft run off servers and also store data there. In recent years,
applications like Hotmail have moved data (in this case, mail) to
servers also. The next logical step in this progression now is to move
the applications and data onto the network.

Ludwig Siegele, writing in the Economist, gives a glimpse of this
world:

Imagine, says IBM’s Stuart Feldman, that you are running on empty and
want to know the cheapest open petrol station within a mile. You speak
into your cellphone, and seconds later you get the answer on the
display. This sounds simple, but it requires a combination of a
multitude of electronic services, including a voice-recognition and
natural-language service to figure out what you want, a location
service to find the open petrol stations near you and a
comparison-shopping service to pick the cheapest one.

But the biggest impact of these new web services, explains Mr Feldman,
will be on business. Picture yourself as the product manager of a new
hand-held computer whose design team has just sent him the electronic
blueprint for the device. You go to your personalised web portal and
order the components, book manufacturing capacity and arrange for
distribution. With the click of a mouse, you create an instant supply
chain that, once the job is done, will dissolve again.

This shift to Web services is what the future of software is
about. Says John Robb of Userland Software:

The move to Web services implies the need for desktop service
aggregators. Demand for client software (that acts like a peer) that
can aggregate Web services on the desktop is going to be huge.

We will have hundreds of thousands of services available in the next
several years. These services will do all sorts of things: calculate
P/E ratios, find album playlists, or conduct credit card transactions.
You can either access a suite of services from one supplier or you can
mix and match services to produce a new application. You also have
the option of either building a Website to deliver the functionality
through a remote browser or by building client software that delivers
the functionality from the desktop.

I think the trend is towards delivering these services from the
desktop. Why? It is less expensive (centralized server architectures
killed most .coms), it is much faster (which means better personal
productivity), and it empowers end users (if there ever has been a
trend in technology this is it). It is the equivalent of
client/server for the Web.

TECH TALK: The Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise: Enterprise 2.0 (Part 2)

The New Enterprise thus needs to be both electronic and extended: electronic, because it has to move information in the fastest possible manner among its employees, suppliers, partners and customers; and extended, because it has to work with the other enterprises as though they were one, single enterprise. Says Peter Graf of SAPMarkets, “People now understand that you have to help business processes cross the boundaries between organizations to unleash their true value potential.”

For every large company, there are a thousand small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which are integral parts of the supply chains of the large companies. The big opportunity in the next few years will be to convert existing organizations which are individual, isolated enterprises into Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprises. The opportunity is greatest with the “Corporate Poor” of the world: the SMEs in the emerging markets, who are today the weakest link in supply chains. A new Technology infrastructure needs to be built to target these enterprises.

An Asia-specific view from business research firm Strategic Intelligence:

The supply chain — the organised flow of goods and information between supplier and customer — can account for up to 70 percent of a product cost.

As the world’s largest manufacturing base, Asian companies need to adopt an Internet-based supply chain management (SCM) system that enables firms to cut costs through better planning and monitoring of inventories and delivering goods faster.

The task of modernising and wiring their SCM systems has become even more pressing as Asian manufacturers struggle with the consequences of a global high-tech slowdown.

However, the high cost of telecommunications in Asia and the lack of infrastructure are preventing especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from taking advantage of the Internet’s potentials.

There is also a need to harmonise and integrate Asia’s heterogeneous software systems which use different languages and document formats, and ranging from state-of-the-art modules to homegrown solutions and manual systems.

Currently, SMEs in Asia are not yet full aware of all the benefits supply chain management systems offer. They also believe SCM solutions to be unaffordable or too generically designed to meet their specific needs.

The lack of technological sophistication in Asian manufacturing means that even Internet access can be a luxury.

Clearly, a lot needs to change. What Asian and other SMEs (estimated to be 25 million worldwide) need is a new infrastructure which can take advantage of technology and yet work around its limitations. One of the starting points is to look at how the Internet is going to change the way we buy and use software.

TECH TALK: The Intelligent, Real-Time Enterprise: Enterprise 2.0

Technology is changing the enterprise. The combination of cheaper and faster computers, devices, broadband and wireless networks, software being offered as a service, and the ubiquitous presence of the Internet worldwide is bring enterprises closer. The last two decades have seen the rise of technologies like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to bring together information about what has happening within the enterprise, Supply Chain Management (SCM) to better integrate and manage the value chain, and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to connect on a one-to-one basis with customers.

So far, adoption of many of these technologies have been limited to the top few thousand companies in the world because of the investments needed in the purchase, customization and integration of these technologies within the enterprise. The coming years will see the penetration of technology into the next level of enterprises, opening up markets which hitherto have been untapped.

Says Walter W. Buckley III, of Internet Capital Group, “Most distribution channels over the last 50 years have become fragmented and fractured. This significantly inhibits communication flow, and that, in turn, creates tremendous inefficiencies at all stages along that supply chain. The Internet allows real time communications along the entire supply chain. When coupled with business applications, this begins to squeeze out inefficiencies and increase productivity.”

Enterprises have to manage not just the flow of goods, but, more importantly, the flow of information. Take for example the semiconductor business. The design of a new chip may be done in Silicon Valley and Bangalore, the fabrication in Taiwan, the integration into the motherboard or device in China, with distribution happening in different countries across the world.

Tight co-ordination between all the enterprises in the supply chain has become critical because in the semiconductor business (as in any other) being saddled with unfilled customer demand or with inventory can mean disaster.

Writes John Ince in Upside:

The goal is the transformation of linear, serial supply chains into parallel, collaborative communities, dramatically reducing cycle times, improving customer relationships, and increasing productivity.

Potential savings accrue from better planning and execution — both upstream and downstream — involving design, forecasting, procurement, production and fulfillment, logistics, order management, change orders, and channel management. Companies reap savings from process efficiencies, better inventory management, and unencumbered working capital.

The real action comes from shearing away the huge inefficiencies that exist because of the incompatibilities between inter-company and intra-company applications. The savings inherent in this process will likely overshadow the relatively meager savings in pricing and commodity e-procurement that were once hailed as the shining promise of b-to-b independent marketplaces.

Increasingly, manufacturers and suppliers are becoming one enterprise. The reduction in information-flow latency also permits faster product-to-market strategies. Collaborative-supply chain communities are witnessing the breakdown of boundaries between businesses.

TECH TALK: Points To Ponder: Points To Ponder – 5

Wharton’s Newsletter on Vipin Gupta and Ian C. MacMillan’s paper on Entrepreneurial Leadership:

The entrepreneurial leader must perform two functions: First is “transformational enactment,” or envisioning possible outcomes in the face of uncertainty. Second is “cast enactment,” or motivating a group of people to help create new business models that reduce the uncertainty. Transformational enactment consists of three tasks:

  1. Absorb uncertainty: Shoulder the burden of responsibility for the uncertain outcome of a new project. As MacMillan explains, “It’s saying to your people, ‘If I’m wrong, it’s my problem, not yours. Therefore you can behave as if the world is going to be the way I have set it up.'”
  2. Frame the challenge: Set forth a project that pushes employees up to, but not beyond, the limits of their ability.
  3. Underwriting / path clearing: Create a conducive environment for the entrepreneurial transformation, negotiating support from key stakeholders inside and outside the firm.

Kevin Werbach (Release 1.0) on Weblogs, an interesting new publishing format
(http://release1.edventure.com):

In the beginning, there were the voices: people expressing themselves, communicating with one another, offering their perspectives on the world and sharing their passions. By lowering the barriers to publishing, the Web can make those voices, whether representing individuals or their organizations, more powerful than ever before. But that requires the right tools, metaphors and platforms. Through a gradual process of evolution and technology development, the voices have finally found a native online form through which to express themselves: a new kind of Website known as the Weblog.

A Weblog (also known as a blog) is a personal Website that offers frequently updated observations, news headlines, commentary, recommended links and/or diary entries, generally organized chronologically. They vary greatly in style and content… Weblogs are mechanisms for people to share their lives and their interests with a global audience, to build communities or to create targeted information resources. Some things have changed, though. E-zines are typically static or are updated monthly. Weblogs are inherently dynamic, with new content added whenever the author has something to sayin many cases daily or several times a day.

An example of a Weblog is Dave Winer’s website
at http://www.scripting.com.

TECH TALK: Points To Ponder: Points To Ponder – 4

Andy Grove, in a Wired interview, on the Internet
(http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.06/intel.html):

[The Internet] makes everything faster. Genomics discoveries come faster. You can crack data faster. You can build and correct supply lines faster. You can get information faster. Email has absolutely changed interpersonal and intercompany communication in a fairly profound way. That phrase “Internet time” – that’s real. It’s not always pleasant, by the way. I used to laugh at my friends who are doctors for being tethered to their beepers. Well, that’s all of us now. But everything being faster also has enormous benefits. The most direct way of increasing productivity is doing the same thing in a lesser period of time – turning things faster. And productivity is the key to everything – greater productivity increases economic growth.

[On business-to-business ecommerce], there are a few high tech companies, like Intel, who are leading the way in that area, but we are only leading in the simplest applications. We do almost all of our sales and about half of our purchases via Internet connectedness. By the time that sort of thing becomes commonplace in most businesses, which it inevitably will, we hopefully are going to have implemented a bunch of tools and business practices using what we’ve built. First, you deploy these things internally. Second, you connect your internal connections to other people’s internal connections. Third, you start changing business processes to take advantage of what connectedness allows.

On Communication, from “Words, Meanings And People” by Dr Sanford:

One of the most important is the need to pause, delay and analyse in our communicating and behaviour. Many misunderstandings and disagreements result from an automatic, trigger-like response to someone else’s words or behaviour. If we could but pause and delay a little longer than we normally do — a two-second activity delay — we would not have some of the arguments and disagreements in which we find ourselves.

The problem of misunderstanding is one of the most common and pernicious. The amount of time and money that is wasted due to misunderstandings and otherwise poor communication is difficult to estimate. But it is enormous indeed. Why do people have misunderstandings? There are many reasons, of course, but let us mention just a few.

One of the causes is the unconscious assumption on the part of the speaker that the listener understands him. He therefore, fails to aid the listener in getting on his (the speaker’s) channel of communication by asking him if he understands.

Listeners, too, unconsciously assume that they understand the speaker. They fail to ask the speaker, “What do you mean?” or “Jane, is this what you meant, or want me to do?”

TECH TALK: Points To Ponder: Points To Ponder – 3

Vinod Khosla on how to “re-invent” India:

I believe that 5% of the people empowered by the right tools can pull the remaining 95% of the country along in a very radical way. And in fact a few years ago I looked at this country [US] and said, how many people accounted for the bulk of the social and economic changes in the last decades. There were no more than a few thousand people who drove that change. You can look to a few people, you can look at people in academia, people in business or political activist. No more than a few thousand people accounted for the bulk of the change. Not for doing it but for driving it in this country.

If we can take our [India’s] limited resources and give them to 5% of the people and I will come back to how we pick which 5% percent as that’s the politically important question, and let them put it to the highest use so that we multiply these resources. When we start with a dollar, next year we don’t have 50 cents to give away, but we have 5 dollars to give away. Because entrepreneurial energy and a business case is being applied.

Let me do a simple calculation for you. I originally did this calculation in the US context. For 3% real growth accumulated over a 100 years results in a multiplication factor of over 20. So if you assume the US per capita income is, pick a number, say 35,000 dollars and we accumulate 3% growth for a 100 years, the per capita income in the US at the turn of the century will be over 700 thousand dollars. That’s a humungous number. Why? We are applying the exponential equation at 3%. At 3%! We can clearly achieve much larger figures in the context of India if we use these resources effectively.

The full text of Vinod Khosla’s speech, including his suggestions on what should be done in India, is available at (MS-Word file):
http://www.kpcb.com/files/
bios/STANFORDINDIANOV2000.doc

Michael Porter on Strategy in Fast Company
( http://www.fastcompany.com/online/44/porter.html ):

The essence of strategy is that you must set limits on what you’re trying to accomplish. The company without a strategy is willing to try anything. If all you’re trying to do is essentially the same thing as your rivals, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be very successful. It’s incredibly arrogant for a company to believe that it can deliver the same sort of product that its rivals do and actually do better for very long. That’s especially true today, when the flow of information and capital is incredibly fast. It’s extremely dangerous to bet on the incompetence of your competitors — and that’s what you’re doing when you’re competing on operational effectiveness.

TECH TALK: Points To Ponder: Points To Ponder – 2

Azim Premji, on Leadership and Management:

  1. Lead by example. Saying one thing and doing another will only compromise your effectiveness. You are the role model for your staff. Practice your own beliefs faithfully and you will find your staff following your lead.
  2. Take the toughest problems on yourself. You can’t delegate difficult decisions to your staff. As a leader you must assume personal responsibility for making the calls and accepting the consequences.
  3. Set standards of excellence and measure performance against them. If you accept mediocrity, you will get mediocrity. Demand the best. Be consistent and explicit in both setting expectations and evaluating results.
  4. Give commitment, get commitment. Commit yourself and demand commitment from others. Make the extra effort to ensure that goals are met and results are achieved. Demonstrate your own commitment in everything that you do and expect nothing less from your staff.
  5. Maintain a driving sense of urgency. Take action now. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. It may not be the absolute best choice but it is better than no choice at all.
  6. Pay attention to detail.
  7. Accept failure. Nobody likes to fail, but a leader cannot afford to be paralyzed by the fear of being wrong. Take risks and be prepared to deal with the outcome.
  8. Recognize limits. A true leader changes what can be changed and manages what can’t. Don’t waste time trying to solve problems beyond your control. Focus instead on the problems you can solve.
  9. Set priorities. If you try to do everything at once, you will end up doing nothing at all. Rank what you and your staff have to do in order of importance. Use this ranking to spend your time and their time most efficiently.
  10. Be tough but fair. Leadership is an intensely personal and interpersonal skill. How you relate to your people means everything. Toughness starts with your own standards, your own performance and the example you set. Fairness is the other side of the coin. Judge others as you would judge yourself: fairly and consistently.

Sharmila Ramnani of Credit Resouces, on Failure:

There is no such thing as failure. There are only results. Most people in our culture have been programmed to fear this thing called failure. Yet all of us can think of times when we wanted one thing and got another. People always succeed in getting some sort of results. The super successes of our culture aren’t people who do not fail, but simply people who know that if they try something and it doesn’t give them what they want, they’ve had a learning experience. They use what they’ve learned and simply try something else. They take some new actions and produce some new results.

Winners, leaders, masters – people with personal power – all understand that if
you try something and do not get the outcome you want, it’s simply feedback. You use that information to make finer distinctions about what you need to do to
produce the results you desire.