Friday, May 11, 2007

 

Catchy Concepts from "The New Software Industry" Conference

I just took part in a conference on the "New Software Industry" organized by Carnegie-Mellon University's SilconValley campus and UC Berkeley (that was held at Microsoft's Mountain View offices [which were many times larger than I imagined they'd be]). I didn't know what to expect because the conference agenda seemed like a bit of a smorgasbord but it turned out to be more interesting than I'd counted on.

Whenever I attend a conference I try to make note of catchy phrases that I hear and then try to be on the lookout for them to see if they stick. There were quite a few of them.

Ray Lane, now a VC (Kleiner Perkins) and formally a top executive at Oracle talked about No-Man's Land in business models: Where you don't want to be as a software firm, in between nimble start ups and the dominant firms in particular sectors.

Michael Cusamano, a MIT business school professor and hyper-prolific author (I own The Business of Software, Microsoft Secrets, and Competing on Internet Time and that's fewer than half of the books he's written) talked about Sweet and Sour spots in the mix of products and services for software firms. Things are sweet when a firm starts to offer services (because there is plenty of profitable low-hanging fruit) but then profitability suffers until the firm nearly completes the transition to mostly services. Strategy is hard, and it isn't surprising that so many CEOs and firms aren't good at it.

My good friend Paul Maglio from IBM Almaden Services Research (who like me got a PhD in Cognitive Science from UC San Diego) gave a very animated talk about Service systems and everyone was impressed that he could rattle off his definition of them as

"value co-creation configurations of people, technology, internal and external service systems connected by value propositions and shared information"

John Zysman, a Berkeley political science professor was in the same session as Maglio and talked about service stories - because service systems are embedded in social and economic systems, the rules and roles that govern them can be very different depending on who is designing or describing them.

Tim Chou, who headed Oracle's efforts to move to Software as a Service and now has written a book about "The End of Software" (his former boss Larry Ellison probably uses it as a doorstop) talked about the nifty 9 – 9 firms that seem to be making it with SasaS business models. Chou's point is that we need to pay attention to more than just salesforce.com, everyone's poster child for SasaS.

Data lock-in – (from a panel on open source) – the dark secret that you have be wary of lock-in from vendors who can claim compliance with open source and open standards but whose business model depends on keeping your data. Also from that panel was the catchy concept of the open source lever – the tool for putting pressure on your competitors' business models by releasing your own software as open source to undercut them.

Some really great phrases came from a "debate" between Adam Blum (VP of Engineering at Mobio who was a colleague of mine at Commerce One) and Martin Griss. They debated the value of agile software methods, which were described as release, learn, change and systematic lightweight process" in contrast to the ponderous overhead of more rigorous software engineering approaches. I was almost ready to jump onto the agile bandwagon until I heard that it enabled emerging architecture which struck me as a complete oxymoron. Any architecture that emerges rather than exists at the beginning ain't architecture.

Bill Burnham (a VC) had the funniest catch phrase of the event when he said that he gets pitched a lot of hopelessly naïve business plans that follow the same Triple A Business Model of AdSense, AJAX, and Arrogance. I am going to spread this phrase into my students' vocabularies because it so concisely debunks the Web 2.0 hype.

I'll end with the buzzwords from the session that I did with Shelley Evenson of CMU (the mother ship in Pittsburgh) on Bridging the "Front Stage" and "Back Stage" in Service System Design Here's the abstract I wrote to frame the talks that Shelly and I gave:

Many approaches to services design emphasize the "co-production" that takes place in the "front stage" of face-to-face, high intensity interactions between the person providing the service and the one receiving it. But the explosive growth of self-service applications and web-based services has made it apparent that the "back stage" of services, especially those that are information-intensive, is also a critical contributor to service quality. In this session a "front stage" and "back stage" service designer discuss the need for a more comprehensive and end-to-end perspective on service design, what they can offer each other, and what they need to learn from each other.

Those of you who know me well are probably stunned to learn how much I'm reaching out to user interface and "experience design" people. For many years I focused on the information and process modeling parts of system design and didn't teach or talk much about the "front stage" of systems. But now that I'm getting into service design and have bought into the "service system" concept (or as Paul Maglio puts it - "value co-creation configurations of people, technology, internal and external service systems connected by value propositions and shared information") it seems important to recognize that the front stage is a part of it.

-Bob Glushko



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