Category Archives: Technology

Top “Clouded” Technology Words

Words may be the single most useful tool we have as humans to effectively communicate with one another. Words allow us to describe how we are feeling and what we are thinking.  Every word means something different, heck, we even have dictionaries to define the meaning of each and every word.  So why then are there certain words that nobody can quite pinpoint the correct definition?

The inspiration for this article came about recently while talking with a prospect. The prospect wanted to know if Ei Dynamics was a “Business Intelligence” product.  I had to pause and think for a minute and eventually retorted, “I guess that depends on what your definition of ‘Business Intelligence’ is. Why don’t you tell me what your definition and understanding of this term is, and then I’ll tell you if we fit into your definition.” We don’t classify our product as a “Business Intelligence” solution, but it certainly has functions and capabilities found in business intelligence solutions. The term “Business Intelligence” has morphed into such a generic term that I had to determine what the prospect’s definition of the word was before I could provide a reasonable answer.

Words On Fire = Distorted Meanings

Technology terms have become clouded in their meanings. Maybe it happens in all types of industries, but for some reason it seems like the IT industry is notorious for coming up with words and phrases to describe a process, a software class or a type of functionality. Then if it catches fire, the industry distorts the term to the point where nobody understands what it means any faster than you can blink. Sales and marketing people are wizards at doing this. As soon as a new word or phrase catches fire, they try to find any angle or possible opportunity to incorporate it into their product literature wherever possible. For example, when web based applications were all the rage several years ago, all of a sudden every application on the market incorporated the term “Web Enabled”.  Some companies would create a help file and display it in HTML through a web browser and claim their application was “Web Enabled”.  The problem is that when companies do this, it distorts the meaning of a word and makes it difficult for the end users to know what a term really means and how to differentiate one solution from another.

The following is my top list of technology words that I think have become “Clouded” (pun intended).

Business Intelligence — The term business intelligence (BI) was originally coined by a researcher at IBM in the 1950s. In the 1980s with the evolution of modern database systems, data warehouses and executive information systems, the term gained more steam. The Gartner Group brought the term into the mainstream in the 1990s, and the term soon covered a broad area range of functions focused around technologies such as data integration, data quality, data warehousing, master data management, text and content analytics.

I originally associated the term “Business Intelligence” with report writers like Crystal Reports and financial analysis tools like Lotus 123 and Microsoft Excel. But as soon as the term became mainstream, everyone wanted to claim that they did BI. I knew the term was doomed when low level business executives who barely knew how to turn on their computer were throwing the term around like cheap hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party. Today almost every vendor in the market claims to have BI capabilities. Seriously, just randomly select 10 vendors of almost any business software and read their literature, and I guarantee you will find the term “Business Intelligence” intertwined into their product information at some level. I guess since almost every application on the market stores some type of data, provides output on that data and has some type of reporting capability, technically all applications do BI. But where does that leave those of us truly looking for a BI tool? How do we differentiate hyperbole from substance? Basically, when a term is used ubiquitously by everyone it becomes meaningless and, in my opinion, that is what has happened to the term Business Intelligence.

Cloud Computing — This term really took off in the mid 2000s after Amazon started offering virtual servers hosted on their “Cloud Computing” platform. Basically, you could lease a server just like the one sitting in the closet in your office … anytime, anywhere and for only a few minutes or indefinitely. They called it “the cloud” because you didn’t know where the physical server actually resided (nor did you care). It was as if the server was “up in the clouds”. You knew it was there, but you couldn’t see it or touch it. Amazon threw lots of marketing dollars around this service and the term “Cloud Computing”, and soon it was the new hot word. Eventually, everyone wanted to jump on the “Cloud Computing” bandwagon. SalesForce.com who originally marketed themselves as a SAAS (Software as a Service) solution, started referring  their web CRM service as a cloud based system. Citrix, whose core product offering hadn’t changed in almost 20 years, started to refer to their product as a “Cloud” based solution.  Today most people equate “The Cloud” with anything being on the internet or being accessible via an internet connection. This broad definition has significantly modified the essence of the original definition and has certainly “clouded” the meaning.

Today when people ask us if Ei Dynamics is cloud based, I have to ask what their definition of “Cloud Based” means.  There are so many different connotations of this term that it’s impossible to know what someone is referring to anymore without qualifying his/her definition of the term. Here are some common ways people think of the “Cloud” today…

  • Anything delivered through a web browser
  • Any access to data remotely via an internet connection
  • Ability to access a server via a RDP or Citrix connection
  • Any web based software such as Gmail, SalesFoce.com, Office 365

Workflow — Ei Dynamics is actually marketed and sold as a workflow solution, so this term is really personal in nature to me. I take it personally because when the term is misused or misrepresented, it directly affects our ability to articulate to prospective buyers what we do and how we differentiate from other solutions.

At Ei Dynamics we define workflow as the implementation of technology to systematically eliminate or reduce the manual and repetitive processing associated with a defined business process. We sometimes even refer to workflow as the robotization of business processes.

Unfortunately, in the software world –  because the allure of automation is so strong and because workflow software has traditionally been associated with providing a framework from which business processes can be automated –  many vendors and marketers include this term within their marketing and sales literature because it carries positive connotations. As a result of the overuse of the word to describe almost everything remotely associated with automation, the word has become significantly degraded. I even recently saw a promotional email from a major accounting software vendor who was promoting the fact that the ability to print a report from within their system was an aspect of how their software offered a workflow solution. Not sure if I’d go as far as claiming false advertising, but you make your own conclusion.

ERP has become synonymous with accounting software. ERP — Per Wikipedia, in 1990 Gartner Group first employed the acronym ERP as an extension of material requirements planning (MRP), later manufacturing resource planning and computer-integrated manufacturing. Without supplanting these terms, ERP came to represent a larger whole, reflecting the evolution of application integration beyond manufacturing. Not all ERP packages were developed from a manufacturing core. Vendors variously began with accounting, maintenance and human resources. By the mid–1990s ERP systems addressed all core functions of an enterprise. Beyond corporations, governments and non–profit organizations also began to use ERP systems.

Today the term ERP is essentially an acronym for any and all “accounting software”.  Once Quickbooks started marketing their software as an ERP system, the term ERP basically became generalized. I’ve included this word as one that has become “clouded” because in the past when someone said they had an ERP system it actually carried some weight and status and evoked thoughts such as big company, sophisticated, complicated operations. Now basically your $100 copy of Quickbooks is an ERP system.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, it appears where money and business are concerned, nothing is sacred when it comes to words and their meaning. People have time and time again proven they will twist, manipulate and distort words without impunity if it provides them some type of competitive advantage. The result is that words get distorted over time, they lose their meaning, consumers become confused and new words are created to restore meaning and clarity.

 

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: SalFalko via photopin cc

A Beginner’s Guide to Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) Software

Ever heard of the terms business activity moniBusiness activity monitoring software creates alerts to watch for errors and inconsistencies, saving you time and worry. toring, business alerts and email alerts? The phrases themselves are somewhat self-explanatory, but there is a lot more behind these words and the software that they were invented to describe. Through the course of selling and implementing our own business activity monitoring (BAM) software at Ei Dynamics, I’ve found that there is still much confusion and even complete ignorance on what BAM is and does.  Thus, I wanted to take the time to put together a comprehensive overview of what BAM is and how it can help companies become more efficient and profitable. My other motive is to enlighten those who have influence in this space so that they might educate themselves to better help their own customers.

Unlocking the Unknown

At Ei Dynamics we eat sleep and live automation, and sometimes when you are that close to something you forget that what might be common knowledge to you is not common to others.  It struck me recently that I might have lost touch with reality a little bit during a conversation with a prospective reseller.

I was explaining how our software can easily monitor almost any data and send triggered alerts to people when an exception was identified.  He said that it sounded neat but that he’s never had a customer ask for something like this so it’s probably not something they would be interested in. My gut reaction was that they probably aren’t asking, because they don’t know something like this even exists or is available to companies like them.

I realized from this conversation that maybe there needs to be more education on what exactly Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) is, so here it is:

A Beginner’s Guide to Business Activity Monitoring (BAM)

Definition

Wikipedia says business activity monitoring (BAM) is software that aids in the monitoring of business activities implemented in computer systems.

Here is my definition … The process of using computer software to electronically monitor business data based on user-defined business rules and the systematic electronic notification when those rules are triggered. When an exception to the rule is identified, notification events typically occur in the form of an email, text message, social networking post or desktop pop-up.

Depending on who you talk to there are also several other common terms for BAM that are also used interchangeably such as:

  • Business Alerts
  • Exception Alerts
  • Email Alerts
  • Electronic Monitoring Notifications
  • Triggered Messaging
  • Business Intelligence (Note: This term, however, is incredibly overused and has so many different meanings and connotations depending on who you talk to that it is almost unintelligible anymore…a bit like how the term “Cloud Computing” has recently become overused and diluted in meaning.)

Objectives and Benefits

The objective of BAM is to enable companies to make better informed decisions by giving them visibility across their organization in a real-time capacity.

The general paradigm followed by most organizations today—to determine if there is a problem or an actionable item—is to manually run reports, view on-screen dashboards or log in to their business systems and use some type of built-in inquiry to view actionable information. This is a largely manual exercise and leaves a tremendous amount of room for error, because a human being must remember to look in the right place and “pull” the correct information.

With BAM, rules are predefined and automatically executed by a computer, eliminating human error.  The computer simply runs its business rules at predefined intervals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and then “pokes” or “alerts” the correct individual(s) when there is some type of actionable item.

BAM enables business users to focus on immediate important things and eliminates the need for the manual, repetitive exercise of having to remember to constantly log in to a system or run a report or check a file. The added benefit is that the more of these steps we can automate and transfer to the computer, the more time we have to focus on other things to improve the business.

Common Features

A BAM system is typically comprised of the following features.

  • Business Rules Engine — Allows users to set up business rules for the software to follow. The rules engine might be a combination of SQL, scripting language, functions and data filtering. (Note: Depending on the BAM system, some rules engines are more user friendly than others. Some are SQL query based, some are script/code based, while others are wizard driven via graphical user interface. There can be pros and cons to each.)

  • Notification Engine — Provides options to set up an email, text message or social networking post when an exception is identified.  Some products offer very basic text-based emailing, while others provide full HTML email capabilities including email personalization whereby the recipient and email content can be determined at run time. Having HTML capabilities is ideal, because it allows for more professional and aesthetically pleasing presentations of information to the end user. Types of notification options include:

    • Email
    • Text Message
    • Instant Messaging
    • Social Networking (Twitter, LinkedIn)
    • Desktop Pop-ups
  • Database connectivity — Different BAM systems will connect to data differently but in general most use an ODBC or OLEDB connection (a common database interface). More advanced systems will provide proprietary connectors to non-ODBC compliant systems or have the capability to allow you to talk to data via a web service or API. Types of connectors include:

    • ODBC
    • OLEDB
    • Text, CSV
    • XML
    • JSON
    • Web Service (SOAP or REST)
    • Proprietary
  • Logging — A BAM system should also provide some mechanism to track when an alert was sent or if any errors occurred during the processing. Without being able to track alerts, it’s difficult to gauge trends, larger issues, etc.

Practical Applications

There are many practical and useful applications for a BAM system. BAM systems allow us to automate things that we may otherwise be required to do manually.  A properly implemented BAM system can be like having a thousand set of eyes looking and watching for things on our behalf and always ready to let us know if there is an issue or reason to be notified.

Think of how much more productive and content you would be if you didn’t have to remember to do all the things you’re supposed to do or take care of. Wouldn’t it be great if you had a personal assistant that did all the remembering for you and simply reminded you when something needed to be done or taken care of? That’s the benefit of BAM!

There is virtually an unlimited number of applications for a BAM system. With that said, here are some examples of how a typical company might use BAM within each of their departments:

Accounting:BAM software can generate alerts for a variety of needs throughout your business.

  • Monitor account balances and send an alert if a balance meets or exceeds threshold.
  • Notify someone in the accounting department when and if a new GL account is added to the accounting system.
  • Notify customers when their accounts receivable balance becomes aged beyond a specified number of days.
  • Send an email to an AP vendor when their invoice has been identified as paid in the accounting system.

Operations:

  • Monitor budgets and notify project managers when a line item in the budget come within threshold or exceeds budget.
  • Monitor inventory levels and notify warehouse manager when an item comes within or below specified stocking limits.
  • Monitor vendor/customer/employee setup and notify appropriate individuals when information is not entered or is entered incorrectly.
  • Monitor compliance fields such as project due dates or insurance expiration dates and notify someone on or before said deadlines are passed.

Sales and Marketing:

  • Automatically notify customers when an order has been fulfilled or shipped from warehouse.
  • Match customer profiles with goods and services and notify customers when new goods or services are available that they might benefit from.
  • Automatically send customer statement or invoice upon completion of work.
  • Auto respond to customer inquiries via website feedback form.

Human Resources:

  • Monitor payroll and time and alert managers if an employee exceeds maximum hours allowed or falls below minimum requirements.
  • Monitor vacation and other employee benefits SHR  and notify employee when vacation or sick time benefits are about to expire or when thresholds are about to be met.
  • Automatically notify employees of key company events such as holidays or open enrollment periods.
  • Monitor employee setup and notify HR manager is information is missing or inconsistent with company policy and procedures

Availability/Commercial Solutions

narrowMany commercial software vendors are slowly incorporating more and more BAM functionality directly into their own products. However, these solutions are typically very narrow in focus and flexibility. For example, they might have a feature to notify you or a customer if an invoice becomes aged over a certain number of days, but if you wanted to change the email text or how many people get notified or modify the notification conditions to something custom you might not be able to do any of it. You get what the vendor built and how they perceived it should work.

A good analogy along these lines might be in the area of report writing whereby many software vendors over the years built their own report writers directly into their own products. However, because these vendors are not experts in report writing, their products typically are not as robust or feature rich as a commercial report writer like Crystal Reports or Microsoft SQL Reporting Services. Depending on your company’s needs and requirements this may or may not be a factor.

If you want a robust, highly customizable BAM specific solution there are commercially available solutions from vendors like Ei Dynamics all the way up to vendors like IBM. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of vendors in this space that focus on just BAM and many of the solutions tend to be geared toward the higher end of the market, incorporating more advanced functionality such as Work Flow, EDI and ETL. Therefore, the costs can swing wildly from just under $1,000 to well over $100,000.

If you are interested in BAM technology, I encourage you to explore the many benefits it has to offer. You can find more information on the Ei Dynamics website. Also, feel free to send me a note by posting a comment below, and I’ll either reach out privately or respond online.

photo credit: Tara-Jane Hulligan Zuk via photopin cc
photo credit: http://www.eidynamics.com/ProductInfo/DynamicAlerts.aspx
photo credit: coolmonfrere via photopin cc

3 Rules For Determining If You Should Pursue a Technology Project

Sometimes utilizing technology is not the best option. Determining whether or not a technology initiative should be pursued is a dilemma that most companies constantly struggle with.  Just because we can apply technology to something doesn’t mean we should always do it even if we can afford it or it’s easy to implement.  Thus, we must establish some basis for determining which projects to pursue or not to pursue.

At Ei Dynamics, we get inquiries all of the time from companies looking to automate various types of processes.  The first thing my sales team and I do is to determine if what the prospect is trying to do makes sense and if we should even continue a dialogue or end the discussion sooner than later. This may sound a little unorthodox for a company that’s trying to sell a product, but our time is just as valuable as anyone’s. The last thing we want to do is spend our valuable, limited time chasing down opportunities that are not right for us, and, even more importantly, that won’t bring value to our customer.

For example, a company recently reached out looking for a solution that could monitor their inventory data and send email alerts to their purchasing manager when certain items dropped below a specified level.  So far so good … this type of functionality is directly in our wheelhouse and something we’ve done for dozens of companies. However, after a little discovery, we determined that they were a very small company with a limited budget and used QuickBooks. Even though we have a solution that could easily meet all of their criteria, it was not a good fit. QuickBooks was the first red flag, but the most important sign was that the alert they wanted to automate wasn’t going to really save them much time or money given the amount of effort they currently put into manually handling the process.

So, the magic question is, when should we and when should we not use technology to solve our problems?  Obviously, there is no definitive right or wrong answer here, but I have three simple rules that I generally follow to make a determination if we should pursue a technology project that I think you might benefit from as well.

As Easy as 1, 2, 3

Here are three simple rules I use to determine if we should apply technology to solve a problem:

1) Cost vs Benefit — Do the benefits of implementing a technical solution exceed the costs, or do we at least recoup our costs within a reasonable time frame? For example, let’s say it would take 40 hours of consulting at $150 per hour to automate a specific task that takes a person paid $50 per hour approximately 30 minutes once a month to complete.  Mathematically our consultant fees are three times as much as our employee costs, thus, our effective break-even point is 120 man hours.  At this rate, given the task is only performed once a month, it would take 40 years to break even on this project.

For me, personally, this would more than likely not be a project that I would spend my time, energy or money to fix. Additionally, if you were a client of mine I would probably discourage you as well from pursuing this project.

2) Is it better than what we do now? — There are thousands of software programs out there that allow us to automate and computerize a variety of different tasks, but is this enough of a reason to change or switch how we do things now? Should we drop our pen and paper foA wall phone is sometimes more convenient than the alternatives. r a word processor simply because we can?  After all, paper and pencil are readily available, easy to use, very instantaneous and, of course, a proven solution invented by the ancient Chinese in the 2nd century BC.  In fact, we’ve all experienced that moment when someone calls and we don’t have time to wait for Outlook or our contact management program to boot up and load just to jot down a few notes. So what do most of us still do? We reach over for that pen and scratch paper and write it down and then record in our computerized system later if it is necessary. Sometimes simple and “old” is not always bad.

Here’s another example where old sometimes works better than new. In our house, we still have an old phone with a chord that sticks into the wall. We mainly have it because if there is an emergency and the power goes off we can still make calls. Ironically, it’s also the only phone in the house that anyone can find and that consistently works. It’s always in the same place and never moves, because it is physically tethered to the phone cord. Alternately, all the other high-tech cordless phones are hidden under sofa cushions, left on obscure tables throughout the house and are seldom available or handy when we  need them. And if we do happen to find one, half the time it’s lost its charge and won’t work.

Technology is awesome and can make a lot of things easier and quicker to accomplish, but it is not always the best or right answer for every problem. Technological solutions should be implemented when they make sense and make things better.

3) Is it simple? — Simple is not always better, but on the other hand, if something is too complicated, the benefits may not outweigh the complexity of the system. Generally, I weigh in on the side of simple is better. My experience is that the more complicated something is, the more likely it is going to fail. Users will get frustrated if it’s not intuitive and easy to use, IT will not be able to support it if it is too complicated, and, ultimately, if it takes a rocket scientist to build, deploy and maintain, chances are it’s going to fail, because it will cost too much money (remember item #1 cost vs benefit) to support or it will simply not get used.

For instance, if you’ve worked with any major ERP system, you understand how complicated they can get.  They
have so many features and functions and modules built into them that if you are not a trained consultant and even if you are a trained consultant, the magnitude of these systems can make even the best of us dizzy.  However, companies implement ERP systems, because the benefits typically outweigh the costs (and complexity).  But do these systems really need to be that complicated at least from a user interface perspective?  For example, Quickbooks is actually a pretty complex and sophisticated system, but the user interface is so simple and intuitive that almost anyone can figure it out in a very short amount of time.  Simple is generally a good thing, don’t fall into the mindset that if something is simple it must not be sophisticated or powerful enough to solve our problem…simple is

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Fortsatte tills tiden, biltvätt kjolar är en kvinna som var i strömmen. Men senare förändringen med tiden, säger adjö till mode scenen. Denna enda produkt är mer som tre år finns det tecken på en pånyttfödelse, från de många designer märke vinter showen har tvätt kjol design, vare sig det är knä eller fotled längd, vanligt eller tryckta, en mängd olika kombinationer av läder eller satin, etc Balklänning