FC November 2005  


November 30, 2005

Collaboration and Interoperability

Since Monday evening I have been in Brussels attending a CIO workshop on Collaboration and Interoperability, hosted by Bentley Systems and Farkas Berkowitz. I have had the privilege of joining about 20 CIOs and senior IT execs from both global EPC (Engineering Procurement Construction) and the European AEC/Building industry players and engaging with them on the challenges they are facing with collaborative working.

Before I leave Brussels on the Eurostar a bit later this morning - my general observations on the event. Besides Bentley Systems I was the only representative of a technology consultancy / software vendor in the room and there was absolutely no salesmanship involved in the days events. Instead the focus was on a group of technologists facing common problems and discussing common approaches to solutions on an industry-wide basis. A fair bit of conversation was centred around the working practices of the aerospace sector and the global EPC sector (particulary the energy energy) and how to translate these into other industry spaces such as Infrastructure (Airports/Rail/Water/Road) and building - which are normally not global in scope.

The standout characteristic of the conversations all day long was the unanimous recognition of the problems faced and agreement that the solutions are to be found through all the participants in the supply chain working together, driven top-down by the owner/operators (the client organisations). Both the client representatives and the engineers/contractors agreed that unless the top of the supply chain demands collaboration and standardisation then the change will not happen. Everyone agreed that the efficiencies to be derived will drive significant cost savings to the top of the supply chain and that this business case has been proven time and again in diverse industries over the last 15 years. It was also acknowledged that the business case for this type of improvement is not clear to many of the consultants and time and materials contractors within the supply chain. Because of this it is down to the owner/operators within each industry sector to work together and agree to shoulder the cost of standards definition and of educating the supply chain. No small task, certainly - but one through which significant value can be unlocked.

The holy grail for standardisation within any of the industry sectors served by the EPC and AEC supply chains is a full standards-based data model for all of the materials, equipment, and engineering which moves through the supply chain. The idea held wide currency that a drawing, for example, should be merely a snapshot or report at a point-in-time from the data store - rather than a proprietary document format containing unstructured data.

The desired result was that an owner/operator could lay out the DATA and the standard data format which he/she expected as a result of the design process and therefore leave the choice of software tools within the supply chain completely up to the designers and engineers.

People in the room looked primarily to the ISO organisation and to its STEP standards to lead this and secondarily to industry standards organisations such as the IAI and FIATECH in the States.

Posted by ndoughty at 5:12 AM | Comments (0)

November 9, 2005

More on Microsoft

The New York Times has an article about the gates and ozzie memos. The article is brief but catches the high points of Ozzie's memo - which in my opinion is right on the money about what Microsoft needs to be doing over the next five years in order to maintain their dominant position - focus on delivering an internet platform which makes collaborative services development as easy as pie and which is seamless across devices and environments... As ever, Microsoft is both friend and foe for software vendors such as my company (Microsoft calls us all "ISV"s for Independent Software Providers - implying "indepent" of Microsoft of course! :)). The trick is to stay nimble and stay ahead of them in the value creation game or risk seeing everything you do delivered in the next release of Windows.

For those of you who are not familiar with Ray Ozzie - he is nowadays CTO at Microsoft - but he has something of a rock star past in the collaborative software world. He was an early developer of Lotus 1-2-3, and then founded Lotus Notes (groupware!) - which he sold to IBM, and later founded Groove Networks (web-based collaboration!) which he then sold to Microsoft in the process becoming CTO (the post once held by Nathan Myhrvold). He has a blog, which he appears not to have updated since before he joined Microsoft. MS of course already has Sharepoint and Groove out there in the market, not to mention Exchange and Outlook, and this memo of Ozzie makes it clear that they will be rumbling and/or lumbering ever futher into the collaborative software space in years to come.

Posted by ndoughty at 3:31 PM | Comments (1)

Microsoft Internal Memos

I don't know for certain that this is real - but I would think Dave Winer from Scripting News, the developer of RSS and a co-developer of SOAP - is a reputable source.

Internal memos from Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie about internet services.

Posted by ndoughty at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

Speaking of ESB

I just received an email inviting me to this event in Portman Square in London at the end of the month. I won't attend as I have other commitments - I am going to Brussels at that time for a collaboration forum at Bentley Systems - but the bit about hearing from the Head of Architecture at P&O Ferries on using Service Oriented Architectures in real-life sounds like it would be interesting. In any case the email has served its purpose of making me aware of Cape Clear which has an office here in London in Chiswick.

Posted by ndoughty at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

November 8, 2005

India as a Strategic Business Partner

The NCCTP conference is not the only event I will be attending on November 15th. In the afternoon I will be at a conference sponsored by the Financial Times and NASSCOM, India's National Association of Software and Services Companies. The conference is called India as a Strategic Business Partner and Asite's chairman, Colin Goodall, will be making a presentation there about software opportunities in India in the Engineering sector and about Asite's successes in operating in this sector multinationally between the UK and India during the last two years. Colin will be joined by two other speakers during this session focused on engineering services: Richard Granger, the Director General of the NHS, and Bob Sullivan, the Commercial MD of Bleistahl.

This event will be held in Central London on the 15th and should be my second group of interesting discussions of the day!

Posted by ndoughty at 3:49 PM | Comments (0)

NCCTP - Making Collaboration Pay

We (Asite, that is) belong to an industry group called NCCTP, which stands for Network for Construction Collaboration Technology Providers - a bit of an unwieldy appellation but without a doubt a worthy cause. The modus operandi of the NCCTP is twofold. Firstly, on the techical level, to agree and implement a standard for interoperability between project collaboration systems, focusing initially on basic project and document/drawing information. The commercial argument for software providers for removing the barrier to entry of lock-in is old and well understood. In my view of the world interoperability is clearly a win-win for providers as well as the customer base. The second focus for the group is to promote the use of collaboration technologies in a wider way within the construction industry and to help build the market.

To this second end the NCCTP has organised a conference which takes place next week on November 15, called Making Collaboration Pay, to be held in Portman Square in London. I will be there in the morning along with my colleagues and the rest of the NCCTP. Should be a very interesting day. If you are in London and interested in these subjects then I encourage you to register.

Posted by ndoughty at 2:42 PM | Comments (0)

ESB - what about ISB ?

Iona, the sponsors of the open source ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) project Celtix, have reached their first delivery milestone - a tested binary release with "end-to-end" functionality. They are one among at least a couple of open source projects which are playing in the ESB space. There is another called Mule, and Sun Microsystems is entering as well with the Open ESB project, built on top of Java Business Integration standards.

These developments are to be expected with the market for ESB technologies growing as rapidly as it seems to be. Major players like Sonic, IBM with Websphere, Oracle, and BEA have certainly been making a lot of noise about it all. I've been following the rise of this product category with interest over the last 2 years. The underlying idea of a service bus is a simple one and is a standard tool in systems architecture. It is the same concept as the Universial Serial Bus (USB) technology which allows you to plug any number of different peripherals into your laptop, PC, or server. USB takes care of the connectivity and communication between the different pieces of kit - and an ESB does the same thing for software applications and business data within the enterprise.

The e-marketplace business model, of which Asite is one of relatively few examples born out of the dot-com boom which continue to prosper - is the same model as well, only applied to the supply chain - or the industry at large. I like to think of this product category as an ISB - or Industry Service Bus. (I have the weakness of a techie for three-letter-acronyms). The point is providing a common bus for inter-enterprise electronic communication, providing guaranteed message transport and translation services with connectors for common formats and common enterprise applications (or common ESB applications once they become de riguer in my particular industry). Our marketing literature refers to these ideas as "delivering data logistics" - which uses another metaphor, this time pulled from a more traditional industry - the postal service. The underlying technology we have been running since 2000 to provide these services (Sonic Messaging, J2EE/XSLT integration platform, and Commerce One codebases for e-procurement and supply chain management) - have identical underlying components to the products which are the subject of this current ESB marketing frenzy - and identical functions. I believe the marketing spend of the giants on the ESB category cannot help but have a trickle-down benefit to smaller and more vertically-focused players like us - if only in terms of helping to better define the product set in the minds of industry.

For further info here is my standard link to Wikipedia for ESB.

Posted by ndoughty at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

November 7, 2005

Back in the saddle

I have just returned from a week of "holiday" - if you can call moving house a holiday - and a trip to India the week before. I see that in my absence this blog has been noticed and that further to that Paul Wilkinson from BIW has gone on to make a few observations about Asite. Paul, you may be interested in a story about Justin King, the CEO of Sainsburys, which I believe used to be a BIW client. Mr. King makes it a practice to spend every Friday visiting local stores around the country and speaking to employees and customers about problems at ground level. I would have thought that answering phones which come in on a hunt group and speaking to customers directly is a more than appropriate activity for a growing software company working to deliver value to its clients. We are a startup software provider after all, not a bulky law firm or a bank in the city!

On another note, I recently purchased Paul's new book, Construction Collaboration Technologies - The Extranet Evolution, from Amazon, and have started in on reading it. Congratulations and very well done to Paul on the publication and I shall report back with an FC review once I have finished!

Great to be back!

Posted by ndoughty at 11:30 AM | Comments (2)

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