Thursday, November 13, 2008

Innovation Game - " Buy a Feature ", Product Manager's Tool

Got a chance to attend SDForum event after a loooong time . Came across the session
on 'Buy a Feature ' game and attended the talk about emerging technology behind the game.

After listening to one of the fundoo techie Gurus, David Pollak, I am prompted to over come my inertia ( dust my blogs) and capture at least few points before they disappear from my small cache forever.

'Buy a Feature ' might prove a useful tool for Product Managers to manage priorities.
The technique used is collaborative prioritization. In simple words, the Prod Mgr requests the customers to play a small online game among themselves and prioritize the features they are looking for . Example , each customer is given 100 points and 5 features. The customers have to allocate the 100 points to the given features . Hence the customer will act judiciously and prioritize the features. This game could go iteratively and in the end all customers would come to see the group's priority on different features . They could discuss over chat , debate , collaborate etc in the process.

Not a bad idea . In fact the offline version of the Game was used by many reputed companies such as Qualcomm to drive their product road map. Now whether , this online version of the game will be accepted by serious customers is definitely a question ?

Takeaway is that this concept works - voting by a group , conducting elections , conducting referendums, students bidding for courses in univs. The same principle can be extended to business situations , but has to be applied with more discretion . Some businesses like Borland have even incorporated this online game into their development tools.

More such innovative games are from the stable of Luke Hohmann.

Coming to the technical side of the game, one feels there is hope as new open source projects spring up to solve current/emerging issues.
This game was developed using Scala (Language based on Functional and Oops concepts) and Lift ( web framework). Scala is used by Twitter now to solve performance issues esp the huge stateless concurrency headaches. Lift and Scala both leverage java libraries.

David Pollak was one of the developers of buyafeature game and is also one of the Lead developers for open source project Lift. Some of the Computer Science principles that he
he discussed ( Optimal keep-alive , long held web requests ) pertaining to
Nginx, Jetty and pertaining to Lift (state management machine) are mind boggling.
Instead of theoretical discussion, he could explain the concurrency improvements he gained in buyafeature game , esp in collaborative chat discussions.

Scala might come across as complex, elitist R & D language project and totally geek . But there's hope as the main stream is screaming for simplicity and I am sure the future versions will be geared towards simple syntax and programming constructs suitable for enterprise application developers
But for few developers now ( of Twitter etc ) struggling with scalability issues , the learning curve is worth the effort esp if one wishes to leverage the Lift framework for rapid development and high performance applications. Lift does most of the concurrency, state management plumbing, cross browser compatibility and integration with comet applications.

From wikipedia's definition of Comet. Comet is an umbrella term for technologies that attempt to eliminate both the limitations of the page-by-page model and traditional polling. Comet-like applications offer real-time interaction by relying on a persistent HTTP connection (or where not possible a long lasting HTTP connection) to provide the browser with updates as designated by the web application.

Some of the pending , nagging issues of Java, Spring, AJAX frameworks, Javascript libraries (dojo, prototype etc ) are taken up in Lift and solved elegantly . I feel both Scala and Lift have great potential only if they are refined for the masses.

I would encourage developers in Bay Area to check out Lift workshop on Nov 22, 08. The workshop will have a hands- on session on "Adding Real-time Chat " illustrating Lift and Comet concepts. All other developers, join the Lift community and check it out.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Can Web 2.0 help United Airlines to reduce flight delays ?

Can Web 2.0 help United Airlines save millions by tackling flight delay issues?

Cost of Flight delays to Airlines
Fact :
The congressional Joint Economic Committee, in a report released Thursday, found that the total cost of domestic air traffic delays to the American economy in 2007 was almost $41 billion.

That included $19 billion in extra operating costs for the airlines, $12 billion in costs to passengers from reduced productivity and lost business and leisure opportunities and almost $10 billion in indirect costs, particularly to food and lodging industries that rely on air traffic.

Is Web 2.0 for real ?

Josh Bernoff has made some valid points on "Why Web 2.0 Is No Bubble: Corporations Are Willing to Pay for It". Interesting article and his book "Groundswell" will be a new lighthouse for corporate strategy.

One of the simple Web 2.0 solutions for United Airlines
Here's my 2 cents on how Web 2.0 could potentially help a common man and United airlines to tackle flight delays.
Travelers who are stuck up at airports due to flight delays and usually stuck up in long queues of customer service have now started voicing their opinion using Twitter to communicate about flight delays.

Check out 'Summize' that captures real time twitter tweets. Search for United Flight delays to get a picture of the sorry state of United Airlines travelers.

United Airlines Customer service department could subscribe to RSS feed for this search . and keep a tab on customer dissatisfaction caused due to flight delays and improve their customer service programs to reach out , to hear , to regain trust and to build relationships with customers .

This could improve customer satisfaction and major reduction in McKinsey expenses on customer service consulting.

I advocate that all enterprises esp from employees from Customer service and Marketing read "
The Whuffie Factor" by Tara Hunt . It presents new opportunities and new trends of getting in touch with customers rather than just having a FAQ like "How can I contact United?"
Check out Tara's Interview here.

I see so many bright IT folks working at United ( source : LinkedIn), wish they could influence the Strategy grey heads there.

Hope some smart guy starts off Photo Tweets to capture the long Queues at United Terminals..( without getting into Legal troubles ..) .More power to customers..

Needless to say .. was a victim and now a problem solver :)
Btw , United Airlines could subscribe to my Blog and pay me a fraction of cost savings and share a tiny fraction of their Marketing/Consulting budget ..

Waiting for the day of " monetization of user generated solutions " :)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Enterprise 2.0 , 2008 - Oracle

So here's another 2.0 - Enterprise 2.0
I had the opportunity to witness the Enterprise 2.0 event and to attend one of the Oracle' sessions on Enterprise 2.0.

Before that I met an Analyst who was of the opinion that web 2.0 was Marketing hype or BS whereas enterprise 2.0 had some substance . He couldn't get the ROI of web 2.0 and had a point .."web 2.0 has mashups, ajax, blogs, wikis what ..people write more , talk more , so .." I too had the same questions and similar skepticism on 2.0 series which is leashed upon us every alternate month.

So how did Oracle's team convince such skeptics ?

I should say Steve Diamond, Oracle did a pretty good job in demonstrating the what , why and how of e20.

He quoted Ray Lane's seven rules of software innovation
I have provided some examples of Steve and of mine in parenthesis.

1. Serves an individual need - (
2. virally adopted - (facebook applications)
3. contextualized personal info - (
4. no data entry /training required - ( )
5. delivers instant value - (
6. utilizes community and social relationships ( invites from google contacts)
7. minimal footprint (

I found the "why ?" part of the e2o talk interesting . Below are some takeaways.
For any 'why' in enterprise , decision makers have the fundamental equation

Increase in Revenue and/or Decrease in Cost = ' Must Have '

Critical Driving factors are as below
  1. Productivity
  2. Innovation
  3. Effectiveness
For any person involved in developing/selling any product/solution, the above equation
and driving factors are crisp guidelines .

The other remaining parts of talk were - what, how .
What - was ok , as there are various opinions on this as e20 is still evolving.
How - As per Oracle folks , right now it was Social CRM which has features like SalesProspector helpful to Salespeople. And another offering HCM , human capital management.

CRM seems a smart move. Some thoughts below.

CRM is one such enterprise application where ROI could be easily demonstrated . Increase in number of Leads, Prospects, Revenue correlation could be demonstrated easily. Check out the features of Social CRM.

Other web 2.0 features like discussion, tags, wiki, blog, groups , RSS, mashups have value . When applied to any other enterprise application like Finance,HR or for functions like Engineering/Prod Mgt etc will yield value but to correlate the benefits will be difficult.

Example :
Tagging/Discussion/wiki/blogs help classifying, generating, validating, information but to actually say that the blogs resulted in reducing cost, reducing defects, implementing more use cases , improved product features would be difficult esp when the ROI has to be quantifiable, measurable and should be correlated.

Unless ROI is not in numbers, the number/finance people will not put substantial money.
They might be fine for wiki/tagging/blogs/mashups etc . But again they will be open for only open source free solutions . To get any money from the enterprise guys , the value or ROI has to be clear and this is where a social twist to CRM will help Oracle to penetrate e20 market.

Talk was good. Plan is good . Product ??
But right now the products don't seem to be there yet. They seem to be work in progress are still evolving with web 2.0 features like discussions, community calendar, groups, tagging, rss etc scattered all over.

Seems someone sprinkled web 2.0 elements across different applications/pages.

The demo of the web pages was audible but not visible.Instead of displaying a web page with small icons , they could have given a flash demo.

I discussed with Peter Heller, Oracle on the differences between Oracle offering and of others like Opentext and Social text.

He had some interesting insights as below.

1. Web 2.0 in Enterprise
Features - Blogs, Social Networking, Tagging, RSS, Wikis, AJAX , RIA etc etc
Oracle Products - Webcentre, Aqua logic etc

2. Enterprise 2.0 Apps
- Contextual HCM, Finance, etc embedded with new apps .

  • Management of Security and other systems
  • Single Metdata repository
  • Embedded Business Intelligence
My take below..

Security :
Security is one key concern for any enterprise . One quick example,
Enterprises will definitely be concerned about state of the art ' tagging application' to be available on their existing enterprise applications /data .

Say , even if enterprises are proactive to adopt these plethora of web 2.0 apps, but then buying so many applications from different vendors and then to worry about single sign on does not make any sense .

Embedded Business Intelligence:
If LinkedIn could demonstrate value to us by giving us updates on our contacts , imagine
what can a huge CRM/HRM Database is capable of doing.

My analogies for e20
Facebook minifeed says.. " Your friend has taken a movie quiz "
LinkedIn says " Your friend has added new friends from XYZ college/company "

Now e20 could be as below ..
CRM Feed to Sales person " Your colleague in some remote country has closed a new deal in this emerging space ..go talk to him and get more money .."

HRM feed to Hiring Manager ..." You placed a requisition for some unknown untested skill..good news of the enterprising developer in some other project has worked on this .. he is free now .. he has posted 3 blogs , 2 forum posts on this skill..go get him ..lest he might post 2 more blogs and get hired somewhere else "

Finance Feed .." Your peer in some xyz dept has reduced has achieved 10 % reduction in cost..seems he has learnt it atlast his blog, check which vendor he has added to his contacts and add your peer to your group..u need a support group .tag this as cost cutting tip ...act fast "

As you see e20 does add value :-)

e20 Vendors

One would think that ERP vendors have a good chance to build e20 applications on the existing enterprise apps or for that matter all Platform vendors like MS, IBM, Oracle have easy access
to enterprises than small vendors have . So they will try to build something on existing platforms and offer (bundle/free) in market and they will attempt it with a credible ROI story.
For now , SAP seems to be sleeping and is letting e20 pass by ..either it will come with e30 or acquire some companies and do a mashup of all of them.

It will be good to see customer acquisition data of niche players like Opentext and Socialtext .
My current company, Pramati has product offerings in web 2.0 and will soon launch a e20 product out for the social twist on the enterprise .