Friday, July 15, 2011

Fat clients are back - big time


Back in the days when I used to develop software (1992-1998), the client-server paradigm for software development ruled. Data was stored on the server-side and it was, except for server side calculations, manipulated locally on our PC desktops. We interacted with the data via fat but highly interactive, stable and speedy Windows applications.

When the world wide web arrived to our desktops, it was sort of implied that web sites would evolve into highly interactive applications run inside of a web browser. The web was the future, and we assumed that it would mean that we would interact with everything via a web browser. Yet, the last couple of years we have seen things moving in quite the opposite direction. The client-server paradigm with fat native clients is back. What is new is that the servers are in a cloud somewhere and can be accessed via web applications in a web browser as well as via native apps.

Several trends interplay and pave the way for the comeback of fat clients, such as the following:
  • Our consumption of rich media such as video, photos and music increases
  • We store more of our information in the cloud (because we want to be ablet to access it from anywhere)
  • We want highly interactive, reliable and fast user experiences also when it comes to Internet-based tools
  • We are becoming more and more mobile, using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets
  • The capacity of the Internet and broadband connections, especially mobile have a hard time keeping up with, ever increasing traffic volumes
The bottom line is: we need the broadband for shuffling our content, not for downloading applications. Besides, it doesn't make much sense to download an application every time we need it, especially if it's easy to access and install the application locally on a device. App stores make these tasks really easy and nothing like the messy and error-prone installation procedures we have gotten used to with Microsoft Windows.

The risk of downloading and infecting devices with malicious code also decreases if it is just content and not applications that is downloaded. No code except maybe for style sheets and content markup would be downloaded. Security mechanisms, such ad encryption and access rights, can be put the content itself so that it does not slip away and get into the wrong hands.

Fat clients are back big time, and there is no reason to think they aren't here to stay.

Learning How To Become Strong Customers


The waste valve in our bathtub at home is the step on type, which ratchets open and closed as you step on it. A few days ago, it suddenly got completely stuck. I had to remove it using a screwdriver. As the bathtub is only three years old, I didn't expect such a vital component of the bathtub to break. I believe no-one who buys a bathtub should expect that.

Instead of contacting the (online) reseller through which we bought the bathtub, I decided to contact the manufacturer directly. I found a “info@...” email address to their HQ on their web page and wrote to them in an email about the broken component. I didn't demand anything in my email, but I made three things clear:
  1. The quality of their product is not acceptable if it breaks after only three years
  2. As the quality of the product is far below what is reasonable to expect, I don't want to spend time and energy contacting a reseller who anyway would need to contact the manufacturer. 
  3. By contacting them directly and describing the problem with the product, they get direct feedback from a customer about their product that might help them improve it.
Two days after I sent my email (today) I received a package in the mail. My kids brought it to me and I opened it. It contained a replacement product for the waste vale together with a delivery note from which I could read that it was free of charge. The replacement product made of metal (brass) instead of cheap plastic like the old one.
My oldest daughter, who I had told about my email to the manufacturer, then said to me with a big smile on her face:

"It pays to complain. It always does when you complain about something."

"Well, not always”, I replied, “but it often does. Most companies are sane enough to listen to customers who come to them with rightful complaints or are dissatisfied with their products because they don’t meet their expectations. Smart, isn't it?"

"Yes!"

I believe it is lessons like this one that will teach my kids how to become strong customers.

Although I really appreciate the no fuzz strategy the company had when dealing with my complaint (sending a replacement product immediately at no charge) I still can’t stop thinking about what would have happened if they also had replied to my email. If someone at the company had replied and told me they were happy to receive my input and that they will send me a replacement immediately at no charge, then this story could have been a positive story about them – their brand, their products and their customer service – instead of being a story about how I hope my kids will learn how to become strong customers.

I will send them a link to this blog post in my thank you email.

(I would really like to know if they already knew about the problem, and had changed the material from plastic to brass to solve it)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

We Should All Care More About Transparency

When using online communication tools the barriers to communicating with people who are physically located somewhere else is not increasing with distance. It is just as easy (or hard) to communicate with someone across the world as with someone on the next floor in the same building. If we just make communication richer, more interactive, more real...then the vision of being able to work with anyone from anywhere will be realized.  There’s just one more really big thing we need to fix…

What is still lacking in most online work environments is a really intelligent system that informs people about what’s going on elsewhere, a system that provides them with cues and signals telling them when it’s time to act, when there is certain information they need to consider, and so forth. It is common knowledge that we need workplace awareness to be able to work together efficiently and effectively. We need workplace awareness to be able to make the right decisions, because a decision is right only if it serves not just our own goals but also the goals and purpose of the entire enterprise – and that can’t be done without considering many of the decisions and actions other people make.

Most online work environments are still just information self-service desks with a bunch of applications for performing specific tasks. They are designed to keep us on track with the task we have at hand so that we perform the task as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, they are also designed for sub-optimization when they really should be designed for synergy-creation and coordination, allowing us to look in any direction in order to find the right path forward. An environment that is designed for synergies and coordination must by necessity be built on openness and transparency. This is one of the main reasons why I am such a strong advocate for openness and transparency.

If you happen to be interested in more of my thoughts about openness and transparency, make sure to check out my recent CMS Wire article "3 Reasons Why Organizations Need to Increase Transparency" and earlier writings such as "Why transparency is key to Enterprise 2.0" and "The Age of Transparency – Rebuilding trust".

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Facebook is not about sharing

To most Facebook users (me included) Facebook is not about sharing - it is about staying close to their friends. Sharing is just a means to do that. When they share something, they open a window through which their friends can see them. Their friends might pass by the window just to peek in, or maybe they'll even stop by for a second or two, giving a thumbs up or dropping a comment: "Nice done!" or "Happy birthday!".


Photo credit: Alejandra Mavroski

The purpose of opening a window is to bring someone closer to his or her friends. That makes it less important what they share; they can pretty much share just about anything with anyone. If a friend doesn't find something they share interesting, the friend will simply ignore the window and move along to the next. There is no need to tag what is being shared to make it easier for recipients to filter their activity streams, nor is there a need to "neatly organize your friends into buckets" for targeted sharing.

That's the beauty of if - the simplicity.

Although the activity feed is messy, with important stuff mixed with trivia coming from any direction - current friends, acquaintances, colleagues, ex-colleagues, classmates, family members, childhood friends - it's still simple. You read, you like, you comment, you post. That's about it. You can even choose to only read, to lurk around. Your grandparents can do it, and so can anyone. That is one reason why they continue to use Facebook, but the main reason is that Facebook helps them come closer to you and other friends, and sharing is just one of the means to do that.

Note: A study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that active Facebook (who uses it several times per day) has on average “9% more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other internet users. Facebook users also tend to friend other users with whom they’ve actually met in real life; the average Facebook user has never met only 7% of his/hers Facebook friends.

Monday, July 4, 2011

It's still about information - but different information

What is information - really?

Information is something that tells us something about something. Information is our mirror of the world, often created in retrospect. It helps us to understand the world better, to see the things we need to see in order to better navigate our way to wherever we are going in the real world - but only if we have access to the right mirror exactly when we need it. The right mirror – the information - should allow us to see everything we need to see to make the right decision, rendering a complete picture without any distortion, cracks or missing pieces.

The picture we see in the mirror is often made of a lot of individual pieces of data. On its own, a piece of data does not tell us much, if anything. We need to put the data together to turn it to information, creating a mirror. What the mirror shows depends on what pieces of data we have, and how we fit the pieces together. Different mirrors help us see different things, different perspectives. They help us to create new insights about the world we live in. We can also be fooled, when the mirror presents something which is not true.

Just think for a moment about how far we’ve come since the first information technology, the written language, was introduced, with so many new and disruptive information technologies having changed our societies, businesses, and life in general. It’s thrilling, but also sad because not everyone in the world has yet access even to the first information technology.

For businesses, information technology is their primary means to manage and operate their businesses, as well as to innovate themselves and their products and services. The information they have access to and their ability to use it purposefully ultimately determines their success. The better they understand the world, and the faster they do it, the greater advantage they can get compared to their competitors.

The key to build and maintain a successful business today lies much less in improving the operational performance of manufacturing processes than it did just a couple of decades ago. That knowledge that can easily be copied, which means that the manufacturing processes can be executed in locations where the cheapest raw materials and resources can be found. Instead, what determines the long term success of a business is its ability to access or create and make use of information. Doing so requires having access to the right talent – the people – who can turn that information into knowledge and who can turn the knowledge into the right actions, fast. The information they use, their raw materials, comes not so much from data generated by their manufacturing processes as it comes from data about what people (customers) like and need,  how they behave, and the relationships they have to other people and things that affect what they like, need and how they behave.

The right people with the right talent who get access to the right information in the right time can create the right products and services and offer and provide them in the right way to the right customers. Right? It is not primarily the data originating from transformational and transactional processes that enable them to do that, but rather information and insights created from near real-time data about people’s social interactions and whatever other trails of data they leave behind when interacting with information systems.

Much of this data is available to any business who wants it, sometimes for free and sometimes for a fee, The best survival strategy of today and tomorrow is hence not to try to get unique access to data and to protect that data from falling into the hands of others, but rather to ensure instant access to all relevant data that is available and improve the organization’s ability to make sense of and act upon it before anyone else does. That can't be done without becoming more open and transparent, and encouraging and enabling sharing and collaboration across all barriers. Information must flow unhindered to anyone who can quickly make sense of it and act on it together, which can’t be done without becoming a more social business.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Podcasts for Summer Listening

A while back, I asked my Twitter friends for their podcast recommendations. I got some great recommendations and here are a few of them - enjoy!

HBR IdeaCast (Web / ITunes)
The HBR IdeaCast, from the publishers of Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Press, and hbr.org, features breakthrough ideas and commentary from the leading thinkers in business and management.

Too Much Information with Benjamen Walker (Web / ITunes)
Too Much Information is the sober hangover after the digital party has run out of memes, apps and schemes. Host Benjamen Walker finds out that, in a world where everyone overshares the truth 140 characters at a time, telling tales might be the most honest thing to do.

Back To Work (Web / ITunes)
Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin on productivity, communication, work, barriers, constraints, tools, and more.

Radiolab (Web / ITunes)
Radiolab believes your ears are a portal to another world. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience. Big questions are investigated, tinkered with, and encouraged to grow. Bring your curiosity, and we'll feed it with possibility.

AMA Edgewise Podcasts (Web / ITunes)
Insights and voices of recognized thought leaders across a wide range of topics.Our aim is to provide those essential "nuggets" of perspective that will help you and your organization improve performance, adapt to changing business realities, and prosper in a complex and competitive world.

Philosophy Bites (Web / ITunes)
David Edmonds (Uehiro Centre, Oxford University) and Nigel Warburton (The Open University) interview top philosophers on a wide range of topics.

The Pipeline (Web / ITunes)
The Pipeline is an interview show, featuring in-depth conversations with innovators, designers, geeks, newsmakers, entrepreneurs, and people who create amazing things.

Big Ideas (Web / ITunes)
Big Ideas offers lectures on a variety of thought-provoking topics which range across politics, culture, economics, art history, science...

SPaM CAST (Web / ITunes)
SPaMCAST, Software Process and Measurement Cast By Thomas M. Cagley Jr, explores the varied world of software process improvement and measurement. The cast covers topics that deal with the challenges found in information technology organizations as they grow and evolve.