Monthly Archives: August 2015

Freaks required

Are you the kind of person who finds it hard to work in a large company?

You’re happy to work, but you prefer to be given your list of tasks at the beginning of the week, or just be assigned a long term project, rather than minute by minute or hour by hour?

You believe strongly in the idea of ‘common sense’ – or figuring out yourself, using your expertise and judgement, what is the best way to do something, rather than being told how to do it by a machine?

You feel offended by the idea of a computer system telling you what to do?

You think the role of computer software should be to serve the user, presenting you with the information you need and encouraging you to explore it further, rather than the user basically serving the software?

Then perhaps you need to join Software for Domain Experts (by signing up to our newsletter, see the form on the left).

We’re a movement to change the way business is done. We’re not against business being managed by process but we think the emphasis on business process management may have gone too far.

Business process management can lead to people feeling deprived of their identity and self, reduced to being narcissistic egotists, or robots.

We’re starting a new movement towards expert driven software and organisations, although we have no idea how to do it. Come and join us.

Not business process management

The business process management sector is very mature – with billions of pounds spent on developing software and on developing services. It has led to big savings in industry and companies becoming very large.

But this project is not about business process management.

Business process management is about streamlining processes, making sure the right task follows the right task. To use a football analogy, the football team manager is in charge of the processes and procedures the team uses to try to win the match.

Software for domain experts is about helping the individuals to do their jobs better and gather together better information to make decisions. So to continue the football analogy, a footballer (if he had time to look at a computer screen) might refer to software to give him knowledge about the skills of other players, or which move is the best one to make next, or probabilities of where the ball is likely to be.

There’s  no competition between the two (process management and software for domain experts) but they are different.

There are times when they overlap (for example, expert decisions are part of a business process) but they are not the same thing.

Can the ‘Software for Domain Experts’ subject become as mature and evolved as business process management is?

What are the processes of an expert to make a decision

From a software developer’s point of view, here are the process an expert follows to make a decision:

PRE DECISION

  1. Have data sources including sensors, cameras, surveys, web data, commercial data, market information, company data
  2. Have tools to integrate, search, sort, visualise, analyse, present pertinent information, separate facts from probabilities, specific diagnosis tools, tools which stimulate the expert (KM)
  3. Collaborate with others

POST DECISION

 

  1. Implement the decision (communications, automation)
  2. Analyse results
  3. Share the decision process as a case study for future users.

Looking at Exact Target / Salesforce Marketing Cloud

Exact Target / Salesforce Marketing Cloud is a range of digital marketing automation and analytics software tools, covering e-mail, mobile, social and online marketing.

(The company was founded as Exact Target, offering services based on the Salesforce Cloud, and was acquired by Salesforce for $2.5bn in June 2013).

It includes tools to build a ‘single view of your customers’, build customer ‘journeys’, connect to customers with many different devices, make the most of data.

Specific industries served include retail, travel / hospitality, financial services, media / entertainment, technology, and education / non profit.

So for example in the travel / hospitality sector, its tools can be used to work with customer data (CRM, web analytics, purchase data), monitor marketing campaign success, provide personalised services (welcome emails, birthday emails, post purchase emails, customer loyalty programs).

In the education / non profit sector, its tools can be used to share content in digital communications, create email marketing messages, automate customer ‘lifecycle’ communications.

In the media sector, its tools can be used to build a view of customers, send personalised content.

In financial services, its tools can be used to share data between business units and understand customers.

For UK broadcasting company Sky, the service was used to develop a SMS survey tool, and use data generated.

Looking at OrangeScape Technologies

OrangeScape Technologies, based in Mountain View, California, with offices in Chennai, India, offers low code tools based on Google Apps, also Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and other cloud systems. It categorises its offering as ‘Platform As as Service’.

It says that its platforms have been used for hospitality booking management, materials management, loans management, credit card applications, law firm management, logistics processing and many others.

It has a special offering ‘ERP for government’, designed to help government offices to be paperless.

There are testimonials on the company website (/) from companies such as United Biscuits, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Tain Constructions, media firms, law firms, with most companies saying it turned out to be a very good and easy to manage workflow management system.

The “Kissflow’ offering, which has 10,000 users and costs $3 per user per month, is an online tool for building simple forms based workflows, such as for a company to track key performance indicators. It can run on Android and iPhones.

Looking at K2

 

K2 (www.k2.com) is a low code company based in Bellevue, USA (Washington State) with offices in London, Singapore and South Africa.

Customers with case studies on its website include Shell (oil and gas), Kimberley Clark (manufacturing), Denton’s (legal), Island Savings (financial services), Sanofi (healthcare), North Yorkshire Council (government).

The company says its products can be used in finance, human resources, operations, purchasing, sales and marketing.

Forrester describes it as a “general purpose platform which offers a bit of everything”.

Many (maybe all) of the products run on Microsoft services and software, such as SharePoint.

The “Appit” product can develop workflow and forms applications running on SharePoint in the cloud.

The “K2 blackpearl” product is more sophisticated, for building and running business applications including forms, workflow, data and reports.

A video on the company website (http://easyvshard.k2.com/) shows an actual test for building an expense claim application on K2 Smart Forms, and another programmer building the same application on asp.net.

The task on K2 was completed in 1 hour 57 minutes

The task on asp.net altogether took 17 hours 15 minutes.

Looking at Maana to make Software for Business Experts

I recently interviewed executives from a Palo Alto (US) company called Maana for our sister publication Digital Energy Journal (the full article is here).

Maana doesn’t present itself as ‘low code’ but is certainly a useful platform tool which could be used to make ‘Software for Experts’.

The main focus is helping companies to search and analyse their data – and the target market is large companies which probably have hundreds of databases and no idea how they all connect.

Perhaps a simple way to explain Maana is that it automatically helps to work out the structure of whatever data set it can see, enabling it to come up with conclusions that would be hard or impossible to do manually.

Maana’s search engine crawls, mines, analyses, classifies, clusters, connects and correlates the data, using statistics and machine learning.

Maana can mine datasets with varying degrees of structure or lack of it. For example with structured data, Maana can work out which columns have correlations with which columns, and what might be telling the user something useful.

One of the co-founders is Donald Thompson, who was previously at Microsoft, where he founded Bing’s Knowledge and Reasoning Team (project Satori), and co-founded Microsoft’s project Arena.

Maana could be used as a basis for specialist tools for expert users – combining its search capability with a little custom programming to build a very useful tool.

I talked to Maana about some applications in the oil and gas industry. 

It could be used to help avoid oil and gas drilling problems. Most drilling problems come down to physics and rock properties, such as drilling bits getting stuck. And different parts of the world have the same physics and similar rock, yet they don’t share information very much, Mr Dalgliesh says.

The software could help someone answer questions like ‘find me data for when our company had a similar problem to this, drilling in a similar geology to this, and what the company did about the problem.’

If you were getting ready to plan a well, you could use the system to find data about other similar wells, and how the drilling went, and how they produced.
You might notice (for example) that most of the permit requests for this sort of well had to be submitted several times. You can use this information to revise your expected timescales or make sure you get your permit right the first time.

You could work out which decisions made by the drilling department had the biggest impact on production a decade later, which completion techniques yield the fewest production failures, which rigs are the most efficient, which suppliers are the best, where is the best place to do well workovers, and how efficiencies can be found.

The software can be used for predictive analytics – for example one power turbine can generate 15 tb of sensor data a year, which can be used to do predictive analytics.

It could be used in maintenance. If a field technician needs to repair a certain item, Maana can list some of the problems which all those items have had before, and which parts were needed to fix them, so the technician can be make sure she has those parts in her bag.

Adrilling engineer could use the tool to write a ‘classifier’ for kick detection – a tool which would scan various real time drilling data and spot patterns indicating that a kick was happening or about to happen.

Afterwards you could analyse all the kicks which a company had during the year, what was happening before they occurred.

You could look factors such as whether a certain superintendent was on duty when many of them happened.

As another example, you might need to make a difficult decision about whether a certain well is safe for running (vertically suspended) wireline tools, because you are not sure of the gradient of the well (or if the data you have about the gradient is correct). A tool could be written to assess all the available data and make a best estimate.

You can link together different searches in sequence, for example one step to determine if a certain image is a photograph or a drawing, if it’s a photograph have a follow-up step to see if it is a face, if it is a face have a follow-up step to try to recognise the face.

Business Process Management Suites

There is a market for ‘Business Process Management’ software suites which sounds like a lot like ‘Software for Experts’.

The Wikipedia page for Business Process Management has a section on BPM technology  which says that the following a critical components of a BPM suite:

 

  • Process engine — a robust platform for modeling and executing process-based applications, including business rules
  • Business analytics — enable managers to identify business issues, trends, and opportunities with reports and dashboards and react accordingly
  • Content management — provides a system for storing and securing electronic documents, images, and other files
  • Collaboration tools — remove intra- and interdepartmental communication barriers through discussion forums, dynamic workspaces, and message boards

The Wikipedia page also says that BPM will address the critical IT issues beneath such as managing customer facing processes, consolidating data, increasing flexiblity of your data infrastructure, integrating with existing systems.

But another point to observe is that Business Process Management is not really low code – often a lot of coding is involved – these are complex systems.

Quoting the Forrester Low Code paper again, it quotes the “systems manager of a UK building society” saying that the company first worked with a fully automated BPM platform and “it took us a long time to get three processes out, and it also took at lot of IT work.”

The building society then tried a low code platform, and found it could develop new process flows, build user interfaces and construct logic much faster.

 

Case study – implementing software

Consider this story of a typical software implementation for business specialists (in this case, an oil and gas company information management system) – provided by software company KADME of Stavanger.

[This is based on an article by Gianluca Monachese, Director Business Development, KADME AS and Vasily Borisov, Director of Technology, KADME AS, to be published in Digital Energy Journal Aug-Sept issue and also presented at the PNEC conference in Houston earlier this year.]

Consider an organization which has decided to change their information management system because the software they have been using for the last 20 years is not supported anymore.

They produce a Request for Proposal (RFP), trying to describe what they want.

The RFP is often written by the most experienced users of the old system, who have been doing their work in the same way for many years. So the RFP may include specific requests based on how a certain user wants to work, such as “It should also be possible to merge results and compare data, and a table view, row view and chart view of the data must be provided”

In order to cope, vendors often end up increasing the price, to cope with the risk presented by a non-clear technical requirement that might add considerable amount of work to the scope.

The customer will most likely end up with a system that is regarded by the end users as “not as good as the previous one”, while the vendor will have developed a heavily customized, less supportable solution that deviates from the product they had developed on the basis of their technology and market research.

After software deployment, there is a lot more resistance.

If the new system is better than the old one, then it will also be better at showing the underlying data errors. It is usually the same people that are looking at the new system now who made those data management errors.

Users are reacting by default, blaming bugs in the new system, because they do not see exactly what they were seeing earlier.

It is up to the vendor to defend why the information is presented in the way it is, and to demonstrate that any inconsistencies are not due to the new system. So the new vendor can easily end up with no friends among the operational staff.

Often, the organization leaves the vendor at the mercy of the flow of critics from the end users. The project team on the customer side is quickly disbanded and the vendor is left to “support” end users that were probably not properly involved in the early stages of the project and that were not sufficiently informed about the rationale behind the change.

“Training courses” quickly turn into discussions on why the system does things in this way rather than another.

Do coders like to build stuff themselves?

 

One possible ‘back story’ behind (or obstructing) low code is the desire of coders to build stuff themselves.

The story of the person who built a piece of custom software and then got easy money for the next 10 years supporting it (and naming their price – because they are the only person who understood it) is often told within the software industry.

But more to the point, if you (as a coder) had spent years developing a skill, would you welcome making that skill redundant? It is (in a sense) as likely as London Underground drivers voting for driverless trains?

Perhaps the truth is that Low Code could mean quite a bit of change in the employment market for coders. Hand coders could become more redistributed – with more employment in low code companies and a few super specialist coders working for big companies doing specialist integrations.

But there will also be a growing market for people who can configure, understand, adapt, use their brains creatively and work out new solutions. That could be more exciting than coding.