More on Social Networks

Jon Udell on Seeing and Tuning Social Networks: “The growth of weblogs has created a wave of interest in social network analysis….New forms of social software are one of the most hopeful green shoots erupting from a still-bleak technology landscape….As social and computer networks converge, that will inevitably change. We’ll see relationships more clearly and — for better and worse — more analytically.”

There’s been a lot of talk in the blog world of late on social networks. The RSS auto-discovery, blog neighbourbood analysis are two examples of what’s fueling the desire to (a) find other like-minded people (b) find people who can open up other worlds.

A lot of this applies to within the enterprise also. Most of us work in our silos, rarely going beyond the sphere of interest and work. It’s hard to do this today. But if everyone maintained blogs, then this can become so much easier. Knowledge sharing becomes non-intrusive (I don’t have to go to a person to know more about he is working on or what he is good at). By analysing blogrolls, subscriptions and blog posts, it will become possible to see the social networks within enterprises.

This is what has made me re-think on BlogStreet in the past few days. We need to think of it more as a BlogBrain. More on this next week.

Groovespace and Blogspace

Jon Udell writes about the strengths and drawbacks of Groovespace and Blogspace:

Strengths of Groove:
– context assembly (all the parts kept together)
– well-defined groups
– private/secure
– space is truly shared, interaction is direct

Drawbacks of Groove:
– don’t always need all the parts here on my disk, the web’s approach (pointers) is often easier/better
– don’t always need well-defined groups, the web’s fluidity and loose affiliation can be easier/better
– don’t always need private/secure, can work against the “horizon of observability” effect
– don’t always need shared-space direct interaction, weblogs that federate but are individually controlled are a different and useful model

Strengths of Weblogs:
– pretty much the inverse of above

Drawbacks of Weblogs:
– pretty much the inverse of above

As a backgrounder on Groove, here is an interview with Ray Ozzie, CEO of Groove:

Groove is a platform to enable it to be applied to business processes that are common across a range of organizations and industries, such as product design, as well as to activities that are more vertical in nature. The highest-value collaborative systems are the vertical ones, meaning the more focused on vertical business processes you are, the higher the utility and value in the collaborative process.

That said, people engage in multiple types of collaborative activities, and one of the things I learned from my experience with Notes is that they get leverage by using a consistent set of tools across different activities in their jobs. Furthermore, structured processes represent only a small fraction of the interaction that we have with other people in an organization. Ad hoc processes occupy a good degree of the amount of time that we spend interacting with other people. So Groove, like Notes, is a platform that provides a consistent set of functions that can be used in many types of activities, as well as molded into vertical uses.

Plenty of food for thought…Blogs don’t lend themselves well for ad hoc groups formation. The question to ponder is how can we enable that? We want something which overcomes the drawbacks of blogs (as outlined by Udell).

Internet OS

An interesting, short presentation on the “Internet Operating System” by Michael Herman of ParellelSpace.

What we are trying to do on the Thick Server is an Enterprise OS. Need to think along the lines outlined by Herman.

Market Break in Office Suite

There is an excellent analysis of the action in the Office Suites segment by Amy Wohl (the newsletter issue isn’t up yet, but should be soon; I got mine via email). Amy’s perspective is of course the developing countries like the US. It becomes even more pronounced when we consider low-income countries.

Writes Amy: “A market break occurs (you can usually only see them after the fact, not before or during) when some event changes what mainstream customers will choose to buy. For example, The announcement by IBM of its Personal Computer in 1981 was such a break. Before, users generally did with little or no individual access to computing (which was largely terminal based). After, computing started on the road to becoming highly personal. By the early 90’s, more than 80% of U.S. office workers sat in front of a PC, changing office work and office workers forever (and making Microsoft one of the most important companies in the world in the process).”

Amy summarises the reasons why Microsoft may face a “market break”:
– Microsoft’s decision to shift to Annual Revenues and corporates not keen on upgrades and the annual fees
– Economy has impacted IT budgets and spending has slowed
– Govt and some corporates are playing the Linux / Open Source Card

Just such a market break may impact Microsoft in the Office Suite segment, with competition coming from OpenOffice (free) and Sun’s Star Office (USD 75 or less).

One point Amy makes is that “the real cost of equipping office workers with
computing function is not software (or hardware), but rather human costs, especially support.” In emerging markets like India, it is the other way around. The hardware and software costs are prohibitive, and support costs are much lower.

Not only does OpenOffice make excellent sense in these markets, it is also important to bring down the total cost of computer ownership. This is where there is a great opportunity to rethink the enterprise IT infrastructure for the next 500 million people. The innovative ideas aren’t going to come easily from the US companies, since they are selling in a market where there already is a computer equipped with all the software needed on all the desktops.

For example, think of a Thin Client, Linux desktop which is (a) low-cost: no more than USD 15 per person per month for hardware, software and support (b) works out-of-the-box, with everything pre-installed and running off the (thick) server (c) is completely compatible with the Windows world, so one can send/receive mails/files to Windows users, share files with them on the LAN, and even migrate from Windows (d) trivially easy to manage for the administrator “over the wire”, because the client has nothing really to worry to about (if the hardware goes bad, junk it and just use another Thin Client — since all the data and preferences is server, the user sees no difference and little down-time) (e) has a limited but complete (for most users) set of applications, including a graphical desktop, Mail, Browser, Office applications, Calendaring and Instant Messenger, and (f) needs little training for even novice users.

This is today in the realms of possibility. It has been in recent times. What is needed is to put it all together in a bundle. Users dont need to be setting up anything, they just need to use it. This is what can disrupt the IT value chain in the coming years.

High-speed Wireless access

An article in IEEE Spectrum on Non Line of Sight Wireless Systems:

Line Of Sight (LOS) systems rely on a high-power transmitter at the base station, an unimpeded line of sight between transmitter and customer, and a highly directional outdoor antenna at the customer premises, all of which add up to a technology too expensive for the residential market.

NLOS attacks the problem with smart antennas, advanced modulation techniques, and, in some cases, a mesh architecture in which nodes–the individual routers on the customer’s premises–are connected by multiple links. The mesh architecture helps keep signal strength up by replacing single, long radio links with multiple short ones.

Book: Dragon Multinational

I have just begun reading this book by John Mathews. It is about how companies in the Periphery (outside the Triad of North America, Europe and Japan) can build global businesses. Examples mentioned in the book are Acer, Ispat International, Cemex, and Li and Fung. These are “latecomers who have used clever strategies and organisational forms to achieve global coverage and compete with established giants.”

I bought this book because I liked its premise. It provides a viewpoint from emerging markets (the Periphery) of how companies can become global players. Thats what I’d like us to do with the vision of Emergic. Create an organisation which can provide cost-effective technology solutions to SMEs in emerging markets globally. Right now, its a dream. I do not have a detailed business plan or roadmap of how I will make it happen. I know the general direction in which we need to proceed. So its always good to read about others who have done so previously.

Enterprise Software Ideas

As part of the ongoing Tech Talk on “Rethinking Enterprise Software”, a few things I’ve been thinking about:

– We have to rethink the enterprise IT infrastructure as a whole for SMEs. This consists of the hardware (desktop and the server), the desktop interface and the software on the software. The Enterprise Software part which I’ve been analysing is part of the bigger whole, and cannot be seen in isolation.

– For most SMEs, the problem really is one of information flow. Given that I have a good product and that companies who I sell to will pay me money, the problem boils down to getting information of my product to the companies who need the product, and then internally, ensuring that I have an integrated system for managing information flow. To this end, a thought exercise which needs to be done: what is my ideal world for information flow? If there were no constraints, what information would I like on people’s desktops?

– With respect to the enterprise software architecture, there are 4 elements which constitue infrastructure: the Enterprise OS, a Visual Business Process definition environment, the Information Bus, and the Enterprise Information Portal. The final element are the Software Components which are developed on this platform by various companies close to the customers. I will elaborate on these elements in next week’s Tech Talk.

Eisner on Leaders

Came across a nice thought on Leadership by Michael Eisner (Disney) in the Jan-Feb 2000 issue of Harvard Business Review: “A leader has four roles. You’ve got to be an example. You’ve got to be there. You’ve got to a nudge, which is another word for motivator, really. And you’ve got show creative leadership — you have to be an idea generator, all the time, day and night.”

TECH TALK: Rethinking Enterprise Software: Trend 3: The Real-Time, Extended Enterprise (Part 2)

Knowledge Management: As we live life in the knowledge society, enterprises are working hard to extract that knowledge which lies within the employees and institutionalise it. Knowledge Management has been around from the time enterprises existed! One of the interesting trends recently is the use of story-telling and narration via weblogs to capture the expertise that lies hidden. Writes Frances Cairncross in The Company of the Future:

Internet technologies offer new opportunities for knowledge management: ways to retain and build on the learning within companies. The development of sophisticated databases and intranets enables companies to build a core of knowledge on which they can draw upon globally in unprecedented ways. Managers will require better tools for making decisions because the process of decision making will grow faster and more complexOne of the basic keys to effective knowledge management is converting personal knowledge into organizational knowledge. That conversion is a life-or-death matter for companies. Corporate memory is increasingly scattered in many different places: databases, filing cabinets, and peoples heads.

Analytics and Visualisation: There is a huge amount of information being generated by people, machines, sensors, webcams and other devices. Extracting intelligence from information and being able to visualize information appropriately is becoming increasingly important. Writes Dan Sullivan in Intelligent Enterprise (May 28, 2002):

Analytics is the art of making sense of masses of data. CRM systems, data warehouses, and corporate portals and intranets provide plenty of raw materials to work with, but the analytic artisan needs a variety of tools and techniques to shape and mold this data into actionable knowledge.

Basic bar graphs and charts have been available almost as long as spreadsheets, but newer visualization models are gaining a foothold in traditional numeric applications as well as in hypertext, relational data, and unstructured data applications. The benefits of visualization vary by application and data type. In some cases, these techniques allow you to quickly compare the relative scale of data and detect patterns. In others, they provide a richer context for understanding data. And in still other cases, visualization techniques let you navigate related but distributed and unstructured data. Regardless of the particular technique, these visualization methods can reduce the time it takes to turn data into information, which in turn reduces decision-making time.

Corporate Portal: My Yahoo pioneered the notion of a personalized portal for consumers. A similar movement is underway in enterprises. Corporate portals (or enterprise information portals) provide a unified view of the content and services necessary for the employees in an organisation. Writes Colin White in Intelligent Enterprise (February 21, 2002):

Portals have evolved from simply providing access to Web pages and corporate databases to supporting business intelligence, application integration, and collaborative processing. Many [portal] products now offer sophisticated searching, categorization, personalization and content management capabilities.Thus, a portal provides internal and external users with an integrated, personalized and secure interface to business content (such as information and applications) and business services (such as collaboration services and Web services).

Companies big and small are realising that business is not just about the flow of products and services, and money. The flow of information is equally important, and in some cases even more so. For example, customers expect Fedex and UPS to both be able to deliver packages to the destinations what is important is how quickly they can get the information of delivery back to their customers. Information is the foundation for the Real-Time, Extended Enterprise.

Monday: Technology Infrastructure