all candor, some of the key themes for this article on Internet World 2001
started percolating in my brain a couple of weeks before the event itself.
I became somewhat frustrated while climbing a learning curve in the Java
programming language. During a session in the smoking lounge at Sierra
Cigar in Woodland Hills, California, spent trying to write some practice
blocks of code and, simultaneously, to break in a new meerschaum pipe,
I encountered Chris the Mathematician. Chris, who favors cigars almost
as much as improving the minds of undergraduates, mentioned that he was
playing around with an open source, object-oriented programming language
called Python. To this news flash, I responded, "Yeah, that sounds like
something of high practical value — a language that nobody has ever heard
of, developed and supported by a bunch of programming aficionados." In
response, and also to jerk my chain a bit, Chris bemusedly asked me if
I thought that anyone was actually going to show up at this year's Internet
Well, people did
show up. In addition, this was the Internet World at which a company, Digital
Creations, showed a Content Management environment underpinned by Python,
thereby putting a damper on my tendency towards instant analysis and creating
a certain degree of self-doubt as well: I am now avoiding Chris so that
I won't have to eat crow. The reasons behind Digital Creations' choice
of technology, as well as its augmented product strategy, are symptomatic
of the current state of Internet-enabled products and services. This became
clearer as I talked to vendors, customers, and speakers at the show itself.
Although these themes may seem somewhat removed from the day-to-day responsibilities
and concerns of most online searchers, I hope to be able to at least give
a flavor for how some of these issues have a powerful if indirect influence
on the professional searcher's current world and future challenges.
Overall, five themes
jumped out at me during the exposition:
The vaunted merger
with Internet World of the ECRM annual exposition, devoted to electronic/enterprise
customer relations management, into a single event contrasted sharply with
the separation of the two vendor types into separate exhibit halls. Ironically,
upon observation, it seemed as if the forces of convergence were evolving
both groups into the same future species.
Customer focus on
of Internet-enabled applications
Scott, Lou, and Larry
versus Bill (Sun, IBM, and Oracle versus Microsoft)
Fear and uncertainty
the exhibit floors fell into two categories — the "golly gee whiz" versus
the "show me the money" types. ECRM floorwalkers seemed decidedly less
naïve and more systems savvy than those on the Internet World exhibit
floor. Early-stage products and services, as well as more mature offerings,
all struggled to differentiate themselves from each other, rather than
merely riding the Internet wave, on both exhibit floors.
Internet World Media show organizers [http://www.internetworld.com]
and L.A. Convention Center employees validated that attendance had dropped,
with fewer exhibitors and more last minute no-shows, such as recently extinct
companies, than last year. Vendors with specialized search offerings and
syndicated or filtered/personalized online database services had smaller
booths and were clearly running scared and nervous. None that I chatted
with had any real idea (or were willing to confess) as to the magnitude
of the tasks inherent in integration of disparate information sources and
types into XML and object-oriented solutions. Vendors maintained (off the
record) that these issues stretched well beyond the current state of target
clients' real need sets or implementation capabilities. Even the traditional
dot-com booths, such as Intel and Sun, were attempting to present themselves
as solutions or gravitational centers for clusters of channels partners.
Conspicuously absent were IBM, Apple, and the gamut of Fortune 100 systems
the theme of Internet World and applications solutions the currency of
ECRM; although even a cursory walk through the ECRM exhibit hall revealed
that the range of solutions — from content management to data warehousing
and business intelligence to customer support centers — went far beyond
the notion of CRM in vogue even 3 years ago. Nonetheless, one vendor's
total solution was another's toolkit, and the result could confuse or mislead
the non-initiated or novice.
From the Neolithic
to the futuristic, one could see a whole range of architectures displayed
at the conference. In practical terms the revolution and convergence everyone
touts seem to involve bundling information into client operations through
XML or some other linkage via dynamically created views. That is where
the future is going and what the product architectures are designed to
do. EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) or B2B (business-to-business)
transactions search catalogs and ancillary data and present it to the viewer
in a seamless manner. This works in parallel with traditional document
management systems (which are typically focused on individual departments
and a limited set of pre-defined document types — a pre-Web and pre-Internet
problem set) and searching of unstructured text.
Sales pitches all
seemed oriented towards the customer's relative degree of ignorance. But
the products and services on exhibit extended from software platforms for
Web-enabled systems and integration products to e-services offering logistics
support, such as UPS support of e-commerce shipping to tactical departmental
offerings packaging themselves as solutions: products that deliver a limited
set of functionality for a very specific problem, while still being marketed
as enablers for more complex challenges involving multiple departments
and external stakeholders.
Interview with Digital Creations
CEO, Brian Methvin, and VP of sales, Paul Everett, proved quite insightful
regarding both technology and business issues. With infectious smiles and
the enthusiasm of missionaries, these two held my attention for an hour
expounding on their open-source approach. They focused particularly on
speed to market for corporations or departments chartered with implementing
a content management system. Such systems are of particular interest to
online searchers since these systems not only offer mechanisms for managing
the creation and distribution of internally generated content (unstructured
text, captured e-mail, discussion group threads, etc.), but also address
capturing and managing information from external sources, the bread-and-butter
vendors of the Searcher community.
Paul assured me
that if I were familiar with Java, I would find the Python language a real
accelerator for putting together the content management system under ZOPE
[Z Object Publishing Environment; for more information, go to http://www.zope.org].
There are three concentric circles in their play — the inner is Python
(the object-oriented programming environment); the middle is Zope (the
Python-based applications server that does the back-end work supporting
the generation of Web pages); and the outer is Digital Creations itself
(which creates the libraries of pre-built solutions and service offerings).
The Digital Creations
lets customers go to a Web browser and create an object that creates the
SQL call to a database for adding content to the Web environment — a much
more dynamic tool than the usual scripting effort. In this approach, a
applications server, which constructs an SQL call routine to the database.Discussing
the current avalanche of XML schema and tags and the overwhelming number
of initiatives, Paul worried about confusion among customers seeking to
build a content management environment.
With this approach,
Digital Creations aims to put the business process owners, rather than
IT techies, in control. The Zope folks at Digital Creations believe that
their environment hides the syntax complexity that can accompany traditional
scripting and coding and intimidate large numbers of users. Organizations
or departments without large and flexible IT staffs at their disposal attempting
the construction of a Web-based environment that integrates external and
internal data would fall within Digital Creations' scope — especially if
the clients hope to create up-to-date Web pages on demand and in real time.
wants to enable a broader range of people to author in a seamless manner.
Class libraries (the fundamental warehouses for reusable programs that
techies can invoke to accelerate the systems development process) are the
key here. And Digital Creations claims to have a distributed object model
— another techie standard that enables a more open and flexible programming
environment — in ZOPE as an open-source application server to build dynamic
Web sites. Changes can be rolled back to prior versions of a built environment.
I'll have to take their word for that since I didn't have time for a full
demo, but I didn't see the feature in competitors Epicentric or Plumbtree.
The most robust enterprise integration portals can support federations
and syndications to automate the embedding of online database information
into portals that create individual views of the world based on the portal
managers profiles of user types and privileges.
How the object-oriented
database software does these things, as well as its compatibility with
Java Beans and other encapsulation schemes, remained unclear to me. Information
professionals might have quite a time figuring out how to integrate syndicated
external databases into their systems. But, for the techies out there,
they were talking UML and that's a good sign. unified modeling language
(UML) comprises a toolset for graphically creating and managing an IT environment
using object-oriented concepts to facilitate reuse and modularity. The
market leader in this space is Rational Technologies. Digital Creations'
executives and I chatted about the UML as a toolset and not as a solution,
With the focus
on advanced rapid prototyping and JAD (joint application development) work
with the customer, Digital Creations still seemed up front regarding the
danger of "back-end loading" of integration projects. In this traditional
ploy, the vendor-integrator submits a low initial bid that will hopefully
entice the customer-client into believing that they have the "best bang
for the buck." However, profit margins are built into the project in terms
of hidden botches unknown to the client: ("Oh, you didn't tell us that
you needed a.... By the way, you are aware of the fact that you need a
... in order to get this to work?")
The folks at Digital
Creations offered some insightful remarks regarding XML and its many variants
and Web service permutations. They felt that the sheer number of competing
schema for data typing and standards for XML tags in various markets and
disciplines creates a moving target of complexity that makes XML less a
solution to the Content Management challenge, but rather an added degree
of complexity for architects of solutions.
Interview with MicroStrategy
is a prototype of the "pure play" dot-com. With a multitude of systems
integrators and its own fully mobilized integration services arm, MicroStrategy
represents a middle-tier Internet software enterprise. Its software falls
into the decision support category. This marked MicroStrategy as clearly
worth investigation, though I must admit giving away battery-powered Yo-yos
that lit up and flashed dramatic red light didn't hurt their chances either.
the MicroStrategy positioning statements:
the first company to combine two essential components of CRM: analytical
CRM and marketing automation. The end result of this integration is that
marketers can now seamlessly analyze customer data and take action to create
one-to-one relationships. MicroStrategy CRM Applications harness the most
powerful customer segmentation and analysis engine on the market today
to produce a complete view of the customer across the entire business.
The tide has turned.
Mass marketing, with its great reach and equally great waste, is losing
the efficiency game to a powerful new alternative: permission-based, one-to-one
marketing. A convergence of technologies makes it possible to communicate
and build relationships with millions of customers on a one-to-one basis.
It's called CRM, customer relationship management.
These two quotes
from the Micro Strategy product literature sum up its strategy and differentiation
from a host of CRM competitors. The center of its product architecture
is "MicroStrategy 7 Business Intelligence Platform." The software aims
to fulfill the needs of businesses to extract relevant information from
a traditional data warehouse of customer transaction-derived data. In past
years, effective attempts to translate the embedded information in a data
warehouse into hypotheses and insights of use to management operations
required a good deal of analytic and statistical inference processing expertise.
By Web-ifying this process and creating analytic wizards and a portal interface,
MicroStrategy is also attempting to accelerate the process of creating,
deploying, and garnering results for its core departmental users — undoubtedly
marketing and product management constituencies.
is attempting an enterprise-wide positioning in its literature and marketing
pitches. The chatter in and around the booth included ample mention of
integrating workflow and event-driven applications with the information
and hypotheses generated by the Business Intelligence system, per se. Despite
the chatter, however, MicroStrategy recently announced that it planned
to scale back operations, reduce payroll, and stick to knitting. These
days, a multiplicity of companies are disinvesting from enterprise-wide
capabilities and focusing on tactical delivery. Overall, companies like
MicroStrategy offer the ability to combine disparate sources of data and
information, ranging from point of sales to government data to whatever,
and to produce profiles that can form sources of new information for marketing
campaigns and possibly product development efforts.
with the MicroStrategy marketing folks, as well as with other CRM firms,
revealed a general frustration at the prospects on the show floor between
those looking for tactical departmental solutions with immediate functionality
and those looking to build a set of deliverables within a corporate architecture.
These days, the goals of departmental functionality and near-term deliverables
are defeating architecture and strategic integration, so to speak. Even
while recognizing the strategic importance of deliverables, MicroStrategy's
"big picture" diagram with interfaces to Dialog, U.S. Census data, and
other syndicated services are designed to work in concert with ERP (enterprise
requirements planning) packages such as SAAP, PeopleSoft, and Baan. ERP
packages are large, complex systems that embed information flows into business
practices and typically involve major, mission-critical IT initiatives.
MicroStrategy also handles other in-house-generated data sets for marketing
and manufacturing campaigns. Even MicroStrategy, like so many vendors in
this arena, has scaled back from a "we can deliver this" model to a "it
can be done" model, morphing from a promised solution to a suggested process.
This means the vendor will put advanced features in the Requirements document
but not the Statement of Work, thereby postponing the implementation until
the day that George Bush (Sr. or Jr.) and Al Gore form a punk rock band
together. Excuse my cynicism.
A concrete manifestation
of this new reality recently hit home at MicroStrategy with particular
cut 600 workers and narrow software focus
After warning that
its first-quarter financial results will fall below expectations, the struggling
software vendor said it plans to lay off one-third of its employees and
concentrate solely on its flagship business intelligence applications [Computerworld_Daily@computerworld.com].
The quest for the
Holy Grail has been scaled back to a search for dishwasher-safe wine glasses.
Compare the two quotes below to see the "quintessential" dilemma for the
knowledge worker attempting to build an environment.
Today, the eBusiness
Platform has become the foundation for a complete Internet infrastructure
that will soon support applications as services (IDC).
But a number of
corporate users expressed doubts that any of the initiatives will produce
standards that meet with widespread acceptance. And until that happens,
they said, companies trying to automate their supply chains will have to
continue relying on a jumble of different technologies and communications
channels — not just the Web, but also electronic data interchange (EDI)
systems, faxes and phone calls [http://www.computerworld.com/cwi/story/0,1199,NAV63_STO59259,00.html?RCKEY=0].
Interview with Core Intellect
is a relatively new online service bureau and aggregator portal. [For background
information, check the Newsbreak, "Core360 Applies Intelligent Agents to
Traditional Business Data," by Barbara Quint; http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb001204-1.htm.]
Touching base with them at Internet World seemed a good way to gauge the
impact of recent events on new players using data familiar to most professional
searchers. With a focus on creating one's own ontology depending on the
portfolio of information needs of target clients — functional groups of
line executives seeking an instant/portal view of relevant information
— Core Intellect also addresses the issues of schema, i.e., taxonomies
and thesauri, and integrating enterprise data into critical business applications.
professed that APIs (collections of software modules that are object/component
oriented) were forthcoming (late spring) for the standard enterprise-enabling
packages, i.e., links to EAI software such as SAAP and PeopleSoft. Although
Core has a proprietary portal software package (as opposed to reselling
Plumtree or Epicentric, for example), it has built its services around
the Oracle database. This should offer some investment protection and standards
orientation to Core service.
When we asked how
Core has differentiated itself from Northern Lights (an approach familiar
to most searchers), three kinds of key differentiators were described:
Interview with Steve Arnold
Precision of filtering
Robustness of the
natural language processing functionality
Steve has written
for Searcher often and we were most interested in his session on
content management. Most of the attendees were "point people" for content
management projects for individual departments or divisions of corporations.
It was clear from the interaction during the Q&A session that, although
their charters appeared fairly narrow at first glance, such as simplifying
the intranet management problem or handling some sort of version control
problem, most of the audience had significant strategic issues and IT complexity
embedded within their deliverables.
Management Mind Map
the misleading nature of the " Content Management" issue with his customary
insight and candor. I sketched out a mind map diagram during his talk (see
"Content Management Mind Map" at left).
Steve duly noted
that there appear to be something on the order of 75 content management
products out on the market, and each has defined itself in a rather self-serving
way. If you examine the implications of what most companies or even departments
mean by a content management system and move beyond document management
and version control of workers contributing unstructured text to intranets
or corporate Web sites, the picture that emerges is quite intimidating
— strategic and enterprise-wide, rather than tactical, in scope. Consequently
implementing a content management system is, typically, a 6-month project
involving a team of perhaps half a dozen dedicated people or more. These
projects are really equivalent to installing and implementing an ERP or
EAI system and can cost on the order of $1,000,000. Vignette, for example,
is marketed as such a production environment, but is actually an enterprise
integration project in disguise. As can be seen in the "Mind Map" illustration,
even if the originating framework is bounded (CRM, EAI, knowledge management,
enterprise portal), the implicit complexity of building a content management
environment is quite daunting.
About 50 percent
of the audience seemed to understand the implications; the rest were technical
implementers who saw their role as to install, configure, and deploy a
bounded document management system, i.e., a system not architected to handle
multiple data types from multiple sources nor to manage version control
issues in complex networks of contributors, but, perhaps, able to handle
the addition of a search engine without spending undo time or effort building
a taxonomy or thesaurus.
Scott, Lou, and Larry Versus
On the other side
of the coin were the offerings from NCompass [http://www.ncompass.com],
a Microsoft-architected platform.
Through the Resolution
Content Connector for Commerce Server 2000, Resolution also closely integrates
with Microsoft Commerce Server 2000 to deliver relevant and timely content
for e-commerce applications. The Resolution Content Connector was the first
product certified for use with Commerce Server 2000.
Evolution of Applications
In contrast to
the J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), which enables the explicit reuse
of business logic and business rules and associated platforms, such as
BEA WebLogic, a premier applications server environment built on the Java
platform and offering an alternative to purchasing and installing new hardware
to support every product in the Microsoft catalog, NCompass took a rather
proprietary approach. Sure NCompass has APIs to connect to legacy systems
and other infrastructure elements. However, when you hear people talking
about "COM" (no, not that "com," Microsoft's standard, called Component
Object Model) rather than "DCOM" (the open standard competitor called Distributed
Component Object Model), be prepared for a religious conversion and mandatory
attendance at the church of Redmond, Washington.
You can pick and
chose in the Sun approach, tapping multitudes of publicly accessible class
libraries, JavaBeans, and other reusable software widgets. This is not
the case in the Microsoft theology: One must build out the entire proprietary
infrastructure and product set in order to benefit from the integrative
functionality in the architecture — from BizTalk server for XML functionality
to SQL server, etc. Although the marketers and product managers in the
Microsoft booth and its partners in the ECRM exhibit hall did not manifest
a candid understanding of the implications of this, it did bear out Steve
Arnold's warnings regarding a polarization between Oracle, Sun, IBM Websphere,
BEA Weblogic, and DB2 on one side and the demons from Washington and .NET
on the other.
Convergent Evolution at Work
led me to conclude that the multiplicity of technological implements is
at a local maximum, while the capacity of customers to both take advantage
of the possibilities and change their business processes is at a local
minimum. In plain language, the combination of fear and economic downturn,
individual risk aversion and fear of job loss, coupled with the inherent
risk of assembling the wrong combination of technologies and integrators,
has led to a state of strategic inertia. Take a look at recent news releases
illustrating the overreaching of product and platform companies attempting
to deliver "total" or strategic solutions. Internet World 2001 provided
a setting that illustrated this conflict between limited customer adoption
rates and rapid technological innovation.
and Suggestions for the Searcher Community
Many of the key Internet-enabled
enterprise applications that corporations deploy have embedded within them
the ability to at least link to and sometimes intelligently extract from
The architects and
techies responsible for installing these applications will attempt to form
technical and business relationships with online database service providers
and may not solicit the input of the corporate librarian or searcher.
As opposed to the
"on-demand" model of information acquisitions that professional searchers
have lived with in the past, the new application paradigm has prepackaged
queries and target information sources built in, so that the relevant questions
are answered as the business professional performs his/her day-to-day work.
The thesauri and ontologies
underpinning these efforts within the corporation are typically conducted
without the input of the professional searcher.
Unless the searcher
tunes in to signals that any of these applications are being rolled out,
there is a strong threat that their participation will only be solicited
after the fact, when it is too late to take advantage of their expertise
and heed their warnings.
The IT folks will
typically form syndications with outside databases based on ease of integration
and conformance to standards, rather than quality of data or qualitative
excellence and utility of the information source.
The new IT model is
that if the user feels the need to explicitly ask for missing information,
the application has failed to do its job.
The IT people do not
have a business relationship with the online database providers and do
not understand how to negotiate with them effectively.
Learn how to use XML-based
applications and tools yourself or be prepared for relegation to the Mesozoic
era and disenfranchisement from corporate, Internet-enabled application
Death by a
For those not initiated
into this form of technological combat, the scenario goes something like
recent years many project veterans have discovered that as the project
unfolds, both the customer and the solutions provider redefine the requirements
as they become more knowledgeable and the original scope document becomes
more a roadblock than a roadmap. The solutions provider's project manager
attempts to reject customer needs and requests that are "out of scope,"
and the customer attempts to force the systems integrator to deliver functionality
that was implicit at the time the contract was signed, but not clearly
specified as a requirement for project success at the time.
A requirements document
is constructed that represents the client's wish list.
A SOW (statement of
work) setting the deliverables is submitted.
The client signs off
on the various milestones of progress delineated in the SOW.
The client and solution
provider engage in a mutual project management progress negotiation regarding
the traditional "Waterfall" model (see graphic below).
The solution to
this classic systems integration dilemma lies in the JAD or RAD3 model
of the project: Requirements, Analysis, Design, Development, and Deployment
all take place in parallel rather than sequentially. Digital Creations,
for example, explicitly recognizes this reality and uses object-oriented
technologies to enhance the adaptability of the time and effort to completion.
This way most clients not having the coder resources and time to build
out a Java or XML solution can still have their object-oriented cake and
eat it too. The key is to use an object-oriented project database that
allows for component re-use.
e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.