Serial entrepreneur, author and irrepressible techno-geek.
Posts by Bill Loumpouridis
Responsive design is both an approach and a set of technologies utilized to construct mobile websites that “respond” to the capabilities of the device rendering the site. Properly executed it can seem almost magical in its ability to render the intended user experience customized for the device at hand all in HTML.
Having just completed the Responsive Design effort for our CloudCraze eCommerce product, my own impression is that responsive design can be any one of the following: a hack, a panacea, or something in between. In addition, I’m convinced that some customer will love what we’ve put together, and some will find it completely inadequate for their needs.
Responsive design can be a hack if it is approached as technology without any regard for User Experience (UX) design. Our first cut looked horrible, but expectations were low prior to getting designers engaged. It’s relatively easy to implement Responsive Design at a technical level with tools like Bootstrap and Handle Bars. The hard part comes in internalizing use-cases and making the tough choices of what stays and what goes when you slim down on screen real-estate and tailor the UX for the target device footprint.
What we’ve also learned is that Responsive Design is not a destination but a journey. Like your website, your design is never finished, the user experience for each customer implementation of a product will vary and design assumptions will be continually challenged.
Responsive design pre-supposes an HTML-Centric approach to constructing mobile websites vs. coding to native operating systems of IOS, Android or whatever Microsoft is calling a mobile OS these days. Native applications will always have the upper hand in UX flexibility and customization but the short straw on maintenance and cost.
Mobility heightens the importance of design because of the constraints involved. I’ve read that the reason Apple makes such great products is that they know exactly what to leave out vs. what to add-in. The user experience on the original iPOD: incredibly simple. The same is true of the best responsive designs.
If you watched the most recent Grammy awards you might have noticed a new breed of musical artists winning awards this year. These artists are working in a genre sometimes referred to as EDM – Electronic Dance Music. Artists like Skrillex exemplify a breed of artists that are not traditional musicians but most closely resemble DJ’s. Often this music falls into the category of techno, music that does not necessarily require traditional instruments but is really more of an electronic crafting of music through a combination of existing components.
Similarly, the advent of Software as a Service (Saas) in the Cloud has enabled a new class of business automation driven by a component mindset. Instead of requiring programmers, the configuration of SaaS components is accomplished largely by techno-functional analysts – DJs vs. Musicians.
This new breed of analyst is a hybrid of traditional business-process functional acumen, combined with a high level of technical proficiency. These techno-functional individuals do not possess a proficiency in traditional programming…rather they excel in configuring existing frameworks and functional capabilities to construct an experience that customers and end-users can dance to.
Tools like Salesforce.com and Workday are best implemented by these techno-functional analysts that are currently the rave of Corporate IT. These analysts can guide requirements conversation towards the strengths of the particular tool they are working with, and can build a user experience on the fly in a rhythm with constituents that is immediately responsive to changes on the dance floor.
Historically, university degrees in information science best prepared professionals for this challenge. Foundationally, this is still true. However, a truly effective techno-functional analyst is by definition a specialist in a specific SaaS tool. Currently the development of this specialization is possible only on the job. This is due to the fact that SaaS tools evolve at a much faster rate than university curriculums. The net effect is a severe shortage of highly qualified techno-functional analysts that can improvise to meet the needs of their constituency like the best DJs.
Clearly, we need more Skillex’s in the IT world. If you’re someone wondering what your next big career move should be, I’m convinced that the future of business processes automation is moving to the rhythm of the techno-functional beat.
Nothing happens overnight in corporate America. The lifecycle of mission-critical applications can easily extend to 5 and even 10 years. For this reason, even highly compelling technology can take years before it is adopted into mainstream corporate America.
SaaS has had over a decade to prove out and reach the mainstream. Meanwhile Enterprise Cloud – as represented by platforms like Force.Com and Amazon EC2 –has only recently passed its 5 year milestone.
Hence, it is now that true acceleration of Enterprise Cloud adoption will take place. Here are 5 reasons why:
1. Life-cycle Upgrades. The previously noted upgrade cycles are forcing the Enterprise to rationalize current costs. Legacy applications built “pre-cloud” (prior to 2007) are nearing the end of their life-cycles. Traditional software stacks can be prohibitively expensive to maintain, prone to high downtime rates and difficult to modify. How do you rationalize this cost and inflexibility in light of compelling cloud alternatives?
2. Compressed business cycles and business model disruption. You don’t have to look far for examples of businesses that have have been disrupted by the internet – CircuitCity, Blockbuster, Borders Books – are poster-children of the age of disruption. Business models are under siege in nearly every industry – Education, retail, manufacturing, high-tech, telco. This disruption is leading to new opportunities for innovation, and Enterprise Cloud is capable enabling this innovation in far more economical terms.
3. Reduced Risk. In spite of some recent high-profile outages at Amazon, Enterprise Cloud has proven to be remarkably reliable. The high cost of risk mitigation in the corporate data center – redundancy, disaster recovery, security, monitoring, load balancing – are causing corporation to re-asses who should bear the risk of an outage: A third party hosting expert or an internal team.
4. ”Cloud Acquiescence” of Legacy Software Vendors. SAP, Oracle and Microsoft looked the other way for years while salesforce.com and Amazon established beachheads in Enterprise Cloud. Now, through their billion-dollar acquisitions, legacy vendors have emblazoned the imperative of the Cloud phenomenon on the psyche of investors, employees, partners and customers.
5. Compelling success stories. The cat is out of the bag and the success stories of Cloud adoption undeniable. All trends need proof-points to sustain themselves and we are at a stage of incontrovertible evidence.
An honorable mention: another reason Cloud is on the uptick is that it is simply more fun. Seriously. Cloud can be an incredibly liberating place to be for technology professionals. Freed from the constraints of physical infrastructure, IT professionals can focus on partnering with business stakeholders in order deliver true business value. With Enterprise Cloud, IT departments can now evolve from focusing 90% of their attention on maintenance to becoming value-added partners. How cool is that?
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I have been in the technology business since the fax machine revolutionized business and the Pet Shop Boys dominated the dance floor. In the ensuing years, I have attended countless trade-shows, conferences and technology events. Few, if any of these, could rival the enthusiasm and energy consistently on exhibit at salesforce.com’s annual Dreamforce conference. Marc Benioff seems to always find a way to magically combine the passion of a Baptist preacher with a singular technology vision just slightly ahead of its time for a truly compelling keynote. Additional keynote speakers up the ante year-over-year for thought-provoking insights.
Personally what I like most about the conference is that each year real risks are taken with speakers and content, and yet somehow it all comes together magnificently. You can read about the lineup in advance, but Dreamforce is never predictable. The leader in cloud computing assembles the essential ingredients that combines into an alchemy that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
EDL will be exhibiting its own brand of CloudCraze alchemy at this year’s Dreamforce in Booth #408. Hope to see you there!
When embarking on any new initiative, the importance of vision cannot be understated.
One of my favorite questions for an initial client call is to ask the project sponsor “what’s your vision for the future-state”? Starting with the end vision in mind and then working backwards to identify all those things that need to come together to achieve the vision is important in order to ensure you are pointed in the right direction from the start.
The grander the vision, the more dependencies and the greater the complexity of the solution. Achieving your vision will most often require distinct technical elements to blend into a holistic solution.
Given our work at EDL Consulting is primarily in the front office domain of our clients, the vision that is most commonly articulated by clients describes an end-state where customers seamlessly and faithfully interact with our clients to buy goods and services. A sort of “Customer Gestalt”, if you will.
I view our role as enablers for our clients’ vision. We achieve this by weaving together distinct technical elements to achieve a whole that is far greater than the sum of the parts: 1+1=3.
In many cases, weaving together best-in-class front-office platforms like BigMachines and salesforce.com enables our clients to achieve a “Customer Gestalt” that supercedes the typical vagaries of complex quoting, configuration and CRM. And, a well integrated eCommerce solution can achieve even greater customer affinity-a unified whole solution.
What’s your vision for Customer Gestalt? Come see us at Dreamforce 2012, September 18-21 in San Francisco and we can discuss how to make your vision into reality. Hope to see you there!
I’m happy to say that all these years of tilting at windmills, trying to get folks to think holistically about eCommerce with respect to front-office CRM are beginning to pay off. In a recent Gartner report cited in a terrific software blog by Louis Columbus, he cites Gartner giving equal heft to eCommerce priorities relative to Sales, Marketing and Customer Service.
Obviously, right? eCommerce systems are a means to monetize the Social Enterprise, one of the tangible metrics for measuring positive customer engagement that is the nexus of front-office CRM. The bottom line for “Likes”.
Succeeding as a Social Enterprise means thinking holistically about eCommerce beyond traditional marketing, sales and service functional boundaries because functionally oriented “inside-out” approaches to CRM can undermine holistic benefits. An “outside-in” approach that starts with the Customer, anticipates their needs and sets up a framework for response is far more likely to drive positive customer engagement. Driving more eCommerce transactions should be one of the goals for this engagement, and a logical way to measure CRM success in the Social Enterprise.
There are a handful ways in which to implement a Cloud environment. I will cover both the pros and cons of each.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) vis-á-vis Amazon Web Server (AWS) is Cloud at its most elemental. That said, AWS is one of the fastest growing public clouds available, and AWS has transformed the start-up landscape by providing outsourced infrastructure for mere pennies.
In the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud paradigm, the platform provider provides a “stack” of services that may include a meta-database, programming environment, and web services layer as well as other capabilities such as workflow and authentication. In the case of Force.com, this “stack” of technologies significantly reduces development and support complexities, as well as speed-to-market.
This approach is taken to its logical conclusion in the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, the highest level of cloud implementation where the business functionality of the application is the primary focus.
So what’s the incentive to choose one route over another? In my experience, the decision to choose one or the other can depend on the priorities of the organization making the decision. In an IT-centric model, the tendency is to choose Infrastructure-as-a-Service because it provides the greatest degree of flexibility and control; flexibility with regards to which software vendors to use at certain points in the stack, and control over how resources are allocated and fine-tuned.
Along with the flexibility of owning the stack comes added complexity resulting in increased risk.
A Platform-as-a-Service route tends to be the route chosen when line-of-business and functional leaders are most influential in the decision-making process and no SaaS applications are available to meet the stated business and technical requirements. It is also the route commonly chosen when IT and business are closely aligned.
Ultimately, functional heads of Sales, Customer Service and eCommerce, for example, are more inclined to choose Software-as-a-Service when this is an option because the complexities of owning the stack is essentially outsourced to the software application provider, freeing them to focus on business issues vs. the technical underpinnings.
A terrific real-world example in the eCommerce space would be a debate on whether to pursue a hosted version of Magento vs. a Cloud solution like DemandWare or EDL’s product, CloudCraze. A hosted instance of Magento would theoretically provide the best of all worlds – Cloud elasticity and flexibility. But do you really want to own the stack? Owning the stack means maintaining in-house expertise in MySQL, PHP, Magento Application Server and whatever other web server technology is being implemented. Not only that, each of these technologies represents a potential point of failure in the operation of your eCommerce storefront along with the integrations to back office and CRM.
Outsourcing the stack to a Platform-as-a-Service vendor such as salesforce.com dramatically decreases this risk. Arguably, this approach is less “flexible” with respect to mixing and matching software vendors but avoids perceived “lock-in.” Which approach is best for you? Only by appropriately weighing risks and benefits can the answer be derived. You can probably guess what my answer is.
I was genuinely saddened by the news of Kodak’s latest moment: filing for bankruptcy. The good news is that for every Kodak there are literally hundreds of new start-ups doing what Kodak should have been doing: filling the void to provide socially-enabled photo-sharing, video-sharing, the latest digital image capture/manipulation, and other digital technology ad infinitum. These startups are able to do what they are doing on shoestring budgets, largely because Cloud technology provides inexpensive, production-ready environments that foster innovation and scale effortlessly.
Innovation and risk go hand-in-hand. In my experience, cloud technologies substantially reduce key risk elements – time and cost – and thereby enable the innovation required for long-term sustainability. Specifically, the Cloud enables you to practice behaviors that keep you clicking in the startup economy.
1. Fail Fast. Cloud technologies provide the fastest path to go-live. The faster you go live, the faster you can determine your level of success. There’s no greater lesson than failure, so if it’s inevitable, better to get there sooner rather than later.
2. Cannibalize yourself before others do it for you. Part of failing fast means trying things that might cannibalize your existing customer base. A classic example of this is the software industry, where the shift to subscription-based models is cannibalizing once-lucrative software upgrade cycles.
3. Focus on business models vs. infrastructure. Because the move to cloud essentially outsources your infrastructure needs, you can focus your organizational energy and resources on fine-tuning your business model vs. keeping the lights on.
4. Leverage the power of the ecosystem. There are hundreds of startups out there creating the building blocks for your next business model. Why invent when you can assemble, innovate and out-maneuver?
5. Stay lean and hungry. No matter how big an organization becomes, maintaining a “startup mentality” is key to energizing and motivating your workforce. Cloud allows you to keep the conversation focused vs. maintenance of the status quo because so much of your operational requirements have been shifted to third parties.
It is now painfully obvious that the inventors of digital photography failed to cannibalize themselves quickly enough to survive. A Kodak moment to be remembered, but not repeated. Looking ahead, there is certainly no shortage of start-ups looking to fulfill the maxim, “capitalism abhors a vacuum” and the Cloud is ready to help them.
Why did it take so long for Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft to truly embrace the cloud?
Business models are funny things. In the Internet Age, the right business model at the right time can catapult a company to fame and fortune practically overnight. Groupon, Zynga and others are a testament to this. Similarly, the inertial drag of an antiquated business model can be the root cause for the rapid demise of others. The tech industry is littered with many flameouts like Palm and RIM.
The obstacles that legacy, premise-based software vendors face to Cloud presence are not so much technical, as they are strategic and logistical. Channel sales and distribution models, which make up the bulk of sales for large legacy independent software vendors (ISVs), rely on one-time payouts for software licenses for their viability. These ISVs have bridged the gap in the short term by slapping “Cloud” stickers on their software CDs and providing financed leases to their software and then passing on the cost of the financing to their customers.
Another strategy is to hedge; buy a cloud company and live in both worlds simultaneously. SAP, with its purchase of Success Factors, and Oracle, with its purchase of RightNow, are buying access to Cloud distribution strategies as much as they are buying technology and customers.
2011 will be remembered as the year these slumbering giants finally woke up to the promise and potential of Cloud technology. Buying their way in is the only way to play catch-up, and that’s great because I hear that Larry Ellison throws great parties. The challenge in harmonizing these disparate architectures into holistic solutions, however, will be formidable.