December 2006


Over the festive season the blogsphere has been awash with happy feelings about the Time Magazine Person of the year – YOU.   Many bloggers have given themselves a 2.0 pat on the back.   I got that warm glow too, but then I felt  a little uneasy about it.  It felt a little “Brave New World” for my liking, but I wasn’t sure how to blog it.

I came across this post on Furious Seasons today via Nick Carr’s blog.  Nick called it a fine rant.

Read it.  I wish I could have written it…

This yearning we’ve got nowadays to be actualized through an idealized self that isn’t real at all, but that everyone thinks is real!, is pervasive and so deeply-enmeshed in our culture and who we are that I don’t even need to cite my sources—and to the point where Time magazine, as you no doubt know, has dubbed it all a social good, a flowering of democracy, and named the You of the Web 2.0 as its “Person of the Year.” (Apparently, reality took the year off—or is meta-reality, watered-down and flattened, the new reality?) I think that the social networking, YouTubery and such has its place and its uses (duh!). But the problem with it is that when real people (the flesh and blood ones) learn that they are nothing close to their hyper-idealized selves (and they will find out), then look out. Depression. Anxiety. Here come the SSRIs. This culture we have created makes us suckers for the quick fix—or, tragically, the quick end—because we are so desperate to see ourselves and our new next best friends in our perfect false world that we will take anything to get back to that sweet spot of self-actualization. We will do anything, except for the psychological grunt work that is truly required for any anti-depressant to be worth a shit in the first place.

I suppose it is odd to use Wikipedia to look up a quote for a post that dares to question omnipotence of  “you” but I have been called confused before.

Social Critic Neil Postman contrasts the worlds of 1984 and Brave New World in the foreword of his 1986 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He writes:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World,  they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us

 

Huxley got the title from the Shakespeare’s Tempest.

“O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beautious mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!”

My first  new year’s resolutions is to read Brave New World again.  Second one is to  hug a journalist.

 

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This may seem at odds with some of my earlier enterprisey ranting.  I’m looking for balance, searching for mySAPZEN 2007.  Perhaps I have been reading too much Rednun and surfing too many design blogs.

Here at SAP we think a lot about processes.  I hear it all the time in the corridors and meeting rooms in Walldorf.  It is one of the main reasons for SAP’s success. It is goodness, and it is very tough to emulate.  (We are pretty damn good at the other bit of the iceberg it seems) It is a significant competitive advantage.

At the same time though, we do need to think more about the user,  once we have figured out who the user is.  Find a balance between process and user centricity

The reason why I’m writing this post at all is that I stumbled across something in SDN. David seems uncomfortable with concept of “enhanced user experience”, deriding it as selling Viagra.   I think he has it wrong on two counts.

1. Viagra has  helped many people. Don’t knock it.

2. Historically SAP’s single greatest competitive weakness is the user experience. I’ve spent the last 12 years in presales, and this is the one area where I would get beaten up time and time again.  At SAP we need to learn more from the Apples and Porsches of this world about the power of the aesthetic.  Bring on the enhanced user experience I say.

I’m probably harsher on the marketing function and how we sell  here at SAP than is good for my career, but a user focus is not just  developing a screen, it is about the whole company and the ecosystem. And if you have a minute, ask your mum. 

I’d suggest that anyone in the our enterprisey  world  involved in building processes that impact users spend a little time reading Kathy Sierra’s blog, creating passionate users.  Maybe start by looking  at this post on Featuritis . If Kathy seems a little on the wild side, then try Don Norman.

Perhaps I’m drinking too much design kool-aid, but if we don’t offer the user the enhanced experience they deserve, then some other vendor (and their consulting friends will)

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Phil,  my favourite high priest of SaaS, posted recently on Composition.

My prediction is that 2007 is going to see an explosion of these DIY ‘enterprise mashup’ tools and applications, and that their adoption is going to fundamentally change the way we think about integration and customization.

 Phil is right. I suggest you read the whole post. There is  big change happening in the integration space. Lightweight, user driven integration will grow dramatically in 2007.  Phil is spot on: the business deskop will not be the same. I think Jeff and Rod are in the right place at the right time.

I’m not so sure that it spells the end of middleware though.  There are masses of complex business transactions that run without much user interaction, these won’t be mashed up anytime soon. 

My main gripe with Phil here is he makes out that composition is a SaaS thing. A trip over to SDN will point you to masses of composition and mash ups in the on-premise world.  The SaaS priesthood has a  faintly irritating habit of taking broad industry-wide innovations and annexing them as SaaSistics.

The fastforward blog is well worth a visit.  The blog is a “companion” to a conference taking place in San Diego next year on Enterprise 2.0  That looks as if it will be a fabulous event.

The blog led me to a super post on blackberry cold-turkey.

I write from experience. I was a “Crackberry” addict. As I look back and see how often I was rude or inattentive, I am embarrassed. As I look back and see how often I responded in haste to an email in the midst of other activities, I am appalled

I too, have this vice.  Apologies to anyone I have offended with my blackberry obsession.At least from this evening until into the new year I will lock the blackberry away. My new year’s resolution is to be less blackberry besotted. 

Continuing the turkey theme, my vegetarian readers may wish to look away at this point.

In the UK and many of the former colonies, the turkey is the main Christmas fare.  Here  are some useful facts on Turkey consumption.  In the US 22 million turkeys will be consumed this Christmas, which is half that consumed at Thanksgiving.

Just to show you how far SAP has infiltrated your celebrations, Is your turkey best practice?  Watch this mid-market success video.

If you haven’t bought your turkey yet, make sure it is a Carolina turkey. Wishing you all a fantastic holiday season.

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Frank tagged me.

5 things you probably didn’t know about me.

1. Like Dennis, I was a goodish treble (soprano) singer.

2. My middle name is Witham.

3. My favourite author of all time is PG Wodehouse.

4. My favourite band is Lloyd Cole and the Commotions.

5. I played pool for relatively large sums of money while at university.

I tag Nigel James and Craig of SDN fame.

 

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In many families, the Christmas holidays is the time to play games. Homes ring to the sounds of happy or not so happy people playing Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Charades, Cranium, Monopoly, Pictionary and so on. Details of our family Christmas will no doubt be recorded over on my wife’s blog.

Undergraduate university students, on the other hand,  play complex drinking games. Actually they do that all year long.

When I was at University I believe there were several games played by other people that involved bouncing a coin into a beer glass.  Apparently, this game takes lots of practice. I’ve been informed by a reliable source  that if you managed this feat, you could nominate a fellow player to have a gentle sip of his-her beverage.   It seems  if you managed it three times in a row, you could make a rule. Hypothetically speaking this game could continue, much like cricket, for a considerable amount of time. I  assume that after a while, the rules became so complex that only the law students could continue.

It has been suggested to me that the typical rules  included:  Only sip with your  left hand, only point with your elbow, place your other hand on your head, recite the motto on the beer can without looking  (Castle lager, the taste that stood the test of time; Black label, America’s lusty, lively beer )  address everyone by student number, hop on one leg and every sentence had to include one Latin maxim- without repetition or hesitation.  I could envisage that once you got the hang of the rules, someone would get it in four times in a row. Apparently they could then change any rule they like.  

If you would like more details, please refer to the wikipedia entry for the simpler, cruder, American version, called quarters. 

Enter the software release naming convention game. 

 Start with a three letter acronym for a company name. Bounce coin.  Add another acronym. Bounce coin.  Add another acronym. Bounce coin. Add a pronoun as a prefix. Bounce coin. Add an arithmetical sequence. Bounce coin. Add decimal points. Bounce Coin. Randomly skip bits of the said sequence.  Bounce coin. Add a year to it that has no relevance to the year in which the software ships. Bounce coin. Add an X. Bounce coin. Add powered by. Bounce coin. Create an internal technical name with another three letter acronym and its own numbering system. Bounce coin. Create integration concept with another three letter name. Bounce coin.  Start again.  Use up all marketing budget printing new extra long business cards.

When I look around, most software companies play this game.  You may have seen the Microsoft parody on youtube. (tip Seth Godin)

There is a tremendous amount of work going on at SAP to develop a culture of simplicity in development.  This is goodness, but I think we need to take the coins off  the product naming folks and lock them in a room with the simplicity gurus-  No more coin bouncing until you know and live  the laws of simplicity.

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The folks over at techcrunch have had a look at Adobe’s Apollo.

2007 will bring the launch of the much anticipated Adobe Apollo platform, a cross platform run time that will allow developers to take rich Internet applications, whether they be built on Flash, HTML, JavaScript and/or Ajax, and turn them into desktop applications.

Michael goes on to comment.

I had the opportunity to interview Kevin Lynch, Adobe’s senior vice president and chief software architect, about the upcoming launch of Apollo. Steve Gillmor joined me as well. Listen to the 37 minute podcast over on TalkCrunch, and let us know what you think Apollo’s “killer app” might be.

The cast is definitely worth listening to.  Michael sees email and calendaring  integration as the killer app, but I reckon there is a bigger play in the Enterprisey space.  Kevin and Steve mention the SAP-Flex stuff.  Adobe has the opportunity to become a major part the enterprise application experience, ERP CRM etc….

 I liked the term grown-up widgets.  Ans the cast was spot on when someone  said something like, “The  world work is a mixture of the cloud and the local machine.”

Matthias Zeller led me to the Techcrunch post. (Thanks)  He is a leading chap in the SAP-Adobe relationship. Judging by the name you would probably bet serious money that he works for SAP. Haaa he doesn’t. He is at Adobe. This destroys my theory that all clever Germans work at SAP. Check out Matthias’ slideshow from ASUG about how Adobe can change your SAP user experience. 

James from Redmonk is big on Adobe,  so am I: My blog is littered with Adobe SAP happy families.  Anything that makes SAP hipper and slicker  is goodness. 

Adobe is a big SAP user, so they have the opportunity to experiment with their own internal petri dish. I’d love to see what their internal ESS and MSS stuff looks like. (If anyone from Adobe is reading this, please drop me a note)

The enterprise user experience is going to change dramatically, check out Filip’s blog on SDN for more.  He explains muse and gives some good insight into what is cooking in the SAP kitchen.  All that SOA  business  is what helps make this stuff possible in an enterprisey context.

It might be fun to do demos again.

And that reminds me of another  sketch…..

When I wer’ lad, we had t’ demo wit’ dull thin html screen

You were lucky , when I were a lad we only had   SAP GUI

You were lucky, when I were a lad we had t’ demo with SAP GUI and all the demo data was in German

You wer’ lucky, when I wer’  lad we ha’ demo with a green screen in German and Assembler.

You were lucky when I were a lad we had to demo with an abacus.

We were happy in those days

Aye, but you never had to do a demo in a shoebox on the motorway while eating coal

If you try and tell the young folks of today, they won’t believe you..

The orignal, funnier version is here.

 

 

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Today, in Potsdam,  some serious  German Government heavyweights, academics and business types are getting together to talk about the future of IT in Germany.  I’ve written before (It was my very first post)  that the US software industry has benefitted tremendously from state support, and it is about time that the governments in Europe started to invest in the future of IT rather than just  subsidizing cows.

Check out this book Martin Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass., 2003.   

The likely prime reason for U.S. software supremacy is a paradoxical one –government support for the industry. The paradox arises from the fact that, although the United States is non-interventionist in principle, in practice it promoted the early industry massively by creating a market for computers and software through programs such as the SAGE project, the Department of Defense’s ADP program, and the NASA program, to mention only the largest..”

Anyway, back to Berlin.

Potsdam/Berlin. The German federal government will hold its first national IT Summit on Monday, December 18, 2006 at the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) in Potsdam. Under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), eight working groups of high-ranking participants will develop suggestions and approaches aimed at improving the quality and international competitiveness of Germany’s information technology (IT) sector. Merkel will also discuss current topics with HPI students and scientists. The IT Systems Engineering Program at the Hasso Plattner Institute, which is the only university-affiliated educational institute in Germany financed entirely by private means, transforms talented young computer science students into IT engineers. The National IT Summit will function as a discussion forum for business, science and politics, and it marks the first time that the current government will hold a summit outside the Chancellor’s office.

The German Chancellor has a podcast message here talking about the plans for the Summit.  She requests that “Made in Germany” also develops into the quality symbol for IT-products.   This will take more than just a summit, but it is good to see the government listening and getting engaged. (BTW The chancellor’s website is pretty good, podcasts and so on…)

It is symbolic that this meeting is taking place in a private university, rather than in some government building, and it is great to see SAP’s founders investing in Germany’s IT future. 

You can listen via livestream this afternoon or get the podcasts on the HPI site. (In German only)   I’ll listen tonight, and I’ll let you know what went on, although government German is a challenge. Actually most government speak is rather opaque.

Sir Humphrey: “Well Minister, if you ask me for a straight answer, then I shall say that, as far as we can see, looking at it by and large, taking one thing with another in terms of the average of departments, then in the final analysis it is probably true to say, that at the end of the day, in general terms, you would probably find that, not to put too fine a point on it, there probably wasn’t very much in it one way or the other. As far as one can see, at this stage.”

 

 

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if I had a euro for every post written about Google’s business model, I would be very rich.  Actually, if I had a euro for everytime Nick Carr writes about Google I’d be well off.  Writing about Google and Wikipedia seem to be occupational hazards of blogging. 

Anyway, his latest post made me jot down something I’d been thinking about for a while.  He talks about Google’s model revolutionising the IT industry.

 

It’s pretty amazing to think about what a company can now get for $10 a year:

A complete, web-based IT infrastructure for its business

A custom corporate portal/intranet for its employees

Corporate e-mail service

Corporate instant messaging

Calendar software and services

Web-site design software

Web-site hosting

And, by incorporating some other free Google services, the company also gets:

Word-processing software

Spreadsheet software

Web-site analytics

All the necessary storage, data backups, security, maintenance, and related services are included in the $10 price.

This is surely enough to strike fear into anyone wanting to “sell” software?

But Google  isn’t free.  The company is on track to do about 10 billion dollars in revenue this year, and someone is paying for it.  I have never written a cheque to Google, yet somehow as one of the 1 billion Internet users,  I’m  paying for the pleasure of using their search tool, although very indirectly. Actually I’m paying whether I use the tools or not.

Google’s money comes almost entirely from advertising. Advertising is paid by those companies selling stuff to you. Google’s fees are now clearly part of the cost of bringing a product or service to the market, and you end up paying for it.

It is a brilliant business model.  The more “free” applications we use, the more exposure the adverts get, and the more Google can charge the buyers of advertising.  The more applications we use, more information Google has to provide even more targeted services, again at a higher price.  

In an earlier post, Nick discusses how Google manage a float.

Better than any other company on earth, Google knows the power of very small amounts of money. Collect enough nickels and dimes and quarters and dollars, and you can make billions. The $100 AdSense hurdle may seem like a little thing, but it’s making Google some serious money. At the very least, I bet it pays for the cafeteria at the ‘Plex.

Google’s model depends on the advertisers continuing to believe that they get value for money. As long as that continues, Google will continue to impress. Funny, I don’t ever remember clicking on an adsense advertisement and then buying something, but someone must be.

At the moment Google is a tax I’m happy to pay.  If we spread Google’s revenue over all the internet users, it works out about 10$ each.

 

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 I took this screen print from the SAP Germany internal portal a couple of years ago. Who says English grammar is easy?

 

I thought this was the Pope’s job. 

Anyway, tonight,  the SAP Arena in Mannheim, normally the home of ice hockey,  will party to the sound of thousands of birkenstocks on the  dance floor.    It is the SAP Christmas party.  Lots of thought and effort goes into this, so praise is due to the organisers. Things kick off with the SAP Chamber Orchestra (we also have a full Symphony Orchestra and a Sinfonietta)  and then various bands will rock the night away.  It will be great to catch up with  SAP mates from different departments. 

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