Embrace Open Source Software In A Balanced Way

Ten years ago, open source software (OSS) was more like a toy for independent software vendors (ISVs) in China: Only the geeks in R&D played around with it. However, the software industry has been developing quickly in China throughout the past decade, and technology trends such as service-oriented architecture (SOA), business process management (BPM), cloud computing, the mobile Internet, and big data are driving much broader adoption of OSS.

  • OSS has become a widely used element of firms’ enterprise architecture.  For front-end application architecture on the client side, various open source frameworks, such as jQuery and ExtJS, have been incorporated into many ISVs’ front-end frameworks.  On the server side, OSS like Node.js is becoming popular for ISVs in China for high Web throughput capabilities. From an infrastructure and information architecture perspective, open source offerings like Openstack, Cloudstack, and Eucalyptus have been piloted by major telecom carriers including China Telecom and China Unicom, as well as information and communication solution providers like Huawei and IT service providers like CIeNET. To round this out, many startup companies are developing solutions based on MongoDB, an open source NoSQL database.
  • Familiarity with OSS is becoming a necessary qualification for software developers and product strategy professionals. Because of the wide usage of OSS among both vendors and end users, working experience and extensive knowledge with OSS is becoming a necessary qualification not only for software engineers, but also an important factors for product strategy professionals to establish appropriate product road maps and support their business initiatives.
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Microsoft brings Windows Azure to China – is this the start of a new era?

Back in October 2011, Microsoft named the initiative to introduce Windows Azure cloud platform into the Chinese market “Moon Cake,” which represents harmony and happiness in Chinese culture. On May 23, 2013, Microsoft made the announcement in Shanghai that Windows Azure will be available in Chinese market starting on June 6 —  almost half a year after its agreement with Shanghai government and 21ViaNet to operate Windows Azure together last November. Chinese customers will finally be able to “taste” this foreign moon cake.

I believe that a new chapter of cloud is going to be written by a new ecosystem in China market, and Microsoft will be the leader of this disruption. My reasons:

  • The cloud market in China will be more disrupted. Due to the regulatory limitations on data center and related telecom value-added services operations for foreign players, the cloud market for both infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) has been an easy battlefield for local players, such as Alibaba/HiChina. Microsoft’s innovative way working with both government and local service partners to break through this “great wall” shows all of the major global giants, such as Amazon.com, the great opportunity from this approach to the Chinese market. We can anticipate that they will also enter the Chinese market in the coming six to 18 months.
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Are You Ready For An Architectural Evolution With Converged Applications?

SAP launched its HANA in-memory computing platform in 2010. HANA is a converged analytics appliance. Three years later, SAP has officially launched Business Suite on HANA: globally in January and in China on March 19. SAP clients can now run mission-critical applications on the converged infrastructure for optimized performance. Personally, I would suggest calling this an example of converged applications, which in short refers to the business applications that are architected around the converged infrastructure for performance and simplicity.

I had several conversations with architects from the retail, logistics, and manufacturing industries, as well as Tom Kindermans, SAP’s senior vice president of applications for APJ, about these converged applications. I tend to believe that this is the next wave of application architecture, after mainframe, client/server, and browser/server. With the deployment of these converged infrastructure offerings and the evolution of the applications that run on top of them, it might change technical architectures across infrastructure, information, and applications, as well as the organizational structure of IT, the architecture, and the partner ecosystems. My assessment:

  • The definition of converged applications is blurry. The meaning of incorporating converged applications can vary quite a bit. Sometimes it means migrating an application from one server to the other; sometimes it means refactoring your networking and storage design for load balancing and disaster recovery; and sometimes eliminating an original performance bottleneck means that business challenges that had been lurking under the surface might emerge for you to resolve. It totally depends on your business goals.
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5-Years Journey Of TOGAF In China Is Just A Beginning For EA

As businesses get larger, and the need for effective alignment of the business with technology capabilities grows, enterprise architecture becomes an essential competency. But in China, many CIOs are struggling with setting up a high-performance enterprise architecture program to support their business strategies in a disruptive market landscape. This seems equally true for state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and multinational companies (MNCs).

To gain a better understanding of the problem, I had an interesting conversation with Le Yao, general secretary of Center for Informatization and Information Management (CIIM) and director of the CIO program at Peking University. Le Yao is one of the first pioneers introducing The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) into China to help address the above challenges. I believe that the five-year journey of TOGAF in China is just an early beginning for EA, and companies in the China market need relevant EA insights to help them support their business:

  • Taking an EA course is one thing; practicing EA is something else. Companies taking TOGAF courses in China seem to be aiming more at sales enablement than practicing EA internally. MNCs like IBM, Accenture, and HP are more likely to try to infuse the essence of the methodology into their PowerPoint slides for marketing and/or bidding purposes; IBM has also invited channel partners such as Neusoft, Digital China, CS&S, and Asiainfo to take the training.
  • TOGAF is too high-level to be relevant. End user trainees learning the enterprise architecture framework that Yao’s team introduced in China in 2007 found it to be too high-level and conceptual. Also, the trainers only went through what was written in the textbook without using industry-specific cases or practice-related information — making the training less relevant and difficult to apply.
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How Bad Are Firms In China At Data Management?

Data management is becoming critical as organizations seek to better understand and target their customers, drive out inefficiency, and satisfy government regulations. Despite this, the maturity of data management practices at companies in China is generally poor.

I had an enlightening conversation with my colleague, senior analyst Michele Goetz, who covers all aspects of data management. She told me that in North America and Europe, data management maturity varies widely from company to company; only about 5% have mature practices and a robust data management infrastructure. Most organizations are still struggling to be agile and lack measurement, even if they already have data management platforms in place. Very few of them align adequately with their specific business or information strategy and organizational structure.

If we look at data management maturity in China, I suspect the results are even worse: that fewer than 1% of the companies are mature in terms of integrated strategy, agile execution and continuous performance measurement. Specifically:

  • The practice of data management is still in the early stages. Data management is not only about simply deploying technology like data warehousing or related middleware, but also means putting in place the strategy and architectural practice, including contextual services and metadata pattern modeling, to align with business focus. The current focus of Chinese enterprises for data management is mostly around data warehousing, master data management, and basic support for both end-to-end business processes and composite applications for top management decision-making. It’s still far from leveraging the valuable data in business processes and business analytics.
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SAP’s Labs China – A Good Start On Addressing China-Specific Needs

Insufficient flexibility for business customization, poor ease of use, and long implementation have become major complaints about SAP’s core products by many SAP clients in China. Despite SAP’s wide adoption by large enterprises in China, including Nongfu Spring (the first one in APAC using HANA — in-memory computing platform — in production) and Sinopec (ranked No. 5 in Fortune 500 in 2012), these client issues are problems for SAP for its continued expansion into the China market. SAP uses its SAP Labs network across the globe to deliver local market-oriented solutions for different geographies. In my recent visit to SAP Labs China, one of the four hub labs that drive corporate product strategy and execution of global projects, I found that SAP is taking the right steps to integrate local requirements and deliver product capabilities that address the above issues:

  • Solutions customized for China regulations and business practices. SAP Labs China developed not only localized solutions for general purpose such as Golden Tax features, which is mandated by the Chinese government for its interfacing national taxing system, but also key solutions for local industries such as business real estate, international commerce, public finance, and healthcare.
  • More ease of use. To solve the ease-of-use problem, including the user interface look and feel and usage behavior of the product, SAP Labs China reinvented finance user experience and business processes for Chinese customers, and it also optimized the user interface for its human resource module.
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