Embracing The Open Web: The Technologies You Need To Know

The open Web is a culture, a community — and a set of preferred technologies for Internet applications. While HTML5 is the best known of these technologies, the open Web also includes JavaScript (client and server), CSS3, Representational State Transfer (REST) application programming interfaces (APIs), and mobile frameworks such as jQuery Mobile. Together, these technologies comprise a new application platform for the Internet that will gradually replace today’s web platforms (HTML4, Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, Simple Object Access Protocol [SOAP] web services, Java EE, and .NET) for most applications. Forrester recently published research outlining the open Web platform’s key components, their readiness, and how the platform is evolving.

Open Web developers tend to use a variation of the façade pattern for their applications but refine the pattern to focus on standard web formats and protocols and services delivered via the Web — so we refer to it as the open Web façade. Developers draw on three bodies of de jure and de facto standards to implement the open Web façade pattern:

  1. Client standards. Application clients based on a body of emerging standards collectively labeled HTML5.
  2. Service plane standards. A service plane that exposes interfaces using the REST pattern and resource-oriented architecture principles. These services are often called RESTful web services.
  3. Virtual infrastructure standards. A highly virtualized server tier (often a public cloud service) that is easy to deploy initial solutions to but that is also able to scale up or down on demand to meet surges in capacity.
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Here Comes The Open Web – Embrace It

The Web is moving on to a new era of openness, mobility, and digital business. The open Web is a platform built on HTTP (the fundamental web protocol), a new generation of HTML, dynamic languages, and wide use of Internet services for everything from video encoding to social graphs to order management and payments. The open Web made its debut in consumer applications; for enterprises, it will power a new generation of customer engagement applications. The open Web will be particularly important to app Internet systems that bridge mobile devices, cloud services, and enterprise applications and data. Forrester recently published a report that will equip application development and delivery leaders with an understanding of the open Web and its potential value.

We define the open Web as: a culture and community emphasizing openness, transparency, and freedom of developer choice as well as an application platform based on HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript clients, HTTP/representational state transfer (REST), and cloud services. The open Web includes the app Internet as one potential design pattern.

A new breed of developers is propelling the open Web: young developers who grew up on the Web and develop outside the firewall — primarily producing applications aimed at consumers. Their career expectations were also born of the Web, and they expect openness of information, technology, and expertise. Open Web developers share certain motivations that have shaped the open Web trend. They:

  • Strive to create great customer experiences.
  • Craft applications that can reach customers wherever they are.
  • Leverage customers’ inherent desire to be social.
  • Deliver applications and new functionality quickly.
  • Minimize time spent on low-value tasks to focus more on creating business value.
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Here Comes The Open Web — Embrace It

One of the things I enjoy the most about being an industry analyst is that I've spent the past six years meeting some great developers. Personally, I’m not sure I could cover any other technology area then application development. The reason is simple: I see developers as a worldwide force for good (It's almost axiomatic, as the bad apples become "hackers"). Developers innovate, they create, they push technology forward — and they are fun to go have a beer with at the end of the day.

While writing for developers is fun, it’s not always easy. For the past few years, my topic coverage areas have sometimes felt a bit disjointed — almost as if there are two different developer communities out there that I deal with. In the past, I've referred to these groups as the "inside the firewall crowd" and the "outside the firewall crowd." The inquiries I have with the first group are fairly conventional — they segment as .NET or Java development shops, they use app servers and RDBMSes, and they worry about security and governance. Inquiries with the second group are very different — these developers are multilingual, hold very few alliances to vendors, tend to be younger, and embrace open source and open communities as a way to get almost everything done. The first group thinks web services are done with SOAP; the second does them with REST and JSON. The first group thinks MVC, the second thinks "pipes and filters" and eventing. I could go on and on with the comparison.

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You Think Changing To Increase Business Agility Is Hard? If IOR Did It, Believe Me: You Can Do It Too

Think of a medieval fortress: It was originally used for a small army, it has walls nine meters thick, and it’s surrounded by buildings hundreds of years old. Upon entering, you are confronted with the concept of eternity.

This fortress is located in the smallest state on earth — though it is also perhaps the best-known state in the world. The business housed within the fortress is what many might classify as a SME but with with complexity of a large enterprise, holy but busy, centralized but truly global — its work spans hundreds of countries with hundreds of currencies and hundreds of languages — and it serves very special and demanding clients.

Have a clue yet of where we are?

Zoom on Italy, then zoom on Rome, then zoom on Vatican City, and you can’t miss the round tower (Torrione Sisto V) where the Vatican Bank, or Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR ), is located. You won’t be allowed in if you are not a client, an employee, or part of a religious congregation. Change comes hard to institutions this steeped in tradition. To give you a clue, IOR’s previous managing director spent his entire career at IOR — 60 years — and retired at the age of 80. We all know it’s the soft and cultural aspects of transformation that are the hardest part for any organization.

Nevertheless, IOR has been going through a major change since 2008, working to replace its legacy IT system with a modern BT one. The new BT system brings more flexibility for the business, richer business functionality, and greater integration and development capabilities. Enabling fast change is the key driver for IOR’s IT transformation program from IT into BT.

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Customer Service: Out With The Old . . . And In With The New

Customers dream about personalized, contextual, proactive customer service experiences — where companies deliver an experience tailored to their persona, their past purchase history, and their past customer service history. They want each interaction to add value and build upon prior ones so that they don’t have to repeat themselves and restart the discovery process. They want to be able to choose the communication channel and device they use to interact with a service center. They want to start an interaction on one channel or device and move it seamlessly to another. Check out RightNow’s vision video that brings these points to life.

Most customer service organizations are still struggling with the basics — the hygiene factors in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — in meeting their customers’ expectations. There are benchmarking tools that you can use to figure out how well your organization is doing and to get actionable recommendations on how to do better. But, as you focus on the tactical improvements that you need to make this year, it’s important to keep tabs on the optimal experience that customers would like you to deliver to help shape your long-term direction for customer service. Here’s my abbreviated personal list:

Out with the old . . .

. . . and in with the new

Commentary

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Collaborative Problem Solving And Robot Design

To pick up the narrative from my last post, we're currently one week into the First Robotics build season for 2012. Team 811 is busy working away on an initial sprint. The goal is to get a minimum viable product (a drivable robot) up by the end of sprint one, which will then be used as a base to move toward a competitive robot that can play this year's game, Rebound Rumble.

So how did Team 811 get from "huh?" to full-speed prototyping in 4 days? How does anyone get 40+ teenagers moving in the same direction when the number of unknowns is significant and the problems to solve look insurmountable? For team 811, the key was starting with a 3-day process called "Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS)." Think of it as a pre-sprint process to build team buy-in and reduce downstream back-biting and second guessing.

So what is CPS? It's a technique that starts with a problem statement and then encourages divergent thinking to brainstorm creative solutions to that problem. Criteria that allow evaluation of those potential solutions are then applied by the entire group. This starts a process of combining divergent ideas into stronger overlapping concepts and identifying those ideas that have the strongest combination of feasibility and ability. The result would be recognizable to many agile teams: a burndown "punch list" of items and strategies to drive early prototyping and the team's first sprint.

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Transform Business Processes For Breakthrough Customer Experiences

I’ve just finished up several months of research digging into the best practices of how leading organizations aspire to implement outside-in, customer-focused, cross-functional processes that transform the organization and set it on the path toward continuous improvement. At the core of this trend is a desire by these organizations, especially in services industries, to domesticate their “untamed” or “invisible” processes that touch customers.

In talking with nearly 30 organizations, consulting companies, and solution vendors, I found that instead of deploying slow-to-change packaged applications or building difficult-to-change custom solutions, leading organizations are embracing business process methodologies — supported by process-centric IT platforms. They are striving to drive rapid process change, increased business engagement in IT projects, and achieve dramatic improvements in worker productivity.

In my new report, I define more than 30 best practices that organizations can use to support their transition to process-centric customer CRM. Here are few of them:

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Agile Development And Robots: Are You Smarter Than A 10th Grader?

One of the counterintuitive things that we observed early on in the days of object-oriented programming was that developers with no previous programming experience often picked up concepts like inheritance, encapsulation, and polymorphism much more quickly than seasoned programmers and became productive earlier than their more experienced counterparts. Today I feel like I'm on the other end of this learning challenge as I try to adapt to new programming concepts in JavaScript or Python. I think the biggest reason for this phenomenon is that experienced folks have to unlearn what we know, and it's hard to give up certainty and the mechanisms that allowed us to achieve success in the past. I think the same principle is at work when you look at toddlers that instinctively "get" how to use the iPad - they expect everything to work that way. It should be so easy for all of us.

Does this same sort of thinking apply to software and systems development processes? I'll tell you why I think it does. For the past three years I've been a mentor for a US FIRST Team (Team 811, the Bishop Guertin Cardinals). During this time period, I've seen high school students with little to no technical experience instinctively adopt many principles that experienced Agile teams would recognize. For these kids, Agile development is like using an iPad - they take to it naturally because it just makes sense given the context of what they are trying to do.

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Forrester's Top 15 Trends For Customer Service In 2012

With 2012 still bright and full of hope for most of us, what are the key trends that customer service professionals need to pay attention to as you plan for success this year? Here are the top trends that I am tracking. Get my full report here.

Leaders Will Empower Their Agents To Deliver Optimal Service

Trend 1: Organizations Will Internalize The Importance Of The Universal Customer History Record

Customer service agents must have access to the full history of a customer’s prior interactions over all the communication channels — voice, electronic channels like chat and email, and the newer social channels like Facebook and Twitter — to deliver personalized service and to strengthen the relationship that customers have with companies. In 2012, vendors will continue to add  the management of social channels to their customer service products. Companies will slowly continue to formalize the business processes and governance structures around managing social inquiries and move this responsibility out of marketing departments and into customer service centers.

Trend 2: The Agent Experience Will No Longer Be An Afterthought

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Software Requirements Are Where We Define Value

Revolutions take two forms. The most familiar kind is the noisy, conspicuous, disjunctive event that marks a clean break from the past. Yesterday, George III was our monarch. Today, he's not. The other kind of revolution is a more gradual and subtle event, when multiple forces pointing in the same direction push people into a new world. The shock of Pearl Harbor, the power vacuum left by a devastated Europe and Japan, a reinvigorated economy, and an aggressive superpower adversary made Americans feel, for the first time, that they needed to be far more deeply involved in international affairs than ever before. Without any formal declaration, Americans became internationalists after 1945.

Something like that second kind of revolution has happened with software requirements. Over the past decade or so, organizations grew increasingly worried about the problems that took root in bad requirements. The problems took many forms (portfolios filled with applications no one was using, users unhappy with the software that complicated their lives more than helped them, ideas that no one vetted carefully, etc.) and arose from just as many sources.

All of these discontents pointed in a common direction: Take requirements more seriously. In Forrester's Q1 2011 Application Development And Delivery Organization Structure Online Survey, "improvements of requirements" appeared at the top of the list of initiatives that would improve software development the most.

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