Archive for July, 2009

The browser is your new operating system

July 27, 2009

It is a theory that has been talked about for a while: why use an operating system on your desktop, when everything you need can be run through your browser?

Theory is about to become reality, due to a confluence of a number of critical factors – notably the prevalence of cloud computing, new coding technologies and social software.

Recent estimates suggest that many individuals often use no more than five native applications on their desktop, such as word processing, email and a messaging client (see further reading, below).

Most other applications are increasingly being run through the browser. The move to the web is already considerable. Just think of your favourite social networking, music streaming and photo sharing applications – rather than click an icon on your desktop, you enter your browser and login to your chosen site.

The transition is only likely to become more prevalent. Cloud computing – the use of software and services on-demand over the internet – is currently more about hype than real life implementation. Expect that to change.

Leading firms – notably media companies such as the Guardian and the Telegraph – are using the Premier Edition of Google’s Apps product to access key enterprise applications online.

Other businesses are beginning to explore how they can use the cloud as a cost effective test bed for development projects, where failures are forgotten and successes quickly rolled-out across the rest of the business.

The success of the cloud will depend on the willingness of companies to try new business models. Another crucial factor that is sometimes overlooked is the importance of protocols and standardisation.

Because of a legacy of off-the-shelf packages and unwillingness to give up market share, too many vendors remain welded to specific products and technical flavours. It is a short-sighted view.

The world is moving online and what will help push the success of on-demand computing through the browser is the willingness of vendors to work in a more open and collaborative manner.

Companies need to adopt consistent coding technologies, such as HTML 5 – the next revision of the web development language. Consistency will allow users to run web applications that include core functions, including drag and drop and offline storage, without the need to run plug-ins.

Microsoft recently announced its plans to release the European versions of its forthcoming Windows7 operating system without the Internet Explorer browser, in order to comply with the European Commission’s laws (see further reading).

For those celebrating choice and openness, the move is a step in the right direction. But in the long-term, the significance of any operating system is likely to be curtailed by the power of the winning web browser.

Further reading


Are desktop applications dead?

July 21, 2009

Last month, I wrote about the potential benefits of web browser based-computing. This month, I go further and explain why we should all turn to the web.
Sometimes providers might be slow to place enterprise software in the cloud, making it harder to convince your workers to use browser-based applications.
But just because it is harder, should we avoid browser-based software? Open, easily adaptable, easily accessible – what excuse is there for still using desktop apps?
When it comes to working online, workers have one big fear – losing connectivity. It is all well-and-good having network access but what is the point if you lose access and lose your information?
Google users discovered the annoyance that comes with losing access to online applications recently, when the provider’s popular Gmail software was unavailable for a few hours.
Such problems are not great, but what would you rather trust? Your own email application running on a small data centre, or Google’s Gmail service that is backed by the world’s biggest infrastructure?
Like problems with offline access, some users are often put off browser-based software because of security concerns. IT consultancy firm Avanade recently found that, by a 5-to-1 ratio, respondents trust existing internal systems over cloud-based systems.
But like concerns with online access, the hype surrounding security is often more significant than the real life problems. Providers specialising in cloud-based security make it their business to ensure information is protected.
Can you say the same for internal staff, many of who have other business priorities and could – either intentionally or unintentionally – leave the door open to your priceless information?
Finally, some IT leaders are put off by business economics. Why would you choose to use browser-based computing when there is a smaller range of applications to choose from?
Again, the theory is quickly becoming redundant. From’s first foray into online software through to Google’s Premier version of its apps suite, IT leaders now have a broad range of online choices.
And the choices are only likely to become greater, as more providers start to push their software into a highly resilient cloud. Start looking at web-based options now – because the earlier you start analysing your options, the larger your competitive edge on your opposition

Further reading

Gmail offline for some users

Security concerns for cloud computing


Disposable software

July 13, 2009

So, you have finally taken the plunge and given your end-users more power to create useful applications. The job, however, is far from done. 

A criticism often levelled at end-user development (EUD) is that IT managers are putting the responsibility for creation in the hands of non-technical specialists. The result could be developments that are hard to maintain or inflexible to change.

 Such criticisms would be fair enough if your business allowed users to create bespoke applications that cannot be updated in-line with wider organisational transformation. But what would be the point of that approach?

 A well thought through EUD approach allows line-of-business employees to create tools easily and certainly quicker than through in-house development that relies on traditional programming.

 In the current economic climate, quick and easy development is likely to curry favour with your demanding boss. More importantly, the approach is extremely cost effective.

 As a rule, many companies tend to hang on to technology for too long. Take the financial services industry, where many firms rely on bespoke banking systems running on legacy code.

 But an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ policy can have a damaging long-term effect. While many of the systems still run effectively, it can be very difficult to modify legacy technologies.

 The legacy mode of engineering often relies on outdated skills, meaning firms find it extremely difficult to retrofit code into modern architectures. The issue has become increasingly pertinent, with such outmoded systems looking cumbersome in comparison to much off today’s web-enabled infrastructure.

 Putting development tools – such as spreadsheet macros, process models and collaborative wikis – in the hands of your users is likely to help you create winning applications that could improve your current technology set up.

 While IT professionals are likely to have an idea of the broad sweep of tools that could help employees work more effectively, users will have an exact knowledge of the types of interface that could help them make the most of business information.

 The inherent nature of EUD means applications can be configured easily, thrown away at the end of their useful life and new applications redeveloped quickly.

 Such an approach means that with careful guidance and well-defined rules, your employees can use EUD to develop applications cost-effectively and in-line with changing business demand.


Business requirements driven SOA

July 6, 2009

Too many SOA projects focus on assumed – or worse, fictional – business requirements. Such requirementss are often not the real organisational, technological or availability concerns of the business.

 Let me explain; SOA usually comes with pre-determined baggage. IT leaders know the principles and they have a list of expected benefits, such as interoperability and resource re-use.

 But be careful not to weigh down your SOA project with your expectations, rather than your users’ requirements. After all, your initiative must map exactly to the goals of the business.

 And for that reason, you should forget creating an over-arching aim of developing a system-oriented approach that works to a specific technical flavour.

 SOA is much more than standards-based integration and much more than web services, which is in effect another protocol. If you look beyond standards and take an inherently flexible approach, SOA can allow the business to make timely and cost effective changes to business processes.

 Rather than working to a pre-determined set of rules, you should have an open approach that relies on your IT people documenting the real requirements of users.

 Start small, establish an effective way of working alongside the business and then identify the real requirements for SOA. Not all users will be able to modify processes; not all services will be generic across the business and worthy of a service-oriented approach.

 The business will have a series of wider strategic goals that are likely to relate to customer service, efficiency and innovation. SOA can help meet targets in such areas, but only if the flexible processes of service-orientation are tightly co-ordinated with the requirements of the business.

 As an IT leader, you must work with the business to identify processes that can be decoupled and easily modified. Think of how SOA’s specific technical approach – such as re-use and integration – can be used to create specific solutions for business problems.

 When the business says it wants to innovate quickly, think of how SOA can be used to re-use resources and reduce time delays. When the business says it wants to cut costs and improve operational efficiency, think of how SOA can be used to build a single, integrated platform.

 Rather than technical standards, business requirements should be king. Decouple data from underlying applications – and when workflow demands change, users will be able to make simple modifications.

 And then your open ear to business requirements will mean SOA can help drive growth.


Small is most definitely beautiful

July 1, 2009

Compliance remains a crucial technology issue. IT leaders have been smothered by a raft of regulatory requirements in the last few years, and the combined hit of environmental concerns and the economic downturn is only likely to make matters worse.

Take the finance sector, where a recent survey by the International Securities Association for Institutional Trade Communication noted that 25% of firms have already been affected by increased compliance requirements due to the economic crisis.

Understanding and dealing with compliance is, therefore, crucial. But be warned, big vendors and system integrators are likely to push issues like governance, quality assurance and lifecycle management.

While important in the right business context, such issues are also likely to provide an opportunity to become tied to processes and standards. And an obsession with standards creates the need for big models and increased complexity.

Such an obsession is likely to be a hindrance to what is actually useful for the business. And at a time of increased regulatory compliance, further processes and standards are just what your business does not need.

The chief executive will need you to cut through the waffle and provide a simple means for staying up-to-date and compliant. Thankfully, the composite nature of service-oriented architecture (SOA) provides a way round complex compliance and allows you to create small, successful systems.

Rather than creating vast and unconnected applications, SOA allows the IT leader to re-use resources and create applications on-demand. Such agility will allow you to promote a flexible architecture that is ready for fast-changing compliance requirements.

Forget the fear that you will have to fit systems to laws retrospectively. SOA will allow the IT department to integrate with the business and create compliant systems as new regulations emerge.

And the front-tier of SOA will be particularly crucial, allowing you to create a useful presentation layer that allows line-of-business executives to monitor information and ensure new targets are being met.

Take note, then, of agility, integration, presentation – the three watchwords that will help you use SOA to ensure your business responds flexibly to changing compliance demands.