Enterprise 2.0 meeting tonight in Toronto

There’s an Enterprise 2.0 session tonight at Rowers Pub in Toronto:

Inspired by the success of everything Camp in Toronto comes one more event for your pleasure. Enterprise2.0 is about the business world applications of “Web 2.0” and “Social Media”. The idea for Enterprise 2.0 is built on the hypothesis that the real killer app for the next generation of web and collaborative media technologies is in the enterprise. How can we take our learnings from the recent boom in the consumer internet and apply them to boosting employee productivity, enabling new ways of working and doing business.

Free, although you have to buy your own beer. Sign up on the wiki if you plan to attend.

Flock first look

I downloaded Flock last night, about 12 minutes after the public beta was released, and I’ve been playing with it on and off since then. Some good stuff, some things that seem good but aren’t so useful for me. Flock is based on the same code base as Firefox, so there’s lots of similarities and it can even import everything from Firefox in its initial setup, including saved web form data.

Some unique Flock features and how well they work for me:

  • Flickr or Photobucket integration right along the top edge, allowing photos to be dragged onto that area to upload it to the photo service. I’m not using Flickr much; I still create photo galleries using JAlbum and publish them for various websites, so this feature isn’t as useful for me as it would be for a dedicated Flickr fan. I’m sure that will change as soon as I buy a pocket-sized digital camera and start snapping photos every day.
  • RSS feed functionality built in. This is a non-starter for me, since I need a subset of my RSS subscriptions to drive my blog roll directly, which is what Bloglines does for me.
  • Integration from the Favorites directly to del.icio.us. This is another non-starter for me, since it doesn’t put me far enough into the del.icio.us environment to show me my del.icio.us tags, so I end up accidentally creating a bunch of new tags and have to clean them up later. However, the “add to del.icio.us” bookmarklet that I had in Firefox works just fine.
  • Built-in blog posting tool. I’m using this now, and have even figured out how to post to both Movable Type (for this blog) and Blogger (for my wine club blog) although errors are occuring on the MT posting that I haven’t resolved yet. It keeps the blog post window on top of all other Flock windows, which is a bit inconvenient since I often flip back and forth to the browser window during blogging to look things up. There’s no obvious hot key to pop up the links window, which is annoying. It generates some extra tags in the source, and I’m a sucker for clean source. Otherwise, I like it.

Overall, the experience is quite a bit like Firefox, only slower since I suspect that there’s some amount of test/debug code in here still. Given that the only extra that I might use is the offline blogging tool, there may not be enough to keep me here if it proves annoyingly slower than Firefox.

Start page heaven

For years, I’ve been using My Yahoo! as my start page. It has lots of great modules available, I use a free Yahoo! account as my “web form” address (instead of Hotmail), and I use Yahoo! groups, all of which has made it pretty functional. When they added the ability to add any RSS feed instead of just their own modules, I was convinced that I’d never switch.

Today, I tried out Netvibes, and I’ve already switched my start page over. There’s a few things that I’m missing (such as the movie times for my local theatre), but there other things that I find to be useful enough to make the switch.

  • First of all, a to do list. That sounds like a small thing, and there are a ton of other apps that will do that for me, but to have it integrated into my start page so that it stares me in the face every time I open my browser is a big help.
  • Secondly, and more significant, is access into my POP mail account so that the last 5 (number configurable) email subject lines are displayed. It doesn’t provide click-through access to my email, but gives me a heads-up about anything that might need my attention. Since I have a bookmarks module containing a link to my webmail immediately below that, I effectively have one-click access to my email anyway, which is one click less than it takes to access it via MyYahoo. I spend almost my entire day with multiple tabs open in Firefox, but without Outlook open because it can be a real resource hog, so I sometimes just handle email directly through the webmail client. The really ironic part is that Yahoo! hosts my email (my real paid account as well as my free one), yet I can’t do this with MyYahoo: it will only provide a count of the number of messages in my free Yahoo! account on the MyYahoo page, and nothing related to my real account.
  • Third is the interface: sleek, easy to use, and advertising-free (for now). I suppose that they’ll have to monetize this through advertising at some point, but right now it’s beautifully unadorned.
  • Last, I just figured out how to add an iCal feed from my upcoming.org calendar – cool! And there are a ton of independently-created add-ins, such as the Google maps module which provides the functionality that is missing natively.

Just to summarize, here’s what I have on my NetVibes start page:

  • Left column: Upcoming.org (viewable as agenda/week/month); BBC news headlines; CBC news headlines
  • Centre column: POP mail (last 6 email senders/subjects); bookmarks (imported from my Firefox bookmarks, organized in folders)
  • Right column: To do list (with “done” checkboxes); Toronto weather; Google map search form; Mountain View weather (I’m headed there soon for Mashup Camp; also shows the current date/time there)

CIO as dinosaur

From Baseline/CIO Insight, a report on emerging technologies; specifically, a survey of CIOs of what technologies that they’re actually using. Some results that I find to show the incredible short-sightedness of many corporate CIOs is the percentage who find the following technologies “of no interest/not on the radar”:

  • SaaS, 32%. How could this number of CIOs possibly have no interest in SaaS? Only one answer comes to mind: empire building.
  • SOA, 30%. The percentage of CIOs who prefer to remain mired in legacy linguine.
  • AJAX, 46% and RSS, 38%. How to they plan to deliver information, both interactively and via publication, in the future? This isn’t just an externally-facing issue; in large organizations, these technologies are equally important for serving it up to internal users.
  • Social networking, including tagging, 51%. Although other things were mentioned in this category, I see tagging as the key contributor to a corporate environment here. How long will it be before all ECM systems have tagging as a standard feature? When will CIOs stop characterizing this as “allowing the lunatics to run the asylum” and just put the right categorization tools in the hands of their users?
  • Wikis, 46%. Okay, I get why a lot of companies are still uncomfortable with blogs. But wikis for collaboration make a lot more sense than clogging up everyone’s email with multiple out-of-date copies of a Word file that everyone is trying to update at the same time. It’s only a matter of time before Microsoft adds wiki capabilities to SharePoint (if they haven’t already), at which time everyone will be using wikis below the CIO’s radar. David Berlind posted yesterday about how many IT leaders have never even heard of wikis, which is likely where the “not on the radar” is really coming from.

There are a lot of other equally shocking stats about just how far behind corporate CIOs are in their thinking. Many of my clients are large financial institutions, so I suppose that I shouldn’t be that shocked: if I polled them directly about these same issues, I’d likely get similar results. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give me much hope that these organizations are going to become a lot more efficient or offer better services to their customers any time soon.

On the BPM front, only 21% show as “deployed”, 19% “testing/piloting”, 27% “evaluating/tracking” and 32% “no interest/not on the radar”.

Update: I just saw this post on why AJAX and RSS matter for in-house user interfaces, particularly for BPM.

Update: Robert Scoble reports that wikis will, indeed, be in Sharepoint 2007. The meteor has landed, you guys can all just head for the tar pits.

Social networking surprises

Sometimes the whole social networking phenomena still manages to surprise me. Last week was DemoCamp6, put on by my friend and neighbour David Crow. I missed it due to a bad head cold, but emailed him on Saturday to get some information and he sent the info with the comment “Sorry I missed you at DemoCamp, I had a bad day (a very bad day).” I figured that his “bad day” was just logistics problems with DemoCamp, but found out differently when I read his blog yesterday about how he had a heart attack while setting up for DemoCamp. I immediately emailed him to say that reading about it in his blog was weird (to say the least), and he responded “Welcome to web 2.0… it seemed like a perfectly useful way to diseminate the information.” My best wishes are with Dave, and I’ll pop upstairs to see him as soon as my cold is gone, but I have to admit that reading about it in his blog makes me laugh — he even has shots of his angiogram on Flickr.

On a separate social networking note, thanks to all of you who left comments for my 83-year-old blogging mom on her birthday last week. Some friends and family, but lots of complete strangers who just read about it here and decide to make her day. She declared it “amazing”. It’s not too late to go over there and leave a happy birthday comment if you’re so inclined.

My last surprise came from Assaf of co.mments, a free conversation-tracking service that I mentioned last week. He added a comment to my post thanking me for the link, and I commented back that I had found that the service didn’t work with https URLs. Less than eight hours later, he responded that he could do that, and an hour after that, tracking of https URLs became part of co.mments. Now that’s Web 2.0!

mesh conference, Day 1

Sort of a non-BPM few days lately, what with BarCampTdot on the weekend and the mesh conference today and tomorrow.

mesh kicked off this morning with an interview with Om Malik. During the Q&A, an audience member referenced a quote that he heard many years ago: “When information is free, the only thing of value is point of view”. Om countered that the thing of value is context, not necessarily point of view. I can certainly identify with this, since (I assume) the reason that a lot of you read this blog is for the context in which I place information, and my viewpoints on the content, rather than just the content itself.

The next session was a presentation by, then interview with, Michael Geist, a U of Ottawa law professor and a brilliant speaker on web 2.0 and society, and on digital rights issues. Definintely my favourite part of the day so far (although the bar hasn’t opened yet).

Today has an unduly heavy focus on media — for some reason, all the media and society sessions are today, and all the marketing and business sessions tomorrow — although there’s some interesting ones such as the one on “Are Bloggers Journalists?” that I’m in right now.

I am left with the uncomfortable question of where all the money from this conference is going, considering that the organizers are not professional organizers and presumably weren’t in this to make money from it; they all have “regular jobs” of sorts. It cost $350 to attend for the two days (not worth the price, in my estimate, and not very web 2.0 in spirit), and with the large number of big-name sponsors, it’s not clear that they needed to charge attendees that much to provide what they are providing. I know that Gartner conferences and the like are far more expensive, but they’re in the business to make money on conferences, and this is more of a low-key participatory conference (not an unconference, but borrowing a few of the networking concepts).

I have to give mesh the credit, however, for indirectly inspiring BlogHerNorth: back in April, Elisa Camahort (of BlogHer) pondered why mesh couldn’t find more than 6 women to speak when there were 50 speaking slots available (subtitled “Another example of why BlogHer won’t be passe in my lifetime”). Kate Trgovac picked up the ball and asked if it was time for BlogHerNorth, I added some comments and started a conversation with her and a few others, and the ball was rolling. So, thanks to some men who excluded (however unconsciously) women from their conference speaking roster, we’re inspired to create BlogHerNorth.


I attended TorCampDemoCamp5 this week, my first DemoCamp and a great opportunity to see some new stuff, meet some new people and catch up with some acquaintances. The popularity of this forum is amazing: there were probably 130+ people there, some of them sitting on the steps of the lecture hall since there weren’t enough seats for all.

Best quote of the evening, from one of the presenters (sorry, can’t remember who at this point) when asked why he had developed the code in Rails, responded “It was like this code wanted to be written in Rails”, which evoked some laughter and a round of applause.

The most interesting presentation (to me) was DabbleDB — unfortunately not yet available — that did some of the coolest stuff with structured data that I’ve seen in a long time, like dynamic normalization and some really intelligent typecasting including calendaring based on data range fields. It’s not often that data manipulation can make me raise my eyebrows and declare it as cool (otherwise, this blog would be called Column 1 instead of Column 2), but this actually provides a potential path to putting some structure around and sharing all of that data that’s currently sitting in spreadsheets. You can read an independent review of DabbleDB here, watch a seven-minute demo (highly recommended, and similar to what was shown at DemoCamp) or a 40-minute presentation, or check out their blog. Written in Smalltalk, a language that I haven’t even thought about in years.

Also of interest was Unspace’s datagrid, a very Web 2.0 way of capturing and presenting formatted data.

Unfortunately, I had to head home and finish my taxes instead of heading off to the pub with the group afterwards, but I did have a chance to meet face-to-face with Markus Strohmaier, a Column 2 reader from Austria who is now in Toronto for post-doc research in his field of business process-oriented knowledge management. He initially alerted me to the BPOKI track at the International Conference on Knowledge Management.

Modelling processes without a BPMS

An article by Bruce Silver in Intelligent Enterprise discusses the recent spate of BPM vendors releasing their process modelling tools for free. He lists Savvion, Oracle and Intalio, but the trend is widening — TIBCO just announced the availability of their modeling tool, and although the press release doesn’t specify, I heard a rumour that it’s free as well (how could it not be, considering the competition?). These offerings, from companies who make their money on the BPMS engine side so can afford to give away the modelling tools, will certainly make a dent in the market share of some of the dedicated modelling tools, such as Proforma, although many of the dedicated tools provide more extensive enterprise architecture-type modelling, not just process modelling.

One significant problem with these free tools is that although the vendors assume that they will just spread to all the desktops in an organization like wildfire, most corporate IT departments lock down user desktop configurations so that you can’t install applications. Although this might seem like a bit of Big Brother, there’s a good reason for this: it’s completely impossible for a corporate IT department to support several thousand PCs if the users can just install anything that they want on them. A case in point: a few years ago, a workstation at a client of mine started freezing “randomly”, which they blamed on the BPM software that we had installed on it. After several service calls where the problem did not recur, followed by uninstalls and reinstalls, one of my engineers finally just hung around until the problem occurred. The culprit? A non-corporate-standard screen saver that showed an animated football game; the machine hung right around the first down when the cheerleaders came out. When we reverted to a standard Windows screen saver, the problem disappeared. Since then, I’ve never complained about the restrictions that corporate IT makes on standard user desktops, even though it keeps me from using Firefox at most customer sites.

What this means is that even if a vendor makes their software available for free, that doesn’t assure acceptance, because it’s not free for an organization to regression test that against their standard desktop environment(s) and all of the other applications with which it might coexist. There’s two possible solutions to this:

  • Create an entirely web-based process modelling tool. (Do BPMS vendors know about Web 2.0 yet?)
  • Use a modelling tool that is already on most users’ desktops, namely Microsoft Visio.

I had a chat with one of the BPMS vendors recently about the first option, and he asked if I felt that web-based was the way to go (I love it when BPMS vendors ask me my opinion on product direction 🙂 ). My reply:

I like web-based since it lowers the barrier to use… many people of the type that I see in my customers who are doing process modelling are doing so at their office location and could be doing it much more easily if they don’t have to get permission from their IT department to install something on their PC, but use a purely web-based tool.

We also discussed how an installed version was necessary for people who aren’t always connected, but most real process modellers aren’t doing it from 35,000 feet or at a trade show, they’re doing it from their desk with a high-speed corporate internet connection. Yes, you have to have something for the road warriors and your sales people, but ultimately you’ll be most successful if you build what’s best for the target audience.

Which brings me to the second solution: Visio. Last year, Bruce Silver had a couple of articles on using Visio for process modelling, referencing the itp-commerce product. I just had a demo of a competing product, Byzio from Zynium (which sounds like a fictional space alien and his planet, sort of like Mork from Ork), another Visio add-on that allows for more robust process modelling in that ubiquitous tool. Yes, you still need to install the add-on, but chances are that a corporate IT department will find it much easier to approve a Visio add-on for installation than a full application.

Basically, Byzio allows you to draw a process model in Visio, then export it to XPDL for import into a BPMS’ process modelling tool. [In case you’re not up on XPDL, it’s an XML file format used to store BPMN; BPMN is the graphic modelling notation.] You can use a BPMN stencil in Visio so that you’re using the standard BPMN shapes, but the real power of Byzio is in the ability to map from any shape to a BPMN/XPDL construct, so if you already have a corporate standard for what shapes to use in a process model, you don’t have to change that, you just have to set up the mapping. The really cool thing is that Byzio has the ability to use the text within a shape to assist in the mapping, for example, detecting the words “and” or “or” in a decision shape and choosing the correct decision type. The mapping setup, which includes a regular expression parser, is not something that you’ll want every user to be playing around with, but as long as everyone in a department is using some standard notation, you should be able to set up the mapping once and replicate it around.

Although XPDL is supposed to be a standard, every BPMS vendor has their own flavour of XPDL, so the Byzio installation has to be specific to the target BPMS: the version that was demonstrated for me was for Fujitsu Interstage, but they also list Appian and DST on their website and I know that there are others in the works. In the case of Interstage, after the XPDL file is exported from Visio using the Byzio add-on, it’s opened in the Interstage process designer, where it can be further enhanced with engine-specific parameters. Byzio also plans to support round-tripping, where the XPDL can be exported back from the BPMS process designer for import into Visio for rework — I think that there’s some serious challenges in making this happen, but it’s doable. Not as integrated as using the BPMS’ process designer directly, but it has the huge advantage of using software that’s already installed on every business analysts’ desktop.

I’m still torn on the best solution in the long run. I feel strongly that there’s a place for BPMS vendors to create fully web-based versions of their process modelling tools intended for use by business users: namely, versions of the tools that don’t include all the yucky technical details, but provide a business view of the process models as they exist in the BPMS — no importing/exporting required. However, Visio is used for so much more than just what’s going to be automated in a BPMS that it will retain its dominance in process modelling by business users for the foreseeable future. That being said, I’ll give the edge to Visio paired with add-ons such as Byzio or itp-commerce.

TIBCO and AJAX first look

I spent this morning at a seminar co-hosted by TIBCO and Intelligent Enterprise, featuring Michael Melenovsky from Gartner. One of my reasons for attending was to find out more about TIBCO’s newly-released version of General Interface, which they purchased a year ago, and find out just how tightly that it’s integrated with the TIBCO BPM product. In other words, I was on the BPM mashup hunt that I talked about here.

Jeff Kristick, TIBCO’s Director of Product Marketing, gave a presentation where he showed a screenshot of an AJAX-based rich client interface to their BPM product (I would have loved to have seen a demo rather than PPT-ware). I asked if their out-of-the-box UI for BPM was AJAX-based, and he said that they had taken advantage of the acquisition of GI to rebuild their BPM interface using their own AJAX development environment, and that’s what’s shipping now. Cool.

GI is available for free for public applications, and really cheap for enterprise (inside the firewall) applications, so off I went to the TIBCO technical site this afternoon to check it out. Quick signup, wait for a password via email, then off to the download page. I noticed the page of sample projects, each with both a preview and the source code, so thought I’d check these out before installing. Clicked on the first “View Preview” link:

Yikes! You want me to give up Firefox for this? I’m sure that the 45% of my readers who don’t use IE agree with me on this one.

More on GI and the rest of the seminar after I remember where I hid IE…