Software as Service

Charles Cooper writes in News.com on the ASP resurgence:

The idea behind hosted applications, where customers essentially rent what they need, is enjoying a comeback in these times of failed expectations and reduced information technology budgets. For many companies, renting software is a lower-risk, attractive option than locking yourself into an expensive single vendor solution.

Salesforce and other like-minded practitioners of applications and content hosting can tell a no-bull story about the benefits they offer customers. Most notably:

– No up-front technology costs.
– Customers don’t need to reassign new IT resources from other projects.
– Chief information officers won’t need to wait months or years before seeing bottom-line benefits.

In an interconnected world, that’s huge. What could be easier than paying for bits zapped over the wires? When demand changes, so does cost. No fuss, no muss.

The optimism needs to be tempered, though: “Folks in the computer business tend to stick with what’s comfortable, even though a growing number of them are opting for the subscription model. How big all this will become boils down to a single question in these post-bubble times: Are IT buyers ready to take chances?”

What High Tech can learn from Low Tech

McKinsey Quarterly (via News.com) writes:

During high technology’s boom years in the late 1990s, companies across many sectors tried to emulate their high-tech counterparts. The business models, the creativity and innovation, the speedy decisions, the headlong growth in revenues, profits and shareholder value–slower-growth industries aspired to all these blessings.

But now, with no technology rebound in sight, high-tech vendors must look to the business practices of their former admirers in slower-growth industries such as retailing and banking. There they will find lessons about increasing productivity and using the improvement strategically to expand their market share and improve their financial performance. The challenge goes beyond simple cost cutting; it’s about changing the ratio of inputs to outputs–the value of what companies put into a production process compared with what they get out.

As technology vendors target productivity, they should take a cue from high-performing companies in slow revenue growth sectors such as retailing, whose 5 percent annual productivity growth from 1993 to 2000 was more than twice the rate for U.S. industry as a whole, and wholesaling, which also increased its productivity rapidly during the 1990s. In these sectors, where the demand environment is more mature, companies must perfect the art of raising productivity year after year–not as a one-time event–and exploit that growth for strategic gain. Although they also search for innovative next-generation products and services, they relentlessly identify and close gaps with industry best practices in process efficiency and pursue breakthrough productivity gains by investing in business innovations.

Rather than relying on a “silver bullet,” the productivity leaders have adopted an integrated, end-to-end approach–including process innovation and redesign, the targeted application of IT, carefully crafted outsourcing arrangements and offshoring. They generate gains from a combination of organizational change, targeted investment and the ability to measure the right things. In contrast, companies that bet the farm on major investments such as ERP systems without bothering to improve processes, organizations and strategies may be disappointed. The integrated approach is characterized by short-cycle, well-defined initiatives that are intended to realize year-on-year productivity gains.

Unicode

NYTimes writes about the Michael Everson, the person behind “computer age’s Rosetta stone” and his creation:

A more technical explanation of Unicode is this: When Mr. Everson sends e-mail in ogham, his computer isn’t sending ogham letters through the ether. Instead, strings of 0’s and 1’s are transmitted, and when they arrive on a friend’s computer, they generate on its screen the same ogham letters that Mr. Everson typed. Unicode is the master list that resides in both computers and translates individual letters and symbols into strings of 0’s and 1’s and back again. Most current software is Unicode-compliant, which means that this master list of all the world’s writing systems has been built into operating systems, browsers and software.

The code assigned to all 96,000 characters is handled only by programmers in its naked form, while computer users (and sometimes vendors) install the specific fonts that represent a specific alphabet. A font renders a language readable to humans; Unicode renders a font readable to computers.

Most people don’t even realize Unicode is at work. “Unicode is like plumbing,” said Rick McGowan, the vice president of the Unicode Consortium. “Yet it’s the most far-reaching and ambitious multilingual project in history.”

Last month the latest version of the standard, Unicode Standard Version 4.0, was published. It contains encodings (that is, unique strings of 0’s and 1’s) for some 96,000 letters and symbols. Approximately 70,000 of them are Chinese characters. Unicode also contains support for 54 other writing systems, from Mongolian to Thai to Gothic to Cyrillic.

Knowledge Flows

[via Phil Wolff] David J. Skyrme opines on 10 KM-related topics:

1. Knowledge Can’t Be Managed
2. Best Practices Aren’t Best Practices
3. Communities Don’t Practice
4. Storytelling Isn’t Just Telling Stories
5. Expertise Directories Locate Your Experts
6. A Portal is a Gateway to Knowledge
7. What You Can Measure You Can Manage
8. The Biggest Obstacle to Knowledge Sharing is Corporate Culture
9. E-learning and KM are Two Sides of the Same Coin
10. Increasing Creativity Will Increase Innovation

Who’s right – Ellison or Andressen?

Barron’s writes:

As part of his takeover dialogue of PeopleSoft, Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison has been verbally running roughshod over the debate about information technology, its relevance and its future innovation. “Best of breed is dead, except for dog shows,” he has said. For the most part, Ellison has been preaching that innovation doesn’t matter and that consolidation will rule the day.

[Opsware co-founder Marc] Andreesen respectfully — and quite understandably — disagrees. He contends that we are simply entering another era of computing, and for the first time in his career, Ellison is on the wrong side of the curve. “For 25 years, he has been on the right side of trends,” Andreesen says. “Now, he’s using consolidation as a self-serving prophecy.”

Andreesen argues that Oracle’s core database business has matured, and Ellison is desperately groping for growth and using Darwinian takeover tactics as a way to obfuscate his company’s potential irrelevance.

Andressen argues that we are entering a new cycle in computing, shifting from the client-server platform to Web-based architecture. The old client-server stuff is maturing, consolidating and in some cases dying, but the new Web architecture innovations are thriving. He points to the continued growth of Internet users, broadband subscribers and buyers of goods online as proof that purveyors of Web-enabling software, such as BEA, Veritas, Mercury Interactive and Opsware, have bright futures.

I think Andressen is right. Ellison also faces one more threat: open-source databases like MySQL and PostgreSQL which will nibble away at Oracle’s core business.

TECH TALK: An Entrepreneurs Early Days (Part 2)

I came across these thought-provoking lines by Tim Carvell in Fortune: Maybe your job provides its own daily doses of excitementperhaps not fighting-off-a-giant-squid excitement, but excitement nonetheless. Or maybe you’ve found something to do in your downtime that you’re passionate about. And if you’re really lucky, maybe your job and your passion are one and the same. That interplay between what we have to do and what we want to be doing is what this issue is all about. It’s about the dreams we have now that we have to work for a living.
When one decides that the job and passion are different, and one would like to make the passion the objective, that is the moment for the entrepreneur to be born.
Randy Komisar makes a similar point in his book The Monk and the Riddle. He calls it The Deferred Life Plan.

For the promise of full coverage under the plan, you must divide your life into two distinct paths:

Step one: Do what you have to do.

Then, eventually

Step two Do what you want to do.

We hear variations on this theme from childhood on: Walk before you run. No peas, no pie. Pay your dues. Or, perhaps in the case of Jack Dolan, work, then retire assuming you live long enough to retire and then devote your time to your passion.

Most people think getting rich fast provides the quickest way to get past the first.

Financial gain should not be a driving factor or even a consideration in becoming an entrepreneur. If that happens, it is good. What should be considered is the passion that one is willing to bear on what one wants to do. All other doors need to be closed, so one cannot run away mid-way only then will one make all the efforts to work towards achieving success. Entrepreneurship is not about parallel processing activities, it is about bringing complete focus to something the entrepreneur deeply believes in, even though as time goes on, these beliefs may be altered.

It is one of the great realities of business that every entrepreneur believes that he is the chosen one for super success. And yet, fewer than one in thousand find financial success. Hence, the goal for becoming an entrepreneur should not be measured only in monetary needs. If that is the case, then the priorities are not in the right place.

Entrepreneurship is also not about an escape from the drudgery of daily work in the corporate world. It is possible to think like an entrepreneur in any work that one does. Entrepreneurship is about a state of mind linked with the actions that one does where one is driven not just from the head, but also from the heart.

Tomorrow: An Entrepreneurs Early Days (continued)

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