ABCs of Tech Success

Business Week has a column by Brad Silverberg outlining a framework:

The concept involves understanding today’s tech market via a simple analysis. And I mean simple. It has only three parts:

A: The way things are.
B: The way things could be.
C: What needs to happen, or the gap you need to cross, to get there.

First, looking at the gaps in the industry as a whole can inspire a compelling mission and a vision of change. In an inversion of the original software-centric Microsoft (MSFT ) mantra of a “computer on every desktop,” Marc Benioff’s view of the opportunity for customer- and sales-force-management software led him to create his company, Salesforce.com (CRM ), which was publicly dedicated to “no more software.” Here’s how Benioff and his staff plugged their situation into the ABC template:

A: Software is everywhere but costs too much, is overcomplicated, and isn’t used. On top of that, tech budgets are getting squeezed.
B: We see a future in which the corporate world is without software — at least in the traditional sense of a package shipped to customers on a disk — and without its hassles or up-front capital requirements.
C: We need to drive across the gap by using simpler software that’s delivered over the Internet. We need to take it all the way through the mid-market and to an initial public offering.

Health Exchanges

SF Chronicle writes: “In Santa Barbara County, a network of hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies and doctors is pioneering new technology that will allow medical professionals with different computer systems to share clinical information. The initiative may well be a first step toward the creation of a national patient-care data bank…The promise is the creation of a system that will link local networks to create large regional networks that will better track patient care as well as reduce redundant tests and unnecessary paperwork that result from incompatible data systems and lack of communication. Eventually, the regional networks will talk with one another, in effect creating a true nationwide medical data repository.”

Low-Literacy Users

Jakob Nielsen’ has done a survey and writes: “Lower-literacy users exhibit very different reading behaviors than higher-literacy users: they plow text rather than scan it, and they miss page elements due to a narrower field of view.”

No Google Masterplan?

Given all the Google-mania that has taken hold, Lloyd Dalton has a very practical assessment: “There is no secret replace-windows master plan. Google is just a smart company with a solid business strategy, an understanding of their core competency, good talent and a few tricks (simple tricks!) for leveraging such talent.”

India’s Innovators

Red Herring has a series of stories on Indian entrepreneurs, stating: “Showing its good for more than outsourcing, the country moves into new industries, introducing its own star entrepreneurs and winning back expatriates. But it still dances with poverty.”

From the story on NIIT and its co-founder and chairman Rajendra Pawar:

NIIT is a pioneer of education and training for IT professionals in India. An estimated one-third of all software programmers in India are trained in one of his NIIT schools, which introduced the idea of franchising to the education industry.

Founded in 1986, NIIT has nearly 3,500 IT education centers spread across 33 countries, including the United States. The institutions teach a total of 1.8 million students every year. Tech consultancy IDC ranks NIIT No. 16 on its list of top IT training companies in the world, and the only one outside of the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

Next on Mr. Pawars list is to create an NIIT private university within the next two years that will award masters and doctoral degrees in India and 32 other countries. The company is also starting to build up a business in the U.S. In 2003 NIIT acquired CognitiveArts USA, a company that provides e-learning services to Fortune 500 companies. And after 9/11, the U.S. government asked universities in America to step up training in information systems security. NIIT is helping several leading U.S. universities build up their curriculums in this area, says Mr. Pawar.

But NIITs work doesnt stop with IT professionals. In 1999 NIIT set up public-private partnerships with state governments and now provides IT education to over 1.25 million children in rural India. Tied to that, NIIT scientists are researching the role of technology and informatics in primary education and have already applied for patents in this area. The idea, says Mr. Pawar, is to make it possible for children ranging in age from six to 14 to learn many things on their ownwithout the need for a teacherproviding they can work collaboratively in small groups with a connected device.

Mr. Pawar believes that this system of collaborative learning and a self-organizing system can be built into a sustainable, for-profit business.

TECH TALK: The Future of Search: Interfaces

Interfaces are critical because that is what users see. Two big innovations of recent times have been around the interface think Google and iPod. In some ways, the current search interface centred around the keyword box can become a drag for todays search engines and create opportunity for others who do not have the legacy of worrying about what hundreds of millions of users will think. This legacy-thinking has chained us to the folder-icon interface on the computer desktop for over a decade. Ajax can be the foundation to build next-generation interfaces.

The word has been coined by Jesse James Garrett, who explains what it is all about:

Take a look at Google Suggest. Watch the way the suggested terms update as you type, almost instantly. Now look at Google Maps. Zoom in. Use your cursor to grab the map and scroll around a bit. Again, everything happens almost instantly, with no waiting for pages to reload.

Google Suggest and Google Maps are two examples of a new approach to web applications that we at Adaptive Path have been calling Ajax. The name is shorthand for Asynchronous JavaScript + XML, and it represents a fundamental shift in whats possible on the Web.

Ajax isnt a technology. Its really several technologies, each flourishing in its own right, coming together in powerful new ways. Ajax incorporates:
standards-based presentation using XHTML and CSS;
dynamic display and interaction using the Document Object Model;
data interchange and manipulation using XML and XSLT;
asynchronous data retrieval using XMLHttpRequest;
and JavaScript binding everything together.

An Ajax application eliminates the start-stop-start-stop nature of interaction on the Web by introducing an intermediary an Ajax engine between the user and the server. It seems like adding a layer to the application would make it less responsive, but the opposite is true.

Instead of loading a webpage, at the start of the session, the browser loads an Ajax engine written in JavaScript and usually tucked away in a hidden frame. This engine is responsible for both rendering the interface the user sees and communicating with the server on the users behalf. The Ajax engine allows the users interaction with the application to happen asynchronously independent of communication with the server. So the user is never staring at a blank browser window and an hourglass icon, waiting around for the server to do something.

We need to think of innovative interfaces and that is where ideas like Ajax come in. But we also need to think beyond the computer to the mobile device. This is where speech comes in. Think of an integrated query-presentation interaction environment and that is where we can learn from video games (and word processors and spreadsheets). As Ramesh Jain puts it in his Gartner interview, the search becomes WYSIWYG what you see is what you get.

Tomorrow: Information Dashboards

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