Desktop Ideas

Gregory S. Hopper of Netanium Strategic Consulting has some interesting ideas on rethinking the desktops, and learning from the automobile industry.

As we explore Linux on the desktop, we can learn from the lesson of the Model T. After nearly 20 years in production, customers started to want different things from their cars. Some wanted performance, some wanted luxury, others wanted safety, cargo capacity, or any of a number of other attributes.

A similar situation exists today with the PC. It is a tremendous machine that has transformed our lives, and will continue to meet the needs of many people. But…while improvements have been made (most notably graphical user interfaces, multimedia, and networking), the fundamental design like that of the Model T some 75 years ago has not changed.

More importantly, neither has the basic operating system design and license. It is highly integrated, comprehensive in scope, and resource intensive.

What if the PC industry changed how it thinks of itself? Instead of PC makers, they would be network client solution providers.

As I’ve noted, people who use PC’s don’t all have the same requirements. Therefore, they shouldn’t all have to use the same machine. If an executive only needs to do email and access business metrics in a browser, why not simply give him an executive-looking machine with Ximian Evolution and a fully enabled Mozilla browser? (Maybe hook up a Palm Pilot to it, too, for convenience.)

A machine on the shipping dock might be able to get away with just running Mozilla to track packages and schedule shipments. (The Messenger component might be sufficient for the email needs of these people.) All these machines should run 24/7, without rebooting. Ever.

I’m not talking about thin clients, where programs run on a server and display locally. I’m not necessarily talking about embedded devices, either, but a lot of principles from the embedded space make sense for these machines. I’m talking about complete machines that are functional even when not connected to the network. I envision a hybrid of thin clients, PC’s, and embedded systems, where the function is well defined, and the hardware and software are designed together to maximize the productivity of the people who use it.

XDocs to InfoPath

Microsoft has changed the name of XDocs. InfoWorld has a story on it, and how it can make a difference to the healthcare industry.

InfoPath aims to make it easy for end-users to edit forms using XML (Extensible Markup Language). The forms can be used to extract and send business data to and from business applications running on back-end systems, and can help cut down on paperwork and reduce errors associated with manual data entry, according to Microsoft.

An InfoPath form tailored to the needs of a doctor might include fields with a patient’s name, address, and medical history, he said. When the doctor writes the patient’s name in the form, other fields can be populated automatically using information pulled from back-end systems and delivered to the application in XML, said Bobby Moore of Microsoft. The idea is to cut down on the time it takes to fill out such forms and reduce the likelihood of error when information is entered manually.

The doctor can save the form in the XML format automatically, and clicking a button sends the information back out to medical records systems, where it updates those systems and makes the information available for use across the organization.

Moore said InfoPath has several features that should make it attractive to businesses. Among them, users will be able to add additional fields to forms at they are needed. For example, a tax form might display fields for information about four family members. If a person filling out the form has more than four family members they’ll be able to click on a button to repeat the fields.

“The developer can designate sections that can be repeated or optional. Then the end-user says, ‘OK, I want to grow this form by adding these sections,’ ” and clicks on a button to do that, he said.

More ambitiously, developers could develop forms that can extract information made available by other businesses in the form of Web services. For example, a doctor could query an application from an insurance company to see whether a patient is covered for use of a particular drug, Moore said.

Forms are a key element of documents and workflow. That is where these initiatives need to be seen by us in the context of our enterprise software work. Just as we have developed a Event Builder (which can take events from an ODBC-complaint database to RSS/blog), we need to do something similar with forms – right from auto-generation of forms through templates, entry of data, validation od the data entry, and then flowing the data to other applications.

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Real-Time Enterprise

One of the goals of technology in organisations is to make them real-time enterprises. Its a topic I have written about in the past. An article in
eBizq (free registration reqd) elaborates on this:

Now we are talking about a new type of real-time system that alerts business mangers to critical business events or thresholds so corrective action can be immediately taken. Why is the notion of real-time spreading throughout the enterprise and making its way into the command and control systems of business managers?

The answer lies in the changing nature of business.

One of the most important changes is in the way a business interacts with its customers…Worldwide operations, and multiple points of customer access made possible via the Internet have transformed “regular business hours” into 24×7. Therefore, managing these customer interactions, through multiple channels, has become a 24×7 effort. Real-time access to data is becoming more important to enable access to all relevant customer information, regardless of the system it resides in, to resolve customer inquiries and problems quickly, preferably while the customer is making the inquiry.

Another important business change has been in the production process itself…Competitive advantage belongs to companies that can manufacture to order.

To effectively compete in the changing 24×7 global economy, it is becoming apparent that companies need more real time visibility into their critical business processes and data. And just as real time instruments are deployed to monitor and manage only critical processes and conditions, the same should apply to real-time business processes.

While emerging technology such as Business Process Management (BPM) software is providing the ability for business managers to have real-time visibility into their business processes, the real question is what should they be tracking in real-time? What belongs on that dashboard? This is a question that is more difficult to answer, because the mission critical metrics that a business needs to follow in real-time differ from industry to industry and even among businesses within an industry. This is the area of true competitive advantage.

While RTE is becoming increasingly real, companies should focus on the most critical business processes for real-time monitoring and management. In most cases, batch or almost-real time (fast enough or faster than before) will suffice. In fact, just streamlining business processes may in the short run provide a larger ROI for companies than implementing a costly and complex real-time infrastructure.

We have been working on a number of ideas to enable the intelligent, real-time enterprise – the Digital Dashboard, Event Builder, RSS Aggregators, an integrated eBusiness suite. I’ll write more on these some time soon.

Another Reason to Blog

The single largest traffic generator (referer) to this blog is Google (see yesterday’s post). That by itself is not surprising or news. What is interesting is to see the variety of search terms that help get people to this blog. And this is where blogging becomes important.

Getting linked from other bloggers and sites increases one’s PageRank (my current PageRank is 6/10, my BlogStreet Rank is 2282 / 80699 and BlogStreet BIQ is 1821), and consequently, one shows up higher in the list of sites when people search, increasing the probability that people will know about the blog. Thus, blogging helps build up mindshare for one’s thoughts (and ideas and solutions), provided one can get connected into the ecosystem of links.

In that sense, one’s blog can be thought of as a marketing tool. The key lies in building up credibility and trust in the world of bloggers, to begin with. The time spent is well worth it. The results may come after time, and there are no shortcuts. That is why it is a good idea to start early and blog well enough to become an integral part of the web.

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Knowledge Management

Antony Satyadas of IBM has written an article in Line56 on leveraging knowledge in an organisation:

As the amount of content within an organization increases, two specific needs arise:

1. The ability to organize this content using taxonomies and workflow

A taxonomy is a way to classify information resulting in a catalog or knowledge map of an organization’s content. A taxonomy should start small and evolve over a period of time in terms of quality and completeness.

When employees find the information they need, workflow can then improve the quality of collaboration amongst employees by automating interactions between them. This is especially useful if employees are frequently unavailable or traveling away from the office.

2. The ability to search and locate answers or insights from this information

Searching needs vary from searching the Web, searching documents or databases or searching for insights into specific questions. With a solution that performs federated searches, employees can easily access information stored in an organization’s file servers, databases and e-mail servers, as well as on the Web, from one location. With just one mouse click, employees can find the information they need to complete projects. Employees then spend less time recreating the wheel and more time conducting business.

Once an organization is comfortable with the availability and classification of appropriate content, it is time to focus on expertise location. Expertise location helps users pinpoint the subject matter experts within their organizations and provides ways for employees to collaborate with these experts.

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TECH TALK: The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem: SMEs

SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) are aplenty in the world about 25 million of them form the most crucial links in global supply chains. The majority of them are in the worlds emerging markets, where the costs of technology limit their adoption. And yet, they (and their bigger enterprise brethren) can be the biggest beneficiaries in terms of real-time information access if SMEs can provide a connected computer to every employee. This is where the Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) can come in.

What the 5KPC makes possible is a low total cost of ownership for computing. The mix of low-cost computers as thin clients, open-source software, server-centric computing and WiFi can help bring down the aggregate cost of computing and communications to about Rs 500 (USD 10) per employee per month (Rs 18,000 over a 3-year period), which would be about a quarter of the alternative (a new PC with Microsoft Windows and Office). Of course, today most SMEs end up using pirated software, so the actual cost may be lower. But then piracy is not a long-term solution to the rising costs of desktop software.

First, let us look at the four stages of technology deployment in enterprises. In the first phase, SMEs need to get email. This means setting up a messaging server on the LAN with email addresses for the staff of the form name@companyName.com. Email lets the SME begin electronic interactions with customers and suppliers. In the second phase, computers need to be given to all this is where the 5KPC can now it affordable to put a computer on every desk. The impact of email and other new technologies is limited if only some of the people in the enterprise use it.

In the third phase, SMEs need to now leverage the computing infrastructure to make sure that the staff become productive at what they are doing. Collaboration software, digital dashboards and knowledge management solutions can help make individuals and teams more efficient within the enterprise. In the fourth phase, SMEs can now start using business automation software an integrated eBusiness suite can consolidate all the information and make it accessible for all. It entails a rethink and re-engineering of key business processes and information systems keeping in mind that a computer is available on every desk. This is the vision of the intelligent, real-time enterprise, one which is also plugged into the extended value chain.

In this SME environment, at the heart of the technology infrastructure is the 5KPC. The Rs 500 per month cost ensures that anyone earning more than Rs 5,000 per month can be given a 5KPC with immediate returns if that person can be made 10% more productive through its use. And that is definitely an achievable goal. The low-cost computing and communications infrastructure that the 5KPC enables can help enterprises better leverage information and knowledge. By ensuring universal access to computing, it bridges the enterprise digital divide.

Tomorrow: SMEs (continued)

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