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On Wine Situations, Hugh, Thingamy, Business Customisation and the future of development

I recently met Sig, the man behind Thingamy (and those wraparound shades). Sigurde is a great guy, funny, self-deprecating and smart.
 
He is one of Hugh‘s pet projects, or is it the other way around? Their latest wheeze is getting into the yacht business. Geek meetups on 100 footers in Saint Tropez with free wine- that’s the kind of meatspace that will surely go down very well, with pretty much… everyone.
 
Hugh is seemingly shooting to create a 21st century LVMH on steroids, a stable of super-luxury brands with post-ironic vulgarity, or should that be post vulgaric irony as a masthead… If you have to ask – you’re not invited. Beyond the blog A-list and into the world of the super-rich. Hughtrain as luxury juggernaut.
 
When is Stormhoek bringing out a super-expensive sparkler, anyway? Talking of sparklers how long can it be before Hugh is pimping a diamond merchant?
 
But back to Sig, wine and Thingamy. We met at my favourite local wine shop, Bedales, and talked about how its best to drink wine and food sourced from, and ideally be located in, the same location- kind of a biodynamic approach to tastual hedonism.
 
So Vinho Verde tastes great with Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá. Risotto with Fageoli and Pinot Grigio. Anything from the Pacific Northwest with an Oregon Pinot Noir… The cheapest wines taste great with simple food in the right situation. You can buy the same wine when you get home and it tastes… awful. What the phuh? I thought this rose’ was great – now it just tastes nappy.
 
What does this idea have to do with software? Well potentially quite a lot. You see – the best software is situational, as Clay Shirky explains. It makes most sense in a particular context.
 
We’re entering an era of customisation that could turn SAP and Oracle into last century’s fish and chip wrapping. You can have any software application you want as long as its black. Lets fire our European marketing organisation and drive everything from the West Coast.
 
We have to map to your processes? Shouldnt it be the other way around? Oh they are best practices. Best practices that make me lag my competitors? Does SAP sap profits? No wonder both vendors are now moving to service orientation.
 
Of course software matters! Saleforce is interesting as a platform, not a package. Greg and Marc are both disingenuous, if effective marketers. Software certainly matters when you suffer from a serious outage.
 
If you build software to solve a particular business problem, though, isn’t it likely to taste bad when you go and install it somewhere else? But it tasted great when we built it for Procter and Gamble, how come Unilever wants to spit it out? Lets bring in some more consultants to see if we can make it taste better for the new situation.  Lots more consultants. It must be the customer… they just don’t have a good nose.
 
Ask Thomas though whether he would make one suit in one material and then try and force all of his customers to wear it, with alterations for size as the only variable.
 
Thingamy takes a different approach, partly predicated on the notion that user-defined customisation is where business value arises. The software doesn’t treat users like idiots. Sig talks about objects, and really means it. I was taken with the approach: a lightweight policy-based workflow engine built into the software, sitting on top of an object oriented database. It feels a lot like Lotus Notes circa 1995, workflow meets objects for power users, but with a 2006 skin.
 
Who are the people that really know how a process works- what happens when a person makes a business decision? The person making that decision and their immediate colleagues, or a professional business process modeller based in the Czech Republic? 
 
Toyota understands that people on the shop floor can optimise business processes. All truly great businesses enable the creativity of their employees rather than driving the enterprise as a top down time and motion study. That is the direction software must take.
 
2007 is going to be a big year for lightweight user built workflow. Microsoft is finally delivering, in the shape of its Office 12 wave, the kind of application development platform it has had in its sights since it first began the battle with Lotus Notes. Sharepoint Designer is the charm, with Windows Workflow Foundation in the background. So light up your roll up. It only took Microsoft 11 years to get it right… and go beyond mail to user productivity services… John Richard’s group has a chance to smack it out of the park now though.  
 
Of course Lotus actually lost its way somewhere along the line, and made Notes an environment for “professionals” rather than end-users. But Lotus too is getting its mojo back, as it decomposes, if the business can just take its eye off the Fortune 500, and IBM’s existing customers, for a second and think about the wider implications of truly social software it may just make a success of the Long Tail. XForms meets lightweight workflow is a killer combo.
 
One word I haven’t used yet is mashup. Situated software and mashups are closely related concepts. I also haven’t mentioned service oriented architecture. For a reason – SOA is really an architect and line of business concern, for now, rather than a tool to drive process optimisation to the end points. Going forward we’ll see SOA in users hands, but for the moment its more of a top down structure.
 
I will also mention Adobe. Flex is is shaping up to be ludicrously productive online XML forms and data flow environment. Meanwhile Adobe pretty much owns the forms space through its PDF real estate. So the opportunities are there.
 
This post was never intended as a comprehensive roundup of the DIY space, but rather to point to a new drive towards information productivity, and a cool guy I recently met. For traditional IT management this future is going to sound scary- we’re going to manage that, how, exactly?
 
But you can’t really put the cork back in. At least that was the excuse me and Sig used on the last bottle, and we’re sticking with it.

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9 Responses

  1. “Talking of sparklers how long can it be before Hugh is pimping a diamond merchant?”

    http://www.gapingvoid.com/Moveable_Type/archives/001768.html
    which led to http://www.harddiamond.com/

    He’s not pimping it per se, not in the same manner that English Cut got pimped, but it’s still there :)

  2. First we had modernism, then post modernism and now potentially post vulgaric irony? Did I miss the vulgar bit? Dang – that was 1999.

  3. i should have known…

  4. Talking of DIY – have you tried using ning http://www.ning.com it seems really excellent.

  5. not yet on ning geoff. i heard some negative things but i understand the new version fixes some of those issues

  6. James presents an interesting point, comparing wine and enterprise applications. Deeper examination suggests a number of similarities including: they both get better with age, take experience to fully appreciate, and offer more value when consumed than when sitting on the shelf.



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Continuing the Discussion

  1. “the more geeked-out your blog, the more frickin’ yachts you will sell.”

    This is pretty geeky. [NB: I’m in Yacht Mode today.] [Bonus Link:] From James Governor:Hugh is seemingly shooting to create a 21st century LVMH on steroids, a stable of super-luxury brands with post-ironic vulgarity, or should that be post…

  2. billable-hour consultant’s hampster wheel of death

    Thingamy is almost ready for its next phase of testing. Says Sigurd:Doing some finishing touches to a works-nicely with-a-little-list-of-missing-features version of the thingamy (you’ll never hear me say pre this or that, and no alpha, no beta) that w…

  3. billable-hour consultant’s hampster wheel of death

    Thingamy is almost ready for its next phase of testing. Says Sigurd:Doing some finishing touches to a works-nicely with-a-little-list-of-missing-features version of the thingamy (you’ll never hear me say pre this or that, and no alpha, no beta) that w…