Cool Panorama Dashboard visualization

While preparing a presentation on dashboards I realized that the visualizations and the interactivity of a dashboard are the real eye catchers. Unfortunately interactivity is difficult to capture in a powerpoint. I needed something to blow away the audience and I found that in a Panorama iGoogle gadget. You can easily add the gadget to your iGoogle page and upload an Excel sheet with some sample data. The gadget is a fully functional analytic gadget, with different charts, grids, filters etc. You can very simple manipulate the layout with a few mouse clicks. This is nice on your private iGoogle page, but it's even cooler that you can easily embed a read-only version on your blog, like the one below.

Unfortunately the gadget comes with limited embedding options and always shows a useless header and footer, but they can easily be removed with some CSS hacks in your document.
1. The header: span.ig_lgbluetext {display: none;}
2. The footer: table.ig_tbl_line tr:last-child {display: none;} 

If you ever need a cool demo with some sweet visualizations, this is really an easy way to do so. Visit the Panorama website if you want to learn more.

Beauty and the Geek

In the television show the Beauty and the Geek (or Beauty and the Nerd) it's about 2 stereotypes. First there are the beauties that solely rely on their looks and are constant party animals. Second there are the nerds that are over intelligent, but miss all possible social skills. Of course these are stereotypes and they are just caricatures representing two different social groups that make good television. After the show many of the contestants have learned, according to Wikipedia, much about interacting with people from different social groups, positive things about themselves and their own character.

Now two other stereo types

1. Social Software, the beauty, that is hot, sexy and everybody wants to work with. Takes all the media attention and everybody is talking about it.
2. Enterprise Software, the geek, that is complex, overloaded with functions and features and very difficult to use. It's boring missing innovation and seen as a necessity.

What could happen if we put the above two together? 

Social Software gets some more features and would start to respect the enterprise a bit more. A process that already has begun. Facebook already added verified applications to enhance trust and confidence. Twitter is considering premium tools targeting businesses that want to use twitter to stay in touch with their customers.

Enterprise software at the same time will become more social. We most likely will see this in the form of status updates and activity streams. This is what most enterprise vendors are working on.

All we need now is a reality television show where the product teams can battle out how to converge!

The Whuffie Factor

I'm not much of a reader, but it's cool that Tara Hunt got me into reading The Whuffie Factor. I enjoy it a lot, I haven't completed it yet, but somewhere half way I love the eleven ways to be notable:
  1. The dazzle is in the details. Pay attention to the special touches, the quality of the little things, and the element of surprise when designing your product.
  2. Go above and beyond. Figure out what your customers expect and where they are getting their most amazing experiences, then go beyond that.
  3. Appeal to emotion. They way you make you customers feel when they use your product will be the way they feel about you.
  4. Inject fun into your product. Stop taking yourself so seriously ans start having fun. Make your customers laugh and enjoy the experience.
  5. Make something mundane fashionable. Anything that was once routine and unsexy can be made fashionable.
  6. Design for flow. Integrate game development theory into customer experiences.
  7. Let people personalize. Customers want to feel like individuals; let them make your product uniquely theirs.
  8. Be experimental. Try new things, test out new products, involve your customers in innovation.
  9. Simplify. The easier your product is to use, the faster you customers will be falling in love with it.
  10. Make happiness your business model. Money can't buy your happiness, but certain companies have gone a long way to helping people achieving the basis of happiness: autonomy, competence, and relatedness
  11. Be a social catalyst. Help people connect through experiencing your product or service an you will build oodles of whuffie for making than connection.
Many of these statements you and I probably knew already, but ask yourself were you also living them. It's great to get reminded, it really reflected to a few discussions on choices and priorities I had last week. I need to fight better for being notable!
Tara, Thanks and excuse me for using some of your book.

Convenience over Sophistication

A few months ago during a product brainstorm my colleague Clive Boulton coined the statement: Convenience over Sophistication. This to indicate the current change of times.

For a long time business software focused on sophistication, functions and features and sometimes forgot the actual user of the software. Today companies are opening their systems to their eco-systems and attract a different user base. These users can't be trained, need instant result and in short are only interested in convenience.

Yesterday I did a presentation for a select group of customers, it also reflects briefly on this.

After the presentation I spoke to one of the attending customers. His business was providing consultancy services and growing very quickly. He completely agreed with the 'Convenience over Sophistication' statement for the very simple reason: I'm only able to manage my growth with simple and convenient web based applications. He needs to manage a quickly growing number of clients with minimized management effort and the employees need to be productive as soon as possible with minimized training efforts.

Image credit: k-ideas

Must Use versus Want to Use

A while back I questioned for who we write software and later also came back on this with a reason why enterprise software sucks. Summarized I said that a lot of enterprise software is made for the decision maker and not for the end user. This results in that most users just use the software because they have to.

In the consumer space this is different, because people have choice and it's necessary to create software that people want to use. This is a lot harder, because there are no customer requests for features, no requests for information to lead the development effort. Instead of hard facts the development efforts need to be driven by emotion.

Why do people want to use Twitter? Not because it has so many features, just because it's cool and your friends are there. I also used Jaiku for a while, mainly because of my emotional connection with Finland, but it died off quickly. The product was actually a lot nicer than Twitter, but I had no friends there.

Many enterprise software vendors, including my employer Exact are slowly expanding their offerings with more social features targeting a broader audience. It's a logical trend, but a challenge for many corporate product organizations. They are so used to think in features, hypothetical use cases and user experience is often an after thought. Try do discuss taking features out, or suggest a radial change. There is always a reason NOT do so. It's necessary to get into the emotion and psychological behaviors of your users.

Just a few thoughts that might help here. Focus on only 80% of your users and the largest common denominator of features. If a feature doesn't fit in this set leave it out!. Keep it small and simple, deliver in small chunks and constantly evaluate feedback. It's the real user that determines the feature set, not your imaginable use case!

Let me know if you have any good ideas to shift towards product that people want to use!

Image credit: Jackie

Dutch Technographics

At Exact Research we work on different Community and Social Media oriented prototypes. Social will be the new black in business solutions. However very often questions are raised on the readiness of our customers.

Hard numbers are always the best way to make a case clear. I was very happy with the Dutch Technographics presentation by Jeremiah Owyang showing the high social media adoption levels in the Netherlands.

Check out some of the Exact social media initiatives
1. Ondernemen, Juist Nu! (Dutch only)
2. Exact Product Blog

Show you are a great creator and joiner.

Green IT, a social responsibility, driving the adoption of SaaS

Recently a lot is written about the adoption of Software as a Service or Cloud computing. Some claim it will require a complete new mindset, possibly even a new generation. Others claim it driven by the economic set back we are currently facing. This is most likely all very true, but I would like to add an additional observation.

During the current economic slowdown companies become more cost prudent and delay investments. However investments in sustainability are the last to be cut. Even consumers still place value in sustainability and Gartner research shows that despite the economic slowdown Green IT remains one of the priorities of Australian companies. I predict that our social responsibility willing to invest in Green IT will also drive the adoption of  SaaS and Cloud Computing.

Today's 'on premise' computing is comparable with the decentralized production of electricity early last century. Large scale electricity production using large efficient units in a central grid provided reliable, low cost electricity to everyone. Back from my mechanical engineering days I also know that large scale production of electricity is a lot more efficient than small scale production. However small scale production provides more flexibility. Now 100 years later computing goes through the same cycle. Large scale computing in centralized data centers is a lot more efficient than decentralize 'on premise' computing. The reasons are simple, also here does scale drive down costs, but more importantly the owners of the data centers are dealing with high energy bills and have thus a clear incentive to drive those costs down. Microsoft Goes Green, Experiments With Low-Power Data Centers.

Companies today already have plenty of opportunities to invest in Green IT including several ways of saving costs on the way. I recommend to carefully evaluate what Software as a Service solutions can offer or at least evaluate the road maps towards SaaS solutions.

Image credit: r ♥ c e y t ♥ y 

Gladinet the ideal SkyDrive Software + Services solution

Earlier I wrote about my love hate relation ship with Microsoft SkyDrive. I love the 25Gb storage, but it's not very accessible. It would be great if Microsoft would make it possible to map SkyDrive in the Windows Explorer. Microsoft doesn't support this (yet), but Gladinet makes this possible today!

The Gladinet Cloud Desktop does exactly what I want. It connects to the cloud storage and makes it available in Windows Explorer as a normal mapped drive. Now you can easily copy, remove and drag files from one location to another. There is no difference when using a physical folder versus the cloud folder. A great example of a Software + Services solution. It actually allows you to map a lot more cloud services such as Amazon Storage, Google Docs, etc... but I haven't played with those yet.

If you like SkyDrive, use Windows I can really recommend using Gladinet.

The Future of Collaboration

Enhanced collaboration between people and companies is the future of business and social software. The social networking aspects in today's consumer focussed web 2.0 solutions will find a way into business software. Social is the new air, driving business, because business is essentially an other form of social interaction. These are just some of the thoughts that keep me busy.

Image by: Susan van Gelder 

Padmasree Warrior Chief Technology Officer of Cisco Systems, wrote a few weeks back her five very interesting predictions for the future of collaboration:
1. Collaboration Networks will be to Enterprises what Social Networks are to Consumers
2. It is not about “on-premise” versus “on-demand”, it will be all about the User Experience
3. Innovation will be redefined by Operational Excellence
4. Organizations without boundaries will drive the next wave of productivity
5. Information Technology will evolve into Information Fabric

Let me also hear your future ideas on collaboration

Macbook Air Motherboard Failure

About 14 months ago I bought one of the first Macbook Airs. It's a great machine and really fits with me. It's sexy, simple, small, light and has a decent keyboard and screen. The SSD makes it dead silence, but the most important feature of Max OS-X is the instant resume from sleep. This makes it a great device when running from meeting to meeting, with only short breaks to check some mails, update you twitter etc. You never need to wait and the excellent battery life gets you easily thru the day.

However all the goodness came last weekend to an end. Without any real reason I decided to restart the machine, but this was a big, BIG, BIG, mistake. It never booted anymore, it just beeped. Ok, stuff breaks and can be repaired. Great companies handle this with respect and gives them an excellent opportunity to show their service levels. I expected great service, but instead I'm PISSED! The repair costs are about 30% of the new value. The warranty 1 year period is over, no discussion possible!

Apple, European consumers are entitled to a 2 year warranty period. Show you greatness and lets just split the repair costs.

Since I need to invest I can as well start looking for alternatives. Windows 7 is a good step into the direction of  Mac OS-X and Microsoft, may be you can use me in a Laptop hunters commercial.

I need a light and sexy, 12-13" screen laptop. It must have a SSD and I don't want to hear a fan spinning during normal operation. It needs to resume from sleep under 3 seconds. Any suggestions are welcome

Window 7 from Beta to RC and happily no clean install!

In January I updated my Vista to the Windows 7 Beta and was surprised how good the migration went. Also the impressions after a month use were great. I was looking forward to RC to make it even better. However, before RC got released there were some rumors that a clean install would be necessary. This got me very worried, but unfortunately with the instructions here I could migrate from Beta to RC without any hassles, or with hardly any hassles.

I hate clean installs (and new PC's), because they are far too much work and a big hassle. In general I always manage to loose stuff. My data is always stored in corporate storage or in my SkyDrive and is not really an issue. However, many settings and preferences are  spread around and hidden somewhere on the operation system. I either can't find them, forget them or they are impossible to back-up property. I try to minimize the use of locally installed applications and use web based services instead, but still the checklist for clean install is huge. I will just give you a sample of how it would have looked.

Preparation before install

  1. Just to make sure copy the whole user folder to a safe location
  2. Find my local Outlook archive and store safely. Unfortunately corporate server based storage is not enough so the only alternative is local storage.
  3. Find the Google Chrome and Safari bookmark files and store safely

Perform the clean install, hoping that no additional driver downloads are necessary.. but with a Sony it's not very likely this will be the case.

Configuring for work

  1. Download and install Adobe Reader, Flash
  2. Download and install Apple iTunes, QuickTime and Safari.
    1. Restore the iTunes libary from the user folder
    2. Restore the Safari bookmarks, unfortunately XMarks (more later) doesn't support Safari for Windows yet.
  3. Download and install Google Chrome, Google Talk plugin.
    1. Restore the Chrome bookmarks and make Chrome the default browser (see Safari)
  4. Download and install Opera
    1. I only use for testing, so no bookmarks required
  5. Download and install Firefox
    1. Install XMarks and download the bookmarks
    2. Install Firebug and developer tools
  6. Download and install XMarks for IE
    1. Download the bookmarks
  7. Download, install and configure Skype
  8. Download, install and configure TweetDeck
  9. Microsoft PowerPoint
    1. Install SP2 and additional security updates
  10. Microsoft Outlook
    1. Install SP2 and additional security updates
    2. Restore the local archive
    3. LinkedIn Toolbar
    4. Plaxo Toolbar
  11. Microsoft Live Meeting
  12. Microsoft Live Messenger
  13. Microsoft Communicator

... this is only the bare minimum. On top of this there is a bunch of applications that I occasionally need and it's best to immediately install them.

  1. Microsoft Project
  2. Microsoft Visio
  3. Microsoft Visual Studio 2008
  4. Microsoft Virtual PC
  5. Picasa

... and now I most likely still forgot some stuff.

The best thing about Windows 7 is the improved performance, boot times and battery life... This allows me to significantly extend the life cycle of my hardware and thus minimize clean installs.

Unified Communications, one step closer to calling People

Last week I wrote about phone numbers and their lack of usability and I really hope that one day we can forget about phone numbers and start calling people.

Image credit: Toby Bradbury 

Most mobile phones today already allow you to call people directly from the address book, but you still need to select their 'home', 'office' or 'mobile' number to use. I'm lazy and usually only call mobile numbers and forget about the others, but this does have a cost impact. I deliberately choose comfort over costs!

I also earlier wrote about Unified Communications and it's great benefits and advantages in communication. One thing I didn't mention earlier is the real capability to start calling people. Like mobile phones you can keep track of multiple phone numbers for each person and additionally use them in a smart way. You can configure a routing along the different phone numbers to balance between convenience and costs (e.g. If person is available try office phone first and if not answered switch to mobile). The phone numbers can now completely be hidden from the calling party. Now we are really calling people, without having to know any phone numbers. Integration of Unified Communications into business software can than simply replace all phone numbers with a simple 'Call me now!'

Everyday we already need to make so many choices, why making so many unnecessary ones?

Phone Numbers are a Failure from the Past

About 10 years ago a phone number would refer to an organization or a house hold, but mobile phones changed this and made phone numbers personal. This looks like a small change, but it has great impact on the way we have conversations. Conversations are always between people and when making a phone call you call a person and expect the person to answer. I always call a person, but get very confused with phone numbers.

Most people have multiple phone numbers, don't ask me why, but there seems to be a reason for this. In most cases we try to explain this with 'home', 'office' and 'mobile' numbers... but who tells me I can be home or in the office with my mobile phone. So the first challenge is always to choose the most appropriate number to call.

When I was a kid our home phone was only four digits (4764). My school buddies in the same town could easily reach me with these four digits. Others from out of town also needed an area code adding significant complexity. Today we all live in a global world and phone numbers have gone beyond understandable complexity. It's not the area code anymore that need to be added, but also the international access code.

Grab a random business card and try to call the number as it's written down. I don't know about you, but I most of the time fail. For instance my number would be +31 (0)6 55338183, but I can't dial the brackets ! When dialing from my office phone it's even worse. The + doesn't exist on the phone and needs to be replaced by 00 (how could I know that?) and even then it will tell me: The number you dial does not exist. The silly reason is that I first need to dial a 0 to make a phone call. This is all beyond all forms of reason.

I now also realize why star bloggers as Robert Scoble and Louis Gray can put their mobile phone numbers on their blogs and only receive a few phone calls a day.