Visit Citebite Deep link provided by Citebite
Close this shade
Source:  http://www.zoliblog.com/

Zoho Enters Human Resources Market with Zoho People.

Enterprise Software, Personal Productivity, SMB / SME, SaaS March 10th, 2008

(I broke up my originally long post into two pieces: this one about the product announcement, and the next one with the business analysis)

Zoho, best known for their Web-based Productivity (Office+) Suite today released Zoho People, a feature-rich On-Demand HRMS - Human Resources Management System.

Several modules support the work of managers, HR professionals:

  • Organization for defining corporate and departmental structure
  • Recruitment for managing recruitment processes and maintaining resume databases
  • Checklist for defining business processes and workflows in the organization
  • Forms for defining custom business forms using the integrated Zoho Creator
  • Dashboard to overview it all

All the setup, be it form changes, new forms or field, org chart changes ..etc happens via a friendly drag-and-drop interface.

While all the above is for Management, HR, perhaps Training, Travel professionals, most “regular” employees in a company would only access the Self Service Module, which is split to an Employee and a Manager Self-Service section. Requests can be sent to the HR department on job openings, employees can submit information like Expense Reports, Vacation, Training Requests to the relevant departments/managers as pre-defined in the workflow…etc.

For a detailed feature overview, watch this demo video.


Zoho People from Raju Vegesna on Vimeo.

The application is currently in Beta, and for the Beta period it will be free, independent of the number of users. After the Beta pricing will likely involve a dual scheme, with ad-hoc users (regular employee accessing Self Service) paying less than full users (typically HR professionals.) While no numbers have been announced, Zoho claims the blended price level will be disruptive - something to the scale of Zoho CRM, which is about 10% of the cost of it’s main competitor.

Talk about CRM, it’s worth mentioning that while Zoho’s fame comes from the Office Suite (or the extended suite of Productivity Apps), this is not their first foray into business applications. Zoho People joins Zoho CRM, Zoho Meeting, Zoho Projects and Zoho DB. Below is an overview of the entire Zoho Portfolio:

Please read my next post for a business analysis on what Zoho’s entry to the HCM space means.

(Disclaimer: I am an Advisor for Zoho.)

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Microsoft Vista Fiasco: Who is Evil Now?

Business, Software March 9th, 2008

Yes, it’s a harsh title.  Yes, I’ve long been critical of Vista. But so far I thought it was just incompetence, the Behemoth having lost their edge.  Naive me… this piece in The New York Times is a true eye-opener.

It starts with what appears to be average users’ stories (bare with me, it gets better):

  • Jon upgrades two XP machines to Vista, only to find none of his peripherals work anymore
  • Steven confirms drivers are missing in the entire ecosystem
  • Mike buys a “Windows Vista Capable” laptop which turns out to be a $2,100 email machine, as it doesn’t run his favorite programs, and only can handled the castrated version of Vista that shouldn’t exist in the first place.

If these users didn’t know better, I wonder who should.  They are all senior Microsoft Execs:

  • Jon A. Shirley, a Microsoft board member.
  • Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft senior vice president responsible for Windows.
  • Mike Nash, a Microsoft vice president who oversees Windows product management.

They and several other Microsofties warned about the consequences of reducing the original strict hardware requirements and labeling underrated computers as Vista Capable:

The decision to drop the original hardware requirements is accompanied by considerable internal protest. The minimum hardware configuration was set so low that “even a piece of junk will qualify,” Anantha Kancherla, a Microsoft program manager, said in an internal e-mail message among those recently unsealed, adding, “It will be a complete tragedy if we allowed it.”

That this would result in disaster was foreseeable:

“It would be a lot less costly to do the right thing for the customer now,” said Robin Leonard, a Microsoft sales manager, in an e-mail message sent to her superiors, “than to spend dollars on the back end trying to fix the problem.”

He and others were not listened to. Now Microsoft is facing a class action lawsuit: nothing new to the Redmond giant, just a calculated risk.  “Where does Microsoft go to buy back its lost credibility?” asks The New York Times.

Nowhere. They stopped caring a long time ago.  The Monopolist does not have customers: they have loyal subjects used to pay their taxes to Microsoft. Except that they are not that loyal anymore, and there are visible cracks on the walls of the empire.  There is Linux, Mac OS, Web Applications - customers are slowly realizing they actually have a choice.  Choice is the end of all monopolies, it’s just a matter of time.  The Borg could slow the process by trying to be user-friendly, at least pretend to care about customers.  Deceptive behavior like this shows they don’t care.  They are digging their own grave.

(Please, don’t get me started on how profitable Microsoft is doing - I am talking about a trend, and it takes time….)

Tags: , , , , ,

Oops, They Fired All Their Workaholics

Startups March 8th, 2008

Wow, quite a firestorm on a weekend over whether startups should hire only workaholics or not. It’s tip #11 on Jason Calacanis’s How to save money running a startup list that ticked off many readers:

Fire people who are not workaholics. don’t love their work… come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. don’t work at a startup if you’re not into it–go work at the post office or starbucks if you’re not into it you want balance in your life. For realz.

The edits show how Jason re-wrote this point after harsh criticism like Calacanis Fires People Who Have A Life on TechCrunch and Fire the workaholics by 37Signals. I don’t think he had to edit it, anyone who had been at a startup, who understands startup dynamics should “get it”.

He is talking about the need to have highly passionate team members, who at a certain stage of their life and the startup’s life are willing to - and happy to - shift their priorities. You can’t force people to be workaholics, all you get is slaves in a sweatshop, and that not only causes burnout, it does not produce quality results anyway. David at 37Signals is right:

If your start-up can only succeed by being a sweatshop, your idea is simply not good enough. Go back to the drawing board and come up with something better that can be implemented by whole people, not cogs.

Agree. But great founding teams are often made up of workaholics - it has to come from the fire within, not forced. These guys locked up in a live-and-work apartment probably did not have 8-hour workdays, yet didn’t look too unhappy. A year later they are growing, picked up two rounds of funding, have 20 employees and even put TechCrunch in the toilet.smile_wink I don’t expect their 20th employee to be just as passionate as the Founders, but it can’t be a 9-5 type person either. At this stage they still need driven Team Members, not simply employees.

Most startups that grow to a certain point will lose this team atmosphere at some point. They will start to hire more “regular employees”, many of whom are opportunity seekers, in for quick ride, ready to jump ship any time. Too bad, but it’s a fact of life.

Not everywhere, though. 37Signals is still a small team (by choice) but not really a startup anymore. They seem to have found the golden balance between work and life, having introduced 4-day workweeks, funding team members’ passions, be it flight lessons, cooking classes…whatever. I don’t think they whine if (when) the occasional crunch comes. Another “startup” (not really, anymore) I often write about is Atlassian: at $30M revenue and 130 employees they still preserve a unique culture, do a lot of programs together, and generally working there is a lifestyle, not just employment.

The above two have something in common, other than having good products: they did not take VC investment. They can pretty much do whatever they like. Maintaining a great team is no just a means to business, it’s part of their ultimate purpose.

The weekend firestorm comes completes a full circle: in a second TechCrunch article Mike Arrington comes to Calacanis’s defense: Startups Must Hire The Right People And Watch Every Penny. Or Fail. This is a very good article, I wholeheartedly agree with it. And while at it, let me also refer you to Startups: Executive Hiring Challenges or Beware of the Suits.

On a lighter note, the CEO of another self-funded former startup, Zoho apparently heeded 37Signals advice, and fired all his workaholics.

(Not really… Watch out for a major product announcement next week.smile_wink)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Cell-Phone Aware PC May Be a PC-less PC

SaaS, Technology March 8th, 2008

Mike Egan @ Computerworld makes the case for PC’s to be smarter, with improved awareness of cell-phones, which means of their owners.

PCs would benefit greatly from awareness about the location of the user. Is she sitting in front of me? Is she out of the building? Imagine if your PC performed routine maintenance, or kicked into security mode when it knew you weren’t around. Since we take them wherever we go, cell phones are ideal devices to inform our PCs whether we’re in the room or not.

We like to set up our PCs just so, with color schemes and specific files and applications we like to use. Imagine if our phones could carry sets of configurations around and magically transform any PC we happen to be using into one set up just like the computer at home or in the office.

We work on documents, then go home and work on them some more. Why don’t phones automatically carry the latest version and upload it to whichever PC we’re using? Why do most of us still use e-mail for this?

A recent Gartner study discusses similar concepts named  “Portable Personality Solutions.”  Whether the media is thumb drives as in the Gartner study, or cell phones as in Egan’s vision, the core idea is the same: your preferences, your “digital personality” is always with you in your device, and is uploaded and downloaded wirelessly and automatically to whatever computer you want to use.

I like the concept, but it involves unnecessary steps: far too many uploads and downloads, a sure sign that it’s based on today’s computing model, instead of tomorrow’s.   I laid out a similar but more far-reaching concept last year:

  • the mobile phone brings the connectivity, browser and some personalization
  • the actual work devices are the cheap displays, keyboards easily found anywhere.
  • the apps and data are on the Net

Can you spot the key difference?  There is no computer.  Yes, the PC is gone, the display and keyboard are there for convenience reasons (who doesn’t like large displays?)  the mobile device can do the minimal processing I need since the heavy workload is carried in the Cloud.  Granted this is not the solution for 3-D Modeling, Video Editing and the like, just for regular productivity work, which is what most of us use computers for anyway.

Now, to be fair, this is not really my concept, I was just interpreting Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu’s personal computing nirvana vision.   Recently he developed his vision a step further (actually, it’s not him dreaming further, it’s the technology that advances fast):

Given how mobile phones pack a whole lot of functionality in a tiny package, I have wondered if the ideal server farm is just tens of thousands of mobile phones packed together. It seems to me that the semiconductor technology behind mobile devices is far, far more power efficient than the stuff that goes in servers. Partly it is a backwards compatibility issue, with servers having to run code written all the way back to 1980s, while mobile phones simply didn’t exist that far back. Partly, it is also a function of how traditional client-server applications were architectural monoliths, compared to the deeply distributed “service-oriented architecture” that is common in web applications today.

With mobile phones approaching very respectable CPU & memory capacity, packaging them together as a server cluster makes a lot of sense. Linux can run on almost all of the modern CPUs common in cell-phones, and the mobile version of Java seems actually well-suited for server use, particularly for deeply partitioned, distributed applications. Lightweightness is actually an advantage in server software, just as it is in mobile software.

I wonder how far-fetched this vision is, but have to say this  former Qualcomm engineer who just spent a few millions of dollars to create two data centers which will soon provide automatic failover might just know what he is talking about… smile_shades

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

TechCrunch in the Toilet

Humor, Startups March 7th, 2008

No, I am not implying that TechCrunch is bankrupt, or heading into their own Deadpool.  TC has all the signs of doing just fine, with 700K subscribers and loads of advertisers.  But they are in the toilet, nevertheless - at least in a certain toilet.

Online file-sharing and collaboration startup Box.net is changing the ancient habit of reading your newspaper in the toilet.  (Frankly I never understood this habit, personally I prefer getting out of there as soon as possible, but for many people it’s a true ritual.)   The company, which just a year ago was 4 guys cramped together in a two-bedroom live-and-work apartment has grown to 20 employees and picked up two rounds of funding.   Flush with VC money, they equipped their restroom with a flat screen that shows an auto-refreshing display of technology news from TechCrunch.  No more newspaper in the bathroom!

I can’t help but wonder about the screen position though.  For all I know, this is only for the guys’ entertainment, gals usually face the other way - is Box.net still an all-male team?  And, without getting into the very material details, even we boys only perform one “operation” facing that way.., and that’s normally the quicker one. (?)  

Aaron, care to clarify? smile_eyeroll

Tags: , , , , , ,

Amazon’s New Wine Business Already Obsolete

Humor March 6th, 2008

Amazon will soon start selling wine, reports the Financial Times.   Too bad it’s based on an obsolete model: physically shipping bulky goods.  It’s like shipping boxed software, when it’s available on the Net.  Or bulky books when it’s available on Amazon’s very own Kindle.

It’s time Amazon entered the 21st Century, the age of Waas: Wine as a Service.

(Watch the video here in case the embedded player does not work in your feed.)

 

Related posts: TechCrunch

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Enterprise Software: from ERP to BRP

Collaboration, ERP / CRM, Enterprise Software, Startups March 5th, 2008

I had already spent half a decade implementing SAP solutions in the 90’s when I finally got enlightened, learning the “proper term” for what I was doing: ERP, as in Enterprise Resource Planning. The term was coined by then Gartner Analyst, now Enterprise Irregular Erik Keller. Now another fellow Enterprise Irregular, Sig Rinde introduces a new interpretation of ERP: Easily Repeatable Process. Of course he contrasts that with his new acronym, BRP (not to be confused with BPR, another 90’s favorite), which means Barely Repeatable Process. BRP is what Thingamy, Sig’s lightweight, extremely adoptable system attempts to address. But it’s a very-very tough sell…

ERP traditionally addresses the core, standard, and as such repeatable business processes. Whatever it can’t handle are the exceptions: processes to be handled by knowledge workers outside the realm of ERP, by traditional means: phone calls, spreadsheets, creative thinking and a lot of emailing back and forth. Knowledge workers who come up with innovative solutions may think it’s good practice to document them just in case the “exception” ever occurs again… and if it does a few times, well then it’s no longer an exception, but a (Barely) Repeatable Process.

Wikis in the Enterprise are a simple yet effective solution to manage such BRPs: they facilitate collaboration of all knowledge workers involved, allow some structure (structure is helpful when not pre-imposed but flexibly created) to organize data and finally, as a by-product they serve as documentation of the solution for future re-use.

Neither process-driven heavyweight systems like ERP, nor innovative, lightweight collaboration tools like wikis are the one and only mantra for most businesses (see my previous rant on “you can’t run your supply chain on a wiki“), they have their own place and should complement each other. Standard business processes and exceptions are not black-and-white opposites either: it’s a continuum, and halfway is BRP. If ERP (in the traditional meaning) tries to address to many of theses BRPs, it gets overly complex (it already is!), hard to configure and use.

This is the dilemma Sig’s system, Thingamy addresses. It’s neither free-form collaboration, nor ERP: it’s a business system framework, that allows you to model and define business processes: a tool to create your own custom-made ERP, if you like.

And therein lies the rub. Most business users don’t want to create software. They want to use it. This was the problem that caused the demise of Teqlo: the unfunded, unproven belief, that users actually want to interactively create their tools. No, they want to deal with the urgent business problems (the BRP), using whatever tools are readily available.

Thingamy’s dilemma is finding the customer: it certainly won’t be the business user. A modeling tool, simple it may be has a learning curve, dealing with it is a distraction to say the least. Thingamy’s likely “owner” would be corporate IT which would have to create processes on demand. But we all know what happens if you need to call IT to create a “program” for you.smile_omg Thingamy could possibly be a handy tool for consultants, system integrator firms - but they all have their own army of programmers, toolsets..etc, which makes it an awfully hard sell, IMHO.

Thingamy is no doubt an elegant solution, I just don’t see the mass market need for it, because it does not solve a mass market problem. Or I should say, it does, but there’s a mismatch between whose problems it solves and who can use it. Sig himself defines collaboration as a workaround for the Barely Repeatable Processes in the Enterprise: my bet is that this “workaround” is here to stay for a long time.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Google Gears goes Mobile - Zoho First to Take Advantage

Personal Productivity, SaaS, Startups March 3rd, 2008

Mobility is supposed to be about 24/7 connectivity, isn’t it?  I’m writing this on a a 7.2Mbps HSDPA mobile connection while visiting my parents in Hungary.   HSDPA is like 3G on steroids, and we’re not even close to universal 3G coverage in the US.  What’s more, forget data, I’d be happy with just universal voice coverage right here in the heart of Technology.  I get measly coverage (half a bar only right next to the window) in my house, but what’s a real shame, try talking on a T-mobile phone on the long walkway from Parking to the International Terminal at SFO: zero, nada, no signal at all.

Until that’s fixed, mobility isn’t about 24/7 connectivity, it’s about 24/7 access, online or offline.  Which is why it’s great to see Google Gears Mobile released today, initially for Internet Explorer Mobile on Windows Mobile 5 and 6.  Now you don’t lose vital information when your phone goes offline. 

The first two apps taking advantage of Gears Mobile are Buxfer a finance tracking application and Zoho Writer.

 

The current Zoho Mobile Offline version (wow, that’s a mouthfulsmile_tongue) is view only - if you recall, it did not take long for Zoho to add edit capabilities to the Gears-based offline version on the desktop, so we can likely expect the same here, too.

This video presents Zoho Writer Offline in use.   As a reminder, Zoho also works on the iPhone, at at izoho.com - offline support will come just as soon as Google Gears will support it.

 

Related posts: Google Mobile Blog, TechCrunchTechMoz, VentureBeat, Mashable, The Buxfer Post, Zoho Blogs.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Vista Copy Story: Perception *IS* Reality

Personal Productivity, Software March 3rd, 2008

Windows Vista’s file copy performance is actually faster than that of XP - tells us Jeff Atwood at Coding Horror.  He cites Mark Russinovich’s extensive analysis of Vista’s file copy algorithm, and comes to the conclusion that “perceived performance is more important than actual performance.”

…perception is reality: if users see file copying as slower, it is slower. Despite all the algorithmic improvements, in spite of the superior file copy benchmark results, Vista’s file copy performance is worse than Windows XP.

I can’t dispute the quoted analysis, am simply not competent enough, but here’s a key part:

…for copies involving a large group of files between 256KB and tens of MB in size, the perceived performance of the copy can be significantly worse than on Windows XP.

So the problem is with large number of files.   My question: how large?  Is two considered large?  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Yes, I know, this is “delete”, not copy, but it’s a file operation nevertheless, and I suspect the same problem.  Perception *is* indeed reality… and I suspect we have more than just perception here.thumbs_down

Tags: , , ,

JotSpot Born Again as Google Sites, the Wiki-less Wiki.

Collaboration, Personal Productivity, SaaS February 28th, 2008

Three weeks ago I speculated that JotSpot, the user-friendly wiki swallowed by Google a year and a half ago would soon come out of hibernation, and Voila! here it is, rebranded as Google Sites. It is the first service only available as part of Google Apps (including the free version), although I had some difficulty accessing it. Under “Manage this Domain” I could add “Sites” as a new service, but it did not show up on my account as an accessible application. When I typed sites.google.com it wanted me to sign up for Google Apps even though I was already logged in to my account. Of course trying to do so resulted in the error message:

Google Apps for zoliblog.com has already been registered by your domain administrator. Please contact your admin directly to get access to Google Apps services.

Catch 22. But there’s a solution: just type the direct URL (sites.google.com/a/yourdomain.com as default, or customize it to your liking) and you can get into Sites. I’m sure Google will soon add it to the Apps menu. (Sidenote: my old JotSpot account is still alive at name.jot.com).

Google no longer calls this a wiki, which I think is a good move. I previously wrote:

Wikis have arrived when …you don’t even have to know what they are to use one. You don’t have to know you’re using a wiki, just happily type away, creating shareable content on the Web.

I was discussing Wetpaint, the user friendly, wiki-less wiki there, and I think it’s smart of Google to follow that pattern… more later, but first, under the hood it is still a wiki, so let’s examine some of the wiki basics.

The interface is familiar from good old JotSpot (as a sidenote, the old JotSpot accounts are still alive at name.jot.com). There’s a basic wysiwyg editor, the Edit button is large and visible, and so is the New Page button. Good old JotSpot had several more ways of creating new pages, which are gone - perhaps for the best:

  • WikiWords or CamelCase: in old JotSpot anything you typed with embedded capitalization became a link to a page. As a relatively early wiki-user I liked it, as the easiest way to LinkAsYouThink. But in the Web 2.0 age we keep on bastardizing grammar writing EveryThingLikeThis, so more and more WikiWords had to be “unlinked”… too much confusion, especially for the new generation of mainstream users.
  • Linking to a shell-page before it’s created. This was a useful feature, even if we eliminate camelcase, I could use the “Link” icon, and mark up text as a link to a new sub-page, to be filled with content later. Again, this supports flow-thinking, or LinkAsYouThink, which I regret is gone.
  • The “New Page” button. This is the only remaining option in Google Sites, and I think the fact that it offers to pick a parent page (enforced hierarchy) is an improvement. No more orphan pages, yet relatively flexible hierarchy.

For those not too familiar with wiki terms, I discuss some of these concepts in more detail here: technically an article on SocialText 2.0, but I often make comparisons to JotSpot and Atlassian’s Confluence.

I’m glad to see Sites retained breadcrumbs for easier navigation, and they added sitemaps, a tree-style view of all your pages. This could be improved to allow for drag-and-drop style moving of the pages (changing the hierarchy), like Zoho Wiki does.

I’m surprised Sites still does not have inbound links: this is a critical feature for all wikis, whatever we call them. A wiki is all about associating pieces of information with each other, and the inbound link, also referred to as backlink shows you where the information on the current page is used elsewhere. The JotSpot tea half-recognized the importance of backlinks, as they were available as as a downloadable plugin on the Jot Development wiki, but never made it to the standard feature-set, and are apparently lost in the Google reincarnation, at least for now.

Attachment handling is as good as it was in the original JotSpot: it maintains previous versions, allows users to revert to earlier ones…etc. However, Google missed a huge chance here to by not offering to convert the attached documents to its own Google Docs style. This point takes us to the next level: stepping outside the boundaries of a standalone wiki and using it as a facility to pull together data created by other applications.

Last year I said after burying JotSpot for a year, Google can’t just release it as a wiki, instead:

…I hope that means they rethought everything and integrated JotSpot well into a number of offerings.

  • It could provide for much better document management than the current Docs &­ Spreadsheets UI.
  • It overlaps with Page Creator, also with the simplified version found in Google Groups - in fact Groups which is no longer just email lists but a rudimentary collaboration platform and JotSpot could very well be merged / integrated.
  • Finally JotSpot tried to provide primitive applications (spreadsheet, calendar..etc) all of which have a better Google counterpart, so one would hope they will be replaced, too.

Well, what’s the score on that prediction? Google Sites is a better replacement for Page Creator, Google ditched the JotSpot “apps”, replacing them with their own ones - so far 2 scores out of 3. As for document management.. well, I’d say half a score, or less. (Hey, that’s 2.5 out of 3smile_tongue)

You can somewhat integrate Google Docs (which includes documents, spreadsheets and presentations) by embedding them into any Google Sites page. You have to enter the specific URL though - why not just select from a list? Furthermore, your Google docs or spreadsheets have to be first made public and you have to use the public URL to embed them into Sites. Here’s my test site, showing first an error message, then the actual embedded spreadsheet, after I made it public.

The embedded docs appear properly in the saved page, but I can’t click on it, not even in Edit mode to get to the source. In fact in Edit mode all I see is a graphical placeholder for the embedded doc.

How about sharing / collaboration? As expected, your Sites can be:

  • private
  • public
  • shared with individual email id’s
  • shared with everyone within your domain

…and you can set view or edit options for all those levels. However, Google missed a big chance again. As a complete coincidence, it’s only yesterday that I raved about Zoho’s Group level sharing, half-announced in a fairly understated manner - hidden in a list of Zoho Writer enhancements. Well, Google already has a very good group facility: Google Groups, which started it’s life as a group discussion / forum system, but it gradually evolved into a decent collaboration platform. Once I have a “group” defined (i.e. the list of members), why doesn’t it become an entity I can share my wiki (sites) or docs with? When I invite users to share the wiki with, there’s an option to save the list as group, but I don’t know where it disappears, can not pull it up either within the wiki or gmail, or docs.

Finally there are gadgets, but if you read Dennis Howlett at ZDNet, gadgets might the feature you don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole. smile_sad

Summary: Nice to have Jot back (even if we did not get GSpot.smile_embaressed ) Google now has a pretty good and easy web-page creator with some wiki features made user-friendly, and a half-hearted attempt at integrating the rest of the Apps empire using Sites. Perhaps they get it right in the next release.

Related posts: TechCrunch, eWeek, Ross Mayfield’s Weblog, Irregular Enterprise, Mashable!, InfoWorld, Between the Lines, Portals and KM, CNet, Webware, GigaOM, Web Worker Daily, Venture Chronicles, Insider Chatter, Learning and Technology, Solo Technology.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,