Simplicity, elegance and the Java bean.

Ed, of the Wii BI and SDN  fame, posted recently on enterprise application simplicity (not)

I used to think I was half way competent until I recently tried to order a pen and some laser printer toner using the newly implemented procurement application at my workplace. Boy, was I wrong; it turns out that I must be flat-out, stupid.

Oh dear.

Sure, maybe I am naive due to my lack of knowledge of the big, bad, mean ol’ enterprise process, but somehow I doubt that Amazon would agree that their business process is so simple. Amazon hides it’s complexity from it’s users. They make it as simple as possible on the surface, because from a customer’s perspective, all you really want to do is buy a book. Do you really care about how Amazon’s supply chain works, what standards they use to reduce their TCO, or the backend complexities of their rating and review system? If you had to worry about that stuff, then you would head on over to the local, physical bookstore like in ancient times.

This week I  finally splashed out on a new coffee machine at home. Most of my German mates have a coffee machine that would not be out of place in Armani’s  latest concept shop.  I  was  afflicted with  serious gadget envy. 

On Saturdays, as well as polishing cars and lawnmowers, they dismantle and polish their Titanium Jura, Saeco, Krupp or Gaggia machines.  The coffee is  normally fabulous, assuming that the maker is practised but it is a good idea to phone ahead if you would like a cup. I tend to ask for tea instead.

I had a different approach.  I’d seen a Nespresso machine at Sig’s house last year.  I was impressed by the small footprint and the ease of use, but I was a little concerned about the capsule system.  I spent the coffee machine budget on bicycle components instead.

Then last weekend, I popped around to another friend’s spot in Heidelberg, and he has two coffee machines. A huge shining chrome machine with separate  multi-consistency grinder and milk steamer, and more switches than an Airbus cockpit. He also has a Nespresso cube, which they use “all the time”.

I went home, googled a bit to check prices and features and ordered a Nespresso Delonghi cube  on It arrived the next day, and within 5 minutes of opening the box, it was making delicious coffee.  It came with a couple of cups and some samples, and the next day a big box of coffee capsules arrived from Nespresso,  12 different types of coffee, to suit all tastes, and fancy wooden display box…

There are a lot of parallels here for us enterprisey software types to look at.

1. The capsule, although proprietary, provides flexibility (who has 12 different types of coffee on hand?) 

2. The capsule provides price transparency- 32c per cup.

3. There is little maintenance as the capsule deals with the waste. (I would like a recycle option though)

4. The UI is very simple, only two buttons. The complexity (strength and bitterness of coffee) is built in to the capsule selection. The capsule hides the complexity from the user. The colour coded capsules make choice simple.

5. The machine has a very small footprint and elegant design.  It looks a lot more expensive than it was.

6. Nespresso  now has a recurring revenue stream from me, as the cost of switching coffee brands is now higher, as I need to buy a new machine to change, but not only that, coffee moves from a supermarket purchase (very competitive and whimsical ) to a subscription.

7. Nespresso’s  concept, marketing and online experience is brilliant.  Well done Nestle. The use of the web as the main distribution channel for coffee? Who would have thought it would work?  I bet they had big arguments about channel cannibalization and so on.   The history of the development is here.  But proof is in this number, it rocks:  25 % annual growth since its market introduction in 1988.

8. Clever partnerships with machine makers.  Nestle worked with machine designers to create machine concepts. Very close collaboration, leveraging partner expertise and brand to create design classics. Nestle was smart enough to know that it needed machine partners to make this hip enough for shallow, image-conscious  folks like me to buy them. Design is a part of the Go to market.

The system is remarkably simple yet flexible enough.  In one word, elegant.

So, when designing enterprise applications and their go to market, we need to think Nespresso.

I was planning to do some sort of SOA-SaaS metaphor but I’d need  more than another espresso before  attempting that.


Thoughts on SAP today

Most of my readers will know Shai Agassi has left SAP. Press release here.

 David,  Dennis, Vinnie, Josh  JeffMark, Larry, Dan, and many others weigh in.

In this post  I’m going simply write what I saw and felt today, rather than play crystal ball. We had an all hands employee meeting in Walldorf  with Henning Kagermann, CEO  and Hasso Plattner, Chairman of the Supervisory Board. 

Hasso was visibly disappointed at Shai’s departure, and after all, given that he found and built him up as his successor, entirely understandable.  He explained in detail the background to Shai’s decision. In Shai SAP has lost a charismatic visionary and external spokesperson.  Good news is that he is  not departing to a competitor, even though several  approached him.  He will still have an office at SAP and will advise Hasso, so it is hardly the unseemly departure some have painted it to be.

Several things that I  take away from today’s meeting.

1. Hasso is a statesman.  He didn’t underplay Shai’s impact.   But what he did was to rally the whole company behind the new board.  It was fantastic to watch.   I’m hesitant to use this analogy sitting in Germany, but there was something distinctly  Churchillian about him today. I went into the meeting concerned and came out fired up.  The lines ” We have a CEO, we have Henning.”  and  “I still know about software”  raised the rafters with cheers, whistles and footstomps.  

2. Another quote that stuck with me  from Hasso went something like “Shai was a big tree in the forest ,  but like any big tree he cast a big shadow.  It is now time for people in that shadow to grow and show what they can do.”

3. Henning and the board have reacted quickly and decisively to restructure the organisation. The new executive board and council  model is simpler and more streamlined, and Henning has cleverly used Shai’s departure to clean up some messy organisational structures.  Marketing is now consolidated under Marty Homlish, reporting to Leo. All partnering is under Zia.  Product development reporting lines are simpler too.  The field  is streamlined with two main regions, one under Bill McDermott, the other under Ernie Gunst.  (Jeff and Josh cover this  in their posts, and it is all in the press release)

4. Henning stressed the need for transparency, trust and respect for others. He said “You have my commitment,now I need yours.”  It was quite Cluetrainy, especially when coupled with Hasso’s “you are the culture”

5. The strategy Henning clearly articulated is exactly the same as what was announced at the field and development kick-offs.

Personally I’m sad to see Shai go.  Kol Tuv Shai-  I hope you bring the same impact to your  next venture as you have at SAP.  (update: Shai has posted on SDN)

 But if our competition believe that this has crippled SAP, then they are in for a surprise. There is a steely resolution and determination here. It is rarely voiced loudly,  but the meeting room reverberated with it today.   I’m proud to work here, and I think the best part of 40,000 others feel exactly the same.

That said, here at SAP, we  will need to let the software do the talking.

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Mark Twain, Enterprise 2.0 and the CIO

Some  end-user revolutionaries  don’t like IT departments and CIO’s. The armchair revolutionaries really don’t like CIO’s. Apparently CIO’s are obstacles in the way of end user freedom, and at best CIO’s merely keep the lights on. I’d read the Chris Anderson piece a while ago, but Nicholas Carr’s post made me revisit it.  Nick has the skill of taking something many of us have read before,  adding a couple of pithy comments and the rest of us scurry round linking away.   

Rod suggests:

Avoid the CTO or CIO: Today’s enterprise CTOs and CIOs are in the job of not getting fired.   Many of them do not think in terms of both business risk and rewards.   They are in a cost center.   So they think about cost reduction and risk mitigation.   Preferably total risk elimination.   Cost is budget is power, so in reality, it isn’t such a big driver for many of them.   If you do talk to a CTO or CIO, ask them what percentage of they spend in the last 12 months went to a new vendor with a new product.   That is how much they are focused on innovation.   My guess is that on average, it will be less than 5%.

Read his whole post, and make up your own mind.  I don’t buy it, but then I work for an evil big vendor.  Susan predicts a revolution.  Larry provides a good summary of the CIO angst wave.

This debate won’t go away–in fact you’ll hear it at every CIO conference you attend. Why is there so much angst?

The CIO is not alone.

Go to an HR executive conference, and often there is a similar angst. 10 years ago, Thomas Stewart , another former HBR editor (what is it with them?), wrote this about HR:

Nestling warm and sleepy in your company, like the asp in Cleopatra’s bosom, is a department whose employees spend 80% of their time on routine administrative tasks….

I am describing, of course, your human resources department, and have a modest proposal: Why not blow the sucker up?

I don’t mean improve HR. Improvement’s for wimps. I mean abolish it. Deep-six it. Rub it out; eliminate, toss, obliterate, nuke it; give it the old heave-ho, force it to walk the plank, turn it into road kill.

Even CFO’s talk about the need to move from “beancounting and compliance” to becoming the strategic advisor of the CEO.  

Marketing executives face the constant dilemma of does marketing pay? They tie themselves in knots working out esoteric measures like brand value to the last decimal point.  They seek causality between sponsoring golfers and revenue. Arguably the Cluetrain threatens the CMO role far more than it does the the CIO.

All C level jobs are changing, the CIO’s is no different.  If we really want to get worked up about a C-level job, shouldn’t we be focused on the cult of the CEO? Some  of them are paid more than the whole IT budget.  It seems that every  function has their detractors. 

It is remarkably  easy to get giddy and excited about collaboration, cluetrain, social media and enterprise 2.0.  I am.  I’ve glugged the kool-aid, I ride the longtail and I’m jumping the shark.  I’m tagging, bookmarking and blogging.   I’m dumping my hard drive of presentations on a wiki so that I don’t get the same e-mail asking me for reference information that should really be in a marketing database somewhere but isn’t.  I’m working on some podcasts for our best practice network.   I even  gave twitter a go, but found it slower than my bicycle up an alp. 

Over on ZDNET there is a series of interviews with CIO’s. They help put  in perspective what it is they actually do. Check out the Vodafone CIO, Paul Wybrow as an example.

When I read some of the more exuberant blogs, it seems that with a sprinkle of SaaS and DIY  suddenly you don’t need that crusty CIO and his  legacy systems and old-world experience.  He (they are mainly male) is a roadblock in the way of progress.   ERP systems that 5 years ago were considered bleeding edge are labelled legacy. Despite my own cluetrain conversion and 2.0 baptism, I’m not convinced. 

I’m reminded of a post from JP, a CTO, and author of Confused of Calcutta. I’d like to quote bits of it here, but instead I’d ask you to  spend an afternoon on his blog.  Then come back, look me in the eye  and tell me that CIO’s are dead weight. To conclude  I’ll borrow a Mark Twain quote…

When I was a boy of 14 my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learnt in seven years

My view is that condemning the CIO’s experience of the last 20 years is as dumb as denying the relevance of social computing.  Both have their place. 

 Like Mark Twain’s own death, the news of the CIO’s death is greatly exaggerated.  

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Fitting in (how do you keep fit meme?)

Donald has tagged me

He asks how do you keep fit?  Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a interest in cycling. I ride a fancy bicycle (or two), albeit slower than I’d like to, and I have a slightly perverse desire to ride up mountains in  the alps etc.  I manage to combine a fanatical summer burst of fitness and an interest  geeky technology. Perhaps this is an onset of an early midlife crisis?

Now that it isn’t dark first thing, I’ll resume riding to and from work. It gets the base miles in and is a great way to unwind of an evening. At times I can get a bit obsessed, as my  good lady describes.  I also do a cycling specific exercise programme called cyclo-zen.  check it out.

I have bought the fancy plug in for the  Nano to enable me to run to music and podcasts, but until redmonk radio branches out in exercisecasts, I’ll probably find a long list of excuses not to.

One of my cycling mates  is Sig, with whom I’d be riding in provence in a couple of weeks’ time. We are planning a charity ride for some time in the summer, and we’d like as many folks to join us as possible. A Wiki will emerge soon after Easter with all the details.  So, who do I tag?

I know Dennis of Accmanpro fame doesn’t cycle, but I have done some research via some secret contacts I have in the accounting profession, and  uncovered some early footage of Dennis in action.  I look forward to seeing him repeat this feat at Sapphire in Vienna.

So I’ll tag Nigel, Charlie, Dan, and  Jason 

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Command line. I’ll be back. (aka /nSE38)

If Arnold had been an SAP Consultant, he would have used the command line.

In my all too distant past, I was an SAP implementation consultant. Once upon a time I even did the ABAP for HR course, in Minneapolis of all places. I worked on several large projects in South Africa, but I found myself drawn into doing more and more presales. I enjoyed the adrenalin buzz of the one hour demo more than the grind of project work.

In presales the main skill required is the ability to do several things at once; , listen, click the mouse, talk, remember people’s names and lots of stuff about what other companies have done. Yet the most important skill remains a detailed knowledge of protector-laptop integration. (never mind SOA…how do I get this beamer working?)

I digress.

In the pioneering days of client/server typing commands into command line was seen as an evil throw back to the mainframe. Competing with PeopleSoft meant that the mouse had to dominate. The more things that were double-click and drag-drop the better. Icons and toolbars were hip, but the command-line…. this was verboten.

So in demo dream land, the mouse was king.

Meanwhile in consultant and power user land the command line remained the main form of access, despite various GUI redesigns and so on. /npa30 is engraved somewhere in my brain, and I’ll remember it long after I’ve forgotten what this icon means-

Kathy Sierra recently pointed to a fascinating start up and their blog. (Humanized) It is well worth watching the demo, and the blog is a super designy read.

It’s time for new, user-centric command line interfaces to make a comeback. A command line that lets you type or say what you want to do, and the computer does it. That’s what the interfaces of the future will be. And that’s what Enso aspires to.*

Think about the implications for HR application navigation.

Typing perf mary: and the system automatically opens Mary Jones’ (who is the only Mary in your team) performance appraisal, is a whole lot easier than grabbing the mouse clicking on manager self service, then scrolling down to my team, then clicking the icon for performance management then selecting this year then scroll down and selecting Jones, Mary.

I installed the demo for enso here it is in action (that is this post in the background on livewriter)

Humanized, in turn, linked to Design Guru, Don Norman.

Want to know what I think the next UI breakthroughs will be? Here are two, both of which can be considered a return to fundamentals:

  1. Command line languages;
  2. Physicality: the return to physical devices, where we control things by physical body movement, by turning, moving, and manipulating appropriate mechanical devices.

So, let’s rethink the command line, and think more deeply about taking the wii more seriously. After all what is Google but a command line?

Google reader’s most vocal supporter, Scoble, comments

I’ve read through more than 1,000 items so far today. I find it interesting that some think it’s slow. It hesitates once every 20 feeds, but I hit “J, J, J, J” as fast as I can read and it keeps up. But, the best part of Google Reader is that I can share my favorite items with you. I’ve read 1016 items so you don’t have to.

Courtesy of Cote, I’ll risk quoting from the novellist that many geeks have read, but very few admit to not really understanding, Neal Stephenson.

The introduction of the Mac triggered a sort of holy war in the computer world. Were GUIs a brilliant design innovation that made computers more human-centered and therefore accessible to the masses, leading us toward an unprecedented revolution in human society, or an insulting bit of audiovisual gimcrackery dreamed up by flaky Bay Area hacker types that stripped computers of their power and flexibility and turned the noble and serious work of computing into a childish video game?


This debate actually seems more interesting to me today than it did in the mid-1980s. But people more or less stopped debating it when Microsoft endorsed the idea of GUIs by coming out with the first Windows. At this point, command-line partisans were relegated to the status of silly old grouches, and a new conflict was touched off, between users of MacOS and users of Windows.

So scripting wizards of SDN, now that you have connected the SAP, Wii and Zoho, how about enso? Craig, Dan, Ed….and of course Nigel, who got me thinking about this in the first place.

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Happy birthday blog, and SAP Election redux.

This blog is now a year old, give or take a week.  Thanks for reading  and commenting.  I’ve had a lot of fun writing it. I’m not going to write one of those posts about my stats,  but I have receieved 13,012 spam comments. The anti-spam software picked up all except about 20 of them, and I’ve not seen any false positives, so thanks WordPress and Akismet.

One of my earliest posts was about the “workers council” elections at SAP, and I thought it worth returning to the theme a year later.  I wrote most of this post on the  high speed train ICE  271 from Mannheim to Zürich. This wasn’t  one of the newer ICE with w-lan, but anyway, it beats driving or flying.  Also keeps my carbon footprint down. 

A year ago some  commentators and journalists  were worried that SAP was becoming unionised.  The reality has turned out otherwise; unions lurk on the distant fringes, but they don’t really have any impact. (At least that my colleagues or I could see when we discussed it over lunch on Sunday)

The only difference we could see as that since this time last year we have had more elections and elections to decide the format of elections here at SAP than in a hung parliament in Italy. I get emails announcing an election for some betriebsrat related thing, followed closely by another email from “list xyz” asking me to vote for them, and they will make sure that there are more varieties of salad dressing at lunch.  I have reached the point where I’m about to add the word betriebsrat to my spam filter.

SAP’s  competiveness will grow not from from building walls, but by removing them;  leveraging SAP’s German heritage, but being open to ideas, managers and employees from all over the world. 

However, there is an election coming up here that I will be voting in. This is the election for the employee representatives on the supervisory board. The supervisory board  is a pretty important thing.  (see this page for details) It is tempting to call them the non-exec directors, but that isn’t quite exact. Here is the legalese-

A supervisory board is the highest control and codetermination body prescribed by the German Stock Corporation Act. This body oversees the activities of the executive board and advises an executive board in important business decisions affecting the whole of the organization’s workforce – for example, in the strategic alignment of the company or policies concerning company locations and subsidiaries. In its function, a supervisory board is also responsible for appointing members to an executive board

 At SAP the other members of the Supervisory Board typically include some of the founders, and CEOs from other companies.

I’m going to find a candidate that is interested in more than salad dressing and protecting Standort Deutschland. 

The securing “Standort Deutschland” mindset won’t get my vote, and most of my German colleagues see it the same way.  SAP is a global company, and we like it that way.

 I received some election spam this morning, and it was as if the chap writing it was wanting to take SAP back to the days of R/2.  Get with the programme dude.

As the “German” Head of Development in Bangalore recently said:

“Das Herz der Entwicklung schlägt nicht mehr ausschließlich in Walldorf”

The heart of development doesnt only beat in Walldorf anymore.

The german press  has had some fun fanning the flames with this, but they miss the point.  SAP started on the road to being an international company when it signed Imperial Chemical and John Deere in 1970 whatever.  I quote from a transcript of SAP’s History – a  journalist is  interviewing Hasso Plattner in 1997.

HP: No. First we got another international company. John Deere in Mannheim. And they came up with the idea that our software should run on one computer and serve several countries—legal entities with different legislation, with different language. John Deere had in those days the world divided in, I think it was Division I (that was Americas) and Division II (that was Europe and Africa). So it was German, French, and English as a minimum. In 1975, 1975-1976, we changed the system from a one language only system to a multilingual system. One of our trademarks later on: not only that we have different versions of the system, that one computer system can run and serve users in France, in South Africa, in Germany, and in England.

I’ll be looking for candidates that grasp that SAP is a global company with a strong German base, and that to continue growing SAP will need to continue changing.  I’ve moved countries a couple of times with SAP, and I have relatively little patience for the small minority that hark back to a mythical past of a small company in an aspargus field.  Without the salesforce in America in the 1990’s R/3 would not have grown as it did. Without the developers in India and Israel we would not have developed compelling midmarket applications. Without Palo Alto we would have completely missed the Internet instead of arriving fashionably late. Without Bulgaria we would not have made significant advances in middleware. And I could go on.  But I’ll requote a colleague from SAP Labs in India

Duet, has helped break not only the language barriers from the code point of view, but has also broken geographical barriers from the development point of view. Within SAP, the building of Duet is spread across locations that are as far apart as they can get. Labs at Palo Alto (USA), Walldorf (Germany), Ra’anana (Israel), and Bangalore (India) all work together on this product. For me, this is the first time I am witnessing Global Development of this scale happen so efficiently and so rapidly. Initially it was awe at first sight. Now even after months into this project, I am still in awe. If I was asked to summarize the document on “How Duet (Mendocino) works?”, I would finish it off with one word – “Magic”.

And as I said a year ago,

I know which Germany I prefer. The SAP and the Germany that attracts people like me is the Germany of innovators, not of stagnators. Those that fear globalisation will not find safety in further bureaucratisation. To compete, innovate and grow we need fewer rules, not more.

Actually, if I could ask the candidates one question, it would be have you read the cluetrain manifesto?

I’ll finish with another Hasso quote from 1997,

Whatever happens in ten years from now, start with a global mind and a global world….


First proper ride of the year, and 2007 cycling goals

Cycling wise I have been v slack this year so far, but Sunday was my first proper ride. I did about 70 kms, with a couple of hills in the Odenwald  and not suprisingly I was a bit tired afterwards.  At least I’m back on the carbon steedSig and I are planning a spring jaunt in his neck of the woods,  so the next couple of weeks may involve riding to work to get some base miles in, as this is Sig’s local hill, the Col de la Madone.

Sig also sent me this fabulous cycling blog, by Will Davies

Late in 2004, it was cold outside, I had put on weight and was feeling unmotivated. So I decided to give myself a challenge for 2005. Now in 2007, I am on my third annual cycling challenge. In 2005, my challenge was to cycle 10,000 kilometres. On Christmas day I reached my goal and promptly took 3 months off. In 2006, my challenge was at least 30 cycling climbs with +1,000 metres in vertical ascent. In the end I cycled far less than in 2005 but had achieved the goal by August. The highlight of the year was a trip to the South French Alps with 8 big climbs in 8 days. In 2007, my goal is to cycle 120,000 metres (about 400,000 feet) of vertical climb. This is about 45 feet an hour every hour of the day.

Brill Will!!!!! Do you have a day job? Great pics of all the alpine climbs, really cool graphics,photos and google map integration. 

On  Sunday July 1st  I’ll be on the start line with several UK based mates for the same route used by Stage 1 of the 2007 Tour de France across East London and Kent finishing in Canterbury. (117 miles Yes, the Tour starts in London this year )

For the blogger charity ride we were thinking some options with varying levels of extremeness, this would enable a bigger group to join. Options include  Ardechoise, La Madeleine, and La Marmotte.

La Marmotte does look pretty evil. (those are meters, not feet) (The cylcosportiv is on Sunday  7th July. This has the advantage of broom wagons, foodstops and closed to cars roads) 

Janet, a wickedly good cycling colleague from SAP described it thus:

While you are contemplating the Marmotte route (and I quote “giving birth was easier”), you might want to consider the old Louison Bobet route – this starts in Valloire goes over the Galibier (though it doesn’t count if you haven’t done the Telegraphe first), down the Lauteret to Briancon, over a little pass to Guillestre  then back up the Izouard , down to Briancon, up the Lauteret and the Galibier and down to Valloire. The Izouard is fantastic – you start in the Med (or so it feels, as all the herbs smell fantastic) and climb up through these wierd rock formations (the caisse deserte of cycling legend) and then back into the Alps proper

(chart from

Another alternative would involve Sig and I, a map and a bottle of Rose. Sig is full of cunning plans.

We will be setting up a wiki again to track the charity stuff and the logistics, but in the meantime if you are interested in joining us, simply comment here. Last year’s effort is documented  here.


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