Book Review: ReWork

August 5, 2010

I recently read ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals.ReWork

(published by Crown Books ISBN 9781407062853)

Let me say it; A must read for every entrepreneur and SME business manager! I say that because to effectively cover this book – I would have to rewrite it all here word for word!

Rather than being written as a lecture or treatise, each chapter is a loose federation of points, with each point dedicated to one thought, and each thought is a only a couple of pages.

Some of these lessons you have heard before, for example, on Competitors; Who cares what they are doing?

But under Promotion; Out teach your competition is one example of brilliance. Or on Progress; Throw less at the problem

You may not agree with every point. But if you have to defend your argument – you win both ways.

Having been working with computers since the late ’80’s, I have a confession; (actually two of them!)

Are you a Mouser? or a Keyboarder?

First confession, I am a keyboarder – I avoid using the mouse and only use it when absolutely necessary.

And my second? I am a computing speed freak. Not in the sense of the biggest, fastest computer out there, but in quick response to application commands. (by that I mean keyboard commands!)

And those are two areas that Software as a Service (SaaS) is truly weak.

And yes, that even includes this WordPress blog.

In the time it takes you to click your way to your Google docs account, on my Wintel PC the CTRL-ESC keys bring up the Windows Start Menu, typing the letter ‘R’ brings up the RUN box, (if you have more then one thing starting with the letter ‘R‘ just type ‘R‘ again) and typing winword opens Microsoft Word.

Ditto opening my Web Browser Firefox.

No mouse required and fast.

In that same vein, I save my work at least every couple of lines or spreadsheet cells I write. At the absolute longest, I save every minute or two. In Windows applications CTRL-S does that. No stopping required, I can just type, type, type CTRL-S, type -and keep on going.

In fact I did that CTRL-S about 3 times in that previous line.  (I will explain that in a minute!)

That same keyboard shortcut on a web application just tries to do a Save As and tries to save it to your computer. On a Web Application You have to use the mouse to hit the save button, then just sit back and wait until that data refreshes back to you. (and probably it defaults back to the top of the page so you have to scroll down to where you were working!)

My E-Mail? CTRL-R or ALT-L replies or replies to all. Oh yes, CTRL-SHIFT-B brings up the contact list. I will race you in replying to email on your Web mail provider of choice!

It drives me nuts.

I know it is the wave of the future. And yes – I use several SaaS tools. But that is still something that annoys the hell out of me.

PS, when I write for this blog?

I write all the text you see here in Windows’ pure ASCII test editor notepad (CTRL-ESC / R / notepad) then when I have finished, I have to log in  to WordPress, select all my text (CTRL-A) copy it (CTRL-C) and past it (CTRL-V) into the new post area in WordPress.

Then I take a deep breath, hit the WordPress Save Draft button and go refill my coffee.

Photo Credit john a ward via flickr

Is Generation SaaS Here?

October 26, 2009

Treb Ryan at Sandhill.com posts the argument that this recession may be just the nudge required to push Software as a service (SaaS) over the tipping point of user adoption, possibly leaving installed software packages as a footnote in the history of the Internet.

I easily fit into most of the boxes that Mr. Ryan argues will spell the decline of the old school complex, application architecture.

….expensive, difficult to use, challenging to integrate and complex to install

Check, check, check, and check again!

I know I may sound like a broken record if you have been reading this blog for a while, but for those of us the SME space, there are still a few land mines that we have to beware of.

1) A SaaS provider of ours recently unilaterally changed the terms of our agreement. Will that have an effect on you if it occurs to you?

2) A lot of the providers in the SaaS space, and a lot of the reams of digital ink written about it are still very US-centric. What are the liabilities and jurisdictional risks we need to consider? As an example, if I, as a Canadian business, do business with Cuba – am I liable for a visit by the US Patriot Act police if my data is hosted on a SaaS vendor’s servers in California?

The SMB Takeaway

I am not saying that these are necessarily deal breakers, but a full evaluation of the risks, as well as the benefits are required to calculate if it is the best option for you.

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In part 1 of this post, I outlined how ‘C’ level executives and managers in the small to medium enterprise need to ensure that their senior IT leaders (internal or outsourced) are considering long and medium term planning horizons, not just short term planning, which is the specific, immediate actions required for particular results.

Often longer term planning can be difficult, because it will always be a moving target. (I have changed my own long term planning goals twice in the last 18 months or so) Despite being a moving target, get away from the what if.. or you will never get any planning goals off the ground.

Your IT planning has to balance the long term of where you want to be vs. the day by day steps that get you to that goal.

One Without The Other?

Does not work!

With no long term planning, short and medium term planning has no goal. No end game. No target that you are trying to aim for. And with only long term planning, you get stuck vague ideals about a perfect future – but with no immediate deliverables to begin setting you on that road. (like the old saying; if you do not know where you are going, any road will get you there)

And yes! your long term plans will probably change, be aware of it, and adjust as necessary.

In part 1 I promised to give a real world example, so here it is!

After joining my organization n the fall of 2007, I realized that our IT cost structure was way out of whack.

So easily enough my long term plan was to reduce our IT cost by at least 50%

The short term and medium term plans to get to that goal included multiple tasks, some of these were relatively easy to implement, and others that were more difficult. Examples include;

* Improving purchase approvals,processes and supplier agreements

* Improving IT costing

* Consolidating four database servers down to one

* Consolidating five application servers down to three

* Improving budget and trend analysis

You get the idea!

Some of these tasks took a lot of planning and time (eg, you can’t just pick up and move a database from one server to another – trust me on that – applications will break, software code needs to modified, etc etc)

In the interest of full disclosure, I cannot take credit for all cost reductions we achieved as our B2B customer base started feeling the pain of our current economic meltdown long before the press started talking about the recession word. When they closed their wallets, many growth and spending plans had to be shelved.

The Long Term Planning Change

OK, so my first long term plan was cutting IT costs. By middle to late 2008, the market that we call SaaS, (Software as a service)and  PaaS (platform as a service) had begun to mature.

For me? maintaining database servers and application servers are not our core competency.So my long term planning has evolved into identifying if we can successfully leverage those technologies.

The SMB Takeaway

Yes, the future is unknown, and unknowable. But that is not excuse to avoid planning for where you believe you need to be. You may modify, you may tweak, you may adjust.

In fact you may rip out and replace the whole plan.

Do it anyway!

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Photo credit coincoyote via flickr

Cloud Considerations

August 31, 2009

For SMB’s thinking of dipping their toes into the waters of SaaS (Software As A Service) Karl Palachuk has some great due diligence questions to think about on his Small Biz Thoughts blog.

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A Change In Policy

A Change In Policy

We use a hosted, online Software as a Service tool. It is not a huge or complex one, but use it for a key internal function.

As the possibility of the vendor going out of business, shutting down, or being acquired always exists, we negotiated at the outset that we wanted periodic copies of our data.

In this case, the vendor was simply supplying a raw backup of the database. In the event they did shut down, our development team could at least extract the data for import into any other tool that we wished to use.

A few weeks ago I stopped getting that data backup.

After several weeks of calls and e-mails, I finally received this;

Hi Elliot,

I am with Replicon support. I tried to contact you few minutes back to discuss this issue and reached your voicemail. I left a voicemessage for you. Currently there are some changes in our company policies because of which database backups are not provided

The SMB Takeaway

Using software applications ‘out in the cloud’ has some benefits. But there are risks.

In this case our data backup strategy for our corporate data had the rug pulled out from underneath it.

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Photo Credit JM3 via flickr

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I believe that computing will become more utility oriented. That there will be less reliance on what we currently look at as internal technology infrastructure.

My belief in this came about in the mid 80’s when I read that every automobile manufactured in North America had more computing power built into it than the NASA moon shots.

If you have read Nicholas Carr’s IT Doesn’t Matter you will notice one key difference, I never saw it as the world of software that we currently have, the way I saw it back then was along the lines of intelligent hardware devices. Similar to the “smart” thermostats in most new homes.

This type of Utility IT has often been compared to electricity – just plug it in, and pay by the sip. I have used that analogy myself.

But there is an excellent warning by Andrew McAfee, formerly at Harvard, now MIT. He argues that we should not try to simplify this concept down to the simplicity of an analogy like electricity.

His argument is that even in a more utility environment, IT is not as simple as 110 or 220 volts (North America) coming out of a socket. There is no decision to made there, no decisions or management is required around an electrical socket.

So using terms like electricity may overly simplify, or “dumb down” our thinking of IT.

And that is dangerous.

When was the last time you talked about electricity at a management meeting?

Exactly!

And even if get your IT through a wall jack (eg Salesforce.com)  There are still management decisions that must be made. We use technology to create or consume information. To do that there are work flows, business processes and certain business metrics and capabilities.

All of these will still demand management attention, demand decisions, and need to be top of mind for all businesses.

So, you can consider me a convert!

Will more and more of our IT resources continue to come from outside our walls? Yes,

But will you be able to plug in a cable and by magic have exactly the information, processes and work flows just appear? No!

It will still need management attention – lots of it.

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