Oracle Collaboration Suite

From Ferris comes an analysis:

Oracle announced a new email offering on July 10, 2002. Main points of the “Oracle Collaboration Suite” are:
* Uses Outlook and browsers as the main clients
* Main services are email, calendaring, voicemail, address book
* Searching works across many data objects
* Message store and directory based on Oracle relational database

What strikes us as most significant about the announcement is:
* Oracle is one of IT’s main development partners. If Oracle is really serious about this offering, it could become a credible alternative to Lotus/Microsoft.
* In principle, it makes great sense to base the back end on a relational database. Eg, backup and recovery could be much easier and practical, and message stores could be much larger than is practical today.
* It’s hard to make a message store work properly using a relational database. Everyone that’s tried so far has ended up giving up.
* There’s very interesting integration between voicemail and the message store. In a nutshell, you can dump expensive and proprietary voicemail systems, and use Oracle instead. This is the way unified messaging ought to work, and will work in the future.
* Potentially the offering could be highly scalable, much more so than Exchange or Notes. It could thus be of interest to service providers.
* If Oracle can deliver much better reliability and lower TCO, along with high Outlook fidelity and voice innovation, many businesses might be distracted from their current Exchange/Notes orientation

Spam Stats

From Ferris: “MessageLabs published results of a recent survey on managing spam. Key findings: 58% of US business managers said they were unable to manage spam, spam consumes 10% of each working day in the UK, and 15% of all emails are spam. The root problem is the difficulty of determining what is and isn’t spam.”

Enterprise Software: Next Steps

As we’ve been putting our team together, it is now possible to think a little further ahead as to what we want to accomplish as part of our enterprise applications efforts.

I see work proceeding on three parallel fronts:

  • one is the Digital Dashboard (which I just described), which creates the unified read-write environment, intregrating news, blog posts, events, and other content through blogs, RSS aggregation and outliners.

  • the next is creating our internal Client Information System, which takes the information within our organisation (financial, marketing and support data) and makes a single page per client. It also creates events which can be published through to the RSS Aggregators, based on a pub-sub mechanism. This will also need to embed the business logic that we follow in our organisation. This is our first taste of what an SME like us would want and the infrastructure that is needed to make it happen. The development will be done in Java (EJB/J2EE) on JBoss.

  • the third front is building out an Enterprise Process Model. This takes the different types of enterprises which are there and the different functions that are performed and map them using standards defined by RosettaNet (Basics) and others. We need to take into account the three flows: information, product/service and money. At its heart is an Enterprise-based event model. This is the starting point for three things which we have talked about in the past: a Visual Biz-ic, which helps enterprises model their processes, a Business Process Library across enterprises (so I can pick and choose which enterprise I closely resemble and inherit those processes) and an Enterprise Emulator, which enables the simulation of the ecosystem of enterprises so we can test our software. Here, we should also see existing ERP packages and some of the online enterprise ASP providers (like SalesForce, NetLedger) to see how our models are as compared to them. In a way, this model needs to capture the best practices – but relate them in the context of SMEs in emerging markets.

    Taken together, these three activities will give is a much clearer picture of the way forward. They will complement the MailServ product that we now have (which offers messaging, proxy, IM, firewall, LDAP and anti-virus support) and the Thin Client-Thick Server computing base that we want to set up in enterprises, providing a computer on every desktop at no more than USD 15-20 per month (inclusive of hardware, software, training and support). This creates the Tech Utility that I’ve often talked about in the past, and brings the benefits of technology to the 25+ million SMEs in the world who have so far had very limited technology exposure. This is the vision behind Emergic – taking technology to the bottom of the enterprise pyramid.

  • Digital Dashboard: The Big Picture

    We have got the following components ready and being used internally:
    – Blogs for people within the company – these are public, private and group blogs
    – RSS Aggregator which posts directly to blog
    Earlier, we had written the software for Outliners – we are using this for the RSS Aggregator.

    The guiding principle has been to create a single screen which unifies all the information that I need on my desktop. There is a lot of value in having many things on a single page. I have seen that earlier with Samachar, wherein we had aggregated news headlines and news links on one long page. The question we had been thinking and discussing is: how can we do something similar within the enterprise, but built on the foundation of blogs, RSS and outliners. The pieces now seem to be falling in place.

    Think of the Digital Dashboard screen (within the browser) as having three columns.

    The Left column has links to all the personal applications and information:
    – Inbox (which will open up Evolution), and shows the 3 recent message senders and subjects
    – IM (Gaim), which also shows the buddies online (and messages received while I am offline)
    – Recent Documents (the recent documents that I have used in OpenOffice)
    – Bookmarks
    – Appointments for today and tomorrow (via Evolution)
    – Contacts (link to Evolution)
    – Search: which encompasses mail, documents, and the blog posts
    – Recently Browsed web pages (via the Cache)

    The Right Column relates to my Blog:
    – Calendar to navigate through time to different days – past and future
    – BlogRoll, and sites I’d like to visit Daily, Weekly, Occasionally (some overlap with Bookmarks…)
    – Blog Categories (personal, group and private)

    The Middle Column includes:
    – Private Blog, which includes all my posts (to all categories)
    – RSS Aggregator links, which shows the new entries which have come in the RSS Aggregator. This is one the primary sources of new information. My belief is that most sites/information “ores” will put out RSS feeds – though some of them may require authentication for access.
    – Writing Tool for posting new entries to the blog

    This creates the basic framework – new events can be routed to the RSS Aggregator from where the user can decide to either post them to the blog – with or without comments, delete after reading, or email them to someone else. In all cases, the writing is more likely to happen in the specific tool provided for that purpose (Evolution or OpenOffice), but the aggregate reading environment becomes the Digital Dashboard.

    Later, as the enterprise events start getting generated (when we write the appropriate adaptors), they are also sent through to the RSS Aggregator, and follow the same path as news or blog posts. From the user’s point of view, the framework remains the same. It is a bit like Scopeware which aggregates documents from all kinds of places and shows them in a streamed format. Here, the blog is a natural way to organise events/posts by time.

    What I like about this integration is that it integrates the world of blogs, the current applications that people are using and the enterprise software events to create a unified information portal.

    There still needs to be some thought given on how we can create a Publish-Subscribe environment to broaden what one can see in the RSS Aggregator. These are all the building blocks for the Information Refinery architecture that we need to put in place on the desktop.

    These ideas may seem quite simplistic, and at initial reading, one may even feel as to why is there a need for the DD, when all the applications are there. I feel there is a lot of value in having a single screen to integrate everything together. Every mouse click reduces the inclination that one will do something. Since all the information here comes from the server on the LAN, there is no issue on bandwidth considerations or the length of the page.

    One point to think through is how on a single page we can create the various fragments as separate windows so they can be updated independently. It should still look seamless on the screen. Perhaps a mix of Java and CSS…?

    Over time, I think the Digital Dashboard can become the “killer app” on the Thin Client desktop, one which has the potential to even attract the Windows users to the TC. Think of TC-TS as the Pizza Base, the Digital Dashboard as the Cheese and the Enterprise Applications as the toppings. The TC-TS and DD will become the must-haves.

    TECH TALK: Tech’s 10X Tsunamis: Blogs and RSS (Part 3)

    The Digital Dashboard

    The Digital Dashboard is akin in concept to the Coroporate Portal. Writes Accenture, which talks about the portal as the desktop of the future: The portal as a desktop provides a single view of the work, and gives members of a team a view of their workplace that has the potential to unite them, not make them feel cut off from one another and from their work. As portals evolve from being used primarily as communication and knowledge management tools to supporting the real-time performance of collaborative job tasks, they promise to provide a workspace dimension that is not only unified but also unifying. That is, they can enhance the feeling of connectedness that is vital to the culture of a company.

    What the Information Refinery creates is a peer-to-peer architecture of information sources and RSS routers, filters and processors. The key is to first start at the edges and create the unified viewing interface (the digital dashboard, as it were) a read-only interface, but with information aggregated from multiple sources. In general, in organisations, there are 10x more readers than writers (one person may update the accounts information, but there are likely to be 10 people relying on that information for analytics and decision-support). The next step is to enable two-way communication into the applications, so the Digital Dashboard can also become a writable area which interfaces to applications.

    Knowledge Sharing

    What the blog-RSS combo does is gives even the smallest of organisations the ability to create systems which can share information and tacit knowledge among people. Just as Slashdot harnesses the collective intellect of the technology community to create emergent insights which are far richer and deeper than what one individual may be capable of, enterprise blogs (or knowledge-logs) can create a knowledge sharing system which leverages people and not databases. Robert Buckman of Buckman puts the difference between knowledge management and sharing in context (Business Times, July 18, 2002):

    We found that over 90 per cent of the knowledge in the company was in the heads of our people and it was changing every minute of every day. It was not written down yet. Therefore, if we wanted to achieve success in the fast-changing environment that we found ourselves in, we had to learn how to move this knowledge across the organisation to where it was needed and when it was needed.

    It is this movement of knowledge that creates the value. It is movement in response to a need. That knowledge that moves in response to a need of the organisation is the valuable knowledge that you should capture for future reference. It is now explicit and it is useful to put it into a knowledge base.

    Since I have not figured out how to manage the knowledge that is in somebody’s head, I have emphasised the concept of knowledge sharing to encourage its movement. That is why I think ‘knowledge management’ is somewhat of a misnomer.

    Tomorrow: Blogs and RSS (continued)