Secrets to Managing Techies

[via John] From CIO Magazine. “Since IT work is inherently creative, effective leadership of IT workers means facilitating work that is often chaotic and goals that are rife with ambiguities. The context of leading an IT organization includes aligning IT projects with business strategy, conveying direction to IT employees that’s consistent with that strategy, and keeping IT employees focused on end user needs.”

ICT and Development

Atanu Dey has an excellent series of posts on the relevance of ICT (information and communication technologies) for bridging the “digital divide”.

The first addresses the question and rephrases it: “How appropriate is ICT for rural and remote areas of developing countries, especially the poverty-stricken regions? Or, how should we sequence the use of ICT, both temporally as well as spatially, for economic development? That is, should we take our resources and thinly distribute it all across the country or should we focus on some areas first and then move to other areas? Should we use our limited resources to bring ICT tools to the most remote and the poverty-stricken areas of the country and neglect other areas? Should we concentrate on ICT for remote and poverty-stricken areas before we concentrate on other needs of those areas?”

The second looks at some ICT-related myths. reminding us that “ICT is neither necessary nor sufficient for development”, and elaborates on how we need to think about what is the cause of what is the effect.

The third post discusses the RISC model in the context of limited resources, which we always conveniently tend to overlook as we tend to argue that we need to put resources in the villages rather than centralising them at a conveniently accessible location. “Add up all resources for infrastructure investemnt at our disposal. Divide that by 600,000 and you have quantity x, the available resource per village. Find out the investment cost of the minimum viable unit of infrastructure and call it y. Now compute the ratio y over x and call that number z. If z is equal to or less than 1, we can provide every village with the required infrastructure base. Otherwise, we need to invest y resources in a central location that z villages will have to share.”

Why Mozilla Matters

Jon Udell writes about Mozilla for developing rich Internet applications, comparing it with Flash and InfoPath:

Flash’s greatest weakness, though, is the browser’s greatest strength. The browser is an engine for displaying — and interacting with — structured documents. The mission of Flash was always to complement the browser, not compete with it. That remains a proper division of labor. But our notion of what documents are is changing, thanks to Web services. Tear open the envelope of a SOAP packet, and you’ll find an XML document inside. That document, representing a business transaction in flight, lives in two worlds at the same time. To applications and services, it’s an XML payload. To people, it’s a document to read, annotate, and pass around. Given the novel convergence of these two modes, the browser’s future as an all-purpose Internet client may be brighter than we think.

Consider Microsoft’s InfoPath. It’s not built into IE (Internet Explorer) but it’s built like IE, relying on the same XML parser, schema processor, XSLT transformer, DOM, CSS renderer, and script engine. InfoPath can receive XML payloads from a Web services network, and inject payloads back into the network, but the data users work with is displayed, updated, and validated locally. Microsoft hasn’t chosen to reposition its browser for these purposes, but Microsoft’s browser isn’t the only game in town.

As Web services redefine documents, Mozilla, an open and extensible document-handling engine, looks more strategic than ever.

Adds Navneet: “Jon tends to feel Mozilla offers a lot strategically. I tend to agree with Jon. XUL is truly cool and Mozilla Firebird is a great browser, but as long as it does not catch on, I believe Flash is the strongest contender for RIAs.” [RIA = Rich Internet Applications]

NetSuite’s ASP Service

Phil Wainewright writes about the innovations introduced by NetSuite (formerly, NetLedger) – “you might call these the secret weapons of ASPs, because no one else yet appreciates just how fundamental these kinds of features are for success when delivering online services”:

Open-source, shared-server infrastructure: NetSuite can host a hundred customers on a single $10,000 server. This gives the company an operating cost base that’s way below the $1,000 per user per year it charges its customers.

Rich, intuitive functionality: Browser-based user interfaces have come a long way in the past three years. Sophisticated Javascript and DHTML that loads quickly and caches locally means that NetSuite offers client functionality that looks and feels pretty much as good as any Windows-based application…Everything, in other words, is engineered to bypass long waits for screens to reload or new forms to open.

Self-service user configuration: In NetSuite, each user can set up their own multiple views of the data they need to work with, including custom queries, tables and forms. All of this is performed using familiar tabbed screens, forms, pull-down menus and drag-and-drop layouts, so there’s no technical knowhow required.

Real-time results: Since all of this is happening on a state-of-the-art Oracle/Linux server cluster, there’s no reason for compromising on timeliness of information. There are no out-of-date reports based on stale information: everything you see is what’s happening now in your business…ASPs recognize that the only business information that’s worth having is information that’s delivered to you as it happens, on demand, and they build it into their products right from the get-go.

Open data access and export: NetSuite is typical in offering the ability to export data in standard CSV or IIF file formats. It has also created an smbXML interface that allows online integration with other systems, and which can also be used to export data to a separate system of your own choosing.

Solar Power

NYTimes writes that in their search of cheaper energy, companies are beginning to look at solar energy:

Businesses often look for a two- to three-year payback on capital investments. Solar power cannot yet provide that; the average commercial installation is expected to pay for itself in five to nine years. Mr. Subacus said that Janssen’s would take 20 years to pay for itself, much longer than average, because he is assuming that energy prices will rise only 4 percent annually; if they climb faster, the system will pay for itself sooner.

Solar power accounts for only three-hundredths of 1 percent of all electricity generated globally, said Lisa Frantzis, director of renewable and distributed energy at Navigant Consulting in Chicago. Yet sales of equipment are growing quickly. Since the 1990’s, the market for products that capture electricity from the sun has grown about 20 percent a year, In the last three years [in the US], the growth has accelerated to about 33 percent a year.

Even though solar power is on a growth curve in the United States, the technology is spreading even faster in Japan and Germany. In Japan, higher prices for other types of energy have bolstered the popularity of solar power. There are fewer than 5,000 grid-connected solar setups in the United States, compared with 40,000 systems in Japan, most of them residential, said Glenn Hamer, executive director of the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington.

Other countries are also quickly developing uses for solar technology, Ms. Frantzis said. In 1999, the United States accounted for 17 percent of the global solar market. Last year, it accounted for only 13 percent.

I do not yet see siginificant efforts in India to tap solar energy.

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TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: New Technologies and Trends

The pace of change in technology continues. Every week brings with it new announcements about innovations some are incremental, others are disruptive. Even though now companies are more cautious about adopting the next new thing, the fact remains that technology can bring about gains in productivity and market share if used intelligently. Consider Dell, for example. In a market as commoditised as personal computers, it now aspires to have a share of 30-40% in a few years, more than double what it is now. This is driven by its supply chain and distribution expertise. Remember: even Dell was a small company once.

What is interesting about technology has been its commoditisation. John Sculley, who once ran Apple and now is a venture capitalist, summarises this trend: We’re going through a systemic, secular change in high technology. We saw, in the 1990s, the commoditization of hardware. Now, we’re going to be seeing the commoditization of almost everything, including software and services. This makes a lot of sense because, as the technology world moves from being computer-intensive to communications-intensive, you have to have open standards, which means innovation is going to have to take place in different parts of the value chain. The things that we used to think of as the areas for wow technology, like computers, have become commoditized and even transparent, as they are embedded into systems. The innovation now is taking place with things that are largely being driven by market opportunities and customers.

This commoditisation has the promise of making technology affordable for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It is also making technology vendors start looking at the SMEs as a market opportunity. In addition, it creates new business opportunities for SMEs as various industries will get disrupted with these emerging, new technologies. Wrote Business Week recently: Simply put, tech hasn’t settled down yet. Its days of maturity may be decades away. The IT revolution may share many parallels with previous transformative technologies such as railroads and electricity, but it differs in one key way: The underlying technologies not only aren’t slowing down, they’re accelerating. Computer-chip performance keeps doubling every 18 months, and disk-drive capacity and Internet-connection speeds are improving even faster. That’s spurring new products, from MP3 and DVD players to Web services for corporations, that are disrupting industries from entertainment to health care.

For SMEs, it is important to consider the new, emerging technologies to see how these can be applied appropriately to cut costs and improve topline growth. There is no one, magic formula which will fit every SME. Yet, it is possible to extract out certain common technologies which can make a significant impact on operations, and help SMEs break out of the twin technology and marketing traps.

We will begin by considering some of these technologies and trends, and later see how they can be aggregated together to create a reference technology architecture for SMEs. Having a common architecture makes not just the buying decision easier for SMEs, but also enables vendors to create plug-and-play standardised components.

Tomorrow: New Technologies and Trends (continued)

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