SAP and the iPad – and ELNs

We think the iPad has the potential to revolutionise Electronic Lab Notebooks, and clearly the ELN market is just one of many which will benefit from the new form factor. SAP are arguably the most “Enterprise” of any software vendor, so I was interested in their view of the iPad and other Tablets.

This interview of SAPs CIO makes interesting reading.

Oliver Bussmann told me that SAP’s chief scientist had done an analysis of computers in business, and where they will be going. In their scientist’s view, the mobile and desktop models are converging. That is, instead of rolling up to a desk every day to power up a machine, and sift through screens of information to arrive at a simple dashboard, users will come to expect a smaller device to focus on the data. This smaller form factor and more task-focused paradigm will allow you to call up information almost instantly, with laser focus on specific processes, rather than one large machine that does a dozen things. It’s an evolution of the species, if you will.

We’re seeing this ourselves, both in our internal use of the iPad and also by our ELN clients. The Tablet form factor and the very task-centric paradigm really does create a compelling additional device from which to interact with your data – and we’re pleased that PatentSafe continues to keep up with the innovations in the tablet space.

A large number of our customers have iPad trials ongoing; there are few who are refusing to entertain the iPad at all on the basis that it is a “toy”. With endorsements like this from SAP I can’t help but think they will be reconsidering!

Dilbert on pricing

I am always puzzled that customers put up with overly complex pricing schemes – we try to keep ours straightforward – makes life easier for everyone.

(my first post from the iPad WordPress app! Typed with one hand while cuddling my upset 7 year old who lost his ball at the park… he wanted to watch the Dilbert TV series as a cheering up treat – I wonder what that says…)

Three Simple Truths of Failure

The simplicity/complexity tradeoff is one that many ELN teams struggle with and is the underlying reason for most ELN project failures.

In an interesting post from Jack Vinson (a fellow CENSA alumni) lays out to three simple truths of failure from a post on the IT Failures Blog which in turn was inspired by Dilbert:

  • Complicated plans don’t work.
  • “Spraying energy into the vortex of failure” doesn’t work.
  • Your boss really doesn’t care.

The first is the most important in my opinion; and it is directly relevant to ELN projects. In my experience the more time a product takes to implement, and the greater the change in working practices required, the less chance there is of the project achieving the hoped-for Return on Investment. Which in my mind is a failure, even if you do manage to roll the application out and torture the users with it (aren’t we here to make life better for the end users?).

I’d broaden the last point to no one really cares about the ELN project – they care about its potential to impact their lives in a positive or negative way. If they really cared they’d be on the Project Team! This is a broader varient of my Toaster Analogy which when it comes up in Workshops often gets that kind of embarrassed “Yeah, that’s very true but it makes us comfortable so let’s move on” laugh.

There’s enough material around to show that complexity causes massive problems. There’s enough public literature around to show that IT projects often fail to meet their goals (and you only have to wonder what really goes on in private because who likes washing dirty laundry in public?).

Which is why I am mystified to see complexity still worshipped, with project teams brandishing their laundry list of features (all mandatory) and vendors explaining with great pride their multi-week implementation process. When questioned, people seem to honestly believe it has to be this hard!

Why can’t we find the quickest, simplest way to achieve the outcome we seek? Why are project managers so rarely rewarded for paring down the list of requirements to the essentials, shortening the project timescales, reducing risk, and slashing the budget? Why is it that products that “Just work” are somehow “Not powerful enough”?

I suspect the underlying reason (once you get beyond organisational politics and vendor sports) it is because geeks see value in intrinsic complexity. Which is fair enough – until that complexity meets the real world of people, budgets, and other projects.

Amphora are quite happy worshipping at the temple of “Less is more” because we believe that’s the best way to serve our customers. Seems that this view isn’t shared by everyone but that’s fine – the trend is in our favour. In this economy we all need to renew our focus on adding the most value for the least cost.

Oh, here’s Dilbert:

Good anecdote on the problems of proprietary file formats

This is a good story on the problems of proprietary file formats, which has a happy ending but only through what appears to be days of effort and some Open Source tools.

I really don’t know why customers put up with vendors shipping undocumented private file formats. It just locks up your data.

Purchasing should be requiring Open File Formats for any piece of software that is purchased – it should be an absolute corporate mandate. Sadly the purchasing playbook has yet to get a section on probably one of the most business-critical aspects of scientific computing.