One of the deep thinkers on technology is JP Rangaswami, whose blog Confused of Calcutta I have been reading for some time. But while he writes with erudition, he sometimes misses his targets, especially when it comes to enterprise software. As Dennis Howlett has commented – his approach is “way too esoteric for operational people to get.”
I have been sitting on two of JP Rangaswami’s (JPR) theoretical musings for some time while I tried to figure out what they were getting at. One is Thinking about the Social Enterprise, the other is a concept he proposes about application types (pillars) of enterprise software.
In the social enterprise blog, JPR talks convincingly about customer-centred communication, but there is still something missing for me. A socially-enabled enterprise should be able to include any object – what about being able to follow entities inside the enterprise, not just people but also things, like orders, parts and processes? From a financial and operational perspective, how could social enterprise activities be interpreted in terms of measurable outcomes?
Last year, MIT professor Andrew McAfee put the social enterprise movement into context, referring to an InformationWeek article which noted:
Part of the reason social networking tools still aren’t mainstream at most organizations is because Enterprise 2.0 is still considered more of a “movement” than a business imperative. The movement’s evangelists employ the kumbaya language of community engagement rather than the more precise language of increasing sales, slashing costs, and reducing customer complaints.
The good news, according to McAfee, is that he and others are working on creating compelling evidence for the operational guys.
Turning to the other topic, I discovered JPR’s concept of “application pillars” sometime later. It’s been around for a while, in 2005 Phil Wainewright summarised it.
Publishing: Any application that generates data will act as though it’s a content publisher, using RSS or similar to publish its data. The significance of this is that it reduces all of these applications to the level of raw feed generators …
Discovery: This is the application that gives everyone a “Google experience” — a single, homogenous database where everything is stored and where everything is discoverable … the information database is open access, with access and authorization controls added only as necessary for specific items or classes of information.
Fulfilment: This is the application that makes things happen, most notably for customers. Identity management plays a crucial role here, controlling the catalog choices that are shown to each user and their rights to approve shipment.
Conversation: All the channels of collaboration between people, either inside the organization or beyond its walls.
It took me a while to grasp the concept because it didn’t seem right, in fact rather simplistic. In my opinion, the pillars fails to recognise that enterprises are not just about data.
For organisations that make and store physical things, rather than just move information around, I struggle to see how the pillars would cope with the activities of a transaction – something that involves ordering, making, storing and distributing an item.
Moreover, one of the critical aspects of business that ERP systems help to manage – processes – doesn’t seem to fit into the pillars concept. Perhaps what is needed is a modification to include two more pillars – transactions and processes.
I apologise for taking so long to comment on these two concepts, but I believe the issues raised by JPR deserve to be given serious attention as the basis for a new framework for enterprise software – not just left as vaguely academic ideas. JPR comes from a background in banking (Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein) and telco (British Telecom), which makes me wonder if there are aspects he doesn’t appreciate about businesses that actually make or sell things.
Let me know if you think I have mis-understood either, or both, of these concepts.
Two blogs on the TomorrowToday blog highlighted for me the current disconnect between many (mostly older) managers and business owners, and the world of social media.
Being a ‘more mature’ social media user, I am in the minority for my age group, and it seems most of my peers consider social networking to be rather pointless, aimless and valueless.
Under the headings Twitter, FaceBook and Social Media are just like a Fax Machine and An Open Letter To Boomer Bosses Everywhere the blog makes two important points:
- social media is here and while it may currently be a nice area, it will grow
- current managers and owners (of the baby boom generation) need to start opening up to the social media world
When my generation was young, we used the expression “get with it” to exhort the then older generation to understand our attitudes and interests. It’s about time we started using that expression on ourselves.
Look here to get a good definition of who make up the baby boom generation.
I know there are many stories and case studies of the power of social media to get spread a message. But it always reinforces the point when it happens to you.
Stuart Lynn, R&D director at one of SYSPRO’s competitors, recently cited a personal experience – How can your business use twitter? – in which a blog he wrote about innovation got more coverage than he could have imagined as a result of Twitter:
… even though I only have a few hundred followers myself, within the first hour, my original tweet had an audience of over 30,000 people. Within a couple of days my blog had gone around the world …
I recently had my own ‘wow moment’, maybe not as big as Stuart’s, but significant nonetheless. Here is how it went.
1. We had a press release from a UK reseller:
K3 Business Technology acquires DigiMIS
K3 has an existing relationship with DigiMIS which provides hosting services to a number of K3 customers who deploy SYSPRO ERP and Microsoft Dynamics.
2. SYSPRO only recently set up its own Twitter ID (sysprosales) which had very few followers, but the news was tweeted:
K3 acquires DigiMIS – full-service hosting solution available for SYSPRO http://mzan.si/1ixf
3. I picked it up and retweeted it.
4. I too only have a few hundred followers but star analyst, Ray Wang, saw it and tweeted:
Now consider that Ray’s audience is over 6,000!
5. When we checked the followers for @sysprosales, we could see see how that one message had given a good push start for our company Twitter profile.
What we now realise is that we have to sustain that momentum, and bring SYSPRO even more into the social sphere.
There are case studies of big social media successes – you don’t hear of the small ones. The one we had was a small one, but there must be many more like that which do not make the news. Have you had one which you can share?
Finally, with all the positive stories, it amazes me that there is such a small presence by Oracle in the social networking space, compared to similar-sized organisations – SAP, Microsoft, IBM etc. I can only think that it reflects an incredible need for control in that company.
Michael Fauscette made some wise comments about a new company, Pragmatic Enterprise 2.0, that announced itself recently:
without a methodology, a risk mitigation approach, the correct skills and change management a project is doomed. Businesses need enterprise class, scaleable social tools, social processes and knowledgeable assistance to pull off this level of business transformation.
Earlier this week some colleagues announced a partnership that is both good news for businesses that want to do social transformation projects but also an indication that social business is growing up.
I think Michael is right.
I also had a discussion with one of the founders, Michael Krigsman, on Twitter that their product diagram looked like it was designed by a committee and was difficult to understand. I am looking forward to how things develop on that front.
There are not many things new in life, or in IT. I was reminded recently that there have been predecessors to Twitter, as in Before There Was Twitter, There Was Dave Winer’s Instant Outliner.
I can add another one: CompuServe. In the late 1980s, I got onto CompuServe because I reckoned that I had to build some experience on communicating electronically; South Africa in those days didn’t yet have the Internet. I became a member of an interest group for data warehousing, the IT field I was in.
It took a while before I became part of what we would now call a social network, but once my connections had got to a certain level I got invited on international conference calls, and made contact with a data warehouse consultant who I eventually worked with at data warehouse DBMS vendor Redbrick.
So while we look at technologies like Twitter as revolutionary, it’s worthwhile remembering that other technologies paved the way; and in twenty years time we may be remembering Twitter like I did CompuServe
I go through periods of blogging drought. I get ideas of things to write about but there is either a heavy workload or a stimulus missing, which means I sometimes don’t blog for a few weeks. But then I see something, often another blog, which provides the stimulus.
In this case, it was a combination - Dennis’ post about the communities for American accountants and Microsoft Dynamics, and me being on holiday for a week with time to think.
The accountant’s site is described as a place where
Members can share resources, establish personalized research and teaching spaces, keep up with news, trends, and regulations, and take advantage of rich profile information to find colleagues and experts.
The story about professional social networks has personal relevance to me. My wife, a medical doctor and lecturer at the Witwatersrand University Medical School, is starting a new job in January as Graduate Research Facilitator for the medical faculty; the job is to assist and guide doctors doing post-grad research.
One of the issues she discussed with me was that she will be supporting over 100 doctors who are doing post-grad studies while working in about six different teaching hospitals that are located all over Johannesburg. The travel time between hospitals make it very difficult to get to each hospital enough times each week to spend time with the doctors.
Using the Internet is obviously one answer to the problem of distance communication; setting up a social network or wiki would be a way for doctors to raise and discuss issues, and provide some kind of library functionality. Given that this is a university, however, will mean that motivating for the technology, and then getting it set up, is going to take quite some time.
While I cannot help with moving the university’s IT organisation along, I started to wonder if there was a way I could set up a test social network site – as a feasibility study – and as a personal learning experience. The challenge is to find some appropriate open source software, and a really cheap means of hosting it.
Fortunately, the Gartner report on the hype cycle for social software provided me with a list of software to evaluate.
MediaWiki, Socialtext, Twiki and Mindtouch
A major factor in the software evaluation will be what level of programming skill is needed to develop and support a site. I have neither the time nor the inclination to spend too many hours learning some complex technology. (Am I being naive?)
Where to host the software is still unsolved, and given that the cloud services from Amazon, Google & Co aren’t available in SA, I’m stumped at the moment.
If nothing else, it could be an interesing academic exercise.
It was interesting reading, but I am going to save it (or social bookmark it) for reading in a few years time. The reason: back in about 2001/2002, I remember Gartner doing a report on the state of ERP II – being inter-company (between company) transacting, as opposed to intra-company (within company) which is where ERP’s strength was supposed to be.
At the time, I recall Gartner making major predictions about how ERP II would be a new revolutionising tool for business. 6-7 years later I am still waiting to see that.
I wonder if the Gartner analysts ever review old predictions and see how accurate they were? It would be interesting to see the analysis.
Back in the dot-com era, you often saw articles about new Internet technologies that would revolutionise business. The Enterprise 2.0 phenomenon has not reached the hype levels of the dot-com period, but sometimes I am a bit sceptical of some claims made about social networking for the enterprise – and I mentioned that in a blog last week.
Now AMR has brought some reality into the debate with a report about results from Enterprise 2.0 early adopters. The early adopters failed to find benefits in the areas of customer and partner relationshipships, but get results in terms of internal collaboration. That doesn’t surprise me because, by their very nature, early adopters look for the value in new technology, while everyone else considers it ‘pie in the sky’.
Having been involved in some technology-driven initiatives several years ago that didn’t go anywhere in the business - artificial intelligence, executive information systems – I have a mental checklist of issues to evaluate. AMR repeats the decision agenda that a business should follow for any new technology project:
What is the urgent business objective that the technology can address?
What project will be easiest to implement?
Where can you get the most business value for the least complex implementation?
What departments will be able to best exploit the new opportunities?
There is also the recognition that social networking is a technology that will require engaging with customers, partners and employees, for quite a period of time, just to get them to start understanding the implications of such an initiative.
Meanwhile, one innovation from social software that I can appreciate is a disaster watch for Hurrican Ike on Twitter.
My favourite analyst site, AMR Research, often has raises some issues on its ‘First Thing Monday‘ page that provide me with blogging ideas:
A Google chrome comment – summarises the prospects of Chrome from an enterprise perspective as a
browser, a platform for Google Apps, omni-client platform strategy and a replacement for the Windows environment for desktop and mobile applications
The state of enterprise software skills in the US – AMR now believes only 2 ERP vendors, SAP and Oracle, are the main players in the US. I wonder what Microsoft thinks of that?
I find the Gartner site to be pretty poor in terms of getting quick news analysis, but one of their analysts was on ClassicFM last night (again) discussing some discontinuities that are coming from the Internet. At least he was aware of SA’s local issues around the Internet, e.g., why Software as a Service (SaaS) is not taking off here due to our Internet bandwidth problems. Also discussed was the future impact of social software – very much aimed at the big corporates rather than SMB market – which makes it sound unimportant to the majority of SA companies.
An interesting story about MXit, the SA social network that operates on the SA cell-phone network and has become the medium of choice for most young South Africans.
Now the big local mobile operators are trying to get in on the act with their own offerings.
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