Saturday, April 22, 2006

Salesforce.com and AppExchange - Outstanding question

Salesforce.com's acquisition of its partner Sendia allows it to integrate mobile access capability as a native part of the services it provides. This has to be a good thing and the acquisition is analysed pretty well in an article by Tony Lock on IT-Analysis.com. The mobilising of 60 odd applications that are being delivered as part of the AppExchange programme figures prominently as part of the announcement and Tony, quite rightly, makes the point that this opens up some great opportunities for application developers to easily exploit the mobile medium.

I talked to Salesforce.com about the announcement myself, but didn't write anything up at the time, partly because I have been swamped with project work recently, but also because the news was so broadly covered elsewhere.

However, there is a question I have asked the guys at salesforce a couple of times now and never received an answer, and it is something that hasn't generally been mentioned in the coverage that I have seen. This has to do with the idea of making just the platform element of the Salesforce.com hosted solution available as a service independently of the core CRM applications. This would be relevant to an organisation who might want to deploy their own in-house developed or third party solutions via the Salesforce.com hosted service, but are not interested in the CRM piece. It might be that they already have another CRM solution in place or have a department to which CRM is just not relevant.

As I understand it, this is currently not viable as a customer/user must subscribe to at least one of the CRM applications when they sign-up to the service. The official line seems to be that Salesforce.com is "considering various options" but at this stage are not willing to comment specifically on the possibility of a platform only subscription. Should this ever materialise, however, it would mean the hosted Salesforce.com environment with its easy to use "point and click" style of development and full auditability/manageability by default could be represent a possible option for organisations looking for a safe and standard way of developing and deploying tactical applications.

I guess this would bring them head to head with what's going on in the portal space and Web 2.0 type stuff, but there are many for which such a service might be preferable - especially with native mobile enablement thrown in.

We have more discussions lined up with Salesforce.com in this area over the next few weeks so will continue to monitor developments and report back when we find out more.

Too many middle managers?

Brilliant line from Thomas Otter:

If web 2.0 does exactly what it says on the tin, it means that layers of excel and powerpoint assembling politcially-aware sycophantic middle-managers (VPs etc) can be vaporised.

I have to say I am currently a bit of a Web 2.0 sceptic myself (just waiting to be convinced), but I recommend reading Thomas' discussion of which job titles will be first against the wall come the revolution. Check it out here.

Red Hat / JBoss - Chickens coming home to roost?

New article just posted on the site examining the impact of Red Hat's acquisition of JBoss on IBM, Oracle, et al.

Read it here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

NTL is no Virgin

Flamboyant, a gadfly to the incumbent, youthful, aspirational. All words that can be applied to the Virgin brand, whose strength has been proven to successfully transfer to the MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) market.

This has resulted in an agreed purchase price of £962.4 million from NTL, up from the original £871 million that Richard Branson accepted, but his board rejected (gaining him £66 million in the process). Virgin Group will receive 67p for its 71.2% stake (£123.4 million)in Virgin Mobile, plus 34.3 million NTL shares as the balance representing just over 10% of the company.

Branson’s biggest risk in the whole venture is giving NTL a 30-year exclusive on the Virgin brand for its consumer business. If triple and quad play is the future for control of the consumer communication market, along with the delivery of content, he’s putting all his eggs in one basket, a container that is still leaking cash and posting losses. Protecting his interests, will be a marketing director who is intended to join NTL, reporting to the CEO, COO “or senior executive in charge of consumer division”. In addition, Branson himself will be supporting NTL’s marketing activities.

NTL/Telewest’s triple play penetration rate of its existing customer base is around 30% and has been improving, although average revenue per customer has not. Presumably any immediate incremental revenue from the deal might be expected to come from the 4.3 million active Virgin Mobile customers who are within NTL’s footprint but not yet NTL customers. In its release, NTL claims an aggregate 14.6 million RGUs (revenue generating units) being the sum of NTL, Telewest and Virgin customers, but there is no estimate of the potential upside from additional service subscriptions.

NTL is paying for its chance of “harnessing the powerful Virgin consumer champion brand” and the charismatic Branson supporting its marketing activities, but it’s still going to have to back the brand with execution in the delivery of customer service and content, and it’s going to have to do that against the might of SKY which can now reach out to subscribers via Easynet.

Given that Easynet’s network is based on wholesale services from BT, which has connectivity to every home in the UK, Sky starts from an infrastructure position of 100% UK market coverage, versus NTL/Telewest’s 50%, as well as a strong reputation for the acquisition and delivery of content. It will be interesting to see how NTL does, the good news for consumers is some vigorous competition that should push the investment in new technologies such as high-speed broadband and High Definition Television as well as integrated mobile/IP telephony.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Explaining SOA to the CEO and CFO

A recent piece of research commissioned by Diagonal and just reported on Silicon found that “84 per cent of those polled thought their CEOs and FDs do not understand SOA and its benefits” and that “two-thirds of the IT heads in the survey consider it hyped and a term used for marketing purposes”. A comment by a Diagonal spokesperson then highlighted a “worry at board level that SOA is about new technology and new spend rather than leveraging what organisations already have and improving process”.

This is completely understandable given the way SOA has been dressed up as some kind of disruptive technology rather than simply an approach to doing things that a bit of new technology is required enable.

We had all of these same issues when we were talking about Object Orientation in the mid 90’s. At that time, I was running a business unit within a software distributor selling, among other things, OO databases and development tools. We quickly found that trying to base a value proposition on object theory was not particularly effective. It worked much better if we said that Object Orientation basically made it easier to design and build software in a way that good software engineers always have done. We’d then get onto componentisation, wrappering, reuse, etc and avoid all of the OO speak until people got the general drift.

My feeling is that we should be doing something similar with SOA now, even with technical audiences, as the fundamental proposition is essentially the same, it’s just that the discussion is at a higher architectural level. The premise I would start from is that we are not proposing doing anything any different to the way good architects have always designed distributed systems, it’s just that with SOA (and Web services), a bunch of stuff is now available in the way of tools, middleware and standards to make it easier.

When explaining the rationale to business execs, though, it’s more a case of getting across the value of sharing things in the right kind of way, perhaps using some non-IT examples – e.g. business units all use a single accounts department, maintenance department, HR department, etc because it’s cheaper and more efficient than everyone having their own at BU level. There is also reciprical sharing that goes in between departments as part of this - e.g. the IT department looks after the accounts department's PCs and the accounts department pays IT suppliers on behalf of the IT department. And all the same things apply to IT systems, i.e. we don’t want every application doing the equivalent of its own book keeping, debt collecting, office cleaning, drain unblocking, etc.

OK, this is a simplification of both the IT and the business worlds, but most senior guys in larger companies in particular will be familiar with the whole shared services discussion and the practicalities of determining when to consolidate and share, and when not too. They'll probably also have been through the concept of centres of excellence within the company that are then exploited elsewhere in the organisation, whether it be R&D, sales, customer service, or whatever. If non-IT business execs are going to understand SOA, then we need to explain to them that systems architects are going through all the same discussions, just in a different context. Apart from the fact that services are defined as IT systems capabilities with SOA, the principle is exactly the same.

So, while we do need to make some investments as we move down the SOA route, maybe this should be equated to cost of restructuring, in exactly the same way as businesses need to periodically restructure, in order to reap the benefits of the resulting efficiencies down the line. If it’s put in these kinds of terms, even the least technical CEO/CFO should be able to understand the significance of SOA.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Latest reports and articles

The following reports and articles have been recently published by the Freeform Dynamics analyst team:

REPORTS:

The Appetite for Windows Vista
A Business Sector Temperature Check

IT Vendor / Customer Alignment
Synchronising Sales & Decision Making

ARTICLES:

Cellular operators will continue to dominate mobile telephony
But still face some serious challenges

Intelligent bandwidth management
Bigger pipes only get you so far

Ballmer makes a good point
IT decision making is complicated

The Origami Ultra Mobile PC
Promising concept, but not there yet

ASR for Customer Self-Service
Is it really an effective alternative?

Next generation branch networking
Challenging the big guns

Compliance Lessons from Financial Services
Taking the Architectural Approach

Consider this post a bit of a catch up. We'll be posting links to new articles and reports on the blog individually from this point onwards so those subscribing to the blog feed may be automatically alerted to new material as it is published from this point onwards, regarless of type.