Sunday, March 30, 2008


Taiwan Missile Myopia – It’s data quality that matters!

This last week (26 March 2008) the US Department of Defense confessed to making an embarrassing mistake – discovered only recently – that a year and a half ago it sent Taiwan four high-tech electrical fuses for Minuteman missile nose-cone assemblies instead of UH-1 Huey helicopter batteries. Because these missiles carry nuclear warheads, most of the commentary about the story has been concerned with nuclear proliferation in general or on the more specific impact on US relations with China, which views any military support of Taiwan as an intrusion into domestic affairs. But I think that focusing on this specific episode – this "Missile Myopia" – is missing a bigger point.

I recognize that this mix-up has political implications, but it is probably not uncommon for the wrong items to be shipped from supply warehouses. The DOD hasn't said anything specific about the part numbers or classifications for the mixed-up items, but perhaps they are easily confusable – visually similar (1 vs. l [that's "one" and "lowercase L"]), or transpositions (ab vs. ba) or transformations (abba vs. abaa [doubling errors are common typing mistakes]) of each other.

(There is a mini-science about these kinds of confusability and typing errors, and unfortunately it is often exploited by spammers and domain name hijackers [e.g., micorsoft]).

Or perhaps the part numbers for electrical fuses and helicopter batteries are the same (after all, they certainly come from different suppliers, and every supplier creates his own numbering scheme) and the real mistake is that "classified" or "unclassified" parts were put into the same part of the supply warehouse.

By coincidence, less than a month ago in my Document Engineering course we read a short case study article from CIO Magazine called
"Operation Clean Data"
that describes several efforts to deal with bad data. The first is dead-on relevant to this current Taiwan Missile Crisis. It concerns the British military's efforts to clean up the information in its supply chain by reconciling 850 different information systems, and integrating three inventory management systems…

To one system, stock number 99 000 1111 was a 24-hour, cold-climate ration pack. To another system, the same number referred to an electronic radio valve. And if hungry troops were sent radio valves instead of rations, the invasion and rebuilding of Iraq wouldn't have gone very far.

The British military isn't helping us much in Iraq any more, but if it still wants to help us win "the global war on terror" maybe it can send us some of their data cleanup people to help us fix our supply warehouse problems.

-Bob Glushko

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Turning Your Brand into a Destination

We are all familiar with places that are named after geophysical features (Land's End, Three Rivers, Spring Mountain Road), after road and highway "architecture" (Five Points, Spaghetti Junction), or after a person with some actual or inspirational relationship to the place (Berkeley, Jefferson City, Tyson's Corner).

(In another post here about naming, I discussed how the FAA has made airplane navigation points more memorable by giving regions distinctive semantic "landmarks." For example, the nav points around Montpelier VT are HAMMM, BURGR, and FRYYS, while the series of points that guide pilots into St Louis include SCRCH, BREAK, FATSS, and QBALL).

Occasionally a place becomes strongly associated with a business establishment and this name supplants the previous name for it (e.g.,the shopping mall called the Metreon is now a more salient place for most San Franciscans than "Yerba Buena Gardens"). But this week I learned of a new twist in assigning names to places to make a business name its original name.

A full-page ad in the 24 March 2008 "Business Week" contains an offer by the Roads and Transit Authority of Dubai Metro titled "turn your brand into a destination" that is described as "the ultimate branding and marketing opportunity."

The ad says that I can put my brand on a Dubai Metro station of my choice, or one of the two lines in the Dubai Metro Network. It would be intriguing to have a "Bob Glushko Station" in the Dubai Metro, but I don't feel like getting into a bidding war with Coke or Price Waterhouse or IBM. I wonder if the RTA would accept a Christian Broadcast Network station (I've sent the RTA an email asking about their terms and conditions... I'll post a follow-up if I hear back).

But what really intrigues me is why a country as wealthy as the UAE, whose foreign currency reserves are in the hundreds of billions of dollars, could possibly need the money from selling off its naming rights. It isn't like poor San Francisco, which has changed the name of its publicly-owned baseball park three times (Candlestick, 3Com, Monster) to raise a few million bucks. And naming rights or no naming rights, everyone here still calls it Candlestick.

(No, I'm not talking about the privately-owned baseball park in San Francisco, which has been officially "branded" by its owners as PacBell Park, SBC Park, and AT&T Park and unofficially branded by a lot of us as "Barry Bonds Park" since Barry is why most of us ever saw a baseball game there).

-Bob Glushko

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Congratulations to Covisint

I was very pleasantly surprised to run across an article in my printed copy of Information Week (25 February 2008) titled "Covisint Drives New Niche in Health Care Exchange Market." The story announced that Covisint will be using its "secure on-demand collaboration platform" to support "the nation's first statewide e-heath network" in Tennessee. But what was the big news to me was that Covisint now hosts exchanges in all sorts of different industries. I had just never noticed, so I want to offer my belated congratulations to Covisint for reasons I'll now explain.

It turns out that I have some very significant history with Covisint. I was in charge of XML architecture and standards at CommerceOne in 1999 when automakers GM, Ford, and Chrysler set up Covisint and chose our "Marketsite" software as the "secure on-demand collaboration platform." A joint approach to e-business for multiple automakers made a lot more sense than going it alone because so many suppliers in the auto industry provide materials and components to more than one OEM. This deal was huge for CommerceOne because it was the first significant vertical or industry-focused exchange we'd won – up to then we'd been selling to telcos setting up horizontal, regional exchanges. The deal happened in the fall of 1999 and caused a huge run up in CommerceOne's stock price that I took full advantage of at the end of December when our 180-day post-IPO "lockup" expired and we were allowed to sell stock. I have always felt grateful to Covisint for their vote of confidence in CommerceOne because of this very direct impact it had on my life since 1999.

But in the following couple of years Covisint just didn't get the traction that everyone hoped and the original automotive B2B exchange more or less fizzled out, and at the same time CommerceOne went into a tailspin like so many other Internet bubble companies. So after I left CommerceOne and started teaching at UC Berkeley in 2002, I didn't pay much attention to Covisint, which by then had been sold and reorganized.

I always had a very abstract notion of the "marketplace" platform we invented at Veo Systems (a start-up CommerceOne acquired in 1998) – you can see this in the patents we filed in 1998 (like this one) that describe how:

A market making node in a network routes machine readable documents to connect businesses with customers, suppliers and trading partners

The self defining electronic documents, such as XML based documents, can be easily understood amongst the partners.

Definitions of these electronic business documents, called business interface definitions, are posted on the Internet, or otherwise communicated to members of the network.

The business interface definitions tell potential trading partners the services the company offers and the documents to use when communicating with such services.

You see — there is no mention of telcos or auto makers or healthcare providers or any specific industry here – it is just a platform on which a market operator hosts services implemented using XML document interfaces. That's what we invented back in 1998, and it is really gratifiying to see how Covisint now embodies this elegant vision as a platform for services in so many different industries.

So congratulations, Covisint.

-Bob Glushko

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Open, Configurable Workspace and the “paperless office”

Our recent class reading about the “Myth of the Paperless Office” and the case of DanTech reminded me of the recently-built CalIT2 building I used to worked in at UC San Diego.

The layout of the building is very similar to the description of DanTech’s new venue given by Sellen & Harper. It has wide, open spaces with highly mobile furniture that allow people to reconfigure their working environment. Each wheeled desk is equipped with a computer, along with a small, wheeled storage unit to hold documents and office supplies. Hallways around the perimeter are lined with large whiteboards and chairs, encouraging impromptu meetings and contributions.

I did not realize the minimal use of paper in my workplace until I reread this piece. As the authors point out, reducing the amount of paper stored at a desk “[breaks] the shackles” or anchors that tie a user to a bounded physical space. In the case of my former workplace, the open spaces and minimal storage areas, along with the work processes, facilitated the reduction in paper use. However, like the DanTech case, paper is not completely absent from the workplace. As the authors point out, there are many affordances that paper lends to users. In my case, paper was used as reminders of recent tasks or upcoming events, and to take specific meeting notes.

I think paper is too useful to disappear completely from the work environment. Unless technology produces something that can provide/emulate the almost-innumerable affordances and uses of paper, I believe it is safe to bet that paper is here to stay.

-Michael Lee

On a related note, here are links to descriptions of my Interactive Cognition Laboratory colleagues’ works on similar topics:

Studying how layout affects work

Context Aware Office

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Synchronizing the World of Commerce

My most recent lecture (2008-03-05) in my Document Engineering course was about the "Co-evolution of business patterns and technology." This lecture marks the transition between the first part of the course in which I teach business model, process, and information patterns to give students some abstract conceptual foundations for the second part, in which I teach analysis and design methods for identifying and applying those patterns.

One of the themes of this co-evolution is that information about goods now has value independent of the value of the goods. That is, information about where products are, who uses them, and when and how they are used can be worth more than the products themselves.

So it was a nice coincidence on the day before my lecture that I was gazing outside my office window and noticed the UPS delivery truck parked in front of South Hall, the home of the School of Information where I work at UC Berkeley. Because of UPS' ubiquitous brown delivery trucks, most people would think that UPS is in the "delivery business." But it isn't. The slogan on the side of the truck is “Synchronizing the World of Commerce," which emphasizes the information about deliveries that UPS captures and manages, not the deliveries themselves. None of my students knew "what business UPS says it is in" when I asked them during my lecture, but they do now.

There have been many other posts here that touch on different aspects and case studies of these "information supply chains." Here are some of them:

Paperless international shipping

Antonio, Your Ships Are Lost -- Don't Borrow from Shylock!

Food Information Services and "Produce Provenance"

RFID May Be Key To Finding Latest Mad Cow Case

-Bob Glushko

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?