Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Open standards and closed code

IBM is opening up a small part of it's patent portfolio to drive SOA adoption. The article has a quote - "This is telling people go for it and code using these open standards,". What exactly is open here? If it is open, why does IBM have patents on it? I haven't seen the patents here (you know the lawyers actually ask you not to do a patent search!) but it rather seems odd that you have patents on open standards that you make it available to the developers and actually get credit for them. The article also says - "I'm not sure how much developers worry about this stuff anyway," - right on. This is absolutely true. This is a pure PR play and demonstrates some of the issues with our current patent system and the patent stockpiling tactics that organizations employ. The actual impact of the patents to SOA adoption in general is questionable.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The innovation is like Paris Hilton

The innovation is sort of like Paris Hilton. She's everywhere and nobody really knows why. This is what Krisztina Holly, a serial entrepreneur and engineer tells us in a plea to preserve the true meaning of innovation. I liked the definition of innovation - "true innovation is the process of translating new ideas into tangible societal impact.” I couldn't agree anymore. The innovation is not just about the product or a process and it should certainly be not confused with an invention. I am not sure if innovation is a buzzword yet, but to me, it is nothing but common sense.

It will be all about criteria and not results

I haven't seen the search results user interface change a lot in the past few years and I don't expect any significant changes in coming years. Jakob Nielsen talks about what search results interface would look like in 2010 during a recent interview. I don't like to predict what will happen in 2010 but I do like to spot the trend and identify the opportunities to improve user experience in general and help improve search semantics. I firmly believe that the search results relevancy is likely to get better and better and we will certainly see more heuristics and machine learning to personalize results based on user's needs and importantly to understand the user's intentions in that moment. The search engine improvements are likely to shift from pure indexing science to better understand the search criteria to achieve relevant search results and there are plenty of opportunities in this area. The “Did you mean this?” correction is just the beginning. This is an area where psycholinguistics can contribute improve the search relevancy. Having said that, I do believe that there is plenty of room to improve the search/results interface and interaction model. Companies like ask.com are gearing their efforts in this direction. Semantic search engines haven't been that successful so far but this is also an area for an improvement in the overall search world.

The interview also brings up the fact that people are generally lazy, but I believe that given the right incentive people might be willing to express themselves better. Spelling and grammar correction is a good example. Though an overly enthusiastic interface asking a lot of information from a user is less likely to succeed. Jakob also talks about perceptual psychology and the ability of showing the images that users are expected to see and actually like and how this approach could turn into banner blindness. The multimedia search results are a big issue going forward as we see more and more user generated multimedia content. A picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth a million. The images are easy to look at and to comprehend than the pure text but there are challenges on how to select the right images and the same is true with the videos. The video search is an interesting problem and there are many different evolving techniques such as meta information and audio scanning. We will see a lot of progress in this direction.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Innovation and design

"How can I do Apple"? I liked Cordell Ratzlaff's quotes in this Business Week article. "The most successful products I was a part of at Apple started with only a few people with no formal structure or hierarchy and little corporate oversight." Cordell managed Apple's Human Interface group in 1990 and now he is a director of User-Centered design at Cisco. He also says "Democracy works well for running a country and choosing a prom queen. The best product designs, however, come from someone with a singular strong vision and the fortitude to fend off everything and everyone that would compromise it." Yes, we all know and I agree that Steve Jobs is the king. To "do an Apple" you can either hire Steve Jobs or you ask your C-level executives to do what he does. Apple does not sell products, it sells user experience and apparently they are doing a good job marketing and selling this experience. We all can learn from Apple and understand the connection between innovation and design.

Apple has made mistakes in the past that resulted into some failures. Many people have blamed Apple for causing cognitive dissonance that resulted into bad design but Apple at least believes in design and gets it. Design-led innovation is not just about interaction, sensory, or information design but it is about design thinking. Apple does get a lot of credit for providing design a first class seat in their organization and enjoys the halo effect or cognitive bias to certain extent. The Business Week article talks about designers sharing the same philosophy and thinking long after they left Apple and this is a good thing as long as the designers don't introduce self-referential design. You want all the people in your organization to believe and practice design-led innovation but you don't really want to copy Apple when you "do an Apple".

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

SOA ROI - interoperability and integration

If you are a SOA enabled enterprise application vendor trying to sell SOA to your customers you quickly realize that very few customers are interested in buying SOA by itself. Many customers believe SOA investment to be a non-differential one and they compare that with compliance – you have to have it and there is no direct ROI. A vendor can offer ROI if the vendor has the right integration and interoperability strategy. For customers it is all about lowering the TCO of the overall IT investment and not about looking at TCO of individual applications. SOA enabled applications with standardized, flexible, and interoperable interfaces work towards the lower TCO and provide customers sustainable competitive advantage. Generally speaking customers are not interested in the "integration governance" of the application provider as long as the applications are integrated out-of-the-box and has necessary services to support inbound and outbound integration with customer's other software to support customer's vision of true enterprise SOA.

It has always been a long debate what is a good integration strategy for SOA enabled products. Organizations debate on whether to use the same service interfaces for inter-application and intra-application integrations. Intra-application integration have major challenges, especially for large organizations. Different stakeholders and owners need to work together to make sure that the applications are integrated out-of-the-box. It sounds obvious but it is not quite easy. In most cases it is a trade off between to be able to "eat your own dog food" by using the published interfaces versus optimizing performance by compromising the abstraction by having a different contract than inter-application integration. There are few hybrid approaches as well that fall between these two alternatives, but it is always a difficult choice. Most of the customers do not pay too much attention to the intra-application strategy, but it is still in the best interest of a vendor to promote, practice, and advocate service-based composition against ad-hoc integration. There are many ways to fine tune the runtime performance if at all this approach results into performance degradation.

The other critical factor for ROI is the interoperability. The internal service enablement doesn't necessarily have to be implemented as web services, but there is a lot of value in providing the standardized service endpoints that are essentially web services that have published WSDL and WS-I profile compliance. The interoperability helps customer with their integration efforts and establish trust and credibility into the vendor's offerings. I have also seen customers associating interoperability with transparency. Not all the standards have matured in the area of Web Services and that makes it difficult for a vendor to comply to or to follow a certain set of standards, but at the minimum vendors can decide to follow the best practices and the standards that have matured.