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Business Contacts
and the way we work                    by Michael K. Kato

The opening narration to Soft Trek:

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 comment.
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 most important.
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 tools.

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.

Toolmakers Today
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:

Cybozu: http://cybozu.com/index.cbml
iOffice: http://www.neo.co.jp/ioffice/
inSuite One: http://www.dreamarts.co.jp/insuite/index.shtml
Vantive: http://www.peoplesoft.com/corp/en/public_index.asp
eWare: http://www.eware.com/

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 capital.

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 Goliaths.

Conclusions

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.

Cybozu_index

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.

Cybozu_index

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."

GoldMine_default

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 mikekato@tokyopc.org


© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

March , 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


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