Semantic webness, record collections and tags.

Semantic is one of those  words that clever people use and the rest of us are too embarrassed to ask what it really means.  The longer the conversation goes on, the less likely one is to ask. 

Last week I attended the Society for Computers and Law conference.  All the talks were excellent, I learnt lots about  the changing models in the music business and  legal implications of Second Life, youTube and Facebook (there are several). I’ll probably blog more on these at a later date.  

One talk that I’ll pick up here is “What is the Semantic Web?” by  Nick Gibbins  He isn’t a lawyer or a legal academic, but a computer scientist.  He works at Southampton Uni, where the famous TBL lurks. His talk was crystal clear, straight-forward;  yet he refrained from doing that patronising thing that übergeeks do when they talk to a mixed or non-geek audience.  I understood the talk, and later I could explain what I’d understood. Coolness.  Thanks Nick.

I studied a bit of philosophy at university, so the word ontology struck  like  a blast from the past, but much of what the semantic web is about smashes head on into some fundamental philosophical questions about knowledge and ideas.  I’m guessing that the OWL language acronym is a neat doff of the cap to the Owl of Minerva  There is more than a smattering of artifical intelligence to this, but with a deep tinge of realism. .  Much of this stuff is not new, but it is now starting to get very real.

After Nick’s talk I took some time to head over to the w3C site and read up a bit more about the semantic web.  I’d suggest you do the same.  I also read over on Brad Feld’s blog about some start ups in this area. This semantic business is important beyond just start ups and computer science theory. It will fundamentally impact how business systems talk to each other. There is a fair bit going on in SAP research on this.

This brings me to the challenge that Sig commented on recently at Thingamy.  Getting classification right is damn hard.   And as Jeff Jonas often notes, context is key. It seems to me that Sig, Nick and Jeff ought to be chatting.

When I think of the challenges of classification, I’m reminded of that classic scene in Nick Hornby’s brilliant brilliant book, High Fidelity, where Rob reorders his record collection. (from the movie screenplay)

Dick: I guess it looks as if you’re reorganizing your records. What is this though? Chronological?
Rob: No…
Dick: Not alphabetical…
Rob: Nope…
Dick: What?
Rob: Autobiographical.
Dick: No fucking way.

 (the movie wasn’t as good as the book, but it was still bloody good)

(This clip could be the start of a long digression into selling software techniques, but I’ll resist the temptation, and gosh, never mind the music industry business model stuff. More on Gary Rinkerman’s  rivetting and witty talk in another post)

When I read the biography of Schumpeter a  few weeks ago, I was struck by the importance that he placed on industry standards. He was talking about railroads, but the argument applies equally to the the future of the web. The future of the web is dependent on building common meanings. Standards will continue to play a huge role.

Nick’s talk made me realise a few significant things.

1. Studying political philosophy has many unexpected benefits (beyond shocking people with Marx quotes)

2. I need to learn alot more about the semantic web and its implications. I’m thinking it has serious implications for the future of how businesses collaborate.

3. Pure research is vital for long term innovation. Governments and Industry need to fund pure research, be patient and let serendipity and unexpected consequences do the rest.  I’d like a whole lot more of my tax money going into this sort of research. (sorry cows)

4. Emergence and folksononies have their place, and will play a key role in defining the future of how people and systems work, but on their own they are not enough.  Rock on Mevil Dewey.

Technorati tags: , , ,


Predictions, a must read HR technology blog, and a conference.

Jason Corsello,  a fellow Enterprise Irregular, now works for Knowledge Infusion.  I recently caught up with him after about 10 missed calls from both sides of the pond.  

His company blog, Knowledge infuser, is a must read. (Well, for anyone interested in HR and technology.)  It is a very good example of corporate blogging. 

Prediction is a dangerous job.


(I took this picture  in the Mercedes Benz  museum)

But I agree  violently with the prediction in a recent  Knowledge Infuser  post on Microsoft

HR metrics and analytics space or as we call it; TALENT INTELLIGENCE will explode over the next five years.

This brings me back to an old chestnut.

More than any other discipline, HR has ignored the power of analytics. Statistics is rarely taught in HR  programmes, and many HR executives are blissfully unaware of the power that lurks in their ERP systems.  

Many companies have been successfully running core administrative processes globally. They have solid core processes at last.  One of the sweet by-products of well run administrative processes is decent data, but only if you do something with it.

 It is high time that we HR types exploit that rich vein, or someone else will.

If I was an HR director on the board of a major company,  I’d hire a maths and business graduate as my executive assistant.  I’d have him or her build me some serious models.  Supply chainers, financiers and even marketeers do.  Oh, and at the same time I’d  kick off a bit of scenario planning.  Heck, I’d even run a few customer led design workshops  to figure out exactly what I ought to be analysing.  I’d also get some CPM types on board, and look at integrating HR and Finance analytics. Out damn silos. 

I’ hope be at the London  InfoHRM conference in early December.  Peter Howes knows more about HR analytics than anyone I know.   I look forward to hearing more about what Nokia and co are up to.


ByDesign is here

Warning.  A year or more of NDA makes for a rambling gush.

Most of the launch coverage in the blogsphere has been positive, even some of SAP’s more strident critics are upbeat about the vision and progress. Dennis provides  an extensive  review of the enterprise irregulars coverage.  Herewith my take after watching the cast and reading a goodly number of posts.

A1S now has a name.  I heaved big sigh of relief that there is no number in the name, and personal pronouns are absent.   I really like the prominence of the word design in the name. Design thinking needs to be at the centre of what SAP does, so seeing it in a product name is a damn good way of reinforcing that.  

Having a sharp focus on a defined segment of the market helps SAP defeat its biggest competitor in the long term.  SAP’s biggest competitor isn’t Oracle, Microsoft, or even the cannibals.  It is complexity.  This is our  Bauhaus moment.

It is also good to see  SAP’s leitmotiv, Integration so prominently mentioned in the presentation. The message is as relevant today as it was when the company was formed. 

Testing and learning.

Several months ago I spent a day  testing the HR part of the solution. I hired an employee, gave them biographical and compensation data, work schedules, and so on.  I didn’t need any training, and I didn’t look at a manual.  Sure I found some bugs, but this stuff works.  The commitment and intensity of the development team  really impressed me.

I’m with James Governor on the GUI form. The 5 shades of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit Baby Blue doesn’t really do it for me.  But this is version one.

Leo mentioned ADP in his presentation.  More than any company in the world, ADP understands delivering software as a service at a competitive price point at  a  profit. By working closely with ADP SAP will learn alot about what it takes to really scale this offering profitably.  ADP gets hugely  significant new channel to market. So it is a win-win.  This relationship points to a new form of partnership. 

Fine young Cannibals.

I’ve not figured out all the cannibalising discussion, but to me it boils to down to brand management.  It is a challenge that successful product companies have to deal with all the time, whether they sell toothpaste, mainframes,  high end bicycles,  golf clubs, processor chips or cars.  It takes skill and timing to manage a product portfolio.  

James Governor told  me that IBM have managed multiple product lines for years, and did it well.  Consider the As/400 and the RISC line….His  post is  spot on.

…BusinessByDesign is exactly the kind of shop that would traditionally buy a packaged application running on an AS/400. The kind of customer that would forget about its server and put it behind a drywall…

This reminded me of an interview that Hasso Plattner did in 1997. (exact unedited transcript)

HP: Yes. The idea of R/3 was to build a system for the AS 400. AS 400, small computers, so we wanted to cover the low end of the market, because R/2 was well established on the high end. We had no intention to shut down the R/2. So R/3 was meant to cover the low end of the market. Now we can’t run on the AS 400. It didn’t work, physically didn’t work. C was not there, and all the ingredients of SAA never arrived in those days on the AS 400. Now it was obvious that SAA will collapse. The Whitewater Project collapsed in IBM, Advanced Manufacturing Project in Atlanta. They shut this project down. Two thousand people working on a manufacturing system. Our biggest threat ever. And Office Vision was struggling, and later abandoned. We said now we have to move on Unix and we go for the low end of the market. Despite we had this experience of nearly unlimited computing power, we were only limited by the database, a simple database computer. The capacity of the database computer.

The first prospect in Germany for R/3 we thought is a so-called medium sized market company dealing with screws. They are a large screw dealer. When we learned more about the company, the company had two billion in revenues in 1991. The company was operating in eighty countries in the world. So this mid-sized market customer all of a sudden had one of the largest warehouses in Germany, was–as far as transaction rate is concerned–larger than the largest R/2 customer in operation. That means from day one all these ideas how we go for the low end of the market got stalled

There are black swans lurking in the most unlikely places. The genius of Plattner, Hopp,  Tschira, Zencke , Kagermann and the gang in the 1990’s was to exploit it.  Changing your mind decisively is a rare skill.   Peter Zencke played a vital role in that decision back then, so the chance that SAP has forgotten the power of a serendipitous challenge accepted is slimmer than a Kate Moss look alike  contest  line up.

And on a sartorial note it was good to see HPK wearing a different tie. 

Technorati tags: , ,

Putting web 2.0 in a legal context

For me, most of next week is all about computer law. I’m attending Gikii and the Society for Computers and Law conference – Law 2.0? : New Speech, New Property, New Identity. The SCL event is chaired by Lilian Edwards, Professor of Internet Law, University of Southampton, and Director of ILAWS, the Institute for the Law of the Web at Southampton, and  is hosted and sponsored by the firm Herbert Smith.

From the programme.

  • How do web 2.0, the “Semantic Web” and distributed computing interact?
  • What are the commercial and business model implications of web 2.0?
  • What are the social implications of social networking software and the “open access” paradigm?
  • What are the intellectual property and data protection laws impacting on these technologies and their exploitation?
  • Should public sector geospatial data be bought, sold, and “mashed up”, and if so, on what conditions?
  • How can identity and reputation be managed on the new Web?
  • Does Europe need to rewrite the laws of privacy and data protection in a web 2.0 world?
  • What dangers are we exposing children and the unwary to in a world of ubiquitous disclosure?
  • What laws govern virtual worlds? How do we do business there?
  • How do control mobile and distributed data in a connected world?
  • Should platforms like Facebook and You Tube be legally liable for user generated content?
  • Is Google legal?
  • What next in the music download wars in a web 2.0 world?

There will be a round table discussion on : Are tools like blogs and wikis inherently disruptive technologies in the workplace, and for law, democracy and politics?

I may try some live blogging again and maybe even a podcast (note to self don’t forget microphone, and remember that you are in a room of lawyers).

On Tuesday evening I’m attending the computer law group meeting in middle temple, this is the first time in almost two years that I’ve managed to be in London when the meeting is on, so I’m really looking forward to it.

On Wednesday I’ll be presenting a short paper on accessibility and web 2.0 at the absolutely packed agenda second Geek Law conference( gikii 2). I presented a paper at last year’s Gikii conference, so it is great to be allowed back. I understand from Andres there is a project underway to turn the proceedings into a book. Last year’s event was great, being described as: “Like a normal conference, only without all the boring papers”

Catching up with the law meets computers crowd in the UK will be fun and simulating and I perhaps I’ll meet the mildly notorious Geeklawyer. Hopefully these three days of academicness will motivate me finish (write) the evil thesis.

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Homage to a design icon and a digression

I’m not talking about a  Barcelona chair


barcelona, baby

(from flickr of suttonhoo)

nor a 1972 911 Carerra RS

'72 911 Carrera RS

(from Ulfbot’s Flickr)

no, not even the latest Campagolo Record.

My number one design icon is the billy bookcase from IKEA.

Seeing the Bauhaus thing last week made me realise why. Form follows function.  Everything about it, from packaging, the assembly, and the integration is absolutely without waste. (note to self re-read the the laws of simplicity blog)

Billy even manages to provide amusement.

I bought another 4 yesterday, and I noticed that they had halved the width of the packaging by making the backboard crease vertically rather than horizontally. Clever,as they are much easier to carry for the store staff and easier to load into the car.  It meant I bought one more than I’d planned to. We have about 11 15 billy bookcases  at home. Unfortunately IKEA don’t sell extra walls, at least at my shop. pity. 

A digression.

IKEA run SAP for HR via the ADP Globalview offering, and a couple of weeks ago I spoke to Albert Martens, HR Director at IKEA. In passing, after discussing HR systems, I mentioned  that I’d like to see a shallower version of the Billy, optimised for paperbacks. He opened up the customer request system while I was on the phone and entered it there and then. 

Building direct customer feedback to the designer is not only good for product development. It is a remarkably effective way of building customer engagement. I firmly believe that SAP’s strongest competitive advantage is our customers and partners, but only if we listen to them. At the risk of repeating myself, start ups have to guess what to build. We just have to ask. This is what we mean by co-innovation, but this is only the beginning.


Technorati tags: , , ,

A design classic. 1927 and software?

More design ramblings.

Logo Weissenhofmuseum im Haus Le Corbusier


On friday I got to visit the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart. It was built in the late 1920’s, opening in 1927. The architects involved were Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud, Victor Bourgeois, Adolf Gustav Schneck, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Bruno and Max Taut, Hans Poelzig, Richard Döcker, Adolf Rading, Josef Frank, Mart Stam, Peter Behrens and Hans Scharoun.

Le Corbusier and his fellow architects aimed to strip down the house to its simpliest form. There is beauty in the stark, simple lines of the buildings. Their goals were to create cheaper, healthier, more practical and liveable spaces.

This is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s apartment block.


 Luckily the development has been saved after it was condemned to destruction by the nazis, bombed by the allies  and then neglected. It is an astounding spot, and it showcases some many of the innovations that we take for granted in homes today.

The buildings are by no means perfect, and sometimes the gap between the vision and the engineering and technical reality were too great to bridge. The tension between design and engineering is palpable. I wasn’t expecting to be awed, but I was. The tour was excellent, both for the architecture and the history. 


Le Corbusier house. It looks as if it was built yesterday, not in 1927.  You can go inside.

The visit to the mercedes museum and the Weissenhofstiedlung made me think a lot about software. Both the 300SL and many of the bauhaus buildings depend on a excellent chassis to function effectively.  Without a stable platform, nothing really works. The separation of the chassis from the body enabled Benz and co to make huge leaps foward in strength, shape, handling, cost and weight reduction in the car. The same point could be made about the use of a load bearing frame in buildings, with the walls etc merely acting as a skin. This dramatically expanded the realms of possibility, both for interior space and external volume.

The same argument can be applied to the need to split data, process and visualisation in software application design.

It also made me think back to a post I wrote in defence of concrete. Good software is partly about achieving a balance between design and engineering, with design helping to push engineering forward, and vice versa. 

At its core, the Bauhaus movement is about “art and technology – a new unity”. Weissenhof is a pretty good place to go and think about software.   Oh, and I need to read a bit more.  And next time I’m in Berlin, I’ll need to go here.

Enterprise software can learn a lot from Bauhaus.

Thanks to my colleagues for organising the trip, and to my brother for a quick Bauhaus recap and indoctrination. 

Good design is beautiful.

This friday we had our betriebsausflug. A department outing. I’m not sure if this is a German thing or an SAP thing, but I can’t help thinking of school outings for grown ups. A fine thing indeed.  We drove down the motorway to Stuttgart, visited the Mercedes Benz museum and then had a guided tour of the Weissenhofstiedlung. (more in a later post on that)

The museum is fabulous. I was flabbergasted that in 1909 Benz built a car with over 200bhp that had a top speed of over 230 kms. But more than anything I was captivated by the beauty of good design.




I wish I’d had a real car design expert with me. (the gearhead in me enjoys the metacool blog) but the audio service at the museum was pretty good.

I learnt something about the 300SL that I didn’t know. The gullwing doors were an innovative answer to a challenge that the new chassis design had created. The race car was built to be light and strong with a new tubular construction form, but the structure made it impossible to add a normal door, this would have sacrificed the torsonal strength.



So the designers came up with this.




Mercedes-Benz needed a lot of convincing to turn the racing car into a production model, but it is a good thing they did.





Technorati tags: ,

Schumpeter and Wikipedia, a case for creative destruction

I’ve just finished reading a brilliant biography of a brilliant man. The Prophet of Innovation – Thomas McCraw’s biography of Joseph Alois Schumpeter is meticulously researched, insightful, and thorough.  McCraw writes with a deft and personal touch. He manages to mix the tale of Schumpeter’s complex personal life with a broad tour of economics, and provide a deep insight to his huge impact on economics and business studies. McCraw makes Schumpeter accessible without compromising the depth and the complexity of his work. This is a rare talent, and the book is a treat.  (here is another review,   another, another and another)

Anyone who is interested in how capitalism works or doesn’ t work ought to spend some time with Schumpeter. McCraw’s book is a great place to start, or an even better place to rekindle an interest.  I’d read Schumpeter a bit at university, but I didn’t give him the focus and respect he deserved. I will need to re-read him. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (CSD) will be my companion for my next airport lounge visit.

Filled with my newly found Schumpeterian knowledge, I headed over to the wikipedia, mainly to save me re-typing stuff about him here.  I’d planned to post something about innovation, standards, big companies and software, but that will need to wait.

As usual, typing in Schumpeter in Google brings up the wikipedia entry first.

 I was really disappointed with the  wikipedia piece

The entry could do with some significant creative destruction.  It is factually inaccurate, and it damns Schumpeter with faint praise. It is equivalent to saying Mozart wrote a couple of nice tunes.

According to Wikipedia,

During his Harvard times, he was not generally considered to be a very good classroom teacher, but he acquired a school of loyal followers. His prestige among colleagues was likewise not very high, because his views seemed outdated and not in touch with then-fashionable Keynesianism. This period as a Harvard professor was characterized by very hard work but also by little real recognition of his core ideas.

It is true that he had a long standing battle with Keynes, but very little else in that paragraph is correct.

1.He was elected President of the American Economic Association in 1949, the most prestigious office in the country for an economist. (first foreigner to get the honour)

2. When Yale tried to headhunt him, and all 17 members of the economics department signed a letter urging him to stay, and 26 of his Graduate Students did the same.

3. He was rated very highly by graduate and undergraduate students in reports.(There is some disagreement on this when he was near the end of his career.)

4. His History of Economic Analysis received rave reviews from his peers. (as did CSD)

5. His speech to American Economic Association in 1948 received  “A thunderous and prologed standing ovation.It was a spontaneous expression of respect and gratitiude…”(McCraw p 483)

6. On his death (while still an active faculty member) His Students and Colleagues took the very unsual step of dedicating a future issue of the Review of Economics and Statistics to him.

7. McCraw commented that Schumpeter would have won the Nobel prize for economics if it had existed then.(3 of Schumpeter’s students did win it.) He also noted that in 1950 Schumpeter was the most illustrious economist in the world.  In 1983 Forbes Magazine christened Schumpeter as the most influencial economist of the 20th Century. 

The wikipedia piece doesn’t even mention his other major work, the History of Economic Analysis. His analysis of the role of credit, venture capital, and strategy don’t get a mention either. There is no mention of his wife, who played a key role in keeping him on track.

McCraw commented in an interview

As for my personal feelings about him, I think Schumpeter is one of those historical figures that anyone would love to have dinner with, as many people have said of Benjamin Franklin. He was just so witty, knowledgeable, and downright interesting that you couldn’t come away without feeling enriched. Weaving together the fascinating story of his life with an interpretation of his great body of work made the writing of my book not only a challenge, but also a tremendous pleasure.

You would never know this from reading the Wikipedia. More’s the pity. And more ammunition Wikipedia’s most fervent critic.

Technorati tags: , , ,