Will your web-site work with different devices?

It surprises me how few software vendors have realized to change their web-site to work with any type of mobile or tablet device. Almost a year-and-a-half ago I made a decision to make things simple and base my web-sites on technology whereby I do not have to think about different devices, the web-site technology will take care of it and I can focus on content.

During the history of our company, we have had many attempts by having external designers doing the web for us and we ended up having an everlasting fight to keep our web-site compatible not only with different browsers, but also different devices. Every time we needed to change something on the site, it was a major hassle and it seemed like having a house or cards that would collapse as soon as anything was touched. It was time to move on and change the approach. I bit the bullet and decided to make a chance and  research what would be the best platform to base our  consulting company and our educational portal on. I looked at many different factors such as richness of component ecosystem, reviews from industry analysts of pros and cons of each CMS and also how our web-site would be integrated to our Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online that has become the heart of our daily lead management.

I ended up with WordPress as the foundation and a big plus was also that Microsoft supports WordPress on Windows Azure platform so it became and opportunity for me to learn Windows Azure Internet Web Sites technology as well. We had invested quite a lot of time and effort into DNN (DotNetNuke) in the past, but I felt that WordPress gave us the simplicity what I was looking for and the huge ecosystem of software plugins and themes made it as an easy selection. There was absolutely nothing wrong with DNN, but I just felt that WordPress was the right choice for us at this time of our company evolution and that is why I ended up changing horse.

I listed all of the needed functional elements that our site would have to support and I spent time looking for the right theme that would support our multi-device and browser requirement. Once those had been selected, the rest was just execution. All of our sites have commercial skins that are updated by the designers to include the latest and greatest features of the platform and the WordPress can be managed from my Lumia Nokia device using an app that support WordPress backend.

In the end, what I ended up is having following things when moving to our new web-site technology:

  • Simple and well-known CMS technology (WordPress) with thousands of commercial themes and plugins
  • Support for any type of device  either via an app or via native browser
  • Scalable backend server technology by using Windows Azure
  • Simple and fun to use CMS solution that just “make sense”
  • Lots of third-party integration solutions that can be applied to our web-site
  • Etc.

My new mantra “keep it simple” has really worked in our new strategy and I will be writing more about our modules that we are using to run our business in later posts.

The App Economy – How should we view app monetization?

The blogosphere is all about apps and how different ecosystems compete for the eyeballs of these and the money of course. You might still remember the the news when a far app pulled as much as $10,000/day in revenue but since then there is tens of similar applications on the marketplace. This started a trend where people left their well-paid jobs to chase their dream of creating apps and living a life without pressures. The growth of app economy is one of the most promising trends, but people/organizations that want to make real money of it, need to include some risk management into it as well. The app industry has become similar to film industry where relatively few people make money and the ones that make, are hugely successful like Angry Birds phenomenon from Finland.

One might of course ask oneself is whether this is a shift in our society and how work is performed. according to Erik Brynjolfsson (director of the M.I.T. Center of digital business), “technology is always destroying jobs and always creating jobs, but in recent years the destruction has been happening faster than the creation”. There is no question that technology is creating new jobs and apps can be part of this opportunity as can be seen in many of the reports that have studied this trend towards “app economy”.

What I have not seen many discussions around is how the app economy is linked with the enterprise software business. I have researched around this and identified the “dimensions” that are typically linked to the app business, but not that much is said how established software vendors should view this space and how these vendors can make a entry to the app space in a way that makes sense and where there is also a sustainable economical model.

So, the question that we should ask ourselves is how much of the app business is truly geared towards the consumer business and how much of this will gradually move into enterprise business? Should software vendors keep the app business in their plans when building enterprise solutions specifically using the cloud? If they should keep this in mind, what kind of pricing should the ISV use? Maybe free as the real money comes from the enterprise solution and not the app that accesses it? As you can see, it is not that clear and my own experience when working with both small and large enterprises, the app business hardly ever comes up in discussions. I am convinced that this will change and it will change very quickly. One of the drivers will be Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 developers that will create solutions that will be based on app technology and not on traditional desktop app architectural model even if these will be able to run in Windows 8 Pro environment.

Another valid question that we need to ask ourselves is whether app economy should be see purely from mobile app development perspective or should we view it from a perspective where the device is just the means to get to what you want and the backend (typically the cloud) is the one that provides the services and brokers the interaction between different services. Shouldn’t we in fact be talking about services economy instead where organizations build apps to consume and combine information from different sources using different SOA interfaces that organizations/developers have exposed to the world. Isn’t this what we have always dreamt about?

NokiaExpressI downloaded today a Windows Phone 8 app (Nokia Xpress) to my shiny Nokia Lumia 920 and this app really demonstrates where things are going. After having installed the app, it asked me whether it can use location information (which most apps want to use), but what really made me to think about the future of apps is that developers really have to think “outside the box” on when developing apps. The thing with this Nokia Xpress app is that it enables users to store and read articles on your phone (locally) so when you travel, you do not have to use expensive data roaming. I know.. there are many of these apps from before, but what this app has specifically thought of is to really monitory and minimize data usage and provide a combination of technology such as Microsoft SkyDrive technology to store videos and images without having to use the data plan. Why is this relevant to me? Just this week, my son’s data plan was going over the limit and I found out that it was all about video streaming and 2 gig data plan does not cope well with this.

The topic of “app economy” is very interesting to me as researcher, but also as practitioner. A recent paper written by Dr. Michael Mandel and Judith Scherer (commission by CTIA (The Wireless Association) and Application Developers Alliance provides an interesting view on the app economy. According to Mandel, the entire “App Economy” was coming to use in early 2009 and was popularized by a cover story run by BusinessWeek in November 2009.

The way that Dr. Michael Mandel describes App Economy in his February 2012 report resonates well with what I have educated my customers in respect to ecosystems:

“ App Economy is a collection of interlocking innovative ecosystems”. Each ecosystem consists of a core company, which creates and maintains a platform and an app marketplace, plus a small and large companies that produce apps and/or mobile devices  for that platform. Businesses can belong to multiple ecosystems and usually do”.

There is no question in my mind that this topic is relevant to anybody that works in the software industry and it is fascinating to see how this evolves with time and what kind of new companies will rise to take advantage of this.

If you work in the Microsoft ecosystem, I highly encourage you to read the article “Microsoft’s cloud vision: Why Azure is the linchpin of the firm’s new devices and services strategy”. Another great article from Information-Management.com that predicts Enterprise Apps to go mobile big time and that money apps will move to the cloud. The article lists quite a few things that are very interesting and I encourage you to read that article as well.

Stay tuned for more, there will be more to come on my research on different topics and this app economy being one of them!

Is Big Data going to replace Enterprise Data Warehousing?

In my blog entry yesterday I concluded that Big Data as an acronym is on the rise and ISVs need to pay attention to this. The next question that one needs to pose is how is Big Data different from the traditional enterprise data warehousing? I still remember vividly the arguments 15 years ago whether Bill Inmon (considered the father of data warehousing) Top Down approach should be replaced by Ralph Kimball’s approach (Bottom Up) where the Enterprise Data Warehouse is built as collection of data marts that then together conform the enterprise data warehouse. There are also concepts such as operational data store, master data etc. Following link shows a couple of pictures that explains the difference in these approaches and a blog entry that explains pretty well the differences in these two approaches.

During my career, I have personally been involved with all and above and the latest implementation was based on SQL Server 2008 R2 with not only ETL logic to the ERP applications, but also a staging area, relational data warehouse and then the multi-dimensional OLAP cubes with SharePoint 2010. Needless to say, you need to have an understanding of multi-layer architecture and how all of this work together.

The question is how Big Data relates to all of this? One view of this is that different market segments sees it in a different way. Start-ups will see this more of a web-based approach with cloud solutions supporting Big Data. The SMB market has invested in Business Intelligence solutions and to get scale, they are going to look at cloud solutions that can take their analytics to the next stage. An then the larger enterprises that have invested huge amounts in enterprise data warehousing, data marts, ETL processes etc. will probably keep these solutions but might amend to cloud-based solutions when it is appropriate.

The competition in the Big Data space will increase during 2013 and we have already seen this by new solutions being introduced to the market like Amazon Redshift and Windows Azure Big Data. The distinction in the Big Data solutions is that many of them are typically based on NoSQL technology and data is dumped into computer memory (In-memory) and these solutions are specifically good for non-structured data. It is important to understand that there isn’t one “turn-key” solution as these types of Big Data implementations are both complex and require very distinctive skills to maneuver like “programming, statistics and how to visualize and communicate data”.

What we also need to remember is that the need to integrate data from different sources still exist, the data will be typically very different to what we are used to (like digital sensor and cameras) and when you add social media to all of this, you will have a mixture of data that never existed.

And finally, if you have been involved in Business Intelligence or Data Warehousing projects, the data/information still has to be presented in a format that makes sense for your audience, whether it be your management or other information junkies. What I do know is that analyzing the data won’t be easier than before given the fact that there is so much statistical swing into it, but the results of that data could take you and your company to the next level if information is used in proper manner.

To answer to the question I posed in my heading. No, I do not think one thing replaces another, but I would say is that you can expect to see multiple different variations on implementations and you can call them what you like and cloud will definitely be part of that implementation.

Business Analytics is on the rise again with Big Data leading the way

It is fun to see how some things will just continue being relevant. Business Analytics, Data Warehousing and lately Big Analytics are topping the charts. Based on my own feelings, Big Data really took off the second half of 2012 and we also included that in our business modeling workshops as one optional extension that software vendors (ISVs) should look at. Harvard Business Review brought Big Data to the forefront in its October 1, 2012 magazine with Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson (guru whom I followed when I worked on my PhD) with an article “Big Data: The Management Revolution”. According to the authors, Big Data is far more powerful than analytics of the past, specifically in making predictions.

One of the key reasons for the sudden explosion if Big Data has to do with the urge to achieve competitiveness by getting a better understanding of your customer, its behavior and the only way to do this is to enable massive analysis of data and in the past, this has not been possible with on-premise environments due to scalability issues. With new cloud technology such as Azure Big Data, ISVs and end user organizations can scale up the analytics/calculations based on the need (in bursts) and scale down when the calculation is done. There are quite a few new interesting startups in the Big-data-as-a-service domain (Zoomdata, Bidgely, Ginger.io, AgilOne, Continuuity). I expect this trend to continue specifically as cloud platforms enable startups to innovate without having to invest huge amount of capital in hardware and use the elasticity of the cloud instead.

What I expect to happen during 2013 is that you will hear more about real cases of Big Data use and conferences such as BigData TECHCON appear on your radar screen. Big Data is no longer about if there is technology to do it, it is more about finding the people that understand it and how to utilize it. According to McKinsey & Company, there will be a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the data to make effective decisions”. The McKinsey article breaks down the importance of Big Data very nicely, including things such as dealing with policies around privacy, security, intellectual property and even liability. There is a full report that can be downloaded from McKinsey web-site.

How does all this rely back to software vendors that I work with on a daily basis? If you are an ISV that deal with lots of data, you have to have a game plan for Big Data. Even if you do not care about it, your customers will be asking for it going forward. It is the same what has happened with the Cloud. Three years ago, the question about cloud was almost non-existent in many domains and today an ISV can’t really survive without the cloud. How about that as being a guiding factor for Big Data.

Personally I feel this is very exciting to me as Analytics, Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence has been my core domain for more than 20 years. Even my doctoral dissertation Evaluation of a Product Platform Strategy fro Analytical Application Software from 2004 is still relevant and explains the drivers that a software vendors should be looking at from a software product platform and software product line perspective. The link will download the dissertation (in English) and it is in PDF format.

Expect to hear more about Big Data from me during 2013 as it will be even more relevant than during 2012.

Why software is still relevant and even more so going forward

When I reflect my past more than 20 years, I have been fortunate enough to be part of the software industry on a global level. First 10 years I spent in Europe working for software companies and the past 15 years I have lived and worked in the US as entrepreneur helping out software companies both domestically and internationally to expand their business.

I happened to run into a blog entry from TechCrunch by Jon Evans where he reflects on Journalism and how everything has become tech. The reference he makes is to a blog entry with the topic Software is eating the world  and is written by  Marc Andreessen whom most of us know already from the Netscape time. Marc Andreesseen is co-founder and general partner in a very well known venture capital company Andreeseen Horowitz with investments in many well known companies such as Facebook, Groupon, Twitter and many more

When you read the article from Andreessen, there are a few things that confirms some of the things that I have pondering on and also telling my software vendor clients in discussions. Software has not only become a necessity, it has become a must even for traditional hardware companies that one would not think that they need to ponder about software. This trend has been going on for a few years and we see this happening in the for example auto industry and what makes things even more exciting is that cloud technology is now part of this formula of success. Some mature industries are using new cloud technologies to achieve competitive edge towards the rest of the industry.

There are software companies such as MetaCase that will benefit of this trend. This software development tools company is the leading domain-specific modeling software company in the world that has very impressive clients working on embedded software solutions in different industries, including mobility and auto industry. The development environment MetaEdit+ enables organizations to create software product lines more effectively and also with higher quality.

Andreessen claims that we are in the midst of a huge and dramatic technological and economic shift where software companies are poised to take over a large part of the economy. It is easy to see this happening for real. Just think about how insurance companies and financial industry are able to use the cloud to execute heavy-duty risk calculations by submitting the request to the cloud and the only question that the cloud will ask is how much time it can take. Following picture shows pretty nicely how a company with pre-existing infrastructure investment (Datacenter) should view when considering a PaaS environment (Platform-as-a-Service) and in the figure we are referring to Windows Azure.

Azure vs. datacenter

The more capacity is allocated for the calculation, the more it will cost but this cost could easily be justified by opportunities to make more money due to time savings. In the picture above, it is easy to see that there will be a point in time when your own datacenter just does not scale where it needs to scale and that is why solutions/platforms such as Windows Azure will come to the play. This is also why we have to understand that new technologies such as cloud will bring new innovations to the market and this will definitely reflect on the valuations of these companies.

Andreessen gives lots of software related examples from different industries and I have had the luxury to work with many new an innovative (small and large) software companies that are now making this change in a very rapid pace. There will be lots of losers in this game as well. These will be the ones that feel that they already “own” the market and suddenly realize that smaller and more nimble players suddenly take the market and run with it.

The message that I want to send with this blog entry is to really emphasize that ignoring the change that is happening due to multiple factors such as mobility and cloud is probably one of the biggest mistakes that one can make as software leader. I encourage each one of you to do some due diligence in your own operations and answer to this simple question: “ will I still be relevant in 5 years”. If the answer is no, then you might have bigger issues on your hands than just the cloud transformation.

Some thoughts and tips in moving existing WordPress blog to Windows Azure

I happen to work with many different types of software companies and one of my passions is to follow the industry and make sure that I stay focused and current. One of my “things to do” has been to move my personal WordPress blog from a private hosting site to something that enables me not having to worry about loosing my site. I have unfortunately see quite a few hosting companies go belly up and that was a scary moment as I had multiple sites.

As I work closely with Microsoft and Microsoft partners, it was very natural for me to test out Windows Azure Web Sites that can be easily scaled up when needed and on top of that, Microsoft provides WordPress out of the box when setting up your Windows Azure account.

Azure Websites-001

What I did of course first was to see whether I could learn something of the process and experiences from other players. I found one article specifically which helped me tremendously to be convinced that I was on the right track. This blog entry shows with nice pictures the entire process and I highly recommend this to be read before the transfer of your blog. One thing in this article however is that the DNS instruction did not work out for me and I had to take other measures/articles how to get it done. I had some issues getting the DNS pointed from GoDaddy.com to my Windows Azure environment. The instructions on the web where a bit conflicting, but after some trial and error, I was good to go.

The initial install of WordPress took less than 30 seconds, which was very impressive to me. I did do some mistakes in my migration process (more later), but those where my mistakes and had nothing to do with Azure as such. With the transfer of data from former hosting site, the transfer was 20 minutes and with the DNS transfer, I think I worked around 60 minutes on the transfer. Not bad I would say….

One of the first mistakes I did was that I did not define a FTP client to point to my Azure service and when I upgraded a WordPress plugin, the WordPress site went into maintenance and I had no ways to get to the admin UI. I searched again and luckily there was one good blog entry by Avakash Chauhan (Microsoft) that gave good instructions where to find the information how to define FTP towards Azure Web-sites. The cure for my “web-site going to maintenance mode” was to remove a file called .maintenance from the web-site root.

I was able to get up-and-running again and happy that all worked well. My next move was to do an export from my current WordPress site (at the private hosting location) and this is very easy to do. Just go to WordPress Dashboard, select “Tools” and then “Export” and this lets you export all of your entries to be transferred to the new site. The action is the same on the new site, but now you just import the information. In my case, most of the information was successfully imported, but of some reason, some blog entries where missing so I think there must have been some issue in the file that caused it. I did not want to redo it, so I just move over a few entries manually.

One all said and done, my last bit was to make sure everything was OK on the new site and then pull the plug from the old site and move my GoDaddy.com managed DrSalonen.com to point to the new Windows Azure-powered WordPress site. Just by searching on the internet, it was obvious that this part is something that most have had issues with. There is a bunch of good advice on the net, but some of that information could be more clear. One of the blog entries (Windows Azure team) I followed got me started, but in the end it was a matter of trial and error. One of the things that you have to do when you want to use your own URL such as www.drsalonen.com and not drsalonen.azurewebsites.net , you have to “upgrade” your Azure instance to be a reserved instance and this is completely understandable as now it is the way it has been in the past in the private hosting site.

I have never been fond of having to deal with DNS stuff, A records… pointing here and there.. but I got it done… It seems that it is something that is done a bit differently by different DNS registrar’s sites… so I have had to learn how GoDaddy.com works.

And then finally to my BIG MISTAKE. As final part of the advice, you have to remember and NOT to do how I ended up doing it. Once I had “turned on” the DNS settings in GoDaddy.com, I was not sure whether the DNS settings would be replicated and when/how I should turn the local settings in WordPress.

WordPress-Settings-001

You can see in my settings (they are now working well), you have to make SURE you get those paths right. If you don’t, you can’t get to the admin panel. It was like an eternal loop where my site at “drsalonen.azurewebsites.net” tried to locate DrSalonen.com but either I had those settings incorrectly or I was just too impatient to wait for the DNS replication.  The only way to sort this out was to use the search engine again and I found good advice how to “trick” WordPress site by changing functions.php file content to force the values above to be changed to something I knew would work well. Following pictures shows this:

Updating-WordPress-URL

Once this was done, I was good and could focus on other things in WordPress, which I will turn in later posts. In summary, this transformation to Windows Azure Websites was seamless, painless and now I can scale my site to anything.

DrSalonen WordPress site is now running natively in Windows Azure environment

One of the benefits of having some down-time due to holiday season is to be able to do more of things what you can’t do when you are in full swing with work. For me this has meant throughout my career that I do research, write books, study technology or do things when I am not distracted from different things. Now I am listening to the wonderful Swedish singer Eva Dahlgren (got a CD from my wife as Christmas present) and writing this blog entry in late Dallas evening.

Azure-website-001What makes me very excited about this transfer of my WordPress site is that I wanted to upgrade the WordPress platform and get myself ready for 2013 where I will start making blog entries of my experiences that I have gained during 2012. It is time for me to start working on text again as it is already 2 years since I published my latest book. However, due to the projects in the cloud transformation, it has been so fascinating to learn new stuff so I am OK even if I have neglected the writing for a while.

Stay tuned for blog entries during 2013 and later today I will post some of my experiences in this transfer of my WordPress site from a private hosting site to Windows Azure environment.