Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Healthcare debate on napkin

This is a simple but message driven presentation Healthcare debate on a napkin.
I wonder if this the next media channel for "Idiot's Guide" and "... for Dummies".
Reducing patient safety events and helping with reducing costs are not addressed fully.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Blaming the economy and start-ups

I was recently reading this article More Shop Talk at Inc. 500

The author Jay Goltz describes his self-realization moment: "Here is what I am telling myself: The bad economy has made me watch expenses more, reduce payroll and inventory, and think cash flow more than profits. While the economy appears to be getting better, I should not just sit around and wait for the recovery to fix everything. I need to take a closer look at my businesses to determine what we are doing right, what we could be doing better, and what we should not be doing at all. Not all of my problems are due to the recession; the recession just exposed them more. I am in more control than I would like to think, because with that control comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes working harder. No rest for the weary! Most people are suffering from some level of battle fatigue, and it is time to re-energize and get ready for next year."

Although the discussion in the blog is about an established company, two points made in this article resonates with start-up environment and those are:
1. This is the time to invest.
2. This is the time for people who come to work in start-up to understand success = effort X agility to change.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

SaaS Business: How do you grow?

The article SaaS Startups: Knobs and Dials and Other Insights provides great insights about customer feedback driving product design.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

SaaS, Learning, Ant Colonies and Data:
Do we have an answer for businesses to improve the quality of their decisions?

Very few businesses exist today where the culture is entirely autocratic and/or patriarchal. Most businesses, engage in group decision-making (not necessarily democratic -- of course.)

This makes it very important for businesses to understand not only how individuals make decisions but also how groups make decisions. In turn, it implies that a business must:
(a) understand perceptions of risks of a group (especially to minimize group-thinking);
(b) measure performance of the activities and decision-making of the group/team;
(c) understand the individual's critical thinking skills and its impact to the collective intelligence.

Web 2.0, SaaS and great optimization techniques are available now for businesses. Finally! you can improve the quality of your team's decisions.

First goal of building a SaaS application: Make it affordable.
Without affordability, no one will buy or switch from traditional enterprise.

Second goal of building a SaaS application: Make it easy to use.
Without ease, workarounds will be created to reduce (Dare! I say) or sabotage the initial intent of deploying the technology. Also, an easy-to-use application typically reduces GIGO effects of data collection.

Third goal of building a SaaS application: Make it easy to both understand and learn from the collected data.
An intangible asset of a business is the immense quantities of data they gather. This data will remain a swampy mush to reckon with and not good clay to build with, if groups or individuals cannot easily extract and analyze the data. If they cannot easily (a) learn the risks (b) measure the quality of group-decisions (c) understand the individual's critical-thinking skills -- then they will continue to make bad decisions. This "ease of learning" also allows for collaborative sharing across the businesses.

Fourth goal of building a SaaS application: Easily create (almost automatically) the next iteration (version) of the application based on the learning and adaptation of the underlying business process it has modeled.

In my opinion, most products of most SaaS companies have not yet reached the maturity to meet this goal. If we can design and create applications, where the underlying data and learning changes both the underlying work process and the SaaS application then the value of SaaS will be much higher than most experts predict.

Recall, the slow-moving mudslide of traditional enterprise-wide applications such as traditional SAP, Oracle etc. What happens to your SaaS application, when users change their underlying work process for better -- how long will it take your developers to change and adapt the application?

Ant Colony Optimization techniques are becoming more mainstream. This technique uses heuristic (data-driven) models to help systems learn. The models operate on an extremely simple premise: Individual ant is not intelligent, but a colony of ants working together create a swarm or collective intelligence to do many tasks well. See reference [1] for more.

These techniques can be utilized to meet the third and the fourth goal.
Only when these goals are met, then the "cat coming out of the bag" event will happen for SaaS. See reference [2] for more.

[1] Lessons from ant colony overcoming biases web 2.0

[2] The Cat is Out of the Bag (Again): The Hidden (?) Business Model in SaaS

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cloud computing key characteristics

Cloud Computing has become a hot topic for business applications. This paradigm has taken strength in the last year as many developers (especially those working on open-source platforms) are using the principles to build applications for business.

When I first heard about Cloud Computing, I learned more about it from the links cited below.
"Cloud computing is an emerging computing technology that uses the internet and central remote servers to maintain infrastructure, data and applications. Cloud computing allows consumers and businesses to use applications without installation and access their personal files at any computer with internet access."

"Cloud computing is a paradigm of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Users need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure in the "cloud" that supports them."
This technology allows for much more efficient computing by centralizing storage, memory, processing and bandwidth.
The Cloud computing concept generally incorporates combinations of the following:

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is the "delivery of computer infrastructure as a service. Rather than purchasing servers, software, data center space or network equipment, clients instead buy those resources as a fully outsourced service."

Platform as a service (PaaS) is the "delivery of a computing platform and solution stack as a service. PaaS offerings include workflow facilities for application design, application development, testing, deployment and hosting as well as application services such as team collaboration, web service integration and marshalling, database integration, security, scalability, storage, persistence, state management, application versioning, application instrumentation and developer community facilitation."

Software as a service (SaaS) is a "model of software deployment whereby a provider licenses an application to customers for use as a service on demand. SaaS software vendors will host the application on their own servers or download the application to the consumer device, disabling it after use or after the on-demand contract expires. Much like any other software, Software as a Service can also take advantage of Service Oriented Architecture to enable software applications to communicate with each other. "

Key characteristics
Cloud computing customers do not generally own the physical infrastructure serving as host to the software platform in question. Instead, they avoid capital expenditure by renting usage from a third-party provider. They consume resources as a service and pay only for resources that they use.

(a) Cost is claimed to be greatly reduced and capital expenditure is converted to operational expenditure. This ostensibly lowers barriers to entry, as infrastructure is typically provided by a third-party and does not need to be purchased for one-time or infrequent intensive computing tasks. Pricing on a utility computing basis is fine-grained with usage-based options and fewer IT skills are required for implementation (in-house).

(b) Device and location independence enable users to access systems using a web browser regardless of their location or what device they are using (e.g., PC, mobile). As infrastructure is off-site (typically provided by a third-party) and accessed via the Internet, users can connect from anywhere.

(c) Reliability improves through the use of multiple redundant sites, which makes cloud computing suitable for business continuity and disaster recovery.

(d) Scalability via dynamic ("on-demand") provisioning of resources on a fine-grained, self-service basis near real-time, without users having to engineer for peak loads. Performance is monitored and consistent and loosely-coupled architectures are constructed using web services as the system interface.

(e) Security typically improves due to centralization of data, increased security-focused resources, etc., but concerns can persist about loss of control over certain sensitive data, and the lack of security for stored kernels. Security is often as good as or better than under traditional systems, in part because providers are able to devote resources to solving security issues that many customers cannot afford. Providers typically log accesses, but accessing the audit logs themselves can be difficult or impossible.

We at PAKRA, follow the principles of Cloud Computing in design and deployment of our applications.


    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Can Video Games Replace "Chalk and Talk" in the Classroom?

    I was recently forwarded an article from www.economist.com which details learning programs based entirely on video games. In the Serious Games world we talk a lot about the use of gaming technology in education and business but replacing entire school curriculum with it is, well, it's shocking.

    How can we replace traditional "talk and chalk" programs that are facilitated by teachers with video games? Can people truly learn solely by playing games? Aren't we loosing all aspects of human to human socialization through this model? What happens when the students of Bank Street School for Children, for example, enter a non-games based educational environment when they've been schooled solely through games in the past?

    I don't have answers to the these questions. Just based on the number of questions that the subject raises and the debate that ensues among parents, gamers, developers, and educators tells me that this model is worth studying.

    The technology to learn through gaming is here, and like it or not, it's working its way in to classrooms everywhere in varying doses. Please read the article linked here to learn more about programs that integrate gaming at the most extreme dose.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Adoption rate of new technology and its role in making technology truly "Enabling"

    Businesses spend inordinate amount of money and time in purchasing and deploying enterprise-wide software applications. Most of these applications typically have poor user adoption and utilization rate. Poor adoption and utilization means limited capitalization of the promised return-on-investment (ROI). The responsibility for this poor rate can be equally shared by both clients and software companies.

    On the Software Company side:
    There are many reasons, but I find the main reasons are: non-aligned performance metrics across the customer-facing groups within the software company and the narrow near-term incentives each group receives.

    (a) Primary focus of the sales team (measured by the incentives we set for them) of a software company always is in closing sales.
    Who can blame them for having this focus -- when the sales cycle for selling enterprise systems is so long and we hammer them to close the sale?

    (b) Primary focus of implementation team of a software company is in "on-time" and "at-cost" implementation.
    Who can blame them for having this focus -- when they are held responsible to project milestones and time-lines and we hammer them to finish the implementation and move to the next?

    (c) Primary focus of customer service personnel is to log, manage and resolve immediate day-to-day user issues.
    Who can blame them for having this focus when they are held responsible to satisfy each user's emergent need and we hammer them to keep the user instantly gratified?

    Adoption rate (both velocity and acceleration) never remains in the sight-line of the supplier's management team. The issue of unlimited user licensing further stops this issue from being in the top 5 priorities of leadership team of the software company.

    On the Client side:
    There are many reasons but I find that the main reasons are: the zero to minimum incentives and the level of focus of each stakeholder group within the client company, as associated with the purchase and implementation of the software.

    (a) Primary focus of the client's purchasing team are in measuring ROI case for budget and in making sure all compliance issues related to purchasing are met.
    Who can blame them for having this focus -- when they are only held responsible for meeting compliance and appropriate spend?

    (b) Primary focus of the client's implementation team are in making the implementation trouble-free and in making sure there are no delays.
    Who can blame them for having this focus -- when they are the face of the software (internal to the client) and face resistance to the change head-on?

    (c) Primary focus of the client's system administrators are in managing immediate day-to-day user issues and in complying with internal network security protocols.
    Who can blame them for having this focus -- when the client's leadership only cares about "no trouble" at hand?

    It is extremely important that adoption of software is articulated to the client prior to closing the sales.

    We should ask these questions as part of sales discussion:
    (1) Who are the early adopters within the client?
    (2) Have the early adopters ever been utilized to be an ambassador for other systems?
    (3) How will the client transfer knowledge to new users?

    User Experience is the most important critical factor that effects both the psychology behind adopting new technology and the length of time it takes to adopt new technology.

    When the users say the following, then we have maximized the user experience:
    You have my attention!
    This is easy to use!
    This makes my work easier!

    (a) To get a response from the user: “You have my attention!” one has to answer these questions:
    i. How involved will be the leadership team of the client in promoting accountability of middle managers in using the products?
    ii. What incentives will be provided to increase utilization?
    iii. What other initiatives internal to client and external conditions will prevent users from focusing on using the software?

    (b) To get a response from the user: “This is easy to use” one has to answer these questions:
    i. How can the software company run a pilot to replicate their usability test results with the client's user?
    ii. How many users will be trained in Analytics and reporting and will be held accountable to use and understand the data that is being entered?
    iii. How will we communicate the data on demographic factors in order to further understand the needs of diverse users?
    iv. For custom product: How involved will be the users in designing, testing, promoting the software features?
    v. What steps will we take to ensure workaround by users after implementation is minimized?

    (c) To get a response from the user: “This will make my work easier!” one has to answer the following questions:
    i. How involved will be the leadership team of the client in promoting accountability of middle managers in using the products?
    ii. Where/Which features will most users have trouble in adopting during the implementation stage?
    iii. How will the use time effect productivity goals for supervisors?
    iv. For custom product: How involved will be the users in designing, testing, promoting the software features?
    v. What workarounds will the user create and how do we monitor and prevent it?

    So! here are the steps:
    1st: Answer the questions about user experience with the client around sales close time.
    2nd: Take proper steps to address the gaps found in the answers.
    3rd: Design and implement metrics and goals based on these gaps across all stakeholders in both supplier and the client.
    4th: Design incentives that tie performance of all stakeholder groups in the client and the supplier.
    5th: Monitor performance and actively correct course as needed.

    These steps will ensure increased adoption rate and utilization rate;
    --> In turn, will deliver the full promised ROI to the client;
    --> When the ROI is captured, the technology will become what it should be -- An "enabling" technology to the work processes.

    SaaS, as a current hot technology offering to businesses, does have the makings of a better way to attract early adopters. However SaaS (especially enterprise) software providers should address the question of adoption and utilization upfront with their client in order to make SaaS solutions a better alternative (than the existing reality of legacy software) to business users.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    A Nod To PAKRA's CEO, From Clary Communications

    Sandy Clary (of Clary Communications) recently posted an item about our very own CEO, Rini Das, on her blog. Rini is described as a "woman of passion and vision". Sandy also mention's Rini's positive attitude even in the toughest of economic times.

    Please visit Sandy's blog @
    http://www.clarycommunications.com/social_media.php to read the entire post.