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October 30, 2009

Nano- Innovation : Is this the key to Mid-Markets?

Sometimes the inspiration for an idea is a ‘baby matter’. At least that is what inspired me for this post. There was  a post from Scott Anthony in Innovation Insights section of HBR titled Procter & Gamble and the Beauty of Small by Wins 

Today we are hearing a lot about Innovation and I do believe in the concepts around disruptive innovation and the way the industry has benefitted from the game-changing innovations. Disruptive innovations either create new markets or reshape existing markets by delivering relatively simple, convenient, low cost innovations to a set of customers who are ignored by industry leaders. However, is there a scope of little innovations bringing great benefits as well.

The essence of his post was that sometimes it is the simplest of things like altering the marketing message rather than going into innovative and path-breaking business models that are needed in business. Here is the extract from the post -


"The story dates back to the 1990s, when Healey was a brand manager in Brazil. She was responsible for growing P&G's Hipoglos brand of diaper rash ointments. The problem? The product already had 99 percent household penetration.


People claimed they used the product regularly to prevent diaper rash. If that were true, however, Healey knew consumers would buy much more Hipoglos than they did today.So, she dug deeper. By probing when consumers used the product, she found that parents applied it when early signs of rash began to appear. Of course, that's too late if you truly want to use a product for preventive purposes.


Healey had a critical insight. Consumers weren't actually realizing all of the benefits of the product, resulting in cranky babies and sleepless nights. P&G began running advertisements showing how applying the cream to an already emerging rash was too late to prevent the rash from occurring. Not surprisingly, sales soared.


Innovation doesn't always involve new features, functions, services, or business models. Sometimes it can be as seemingly simple as a new marketing message."


Even in the Information Technology sector people have been attracted toward the “bottom of the pyramid” (and have been trying hard to break the code). The essence is that there are number of small players; the market is cluttered and there are one man shops to huge firms across the world who are targeting this segment. While doing so everyone is looking at the factor of cost and seeing how they can help the SMEs to reduce their total cost of ownership (I am sorry I used this word too; which in itself is hated by few now). The line of thought is that if you are an SME you will face problems as you grow and when you have that critical mass to grow; you will need a solution. This mid-market enterprise level solutions including ERP and CRM solutions are “band-aid” solutions to the possible rashes that  you  may face.


In reality, there is never a right time to go in for this investment. That time is always when you start – “to prevent the rash from occurring”. The best-practices of some of the packaged solutions can actually help them in structuring the entire organization in such a way that these ‘rashes’ (problems) do not happen at all in the first place. This is especially true for processes which are not ‘sources of competitive advantage’ but are simply the ‘operation’ , ‘run-of-the-mill’ and ‘basis-for-survival’ processes like procurement, human resources, accounting, reporting, etc. which are necessary to optimize, manage, diagnose and control.


What it means for solution providers is that they need to bring out this message through an active recognition of the above fact and then relaying it out in a manner which is acceptable to potential customers. It is not that people are not providing these services –SaaS, Pay-as-you-use, subscription based services, etc. have been there for long; what is  missing is the convincing story behind this revolution. These are still being sold as solutions for immediate problems without a solid story of how they will relate to the long term growth of the client organization.


Do I have a perfect answer to this? No; because if I had one I would have applied that in the messaging already or is it that a revenue/margin/QoQ growth driven organizations are missing a point in the investment needed in this area which can be a long term revenue driver. I can’t say for sure, can you?

October 15, 2009

Sketchflow

I have been busy with various other non-technical work for few months and hence didn't get a chance to experiment anything new Off late. I finally managed to find time and check out Sketchflow. Sketchflow is a new tool available along with Expression 3 Suite which allows quick and easy prototyping. It allows one to create prototypes that are very near real appliation like, but still retain their prototype look and feel (by using wiggly styled controls) and allow for easy feedback back and forth between you and your customers.

If you have't seen this as yet, you can get a very good idea on it by checking out the following
1. Keynote video from MIX 09, where Jon Harris showed a very interesting Sketchflow prototype. You can skip to about 1 hr 39 min into the video to directly jump to this part
2. From Concept to Production video, another session from MIX 09, by Christian Schormann, where he walks through a snowboard sketchflow prototype. This and the keynote video code comes as part of samples with Blend 3.
3. A very good step by step walkthrough of Sketchflow is available at the dynamic prototyping site.

I am enjoying working with Sketchflow.

October 14, 2009

Silverlight on IE 8

My team members are working on a Silverlight based application to be deployed on Cloud. Things were going smoothly when one of us tried accessing this application via IE 8 and we were surprised to see the application not filling 100% height but taking about 25% space only. We tried various options for setting the height to 100% like setting it for body element, as well for the form element etc, but with not much luck.

Finally, found a workaround on the forum here. Setting the meta tag in the head to enable IE 7 compatibility (<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=EmulateIE7" />) worked. This is surely not the preferred solution, but it got us going. Do share if there are any other options that may have worked for you.

October 1, 2009

WCF 4.0 –Part 1

WCF 4.0 will be available with .Net framework 4.0 and builds upon the features provided by WCF 3.5 (including SP1). WCF 4.0 brings in several features to make the life of developers and application administrator easy. To enhance the support for REST Services, certain features from REST starter kit are also integrated with WCF 4.0. In this blog let’s take a look at features which simplifies things for application administrators

1) Configuration less WCF, and automatic endpoints

WCF achieved Unification of multiple distributed technologies like asmx services, msmq, remoting, COM+ by abstracting their respective protocols through bindings, while doing so it introduced additional complexity of managing it through configuration files which were nonexistent with ASMX services. Of course flexibility comes with a price.

Applying bindings and behaviors specific to different distributed scenarios needs thorough WCF understanding and once Services are deployed in production; administrators find it difficult to tweak the system.servicemodel section to maintain it.

WCF 4.0 removes the need of having configuration files. It does this by providing default endpoint and behavior. Default endpoint only kicks in when the service has not been configured with any endpoints.

Depending on .net 4 machine.config mapping, WCF picks up the binding. For Http if the binding defined is BasicHttpBinding it will use it. One can change the binding for a specific protocol like http, tcp, msmq, etc.in machine.config. e.g. change to WsHttpBinding instead of BasicHttpBinding for http.

2)  Default Behavior

Similar to default endpoint WCF also provides default behavior. Unlike 3.5 where behavior configuration needs to be specified explicitly using attribute <behaviorConfiguration>, one doesn’t need to specify the behavior explicitly in 4.0.If you don’t specify behavior in 3.5 services it will fail to compile whereas the same service will compile and work with 4.0

3)      Standard endpoints

Standard endpoints are pre bundled end points that WCF can use without developer needing to define details of it. These endpoints are defined using <Kind> attribute. Some of the standard endpoints are udpAnnouncementEndpoint, udpDiscoveryEndpoint, workflowControlEndpoint, mexEndpoint.

In the following example for mexEndPoint, note there is no mention of binding and contract

<system.serviceModel>  

   <services>      

      <service name="GreetingService">       

      <endpoint binding="basicHttpBinding" contract="IHello"/>  

      <endpoint kind="mexEndpoint" address="mex“

      </service>

   </services>

</system.serviceModel>

4)      File-less Activation (no .svc)

Http://xyz.com/abc.svc  .svc at the end of url makes it user unfriendly. It also makes it Low REST service as it donot follow the REST URI principle.

Till date developers have to overcome this limitation by implementing URLReWrite module in IIS. Writing custom code to implement this is error prone and needs maintenance over a period. WCF 4.0 has introduced a feature to access WCF services using attribute called as relativeAddress.
Following .config setting depicts how a PaymentService can be accessed using relative URL.

<system.serviceModel>

    <serviceHostingEnvironment>

      <serviceActivations>

        <add relativeAddress="/Payment" service=“PaymentService.svc"/>

      </serviceActivations>

    </serviceHostingEnvironment>

  </system.serviceModel>

5)      Simplifying IIS/ASP.NET Hosting

WCF services are now that much simpler to write as it no more mandates writing Interface definition and one can directly write class and decorate it with Service Contract, decorate Service operations with Operation Contract as shown in below example. This makes it as simple as asmx services. Top it with no configuration files and hosting in IIS gets that much easier.

[ServiceContract]
public class CalculatorService
{
    [OperationContract]
    public double AddNumber(double a, double b)
    {
        return a+b;
    }
}

All the above features in WCF 4.0 are mostly related to configuration. In the next blog we will dwell into what more WCF 4.0 has in store.

 

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