A surefire way to let business drive IT projects

I’ve been thinking a bit about good methods to help the business (referred to as anyone that’s not IT) drive IT projects.

So far the method I’ve observed goes along the lines of:

1. Define the problem. Sounds like an obvious step, but in IT we’re all too keen to jump to solutions. A problem isn’t that we need an ERP or a CRM system, any more than not having a hamburger is a problem. The real problem is you’re hungry. Or for the first two examples, you want to manage the resources of an organisation efficiently, or you want to track all your interactions with your customers across multiple communication channels and plan marketing campaigns.

With the problem defined we can move on to…

2. Goals. Goals are visionary statements that frame any potential solution. Think of them as solution boundaries, where the solution must sit inside. A solution scope I guess. One could be more concise information for managers. These goals are intangible and immeasurable in the sense that it’s difficult to know if you’ve achieved them, but without them your solution might not fit into the strategic direction of the enterprise. No point coming up with a mobile solution if there’s no need for it.

3. Business objectives. These are finite measurable objectives that sum up how we know the problem has been solved in concrete terms. 100% of senior management reports come from the data warehouse. Customers will be able to purchase items from mobile devices. All absolutely measurable. No ambiguity, not for the business who can say that these objectives if met will meet the current needs of the business, nor for IT and the vendors who have no wriggle room in terms of what they’re delivering at the other side. As you can see, scope at this point if already defined, and while things could change within the boundary, if work doesn’t directly support the solving of the objective then it shouldn’t be in the project.

4. Functional use cases. The creation of these further tighten your scope and clarify exactly how people, process, and technology will change to meet the business objectives. Simple use case diagrams are great for communicating with the business the functions and processes within the solution, and we haven’t even talked any technology yet. After all, the solution could be solved by just a process change. Once all the functional use cases required to meet the business objective have been agreed to by the business, the scope is effectively defined. Then these use cases in the diagram can each be turned into fully dressed use cases with the standard process, exceptions, inputs and outputs, and all information a good use case should have. An example could be Load Information or Create Campaign.

5. Business requirements. With our functionality defined and processes sorted, we can think about what technological requirements are required to achieve the use cases. Creating a campaign will require software that has the ability to create a campaign. But we’re not focusing on a specific technology, and so the business requirements must be technology agnostic, and not just written as a laundry list of features of a particular software suite you have in mind. Because that would still be jumping to a solution ahead of time.

6. Solutions architecture. This really defines the non functional requirements of the solution, and is likely to start formulating a solution to meet the objectives. This would include aspects of solution analysis and design, and takes in the input of business requirements and comes up with a solution design. Sure some of the implementation gaps may not be filed, but by this point in time a solution had now been defined and can be traced all the way back to the problem.

From here there’s the normal software implementation life cycle, including change and release management procedures. By following this process we can ensure that we’re solving business problems in a clearly defined traceable manner that the business can understand and accept.

Great idea: travel website based on money available to spend

When people go shopping for travel, they have only a finite amount of money to spend. Instead of focusing on where people can go, why not focus on where people can afford to go? One package can be for 10 days in 2 star accommodation, the other package could be for 5 days in 4 star accommodation. Include all meals, connections, transfers, entertainment. Call the site 3K for travel under $3K, or 5K for travel under $5K.

Deal A Day Websites – a disruptive business model?

I’ve been thinking a little about Deal A Day websites, like 1-day, firstin, and offtheback.

All these Deal A Day websites stemmed from the idea of the main Deal A Day website in America, woot.

What is a deal a day website? Where every day there is a new deeply-discounted product for sale, and previous products for sale are removed. This generates a significant amount of excitement and buzz about the website, and ensures that people return to see the new deal each day.

Of course, all these websites are variations of this idea. woot only has one product. 1-day is a twist of fate has three. firstin has five? offtheback has one.

Currently the market leader is 1-day. 1-day has a significant amount of regular visitors, and has won the war of critical mass I believe. Like Amazon, TradeMe, and e-Bay, once you have reached a critical mass of people, there is less incentive for people to visit other sites, and hence all those other sites never grow, and the critical mass site explodes with growth.

Until a disruptive model comes about.

So I set myself thinking about disruptive models to take the 1-day crown of Deal A Day websites in New Zealand. We need to examine why there is a lot of repeat traffic to the site – new products and exclusivity. Once a product has sold out, it is gone and the customer misses out. But instead of being disapointed in the retailer, they are excited to see a good deal, and look forward to tomorrow’s deal. Combined with an active community of users who comment on products and generate content, means that there is a significant attraction for users to return back to the site.

Once a product sells out, that is a lost opportunity for the retailer, as they have lost potential revenue. Is there a way to capitalise on this?

Well we could just constantly replace items on the site. Hence it’s not a deal a day website anymore, but a constant deal website. Obviously the excitement still needs to come from having products that people perceive as being bargins. Second hand products can fit this bill. Each product is unique, and once it’s gone it’s gone, but there is always another product. If we continue to extend this concept out – for second hand markets should we let the market decide the price?

This may be a new disruptive business model – an auction a day website. Since we still need to ensure an item is sold (and not have to wait for an auction to finish), we could implement a dutch auction method where:

  • Three items are listed for sale by auction, whether new or second hand.
  • A maximum price is set by the administrator.
  • Over a period of time set by the administrator, the price decreases by a set amount at set intervals, i.e. $1 a minute.
  • If someone wants to purchase the item, they must balance waiting for a lower price against someone purchasing the item before them.
  • As each product is rare, and unique, there is a high ‘buzz’ factor surrounding the auctions.

There you have it. A new disruptive business model for deal a day websites, called Auction A Day.

As I search for “auction a day” on Google, I see no results. Good luck!

My competitor: Yammer

So I’ve found my first near direct, and biggest competitor: Yammer. Yammer is the enterprise version of Twitter so to speak, it allows you to micro-blog to a group of people within the same domain name.

Similarities between Resourcer and Yammer:

  1. Micro-blogging to corporate audiences

Differences between Resourcer and Yammer:

  1. Resourcer is a workforce utilization reporting and modelling tool.
  2. Yammer is a corporate micro-blogging tool.
  3. Resourcer doesn’t limit you to people within a certain domain name, and uses powerful organisation and group functionality that lets you create virtual organisations and groups that cross domains, i.e. projects involving multiple companies.
  4. Yammer reminds me of a chat room, except there are multiple ways of sending and receiving messages.
  5. Resourcer gives managers powerful reporting tools that allow you to view the productivity of your workforce.

As always, if you’re doing something right, then there are going to be multiple companies doing it. When I first heard about Yammer (thank you Jo), I panicked. And then when I saw they won the Techcrunch 50, I panicked some more.

But there are some positives. They launched nine days ago, and have 50,000 users already. As always, first mover advantage is significant, and often turns into the sustainable competitive advantage of a user base. Once a company decides to settle on Yammer or Resourcer, that’s a decision that’ll be made once. Hence now the battle will need to be done company to company.

And so the updated road map:

  1. Finish linking core application functionality with database.
  2. Gather requirements and building secondary application functionality.
  3. Finish information type pages.
  4. Tidy pages, do quality assurance, move project into Beta stage and open logins to other people.
  5. Write business plan.
  6. Contact angel investors.
  7. Move application onto framework, either Seagull or Silverstripe.
  8. Tidy pages, do quality assurance, move project and beta data/logins onto Gold release.
  9. Publish API.
  10. Advertise.

About your unique killer business idea

It’s not unique. Sorry. Odds are there’s already companies out there right now looking at that idea, and actively working on it. They probably have more resources than you, groups of people focusing on it, and looking to monitise that idea.

But that’s OK. Because good ideas aren’t rare. They happen all the time. Everyone wishes they could become rich, millionaires, and are just waiting for the opportunity. Well that opportunity is now, it’s happening all the time. Everyone has good ideas, and these good ideas are how people become wealthy, by building a business around this idea, and providing value to others in exchange for money.

The crux however is that it’s not the idea that makes people rich. Because lots of people have great ideas, but not all of those people are rich. It’s those people who have an idea that’s better than now, and capitalises on that idea into a business that makes a profit – they are the people who become rich.

So don’t stress that your idea doesn’t seem to be killer amazing, nor stress about trying to keep it top secret, because odds are there are already people working on that idea. Your job is to execute that idea into a business better than the other people.

Dell sells computers. It’s hardly a novel or unique idea, it’s just that they did it so much better than the competition. Google does search. Remember Alta Vista, or Hotbot, or Lycos, or Northern Lights? Same idea, better execution.

Applying Web 2.0 thought to bricks and mortar businesses

There are so many business opportunities out there in the brick and mortar world that are crying out for someone to apply some technology to them.

A fantastic example of this – Better Place. Imagine taking the business concept of cell phones (subsidised handsets, and making money on the minutes), and applying it to electric cars (subsidised cars, and making money on the electricity).

So what are some examples I’m working on right now?

  • Creating a website that allows stores to create their own vinyl lettering online. They create the design online, they order and pay online, and within two days receive their order. Easy, and mass-customisable, thanks to the power of the Internet.
  • Creating software for Liquor Stores/Petrol Stations and other high risk stores that allows them to serve customers effectively and efficiently using technology, while seperating the risk of potentially agressive customers.

So my call to action is to continue to think about how to apply technology to all these common problems, and in return create a life worth living. What are you going to do?

Why no one likes your web application…

The usability sucks. I hate to say it, but it’s true, and it’s causing your site to lose money. As designers/programmers/business analysts, we often focus on features rather than the end user like Apple’s iPhone.

What made consumers drool over the iPhone? It wasn’t features, like the Nokia N95. The iPhone can’t even do Picture Messaging. It was of course, the User Interface. People camped outside waiting in line to order an iPhone because of how the application interacted with the user. Do they do this with your web application?

Probably not. Web 2.0 is making many nice looking websites, but so what? Popular websites are generally:

  1. Free. It’s the future of business.
  2. Simple. Twitter is txt-messaging for the web.
  3. Focused on the user. Why else is Basecamp so successful?

So here’s my call to action: I’m going to work on making Sovietbadges.co.nz easier to use. It should be like using Dell.com. What are you going to do?

Drupal + Ubercart vs. Magento, what’s better?

I think it depends on your level of experience. If you can configure options but aren’t really a fan of code, I’d go for Ubercart. This is because:

  • It’s really really easy to get a quite advanced level of E-Commerce experience, especially with the Drupal + Ubercart 1.0 Deluxe Install Package. Just extract to your web server directory, set up a database, and then go to the folder through the webserver. Easy.
  • If you want to add a new feature, odds are that there are already Modules for Drupal available to do so.
  • You’ll probably have the most trickiest time creating a theme, though Zen‘s a pretty good place to start.

And just incase you were thinking that all Drupal sites look like this, check out Ka-Ching. It’s simply an amazing design, and is Drupal + Ubercart.

And Magento? They haven’t been around for long, but they’re the new force behind some really nice E-Commerce sites like Nerdyshirts. They’ve gone all out on focusing on what features businesses require to sell products. I know that sounds weird, but often open source software has a tendency to focus on software, rather than the end user (NSFW – Profanity but great humour).

But with all this focus on selling, the current release was slow and didn’t feature a WYSIWYG editor.

But do remember this is just a version 1.0 release, and I believe in the near future I’ll be switching from Drupal + Ubercart to Magento when it becomes a little friendlier to small companies that want to sell their products on the web easily.