From an InfoWorld article on SAP’s portal-based mySAP CRM: “Because the portal and application are designed to seamlessly integrate and adapt to the role of an individual user, employees can aggregate both structured content from business applications and unstructured data from multiple sources, John Grozier (SAP group director of CRM product marketing) added. So, a call center agent has access to both transactional data about a customer, as well as access to documents providing the latest product-positioning presentations. This can also extend to information from suppliers and other external sources.”

This begins to sound and look like a Digital Dashboard with an RSS Aggregator inbuilt, to collect events via feeds from multiple sources – right from enterprise software to blog posts to news.

Ozzie on Platforms

Another interesting comment from Ray Ozzie on Platforms:

Furthermore, related to the issues of partner conflict, conflict must be present in ALL successful platform businesses. As an astute investor once told me, “no conflict, no interest.” If it’s not an issue in the short term, it will be an issue in the long term. This is fundamental to the platform business model; failure to recognize this represents a failure to recognize the difference between a “platform” (e.g. Linux) and a “platform business” (e.g. OS X).

In a platform business, the very basis for the business model is by definition to maximize wealth creation by continuously optimizing the balanced distribution of value between the platform provider and the platform ecosystem. In the act of creating wealth for itself, the business entity must also concurrently ensure that its actions also build a healthy and stable ecosystem that is sustainably profitable to others. If, as you say, the platform provider fails in this balanced optimization and becomes too “greedy”, the ecosystem will whither as value migrates from the edge to the center, and developers lose interest.

In other words, in building platform businesses, there is no question as to whether Apple or Microsoft or IBM or Lotus or Sun or Novell will have conflict with their ecosystem – they will, at some point, to some degree. If they don’t, then they’re certainly not leveraging their own platform asset to an appropriate level. When Netware and Notes were at their peaks, for example, they were generating ecosystem “drag-along” revenues of 6X-8X; that is, when Notes was doing about 500MM of product revenue, the ecosystem of application and solution providers was doing about 3B+ of annual revenue, of which Lotus’ own (clearly conflicting with partners) consulting business was probably doing about 200MM.

Healthy platform businesses are optimized mixtures of platform margins, layered application margins, and layered professional services margins, along with a very very healthy ecosystem doing the same.

He also makes an interesting point when it comes to platforms and applications: “With regard to platforms vs. applications, I think that we are pretty much in agreement: End-users see value in applications, and so they compensate the developers by buying them. Developers see value in leveraging platforms, but would always rather that the platform vendor be compensated by someone else in the value chain…Since it thus takes applications to drive creation of a new platform’s value chain, and since this can take some time, it can be critically important that the platform vendor itself take the lead in demonstrating the unique capabilities of the platform by building at least a few key applications on top of it. The Windows platform needed Microsoft Excel. The Notes platform needed Lotus Notes Mail. The Groove platform needs Groove Workspace.”

The Platform discussion is important because we want to build Emergic into one – a computing platform the next set of users in the world’s emerging markets, a platform which costs a tenth of the hardware-software platforms of today.

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Ozzie on PC software

Writes Ray Ozzie:

The browser has served us well. It has provided a means by which we can have universal access to applications, transactions, and published information. But in the meantime, the PC has become a powerhouse: cpu, gpu, storage, price. The Great Conversion to notebook computers is well under way, and it’s now clear that the most wildly successful wireless mobile productivity device won’t be the 3G phone, or even the BlackBerry, but the ubiquitous and inexpensive WiFi notebook. In a shape and size to suit every need.

For a while, we were seduced into thinking that we should optimize costs by reducing the PC to being a dumb terminal, or by stopping the upgrade cycle, or by reverting to a simpler, generic OS. But as we by necessity deal with more and more PCs in our lives, and as we use them in more and more locations, and as we’ve come to terms with the fact that we can’t imagine doing our jobs without them in the course of our work with others, it has become clearer that the most critical thing to optimize is our time. And in order to do that, we need more appropriate technology, not just simpler tech.

It’s finally dawned on many of us that our software has fallen behind our infrastructure, and that we need significant upgrades to our systems and application software that bring them into an era of ubiquitous computing and communications.

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Hotel Room Mini-Bars

Writes WSJ:

Inter-Continental Houston’s “Intelligent Rooms” allow management to monitor guest-room temperature and lighting; they’re also equipped with the latest in minibar technology: an “e-fridge” equipped with sensors that alert the central computer system at the hotel when an item is removed. Such an item is immediately billed to the room — unfortunate news for guests who have grown accustomed to re-stocking their minibars with items from a local convenience store in order to avoid the in-room markup.

There’s also less time to peruse the snack aisle: If an item is off its sensor pad for more than 30 seconds, it’s automatically billed to the room.

Maybe some of that technology could go in providing Internet access via Thin Clients in hotel rooms. I’d spend USD 10 extra per day for that, much more than I ever spend using the mini-bar.

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Future of MS Office

From Business Week: “[Microsoft’s] new Office would reach to anyone who used information, even if they didn’t create it. This meant new Microsoft products for such workers as pilots and nurses, factory workers and truck drivers. Microsoft figures there are about 117 million people in this country who fit the bill. It’s a bold strategy: To reach new customers, [Jeff] Raikes is pushing Office out of the office.”

The strategy:

To come up with winning ideas, Raikes is sizing up the world of business and searching Microsoft’s trove of technologies. He’s spending $80 million this year to hire 400 sales advisers who will practically live with corporate customers and advise them on how they can get more out of the software Microsoft already makes. He has another team spotting the “white spaces” between current product categories for which all-new programs can be invented. Meanwhile, Raikes is testing the company’s latest innovations in his new Center for Information Work, a prototype of what he believes offices will look like in the future.

For the here and now, Raikes has launched three initiatives–all of which are expected to start bearing fruit in coming months. First, he moved to expand into a new market for Microsoft: run-the-business applications for small and midsize businesses. These are packages that extend from accounting to inventories and payroll programs. Over the next five years, he plans to spend $3 billion on Office, including specialized versions for small business, and products in such areas as business intelligence, which helps workers make sense of all the data their companies gather. Raikes’s vision even extends to new machines. On Nov. 7, he’ll launch software for the soon-to-be introduced Tablet PC, a laptop with a screen on which users can scrawl handwritten notes that they can store and easily locate later.

To take on MS Office in the world’s emerging markets (the developed markets game for an Office alternative is pretty much over), we need to think along the following lines:
– use OpenOffice, which is free and open source. Another advantage: it stores files in XML.
– leverage the OpenOffice components separately. For example, use Write as the default writing environment – it comes with a spell-checker, and use Calc (the spreadsheet) as a computational engine.
– create an alternative to the desktop a la Digital Dashboard (this is my Tech Talk series this week)
– get people to think weblogs and RSS Aggregators for the way they manage and route information

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If Airlines Sold Paint

From WSJ (this is hilarious):

Customer: Hi, how much is your paint?
Clerk: Well, sir, that all depends.
Customer: Depends on what?
Clerk: Actually, a lot of things.
Customer: How about giving me an average price?
Clerk: Wow, that’s too hard a question. The lowest price is $9 a gallon, and we have 180 different prices up to $200 a gallon.
Customer: What’s the difference in the paint?
Clerk: Oh, there isn’t any difference; it’s all the same paint.
Customer: Well, then, I’d like some of that $9 paint.
Clerk: Well, first I need to ask you a few questions. W hen do you intend to use it?
Customer: I want to paint tomorrow, on my day off.
Clerk: Sir, the paint for tomorrow is the $200 paint.
Customer: What? When would I have to paint in order to get the $9 version?
Clerk: That would be in three weeks, but you will also have to agree to start painting before Friday of that week and continue painting until at least Sunday.

(There’s some more in the WSJ article…)

Little wonder that most airlines are in the mess they find themselves. Simplicity in pricing is important — one cannot afford to confuse the customer. Also, the right pricing is important. A Round-the-World business class ticket originating from India costs USD 3,500 (includes First Class travel within the US). I can come any number of stops as long as I don’t retrace my route and I travel for a minimum of 10 days. A 1-way unrestricted round-trip economy class ticket in the US from New York to San Francisco would cost a third of that. Think about that.

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TECH TALK: Rethinking the Desktop: The Decade That Was

The basic features of the desktop we see today came into prominence for the mass market with Microsoft Windows 3.1, more than a decade ago. A lot has changed in the last decade. But the way we interact with the computer has not. There have been a few efforts in the recent past like David Gelernters Scopeware (based on his LifeStreams concept articulated in the mid-1990s), but they have had extremely limited appeal.

Lets first look at the changes that have taken place in the past decade which are relevant for us as we consider what the new desktop should be.

Dramatic Increase in Processing Power: Moores Law has been relentless, and we now have CPUs which are touching speeds of 3 Ghz on the desktop. This has meant that we use smaller and smaller percentage of the processing power available to us. This has been nicely summarized by John Robb: I have 95% of my PC’s processor available at any given moment. In a year that will probably be 98%, in three years it will be 99%. This model of the Internet is so messed up. The fact that over 90% of the computing horsepower on the Internet sits idle at any given moment is insane.”

Internet Applications to the Fore: The email client and the web browser have taken over as the two applications in which we spend most of our time. Both have been driven by standards: POP, IMAP and SMTP for email and HTML and HTTP for the web. The result has been that any email client and web browser can work on the desktop. This commoditisation has almost extinguished Netscape as people have tended to gravitate to the Microsoft applications on the desktop. At the end of the day, the applications do not matter; the functionality of emailing and browsing the web is what people want. The one application which has resisted standardisation so far has been Instant Messaging.

MS Office as the Writing environment: The integrated suite of Word, Excel and PowerPoint (whether legally bought or pirated) has become the desktop productivity suite. We no longer write letters, we create DOC files. We no longer make presentations, we do PPTs. The file formats have become as synonymous as Xerox is for copying.

Bandwidth Bridging LANs and WANs: Computers are now no longer isolated, but interconnected. 100 Mbps LANs are the norm. Multi-megabit connectivity to the Internet is assumed in the developed markets in offices and homes, with a fraction of that in the emerging markets of the worlds. The Internet has bifurcated into two: in the developed world, there is little difference between LAN-WAN speeds, but in the emerging markets, per capita bandwidth is still pathetically poor, with the LAN-WAN ratios exceeding 100:1 for the most part.

Among other developments in the past few years which came and promised much for the desktop but have not lived up to expectations are Java, Flash, P2P and Linux. Java has become much more of a programming platform for the server-side. Flash has still not become as widespread though it is slowly increasing in popularity, embedded within the browser. P2P, for a while, meant Napster. But the courts and the music industry took care of that. Linux never did make much headway on the desktop, even though open source applications like Evolution, Mozilla, OpenOffice and GAIM have in their recent releases become more than good enough to provide a viable desktop alternative.

Innovation on the desktop has all but come to a halt. Until now.

An interesting combine of standards and applications promise to make better use of the resource which is the most scarce of them all: our time and attention.

Tomorrow: New Ideas

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