Thinking

Given the nature of our work, we all need to spend time thinking. In fact, we need to think more and do less, not the other way around! I have generally found the following things useful in doing thinking:

Solitude in Early Mornings: There is something about the morning – the silence, the darkness which slowly gives way to light (very symbolic) – that makes the ideas come.

Reading a Book: I have found that when there is a problem which I am thinking about, reading a book – any book – helps provide potential ways to look at the problem differently.

Writing: Many times, I will just sit in front of a computer and start typing. The ideas start flowing. This post is an example. I started with the seed of an idea for the post, and this is evolving as I write.

Talking to Others: When I have an interesting idea, I will get someone to talk to – more like, listening to myself. As I talk and respond to queries the other person may have, the idea fine-tunes itself.

Doodling: Sometimes, I will just take a blank sheet of paper, and start drawing a mindmap which outlines that I know about the problem. This helps in laying out the possibilities.

Longhorn and Office 2003

Bill Gates writes about Microsoft’s new OS, which will be relased sometime in 2005-06:

we are moving to this Web services world–a loosely coupled, message-based breakthrough that computer scientists have dreamed of for decades–all of the things that let that be possible need to be in the $50 operating system. And so here we have Indigo, which will be in Windows and let you do transactions and queuing.

The person getting the benefit of those won’t know that that is going on. But you also get to use the great Avalon graphics and the ability to navigate information with WinFS. Application developers don’t have to duplicate those things, and yet there’s no cost to having those things be in the platform and one way of doing debugging and performance.

That’s the miracle of software, in terms of how we can get better and better things. So here we have something that was done through middleware coming into the system. We’ve seen that with media playback capabilities, with the browser, and that will continue…There is sort of that crowd that thinks that when the valuations broke that somehow technology advances wouldn’t come. There’s a general attitude now to not see that we will be delivering more software advances and productivity in this decade than we did in the last.

By knowing what Longhorn will look like, it will influence quite a bit of what people are doing today. For instance, the trend toward XML (Extensible Markup Language) Web services, as people use Indigo, built into the platform. That will reinforce the move toward Web services as people see all of the schematizing, the common information types for contacts, appointments, documents, annotation.

In another story, Fortune reviews Microsoft Office 2003, and suggests: “Office 2003 is an admirable upgrade to an already successful and popular program. Microsoft is going to spend half a billion dollars in coming months to persuade you to buy it, or upgrade to one of the 2003 versions. For most consumers, itll be a tough sell.” I am looking to buy a copy soon and check it out.

Identity Management

[via Sumit Dhar] News.com writes:

Identity management is the latest security technology to gain popularity in the corporate world–mostly for its efficiencies. The technology allows new employees to be set up with network resources in minutes, rather than days, while requiring them to have only one password for access to servers, printers and other proprietary equipment. Because of significant savings in time and money, manufacturers say, identity management systems can pay for themselves in a year.

“Identity management has one simple goal: one identity per individual, at least in the corporate setting,” said Chris Christiansen, a security analyst at market researcher IDC.

In essence, identity management brings together various software packages that were separate systems just a few years ago. Companies no longer need piecemeal identity technologies such as single sign-on applications, directory management software and auditing or accounting packages. Not surprisingly, many manufacturers of these technologies are now rebranding themselves as identity management businesses.

By connecting human resources systems directly to the servers that control access to corporate network resources, companies can significantly reduce the time it takes to get new employees set up to access all necessary systems.

What we are now seeing is a focus on creating technology to make individuals and groups more productive.

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Self-Healing Software

Technology Review writes:

A growing number of researchers have been talking about a shift in the core metaphor for computing, from the notion of artificial intelligence to something that might be called artificial biology. Forget about the dream of creating bug-free software. Just as bugs regularly affect any biological systemI have a cold as I write thisthey should also be expected in software. So software needs to be designed to survive the bugs. It should have the biological properties of redundancy and regeneration: parts should be able to die off without affecting the whole.

The point of autonomic computingand by extension, of self-healing softwareis to give networks and computer systems the ability to regulate and repair things that now require human thought and intervention.

In the future, the biological metaphor may even affect the way we program to begin with. Software could eventually heal some of its own bugs, supplementing catch-all fixeslike automatic rebootingthat dont get at the core problem. But that will require an entirely new approach to programming.

We need to move towards a programming philosophy where we look at the global system and understand what properties it needs to have, rather than thinking about programming as a sequence of instructions, says David Evans, who is pursuing biologically inspired programming methods as a computer science professor at the University of Virginia. Its really a different way of approaching problems.

Evans notes that software today is written linearly, with each step depending on the previous one, more or less guaranteeing that bugs will wreak havoc: in biological terms, organisms with no redundancy dont survive long if one means of accomplishing a task fails. More robust software would include many independent components so that it will continue to work even if several of its components fail.

Advertising on Search Engines

Advertising on search engines is becoming more targeted. News.com has more, following the purchase of Sprinks by Google:

[Google] operates a commercial search service called AdWords, which auctions sponsored link placements on search results pages and competes with Overture Services, a subsidiary of Yahoo. Marketers pay each time Web surfers click on their ads…So-called content targeting, which Sprinks pioneered, expands on search engine advertising by delivering ads to Web pages based on subject matter and other contextual hints.

“Keyword-based contextual advertising will begin to lose its luster within 12 months, as high-spending advertisers find targeting attractive but creative opportunities limited,” said Gary Stein, a Jupiter analyst. Instead, Stein said, search-oriented companies such as Google and Yahoo must evolve by introducing geotargeting, or location-based advertising, as well as by offering “the ability to buy increasingly rich media ad units and purchase beyond simple relevance.”

Google and Overture have already started testing systems that let advertisers confine their pitches to people from specific locales. Google introduced its service, called Regional Targeting, to its AdWords advertisers last week.

Above all, analysts said, Google is looking to improve the relevancy of its advertising results.

“The greatest challenge that Google faces in the face of growth is customer satisfaction and relevancy,” Jupiter’s Berk said. “The whole economic model is based on relevancy. It’s one thing to build a major distribution network; it’s quite another thing to scale that, having over 100,000 customers. That’s a big risk, and they have to be careful managing it.”

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TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: Visual Biz-ic

Visual Biz-ic (a term I have coined) is at the heart of the business applications architecture. Think of it as doing for business processes what Visual Basic has done for software development. It provides a framework to specify business processes, and interconnect them. It would consist of a forms designer, a workflow manager, a process designer and a library of existing business processes. All of these would be linked via web services, with information exchange taking place through XML. Software developers and process owners in enterprises can use the infrastructure provided by Visual Biz-ic to specify the processes that need to be managed. Visual Biz-ic thus becomes a platform for business process management.

Why is Visual Biz-ic so important? Because processes are important. This is where the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will get their next big increase in productivity. So far, computers have been used for individual task automation email, surfing, documentation, accounting. There is a limit to its impact on productivity. This is because a task is part of a process. Processes need to designed and managed. A process can be thought of as a series of inter-connected and inter-dependent tasks where the output of one is the input of many others. In silo tasks, the output is typically an email, a print-out or a phone call. There is a terminal point. In processes, this does not happen there is a continuum of information flow across people, there is a pipeline that is created. Process management is what are missing in most enterprises today. Only when we shift focus from tasks to processes will organisations reap the true benefits of productivity via technology.

Wrote the Financial Times recently in an article on IBMs next transition (to incorporate on-demand computing and business process outsourcing): Looking at companies as collections of business processes (order entry, fulfilment or billing) rather than functional departments (marketing, manufacturing or customer care) makes sense. Breaking down boundaries between departments to ensure smooth operations is also a legitimate goal. The objective now is to use industry standard technologies – such as the internet and XML, a kind of lingua franca that enables computers to understand each other regardless of the software they run – to bring more flexibility and transparency to companies’ operations.

The specialised functionalities embedded in todays ERP, CRM, SCM applications would need to be re-created as process-driven objects as part of Visual Biz-ic. There would be a set of generic software providers who would provide these components across industries. Some of the enterprises could use these as-is, while others would either customise these to suit their business processes or use other industry-specific components from specialty vendors. Either way, the world of business software becomes akin to integrating Lego-like blocks together, with web services acting as the glue.

In fact, it is possible that SMEs will also need help in the form of consulting to help design their business processes. While the smaller enterprises will chose to go in for the off-the-shelf processes as part of the Visual Biz-ic libraries (sourced from other similar companies), the mid-sized companies may expect to redesign their internal processes and even look at outsourcing non-core processes. Either way, SMEs need the standardisation that Visual Biz-ic brings, very similar to what software developers have been used to with Microsofts Visual Basic.

Tomorrow: 1:1 Computing

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