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Architecting e-WorkPlace Applications for Participation March 10, 2006

Posted by poseidongroove in Bazaar, Chaos, Collaboration, e-WorkPlace, Edge Thinking, eMail Management, eWorkPlace, Mashup, Mashup SOA, SalesForce, SOA, Social Software, Web Services.
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I’ve had a very busy last few weeks practising what I preach. Before I launch into my muse, a friend asked me why I don’t go deep and dirty into technical details on the blog. If anyone else is wondering, it’s because I also have a business audience trying to understand our thought process as it relates to application design, expressed in a way they can grasp(Even though sometimes, I forget about this). So I’ve been integrating Salesforce.com into a Global Marketing Collaborative WorkSpace for an Investment Bank in the City.
In summary, the sales guys use salesforce.com to create sales opportunities on the road with multiple devices, (Micro View). Managers and sales support team use their Global Marketing Collaborative team rooms to review, approve and discuss the macro issues related to each specific marketing request (behind the corporate firewall).
The integration piece is relatively straight-forward, I call it “Right Coupling” Salesforce generates an email of the captured opportunity in simple xml tag name value pair format as each request is being created.

Each unique request is sent by email to a specific context in the Global Marketing Workspace. The context, in each case, is a regional dashboard of Marketing Requests RFP e.g. Japan. A Jython scripting event is subscribed to each context listening for incoming emails. The event is simply a “Search Agent” looking for anything that matches specified criteria.
The Jython event picks up the incoming XML name value pair metadata in the email and creates a team room for that specific opportunity using the values in the email as attributes.
The team room includes a discussion forum, document templates and task list. All cases are viewable in a dashboard. They can be sorted/filtered by status and whatever else anyone fancies.
This simple integration solves a problem most companies might be facing today when faced with integrating several applications that on the surface have similar features. As an architect, you need to pay attention to the following:-

  • Context of Use – What categories of users love using a particular application and why? You simply can’t implement new technology for technology sake. It also applies to design patterns. If email is sufficient use it.
  • Macro/Micro View – It’s important to appreciate where detail and summary information needs to reside. In this case, it was obvious that it needed to be in SalesForce.com The managers only need access to summary dashboards, sales support need access to emails, tasks, documents and everything else related to the case.
  • Confidentiality – Even though On Demand platforms are brilliant at what they do, there is a segregation of duty between externally hosted applications and internal applications. In the case of banks and pharmaceutical, it’s easy to tell what belongs where.
  • Creating a Context for Exception Management – Very few companies pay attention to exception management when implementing applications. This is where the most value is created and significant knowledge about process exists. A collaborative environment is better suited for managing the conversation thread around any exception that relates to that opportunity. Think of forums, WIKI, and Document Templates Library.

Why am I writing about this? I’m a big fan of top heavy command and control architecture, reference architecture name it as James McGovern described it in a recent post. However, what I’ve come to appreciate in my entire career in IT is that creating an inclusiveness culture in application design invariably makes them pervasive. You will quickly realise a return on your investments in these assets. I’m not talking about machines when I say assets, I mean people. People in companies increase the value of the brands. You need their collective assets, Organisational Memory to give meaning to your business. It therefore follows that you need to architect for participation. An environment where thoughts and ideas can flow sits comfortably with command and control applications such as ERPs, CRMs and Sales Force Applications.
For this customer, it would have been easy to say use an ESB/Web Services/SOA whatever to mediate the messaging between the two platforms however, as with everything else in our sphere of work, a pragmatic approach might often be a better approach. It’s also possible that the customer wants to move to a more secure alternative that assures guaranteed message delivery.
Everyone including moi knocks emails. As you can see in this example, email is not only a powerful medium of communication; it’s also a low cost and effective integration mechanism.
When architecting enterprise applications, think about barriers of entry for end users. User adoption and user participation invariably decide how pervasive any application is. Our mission now is to take SOA beyond UDDI directories to become browser icons. My next post is on Collaborative Services Description Language. (CSDL) an idea I’ve been working on that I believe will enable end users to compose and orchestrate services from their favourite applications. (At least that is the hope). I would also call it a unified service interface for social networking. AKA mash up SOA!

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Crackberry – Who Cares About The Patent February 27, 2006

Posted by poseidongroove in Blackberry, Chaos, Crackberry, eMail Management, News/Media.
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Drinking Email From a Fire Hose, The Crackberry is officially, worse than drug addiction. Here are some excellent tips on going to rehab and curing your addiction plus turning off the fire hose.

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Are You Spraying and Drinking From a Fire Hose ? October 19, 2005

Posted by poseidongroove in eMail Management.
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If you’re a Blackberry Junkie you might not like this post. Anyhow, I still can’t see the point of you drinking and spraying from a fire hose. That instant email fix which you’ve just received and the sneaky email you’ve just sent under the table in a meeting, are you sure you’ve had time to reflect before typing your rushed messages and then hitting the send button?

Email is perhaps the most pervasive application in IT today, yet it’s the most abused and potentially the most powerful medium of communication. I still discover emails from five years ago on our collaboration platform which I consider to be gold nugget.

The biggest problem with push email is that after a while it becomes meaningless. If your pocket is buzzing every two minutes, when it’s only someone sending an email to the whole organisation looking for their food in a fridge what is the point. It’s worse when this individual’s office is on a different continent from yours!! You should only read email you consider to be important at the time in the context of your work. Be honest, you don’t need to read every single email you receive.

Here’s how to manage email intelligently in your organisation.

  • Create Rules for most common email subjects. They should automatically be filed away and forwarded to a shared contextual space where someone else in your company might find it useful one day. Remember, one day is the crucial point here. It might never be that same day. If you’ve configured good weekly notifications, you should get a weekly summary on Monday.
  • If it’s that important to the sender, they will call you. Never assume when you’ve sent an email you’ve resolved an issue or a task is completed.
  • Your inbox should never be the exclusive location for storing company emails. Most gold nugget information we use to make crucial decisions are often best expressed in the context of the topic or problem. For example a forum about design patterns rather than a chaotic inbox.
  • Companies really underestimate the power of email. You can enhance your organisational intelligence easily by encouraging folks to share the content of their inbox. More folks are likely to contribute to forums if they can do so without changing their regular working habits. Non intrusive collaboration is extremely powerful.
  • Ideas, relationships and decision interactions are best expressed in emails. Don’t abuse it by spraying email without thinking. This is the power of three dimensional relationships. It’s a means to becoming an intelligent organisation.
  • The nasty habit of cc’ing the whole world to cover your back is not often a good idea. You know they’ve not read it and have no plans to.
  • Best Nugget, search for topics or companies you relate with using Google Alert and configure the alerts to go to a shared discussion forum in your company collaboration space. Not your personal inbox. Before going of to a customer, you can inspect this space to get a sense of what is happening to them. That way, you show you care and might uncover a new opportunity.
  • Finally, get a proper mobile phone and put it on call-divert to voicemail. Allow yourself to reflect before reacting to an issue. Easier said than done.

The Power of Three Dimensional Relationships September 19, 2005

Posted by poseidongroove in eMail Management.
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For several years, we’ve been led to believe that knowledge management and collaboration is all about technology. Most papers you read or most vendor literature you come across focus on the features of their KM/Collaboration platform. For the purpose of this discourse it is important to define what I understand as Collaboration and Knowledge Management.

Knowledge Management is the area of everyday work that provides the means for organisations to accumulate the collective intelligence and memory of that organisation. Typically, organisations will choose to implement a platform to enable this. Typical attributes of a KM Implementation will include a Document Library, Project Workspaces, Discussion Forums, Communities of Practice more on these later.

Collaboration on the other hand can be defined as people within an organisation or spanning more than one organisation coming together to share ideas, work on a process or business activity on a common platform. Collaboration can take place implicitly or explicitly . Collaboration can also occur asynchronously (e.g. email into forum,WIKI, Podcast, PSPCast and document contribution). It also occurs synchronously (e.g. White boarding, Chat, Web Meetings, Instant Messaging). All the technologies used are considered incidental and not fundamental. Attributes of Collaboration are also similar to KM except there is a heavy slant towards work processes. Activities that people come to work to do everyday.

The Industry and Vendors alike have tended to focus on characterising Synchronous collaboration as the most important element of this body of knowledge. This is a fundamental flaw as we focus too much on technology completely excluding the human behaviour that usually leads to a successful implementation.

KM and Collaboration are typically used to describe the same thing. I think we ought to clarify this. Knowledge Management is the end result of an organisation or group of people deciding to share their collective ideas, group memory interactions with customers and suppliers/partners using collaboration as the means to this end. You can only claim you are managing knowledge if the organisation can point to perceivable values of collaborating on its activities. Knowledge Management is like breathing oxygen. You shouldn’t have to think about it. I download a Podcast from iTunes or Mozilla with little effort.

When organisations pursue the fools gold of Knowledge Management they almost always fail. Collaboration results in explicit Knowledge Sharing or Implicit Knowledge Sharing depends on the intrinsic culture of each organisation. In marketing organisations, Implicit KS are more likely to be successful. In Finance/Research Explicit KS might be more successful. (Although I’m not convinced about this assertion myself).

I think we are seeing a massive change going on around us right now that’ll make everyone realise that we’ve been collaborating without knowing it all along. Here is the evidence, Semantic Web (RSS),Wiki,Blogging,Podcasting, Eclipse and Mozilla Plug Ins. All of these are great in their own way but we are witnessing chaos theory at work. I’m a great believer in Implicit KS. I call it “Three Dimensional Relationships” because the third part of the relationship can experience the intimacy of the initial two way relationship without being there. e.g. knowing that a customer always chooses to place an order on the last day of the Quarter from the email thread in the forum for that customer account or using basing our future product choices on feedback in a forum we subscribe to. I’ve been looking at a very interesting tool that seems to have the right mix of tool along this line.

  • Pebbles
  • It’s open source and a sign of things to come.

    What do you think ?