Friday, March 21, 2008

The wisdom of herds

In evaluating technologies, it can often be a struggle to compare competing products. When done diligently, you will probably use a product comparison matrix with weighted scoring. By the way, allow yourself many weeks to collect and evaluate all of the data. And if other people are involved, then also expect lots of meeting to argue pros and cons. And if you also want to do a test drive, there's more time gone.  And you haven't built a darned thing yet!

There is another way, but unfortunately it is not always available to us. This other way is:- "What do other people choose?". Why spend time evaluating and/or testing a product when others have done it? This was, in fact, a strong arm technique used by IBM sales in the 80s. The argument was "No one ever got fired for choosing IBM". It actually worked, for a while.

Now, I am not suggesting that this is the hard and fast way to pick a technology, what if the technology is too new?. Rather, use the herd test as a primer before you start doing your own analysis. The results will at least tell you something. I recently heard that 99% of non-profit CIOs chose Windows XP over Vista. Now, that tells me a lot!

Finding out what others are doing before you get started on a lengthy evaluation reminds of a technique I learned in Fire fighting school (I am a volunteer fire fighter). When arriving at a fire scene, after getting hoses charged with water and ready, is to gain entry to the premises, often through the front door. We carry heavy tools to do this, usually an axe and a halogan. But before using these powerful tools on the door, try the handle first to see if it opens :-)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Search as a utility

We were discussing search at a recent NY CTO club meeting, and a thought occurred to me (as it frequently does in these meetings):- Is search a utility? Meaning, is search a plug-in function and not something to be developed by the tech team.

Every system we build has a search function built into it, usually hand-crafted (proprietary). Why? When I programmed years ago, every system had a screen-writer, which updated the characters and pixels on the screen. But no more, this is now a utility provided by the operating system. It would be crazy to do otherwise. I have plenty of other examples (showing my age!).

So, why isn't search just "available", like google desktop? Why aren't searches in different systems more effective? Why doesn't every search return results in "relevance" order? Why don't some systems have a decent search? Why is search completely different in every system (ever tried MS Outlook search)? Why can't searches be combined across systems?

Search on the internet, whether it be google, youtube, facebook, amazon, ebay, or linkedin, is solved for me, I always find what I need. And I believe the same is true for most consumers. But why not in the enterprise? Seems like a solution waiting to happen....