Process Management Portals

Intelligent Enterprise about how the traditional enterprise information portal is morphing to one driven by the enterprise processes:

many businesses have turned their attention to a new change-management and systems-implementation methodology called process management (PM distinguished from business performance management, or BPM). PM lets you view enterprise systems through the lens of business processes rather than as disjointed computer applications providing the visibility, flexibility, and responsiveness necessary to manage the business optimally.

From these two trends has arisen the concept of PM/portal hybrid applications (otherwise known as PM portals). As an ideal, PM portals offer the unified information access and dissemination services of portals while integrating the deeper analytic and low-level decision-support power of PM concepts and business performance measurement tools such as the Balanced Scorecard, Robert Saaty’s Analytic Hierarchy Process, business process modeling, and strategic benchmark mapping.

Whereas the typical EIP implementation is “pure BI” focusing on data warehousing with seamless access to online analytic processing applications the PM portal goes beyond analysis and reporting. A PM portal closes the loop between heterogeneous information sources, operational and decision-support systems, and the information delivery infrastructure in order to optimally manage business processes. BI components must be tightly integrated into a mixture of other components such as groupware applications for communications and workflow, and enterprisewide messaging infrastructure (such as JMS platforms) for engineering enterprise integration capabilities.

These are points to keep in mind both for the Digital Dashboard and the Visual Biz-ic development that we are doing.

Best New Technologies

Dave Pollard writes about Business 2.0’s article which selects social networking as the Technology of the Year, and makes a point (which I agree with) that “they missed the companion technology that will provide the data essential to the functioning of future Social Networking Applications. That technology: Personal Content Management and Publishing Applications (notably Blogs and RSS). You can’t have one without the other.”

Among the other new technologies:

1. HOME NETWORKING – Ultra-wideband
2. SUPPLY CHAIN – RFID
3. WIRELESS BROADBAND – 802.16
4. ENERGY – Micro fuel cells
5. HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS – Gecko tape
6. SOFTWARE – Antispam software (that works)
7. CONSUMER ELECTRONICS – OLEDs
8. LIGHTING – LED lightbulbs
9. COMPUTER MEMORY – MRAM
10. MEDICINE – Bioinformatics

The Magic Matrix for Profitability

HBS Working Knowledge has an article by Jonathan Byrnes, focused on bridging the gap between strategy and tactics to increase profitability. The key concept is that of the Magic Matrix:

The Magic Matrix is a spreadsheet chart with key products or services on one dimension, and key market segments or accounts on the other, both arranged in descending order by total revenues. Managers can populate the product-account cells with valuable information ranging from revenues to profitability to sales potential to differentiation. The Magic Matrix is a very powerful, intuitive, easy-to-use model of a company as it interacts with its markets. It enables a management team to look at a shared set of information on the key aspects of their company’s accounts, products, and operations, and to develop the most fruitful ways to improve performance.

The Magic Matrix shows a company’s managers where and why they are making money, and lets them identify the internal and external areas of high and low potential. They can use the Magic Matrix to frame and test different programmatic, coordinated “lines of attack” on the market. Once they agree on a direction, it provides a forum and format to align, and later adjust, their operating plans. They develop the shared viewpoints and cooperative culture that allows the company to reach its full profit potential.

The Magic Matrix gives managers a very powerful way to visualize their businesses. We favor extensive quantitative analysis because it facilitates precise fact-based decision making. But we have found that the easiest way for many groups to move into Magic Matrix-based integrated planning is with qualitative analysis.

The managers can gauge their company’s momentum relative to competitors in each cell, and denote it by an upward arrow, a blank, and a downward arrow. The team can quickly assess competitive vulnerabilities and weaknesses, with a strong sense of how the picture is changing over time. The detail is much greater than with a standard SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) approach used by many companies.

Interview with Dell’s Rollins

Kevin Rollins is Dell’s president and the No. 2 person in the company. He is widely credited as having played a key role in making Dell the powerhouse that it is today. News.com has an interview with him. Some excerpts:

We still have a business model highly dependant upon the execution of our company every day. It’s not a model in which we develop a proprietary widget and sell it without worrying, because no one can catch us on the technology…
We have to do it every single day. So all customers have to have their needs met, products need to be shipped every day, the quality standards need to be met–just a whole series of to-dos. Therefore, it takes a lot of discipline to pull that off. We have to train a lot of people–because we grew this year between 15 percent and 20 percent in revenue, and we’ve got 41,000 employees worldwide. We’re adding new people every day, and none have ever worked at Dell. So they need to come in and understand how to execute every day. That’s really hard. It’s hard to keep that execution intensity at the level where you don’t ever make a mistake; you don’t ever upset a customer. And we do. We fail, but not very much–that’s the biggest challenge. It’s a very intense execution model.

We really have two areas [for future growth]. The No. 1 area is still the enterprise–storage, services and the notion of scale-out architectures, meaning buy just what you need, add incrementally and know you can scale out with your business. Scaling out means instead of buying a great big box and filling it up, you buy one box, add another one and add another one. You can buy $1,000 or $2,000 servers and put them together in a cluster and then just add capacity as you need it.

We have got a secondary, which is now in the consumer electronics world. Because we’ve become No. 1 in PCs in the United States in the consumer arena, we’re finding there’s a whole new world of consumer electronics that have been digitized, meaning they’re based on the same components that go into computersand they work with a computer predominantly (and offer) movies, music.

So you’ve seen us come out with a systematic set of consumer electronics products and you’ll see more that will round out that product category and have Dell be a great brand name for the home, with the PC being the heartbeat, or the center, of that digital home.

The enterprise is still the big thing, but the digital home on the consumer side is the next big thing.

We don’t sit down and cogitate a lot about what could hit us out of the blue. What we do worry about is where are we weakest? Generally, you find if you are weak somewhere, that’s where you could be vulnerable to an attack of some sort.

We don’t look so much at what’s the bogeyman as we do as where’s the profit made. We have a fundamental belief that the businesses will follow the profits. We haven’t been too worried about someone that’s going to start a new business and catch us with our pants down, because in the digitization era, it’s pretty easy to replicate copy and accelerate quickly. Profit pools are a much riskier concern–and who owns the profit pools–than gosh is something going to come out of the blue that we haven’t seen so far. That hasn’t happened much.

Microsoft’s Software Strategy

News.com has an analysis of Microsoft’s plans for Longhorn and how it views the future, asking: “Is Microsoft’s new version of Windows a radical innovation or a return to the company’s winner-take-all software strategy from a decade ago?” because all of the new features in the forthcoming OS “come at a price: Most can be used only through client software that’s designed specifically for the new system.” This marks a return to the “fat client” strategy, eschewing the browser-HTML world.

The result would be “increased lock-in to Windows,” said Michael Silver, an analyst at market research firm Gartner. “Microsoft wants enterprises to write browser applications that take advantage of Longhorn application programming interfaces (APIs), which means that they won’t work on non-Longhorn browsers,” Silver wrote.

With Longhorn, some industry veterans believe, Microsoft is attempting to steer software development back toward the Windows desktop and away from software such as browser applications that can run on other companies’ OSes. Longhorn reinforces Microsoft’s commitment to the notion of powerful desktop machines that have large hard drives.

“Ultimately, we’re the company that believes in the power of the local hard disk,” said Gordon Mangione, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s SQL Server team. “It’s been the thing that has driven the PC revolution for many, many years.”

Indeed, the strategy will sound familiar to students of Microsoft’s history. Windows became the dominant OS for PCs by controlling the underlying APIs and file formats. The Internet shifted that balance of power away from the desktop by performing functions on Web servers and related technologies.

“The personal computer in less than three years will be a pretty phenomenal device,” Gates said. “Exploiting the client, delivering data in the form of XML to the client and then having local rich rendering while still being able to have mapping to HTML for reach–that’s something we’re making very simple.”

I think it will be tough sell for Microsoft – the world is a lot more wary about lock-ins now. Also, the emerging markets of the world and the next billion users need more – not less – of server-centric computing and the benefits that come from the adoption of standards.

Returning Chinese Entrepreneurs

The Economist writes about then Chinese who are coming back

In 2002, it reached almost 18,000, double the number of two years ago. That might look tiny compared with China’s vast population, but the economic and intellectual contribution from returning Chinese is great.

In a country where less than 1% of the people are enrolled in higher education, 90% of returning Chinese hold a master’s degree or a doctorate from abroad. China has the hardware, but not the software. China needs knowledge. China’s biggest challenge is human resources, says Henry Wang, a businessman and a Canadian-educated professor who is also a senior member of the Western Returned Scholars Association (whose 90th anniversary Mr Hu was celebrating).

In Beijing alone, there are now 3,300 enterprises started by returners.

It is not hard to see why the numbers returning are increasing so fast. China’s 7-8% annual growth and steady march towards capitalism has helped it to rival America as one of the best places to seek success and wealth.

The perks and a shot at becoming wealthy are not the whole story. Cultural and family ties are a draw, along with a desire to give something back to the motherland. Sometimes this is combined with a suspicion that they may have hit a glass ceiling in their adopted country.

Combined with India’s returning IT professionals, the experience, enthusiasm and technological expertise of the NRIs and NRCs have the potential to bring about great change in their respective countries. Asia is the emerging hub for the next generation of disruptive innovations and entrepreneurship.

TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: SME Wheel of Penetration (Part 2)

6. Support

Support is a critical aspect of the IT adoption by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Technology is still as complex by most SMEs, and as a result because they are unable to recruit and retain technical support staff, IT usage suffers. Support needs to be provided at two levels: through the presence of local roaming engineers who can reach the SME within an hour, and via the presence of centralised call centers, which offer support via the Internet and through the use of technologies like Instant Messaging, voice-over-IP or web chat. The key is that the SMEs must feel that not only is the technology easy to manage, but also that in the event they need support, it is available reasonably rapidly.

7. Colleges

Colleges can play a key role in the proliferation of IT to SMEs. Firstly, the colleges provide the engineering talent which can contribute to open-source development projects and the pool for IT companies catering to the SME market. Secondly, they can help develop the local Linux and open-source software ecosystems around the colleges. Thirdly, the management institutes can take up the task of standardising the business process definitions and provide the necessary consulting services that SMEs may need in the adoption of IT.

The current situation in India is such that we find many talented engineering and marketing graduates going in for jobs in call centres and business process outsourcing organisations. This is not necessarily the best use of their capabilities the loss is Indias as a nation. If, however, we are able to create the domestic market for IT consumption among SMEs, many of these newly minted graduates could find gainful and perhaps, more rewarding, employment.

8. Financing

Most SMEs tend to baulk at the large upfront investments that technology tends to require. Most would be glad to make monthly payments for its use. Yet, it is hard for SMEs to get loans for the purchase of hardware and software. This needs to change.

Banks and financial institutions need to start thinking of technology as core infrastructure at the time of lending to SMEs. In fact, when sanctioning loans, banks must ask SMEs what their IT strategy is, and where their information plant and machinery is. India is awash in cheap credit now this can be used to the benefit of SMEs by making available technology on a monthly installment basis.

9. Information Marketplace

One of the challenges SMEs face is growing their business. In most cases this means, finding other SMEs as customers. What is needed is for an online information marketplace which enables SMEs to reach out to other SMEs for buying and selling. The Internet could also be used to share success stories among the early adopters of IT. Thus, an SME-oriented portal would be very useful mixing content, community and commerce. In fact, ideas from the emerging breed of social networking sites could be used to help SMEs connect to other SMEs and new ideas.

10. Connectivity

Bandwidth is critical for business. And in India, bandwidth is still incredibly expensive. What India needs is a telecom revolution for enterprises so that SMEs can get fixed-price, low-cost broadband delivered to their offices and factories anywhere in India. Whether this is by fibre or wireless is not important the need is for multi-megabit speeds at no more than a few thousand rupees a month.

Presentation: I recently made a presentation at BangaloreIT.com on Affordable Computing. As part of the presentation, I prepared a few slides which capture many of the ideas outlined in the series so far.

Next Week: We look at the vexacious issue of reaching SMEs, and how we need to rethink the technology distribution chain to address the SME market.

Continue reading