The Decade of Process

From a speech given by Barry Briggs:

In many ways business process is by far the most important and valuable form of collaboration since while e-mail, instant messaging, and shared workspaces facilitate communication, business process achieves business goals. When a customer buys something on the web site, a process is set in motion which at its conclusion results in the customer receiving goods and the enterprise, money.

I believe that where the eighties were known as the decade of productivity applications — spreadsheets, word processors, and so on, the nineties as the decade of email and the Internet, this decade, starting now (isn’t it interesting that software waves start around the middle of the chronological decade), will be the Decade of Process.

Process, simply, is defined as that set of steps which must happen, with greater or lesser rigor, in some sequence in order to achieve a business goal. Mortgage approvals, funds transfers, performance reviews and so on are all examples of processes, and it’s clear that nearly everything we do in business corresponds to some sort of process. Customers call and we have to react; we run out of inventory and we have to order more; and so forth.

A subsequent blog post by Barry adds: “Every business document is an artifact of a business process — but we have yet to build a product that treats them that way.”

Multiplayer Gaming

It may be a few months old but this note by Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital is worth reading:

There are many reasons why MMOGs make enviable businesses:

1. Recurring Revenues. Anyone who has ever sold software covets the
predictability of recurring revenues, particularly subscription revenues
that are basically “good until cancel.” Most of the leading MMOG businesses
employ some form of subscription pricing.

2. Competitive Moats. Warren Buffet is fond of saying he likes businesses
with castle-like moats (i.e., ones with high barriers to entry). As users
invest more and more time into a persistent character, into an avatar, into
accomplishments, into online relationships, and into the resulting
reputation, the higher the costs to switch to an alternate platform.

3. Network Effects / Increasing Returns. There is no better online barrier
to entry than a strong community. Witness how Amazon and Yahoo both failed
to distract eBay users even when offering a free product. For most MMOGs,
the more users a particular game has, the more compelling the experience is
for incremental users. This self-reinforcing form of Metcalfe’s Law is
alive and well in many MMOGs.

4. Real Competition. In the future, traditional software-based games will
merely be practice vehicles for the much more interesting endeavor of
multiplayer competition. MMOGs allow for a sense of competitive
accomplishment and provide vehicles for the human ego to be rewarded, all of
which drives extremely obsessive behavior.

5. Time Engaged. According to the previously mentioned Forbes article, “a
good PC-based game has a lifespan of 30 hours of play; a good multiplayer
game gets 20 hours in just a week.” This puts MMOGs, from the perspective
of today’s users, on par with television in terms of time engaged.

6. Unlimited Complexity. In a world where other players are part of the
user experience, the number of permutations of experiences is quite
realistically limitless. From the relatively simple rule-sets and economies
present in most MMOGs, astonishingly complex emergent behaviors arise. This
offers a stark contrast to previous interactive entertainment where the game
can eventually be “beaten” by the user.

7. High Risk, But High Reward. The number one criticism of MMOGs is that
they are “hit” businesses like Hollywood businesses. A closer look will
reveal that the average successful MMOG has had a useful life of over five
years. What’s more, sequels are amazingly popular. As such, it is not
unrealistic for a title to last ten years. That said, there are many, many
MMOG efforts that fail to reach the break-even number of subscribers
necessary to have a positive return on investment. As with the entire
history of finance, risk and reward remain correlated.

Ideal Collaboration Toolset for Distributed Workers

Ferris Research Weblog writes:

The most important are:

* A shared file repository. Requirement. Search on top is highly desirable in most cases. There should be regular file backups, and access controls. Thumbnail images of large graphical files, such as photographs and movies, and server/desktop synchronization, may also be highly desirable. Presence information, from which various collaborative services can be launched
* The ability to share your computer screen with others. Either read-only, or allowing remote control
* Telephone. Both one-to-one, and on-demand conference calls. The more integrated with the other services, the better
* Instant messaging
* Email
* An easy-to-use database package, allowing ad hoc definition of structured databases
* A wiki. A new, immature technology that’s very useful for working on shared text documents with simple formats

Other things can be important for certain teams as well…

* Threaded discussion groups. Required for some teams, unnecessary for most
* A task manager. Required for some teams, unnecessary for most
* Group scheduling. Not usually a requirement. But it’s very helpful if you can check each other’s free-busy times. Sometimes dedicated project or team schedules are helpful
* Video pictures, notably of someone’s face. Nice to have, helps to build a team spirit. Also helps to reduce paranoia, as in when critical things are said, but the utterer’s face shows that he or she is not angry or frustrated
* A shared drawing package. Required for some teams. More use ought to be made of this fundamental capability
* Group polling
* Fax machines

Prisoners of Context

Venky Ganesan writes:

Even very smart people can be blinded by the context of their environment. To most senior software execs, they are living in a tough environment of long sales cycles, even longer implementation cycles, impossible to non-existent upgrade capability and a 3-5x services budget to implement their license software. And they are right – that market is DEAD!!!! Customers don’t want that anymore.

What they are not realizing is that the new opportunity is exactly to sell and make software in a manner that has shorter sales cycles, very fast implementation time-lines, easy to upgrade and easy to maintain software, and a small amount of services. The new software companies will do exactly that and they will eat the legacy players alive as history has shown many times.

Venky adds in another post (about IBM): “The core ERP market has both the wrong software delivery model (behind the firewall, long implementation cycle, huge customization) as well as the wrong business strategy of trying to sell big bang enterprise licenses. Both of which are not how consumers want to buy software…I think the future comprises of composite apps built by combining web services and IBM should focus on building the infrastructure that powers that future. ”

Shuffle Shock

Bill Day writes about Apple’s newest iPod:

The Shuffle epitomizes Freeman Dysons comment that A good engineer is a person who makes a design that works with as few original ideas as possible. The Shuffle is a flash based MP3 player, sans bells and whistles of any sort, with a clean and simple design. It is very small and light and has pretty good battery life too. It derives much of its simplicity (and no doubt quite a bit of its battery performance) from the extraordinarily streamlined interface. Namely, the lack of an interface, or rather more precisely the lack of a graphical interface.

Everybody else in the MP3 player business is poo pooing Shuffles screenlessness. But no screen = no LCD battery drain + a very simple control pad. Without a screen the Shuffle is smaller and can undercut the price of other leading similarly sized flash based players.

Apples realized that many people who use their iPod (mega?) or some other hard drive based player right up to and including a laptop or desktop may want another device, very cheap and very simple, for times when a bigger more capable solution isnt required or appropriate. Price and weight+size, for a given memory capacity, become key.

Chris Andersen adds: “In provacateur mode, I described it as a ‘value subtract’ product, arguing that the lack of a display would limit its success.”

TECH TALK: The Mobile Phone Platform: My Mobile

Among all the topics that I have covered in my Tech Talk columns, one of the lesser covered areas has been that dealing with mobile phones. There is a simple explanation for this until recently, the age of my cellphone was 3 years! I lived frozen in time when it came to my mobile phone. For me, it was a useful communications tool but just that. I used it to make and receive voice calls few and far between. I found sending SMS to be major pain. (I may be a two-finger typist on a keyboard, but I am a fast one at that! The cellphone keypad well, I just couldnt find myself writing shorthand English or doing it fast enough.)

Life changed recently in four steps over the past six months: first, when I bought a Nokia 6600; second, when I got the Rs 99 a month GPRS connection from Orange and started reading RSS feeds on my phone; third, when I downloaded and played my first game; and finally, when I upgraded that to the Rs 499 GPRS connection which allowed me Web access.

When I accessed the Web recently on my mobile phone and configured the Nokia email application (and also a ProfiMail mail client) to access my corporate email account, I could not but feel the same sense of exhilaration that I had sensed when I first browsed the Internet more than a decade ago over a Netcom connection using Mosaic from a friends house in the US. This is another new world that is emerging, and for all that has been talked and written about the world of mobility, we are at the start of a revolution which will have far-reaching implications.

This is not just about voice and communications, and the freedom to do talk and SMS from anywhere. Just like the functionality and use of PCs was completely transformed with the emergence of the Internet, so it will be with mobile phones. Until now, for the vast majority, the phone has been a communications device. In fact, even more than the personal computer, it is the mobile phone that is the truly personal device. There is nary a place that owners go without their phone. I have seen people walk into my office for meetings carrying only a phone and nothing else (not even a pen or a watch, leave alone a writing pad).

From a time when I was barely connected (a computer at home and office; no notebook) to now when I have become arguably one of the most connected people has been a short ride. I have a Fujitsu S Series Lifebook notebook running Windows XP and Linux. It has three forms of in-built connectivity: Ethernet, dial-up and Wi-Fi.

To these, I have now added two more connectivity options. There is a Reliance R-Connect card which works as both a CDMA modem and phone, though I dont use the phone capability. The Sierra Wireless card cost Rs 14,700 ($300) and the monthly service costs Rs 650 ($14) for 1 GB data transfer. (There is also a Rs 1,500 unlimited data transfer option). The Reliance network is present across hundreds of towns and cities in India and it is possible to get 30-40 Kbps connectivity speeds for the most part. Not great, but it is a good start. In addition, my Orange mobile phone now can also work as a GPRS modem via a USB-Bluetooth dongle. So, talk of being ultimately connected.

But before we get to the mobile phone and its future, let us delve a little into our lives and look at the three screens that permeate our world.

Tomorrow: The Three Screens