Dell’s Management Secrets

Dell never ceases to amaze. Think of it was the Wal-mart of IT. It is now targeting revenues of USD 60 billion by 2006 (from the current USD 40 billion), maintaining a 15% growth rate. Business Week has more on the Dell Way:

Michael Dell expects everyone to watch each dime — and turn it into at least a quarter. Unlike most tech bosses, Dell believes every product should be profitable from Day One. To ensure that, he expects his managers to be walking databases, able to cough up information on everything from top-line growth to the average number of times a part has to be replaced in the first 30 days after a computer is sold.

But there’s one number he cares about most: operating margin. To Dell, it’s not enough to rack up profits or grow fast. Execs must do both to maximize long-term profitability. That means products need to be priced low enough to induce shoppers to buy, but not so low that they cut unnecessarily into profits. When Dell’s top managers in Europe lost out on profits in 1999 because they hadn’t cut costs far enough, they were replaced. “There are some organizations where people think they’re a hero if they invent a new thing,” says Rollins. “Being a hero at Dell means saving money.”

It’s this combination — reaching for the heights of perfection while burrowing down into every last data point — that no rival has been able to imitate.

Internet 2, IBM and Microsoft

NYTimes writes about the differing views and strategies of the computer industry’s two most powerful firms:

The Internet Act I was mainly about e-mail programs and downloading digital information to look at or listen to – Web pages, animations, video and music. Act II should bring all kinds of automated transactions among businesses and individuals. And those transactions will be able to include a hint of computer-aided intelligence.

An example could be arranging an appointment with your dentist. Your calendar information, with stated time preferences and availability, exchanges data with your dentist’s calendar to automatically set up an appointment. Similarly, companies should someday be able to conduct computer-automated auctions with suppliers. The next-generation Internet can be thought of as the beginning of what researchers have said might be possible with software agents, or bots, performing as human assistants.

The Microsoft vision centers on the individual and technology tools, foreseeing a kind of rerun of the personal computer revolution in the Internet era. I.B.M. sees the computing evolution as helping to free companies from the previous constraints of technology, so they can focus more on using technology to streamline business processes and seek new markets than on the hardware and software itself. One implication, I.B.M. says, is that companies need not have so much internal technology. Instead, they can buy computing and technology services from outside suppliers like I.B.M., almost as if a utility, paying only for what they use, on demand.

In another article, AMR Research looks at the what is sees as a golden future for IT: “Technology users are increasingly business usersWith commoditization and stability in technology markets, a whole new generation of technology users will emerge: business users. For the first time, technology has gotten easy enough to use that it can be deployed widely within organizations and across industries. What has been a long time coming can finally happen because of the convergence of the ease of global communication provided by the Internet, availability of easy-to-use handheld devices, emergence of wireless access, and full deployment of advanced applications that make business data accessible. This is causing a structural change within the user community that will make technology a part of the fabric of every line of business. It will also lead to the widespread use of this technology infrastructure within small to midsize businesses, which in the past could not afford either the technology or the complexity of using it effectively.”

Rethinking Linux

My colleague, Prakash Advani, envisions what a re-written Linux could be like: “Our next-generation operating system (NGOS) would be completely modular in design, aimed at 64-bit hardware, and with an interface that would change the way people compute. It would support a large number of applications and hardware devices, accepting device drivers written for other operating system, and run applications written for other operating system under an emulation mode.”

Search Wars

WSJ has an article on the various companies angling for a piece of the search pie:

Already, Google is holding exercises on Amazon’s borders with its Froogle retailing engine. Amazon, too, has made moves beyond its core retailing business: The company increasingly acts as a guide to third-party stores in categories such as sporting goods and toys, and is developing an e-commerce search service. Meanwhile, eBay relies on search to help users find just about anything anyone would like to buy — and its popularity and PayPal payments unit put it in a strong position should it get an expansionist itch. Then there’s InterActiveCorp, which is a top provider of searches for airline tickets, hotel reservations and the like, but may want to establish a stronger position in everyday searches.

Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, eBay, Amazon, InterActiveCorp: They arrived from different starting points, and have different strengths, but all may be combatants in the new round of search wars.

Mozilla Branding Ideas

Steven Garrity has ideas for rebranding Mozilla, which could apply to software products in general: “Any good visual identity builds on what is already established, while improving on the weaknesses of past. So too should the visual identity of the Mozilla project and products. A unified, consistent, but flexible brand and visual identity would be a great complement to the technology developed under the Mozilla project.”

Where are the Women Bloggers?

BlogStreet’s list of the top 100 bloggers has come under scrutiny in recent times from the likes of Halley Suitt, Dana Blankenhorn and David Weinberger.

Dana’s point: why are most of the blogs on politics? Halley’s response: why aren’t there more women bloggers in the list? (Halley counted all of 3 in the top 100. Kevin Marks points out there are a lot more, in his commonet on David Weinberger’s post.) Halley also wants to know more about the algorithm used – “based on who blogrolls whom.”

Here is more info on how we do the rankings, written by Veer, who managed BlogStreet.

Computing the Blog Influence Quotient (BIQ) is a two step process. First the BlogRank is calculated, based on the number of blogs blogrolling a blog. More the number of blogs blogrolling a blog, higher will be its BlogRank.

For BIQ it is not just how many people blogroll you i.e. the quantity, but what matters is *who* blogrolls you i.e. the quality. It takes into account the BlogRank of the bloggers who blogroll you.

Thus your BIQ increases if a blog with a high BlogRank is blogrolling you. Think of BlogRank as weighted rankings, blogosphere’s equivalent of Google’s PageRank.

Perhaps this should put the rankings in context.

TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: Business Applications Architecture

The business applications layer consists of various components to describe and manage the processes within the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Sandwiched between the Database and the user interface (via the Digital Dashboard or the Microcontent Client) are the Application Server, Visual Biz-ic and the specialised objects that represent the business functions.

The Application Server has become part of the e-Business infrastructure. In the open-source world, there is JBoss. Among the proprietary solutions, there is IBMs Websphere, BEAs Weblogic, Oracles Application Server and Indian company Pramatis product.

The database and the application server provide the foundation for business process management (BPM). William Gurley provides the wider perspective:

BPM is a new programming paradigm for the enterprise that leverages browser-based applications, e-mail, global connectivity and enterprise application integration (EAI) infrastructure to deliver a powerful, business-focused programming solution. A mix between workflow, EAI and application development, BPM makes it easy for companies to codify their current processes, automate their execution, monitor their current performance and make on-the-fly changes to improve the current processes.

Here is how it works. Business analysts work alongside IT staff and create a graphical flow chart of targeted processes within the organization. These graphical designs are typically done in an integrated design environment (IDE) and represent the different events, decisions and actions that are performed by employees as well as the flows of data that are necessary to perform each task. Once defined, people begin to interact with the new application. New “processes” are started by an individual (for example, entering a new customer issue) or as the result of an event (for example, a customer account goes past due). Actions are then passed from person to person through the concept of a task inbox, and typically the passing of a URL.

For the first time, a single person can easily “hand off” an application to another person. For instance, during an approval process, one person may initiate a purchase order. If that order is over a predefined limit, the order may then be passed to the task box of the person’s supervisor to await approval. The supervisor will click on a URL in the inbox, immediately see all the relevant data, and then perhaps decide to approve the order. The order may then be passed to the purchasing department and even potentially forwarded out to the supplier.

The essence of BPM software is that it solves business problems for business users. Whether Web services or Corba or .Net is part of the underlying technology is about as interesting to these decision makers as the brand of disk brake is to most people who purchase automobilesBPM purchasers want applications that are easily understood, quickly deployed and have immediate impact. Simplicity is the key here–technology for technology’s sake just won’t fly.

Gurley describes six components that a BPM solution would need to provide: IDE (integrated development environment), process engine, user directory, workflow, reporting/process monitoring, and integration. This is what Visual Biz-ic needs to do.

Tomorrow: Visual Biz-ic

Continue reading