Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Data Syndication

We are in the process of migrating our existing clients onto our new version of CXP, the Customer Experience Platform. One of our clients has discussed with us the possibility of integrating their inventory data into the platform so they can build rules based on inventory levels. The term "integrate" in the past has meant that a lot of time and energy was going to be expended creating a tightly-coupled back-end data integration link. In recent years we might have said, "oh, sure, we can do that, just expose a web service and give us a WSDL file and we will begin testing the integration." Of course, a web services deployment is more complicated than just publishing a WSDL. It takes a lot of resources, both developer and infrastructure.

What to do about this? How do we achieve the long-promised benefits of internet-enabled applications without all the bloat? One of the possibilities that we are exploring is integrating data via data syndication. Similar to RSS, this method involves the owner of one system publishing selections of their data in an XML file. The second system then consumes that data and uses it in its functions. The beautiful thing about this model is that the data gets consumed on a web client or a browser versus integrating the data into the back end of a system. It keeps it lightweight for both systems. It makes the system truly loosely coupled. Of course, this method of integration is more appropriate for systems that do not have high dependencies on each other, and it is a one-way thing, but there are many many business applications for this type of integration, so why not run with it?

We have not yet built this type of integration yet, but I imagine we will in the next few months. I will blog it when we do.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Online Shopping Experience

Question: Is the ideal online shopping experience more like looking through a printed catalog or going into a store with a very helpful salesperson? Or is it something new and different?

My perspective on this is not typical because I work in this world every day and think differently about web applications than the majority of people. That said, I do believe there is an evolution underway in ecommerce, and I believe CXP, the product we just released, is going to help drive that evolution. 

The answer to my first question, I believe, is that the ideal online shopping experience should be more like going into a store with expert merchandising and helpful salespeople. An ecommerce site should be smart but not overwhelm customers with options or information. It should use all the information available to it, both internally and externally, to tailor the experience to the customer. I am excited about CXP because it can help do this without having to hire PhDs and go through painful development projects.

I think there is a fundamental difference between "experience" and "offers." Don't get me wrong, a well-crafted offer is a critical component in the world of ecommerce as it is anywhere, but there is much more to life than that. There are a lot of other factors that are important to consider in the overall shopping experience.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

CXP is Open for Business

For the past year I have been involved in developing a product called CXP at Sento Corporation, my employer. Today was a soft release of the product, although we have been operating it in production for two pilot clients for a few months. I am very happy about this release, I am proud of the product.

This product grew out of internal discussions about where to go next with Sento's Right Channeling offerings. Sento has traditionally provided a suite of tools and services in support of Right Channeling which have been the main differentiating feature between us and our competitors. CXP grew out of a desire to keep that goodness going.

The term CXP is a psuedo-acronym for Customer Experience Platform. It's an SAAS (Software As A Service) tool that enables complex rules-based behaviors on existing sites. It's having a pronounced positive impact on the sites we have deployed it on so far.

The development of CXP began in the application development group that I have managed for the past two years. At first it was just one of many projects that I was directing, but over time it has grown legs and has required my full-time attention, so I have moved into the VP of Product Development role.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

MacBook Pro Not Too Shabby

I know everyone out there is wonering how well I like my new laptop. I must say that it is fantastic so far. Being a recent convert to OS X and Mac machines, I don't have a lot to compare it to, but it seems blazingly fast to me. All of my essential apps work well. Due to Exchange being the calendaring standard at my work I am forced to use Office for Mac, that's one drawback. But it is sure much easier to use than a windows machine. It feels like my iPod.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

This blog post is coming from a blogger widget on my new macbook pro. For non-mac users, a widget is a little app that runs in your dashboard. This one connects to your blogger account so you can throw out posts without opening a browser. I just got this macbook today, I will post more about it later. So far I like it.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Walk First

I am coming up on the end of my first year as the Director of Development for Sento Corporation. This has been a very busy, fun year for me. I manage a group of very talented people who do great work. The products and services that we develop and support are significant and allow us to compete in the contact center outsourcing space.

This past year has taught me some very valuable lessons. I have written about some of the lessons in previous posts. One very important lesson I have learned is that you have to match your engineering efforts to the capacity of your engineering group. I'm not saying that you shouldn't stretch people, I am just saying that you need to honestly evaluate whether or not you can afford to take on a project.

Another important lesson is that you need to plan your projects so that they fit in to the current environment so they can be metabolized. Your chances of being successful in a major enterprise infrastructure project is limited if it is a major departure from your current capabilities and infrastructure unless huge investments in capital and people are made. This is not new info, and has been written about a lot by people smarter than me. The difference is that I have personally experienced successes and failures because of this principle.

Success will be more likely if you fit enterprise IT projects and product development projects in with your existing capabilities and infrastructure. It's like an evolutionary process. You can't skip from crawling to running, you have to walk first. The thing that you need to push is the speed at which evolution takes place.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Personal Stock Price

I've been thinking about the ups and downs that can happen at any job and evaluating my own situation. Thinking about it deeply you might draw the same conclusion that I and others have drawn: that is that you need to honestly assess whether your professional value is on the rise or on the decline, like a stock price. This goes along with #8 below.

You need to evaluate the "value market" at your organization. Is it fickle? Is it tolerant of highs and lows in your stock price? Figure out what price levels you think your boss can't stand. He might just have a limit order to get rid of you at certain price. If you are lucky, he might take the opportunity to invest more heavily in you through training and mentoring if your price is low, if he is confident that you are a good buy.

Like real markets, your actual price is always fluctuating, and that's a good thing. Every event, project, success, failure, or communication can have an effect on your stock price. I would also submit that there are dishonest things that people do all the time to inflate their price, like taking undue credit or diminishing another's value. This is not a good long term strategy. It will catch up to you and then you will get de-listed. Try to build honest value.