TECH TALK: Rethinking Enterprise Software: Software Components

Before the microprocessor spurred the creation of low-cost, mass-market computers, computing was available to only a few. Mainframes and Minicomputers were expensive, and in use by the big companies of the world. That was a world ruled by companies like IBM and Digital. The microprocessor from Intel was the innovation which changed this idyllic world. It served as the core around which a new set of computers could be built. The transformation to mass market came in the early 1980s with the launch of the IBM PC with Intels CPU and Microsofts Operating System. The IBM PC also worked as a reference design for other manufacturers to build their own IBM-compatible computers from off-the-shelf, standard, interchangeable components. IBMs PC architecture acted as the catalyst for the development of low-cost personal computers, and their adoption by hundreds of millions of users at work and home.

Think of the world of enterprise software today. It is in use at many of the larger companies in the world. The big players are companies like SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Siebel, JD Edwards, with others like Microsoft in the mid-market through its acquisitions of Great Plains and Navision. The usage of enterprise software by the mass market of enterprises is almost non-existent. What is needed is the equivalent of the IBM PC for the enterprise market.

A Computer in its simplest form has a Central Processing Unit (CPU), Main Memory, a system bus and I/O (input/out) devices. Lets see if we can map the Computer components to the Enterprise. The equivalent of the CPU becomes the EPU (Enterprise Processing Unit), which consists of different departments (like registers in the CPU). The Main Memory module equivalence is the Database and the I/O devices are the sensors, RSS feeds and corporate portal. The information bus in the enterprise is like the system bus in the computer. Standards like ISA, PCI and USB are akin to the Web Services standards (XML, SOAP, WSDL, UDDI).

Lets build on this analogy further. Interrupts in the Computer are like Events in the Enterprise. The firmware in the CPU is just that the firmware which glues the enterprise together. The equivalent of DOS and Windows is the Enterprise Operating System (the Application Server). The triad of applications in the desktop Office suite of MS-Word, MS-Excel and MS-Powerpoint has its match in the eBusiness suite of ERP, CRM and SCM. Just as hardware adaptors connect the computer to various peripherals, software adaptors provide connectors to the legacy applications.

The programming languages for the computer (Assembly, C, C++) map on to the .Net and J2EE/EJB (or .Net) for enterprising programming. Just as there is a Visual Basic for putting different software components together, what is needed is a Visual Biz-ic for programming the information flows in the enterprise and building applications using the enterprise software components. The DLLs in the Windows world will need to be replicated in the form of business process libraries which can be re-used across enterprises.

A collection of computers forms a network on the LAN. A collection of enterprises forms the value chain. Just as computers on the LAN need to inter-connect and interact together, different enterprises need to share information. The Ethernet equivalent become the emerging business process standards (ebXML, RosettaNet).

How do these comparisons help? They give us just the mental model we need to think of creating a disruption in the world of enterprise software as we know it today. The key idea is that of de-constructing the monolithic world of high-cost, proprietary enterprise software modules into Lego-like building blocks, which can be assembled together from standard components and be customised or programmed by independent software vendors.

Next Week: Rethinking Enterprise Software (continued)

Newspaper and Weblogs – Winer

Dave Winer on newspapers and weblogs:

First, I would offer a copy of Radio UserLand to every person on the editorial staff (okay, I’m biased) and say “Start a weblog now if you want.” Then I’d make the same offer to the readers. Then I’d watch to see what happens.

I’d say to the staff “Read the new weblogs, and for those of you who have your own, point to the articles you find interesting or useful.” Let this run for a few months. My bet is that the community starts generating good news reports, on things like school boards, and city council meetings, the stuff that the organizations no longer cover….Just what people see and what they think.

My bet is that the community gets energized by the new participatory journalism and the former reporters, who now are editors, talent scouts and teachers, are also energized, doing what they wanted to do when they got into journalism. Now ask the community what they’re willing to pay to keep the system working and growing. I know I’m naive and unrealistic, but this is how I think it will work.

Another source of revenue. Charge local businesses to place their weblogs on your network. This is advertising turned around.

As always, a very interesting set of ideas. Need to think about them in the context of building “emergent” SME Clusters.

Internet in Brazil

A n article by Charles Cooper on — Brazil’s dance with the Internet — has a comment which captures the essence of the challenge faced by emerging markets when it comes to buying dollar-denominated technology:

“The problem is money,” said one teacher. “It’s not like in America where computers and Internet access is relatively cheap. For most people, these are still expensive items. I was only able to buy a computer for my home last year. Until then, I had to use my school’s PC.”

This is the problem we are trying to solve with our set of ideas in Emergic. Make technology affordable to the bottom of the pyramid. Not by trying to create new technology, but using old technology and building new business models around it.

Economist Survey on China

Surveys in the Economist are a must-read. They provide excellent, in-depth perspectives. The latest issue carries a survey on China. Writes the Economist:

China seems set to become more unstable. It will face growing unrest as unemployment mounts. And if growth were to slow significantly, public confidence could collapse, triggering a run on banks that would undermine China’s financial stability.

As long as the leadership can avoid the kind of vicious internal struggles that prompted the 1989 unrest, the party will probably remain in power. But it will be a weakened, inward-looking organisation, vulnerable to crises. If this forecast proves correct, that is bad news for China and could be bad news for countries dealing with it. A weakly led and politically insecure China, roiled by unfulfilled nationalist aspirations, might prove an unpredictable actor on the world stage.

What happens in China is going to be important to all of us. I was telling a friend recently that when we were in school, we’d have the option of learning French or German as the third language. In years to come, don’t be surprised to expect Chinese added. It is after all the biggest market of them all.

I had visited Shanghai for a couple days in early March. Had written my impressions as part of a Tech Talk series.

Intel – Economist on Intel:

Its immediate problem is that sales of microprocessors for PCs, which account for most of its revenues, have levelled off as the PC industry has matured. After years of double-digit growth, the number of PCs sold declined in 2001, and there is little prospect of any more than slow growth in future. In a flat market, Intel’s rivals, the largest of which is Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), another American company, can concentrate on boosting market share. But Intel, with a share of 81%, has little room to grow.