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Keeping Promises and Excuses ! September 6, 2006

Posted by poseidongroove in Edge Thinking, IBM, Java, Oracle, ThingsPrime, Weblogs, Work.
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The last month has been incredibly busy, managing three invitation to tender process, vendor selection, due diligence, architecture blueprint etc etc. In all this time, I’ve not had a chance to complete three blog posts I’ve drafted.

Excuses, excuses, you might say. Things should get better from next month when we start to implement all these components. I’m near the end of the vendor selection process for the platforms we’re deploying for the customer. I’ll publish the promised Thingsprime slides and podcast hopefully, within the next couple of weeks. Apologies to all the folks that attended the meeting.

A few anecdotes from the last few months, The biggest vendors in the world are not the best people to buy software from. Trust me. Two of the biggest software vendors in the world were invited to respond to our RFPs shot themselves in the foot. If you go to their website they proclaim you should trust them to run your online/offline business using their software.

In both cases,I was really disappointed. We sent out Invitation to Tender documents to the email addresses they advertised. They failed to respond to the RFIs on time, and then passed it on to re-sellers, then I got more internal sales folks calling me to change the deadline for submission also trying to flog me more stuff.

In both cases, I know Senior VPs in the companies and reported this. It would have been unfair on all the other software companies that responded if I’d allowed them to submit their responses after the deadline. We dropped them from the shortlist ! I don’t care if I’m fired for not buying from a big vendor. I live on principles when it comes to architecture. Hygiene is my motto not compromise !

If you think buying from the biggest software companies is good for you, think again. Are they partnering with you in your journey or flogging you everything including armies of developers ?

I believe it’s important when you put together an architecture that you make sure you don’t compromise it by buying the entire toolbox from a single source. An example is because, you’re buying IBM Websphere Application Server, you have to go all the way and buy Websphere Enterprise. (42 install shields and counting mate !). Same applies to Oracle.(note, I’m not saying they are the vendors in the above case).

One of my friends who is an architect with a local authority in the UK told me how they bought software recently. They’d completed due dilligence and recommended they use a mixture of open source and commercial software. They also went on training courses for the reccomended stack.

The senior managers who know nothing about technology decided to go out and buy everything from Oracle. My architect friend and his J2EE developers have suddenly started programming in PL/SQL. What took another local authority 6months to deliver is now taking them almost two years and wasted council tax revenue. Thanks to the army of PL/SQL programmers locking them into the database forever. Sweet !!

If you’re running an RFI process, always ask the vendors to submit their javadoc/netdoc whatever for their entire stack. Get your developers to review it and ensure all that flashy Powerpoint about the entire platform stack being one integrated piece really does stand up to scrutiny. In several cases, I’ve seen recently, the APIs are so different you just know you’re asking for trouble. Make sure you generate business case benefits for each solution you’re buying as well otherwise, it’s easy for senior managers to override your selection process.

Finally, outside of the RFI I needed to buy an essential item from one of these vendors, I was able to extract a massive discount on the list price from them as compensation! Win some loose some.


CMS and All That…. July 14, 2006

Posted by poseidongroove in brand, CMS, eWorkPlace, Java, Joomla, Web Culture, Weblogs, Work.
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I’ve been very busy in the last month. I’m architecting a new web platform for a medium-large UK organisation.

I’ve done a lot of Content Management System rescue engagements in my time. Like customers implementing CMS as a silver bullet that will solve every problem conceivable. In my experience, this is never the case. It always depends on the customer. If you’re a medium to large business. You will need more than a CMS to fully engage with customers across multiple touch points.

If you’ve got a really good web application for managing relationships etc you can get by for a little while. Problem starts if you really want to do A/B campaign splits and really test customer life-cycles or user segmentation. Personalising user experience occurs in two ways what you accurately inferred about a customer and what they told you about themselves. In most cases, you’ll get the latter with a CMS !

I thought about writing this post because, after several years of people buying content management systems. If we exclude open source offerings such as Mambo or Joomla which are not really enterprise scale CMS. I feel most CMS vendors always think all presentation logic and meta-data should be coupled into the CMS. Whatever happened to Portals and Commerce Engines. Are you sure you really want to be making Web Services calls to build dynamic content in each JSP or ASP Page ?
I know JSRs are really difficult to follow and hardly anyone is implementing JSR 170 correctly. I still think CMS vendors do themselves serious disservice if they keep selling their solutions as one stop shop for everything from integration to back-end system, personalisation, etc.

If you’re in the market buying a CMS, ensure decoupled delivery is the default mode you engage with the vendor. Meaning you deliver content into a Content Repository for example, a database schema for a dynamic JSP/ASP whatever to use jsp tags to look-up the data and render it using an ORM.
Effectively, you’ve exposed all the meta-data for any degree of personalisation you might want. If however, the html, stylised content, tags and content items are all locked in deadly embrace in jsp pages. I really feel sorry for you and your company. You really ought to start again.

Effectively, there is no decent means other than the CMS of doing personalisation campaign management analytics whatever. Please don’t come and tell me I should be making SOAP/WSDL calls to a CMS repository. You don’t need to do that. Just bung it in a database schema bodytext, headline and all and off you go. Use an Object Relational Mapper with caching capability to retrieve the data into your dynamic JSP/ASP pages.

Remember, the CMS will need to notify your Object Relational Mapper of additions or changes to the content items. You can still carry on deploying static content to your Webserver document root. It’s better there. Except, the CMS or Portal provides decent full-text search of documents such as pdf. Don’t waste your time putting them in a CMS.

Two of the vendors we saw delivered a decoupled implementation. They know who they are and I really appreciate their effort. For us and the vendors, it means if we decide to buy an eCRM Platform or Personalisation engine none of the new vendors can turn round and tell us we’ve never integrated with that CMS before. I’ll just give them the reference implementation to use. Saves everyone a lot of time. (This is a MacDonald’s tip for you).

One of the best CMS implementations I’ve worked on that still does that to date is Den Norske Bank, Vital and Postbanken in Norway with Guray Sen & Razorfish. Same parent company different trading divisions, same database schema all very dynamic way before anyone thought of JSR 170. It’s called common sense and flexibility meaning you can localise to whatever language since all content is dynamic.

Given this frustration of mine, I seriously recommend if you’re in the market for a CMS, tell all the vendors to deliver a decoupled delivery implementation of the content items into a Tomcat or JBoss reference implementation using hibernate and a decent set of taglibs to retrieve an array of news-feed and a detail news item page from a MySQL database. See below for an example schema.

What you’re doing is building flexibility into your content architecture. All data should be available for creating a 360 Degree View of the relationship with your customer where-ever it lives.
More importantly, if you’re using a personalisation engine or campaign management platform with your web application, you’re now in a position to really personalise the user experience and create effective campaigns that really affect your audience. Even better let the user liven up their interaction with your site as they wish e.g. Playing with the colour scheme or delivering relevant news-feed based on item-Types such as football assuming you categorise your content repository.

Finally, the demands of participative architecture (AKA Web 2.0) means delivering an online experience that has stick-ability is a serious challenge going forward.

CMS vendors really need to be careful with the messages they’re sending out when selling their solution. I came away from this excerise feeling all CMS tools are actually, the same. The difference now is in usability. If you’re doing due dilligence means you need to ensure you get what you want and what the users want !!!