What will we build?

What's Up:

  • Bandwidth
  • Internet Access
  • Mobile Devices
  • Online Interaction (social / gaming etc.)
  • Computing Capabilities
  • Mashup & other web integrations

What's Down (not working):

  • Healthcare Information Access
  • Learning new stuff
  • Positive Community Action
  • Conservation & Environmental Action
  • Managing my contacts

So, the question is...What will we build?

The future of app development (Force.com)

Confession: This post is probably a year or so late, it is just that I have not had the opportunity to play with Force.com earlier.

Summary: Force.com is revolutionizing the way we do application development & the future belongs to such platforms that are cost effective, agile & offer a low barrier to entry.

Ever since Amazon introduced AWS & EC2, I was interested in Cloud computing. Eventually, Google App Engine really made me want to play with these offerings. However, the learning curve to all these platform appeared a little too steep to me, largely because it expected me to play all (or most) of the roles from SysAdmin to Web Server Admin to Db Admin to developer etc.

Enter force.com...a platform offering from Salesforce.com that offers you a set of pre-built business objects for customization & allows you the flexibility to create your own custom ones, generates a UI for them all & allows you to create your own).

So, basically the developer uses (or creates) business objects, tweaks the business validations, rules, UI, leverages the force.com infrastructure for access control, authorization, security, scalability, data migration, web service integration etc. & can offer a fully functioning business application to the users.

I was able to create a fully functioning web application with a custom Asp.Net UI front end (using force.com generated web services) in two days, from learning the force.com environment, toolset, some APEX programming to importing data into the custom business objects that I created from scratch.

I am usually a skeptic to new vendor offerings that purportedly make our jobs easy, but Force.com certainly seems to have found a balance between technology flexibility, agility & ease of usage in a cost effective way. This can be revolutionary.

What would 'online search' do?

This article on Google Music caught my attention. So, if you are another online search service, how do you compete with Google? How do you entice folks to use your search engine over Google? Google gives me great search results (well, within reason) & I like other Google products (Gmail, Blogger etc.). So, why would I use a Bing, Yahoo, Ask, Cuil or anything else?

This seems to be so much more of a marketing problem than a technology or product problem. Let's look at another similar situation - Before Starbucks came along, maybe Dunkin Donuts or McD were the market leader for Coffee. What did Starbucks do? Ditto with Dell/HP vs. Apple. By fragmenting the market & targeting specific segments - typically the underserved ones, these companies have redefined their product positioning & often have created completely new markets.

Let's try that idea with Google. Does Google search work really well for everyone (as in insanely amazingly well) - or does it just work good enough? What if there were search engines targeted to different user groups - When kids search for "Mario" are they really looking for "Mario Tricoci Hair Salons & Day Spas".

Similarily, when a caregiver is looking for information on diabetes vs. a student researcher vs. a pharmacist, are they interested in the same set of information. Today, every user either sifts through the tonne of results that they get - less likely, or we keep on refining our query to a more specific term. What if I don't know the term - which is especially true for technical trades - programming is one of them. Try finding information on "parameterized URL" without using that term.

I guess there is probably an opportunity for online search engines to focus more sharply on under served user segments - and google music is probably a step in that direction. It will be interesting to see what others will do. Interesting times, I guess.

Open Source BI On the Cloud

I was reading up on the BI solutions & stumbled upon Rightscale. It is an interesting offering - a combination of open source software (Talend, Jaspersoft, Vertica) running on Amazon's Virtual machine infrastructure.
So, what does this mean for an average customer - Well, I think the answer is stereotypical "It depends". If you are a small business that was not even thinking BI because Oracle, SAP, IBM & Microsoft licensing scared the bejesus out of you, this could be pretty interesting. Especially, if your business has a Franchise model & your data is not tightly regulated (HIPAA, SOX, DOD don't mean anything to you), this may be a cool tool to offer to your franchisees.

You can do an enterprise agreement with these guys, integrate local data systems (if they are not integrated already) & pretty soon each one of the "Lube & Oil Change" Managers (who are willing to spend $50 a month) can have a BI solution to look at & answer questions like who is your most profitable customer that has not returned in the last 6 months.

The part I like about the emerging technology landscape is that it continues to lower the entry barriers for competitive edge between the big guys & the small ones. In the end though, all these are beneficial only to those that are a well oiled machine to begin with. Yep, no amount of BI is bringing back the customer who got her car back with grease marks on the hood.

Yahoo BOSS - Someone was thinking blue oceans

I am intrigued by the thinking that must have gone into Yahoo BOSS. Essentially, it is a way to offer Yahoo's search infrastructure to start ups & developers for customized search options. What I find cool is that this strategy can enable a number of custom search engine based offerings & fragment the search market against the search titans. Their search service usage chart sure supports the validity of the idea.

Read more on this here....

Yahoo's BOSS Website

BOSS vs. Bing

Beyond good enough...

My apologies for the silence. I was in the "get busy living" mode.

Anyway, my last two posts on this subject tried looking at the two sides of the fence. From an old school marketing perspective, one can say that good enough products are intended for the lower end of the customer segment in the western as well as emerging markets.

However, with that definition it is hard to visualize where does cheap chic fit in? Are the people shopping at IKEA just the lower / middle income groups? What about at Costco / Target / Kohls? Is an average Apple customer a very affluent person?

The point is that customer segments specifically from a price point are blurring, & that is diminishing the saleability of mediocre products. The sales number may not indicate that, but in the mind of the consumer, some of today's market leaders are loosing a battle.

McDonald's decision to eliminate trans fatty acids, Microsoft's change in life cycle policy to support XP till 2014 & shopping experience between Target & Walmart are all indicative of a more aware & assertive consumer.

Okay...so what does a business do? How do we get out of the mediocrity & into a segment where our business / product / services are beyond "good enough"?

I am not a marketing / strategy guru & some of this may sound fairly cliched, but it is surprising how few organizations have internalized it. Here is my "Do or Die" list...

1. "Design Or Die" for the user
Not for the press, not for the marketing guys, not for anyone else but for your user. Products, Services or whatever in between you have...make sure that "it just works" for the user, otherwise do us all & the environment a great favor & go out of business.

2. Differentiate Or Die
Read about the DHL layoffs...In a UPS / FEDEX world, I never did figure out what was DHL's unique selling proposition. They may be a little cheaper, but price is rarely a strategic differentiator. So, unless your cow is purple, "yer business is a knockin the pearly gates anytime".

3. Innovate Or Die
So you are in an economy that is not doing well & not sure what to do. Well, figure out a way to offer cheaper day care, help someone improve or enrich what they are trying to do...Innovate a service or a product to ride the price sensitive wave. For a while, price may be a pretty good tactical advantage. ;-). Unless you want a Chinese manufacturer to eat your lunch, Innovate, Patent, Sell & Repeat.

4. Passionate Or Die
In the "Only the paranoid survive" spirit, I think we all need to realize how easily replaceable our products & services have become. The truth is that more than ever, we all need to be passionate about what we do, & offer a zest & zeal that is not easily replicable, or be ready to get Outsourced.

I will end my thoughts here for now. Most of this is really what I have understood from reading Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, the Heath brothers & a lot of other thought provoking authors.


Why good enough is not good enough?

So what is common between Microsoft & American Automobile manufacturers? Both of them command a significant percentage of market share but seem to be loosing ground in the minds of consumer (just my opinion...numbers could probably tell a whole different story).

The common factor is mediocrity. The overall experience of ownership or usage of these consumer products is mediocre or good enough. It's not the best, not the worst, just good enough. Office works pretty well for some, not so well for others, but it works somewhat. The same logic applies to the Taurus's of the world.

These products may not be the tops in efficiency or style or experience or usability, but they are all good enough. Well apparently, good enough is not good enough & the middle segment is shrinking. Why??

1. Technology - It turns out that a few years ago, you had to be a Linux guy to use it, but today with an "easy to install & use experience", Ubuntu is a compelling alternative to Windows (same for Open Office).

These type of products are creating a migration from the middle segment to the bottom layers (especially true for developing countries / price sensitive segments). On the other hand, Toyota Prius is creating a migration to the upper segment with superior technology (Yep, 20K + for a compact car)

2. Design - Is expanding the top & the bottom segments by making the products more appealing, usable & hip. No longer is design expensive (IKEA, Target, Toyota Scion) & thus a mediocre product or service experience is just not selling very well. No points for guessing Apple, but others include Volkswagen & Nissan.

3. Innovation - is another reason why the middle segment is shrinking. Products & services better suited for our needs command a premium way over the good enough category (Yep...$90 for a Braun Toothbrush..who would have guessed?). This limits the economic incentive to be in the mediocre products category (unless of course, you have very high exit barriers).

4. Too much crap - Straight out of the Dan Pinkerton world, Asia, Automation & Abundance have made some of us rethink about what do we need (& how much of it). Although, this mindset of not buying too much crap is expanding organically, but it is a segment which seems highly averse to buying mediocre products.

5. Changing Lifestyle - As the migration to cities gathers steam, we will have smaller spaces to ourselves, & thus would want less stuff (in which case, mediocre products are probably out). Same applies for multi tasking...Blackberry is a great example of this.

I am sure this list can go on & on with internet, wisdom of the crowds, better access to reviews & ownership experience etc., but the point is....

Good enough is not good enough.

In the next post, my thoughts on what can we do to get out of the "Good Enough" category.


iPhone & Mimique...Open Source can be so empowering?

So what can one possibly design that will compete with iPhone. After all, who can build it sleeker, simpler & sexier than Apple? & even if you had the beans to do a better design, can the engineering part of building a cellphone make this endeavor, a daunting one for a design company?

Enter RKS design with Mimique on Open Source Google Android...
This is a good example of how open source empowers ideas that looked too tough just yesterday. If Mimique was conceived a year ago, it would have to live with limitations of Windows Mobile or other commercially available smartphone operating systems (or they would have to shell out a fair amount in embedded operating systems just to get a basic working phone out of the door), but with Google Android available, the entry barriers into the smartphone world are lowered to a point where better designs & products become viable.
So, the question I ask myself is...What was impractical & not viable yesterday, but is feasible today? Who is monitoring the change in the "business as usual" assumptions of your business? Can such individuals, groups or companies be the game changers of today (& are we part of that mindset)?

Food for thought, aye?

Cool & Useful (Product Heuristics)

What do you do if your product or service is not loved by customers? What determines that the stuff you buy actually gets used? Where is the line between shelfware & wonderware (okay, I made this term up, but you get the idea).

Here is another one of the heuristics / rule of thumb (okay, rule of thumb & a finger) that came out of one of the rants on what can we make that folks would love.

Hope this makes sense.


Duct Tape - Saving the world from bad design

Nothing screams end user innovation like Duct tape (a.k.a Duck Tape). It is possibly one of the greatest American innovation.

As it turns out the Universal remote that I ended up buying a year & a half ago, did not really work with my Satellite Dish (& eventually was just tossed under the bed like "Jessie, the Cowgirl" in Toy Story).

This setup was just a little complicated for the family as it involved a few steps in a strict ritual just to watch Cartoon Network (& no one even tried to get to XBOX / Wii / Wireless Media Player).

Duct tape to the rescue (okay, clear packing tape for the nitpickers)...& boom, now we have stepwise instructions for how to use this setup...Follow the numbered instructions & just add water ;-)..& duct tape slays the multiple remote dragon.

Duct tape really is a classic example of products that empowers us in a simple & straight forward manner (passes the "no manual required" test). Perhaps, the opportunity lies in ideas that allow us to make sense of our world (let's me duct tape stuff) or eliminates the need for duct taping my world (seamlessly integrated stuff / iPhones etc.).

If you can think of a product or service that does one of these, you may have the next duct tape on your hand.


While Harmony by Logitech etc. exist for $100+, it will probably take an Apple to expand this market (Yep, iRemote). There may be an opportunity here to create an easy to use / train Universal remote. Yep, I ain't writing no friggin Macros (& if it is has more than 3 buttons, don't even bother).

Of course another version of this product could be MS Remote Server 2009 64 Bit Enterprise edition (plus 5 other versions with 3 different licensing models). Remember "Home Server" (Almost nobody does).

Integration Next - Google Android's Compass

After my last post on this topic, I was reading on Google IO & here is a Google Android demo that shows exactly what I was talking about.

The compass feature actually overlays a real image stitched to give a 3D view impression, & moves as the phone is moved.

While I did not know about this feature in Android while writing my earlier post on this subject, I am pleasantly surprised (& a little taken aback) at the timing.

Either this is a weird coincidence / fluke or I am really good at seeing the future ;-). What do you think?


Integration Next - Physical Objects, Digital Information

What would integration of future be about? What will we want to tie next? While the integrations of past focused on tying systems together, do products like IPhone & Wii signal a new breed of integration?

From manual to automated, from batch to real time, from disjointed to seamless, from general/business like to personal....this is old news.

Is the next integration challenge centered around adding digital markers (for information or capabilities) that can leverage the power of internet to seemingly undigitized physical objects?

Navigate to Gabriel Miller's website & browse to the third image for project "WNDR" to see what I am referring to. Here is a screen shot from the same website..

Location aware devices such as GPS enabled mobile phones combined with a 3D awareness of their physical orientation through accelerometers means that devices of the future not only know where they are, they also know what direction are they facing in & exactly what are they looking at.

Does this mean that the future integrations can overlay a digital map over everyday physical things? Would these devices have the smarts to recognize that they are pointed in the direction of a restaurant & pop up reviews on it?

Would such an overlay of a 3D virtual map over physical world change the way we do things? Would it make auto-navigation a reality? Imagine a car or a plane that travels on a virtual highway without any human intervention.

Or would these be tied to the Visual Search idea that Like.com / Riya.com uses? That way, maybe I can just take a photo of the restaurant I am considering to dine in, & get back the results / reviews on it.

Imagine being able to translate Japanese into English almost near real time, just by using the camcorder feature to preview things from my web enabled cameraphone. It can just overlay English text over Japanese text on my camera screen.

I don't know what the future holds, but I suspect some of it will be headed in this direction. Maybe Live.com & other Google wannabes can change the battleground & fight the search battle in real world instead of on a computer screen. Maybe that is why Google came up with Android.

(Or Maybe this is just another conspiracy theory..who knows).

Good Night!!

The New Opportunities

After reading the businessweek's innovation section, Seth Godin, John Thackara, Paul Polak, Prahalad / Hamel & Porter, and after attending some really thought provoking conferences in the last few weeks, I wanted to clear my head & summarize all these thoughts.

After all, what should a business do about sustainability, design, innovation & such. How should their products, services or platforms map to these lines of thinking? Can we describe this in a way where it may make sense in a few minutes.

Here is my attempt with a thousand words...

In a perfect world, future wealth creation attempts will have to be firmly entrenched in all of these four quadrants to attain any kind of viable & long term competitive advantage.

However, since we live in an imperfect world, the economic inefficiencies of the market & other external factors will contain how far this competitive advantage / threat will go (& 'business as usual' will work just fine for some of us).

Disclaimer: As a high level diagram, this is intended to merely foster thoughts. It is not attempting to "be all, end all" (for that you may want to read some of the fine authors mentioned earlier).