Archive for November, 2008

Improving functionality for your users

November 28, 2008

While the benefits of a service-oriented back-end are well rehearsed, less attention is paid to the presentation layer and the creation of a user-friendly front-end.

 

For IT leaders dabbling with SOA, one question remains crucial: how can you improve functionality for users and create an intuitive method for data access?

 

Your task is unlikely to be simple. After all, the potential benefits of SOA can be a difficult nettle for business leaders to grasp, never mind technologists.

 

So, concentrate on front-end portal and dashboard technology – because it is a stand that is likely to help you convince non-believers.

 

Portals are best viewed as the presentation layer for users looking to access service-oriented enterprise applications.

 

Dashboards, on the other hand, can be integrated with an SOA approach to provide increased business intelligence. A dashboard – which is usually set in a portal environment – can provide visibility into previously unavailable information by combining unconnected systems.

 

Beyond simply providing a usable front-end service, an initial portal-based project can demonstrate how an SOA approach can help the business make use of existing resources and give users improved access to information.

 

Analyst CMS Watch raises some key concerns, notably suggesting that some vendors sell enterprise portals that only run on top of their own SOA software – an approach which seems to contradict the inherent aim of loosely coupled software.

 

SOA portals and dashboards need to flexible, so users can create new applications from existing components.

 

Look for a provider that priorities intuition and allows the business to fully customise the front-end.

 

Then as customer demands for services change, you will be able to really provide a user interface that evolves over time.


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Dharmesh is running the London Marathon – 26 April 2009

November 15, 2008

Many of you have sponsored me in the past, most notably for sleeping on the streets of London, and I thank you again for your past support. The money raised was for NCH (National Childrens Home) – now called Action For Children – http://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/. This year I decided to step up the game and do a bit more in return for your sponsorship by running the London Marathon for the first time !

So why this charity again? Well it’s simple, I believe children are our future, and that every child deserves to enjoy life and see a bright future. I’m sure everyone reading this page will be able to give this to their children, but there are so many families and children without families in the UK where this is simply not the case. This is where Action For Children steps in, to provide the care and support for the most vulnerable children in our society: children that are disabled, children that live in difficult circumstances, children that can’t live with their birth families or children experiencing severe difficulties in their lives. 

It’s a great charity, doing some amazing things on a daily basis, please be generous in your support. In return I will do my best to complete the marathon which I have already started training for (running 2-4 times a week, between 15-30 miles a week). Currently I’m on target to complete over 1000 miles in training runs by the time of the marathon in April next year.

However, if you like to see me do more, let me know how much it’s worth and I will certainly consider it ;o) For example running in a specific costume, shaving my head or waxing my legs.

Donating through Justgiving is quick, easy and totally secure. It’s also the most efficient way to sponsor me: Action for Children gets your money faster. Please tick the Gift Aid Box, it means the taxman also puts in a contribution as a % of whatever you sponsor me, it cost you no extra.

So please sponsor me now at:

www.justgiving.com\dharmeshmistry

What is web-oriented architecture?

November 12, 2008

You’ve finally got your head around service-oriented architecture (SOA) – but now a new acronym threatens to create panic amongst the IT organisation: web-oriented architecture (WOA).

WOA encompasses some big aims and hopes to spread the good work of service-orientation to web-based applications. Are the aims realistic, or are we really looking at the next piece of vendor spin?

Well, the good news is the term emerged from outside the supplier community. Gartner vice president Nick Gall lays claim to first using the term in 2005, suggesting WOA describes a web-centric method for undertaking web services.

The method normally adheres to the principles of representational state transfer (REST), a collection of network architecture constraints that outline how resources are defined and addressed.

More broadly, WOA is about taking an external view to service-orientation and applying the principles of internal SOA to contacts and resources beyond the firewall.

WOA uses REST as its building block, allowing developers to rapidly add application programming interfaces (APIs), mash-ups and other web-based software.

So where as SOA provides a means for linking and re-using components, WOA becomes apparent at the user interface and focuses on the ways services are delivered to consumers.

So much for definitions and methodologies, is WOA actually being used as a strategy? The bad news is that the picture is confused.

Google ‘web-oriented architecture’ and you can see that plenty of people are talking about the method. However, evidence of deployments remains limited.

Information Week recently reported that Amazon is a keen promoter of REST and WOA, using a strategy that gives internal and external developers access to its product database. The result is increased levels of innovation.

The magazine also reports that big providers are showing increased interest in web-orientation, with IBM’s WOA-based framework Project Zero due to be released later this year.

All the progress sounds interesting. But beyond issues of semantics, is there any real difference between SOA and WOA? Isn’t web-orientation just another flavour of SOA?

I guess the real answer will come as more web-based deployments become apparent. Then we’ll able to know whether WOA is significant, rather than tasting like a familiar piece of vendor spin.

Information Week article on WOA:
http://www.informationweek.com/news/software/soa/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=209904293

 


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Is it touch and go for future user interfaces?

November 3, 2008

The next couple of years promise a huge upsurge of interest in touch-sensitive user interfaces, as IT firms battle to provide new and intuitive ways to access information.

 

Following on from the massive popularity of Apple’s iPod and iPhone devices, major suppliers – such as Microsoft and RIM – are exploring how new input mechanisms that can improve the user experience.

 

RIM recently announced the details of Storm, its first touch screen BlackBerry. The device – which includes dual-mode functionality and integrated GPS – uses ClickThrough technology to allow users to push the screen as they select an application or enter text.

 

Other manufacturers are offering additional bonuses. Nokia’s 5800 touch sensitive phone includes a semi-professional camera and – most tantalisingly, perhaps – unlimited music downloads.

 

Camcorder specialist Flip, meanwhile, has just released details of its next-generation Mino recorder and the pocket-sized device relies on a touch-sensitive screen for its user interface.

 

Developments are not just confined to mobile devices and the latest Jaguar XF includes a touch-sensitive video screen that allows the driver to operate climate, entertainment and driving controls.

 

Other devices offer a clever solution to an intractable challenge, such as the Series 58 touch-sensitive switch from EAO – which can stick to a surface without the need to drill holes and its electronic switching element is powerful enough to operate though thick double glazing.

 

But is important to remember that being flavour of the month is no assurance of long-term popularity. And while IT firms are working hard to develop sleek touch-screen devices, they must remember that a good-looking device is no substitute for a usable interface.

 

There is clearly an advantage for multi-touch device over single touch, as they offer a greater palette of “touch gestures”. However, such richness comes with issues: first, no common standard for gestures across devices; and second, having to remember more gestures.

 

Problems with touch devices are common, too. Screen calibration issues can mean users have to “guess” hot spots for touch. Button performance can be erratic and users often enter applications or text accidentally.

 

Interfaces can also be slow to respond, leaving the individual waiting for a device to update menus and on-screen information.

 

Such problems mean users can sometimes be wistful for their old-fashioned mechanical buttons – and for many applications, the ability to support “Undo” functionality will be a key blessing!

 

Take Google’s new G1 phone, which includes a touch-sensitive screen and a computer-like keyboard and tracker ball mouse that provides an additional interface to the firm’s Android operating system.

 

Such developments illustrate that levels of users satisfaction will not necessarily match huge interest in touch-sensitive devices until interfaces are perfected.

 


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