Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Software as a Service or Software plus Service?

At the risk of contradicting myself, I think Ray Ozzie is onto something with the Software plus Service approach. 

One of the current issues with SaaS for desktop apps is the lack of support for disconnected users. I don't think it's any coincidence that Google apps doesn't have a PowerPoint equivalent yet - how many times have you made last minute changes to your presentation on the plane -)

"Software plus services" seems to be a sensible choice for desktop applications at this point in time. However, I suspect this will change once we have broadband connections from our aisle seats.

<update> There's an interesting announcement today from Corel, who seem to have already launched a hybrid software plus service application.

Building an intranet through mutual respect and understanding

I'd just like to go on record: Toby Ward talks sense (well most of the time anyway). In a recent post, Toby discusses the language barrier between two groups who frequently get involved in intranet deployments - IT and Internal Comms (Toby actually uses HR as his example). I've had similar experiences with IC and IT, and the relationship between them can make or break a project.

However, I don't think it's enough for the communicators to put themselves in the shoes of the other party. Mutual respect fills in a big part of the communication gap, but there also needs to be recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of each group.

In general I've found that Internal Comms are the visionaries and IT are the pragmatists. The groups can work really well together as long as they play to each other's strengths. I've seen intranet projects go badly off-track when the visionaries are expected to produce GANTT charts or the techies lead the design.

All I would say is that completing an effective intranet without both teams is pretty much impossible. So having everyone involved from the start, and defining roles up-front is the first step towards the perfect intranet.

The other thing that I've found is that most of my clients (IC and IT) aren't prepared for the level of detail that's involved in putting together an intranet, but that's a subject for another post.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Google caught in a hailstorm?

With the launch of Google hosted applications that compete with Microsoft Office, it seems natural to look at the history of hosted apps to see if Google Apps will really threaten Microsoft. Mary Jo Foley  compares Google Apps to Microsoft's 2001 hailstorm service. She has some good points, and anyone launching a hosted service will face the IT department's resistance to letting go of company data. However, I also think that things have changed significantly in the 6 years since hailstorm and I think that Google will get a much better reception in 2007. So why do I think things will be different this time around?

  • The need to share information outside of the corporate network is bigger than ever. In order to do business, companies need to communicate quickly and efficiently with their geographically dispersed colleagues, suppliers, partners and customers. We all know that emailing large spreadsheets around is a poor way to manage information and an efficient alternative will be welcomed by information workers.

  • SAAS has also become part of the IT manager's scorecard. The use of portals, and application servers means that they are used to working with data that sits outside of their control, so the tight grip on company data is loosening slightly.

  • There are clear precedents for outsourced applications (the obvious one being salesforce.com, whose subscribers only really started to take off in 2004/5).

  • And finally, I've seen a huge change in the way that IT is adopted by companies. BlackBerries, iPods and RSS all began their life in the hands of the end-user, and IT departments had to adapt to the ever increasing demands of their clients. IT departments are becoming more service oriented (I wonder if this has anything to do with the increased offshoring of IT). And if they're not service oriented, then users are willing to go elsewhere. (I've just got off the phone from a client who was complaining that it took 6 months for their internal IT team to update the fields of one of her databases. She's now looking to outsource it (and host it externally) so that she can get more responsive updates.

That's not to say that Google Apps is going to have it easy. Attitudes towards enterprise outsourcing are changing, as the business benefits become clearer, but there still a long way to go before the default choice is to rent your application over the internet.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Web 2.0 and intranets

In my post on "The Death of Internal Communications" I mentioned the fact that "Web 2.0" technologies are altering the way that intranets are governed. In a recent article, Colin White discusses something similar. Usefully, he separates out two elements of Web 2.0 - "information collaboration" and "application development". For me, these two are at the heart of everything 2.0'y.

The collaboration piece addresses the function of 2.0 - it aims to bring people together, to democratize information, and distribute the governance.

The development piece addresses some of the technical benefits - providing easy ways to integrate disparate applications (mashups) and rapid development of server based applications that run like desktop apps (AJAX et al).

I find it helpful to have a clear distinction between the two. The first is about the site vision, the second is about implementation. They are separate but equally important to define.

For any particular project I might want to deploy a web 2.0 vision (collaborative spaces) without the web 2.0 implementation (ajax), or conversely a web 1.0 vision (publishing company info) in a 2.0 implementation (a mashup). Understanding which elements the project calls for (if any) helps me to avoid getting caught in a sticky 2.0 web just for the sake of it.

One final thing, I'm convinced that for an enterprise deployment such as an intranet, the 2.0 vision doesn't work in isolation. You always need the traditional top-down publishing piece to support it. So the Razorfish example in Colin White's post only works if there is an "official intranet" to support it.