I’ve heard marketing folks in the IT space use the term pain points for years. According to the Buzzword Compliant Dictionary “Business consultants use ‘pain points’ as a term to describe the places where a business feels the ‘pain’ due to poor operational structure, bad software or good, old-fashioned inefficiencies.” If you’re in marketing for a software, hardware, or services firm or in IT and trying to secure budget or resources to address a problem, it’s a good idea to isolate the pain points and then describe how your recommended solution will ease the pain.
But I noticed today that many of the IT issues I’ve been writing about lately don’t lend themselves to pain points. It’s more like they are numb points. Users don’t think day-to-day about the symptoms of the underlying problem because they’ve been there so long and are so difficult to put your finger on, that they have become numb to it and just treat any resulting inefficiency as business-as-usual. For example, in my report on Enterprise Attention Management I wrote:
Most people treat attention management problems like e-mail overload and interruptions from IM and phone calls like they do the weather. Everyone complains about it but no one does anything about it.
That’s what I mean by a numb point. A second example I’ve run across is the cost and expense of translating and localizing content that was created for one language without regard to how easy it will be to localize later. A third is collaborative authoring.
But trying to get people to address a numb point is not easy, despite the criticality of the issue. For a parallel, think about the human body. Both pain and numbness can indicate very serious problems. A host of dreaded conditions involving circulation or damaged nerves can lead to parts of the body going numb, signaling major trouble. While the human body is wired to respond instantly to pain and force you to attend to the problem, numbness is more sneaky. It can go unnoticed at first. And once it is noticed, the numbness can be scary and lead to dread, but doesn’t inspire the same quick reaction as pain.
To get someone to address a numb point you have to first make them aware of the numbness, the nature of the efficiency loss it is causing, and how it is a symptom that is likely to get worse. You have to tap that numb part, show how that isn’t normal, and shake them awake into dealing with it rather than accepting a slow decline in function. That’s what I and others in the attention management / information overload space are trying to do in different ways. That’s what I hope to do with collaborative authoring and other content authoring trends in my current research. And I hope that over time, IT and business executives become more sensitive and aware that sometimes numbness, not just pain, demands immediate attention.
As the founder and leader of PeopleSoft, Dave Duffield played a seminal role in establishing enterprise resource planning, or ERP, systems as the IT engines of big business. But then, in a hostile takeover, the enterprise software giant Oracle yanked PeopleSoft out of Duffield’s hands. Now, Duffield’s back in town, and he’s gunning for ERP.
Today, Duffield’s new company, Workday, is announcing an expansion of its suite of software-as-a-service business applications to include not only human resource management – its original offering – but also a set of financial management services, including accounts payable and receivable, general ledger, and reporting and analysis.
It’s an alternative to ERP, rather than a Web-delivered version of ERP, argues Nittler, because the system’s software guts are entirely different. Rather than being tightly tied to a complex relational database, with thousands of different data tables, running on a separate disk, the Workday system uses a much simpler in-memory database, running in RAM, and relies on metadata, or tags, to organize and integrate the data. Having an in-memory database means that the system can run much faster (crucial for Web-delivered software), and using metadata rather than static tables, says Nittler, gives users greater flexibility in tailoring the system to their particular needs. It solves ERP’s complexity problem – or at least it promises to. (For more on the nuts and bolts, see David Dobrin’s whitepaper and Dan Farber’s writeup.)
I’m interested to see how this works since it points to two trends that are somewhat experimental and show great promise: Software as a service (SaaS) and a movement away from relational databases. My colleague Peter O’Kelly has been working on a report on XQuery and following XML databases for sometime. What Workday is doing is not an XML database (it gets persisted to a relational database for contingency purposes), but it’s an example of an object-oriented data store. While the whitepaper mostly focuses on speed, I think advantages will emerge due to the capabilities of the new model. It is difficult for designers working with a RDBMS-enabled system to think of new ways to synthesize and connect data that are not supported in their RDBMS model. Sure, sometimes users know exactly what they want (no matter how difficult to do with JOIN statements in SQL) and force them to figure it out, but designers won’t get too creative coming up ideas on their own that don’t fit their model.
When I was a developer and doing data modeling, I often worked backwards from the data model to think of functionality the system might need (such as pieces of the CRUD matrix missing) or that could be useful to supplement what the users told us in requirements gathering. What would a developer/data modeler come up with now if working from an in-memory object model? I can’t wait to find out!
As readers may be aware, I’m not enchanted with the current fad of throwing “2.0” at the end of every term. It just seems too easy as a platform for structuring a conversation about how something has changed, what was in 1.0, what will be in 3.0, how you’re a Luddite if you’re not with us on 2.0, etc. Someone asked about Search 2.0 the other day and, while I hadn’t heard that term before, I have no doubt I’d find a bunch of people talking about it if I Googled it.
But then another thought occurred to me … Craig Roth 2.0. I Googled “You 2.0” and got tons of responses (29,000 to be exact). Many are related to the Time magazine cover or other ways of referring to whether you are using Web 2.0. Some are those emailed jokes about “husband 2.0” and such. But I also saw sincere personal entries about people reinventing or versioning themselves. Treating oneself as a product to be versioned has its illuminating appeal.
Versioning oneself is nothing new. If I was a film maker, I’d probably be thinking in terms of sequels (Craig II: The Empire Strikes Back …). If I was an author I’d think in terms of chapters of my saga. But content-related versioning seems to refer to measuring the progress of your story rather than the progress of you. I like the way software versioning doesn’t inject the story as a refraction point and how it accounts for major and minor releases, which is a better analogy for life (and, as I argue, for the Web as well – who says we just hit 2.0000?).
Simplistic numbering schemes abound: 1.0 for childhood, 2.0 for college, 3.0 for workplace, etc. Or just age – when I was halfway through my 25th year I was CR25.5. These lack explanatory power, however, and sidestep the burden of value judgement that “.0” places on one to indicate that a significant and discrete set of improvements has taken place. What’s the point of the exercise without this judgement?
Maybe I was 1.0 as a self-employed software developer, 2.0 as corporate code jockey, 3.0 as manager, 4.0 as analyst? If my identity is anchored to my profession, that makes sense. Or maybe I’m 1.0 as a child, 2.0 in college, 3.0 living on my own, and 4.0 married? This better reflects the stages of life.
Looking back at what stages I’ve been through and judging retroactively which changes turned out to just be a point release (like going from 3.0 to 3.1 or 3.01) and how I knew when there had been a major versioning is interesting. But what’s more enlightening is looking forward – asking myself the same questions I’d ask a software vendor about the next version of their product (tongue planted firmly in cheek):
- Is your next release going to be a major (“.0”) version or just a minor enhancement?
- What features can I expect in the next release?
- There have been some complaints with the current version (performance problems, unexpected behavior, poor jazz piano improvisation, etc.). Are those issues going to be addressed in the next release?
- When is the next release expected?
- Do you have a beta of the next version that I can see before it’s released to the public?
- Will there be any migration difficulties and support for people using the current version?
- How do I submit change requests for the next version?
Of course, who is to say versioning myself means I have to act like a product manager? It tends to happen on its own whether you notice it or not. To paraphrase an old saying: “versioning happens”.
And maybe I shouldn’t make the assumption that the numbers have to keep increasing. The software industry needs to keep upping the version numbers the way Pepsi needs to keep coming out with new flavors. But as people, is it OK to get to, say, version 6.24 and then just stay there? There are a lot of customers who continue to use very old versions of software because it works just fine and they see no reason to change for the sake of change. There’s something reassuring about a piece of software that really was built so well in the first place that it can be used for years without support and just do its job. And something just as reassuring about a person that has reached not a pinnacle, but a comfortable place that offers them all they want and remains a consistent rock to those around them.
Well, I’m not contemplating a major version change at the moment. But minor ones are in the works. And hey, versioning happens.
This is going a bit too far. The idea of my computer muttering evil things to itself is a bit too “gollum” for me. I’ve always suspected my computer hates me and would say bad things about me if it could, but if I ever walk by my spare bedroom and hear a voice uttering “Delete all files … yes, the hidden ones too … ah, excellent!” I’m just giving up on technology, moving to the mountains, and taking up soapstone carving.
The beginning of the story is below. You can get the full story here.
Microsoft Downplays Vista Speech-Recognition Hack
By Jennifer LeClaire
February 2, 2007 8:27AM
According to security researchers, Windows Vista’s speech-recognition feature is flawed and hackers could use it to remotely force a PC to execute commands.
Microsoft Relevant Products/Services confirmed the vulnerability on Wednesday — a day after the consumer launch of the new operating system — when security researchers began offering details on how pranksters could exploit the speech technology. A malicious Web site, for example, could load an audio file that shouts commands to shut down the operating system without the user’s authorization.
For any of you in the Chicago area I wanted to make you aware of a free seminar that I will be doing along with my Research Director Peter O’Kelly in Chicago on 2/13/07. Details are below. Please contact Karen Warner (the email address is below too) if you’re interested. I look forward to seeing you there.
Collaboration and Content: Moving into an Infrastructure Near You
Join Burton Group for its Complimentary Collaboration and Content Management Seminar.
In this half-day seminar, Burton Group analysts will address emerging challenges and opportunities at the intersection of communication, collaboration, and content management.
Attendees will also have the opportunity to network with Burton Group analysts and peers.
Peter O’Kelly, Burton Group Vice President and Research Director
Craig Roth, Burton Group Service Director
Date & Time:
February 13, 2007
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Hyatt Rosemont 6350 N. River Rd. ROSEMONT, IL 60018
Please register before February 5, 2007
Note: Seating is limited and is reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. A continental breakfast will be served.
Collaboration and Content: Drivers and Trends for 2007 and Beyond
Collaboration and content are transitioning from being optional (sometime seen as luxuries) to mandatory components of the information worker platform. In 2007, the market — including software vendors and open source initiatives — will respond to increased collaboration and content needs with a slew of offerings, including significant product updates from Microsoft (Exchange, SharePoint, Office, and Office Communications Server 2007), IBM (Notes/Domino 8 and new “Ventura” and “Geneva” offerings), and other potential disrupters (such as Adobe, Google, and Oracle). Formerly consumer-focused technologies including blogs, wikis, and social software, are also making inroads into the corporate world, often with poor results for organizations that do not understand them and/or plan appropriately. 2007 will emerge as a critical year for the owners of collaboration and content technologies to optimize their investments by harnessing the emerging power of new capabilities while also keeping chaotic usage and dysfunctional content proliferation habits at bay. In this session, we will describe these trends in detail, along with implications for large organizations.
Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Lotus Notes: Superplatform Supercollisions
IBM and Microsoft have dominated the enterprise markets for communication and collaboration products for more than 15 years. The enterprise collaboration market has historically been dominated by Notes/Domino, but IBM changed its focus for several years, emphasizing a new Workplace product line and implicitly relegating Notes/Domino to something of a legacy role. Since mid-2005, IBM has redoubled its focus on Notes/Domino and Sametime, recasting Workplace as an umbrella product strategy that encompasses the traditional Lotus products along with the latest WebSphere Portal product family. Microsoft has also made significant changes to its communication/collaboration product line during recent years, starting with a new foundation for SharePoint in 2003 and greatly expanding the breadth of its collaboration and content management value proposition with Office and SharePoint 2007. Collaboration is now a central part of Microsoft’s corporate strategy, and Microsoft has articulated a vision that encompasses asynchronous, synchronous, and business process collaboration. In this session, we will review the changing collaboration vendor landscape and provide guidance on where to go next and what to expect when you get there.
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I thought we were in the final days of poor integration of web-based direct customer interaction with business processes. You know – the days when you’d fill out an online form that would just get turned into an email to someone who would then print it out and put it in a pile with all the other normal forms they process. Well, I’ve found a company that’s managed to even take that a step backward.
I have been looking for a car battery that seems to be very difficult to find and went to the “parts” link on a local dealer’s website. Below the direct phone number for the parts department is a web form where you can enter all the info on the part you’re looking for along with your email address. I filled it all out including make, model, part, phone number, and email adddress (I left the VIN blank). Today I got a voicemail message from someone at the dealership saying they got my online form, read the basic info back to me, and gave me the number of the parts department that I should call so they can help me.
Boy, it’s tough to even figure out how to optimize that process! Well, one way would be to have eliminated development of the web form and the callback procedure. That would have saved 100% of the development costs for that feature and yielded 0% difference in actual functionality. Better would be actually having someone in the parts department read the information and call me back with an answer. Guess I’ll have to wait for Web 3.0 for that. In the meantime, I’m going to an old-fashioned garage. No web site, but they seem to have better customer service anyways.
The moral of the story has to do with setting expectations. Web technology often sets high expectations, but poor process integration leaves a company worse off than if they hadn’t done anything at all. I’ll be following up on this thread later this week, but today’s experience provides a good primer on the issue.
Bizarre …we now have malware so malicious that it actually runs an anti-virus program on your PC to kill other malware before taking over your computer? I guess that as long as the other malware on your PC is more malicious or you have multiple viruses this could be a net benefit? If viruses all attack each other before they can hurt us this could be like a movie where the victim sneaks out while two sets of bad guys fight over who gets to kill him.
From Larry Seltzer in eWeek:
It was SecureWorks that spread the word that SpamThru had made the leap of sophistication of downloading and installing a hacked version of Kaspersky Anti-Virus in order to keep the system for itself and remove other malware.
I have been tagged by Peter O’Kelly as part of the The Jeff Pulver Blog: Blog-Tag: A Game for a Virtual Cocktail Party [I’ve been tagged] to describe five things about me relatively few people know:
- My first “life” in computers was 5 years in the gaming industry with my friend David Stark. I was author of a few games such as Demon’s Winter (descriptions on ePinions and Moby Games and a German version I’d never seen until just now) and Shard of Spring ( Moby Games).
- I recorded a heavy metal, double-speed version of Jingle Bells for the Jade Dragon Tattoo Parlor’s Christmas commercial a few years back. I’m a (very) amateur musician. I play blues guitar, studied baroque organ as a non-Major at Indiana University, and wrote an orchestral film score for a short student film.
- Started programming in 1980 on a Bally Basic cartridge. What kind of programs would a junior high school kid write? Well, one implemented a weighted decision model to decide what to have for dinner. It multiplied the criteria scores by the criteria weights for each dinner option to come up with the best one. Who knew I’d get paid to do that scoring RFPs later in life!
- I build attractive, yet flimsy furniture. The table looks great and has a drawer for remotes, but no one is allowed to lean on the table!
- I am addicted to stroopwaflen. It all started when I was in Amsterdam. I was up to 3 stroopwaflen a day before running out of the stash I brought home to the US. If you place them on top of a tea cup, it warms up the cookie and melts the carmel a bit – mmmm.
Now that all the members of the Collaboration and Content Strategies team at Burton Group have blogs I want to take a moment to let you all know about them. Even though I work with them, I still like reading these blogs to see what they are thinking about (but haven’t told me yet!). I highly recommend them for anyone that wants a view into what the thought leaders on the collaboration, content, and communication spaces are following. They are also listed in my blogroll too.
- Guy Creese: Pattern Finder (creese.typepad.com)
- Mike Gotta: Collaborative Thinking (mikeg.typepad.com)
- Karen Hobert: Connecting Dots (khobert.blogspot.com)
- Peter O’Kelly: Reality Check (pbokelly.blogspot.com)