Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Back to Business. If you're exploring the feasibility of employing m-commerce or wireless-enabled systems I recommend reading Mobile Business Strategies: Understanding the Technologies and Opportunities. It's not overly technical, so if you are not up-to-speed in the technology (which is constantly and rapidly evolving) it will allow you to quickly learn the fundamentals. It's written to provide a basic, but complete, introduction to mobile commerce from a business strategy point of view. It helps you answer some fundamental questions, such as:
From the above the most suitable audience consists of upper management on the business side, marketing and IT/IS management. Upper levels of business management who are exploring how to integrate mobile commerce into the value chain, or develop a strategy for competitive advantage that taps into the proliferation of mobile devices (cell phones and PDAs) are going to benefit most from the following chapters: (2) Partnerships—the way to Success in the Mobile Era and (4) Corporate Applications: Aligning Mobile Commerce with your Business Goals.
- Does mobile commerce make sense as a part of our business strategy?
- What does it take to implement it?
- What have other done to be successful?
Marketing will get the most from chapters (3) Consumer Mobile Commerce—Mass Market Solutions with Segmentation and (6) Portals—A Single Plate for Various Dishes. Another book that will serve marketing well is The Mobile Internet: How Japan Dialled up and the West Disconnected by Jeffrey Lee Funk because it provides deep insights into marketing issues, as well as how Japan's NTT DoCoMo became an international success story.
Both business managers and marketing will also gain keen insights from the case studies and scenarios that are used throughout the book to illustrate key points and show how others have successfully employed m-commerce solutions for strategic advantage or as service offerings.
IT/IS management will get a high level overview of the technical underpinnings, issues and factors associated with developing, deploying and maintaining m-commerce systems. The technical details are not deep, but are sufficient to gain a rough understanding of the scope and complexity of implementing and supporting m-commerce enabled systems.
If you are seeking in-depth technical details you will be disappointed. However, if you are among the target audience or have the goals I cited above you'll find this book to be one of the best in its genre for introducing the business and strategic issues surrounding mobile commerce.
If you are pursuing an M-commerce project and need to quickly get your staff trained, but lack the budget, see today's entry in Notes from the Field for an alternative that may meet your training and budget requirements. Also see my 12 May entry there for related resources.
Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Square Peg in a Round Hole? I usually discuss software engineering topics in Notes from the Field, reserving this weblog for IT management issues. This entry falls into a grey area. I recently evaluated Webgain Studio to determine how viable it is as a development environment. Since product evaluation and cost/benefit are topics that fit here I am going to summarize my findings because I was impressed with the package and its parts.
Webgain Studio is an ideal development environment for start-ups and small organizations that want to cost-effectively implement an entire development environment for Java development and web services. There are a few issues and factors that need to be considered, however, when considering Webgain Studio:
This bundle includes:
- If you are not planning to align the many tools (more about them below) to a software engineering process, you'll probably not benefit from this package. This is because the components that ship with it are designed to work together as a process-oriented environment.
- Some of the components come with single-seat licenses, and the database that ships with it (PointBase) is only licensed for internal use (you have to negotiate separate licenses with PointBase if you want to use it with your product, either for internal end users or external customers.
- The learning curve is steep because this is really a bundle of tools, many of which come from other vendors.
Overall, this bundle puts a full-scale, process-oriented development environment within the reach of small companies that are budget constrained. In many ways it compares favorably to IBM's WebSphere and the Rational suite of tools, and certainly gives developers everything they need to be productive. What I like is the fact that Webgain has not just thrown together a collection of tools, many of which are from third parties, but has paid close attention to integrating them. In that respect the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It supports the Rational Unified Process and other iterative development life cycle approaches, and also provides the tools to support CMM Level 2 key process areas. These reflect how well Webgain thought through the workflow integration as well as the technical integration of the tools.
- Visual Cafe (enterprise edition), which is a J2EE-compliant development environment that supports JSP, EJB and servlet development for multi-platform targets. It also has integrated UML modeling, JSP debugging and code optimizers. It also comes bundled with TurboXML and Dreamweaver Ultradev, rounding out the development environment with all of the major tools for developing web services and large-scale applications. See below for more about Visual Cafe.
- StructureBuilder, which allows you to model and generate code using UML. It is very tightly integrated into the Visual Cafe suite.
- Business Designer. This is one of the best features of the Webgain Studio bundle and the one that requires a mature software engineering process in order to realize the full benefits from the bundle. The main purpose is to manage requirements and team collaboration. I've discussed Business Designer 2.0 in more detail below.
- Quality Analyzer. This is a software auditing and quality assurance tool that collects and analyzes life cycle metrics. It is not an automated test suite, so you are going to need to add those tools to your environment (i.e., WinRunner, etc.). It will do whitebox testing to examine code coverage and has over 50 pre-defined rules for error checking.
- Bea WebLogic, which has become a standard J2EE execution platform. While the version that ships with this bundle almost self installs, it comes with a steep learning curve. You also get only a single developer seat license. On the value side of the equation, though, if your development plans include WebLogic this feature alone will save you a substantial amount if you invest in Webgain Studio.
Key Parts. Visual Cafe 4.5.2 Expert Suite is a full-featured development environment that is the core of Webgain's Studio suite (see that product for more details).
It contains a complete, open J2EE development environment, with debugging tools and VM support for JDK 1.3, 1.2.2 and 1.1.7a. It also comes bundled with TurboXML and Macromedia Dreamweaver Ultradev, which rounds out the development environment.
While Dreamweaver Ultradev is sufficiently well known, TurboXML (by Tibco) is not and merits a description of features. It includes three modules, XML Authority, XML Instance, and XML Console, which combine to provide a standards-compliant development environment for creating and validating schemas and DTDs. In short, it's a complete workbench for XML development and validation, and also supports document conversion.
Visual Cafe also ships with a relational database from PointBase. This is a relatively full-featured rdbms, but you need to be aware that it is only licensed for the Visual Cafe development environment. You will need to negotiate separate licensing directly from the PointBase vendor if you intend to deploy it with end user internal applications or products intended for external customers.
This expert edition of the product allows you to develop J2EE applications and web services. It's suitable for single developers and consultants. The Enterprise edition adds a single-seat license for Bea WebLogic, and an additional product called StructureBuilder, which allows you to model and generate code using UML. However, if you are looking for scalability and a more robust development environment I recommend bypassing the Enterprise Edition and looking instead at Webgain Studio, which contains these added components and much more.
Business Designer is a standalone product that is also bundled with Webgain Studio. It's designed to be a team-oriented requirements management package, as well as an integral part of a process-oriented software engineering approach that can align to the Rational Unified Process or similar iterative development life cycles.
What makes this program shine is the fact that it will integrate with Rational's ClearCase SCM product, as well as CVS and Microsoft's SourceSafe. Moreover, it can be configured to support project and development methodologies and team management. I especially like the role-based access control feature for managing content and code, because this adds a level of security that I have not seen in similar products (Rational's Requisite Pro, for example). The benefit is that you can keep company-sensitive information contained to only those who have a need to know. Considering the fact that many development projects employ consultants and contractors, many of whom are added to the team without extensive background checks, I think this feature sets Business Designer apart from the very few applications in its class.
I especially like the UML based workflow diagrams for business logic, which produce swimlane diagrams and the fact that you can attach files and annotations to them. This is a powerful feature that makes this a team-based requirements tool that captures and displays requirements based on business processes. More importantly, the swimlane diagrams mean something to business users who are major stakeholders, where the UML diagrams will be more meaningful to the developers. This separation of views, which caters to major stakeholder groups, is a major plus in my opinion. The fact that you can also capture business logic means that you can use this tool for business rules management.
Final Note. What I have not thoroughly investigated is the level of support that Webgain provides for the entire package, and that needs to be factored into your purchasing decision. From the features, and especially from the process-oriented design, Webgain Studio does appear to be a viable alternative to WebSphere and even Rational's suite of tools. This is especially the case for small shops or organizations that want to pilot J2EE development and web services projects.
Monday, May 20, 2002
I just pre-ordered a book called Building Operational Excellence that may be of interest to readers. Amazon has little information about it, but the Addison-Wesley description (including a sample chapter) sold me. Right now Amazon is selling it at 30% below cover price, so if this is a topic that interests you, the risk of pre-ordering sight unseen is mitigated by the cost savings.
Sunday, May 19, 2002
IT Quality. The recent theme in our sister weblog, Notes from the Field is centered around software testing and test process improvement, and will be addressing software quality assurance and reliability in the next few entries. Notes from the Field is aimed more at the software engineering community, while this weblog is slanted towards project management and service delivery. However, there is inevitable cross-over, which is underscored in a book titled Customer Oriented Software Quality Assurance. I won't go into details here because they are amply given in my 26 January 2001 and Linda's 8 April 2001 reviews on Amazon.
Back to Business. In my last entry I listed resources that enable those of us in IT to better understand what is important to our business customers. Sometimes we have to take the path less traveled with respect to seeking knowledge from books. That path sometimes rewards us by coming full circle back to issues with which we struggle, and we benefit by understanding business issues as well as learning techniques that can be directly applied to IT.
Two such books are:
While it may be immediately obvious how these books will help understand business processes, their value to internal IT may not be as apparent at first glance. To prove that I've not gone completely daft I'll explain.
- Integrated Logistics Support Handbook.
- Sales Quality Audit.
My motivation for reading Integrated Logistics Support Handbook came from my extensive experience with material maintenance management during my 22 year career in the navy, and subsequent experience with integrated logistics in Department of Defense contracting. I used the first edition of this book as a reference when I was on a proposal team for a DoD contract, and found it to be one of the best references available because it distilled tens of thousands of pages of directives, instructions and related material into less than 500 pages. It covered the topic in sufficient detail to serve as an authoritative reference as well as to get other members of the team up-to-speed in ILS.
During subsequent consulting engagements for commercial clients I used many of the concepts and methods detailed in this book to outline requirements for automated materials and maintenance management systems. In particular, any commercial business domain, such as refinery maintenance or maintenance data collection and analysis are candidates for applying parts of ILS to commercial uses. This book then becomes more valuable to a wider audience than DoD contractors.
A second use for the concepts is the structured and proven approach to an encompassing systems maintenance management initiative within IT. For example, the use of logistics support analysis is a sound approach to planning enterprise-wide maintenance from a cost management perspective. Moreover, using a modified (and shortened) form of logistics support analysis records is a good foundation for enterprise asset management, as well as developing a reliability baseline.
I've been a consultant, both as an employee and an independent, since 1988. Considering the time that consultants spend in the pre- and post-sales portions of the sales cycle the book titled Sales Quality Audit seems like a sensible investment. In just 94 information-packed pages this book manages to not only cover the key points of auditing the sales process, but also gives excellent advice on the act of selling itself. My role was always in support of a professional business development manager, and before I read this book I came to believe that sales was an art and the best sales professionals were born into it. That may have some truth, but an across-the-board improvement in the sales process can be achieved if this book is followed.
The approach itself is straightforward:
The book gives critical success factors for sales quality assurance and also provides sales quality guidelines. It's a quick read, which should appeal to busy sales managers and especially the sales staff who probably spend much of their spare reading time trying to keep up with product specifications and industry directions (among other things).
- Perform an "As-Is" analysis.
- Develop performance standards.
- Conduct a quality audit.
- Use audit results to refine and improve.
However, this book is equally valuable to the IT professional who is involved with defining or implementing a sales force automation (SFA) system. The clear description of the sales cycle and critical success factors (audit points) are a good baseline for SFA requirements and workflow design. More important, the general sales information in this book will give the IT analyst keen insights into the sales business process area.
Follow the step-by-step procedures in this book and the entire sales organization will benefit - the naturals will not have their creativity or talents stifled, and the average performers will have valid performance standards and a well designed process to aid them in achieving higher sales. A key benefit from the approach is consistent customer satisfaction and ability to deliver as promised.
The moral is that valuable information and knowledge can be found in surprising places - all you have to do is think outside of the box when you find it.