Friday, May 27, 2005

A tale of two shows, CeBIT and PacPrint

CeBit and PacPrint show passes
I've been "beta testing" a business advisory service which we're launching on July 1 and had reasons to be at both CeBit Sydney and PacPrint in Melbourne this past week. What a contrast...

CeBit felt like just another IT show, only with a New Zealand pavilion. It wasn't much different from the computer shows in years gone by, although Wireless Networking and mobile companies had replaced hard drives and mother board vendors. Of course, there were the AIIA stands and the national stands, subsidized by their respective governments, but as a show, it didn't work for me. A very, very pale imitation of the Hannover CeBIT show. Moreover, the question that hung in the air at CeBit was "What is the target market of the show?"

Pacprint show floor
At PacPrint in Melbourne, it was abundantly clear who the audience were: Printers, people and companies involved in "Ink On Paper" technology. You knew who they were and why they were there. They were looking for that printing press or some other piece of technology which might make their business more productive or improve their quality of service. There was a sense of excitement and interest which seemed sorely lacking at the other show.

Of course, there was as much Information Technology on site at Jeff's Shed in Melbourne as there was at CeBit. Powering not just the presses and ancillary equipment, but of course also on stands like Adobe's. An important software category at the show was workflow. Printing equipment is expensive, and needs to be constantly "kept fed" in order to provide a return for their owners.

Quote & Print logo
Workflow is a hot topic and efficient execution determines profit and loss for commercial printing companies. It's good to see an Australian software company, Quote & Print doing well there. They are an example to many in the software business: start with a customer's problem and help them solve it. When there are a number of customers with that same problem, you've got yourself a business. As long as you run it well and stay in touch with the customers, which is exactly why Dave Bell and his company, Quote & Print were at the PacPrint show and not at CeBIT. Simple, really...

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The future of Enterprise Content Management?

Enterprise Content Management 365 logo
I usually scan over the Penton email newsletter about Content Management because James Brown is an entertaining writer and Content Management is one of my continuing interests (passions?). In his last email, James announced a new series of articles on Penton Europe's CM365 site, the first of which was entitled "The future of Web Content Management", by Adrian Kershaw, Fatwire Software's General Manager for Northern Europe.

I read the article and was surprised that, while mentioning personalization and news, it did not mention Weblogs, RSS and aggregation. I left a comment to that effect, as the web site invited readers to "Add a comment to this article" and hoped to engage Adrian and others into a conversation about how RSS might impact ECM.

Unfortunately, it looks like comments are a one way street at CM365. Four days later, my comment still hasn't turned up on the site.
So we might well ask:

  • Why give customers the ability to leave comments when they don't show up on the site?
  • What do Enterprise Content Management vendors think about Weblogs and RSS?
  • What are they afraid of?

We are left with the impression that Content Management Vendors are not looking to learn from the Weblog/RSS phenomenon. They no longer call themselves CMS (Content Management Systems) vendors and have re-branded themselves as being in the "Enterprise Content Management" business. And of course there is a whole industry which is supported by the ECM market: the Analysts, the "Journalists" and the Trade Show organizers. Needed, because customers are confused by the bewildering array of vendors and price points. And in some cases, customers are coming to realize that the Emperor has few clothes and that they're very expensive.

There are millions of users of Personal Content Management Systems (a name which ECM vendors might prefer over "blogs"). Sure, blogging tools are in many cases, crude and unpolished. Users put up with the rough edges because the tools serve their purpose, they allow them to communicate in a way that they couldn't before. It is "Comments, RSS and Aggregators" that lets them turn one-way communication into a conversation with whoever they imagine their readers to be.

That's not to say that there aren't interesting problems to be solved when managing large amounts of content or that it isn't useful having a predictable framework to build a web site, but one would think that Enterprises would want to communicate as well as manage their content.

Weblogging is disrupting the CMS market and vendors will ignore it at their peril . The Innovator's Dilemma and Solution by Clayton Christensen (not to mention the Cluetrain Manifesto) should be required reading for ECM vendors.

Oh… and Adrian, I feel you describe the past of Web Content Management, rather than its future, no matter what Rupert Murdoch or Forrester might have said. Like you, they have a particular perspective which is not be shared by literally millions of bloggers.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Hopefully last post about Gmail/SMTP

After 2 days of email experiments, I took the plunge this morning and paid US$25 to to provide a server which (hopefully) works in most places, is silent (doesn't alter the "from" details) AND sends a copy to an address which you can set up in their control panel. The recommended setting is port 2525 and they provide a utility to sniff out which ports are OK to use if necessary. Not bad for a Pommy company...

So now I have:
  • One set up in Outlook, usable at home, airport, on holiday at work.
  • All my outgoing emails automatically archived on Gmail
  • All my incoming emails forwarded by the server(s) to Gmail, which in turn I access with Outlook.

Maybe Mrs Google will do this some day without the pain which I had to endure over the past few days, but for the moment, I'm happy.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Almost Perfect Gmail

Earlier this week I thought I had hit upon a neat way of being able to send emails from outlook no matter where I was, no matter which email account I used. If only it was true.

Two things happened:

Google isn't as friendly with their SMTP server as Earthlink was. They insist on putting as the sender ("Return-Path" in the email header) of the email while Earthlink used the "User Information" field in Outlook as the Return-Path, which of course you can set to any email address. The result is that using Gmail's SMTP, emails look like they come from a Gmail account, while using Earthlink's SMTP server, they look as though they come from my "native email address", which they do. Pity... I might have to check out one of those commercial SMTP services after all.

The other thing that happened was that I was at a company which blocks port 465, which is what Gmail uses for its authenticated SMTP. I guess they don't want their staff to use Gmail at work...

I continue to have my mail server forward email to Gmail and "pop" Gmail with Outlook. That way Gmail does my spam detection and inward archiving on the way to my inbox. It would have been nice to archive the sent mail as well. Mrs Gmail... please!

[update: I took the plung with]

Small Business accounting

I've spent the past few weeks talking to small / medium business people about the ambitions for their web presence and how the web might finally deliver what it promised 10 years ago.

Most of them wouldn't know about Service Oriented Architectures, Content Management Systems and Adwords. But they know what they want, having web sites that really work for them. They want up-to-date web sites which connect to their back office systems and they want closed loop marketing. On my part, I'm excited that much of the tech "coming down the pike" has potential to make a real difference to SME (or SMB in US-speak) organisations. And most of them don't know what's going to hit them. Well.... that is as long as the vendors of small business accounting software pick up the ball and run with it!

My experience is that accounting systems only allow one way traffic (for example, export customer details but not synchronise their details with other systems). While that might have been for good reasons in the past, it will be unlikely to satify those who have a vision of integrating Customer Relationship Management and Accounting information on a self-service web site.

It would appear that the Yankee group in their recent report believes that also, according to this InfoWorld article. [By the way, Infoworld, I hate your habit of providing re-directed links to vendors in articles, particularly when they fail].
"In the Yankee Group DecisionNote, called "Intuit Dominates Best Software and Microsoft in SMB Accounting Application Market," which was driven by the raw survey data generated from another report called "Small & Medium Business Applications & Web Survey." In the latter report Yankee Group is encouraging vendors to consider redesigning products to better work with a service-oriented architecture and give customers a choice of on-demand or on-premises delivery models."
I'd be very happy with a hosted accounting system which automatically adapted itself to changing accounting and tax rules and which I could access from anywhere.

In the mean time, the rumour is that Microsoft's next accounting system integrates closely with MS Office, surprise... surprise. I would call that swimmming against the stream.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Using Gmail authenticated SMTP on other email accounts

Many networks are set up to make it impossible to send emails when your mail server is not on the same network (they block port 25). As a frequent traveller and itinerant, this was a real pain for some time. The usual recommended option is to change your email client (outlook in my case) to use a local mailserver, which is painful to have to do regularly. For a while I created different profiles for every network I used, but that was still a right nuisance.

Then I noticed that Earthlink, who I was my ISP while in the USA, implemented "Authenticated SMTP", which allowed me to use their mail server, no matter which network I was on. And because there is no reason why you can't use different mail servers to send and receive, I simpliy reconfigured all my other accounts to use Earthlink's SMTP.

Recently, I've been looking for alternatives to Earthlink, why pay $20 per month just to use their SMTP server? A number of suppliers will allow you to use their authenticated SMTP server for an annual fee (check the sponsored links on this search). I was about to pay up when I realised that Google's free email service, Gmail, uses Authenticated SMTP. Why pay if it's available for free? So I edited my settings in Outlook to use Google's SMTP settings for sending "from" all of my email accounts in three easy steps.

The first step:

Enter "" in the Outgoing Mail Server field

The second step:

Click "more settings" and then on the outgoing server tab. Check "My Outgoing server etc." and click "log on using", then enter the user name and password of the gmail account.

The third step:

Check "This server requires an encrypted connection (SSL)" for the Outgoing server (SMTP) and enter 465 in the box.

That's it (read Google's set up page for more detailed instructions)
[Update: I spent hours figuring out how I could cleanly send a copy of all my sent (outlook) emails to Gmail. I have come to like their way of archiving. I just noticed that when you use GMail's SMTP server it also stores the email. Doh... Gmail rocks!]

[Later: It is not as perfect as I had hoped, see post]

[ Latest: I paid for a commercial SMTP service, see post]

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Some of you are doomed!

That was the clear message at the recent Software 2005 conference.
The most eye-opening session included top CIOs and corporate technologists from BP; Kaiser Permanente, a big health-care provider; Lockheed Martin; and Unilever. These corporate leaders weren't here to flatter the assembled software executives. David Watson, the CTO of Kaiser Permanente's IT group, stared out into the audience and said, "The quality I get from you people is abysmal."
Enterprise software is definetely Not Hot, 'Software as a Service' is Cool. IT manager pursue technology fashions, just like teenagers' haircuts and spring fashion. But even allowing for that, the writing for the traditional software is on the wall. What is going on here is more than just a fasionable trend. has hit a sweet spot with many companies. And when Intuit has 4 million online customers, it shows that this is not just for large enterprises either.

On a personal note, I recently started using Jotspot to help manage some projects. For me, Jotspot made 'Software As A Service' relevant. It's a nifty collaboration environment based on some of the ideas from wikis, mixed with a powerful brew of project management features. I'm addicted!

Sure, there will probably continue to be a place for enterprise software and shrink wrapped applications, but if I was starting a software company today...

Sunday, May 01, 2005

From Password Hell to Password Heaven

Jon Udell is a technology writer whose weblog consistently enlightens and challenges me. His mix of technology and common sense is terrific. He regularly throws a unique light on new technology and the way we can use it. In his latest article for Infoworld about the impact on collaboration, he wrote:
Lightweight single sign-on is one reason why. Nic Wolff’s clever bookmarklet-based solution has been a life-changer. Managing yet another password was the main obstacle in the way of adopting disposable services on the Web. Now a single pass phrase generates unique and strong passwords, no secrets are stored locally, and the master secret never travels over the wire. As a result, new services seem frictionless.

As it turns out, a few folks hit on the same idea. This is the one Jon originally wrote about, another is at I just installed the latter, it works great in Firefox as well as Internet Explorer.

Blow me down! How could I possibly have missed that until now? A secure single sign-on across as many sites as I like? How had I missed an item with so much potential to make my life easier? Well... I was on an extended sailing break when he wrote it. I'll never do that again (ahem)!
[Update: It looks like Jon agrees that this idea needs broader exposure, he just did a screencast of the bookmarklet version]