Mail Blog

The problem in Email with the notion of Inbox and folders is that (a) as soon as messages came into the Inbox, one wants to get rid of them — reply and file, or delete (b) once the mails go into the folders, it is hard to see an “aggregate” view.

It is like walking at “street level” (a phrase used by Steven Johnson in his book Emergence). At the street level, one misses out on many of the networks / relationships which are present. One needs to get a higher-level view.

So, imagine if we could do the following:
– mail blog, which has all that I write shown on one page (all emails sent)
– mailroll, which automatically lists out my favourites — people whom I have corresponded most with in say the last 1/2/3 months
– mailmap, which shows the clusters of people I communicate with. Distance could be based on the frequency of my communication.
– mailpost, where each mail that I write (and dont delete) gets a unique URL, so I can refer to it

Mails are ongoing conversations with people — colleagues at work, friends, family. It would be good to browse through them via the weblog metaphor. A lot of our writing is being done in mail — it is a natural narrative environment.

Leveraging Office

I read a statement which set off a chain of thinking. This was in the January issue of Intelligent Enterprise in a story on Microsoft. The statement: “Lest we forget, humble Excel is still the world’s best known BI tool.” BI refers to Business Intelligence.

We may argue about Windows and Microsoft’s monopoly there, but the real strength comes from MS Office. Word and Excel taken together have become the defacto reading and writing environments for many of us. Excel in fact has become not just an analyser for numbers, but anything to do with tables.

So, if we hope to create an alternative Linux-based desktop, we have to leverage OpenOffice, but diminish its usage. The advantage of OpenOffice, besides its open source, is the transparence in file formats. So, we can use OpenOffice and its components as “Lego blocks” in different applications.

For example, for blogs, instead of every blog application creating its own writing environment, why not just use OpenOffice as a web service? Similarly, for representing accounting information, use OpenOffice’s spreadsheet as the presentation and manipulation application. Build software around OpenOffice rather than trying to chip away at it.

Lord of the Rings: Quotes

A few quotes from the Lord of the Rings which I particularly like:

I wish the ring had never come to me…I wish none of this had happened.”

“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

* * *

To bear a ring of power is to be alone.

* * *

Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

LOTR is one of my favourites: have read the book twice, and seen the first episode thrice. Frodo’s journey and how he and Sam overcome the challenges is a great story. The book is “richer” than the movie, though the visuals reinforce the impact. For me, Frodo’s journey is like that of an entrepreneur, who sets out on a quest knowing vaguely about the final destination and with the firm belief that he can make a difference.

TECH TALK: Rethinking Enterprise Software: The Problems

Lets look at some of the problems with enterprise software today:

High Cost: Most of the enterprise software companies think of the companies in the developed world as their target market. Nothing wrong with that, except that a whole world of enterprises in the emerging markets of the world gets left out because they cannot afford the high costs. Considering that many of these enterprises are now also becoming part of the extended value chain of the bigger companies, the information flow is only as good as the weakest link. Yet, the economics do not allow massive deployment across these small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Lack of Integration: Typically, business applications software have tended to be bought separately for different functions. This ends up creating silos of information within and across enterprises. While this has created a booming market for enterprise application integration (EAI) tools, it is not necessarily the best approach from the customer viewpoint. Enterprises would like to enter data once and have a consolidated view across the enterprise.

Buy and Customise Approach: Enterprise Applications lack flexibility. They are a consultants delight. For every one dollar they spend on the product, they are likely to spend five times more on consultants who can customise the software for their needs. This also means that projects become expensive, open-ended and take longer to implement.

Internet as an after-thought: The legacy of most applications is still the desktop-centric or client-server world. The Internet is still not being leveraged in its entirety. This is the typical Innovators Dilemma: the existing applications are doing well, so why change? Its the thinking that made Lotus stick to the keyboard-centric DOS world and ignore the Windows world. This allowed Microsoft to overtake it in the spreadsheets segment first and the suites segment later.

The Tyranny of Upgrades: Every version upgrade is a huge exercise, especially if it means syncrhonising it with the different applications the enterprise is using. Cost is another issue, as the software companies try and milk their existing customers.

A couple years ago, it was thought that Application Service Providers (ASPs), who offered software as a service via the Internet and at a much lower price point, would solve most of these problems and therefore rule the world. But that hasnt happened. ASPs are still to realise their promise even though some have been doing better. Storing mail on remote servers is okay, but remoting a companys financials and customer lists will take some time! Connectivity hassles havent made things easier. The silos on information havent gone away yet. A couple of companies which have been well: Salesforce.com, which has garnered over 3,800 customers, and NetLedger, which has been rebranded as the Oracle Small Business Suite. But, for the most part, the numbers are too small compared to the millions of SMEs which are there in the world.

What are some of the new trends which can be leveraged to create a mass market, low-cost solution for SMEs? How can we rethink the world of enterprise software, especially for the SMEs in the emerging markets?

Tomorrow: Emerging Trends