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August 31, 2004
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July 28, 2004
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Who Links Here

Blogger Experience, Housekeeping, Something New

You can read yesterday's Internet Time Outbound newsletter online.

Do you Furl? It's free. And Beta. And great. When I see a webpage I may want to reference, I push a button on my browser's toolbar to furl it. Unlike a bookmark, Furl lets me store a category, my rating, notes, and a excerpt. Here, take a look at my Furl Archive.

The experience will Blogger has been largely positive. Some issues remain. By far the largest is its broken RSS. Their support troops are working on it, but Internet Time Blog has dropped off the RSS radar. I am going to kludge a temporary solution -- reposting to the MT blog just to generate the RSS. Also, I miss trackback but it's not that big a deal.

Loosely Coupled

Loosely Coupled is a wonderfully lucid book by Doug Kaye, who also provides IT Conversations, mp3 recordings of interviews with IT visionaries that I love to listen to while walking in the Berkeley hills. Founder and former CEO of Rational Software, Doug has an ability to explain what's going on in Web Services, applicaiton integration, Service-Oriented Architectures, security, what's still missing, and more. He concludes with a Strategic Checklist.

Gifted writer that he is, Doug still takes 300 pages to make his case, so I propose little more than to skim the treetops and to recommend that you grab a copy of this if you expect Web Services to impact your job (that is, if you expect to be in IT, corporate finance, or training administration five years from now).

Here's a map of the entire Web Services vision. The bottom third is done; you've used it many times. The middle stuff is still being worked out; it's a universal need, and much of it will migrate to the bottom tier. The top of the pyramid is industry-specific. Highly automated industries like financial services, high-tech, and automotive have many standards worked out and are actively using them. Kaye points out what's here today, what's expected tomorrow, and when it's reasonable to expect it. The subtitle of the book is The Missing Piece of Web Services, and it's this separation of the real from the vapor that makes this an incredibly useful book.

Why would any CIO in his right mind embrace this Web Services business? Two words: Application integration. Inside corporations, anywhere from one- to two-thirds of all programmer time is spent splicing together applications so they can talk with one another. More than anyone likes to admit, integration is often accomplished by manually intervening to transfer data from one application to another ("swivel-chair integration" or "sneaker-net"). Unfortunately, in this sort of set-up, data only flows one way. When systems rely on one another, things rapidly fall out of sync.

ERP was an attempt to glue things together systematically. However, the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of putting in an ERP is in the neighborhood of $15 million, most of it for integration and customization. A study found the range to be $400,000 to $300 million, with an average cost of $53,000/user! Nonetheless, most companies were happy, because they achieved enterprise integration for the first time.

You're going to hear a lot about services in the future, and I don't mean what maids and messengers do.  Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) is an approach to building systems where the fundamental building blocks are connections. A software architect begins by definining the interfaces between business processes. Once these are solid and interoperable, the business process can change without screwing up the whole system.

This is important to understand, and I'm not doing the best job at it, so I'll draw an analogy. Before loose coupling, the buzz-phrase for common interface standards wired to some process behind it, corporate IT applications were hard-wired to one another. Each M&M here is a separate business process:

With loose coupling, processes (or "services") are separable at the interfaces. We treat each process as a free-standing bundle and insert new connections between them. Each process becomes plug-and-play:

You can see what's coming. If I want to outsource a service, all I need to do is unplug it. In fact, I could create a business process model that replicated the service, and do what-if analysis until I hit on the best configuration of services to achieve my objectives.

The prevailing business wisdom is that you should do what you're good at and hand off the rest. Thirty years ago, companies programmed their own accounts payable applications; now they all rely on someone else to do that. Fifteen years ago, companies ran their own payroll; now they hand it off to ADP. The trend to handing off anything that's not your core expertise is growing. SOA and Web Services will make it hard to resist a smoothly interoperable service managed by someone for whom it's core.

Back to Doug Kaye, for I drifted away from his message when the M&Ms showed up. The reason the afficianados of IT feel SOA is inevitable is because it provides:

  • Vendor independence, since with interoperability, there's no lock-in
  • Standardization: it worked for the Internet, didn't it?
  • Modularity and granularity: like in the old days, when audiophiles were forever swapping amps and speakers in and out of their systems to achieve the optimal sound
  • Reusability: to avoid reinventing the wheel
  • Lower Costs: because standardization and integration breed efficiency
  • Loose coupling, that enables one to take one step at a time and to stay in sync
  • Reduced brittleness: because problems are contained before they hit the system level
  • Scalability: because, like on the Web, one-to-many relationships replace one-to-one's
Gartner Group asks us not to forget:
  • One-step-at-a-time development
  • Low-cost assembly of new processes
  • Consistent model for assembly of heterogeneous transactions
  • Improved clarity of application topology
Oh, and Gartner disagrees with Kaye's benefit of Vendor Independence.

Above all

To work with the big picture, you've got to rise above the day-to-day to the process level.

Remember Charles and Ray Eamesí famous documentary, Powers of Ten? Starting from a top-down photograph of a couple on a blanket next to Chicagoís Lake Michigan, subsequent photos take you up and out. You see the scene from 10 meters, then 100 meters, then 1,000, and so forth, until finally youíre looking at a fuzzy dot in the sky a billion light-years from earth. You can also journey in the other direction, getting under the skin, into the capillaries, through the DNA, down to atoms, and finally into a proton that fills the entire page.

Similarly, as we back away from our organizations and as business evolves, our vision of the territory broadens. Our frame expands from the individual worker (e.g., the clerk) to the team (e.g., accounts receivable) to the department (e.g., finance) to the business unit (e.g., light-bulb manufacturing) to the corporation (e.g., General Electric). As we back away, we see that the functional silos of finance, marketing, sales, personnel, etc., are all part of one big operation. We see raw materials going in one door and finished goods coming out the other, with everyone touching it along the way, a process of adding value we call workflow.

Business Process Reengineering sought to tighten things up at this level. BPR claims to make end-to-end improvements. BPR often failed. On the one hand, BPR oversimplified how organizations really work; you canít do without the grapevine, workarounds, the shadow organization, social networks, and other intangibles. On the other, BPR mistook the old wall surrounding the corporation for the limits of the value creation process. The wall is an artificial barrier. Thatís why Jack Welch told GE to be a ďboundaryless organization.Ē Why mess with only the inside stuff when you can leverage the assets of the entire world?

As we backed away, a bigger picture came into focus, a ďValue Chain.Ē We recognized that our organization is but a link in a chain that stretches from digging raw materials out of the ground to putting a smile on a customerís face. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If the company that supplies our raw materials is an inefficient, high-cost producer, our customer is eventually going to pay for it. Hence, itís in our interest to select, train, inform, and motivate every link in our chain. A majority of the people who work for Cisco donít draw a Cisco paycheck. They are suppliers, assemblers, shippers, channel partners, consultants, and integrators.

Stepping back once more, the frame captures immense ecosystems interacting on myriad levels. Organizations donít have a relationship with their partners and customers; they have thousands upon thousands of them. Iíll never forget my surprise, when I popped open the console cover of the first mainframe computer I sold, an NCR 315. There in the heart of the beast was an IBM typewriter mechanism. It was better for NCR to sell the competitionís typewriter than to make their own. Weíre all in this together.

Zoom out one more time, and you see a globe where everything is connected to everything else, and the outcome of interaction is unpredictable. Large investments sometimes yield nothing but frustration; tiny actions sometimes yield immense results. A butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo and a hurricane forms in the Caribbean. A worker talks with a customer on the phone and a entire new industry pops up in Abu Dhabi. The photograph is getting fuzzy. In Powers of Ten, images turn into random spots at a trillion kilometers from earth. Weíve zoomed out of focus; we donít understand what we see.

The boxes model the evolution of a business organization as time passes and we see the entity is a larger context.

  • The worker doesnít look beyond the boundaries of the department.

  • Functional silos/departments generally do their own thing.

  • Customers and suppliers want to deal with a single entity.

  • Enterprise Application Integration ties the business into one entity. Sort of. Itís hard-wired and sluggish.

  • Web Services brings on the hyper-organization. Rich connections make for a portfolio of flexible relationships. Itís loosely-coupled and responsive.

  • The business uses operational leverage to focus on what it does best.

  • The network effect rewards the swift, adaptive, and reputable businesses with a global market.

What you see depends on where you stand. Companies in the vanguard are forever deciding how to optimize a bigger picture. This process view is at the heart of Workflow Learning. This is Business Process, melded directly into work. "Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth."

Marcel Proust ate a cookie, and three volumes of Remembrance of Things Past spewed out of his pen. I read a piece by Esther Dyson this morning, and what you've just read came out of my keyboard. Esther wrote,

    Getting control of business processes, not business data

    Indeed, data is relatively easy, and we have good tools for it: the calculator, the spreadsheet, and the giant financial number-crunching application. The spreadsheet gave users a tool not just to calculate, but to build complex models and, in fact, to do many things that previously could be done only by IT high priests. Better yet, the spreadsheet allowed them to build models that were intelligible to normal people. So-called power users could build the models, while other users could reuse or modify them, plugging in their own data and coefficients. Complementary graphing and other tools made the data more visible and meaningful to ordinary people who could not pick trends out of a sea of numbers. We also have the database, which acts as a back-end to those corporate applications and to the spreadsheets, allowing for easier sharing of data across applications and even among enterprises.

    The first successful spreadsheet was called VisiCalc; where is VisiProcess?"

Connecting workers to the work is what Workflow Learning is all about.

This is the first of what I expect to grow into a collection of personal reflections on the workflow learning revolution that will be stashed in the Workflow Institute's Vault.

Demographics is destiny

Mo-working is on the rise. More and more consultants and corporate types work at client sites or from home offices. The economic downturn and the trend toward outsourcing have created legions of free agents. Knowledge workers are no longer tethered to buildings.

Unless you like noise and sweet, overpriced coffee, Starbucks is not a workable substitute office. If a new baby just moved into your home office, good luck concentrating on work. Besides, lots of people enjoy the social aspects of work; for comaraderie, a friendly break room beats an empty kitchen.

This afternoon I met with someone who's going with the trends rather than fighting them. Neil Goldberg is the founder of Gate3 Workclub. Imagine a workplace with sunlight streaming in, lots of conference rooms, modular office set-ups, a learning center, a cafe, oodles of Herman Miller furniture, T-1 access for all, a sunny rooftop, and lots of friendly people scurrying around, but no boss. That's the Workclub.

Still undergoing some finishing touches, the club should be up and running within a month. I can imagine this set-up appealing to a wide range of the dispossessed. For example, if you're getting your own business off the ground, Gate3 could be the address on your letterhead. More importantly, it's where you'd talk to colleagues. I bet a barter system crops up, e.g. I know marketing and you understand taxation; let's swap some expert advice.

Gate3 has a lot more appeal than the rent-an-office suites I've visited. Those seem to fill up with ersatz financial planners, multi-level marketing schemers, and other undesirables. The "offices" provided by outplacement firms are worse. ("Oh, boy, a chance to use the phone and hang out with the jobless.") At Gate3, you can order a latte or have a massage. The ambiance is very California.

Gate3 is in the happening town of Emeryville, home of Pixar, Chiron, GBN, and innumerable artists' lofts and software start-ups.

Will individuals pay the fees for something like this? I think so. We talked about implementing social networking software to enable Workclubbers to leverage one another's contacts. Make the link, meet in the networking room at the Workclub. I wouldn't be surprised if some corporations didn't buy some memberships, too, for it would be a good way to keep workers who don't enjoy working from home from bolting.

I've just started reading Christopher Alexander's The Nature of Order. It's a little slow getting started, and you have to get used to CA's view that architects are applying their theory of the cosmos to inject life into buildings. Nonetheless, I'm confident Chris would like the Gate3 Workclub. It's a beautiful idea in a tasteful yet functional building.

I'll blog more about Gate3 after my next visit. Neil's accepting applications now. If you call Gate3 (1.510.868.8180), tell them I sent you. I may want to hold some classes in the big room downstairs or perhaps take advantage of the usability lab.

Are you setting the bar high enough?

"Make no little plans. They fail to stir the blood of men," said architect Daniel Burnham. Indeed, life's too short for mediocrity. When I hear someone say they wish their online learning were as effective as their instructor-led workshops, I wonder why they're shooting so low. They should be aiming to make their technology-enabled learning much better than the passive classroom experience. Let's face it, the classroom is often a mediocre learning environment.

Workflow Institute's Sam Adkins gave a presentation this morning on Advanced Learning Technology Today. He showed this graph to demonstrate what's possible.

Twenty years ago, Benjamin Bloom found that individually-tutored students performed as well as the top 2% of classroom students. Equalling this record in automated fashion has become eLearning's Holy Grail. The Department of Defense has achieved it, but cost is rarely a constraint there. The Advanced Computer Tutoring Project at Carnegie Mellon University claims even higher performance gains among Pittsburgh high-school students studying math. Did the students like it? One swore at a teacher so she'd get kicked out of school for a couple of days -- during which she learned geometry with her unrestricted time online.

Virtual Apps

Today I've seen the future, not once, but twice, and I can hardly wait to get there.

First, Robin Good whisked me away to visit his persistent meeting room on smartMeeting. I outfitted my avatar with natty blue sweater, gray slacks, and a beard, and joined Robin in his online space.

Slick, eh? We were talking VOIP. I could see his avatar hopping about.

Things weren't perfect. I'm running an older machine, and my video card is less than this software's looking for. Also, I lost contact with Robin while I was switching PCs. But I could see the potential and it is awesome.

Imagine having your own virtual space where you can call up presentations, briefings, video, and whiteboards for your guests. All with sound. Private or public. Works over a low-band connection.

I've lusted for something like this for some time. I can envision Emergent Learning Forum using it for small meetings and mentoring sessions. This is much more friendly than video conferencing. At long last, collaborative technology is becoming less geeky.

Keeping one's demos and presentations at the ready 24/7 makes so much sense. Got a laptop? "Come into my parlor..."

You can stake out your own room on the web for a monthly rental payment. Software imitates life. Here's my new room:

All of which raises the issue of what's better to keep on the web and what's better on your own (probably not adequately backed-up) hard drive. Your mobility and your attitude to being tethered to a single machine are major factors here. Operating systems slop back and forth from local to remote these days. Applications are promiscuous at this. Data is wherever you want it to be.

This was on my mind today when I talked with a tiny start-up that has the potential to save big companies big bucks on IT maintenance and upgrades, and to eventually open the door for small business to buy software capability by the month

That's my desktop. (The background color pumps up my adenalin.) It's remote. I can tap into it from anywhere. I don't have to fiddle around with updates from the guys in Redmond. It's always there, whenever and wherever I connect from. The apps run really fast. It feels like a screaming Pentium even when I'm jacking in with a pokey machine running Win 98. The host can afford to run on machines faster than I can dream of.

Aerobic Learning

This evening I escaped the office while it was still light out and drove over to Tilden Park for a walk in the woods. Tromping alongside a little stream for 40 minutes was just enough time for me to listen to Doug Kaye interview Doc Searls on my tiny mp3 player.

Doc talked about the genesis of the Cluetrain Manifesto, how he got the name "Doc," his early marketing career, and his most recent campaign, DIYIT or "Do It Yourself IT."

The most visible action in the IT marketspace is what Doc calls "vendor sports." These are the supply-side vendors like IBM or HP duking it out in full-color magazine ads.

The underappreciated part is the demand side, where programmers scratch their own itches. They most often use Open Source software but they're not necessarily part of that culture, with its emphasis on licensing, development protocols, and so forth.

The DIY crowd just want to build things. The closest analogy is to the construction industry. They share a common language ("builds,""tools,""builders"). Linux is the DIYers' lumber, a raw material for virtually any job. Neither software construction nor building houses locks you in to a particular supplier. The housebuilder doesn't say, "We're building this house on a Weyerhauser platform...."

Doc set up IT Garage as a home for DIYIT. He'd like it to grow and morph into a magazine (since it's usally the other way around).

The fact that Open Source code is free delegates decision-making lower in the organization. You don't need a purchase order -- or official approval -- to use it.

If you want to follow what's going on in IT, I recommend downloading some of Doug Kaye's marvellous IT Conversations.

Work as Video Game

Robin Good is the go-to guy for collaborative technology, so I was delighted to happen upon this post this morning.

Work Of The Future Like A Personalized Videogame Front-End

"For some, the work of the future will resemble an elaborate, personalized video game front-end thatís connected to the physical operations of their company." Jay Cross says it as openly as he would drink a glass water and I am glad that there are individuals like him who do "see" the direction we are in. If you would like to open a bit more yourself to the emerging new concepts of workflow learning and to the paradigmatic revolution new communication/collaboration technologies are paving under our unconscious feet, I do suggest you spend a little time (1:07) watching Jay Cross presentation to the ASTD, which he delivered again to the organization chapter in Silicon Valley this past week. Entitled "Collaboration Supercharges Performance" the Breeze-based presentation contains the same slides and content he utilized a couple of months back for the main ASTD conference in Washington. Jay, along with a few others (some clearly listed on his right column blogroll) is a trusted agent for change in the way we conceive work and learning. His ongoing research, experimentation and provocative ideas are the best cure for anyone suffering from the large organization typical stand-and-wait attitude. Most such institutions "are living with overly rigid command-and-control [structures]. Courses and classrooms are the tradition; informal learning and collaboration are suspect. Management knows that learning is somehow important but measures performance by counting butts in seats." And also: "We are drowning in information, the world grows ever more complex, time is speeding up, and everything is topsy-turvy. Rigid organizations won't make it through this. Flexibility is prerequisite to survival. Networks are the next step in computing, business organizations, and more. As internodal communication costs drop, networks replace hierarchies. The age of collaborative learning is at hand. Mentoring used to be tied to events. Collaboration can be omnipresent."

Jay Cross -- Reference

Posted on July 18, 2004 at 09:23 AM

Oracle and Macromedia, Sitting in a Tree

Yesterday afternoon and early evening, I attended the announcement of a partnership between Oracle and Macromedia at Oracle's futuristic headquarters in Redwood Shores. I'll be a little more reserved than usual in my reflections on the event because I like both these companies and because I was officially invited as a stringer for CLO magazine. Also, I know the people on both sides of this deal, both companies have been generous to Emergent Learning Forum, and I'll undoubtedly be hitting both up for business in the future.

In a nutshell, the news is this: Compliance with AICC, IMS, and SCORM is no assurance of interoperability. The standards are subject to interpretation, and legal extensions can lead to one-off code. Macromedia is king of the mountain in web development tools; just about all of Oracle's 300 LMS customers use Macromedia products. By having their engineers bang their heads together, the two firms will make it easier for shared customers to build, publish, and consume training. They'll support best practices for learning content development and publishing with a Content Resource Center that's free to all.

More than a hundred of us convened in Oracle's conference center. I'd been here once before, when Oracle VP Chris Pirie hosted a meeting of Emergent Learning Forum last year. At the time, one of our members remarked, "Wow. This is really nice." His companion responded, "Yeah, well, this is a profitable company." Oracle is a class act. The opening speaker explained that this was once the site of Marine World, which is now esconced in Vallejo. The builders left the lake so the boss would have a place to walk. (Book title = The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison *God Doesn't Think He's Larry Ellison.)

"We're going to have a raffle after the presentations. Someone is going to win some free software -- PeopleSoft, Siebel, BEA... Of course, you may have to wait a while to receive your prizes."

Chris Pirie and Kevin Lynch gave a mercifully short presentation before yielding the floor to Josh Bersin, who led a panel of users in discussion. (Ever see Warren Beatty's wonderful movie, Reds? Fantastic film. Anyway, the panel were the "witnesses".)

Cisco's Peg Maddocks advised that for next generation eLearning, "Stop doing what you're doing." After eight years of "free range learning" where everyone did their own thing, her team has chopped the 31,000 offerings on their LMS back to 4,000, and she figures half of those can go, too. In the early days, Cisco would pay $300,000 to $800,000 for a custom program on products that were changing monthly -- and couldn't be updated. Quick-and-dirty development is a better way to go.

Brocade's Linda Moss is focused on customer learning. A mere handful of the audience are there yet. Linda has limited resources, so instructors have been recuited as developers and are now becoming web developers.

Mary Kay Russell, director of Enterprise eLearning for Kaiser Permanente, is using the 80/20 rule as she centralizes what started out as in-house, ad hoc page turners. Kaiser is implementing an automated medical record system. In the early nineties, I hawked clinical record software for a while. The various regions of Kaiser Permanente considered themselves separate companies. Mary Kay has her work cut out for her.

America West's Tony Willis was the eLearning virgin on the panel. While the airline has 12,000 employees, just about all training has been instructor-led. They're implementing eLearning first with the reservations group, then other airport personnel, and eventually hope to add in the "absentee workforce," i.e. pilots and flight attendants who may live just about anywhere. America West has been an Oracle customer, and that figured heavily in their choice of Oracle's LMS. Tony's caveat: Don't oversell eLearning. His boss now thinks it's a silver bullet and wants everything to go "e."

Genentech's Harry Wittenberg has previous eLearning experience with IBM, Cisco, Apple, Chas Schwab, and...was it Andersen? Harry told lots of "blended" learning stories.

As with so many events, you really had to be there. How else could one savor the sushi, satay, stuffed mushrooms, and wine? As I said, Oracle is a class act. The reception had the feel of a college reunion. So many people I hadn't seen for a year or two.

Is this technology partnership a big deal? It's good for Oracle customers. I'm disappointed we don't see more industry cooperation. Wouldn't it be great if Macromedia had this sort of pact with IBM and Sun and Microsoft?

The Blogosphere

Given the skepticism that greets me when I talk with many people about blogs, I was delighted to come across this item from Buzz Machine:

    Technorati, as many will report today, just passed 3 million blogs tracked (our equivalent of 300 million burgers served) at a rate of 15,000 new blogs per day. Technorati founder Dave Sifry reports that of these, 1.65 million are updated actively, though Mary Hodder emphasizes that that doesn't mean the rest are abandoned; blogs are used for many reasons (for example, for the once-a-year conference) and they still have information and value. At any rate, the conversations keep growing: Technorati is seeing more than 275,000 posts every day; three blogs are updated every second. The people are talking and the volume is growing.

People who are not acquainted with blogs don't get it. Why would so many people want to keep on-line diaries and snapshots of their cats? Moreover, who has time to read this stuff?

Every medium has its amateurs and its pros. Some people are exciting to read; others are a snooze. When blogs are good, they are very, very good, and when they are bad, they are awful.

Yesterday I read a post by Mena Trott, the former CEO of SixApart, about handing over the reins to an older guy. Outside the blogosphere, a news release on a transition of power would have been obscured by so many layers of corporate baffle-gab that you'd never know what was going on. Mena's post was different. It was personal. It came from the heart. She writes:

    In re-reading this post, I'm almost embarrassed by my sincerity. I feel strongly about this company and feel that the addition of Loic and his team, Andrew and Barak will only make us stronger. Sure, we'll make mistakes from time to time. And, we're bound to do things that sometimes our users will question. However, with the team that is in place (and the people who will be joining), we are certain that we are distributing our strengths to make our product stronger and our customers more loyal.

    So, for all you out there who've read up to this point, I hope that I have proven that it's possible for a CEO to stop being CEO but still be content in a company. Additionally, I hope that this weblog influences others in my position to share their experiences.

This exemplifies the honest communication The Cluetrain Manifesto called for. You want to bond with customers? Read Mena's post to find out how to do it.

30 Poppy Lane
Berkeley, California 94708

1.510.528.3105 (office & cell)

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