January 2004 Archives

ComputerWorld on business blogging

Iexpect over time that blogging applications will migrate toward other uses and I have often thought that business blogging makes sense.  I especially like the idea of the engineering notebook.  I think that the opportunity to have discussions is required, however, so comments and trackback must be enabled. -Ralph

ComputerWorld joins the discussion about blogging in business: Blogs Bubble Into Business

Weblogs began as a personal communications medium, but they're moving into corporations as tools for collaboration and knowledge management.

The article highlights two examples on how blogs are being used. One is a replacement for a paper engineering notebook, and the other is the Naval Underseas Warfar Center project management blog. There is also discussion of the viability of blogging within the enterprise. There are familiar topics about how blogs will benefit the organization as well.

Also note the two sidebars:
Why a Business Blog? talks about potential benefits.
A Collaborative Difference talks about the difference between blogs and other collaboration tools.

Given that this is in ComputerWorld, I am guessing we will see more movement in this arena in the near future.

Comments (0)

[Knowledge Jolt with Jack]

Google shows that there are half a million answers to the question on how to define a learning object. So many that it is totally laughable. Describing and defining terms for use in architecting solutions is extremely difficult because the terms are adopted so fast that any precision in naming declines with use. Thus this post "my left toe is a learning object"

Dean's Privacy-Invading Plan


Declan McCullagh reports that Howard Dean proposed a remarkably invasive national ID scheme. Dean needs to stop ducking and answer the questions. If he really is thinking along these lines, he's going to alienate a lot of potential voters.
[Dan Gillmor's eJournal]

I am using Google Ad Words

I have never tried using web-based advertisting, but I signed up for Google ads yesterday to try to drive more volume to my site: Coherence Group. I discovered an excellent source of web parts from CorasWorks that extends the functionality of Microsoft Sharepoint. Sharepoint is a collabortion platform that I have used in the past for working in teams. I find it the best, easiest collaboration tool on the market and I have tried them all! The CorasWorks web parts easily allow business' to extend the collaboration environment to their customers. It is also easy to configure and use.

As I found out in my last assignment, document production can be eased by using the collaboration features of Office 2003 and Windows Sharepoint Services. The two work extremely well together and it is effortless to post a document on the web site and get user feedback.

Enterprise Social Networks and beyond

This is a good post on the constellation of tools that can be used for communication and collaboration. My recent experience is that Windows Sharepoint Services provides a superb platform for interaction and problem solving. The site can be open or closed to just a few users and employs web parts to extend the functionality of the platform. I agree with this writer that Sharepoint needs to be extended with tools like Trackback, aggregators like NewsGator, which I use, and wiki style page creation, and blogrolls. For an enterprise, the robust functionality of Sharepoint Services make it a good choice as a collaboration platform.

Fernanda's blog survey

Purpleslurple for more exact URL's

Interesting tool that I will have to track down.  I like the idea of being able to very precisely direct readers to an area that I have referenced.  -Ralph

In case you haven't seen this potential tool, Spike Hall mentioned PurpleSlurple as a way to get better URL's in your writing, so that readers need not hunt around long pages to find a specific reference.

Another Weblogging (and Knowledge-Making) Tool: Purpleslurple

I add PurpleSlurple to the weblogging tools I find indispensable. If we are to be hyperlinked let the links be granular. A link to a granular address takes you to a very close approximation of the exact words, the exact picture in the refered to document. A link to the document as-a-whole, even if as short as a 5 paragraph weblog entry, causes too great a break in the reader's train of thought.


Comments (1)

[Knowledge Jolt with Jack]

Elearning Predictions

The great predictions list that is referred to here provides a link to a long list of articles that make predictions about technology and elearning for 2004.   It is worth following up on! 

Kevin Kruse pulls together various thoughts on elearning (and technology) for 2004: The Great Big Predictions Issue!

[elearnspace blog]

200 Fold Improvement - A Great Yarn

Good post on productivity improvement for software developers.   Processes and work practices can always be improved! -Ralph

Developers and managers alike often laugh at the suggestion that 4 fold improvements in programmer productivity are possible with changes in working practices. Numbers like 10 fold seem like fantasy. Most people I speak to think I'm crazy when I tell them that I believe that 40 fold improvements will be possible within 15 years and that history will look back on the first 40 years for software engineering as a craft era.

There is a split opinion on the usefulness of history. Henry Ford declared that it was "Bunk!" Whilst we are often reminded that "those who do not learn the lessons from history are condemned to repeat it". For those of you who align with that second sentiment then you may enjoy this article, A Great Yarn from The Economist Christmas Special.

The article charts the history of cotton. What has that got to do with software development? In my opinion - a lot! Why?

The industrial revolution has a lot in common with the information revolution through which we are living. Landed gentry farmers from England used their wealth to expand into plantations in the colonies. This meant running banana, sugar and cotton plantations in the Americas staffed by slaves from Africa. The raw material was brought back to England for added-value processing and then sold throughout the rapidly expanding British Empire.

Processes like spinning cotton were the high technology of their day. Investment banking was basically invented during his period to facilitate the flow of capital from the gentry farmers with raw material wealth to those with ideas for spinning jennies and steam engines and locomotive power and steam powered looms and so on and so on. It was the venture capital industry of its day. A virtuous cycle was started where wealthy people invested in new ideas which generated yet more wealth. The Economist does a good job of explaining this for cotton - a key element in the industrial revolution and the creation (eventually) of untold new wealth and higher standards of living for all.

Note how closely the now unfashionable use of imported slave labor reflects the use today of the H1B and (even more so) L1 Visa in Silicon Valley. Rapid expansion fueled by new technology creates labor shortages. Migrant workers fill that demand.

The most important details in this article for me are the statistics. Over a 70 year period cotton production got 200 times better. Not only did this not destroy jobs but instead it created yet greater demand for the product and generated yet more wealth.

I firmly believe that a confluence of two things - management science and knowledge of best working practices, together with improved tools - is creating the beginnings of the "spinning jenny effect" for software development. OMG's MDA or Steve Mellor's "executable UML" or OASIS ebXML or BPM may not be the right tools but they are going the right way. Combine the right answer in tools with the knowledge we are gaining about agile software engineering and it's a sure thing that we are on the verge of a paradigm shifting change for the better. The craft era is ending and 70 years from now an article in The Economist Christmas Special will look back at the changes in software and knowledge work and reflect that there has been a huge improvement in productivity (of at least 40 fold).

[Agile Management Blog]

It is almost done! I have been working on it for almost a year, it seems. Distracted by actual consulting work, I never seem to have been able to complete the site. Because most people have been on vaction during the Christmas holidays, I've spent some time updating, editing and repairing the links on the site. Some, still don't work, but I am getting there. My colleague, Doug Bolin, and I are getting together soon to finish things up. Doug is a superb information architect and web designer, so I really value his help.

Coherence Group focuses on solving information, learning, knowledge and content management problems for companies and non-profits. We have experience solving problems with most technologies, but as I wrote and thought about the work I do, most of the value comes from understanding a customer's business problem explicitly, understanding user requirements and creating a process, content, and technology solution that meets those needs. My experience suggests that most companies jump directly to a technology solution before understanding the problem or how to solve it. I hope Coherence Group can create a platform for better decision making in this discipline.

Best Practices for Software Projects

SEPTEMBER 29, 2003 ( COMPUTERWORLD ) - Most software projects fail. In fact, The Standish Group International Inc. reports that more than 80% are unsuccessful -- either because they are over budget, late, missing functions or a combination of all three.
Moreover, 30% of software projects are so poorly executed that they are canceled before completion. In my experience, software projects using modern technologies such as Java, Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), XML and Web services are no exception to this rule.

However, there is help out there. To vastly improve the success of any software development project, it's helpful to follow these 10 simple guidelines:

Recruit skilled and experienced people. Today's environment is more complex that ever. Tools help, but in the end, inexperienced people produce mediocre results at best and, in most cases, fail because they don't understand good project management and the best ways to apply new technologies. An excellent project manager and architect or technical lead will provide joint leadership of the project. They set the tone and have a vast impact on its ultimate success.

Use "leading-edge," not "bleeding-edge," technology. Many Fortune 500 companies have successfully used mature technologies, such as J2EE, for software projects that have had huge effects on the way they do business. In some cases, it's necessary to apply a bleeding-edge technology that helps gain a distinct advantage over the competition. However, there are risks with such a strategy, and in this case, it's even more important to have excellent people on the project. Because there are few people with this kind of experience, it's important to get outside help.

Use the appropriate development process. The nature of modern software projects demands a spiral-based development process. A spiral process has multiple phases that successively decrease the project risk. At the end of each phase is a go or no-go decision. In the early phases, prototyping is used to explore new technologies for the team or a user interface.

Provide the right tools. A software project needs the appropriate tools that provide productivity aids for the team. Tools include the right hardware as well as design, programming and test productivity aids. The cost justification of these tools is relatively easy. Training in the new tools or techniques is also essential to ensure that they are used to their full advantage.

Use source-control management. Use a source-control management (SCM) system when the project begins. All documents, not just source code, should be under the version control of the SCM system. This allows the team to go back and view the history of the project and to retain copies of previous versions of all project-related documents such as use cases, architecture and design documents, and test scripts and plans.

Apply sound estimating techniques. Most projects overshoot their estimated schedules by anywhere from 25% to 100%, but some projects have achieved schedule prediction accuracies within 10%. Without an accurate schedule estimate, there is no foundation for effective planning. When estimating a schedule, be careful not to include too much schedule compression. There is a point when the team can't achieve the tight schedule, and in the end, it will miss it by a margin.

Break effort into mini-milestone tasks. Mini-milestones are smaller versions of milestones. Major milestones are the end of a phase or increment. Mini-milestones take less than one to two days' effort and are measured in hours. The advantages are improved status reporting, fine-grain control of knowing if a mini-milestone is missed, improved motivation (because every day or so a mini-milestone is achieved) and reduced schedule risk.

Track all project hours. It's important to track the time spent by everyone on the project, not just the hourly paid consultants and contractors. The advantages are that the hours for an individual are compared with the planned hours. Steps are taken if that individual has been diverted onto other tasks. Also, the actual hours are compared with the estimated hours, which, in turn, provides feedback into the estimating techniques for the next project phase or the next project.

Understand the only constant is change. These changes occur for many reasons, such as someone failed to ask the right questions at the right time, the problem being solved has changed, the users changed their minds or perceptions, the business environment has changed or the market has changed. "Feature creep" is the most common source of cost and schedule overruns. In the early stages of a project, there is a large amount of churn in the requirements. At some stage, the requirements need to be settled and essentially locked.

Provide project leadership. It's important that company executives support a software project with a single executive responsible and accountable for the outcome. The key executive not only provides the vision, but also helps support the team by getting and controlling the resources needed for the project. It's also important that this executive doesn't meddle or micromanage the team. The executive trusts the team will deliver.

The economy according to eBay

( copied from USA Today, because I love eBay and I am (if you did not know) an eBay vendor!)

"eBay tracks searched words, which in turn are indicative of what buyers are looking for. Word searches for all of 2002 reflect a society still spending freely. Among the top 10 searches for the year were BMW, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Coach.

Similar terms dominated the top 10 into early 2003, until August, when there was a sudden shift. The Iraq war was dragging on. Companies were still cutting jobs and keeping raises flat. The blackout hit. California was in political chaos with its recall vote. And just then the luxury names dropped off eBay's top 10, replaced by more mundane words such as Ford, Chevy and diesel.

In September, "salvage" made it to the top 10.

EBAY STATS (from USA Today)

9: Number of minutes between the sale of SUVs on eBay.
$18: Cost of an eBay share when company went public in September 1998. After splits, it's worth $760.32 as of Friday.
95: Percentage of eBay's sellers that are individuals or small businesses.
$729: Value of goods sold on eBay every second.
10,000: Number of people who visit eBay Motors every month.
19 million: Number of items on the site at any given time, more than 300 times the number of stock-keeping units in a typical Wal-Mart.
86 million: Number of registered eBay users in 2003. That is up 36% from the year before and almost on par with the population of Vietnam.
$6.7 billion: Value of cars, used and new, sold on eBay in 2003.
$20 billion: Dollar value of goods sold on eBay in 2003, $6.5 billion more than the annual revenue of Gap clothing stores.
$40.9 billion: EBay's market value as of close of market Friday. That is $11 billion more than the market value of 100-year-old Ford Motor.

Overall, the success of eBay itself says something about 2003.

First, it shows that the Internet revolution didn't end when the 2000 dot-com bubble burst. Sure, a lot of things didn't work and went under �� Pets.com, online grocer Webvan. But businesses that made it are transforming markets.

Just look at what eBay and the Internet have done in 2003 to the $300 billion used car business. About $7 billion worth of cars, most of them used, will sell through eBay this year. About 30% of used cars will be sold on the Net. A market that used to be local has become national in a year or two.

The eBay concept is even transforming politics, as seen in the campaign of Democrat Howard Dean. "You can draw a clear connecting line from eBay to Google to the Dean campaign," says Steven Johnson, author of Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. "All are bottom-up systems organized by lots of individuals acting in small ways, as opposed to top-down systems where a small elite calls the shots."

As a company and phenomenon, eBay continued to grow in 2003. In 1998, its gross merchandise sales �� the total value of all transactions �� were $700,000. In 2000, at the height of dot-com mania, they hit $5.4 billion. This year? The number should pass $20 billion.

The stock market values the company at about $41 billion �� about $11 billion more than the market value of Ford Motor. That says a lot about what society thinks of eBay and its future."

Last February I gloated on this weblog that I had installed RedHat Linux on my machine and had configured it to dual boot to both XP and Linux. In December I unistalled Linux because I never use it and I am convinced that Microsoft products are pretty good. The new Office System works well on my machine (knock on wood) with minimum problems, the OS is relatively stable, and I would rather do my own work than fiddle with several operating systems. In addition, the tools available on Linux are poor. I like Outlook in particular and I am not ready to switch.

I had high hopes, but I dumped Linux!

Ralph knows about IT!

I wrote this biography about myself and added it to the website that contains my resume. I wanted to post it here because it neatly describes my IT experience.

Ralph Poole: Description of IT Expertise

Mr. Poole has extensive executive experience managing Information Technology projects, hardware and software investments, and computer operations. His management and consulting experience has primarily involved enabling business process with information technologies. These processes include sales, service delivery, new product or service development, humarn resources, mutual fund valuation, supply chain, purchasing, business research and valuation, professional development, and telecom provisioning. Because of his long tenure with Bain & Company and The Boston Consulting Group, he takes a fact- based, analytical approach to making business decisions involving technology. This requires that there is a strong business case for the IT project, strong executive sponsorship, and a clear understanding of the cost, process and cultural impact of the IT solution. His expertise falls into five categories:


�� IT Strategy and Cost Management
Companies must align their business strategies and IT strategies. Many IT investments and projects fail to create lasting value and fail to apply rigorous cost management. Ralph approaches IT strategy by focusing on creating business capability, not just IT systems; demanding that the business use information to make money or enhance its competitive position.

�� Project Management
IT development and implementation projects require disciplined project management to achieve the desired results. This kind of IT project management is different than managing strategic cases where the objective is to crack the case analytically. Ralph has excellent project management skills with an outstanding record of consistently delivering excellent results.

�� Software Selection
Software selection involves analysis of client requirements and a detailed review of software vendor offerings. It is often done in conjunction with the company's purchasing department. Ralph has experience leading a client through the entire software selection process

�� Architecting, Building and Implementing an IT Solution
In large companies, IT solutions must fit into the overall applications and data architecture of the company. Ralph is an expert at working with teams to build an adaptive architecture, and then to implement the technical solution cost effectively. He is also an expert in user adoption and rolling out solutions within companies so that they achieve their desired value.

�� Enterprise or Department Portal
Portals provide the logical framework for accessing information within a company. With Ralph's background in information science, he has extensive experience designing logical information architectures that are easy to use and easy to implement within organizations.

�� Intranets or Extranets
Companies have enthusiastically embraced web-based intranets and extranets to ensure internal communications and coordination of work. These systems are essential for accelerating and maintaining the flow of information. Yet without careful governance and management they can atrophy and become wasteful and frustrating for users. Ralph's expertise ensures the value of this type of application by carefully understanding business requirements and architecting the system to improve productivity and efficiency.

�� Knowledge Management Systems
Knowledge Management systems capture and provide a mechanism to share problem solving and operations experience in a business. Businesses can harness this approach to improve productivity and reuse of solutions. Ralph has extensive experience implementing this type of solution in professional service firms, manufacturing, energy, construction, finance, and telecommunications companies.

�� Content Management Systems
Content management solutions facilitate the efficient creation and dissemination of structured and unstructured content throughout a company. Ralph has experience implementing and managing this type of solution to take cost out of the processes of maintaining and distributing content.

�� Collaboration Systems
Task oriented electronic collaboration can dramatically improve the productivity of teams. I have experience implementing and ensuring that collaborative systems deliver business value by accelerating business processes and allowing people to work together seamlessly.

�� e-Learning applications
Curriculum can be effectively distributed to learners electronically. E-Learning systems, like knowledge management systems can make this process efficient and can keep track of individual skill development. Ralph has extensive experience integrating knowledge management, content mangement and e-Learning systems.

5. Taxonomy Creation and Implementation
Categorization of content is essential for precise retrieval of information. Ralph has extensive experience creating and implementing taxonomies that can be applied in many IT solutions

Return of the Dot-coms?

Der Technologie-Crash ist vorüber und das Internet wird wieder zur Goldgrube. Eine Vorschau auf 2004 mit vielen Links

A circuitous route for this post: Sometimes I read Joi Ito's Web, from there I somehow transversed to EuroSavant.com. EuroSavant provides commentary on non-english language press. Naturally, being a sucker for the dot.com era, I noticed this post. Die Zeit's headline says it all: "The technology-crash is over, and the Internet is becoming a goldmine again," writer Thomas Fischermann announces in the article's lead-in.

Now, I am still under employed, but I am excited that there may be another gold rush!

The author says: "Get prepared for another surge of Internet-based business ideas - that's Fischermann's main message. What with the expansion in Internet access that continued to happen despite the dot-com "crash" of around 2000, he believes that a critical market-mass has been attained for online business. What's more, now there's a whole array of "digital" products people are willing to buy on-line: MP3 music files, ring-tones for mobile phones, e-tickets for travel, and the like. And entrepreneurs willing to plunge back into on-line commerce are now wiser - i.e. more practical, like actually on the look-out for incoming revenue streams - than they were in the late 1990s."

Hold on to your hats!



Delicious is a social bookmarks manager. It is still pre-pre-alpha, but it's already become quite a useful part of my daily routine. You bookmark sites as you surf and you can subscribe to bookmarks of your friends and receive them as RSS feeds. It all started during a rare productive discussion between tangra and _joshua on #joiito. The two of them came up with the idea and _joshua coded it.

_joshua is aka Joshua Schachter and is also the developer of memepool and GeoURL.

If you want to subscribe to my bookmarks, I'm joi_ito on Delicious.

[Joi Ito's Web]

The Top IT Power Bloggers of 2003

 I am adding this post because I want to keep track of the link to the  10 favorite IT power bloggers.  I read most of these guys, but not all.

When Adam Gaffin, from Network World, is searching new ideas for his future columns of Compendium, what does he do? Read his e-mails? Look at his competitors in the printed press? Browse the online press? Not at all. Each morning, he fires his RSS aggregator to read what his 10 favorite IT power bloggers have published during the previous day about new technologies or different angles about an old one. Unless any other technology, his RSS aggregator guarantees him fresh content since the last time he used his news aggregator. If you haven't try RSS yet, do it in 2004. Before going to Gaffin's full list, let me tell you that I'm proud to be part of it. What a neat way to end 2003!
[Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends]

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