Thursday, October 26, 2006

Self-testing: The missing functionality in software products

Over the last couple of years that my team has managed our PeopleSoft system, I have come to realize that one of the biggest cost and time for our organization in maintaining the system is Functional Regression Testing of the application. We have to constantly get business users to take time off to test and retest and retest the same functionality every time we install a patch or a tax update. I have yet to find a single application vendor addressing the need to automate this process. Why does the software not learn the expected results from a process, report, etc. and verify that the functionality is working properly after the application of a patch or an upgrade.

I was at Oracle World for the last couple of days as a part of the Leaders Circle. One of the privileges of being a part of the group is that you get an opportunity to ask Larry Ellison questions in a very small group. I asked him if Oracle was going to include automated testing and verification functionality in a future release of the software or even in Fusion. I did not get a satisfactory answer, so I have started spreading the word amongst the user community to start lobbying for such a functionality.

The need resonated very well with my peers and I got a lot of positive feedback. Some went to the extent of asking me think of starting a business to address this need.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Oracle will support Red Hat Linux at half the price

Larry Ellison spent a full hour describing how Oracle is moving in to provide enterprise class support for Red Had Linux. Key elements of the service:
  • They are not creating a new version of the product
  • All versions and not the latest will be patched for any bugs that the customer reports
  • They will indemnify the customer for all intellectual property issues (e.g. lawsuits from SCO)
  • Half price
During Q&A someone asked if they are strangling the goose (Red Hat) in the process of getting the eggs. Larry responded that they want to expand the Linux market that has stalled as Oracle has built their Grid Computing solution on Linux. Also, customer acceptance for Oracle grid on Linux has been low due to IP and support from relatively small vendors only on new versions of the product. The writing is on the wall - Red Hat has a BIG problem.

I think this is significant. I am already thinking that when we refresh our Oracle DB hardware, we should run it on Linux grid.

More on what I heard at the conference in my future posts.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

IT as an innovation impediment

I am on a flight to San Fran to attend the Annual Oracle World event. I just read an article "IT & Innovation: Out of Sync" in the Optimize magazine. It claims that, over the last few years, IT within large and mid-sized organizations has changed from being an innovation enabler to a significant barrier to innovation. It also points to a very small survey that innovators within organizations feel that IT is not very helpful in supporting them.

The message is loud and clear: we are doing a poor job of driving and supporting innovation. A couple of weeks ago, Walt Mossberg of WSJ stated that corporate IT is one of the biggest impediment to organizational success. The people charged with driving the growth of large corporations via innovation are more and more frustrated with IT.

Over the past 12 months, I have heard from many business owners within our organization about how IT constantly slows down the launch of new initiatives. IT's primary role has moved from being a center of innovation to that of maintaining existing antiquated systems. It is not all IT's fault. Several factors are in play here:
  • most systems deployed in the 90s are now antiquated and not well supported by vendors
  • the focus on cutting IT costs has led to bigger cuts in budgets for deploying new technologies and less cuts in maintenance costs. Training to better leverage new products has gone on-line and is less collaborative.
  • rate of technology innovation has picked up: web 1.0, SOA, Web 2.0, mobility, ... It is harder to keep up and quickly bring new solutions to customers
  • focus on security and compliance has made collaboration with external entities difficult. In some ways, the corporate workforce is becoming more and more isolated.
Business owners wonder how small (and even large) new companies can develop technology to support new products and innovative ideas in significantly less time than corporate IT departments. We need to learn from them.

I, being in IT, very well understand what we are up against. We have highly customized legacy systems to support, that the same users who now complain about inflexibility, pushed us to build. We just cannot quit supporting them to focus on innovation. However, if we in IT want to continue to enjoy the confidence of our customers, we must implement change fast. Application and infrastructure has to become much more flexible to allow our customers to innovate. Several of the new technologies hold great promise. The challenge is in delivering them to our customers and in helping them effectively leverage the new tools.

We have our job cut-out for us. The ones who succeed will see their organizations flourish, the ones who don't might perish.
Cell Phone / WiFi phone combination

TMobile just launched a cell phone that can also make "free" wifi phone calls from a home WiFi network or TMobile hotspots. The minutes for the wifi calls do not count against your cellular minutes. You can get more details at Here is some news on pricing at a blog I follow.

I was sure that one of the "4 orifices" (labeled by Walt Mossberg at the CTO Roundtable conference): Cingular, Verizon, Sprint/Nextel and TMobile, will soon jump on delivering wifi / cellular combination for phone. TMobile has a significant number of Wifi hot spots and was the obvious pick. I will love to get your views on who will go next.

This is another nail in the coffin of the "land lines" and cordless phones!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Always on the Net:
During his very engaging talk at the 5th annual CTO Roundtable summit, Walt Mossberg talked about how, in the future, the network will become invisible. It is very common for us talk about the internet a place we go to get information or to complete a transaction. As broadband wireless becomes pervasive (and hopefully cheaper), every appliance, consumer electronics device, automobile, computing device, etc. will be connected to the network all the time. I wrote about the impact of "always on internet" on automobile navigation with the device from Dash Navigation. The collaborative navigation feature alone completely changes how we get from one place to another.

In the future, we will stop going on to the internet because it will be a utility available to us everywhere we go (just like power). As Walt described, we do not talk about connecting the coffee bean grinder to 120V grid or connecting the coffee machine to the power outlet. Similarly, we will stop talking about the network as a place we go to.

Expect a whole lot of life-changing innovation driven by being always on the net!

What a relief: ip and http are world-wide standards - no adapter hell for this utility!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Interesting broadband pentration metric

Fifteen percent of all Internet connections were cable and 4% were DSL in October of 2000. By March 2006, cable and DSL each accounted for 29% of the residential Internet market. Source: CEA Market Research Broadband and the Home of Tomorrow study, March 2006.

Check out the Bandwidth Report for more metrics covering this space.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

So how might QR codes (or other coding technologies) be used?
I did some research: The basic process involves the user taking a picture of the code with a cellphone with internet services enabled. The phone is loaded with special software that processes the picture and connects the user to a specific phone web-site or to a specific sms code. This opens up an interesting set of possibilities:
- Instantly watch a movie trailer from an movie ad / review in a newspaper
- Buy tickets from a movie poster or newspaper
- Sample a song from the CD ad, review or cover; find concert dates and times and buy tickets
- Buy the book after reading a review (could be from a publisher's ad next to the book review)
- Watch a how-to video linked to a recipe or product
- Get a shopping list for a recipes from the paper
- Watch a virtual tour and obtain pricing from a real estate ad or sign
- Enter a contest without mailing anything or logging-on from your home PC
- Purchase items from a mail-order magazine directly from the magazine
- Compare prices in a retail store
- Get an in-store coupon
- Find a lower price
- Get directions and a coupon from a poster at a bus stop
- Acquire real time pricing on airfare from your home city in a magazine ad
- Acquire a vehicle history report from a license plate
- Acquire your medical history from a prescription bottle
- Acquire your doctor recommendation from a prescription bottle
- Text-to-win without entering a long stream of numbers
- Acquire a patient’s medical history from a single barcode
- Click on a code to instantly report a problem

There are several competing coding standards as this is a great way to simplify the user interface to data services on a phone. Here is a link to an interesting summary of the coding technologies and applications in this area (it was the starting point for my list)
QR Codes

I just read about Quick Response codes (IHT article) that are extensively used in Japan - details on wikipedia. It seems that these are very popular in Japan as a quick way to get product information off advertisements using camera phones. One code can store a very large amount of information: 4,296 alphanumeric characters, 7,089 numeric characters

Try the QR code generator. Absolutely fascinating!

Here is the QR code for my blog (

This would be a great addition to print ads! Might be the way to implement electronically readable coding in advertisements. These can carry so much more information than a bar code (1990s idea).

Monday, October 16, 2006

The New Digital Divide: Personal vs Enterprise Technology

The Annual CTO Roundtable Event was held at the very impressive CIT facility in Northern Virginia. Walt Mossberg (WSJ) and Todd McKinnon (, each presented their vision of the future of consumer and enterprise technologies.

Todd kicked-off the event with the view that all enterprise applications will be delivered as a service (SAAS). He emphasised the value of multi-tenancy in reducing the operational cost of applications and is confident that the SAAS vendors will narrow the gap by quickly delivering consumer-side innovations to the enterprise. Of all the SAAS vendors (I have first hand experience having worked for Brassring, an ASP in the recruitment space), is the most successful and well known. I am quite intrigued by their release of apex on-demand programming language.

Walt, on the contrary, believes that corporate IT departments are the main impediment in the way of end-user requirements driving the corporate IT agenda. As expected, Walt presented a very controversial view point, making the event very interesting and successful. He was insightful and very entertaining.

I will get into the details of both views in future posts.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Enterprise 2.0: Deploying Web 2.0 concepts in the Enterprise

There is a fair amount of discussion and controversy around this this topic. Andrew McAfee of HBS wrote an interesting article on the topic.

In my mind, one of the key ingredients of Web 2.0 is user participation and control. Users are able to produce and share content freely and decide what they wish to see and what they do not and how they leverage technology.

So, how does this get implemented in the enterprise? Corporate management requires accurate metrics and data for decision making. Management also requires control - that is a lot of what Sarbanes Oxley is about. This usually translates into standardization of process and work flow. So, to a fair extent, corporate processes and systems have to be inflexible. The corporation also has to worry about information security. It cannot be only left to the individual employee's judgement, understanding and care. However, our future employees will join the workforce and be used to the very flexible technology solutions that they can tailor to their needs. We will need to resolve these conflicting requirements.

The answer is in developing very high quality user interfaces to out corporate systems. These should provide a fair amount of flexibility but ensure that the information absolutely essential for the organization's success is captured in a very non-intrusive manner. For example, you cannot buy a book on-line without paying for it. The credit card companies have developed systems that approve transactions in real time to ensure that customer does not have to wait and that the merchant can be certain of getting paid. However, how you found the book is under your complete control. You have access to search and recommendation engines to find the next book you should read and you can search and buy at your convenience. The system tries to learn and remember your preferences without asking you over and over again. It also looks at data from other users with similar book preferences.

I look at our ERP systems (Oracle, PeopleSoft, etc.) - we have web-enabled Client Server User Interface - so 1990s. We constantly need to train employees and implement change management programs to ensure acceptance. This will not work for our future employees growing up in the Web 2.0 world. We must take the appropriate Web 2.0 lessons into the corporate world with Enterprise 2.0.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Web 2.0 @ School

An excellent list of productivity tools for students and teachers in two parts: part 1 (tools for use in learning: organizers, grade books, etc) and part 2 (covering office applications: word processing, presentation, mapping, etc.). The user interface of some of these tools is exceptional. I wish we could create such interfaces to our corporate applications at this pace.

I worry about how we will keep our future employees happy with the relatively older tools we provide within the Enterprise. They are sure to bring these new tools with them to work and in the process create a big data security problem for IT. I still remember the management, deployment, integration and training challenges that Palm Pilots presented to IT when our customers brought their personal devices to work and wanted to copy work contacts and to-do lists on them. We overcame that by providing better tools (blackberry, etc.) of our own or by creating a list of "approved" tools that we learned to support within our environment. We must get ready to help our users seamlessly leverage the new tools in the workplace.

The rate of innovation and release of new products is very high. Keeping the IT staff trained and up to the task of helping our customers with the new technologies will be a huge challenge.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Brassring no more

Brassring, my adventure with the Internet boom and bust, was sold last week (press release). This is the kind of event that pushes one to replay, and now in the Web 2.0 world - blog, the experience. To fully describe the fun and pain of the ride requires a late night around a fire with friends and family and some red. I don't have the temperament nor the time to write a long post. However, I have to record the event in my blog.

With a team distributed in 6 locations, we managed to accomplish a lot in the 3 years I was there. One of the most rewarding technical and management experience of my life. The team was exceptionally talented and worked very well together. We were very proud of the technology we built and the services we provided. All of us had a lot of fun as we participated in the transformation of our lives by the Internet.

Ask me about it when we meet next.
At DEMOfall 2006: Trigence lets you patch with confidence
We IT types are acutely aware of the increased rate of release of OS and application patches to keep up with the ever so shorter window available to mitigate threats due to vulnerabilities. With the increased pressure to deploy patches quickly, we have less and less time to verify all applications with the patches. Therefore, the frequency of user's losing productivity due to unexpected impact on applications from patches is reaching unacceptable levels.

Virtualization of applications is a potential solution and a real need. Trigence claims to simplify app virtualization.

Kevin also pointed out a competitive product that he has been wanting to try from altiris.

I can see these products joining the standard toolbox at all IT shops in the very near future.

Friday, October 06, 2006

At DEMOfall 2006: nabaztag
This rabbit is v cool. He connects to the internet via wifi and can do a lot of fun stuff with data from the web: read the news, check the weather, alert you on events, etc. Check out the website for more ...

I think I am going to get one that tracks the market for my boss!
At DEMOfall 2006: Very James Bond - qipit
I have not yet written about some of the "geek toys" that I saw at the show. Convert your camera to a personal scanner. As it says on their website "We also made qipit… magic. Almost. Qipit turns pictures into documents in seconds." qipit is very cool - have seen some very cool tech products from "les french" lately: netvibes, Nabaztag (wifi rabbits).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Digital Paper Application
eFlyBook is the first product leveraging the e-Ink Digital Paper technology that I have come across. It is based on the ILIAD product from iRex Technologies.

This is exacly the kind of application that I believe these readers are best suited for. Let us see if this or the Sony device become popular with people wanting to read books on the beach!
Google Gadgets Set Free

John A first sent me this a couple of days ago. This is huge! It will allow small web-sites to add some very cool functionality on their sites. I don't know what the business model is but Google can afford to figure it out later. They have clearly leapfrogged microsoft, apple, yahoo, etc. with this. I think it should have a Google Maps kind of effect!

Formerly trapped largely in Google Desktop, more than 1200 Google Gadgets (widgets) were set free today for embedding in any web page. Site publishers can now make it even easier for their visitors to get driving directions, view Picasa photo albums or play hang-man. (Ok, how about a multi-video player widget, live sports scores or a police and fire map from Widgets are going to be everywhere next year, as they help non-technical site publishers pull in rich, dynamic data from all around the web and place it on one page. There should be even more interesting Gadgets on the way; the Google Gadgets Awards for Students contest ends November 1st and is being judged by people like Chris Anderson of Long Tail fame and Commander Taco from Slashdot.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

In the Crystal Ball: Beyond the Ringtones (Media and Wireless)
Attended the excellent TiE-DC event on the topic. DP Venkatesh (CEO, mPortal) did an excellent job of moderating a very knowledgeable panel. A few takeaways for me:
  • consumers are going to continue to own multiple devices, each tailored for a narrow specific use (cell phone, e-mail device, DVD player, gaming device, etc.). At times, packaged products will bring some functions together but will frequently diverge as technology evolves.
  • as wireless broadband (EVDO, HSDPA, WiMax, ...) becomes pervasive, great opportunities will open for new applications
  • it is very hard to predict what service becomes a real business (who could have guessed that customers will pay real money for ringtones and wallpapers) on their cell phones. The vendors are looking to experiment with many applications to find the answer.
  • gaming may never become big on the tiny screens of PDAs and cell phones
  • enterprises and consumers want control of their devices, content and applications
Talked to someone from Disney. Asked the obvious question: Why did ESPN Mobile fail and why will Disney Mobile be successful. I was assured that the services are different and that Disney Mobile had a great shot at success. We will wait and see.

We also discussed the need for standardization of services above the current common denominator - SMS. No one mentioned IMS - am not sure where that will end up. Lack of interoperability and standards hurt everyone.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

At DEMOfall 2006: Teneros

A plug and play DR device for Exchange that now works over a WAN. The claims are very impressive.
At DEMO2006: Products for IT
I am writing a couple of summary posts to list all the products I liked in a specific category. The links take you to my thoughts on the product.

Here are the ones I found interesting:
- MojoPac
- retrevo
- USBCell
- Teneros
- App virtualization (Trigence, Altiris)
At DEMOfall 2006: SCORE from SportStat
Interesting product to deliver hyper-local sports on the web. The strategy is to get the leagues to get the recording equipment and software to record a game. Parents, coaches, fans and scouts can access to the play-by-play video for a subscription fee.

The service is currently launched in some area of Michigan state. It will be interesting to see if they can scale the service.
At DEMOfall 2006: Simple Start Photoshow
This is another one of the hundreds of DIY multi-media creation products available in the market. The cool thing about what they are doing is their relationship with Time Warner Cable. Users in Hawaii can now make their creative shows available on-demand on TW Cable ... more like YouTube on Cable!
At DEMOfall 2006: MojoPac
Have you ever wanted to carry your PC in your pocket? MojoPac will let yo copy your entire PC - programs and data on a USB drive (including iPod). You can then use any other PC to bring up an instance of your own computer with no software required on the target computer. Very impressive!

Every tech support person I have talked to will like to get their MojoPac.
At DEMOfall 2006: retrevo
Ever so frequently, I have a "how to" question. The geek in me can never let me go and find the manual to look up the answer. Retrevo is finally here to allow geeks to check the manual in a cool way.

I was most impressed when Vipin, one of the co-founders, was able to answer the question "How do I unhide blackberry icons?" using the tool.

The next time you are needing to look through a manual - check retrevo!