I was lucky enough last week [22 March 2010] to moderate a panel at EclipseCon on the future of application servers. The panelists did a great job, but I thought were far too conservative in their views. I agree with them that many customers want evolutionary change from today to future app servers, but I see requirements driving app servers toward radical change. Inevitably.
The changes I see:
Get more value from servers, get responsive, get agile and flexible
Last week I was once again hustling through a brutal travel week (10,000 miles in the air and two packed red-eyes) when I came across something really interesting. It was ~ 9 AM and I'd just gotten off AA flight 4389 from Toronto. I was a bit bleary eyed from a 4 AM call with a Finnish customer and was just trying to schlep my way to the Admiral's club for a cup of coffee when I stumbled across Accenture's Interactive Network display at the juncture of terminal H and K.
So what? You might ask, it's just a big screen and we already know our future is minority report -right? Yes - those of us in the echo chamber might know that, but what really struck me was watching my fellow travelers and how they interacted with the display. I sat and watched for about 10 minutes (while forgetting about the sorely needed cuppa joe) and just watched people as they started to walk past, then pause, then go up to the screen and start playing with it. On average folks would stay for a few minutes and read some of the latest news feeds, then hurry on to their next stop. But what I really found intriguing was how they interacted with the system:
It’s an understatement to say companies are drowning in digital information. Since the death of the floppy disk and the rise of networked computing, barriers to creating and sharing information have steadily come down. Combined with increased digitization paper-laden business processes, most companies find themselves struggling to harness the volume and diversity of information on their networks for business benefit. What’s startling is just how little progress we've made in maximizing the value and minimizing risks associated with the digital content and data we collect.
Any discussion of information governance always brings me back to this depressing little anecdote:
"Monday September 8, 2008, is a day that the executives at United Airlines will remember. The company’s stock fell 76 percent to $3 by 11:08 a.m. when trading was halted. The decline was not the result of a pending acquisition or recent financial results announced by the company. Instead, an article that said “UAL Declares Bankruptcy” appeared on the South Florida Sun Sentinel Web site that Sunday, got picked up by Google News, and then quickly summarized and republished to Bloomberg by a reporter tasked with summarizing stories about companies in distress. Then the trading began and the stock collapsed. The problem: the article was from 2002, not 2008."
What if there was an easy way to increase employee productivity by 10% using the technology that’s already in place? What would that do to the bottom line? Even a 1% gain would be significant for most large organizations. In this day and age when CIOs are competing for budget and every dollar of technology investment must be justified, CIOs should not overlook training as a means to boost employee productivity and the ROI of existing technology investments.
Unfortunately it seems that too few people really know how to use the applications they have available in an effective way. Take for example the proliferation of spreadsheets in the workplace. Tools like Microsoft Excel have amazing features that support some powerful analysis and reporting. Yet many people fail to utilize basic productivity features built into such applications. We probably all observe people misusing tools and completing work the hard way simply because they don’t know any better. And Excel is just one tool that many of us use day-in-day-out. Outlook has some amazing features to boost productivity but few people know how to take advantage of them.
Even where some level of training in core ERP applications is provided to new employees, we know that very little is actually absorbed in early training. And much of IT training is focused on what buttons to press in what sequence to get a job done; very little seems to focus on how to use all the technology together as part of a productive business process.
In-memory analytics are all abuzz for multiple reasons. Speed of querying, reporting and analysis is just one. Flexibility, agility, rapid prototyping is another. While there are many more reasons, not all in-memory approaches are created equal. Let’s look at the 5 options buyers have today:
1. In-memory OLAP. Classic MOLAP cube loaded entirely in memory
Vendors: IBM Cognos TM1, Actuate BIRT
Fast reporting, querying and analysts since the entire model and data are all in memory.
Ability to write back.
Accessible by 3rd party MDX tools (IBM Cognos TM1 specifically)
Requires traditional multidimensional data modeling.
Limited to single physical memory space (theoretical limit of 3Tb, but we haven’t seen production implementations of more than 300Gb – this applies to the other in-memory solutions as well)
2. In-memory ROLAP. ROLAP metadata loaded entirely in memory.
Speeds up reporting, querying and analysis since metadata is all in memory.
Not limited by physical memory
Only metadata, not entire data model is in memory, although MicroStrategy can build complete cubes from the subset of data held entirely in memory
Requires traditional multidimensional data modeling.
3. In memory inverted index. Index (with data) loaded into memory
Vendors: SAP BusinessObjects (BI Accelerator), Endeca
Fast reporting, querying and analysts since the entire index is in memory
Less modelling required than an OLAP based solution
Smoke and fire is all around you, the sound of the alarm makes you dizzy and people are running in panic to escape the inferno while you have to find your way to safety. This is not a scene in the latest video game but actually training for e.g. field engineers in an exact virtual copy of a real world environment such as oil platforms or manufacturing plants.
In a recent discussion with VRcontext, a company based in Brussels and specialized since 10 years in asset virtualization, I was fascinated by the possibilities to create virtual copies of real world large, extremely complex assets simply from scanning existing CAD plans or on-site laser scans. It’s not just the 3D virtualization but the integration of the virtual world with Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), ERP, LIMS, P&ID and other systems that allows users to track, identify and locate every single piece of equipment in the real and virtual world.
These solutions are used today for safety training simulations as well as to increase operational efficiency e.g. in asset maintenance processes. There are still areas for further improvements, like the integration of RFID tags or sensor readings. However, as the technology further matures I can see future use cases all over the place – from the virtualization of any kind of location that is difficult or dangerous to enter to simple office buildings for a ‘company campus tour’ or a ‘virtual meeting’. And it doesn’t require super-computing power – it all runs on low-spec, ‘standard’ PCs and the models are only taking few GBytes storage.
So if you are bored of running around in Second Life or World Of Warcraft, if you ever have the chance, exchange your virtual sword for a wrench and visit the ‘real’ virtual world of a fascinating oil rig or refinery.
I had an interesting discussion today with a new company called Cogniciti that is developing a platform for helping adults “extend their memory and cognitive abilities longer in the lifespan.” Based on research from Baycrest, a health services center focusing on aging and affiliated with the University of Toronto, the company’s work is grounded in solid research.
I think extending one’s memory to stay as sharp as possible in both professional and personal life is a hot topic that is growing fast as an essential component of general fitness. We spend hours at the gym maintaining our physical fitness. But in order to enjoy our healthy bodies, we also need to be mentally fit. In the last few months, I’ve seen a lot of emphasis on informing people about what they can do to maintain their memory. PBS had a special over the Holidays and a brain fitness package was one of the “thank you” gifts for pledging money to the TV station. I picked up an AARP magazine in a doctor’s office last week and the lead article was on exercising the brain through challenging games. I felt quite satisfied when I completed the puzzles effortlessly (whew!)
I’m convinced we will see brain fitness as a soft skill for employees in the corporate world. Everyone can use memory strategies to improve their work performance. I like the blend of research and technology. Using self-paced online information and exercises that use simulations and other multimedia production techniques combined with self-study and online discussions give employees a complete brain enhancing program. Employees can also access brain games and exercises from their mobile device and get some brain stimulation on the way to work in the morning!
Collaboration and social technologies continue to be hot in 2010. In Forrester's 2009 Enterprise Software Survey, we asked respondents to rate the following on a scale of 1-5:
How important are the following software initiatives in supporting your firm's current business goals?
-Increase deployment and use of collaboration technologies
58% answered 4 or 5. In conversations with clients, it's clear that as we exit the current recession and enter a new economy, firms are betting on knowledge workers to drive competitive differentiation in the same manner that they bet on technology to drive efficiency in the early to mid-90's. The trend is particularly strong in North America and Western Europe where big bets are being made on innovation, design and other differentiation that will derive from more efficient, better connected knowledge workers.
This trend indicates high level, organizational goals and is likely to be more dependent on sociology than technology. The truth of the matter is that firms that have made large investments in collaboration, particularly social technologies, and have not made an accompanying investment in driving organizational and cultural change, have struggled. Why then, the trend toward investments in collaboration technologies?
The answer is that technology will support the efforts in a very significant way. And, in the case of social technologies, 2010 will be a break out year. Why? The market is clearly hungry for solutions and the vendors are poised to deliver.
I received this question the other day from a reader and thought I'd open it up to the wider blogosphere for comment. I've included some general guidance on the topic as a starting point but it would be especially interesting if a vendor would like to give their perspective. What does it means to be 'strategic' versus a 'utility' to a client? What types of value added services do you provide and what do you look for in return?