and the way we work                    by Michael K. Kato
The opening narration to
Telecommunications . . . the accessible frontier.
These are the voyages of the Software Enterprise,
It's five-year mission:
. . . to explore safe known worlds . . .
. . . to seek out known life and its corporations . . .
. . . to boldly go where most men have gone before.
Convergence and Differentiation
Last fall, I wrote an article in these pages about the growing convergence of four once
distinct business applications: Contact Managers, Groupware, eCRM packages, and Portal
building tools. There are some fairly prominent applications in each of these categories,
except, perhaps, in the last category, which is probably the most recent methodology for
companies and people to keep track of their contacts, data, and applications. Some
concrete examples of the four categories follow:
Contact Managers - MS Outlook, Goldmine
Groupware - Lotus Notes, Cybozu
eCRM packages - PeopleSoft (Vantive). eWare
Portal building tools - Plumtree, ITT Corp.
While there is, as I said in my last article a clear merging of these technologies, the
companies in each category tend to try to differentiate themselves from the rest. I think
1. The other application developers think of Contact Managers, particularly Personal
Information Managers, or PIMs, as wimpy and distant relatives in their genre. For the
others, the comment, "Theirs is a somewhat powerful but overblown PIM," is a derogatory
2. Groupware's claim is primarily that their main concerns are within the enterprise.
Hence, the term Groupware indicates that the "group" and what the group does is what is
3. The eCRM family of products think mainly that the customer is key and that the
relationships with customers is what drives most business.
4. The Portal building tools camp claim that the way that companies and people interface
is what is key. The Portal is a customizable interface to personal and corporate data and
However, despite these claims, all of these types of applications try to do similar
things. First, they provide a way for individuals and organized groups of people in an
enterprise to keep track of contacts, maintain communications, organize and coordinate
schedules, and keep track of important information. The applications differ in the extent
to which they enable the management of standard files, such as documents, but they all do
try to manage some kinds of information such as to do lists and memos. Most enable the
launching of email, either internally or by invoking a standard email application. Most
can coordinate data with mobile devices, particularly Palms, Pocket PCs, and mobile
phones. Most have some kind of Web interface. And, perhaps most importantly, all start
with the logic that people have contacts, in a variety of categories--such as fellow
colleagues, other collaborators, customers, and friends--and require some way of managing
and coordinating schedules.
21st Century Tools
But in the 21st Century, the modern corporation and, more importantly, the contemporary
person need to think about contacts, schedules, and business in a different way than the
environment for which the current packages have been created. Most of the companies
developing software in this genre think of The Company as a highly structured, vertically
organized, enclosed entity.
While this preconception makes it easier to think about the sale of and the deployment of
an application, it is clearly not a very comprehensive or accurate way of thinking about
businesses today. This seems, to me, to be the primary reason why the predominant software
ANYONE is using in this genre is either MS Outlook or Lotus Notes.
The contemporary businessperson, in or out of an ENTERPRISE, often does the following:
Has a bunch of contacts;
Works on a variety of projects with a range of workgroups;
Shares resources across a broad spectrum of clients, collaborators, employees, and friends;
Works with a broad range of data and files with a limited number of applications;
Utilizes a small number of distributed devices to access data and work with tools;
Prefers to work outside of the "office" much of the time.
The contemporary worker needs, therefore, to share information with people outside of his
corporate "Department," often spending more time working "together" with people outside of
the department and even outside of the company.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to several people working for companies that make and/or
distribute applications that are supposed to provide enterprise solutions for customer and
workgroup relationship management. What I found is that most are starting to see somewhat
of a need to think of the broader meaning of enterprise, but that they are really still
trying more to grab market share of the existing user base, rather than trying to grow the
business as a whole. Since most people and companies in Japan use no substantial
information management tools, particularly those that are intended to enhance
collaboration within and without the enterprise, most of the companies in this genre are
like religions that ignore the majority of atheists and agnostics in order to gain
converts from people of other faiths. This may be easier, but it is shortsighted and poor
policy. Sadly, this general trend, to shy away from pushing the boundaries of the market,
severely limits the true value of computers and the Internet.
Too, the workflow that is required for most applications to enable simple and common tasks
for the contemporary worker has been rendered repetitive and useless. Recently, at the
Net&Com 2002 (http://expo.nikkeibp.co.jp/netcom/ja/index.html) show in Makuhari Messe,
I spoke to local representatives of the following products:
inSuite One: http://www.dreamarts.co.jp/insuite/index.shtml
Dealing with a Common Task
To each of the companies I spoke to, I gave a detailed and reality-inspired hypothetical situation:
I work for a large company, but am working on a project that involves a small and
distributed workgroup. The workgroup includes a programmer and a designer from my
department in my company (I am Project Manager), a salesperson from another department in
my company, and a representative of an affiliate company. We are working on a project with
an electronics manufacturer, Pioneer, and their content partner, MP3.com. I am going to a
meeting tomorrow at Pioneer, where I will be meeting Mr. Saito of Pioneer and, for the
first time, the rep from MP3, Mr. Suzuki. I must inform my workgroup of the important
meeting and want to attach my contact page for the two people I will meet. None of my
workgroup people will be attending this meeting, however, in the next week, my colleague
in Sales will be going to a meeting to Pioneer to discuss the pricing of the new product.
In addition to informing my workgroup of whom I will meet and what we are planning to
discuss, I need to give a detailed report to my workgroup immediately subsequent to the
meeting. Next, I must receive independent responses from each workgroup member about their
analysis of the meeting and suggestions on the project development. Critical to this step
is that my report is public, as I want to inform all of my group members the same thing
and let them know that the entire group is getting the same information. However, the
responses from each of the people must be private, as I do not want any of the members to
edit their responses based on what other say. (For example, if the designer sees that the
programmer thinks that the design will take at least one year, then he may say that the
design will take at least six months when his original intent was to say two to three
months. This kind of self-imposed editorial behavior can seriously inhibit a project and a
work team.) Finally, after I compile all of my workgroup's individual comments and make a
concrete proposal, then I should be able to forward to the group all of the individual
comments - where useful - and the sales guy should be able to go to the follow-up meeting
next week equipped with the substantive technical information. This process should be as
easily repeatable for the non-technical sales guy as anyone else in the company.
When I asked each of these company reps the workflow for this, the most common response
was a puzzled, "very difficult indeed," look. All started off with the parts that they
knew their application could do, and ignored the parts it couldn't. When I clarified my
questions and asked about the more difficult parts, the people acknowledged that their
software made that process difficult to handle. For example, some differentiated workgroup
members inside and outside the enterprise. Others did not have an easy methodology to send
a group wide meeting summary. Most would not allow a real contact "page" to be sent as a
file. (This means that I could not easily let everyone in my workgroup know that Mr.
Saito's son's birthday is next week or that Mr. Suzuki likes dogs and breeds Cocker
Spaniels or that we all meet regularly in the summer in a baseball league.) While I won't
go into any detail about which packages did and didn't do which parts, it is important
here to say that NONE of them enable me to do the work in my example without a lot of
cutting and pasting and using both public discussion groups and private email.
The "solutions" then, that these companies offered provide, ultimately, not much greater
support than the dis-integrated tools that most of us use anyway. In most cases, I would
eventually have to send each of my workgroup members separate emails containing contact
information as text, the meeting summary, and my final proposal. I would also have to send
each person a [bcc:]-ied request for a response to my summary, as I would otherwise
encourage or enable the workgroup members to respond publicly to the entire group, rather
than privately as my example shows is necessary.
One Step Forward, Two Steps
Back, Ahead Anyway
While one would hope that we would be more quickly approaching the ideal voiced by Neil
Armstrong after his moonwalk. ("That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for
mankind.") Unfortunately, we still seem closer to the old adage about ambitious intents
and vicious realities. However, as we look closer at where we are and what we can do about
it, we realize that we are, strangely, like Alice, in a place that is somehow different
(and, better!) than we expected.
To begin with, all of the products I looked at and, virtually every tool I know of in this
genre, is IP-enabled. In most cases, they are IP-based. This means that rather than having
to look at all of this data as items within an application or within a structured
environment, such as a corporate LAN, the information can be viewed in most cases as a
simple Web page. While this ability is, in many cases, more theory than reality, enabling
is essential to actual deployment.
A second encouraging sign is the connectivity to multiple devices, formats, and operating
environments. This is, perhaps, in reality more of a corollary to the first good sign, but
the results are still a very good thing. Behind the scenes, object orientation, XML, HTML,
Open Source and standards, and other elements make this possible, but, for the user, the
stage is where the data makes a difference. Being able to see and use private and shared
(corporate) schedules, contacts, and other data at home and on mobile devices, including
mobile phones and PDAs, is more than an important objective. For many business users, this
is the critical difference that separates profit from loss, both in fiscal and human
Third, this is a business arena not entirely dominated by companies that all of us,
particularly the industry and economic analysts, have ever heard of. Rather than just
Microsoft, IBM, Network Associates, Lotus, and SAP, the
industry is filled with many others. I think this is a very good thing. Not just because
I'd rather see the wealth spread around, but because I would rather entrust my critical
data and the logic that goes behind how I use it to companies that seem to put a greater
value in their customers and the general public than these monolithic and carnivorous
My focus on this genre of communications tools is because I truly believe that
distributed workgroups, contact and information management, and multiple access devices
are meaningful and lasting developments of our age. I work in distributed workgroups and
have done so for several years. I have used PDAs and mobile devices, not just phones, for
more than a decade. I have used six or seven mobile computers over the past decade, of
different sizes and configurations, for a variety of specific purposes. And, while I
believe that I am on the extreme end of such usage, I think that I am not unlike most
people in this century.
I think that this decade will prove that people will want their "address books," recipes,
to do lists, schedules, music databases, and other data on their mobile phones, MP3
players, refridgerators, car stereos, and other devices. I think that some of these
devices will merge and become functions within the same device, but that many will be just
"software" that is plugged into a "dedicated" device. Rather than a Jetsons-inspired "food-
enabling unit," I think that we will still have fridges, microwave ovens, rice cookers,
and coffee makers, some of which may contain embedded Internet browsers, LAN connections,
database accessibility, and other tools. These tools will make it possible for people to
create their information once and use it independent of location and time. Like Napster,
for example, I should be able to listen to my music anywhere I want it.
While none of this is really revolutionary thought, I believe, then, that the areas to
watch in this arena are Internet Groupware and Portal building tools. Internet Groupware
in Japan is a market led by Cybozu and followed immediately by iOffice. But I think that
products like inSuite One may, ultimately, leap ahead based on performance, cost, and
better user-inspired feature integration.
Portal building, on the other hand, is an even more nascent arena. However, the idea that
a company and the individual employee can customize a desktop with tools and information,
utilizing open technologies, is a very enticing concept. Rather than a basic Web interface
to a corporate LAN, with customized interfaces for mobile devices, the future portal
should be able to add features--such as stock tickers, weather reports, news, and other
data--just as easily as moving discussion groups on or off of the user's main page view.
Likewise, the portal tool should enable the user to add or modify virtually anything on
the page that can be added to using HTML, XML, PHP, JAVA, or other IP-based or IP-inspired
code, meaning, that data and application inside and outside of the enterprise can all be
accessed easily from the user's "portal page."
This scenario, to me, makes the browser, or a dedicated IP-based portal page, a completely
new operating system. Sharing much in common with Microsoft's overblown and dangerous
"Active Desktop," the "Portal Page," created with JAVA applets, should run on practically
any IP-enabled device. As a conduit to data and applications, the page should be easier to
use than any current operating system. And, while some data and many applications would
require specific devices and system capacity to run effectively, the new "OS" would free
many people and businesses from the Wintel snowjob we have gotten very used to. And this,
ultimately, is, to me, a very good thing.
For more info, talk to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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March , 2002
The Newsletter of the
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