by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Thursday May 02, 2013 at 11:22PM in Technology
In Part One and Part Two of this series, we explored the idea of a "Capability Case" and argued that this approach will be essential for firms who want to align IT with business strategy in the future. In this installment, we’ll look at the *process* of creating a capability case in more detail, and we’ll look at a sample of what the result of that process might look like.
Specifically, this Capability Case, which we call "Technology Radar" is an example of a Capability Case which a software vendor (like Fogbeam Labs!) might develop to use as an exploratory tool to for helping customers understand their solutions. In this example, the case uses a fictional (we hope!) firm as the subject, and is, by it’s nature, a little more generic than a Capability Case which is "cut from whole cloth" by a firm running through the process from scratch.
In either case, developing a Capability Case begins with an analysis of the business and its current status, the forces and trends affecting the business, and the desired results. Porter’s Five Forces analysis is the gold standard of strategic analysis tools, and a firm will usually choose to engage this model to start the process.
Given the output of the "Five Forces" analysis, and a survey of significant trends affecting the firm and its industry, the firm leadership should begin to design a strategic direction to address these forces and trends. It is only then that the firm should begin to look at technological capabilities and start building the bridge from strategy to concrete capabilities. This however, is exactly where the CIO, CTO, Director of R&D, and other technology experts must be directly engaged with the highest levels of firm leadership, so they can articulate what capabilities exist (or could be developed or acquired) which could support the strategic direction and desired outcomes.
Candidate capabilities may be drawn from a catalog of pre-existing capabilities which exist within the firm, or they may be created from scratch and proposed for development. Vendors may also provide lists of potential capabilities which they can provide through their products. In the end, a proposed Capability Case may feature a mix of existing capabilities, ones which will be developed from scratch, and ones which will be purchased from 3rd party suppliers. Once a list of capabilities for the proposed Capability Case have been developed, a "solution story" is generated, which puts the use of the capabilities, and their mapping to the strategic objectives, into a narrative form.
Identify technological developments - which may present either a threat to the enterprise, or a groundbreaking new opportunity - as early as possible.
New technologies are being developed at a dizzying pace. Worldwide, private enterprises, academic researchers, and open-source hackers are all constantly pushing the envelope, developing new approaches and tools. Some of these advancements may represent a huge threat to your organization, perhaps by enabling a competitor to cannibalize your existing business model with a much less expensive alternative. Others may represent an opportunity to break new ground with products, product features, or services that can represent sizable new revenue streams. It is advantageous to identify these advances as soon as possible, in order to outmaneuver the competition and take maximum advantage of new developments.
As Downes and Mui point out in their book Unleashing the Killer App, this kind of awareness requires a technology radar consisting of a fat pipeline, a sensitive radar screen and sophisticated intelligence.
Forces & Trends: (American Textile Manufacturing)
Porter’s Five Forces
Threat of New Entrants - there are low barriers to entry for manufacturing many textile products. Capital to build or purchase a mill, knitting machines, looms and other equipment is the largest barrier. For technical textiles, intellectual capital is also a potential barrier. More specialized products are harder for new entrants to duplicate.
Threat of Substitutes - many textile product are substitutable for others. Polyester, for example, is gaining ground in my applications formerly served by natural fibers. This is less of a problem for specialized materials and advanced technical textiles.
Bargaining Power of Customers - Moderate to high, especially for commodity products such as denim. Smaller mills are especially prone to being “bargained down” by customers working in concert with each other.
Bargaining Power of Suppliers - Moderate, especially for raw materials like cotton whiche are widely available from multiple suppliers.
Competitive Rivalry - Intense. This industry has relatively high fixed costs, especially for labor. This subjects American manufacturers to intense competition from imports from low-wage countries like China, Malaysia, or Korea.
Customer co-creation - Textile firms are working more closely with their customers, doing joint R&D, to develop new products. Using computer based collaboration, companies are becoming more value-added partners with customers, and co-creating value through developing innovative products together.
New Fiber Development - There is a trend towards the development of bio-based products, including fibers made from raw materials like corn, wheat and beets. These new fibers are being used to create a variety of high-performance textile products with unique properties.
Military Fabrics - The Pentagon is a significant purchaser of textile products and military applications are a steadily growing niche. The military is constantly seeking textiles which perform better in extreme climates, are less bulky, and are lighter in weight. There is a significant opportunity to introduce new, specialized products catering to military applications.
Medical Textiles - Demand for specialized technical textiles is growing, especially for products which can help prevent infections during surgical procedures.
Nanotechnology - Research in the area of nanotechnology is advancing at a rapid pace, and innovations in this area enable a wide range of new, specialized, high-performance textile products. Universities are creating significant breakthroughs, but commercialization of this research is lagging.
Given these forces and trends, MegaCorp come to the conclusion that a primary strategic objective is to start introducing more innovative and specialized textile products, which are more difficult to copy, have no other suppliers, and are not subject to the same pricing pressure from imports as more commoditized textiles.
Desired Business Results: (MegaCorp, Inc.)
- Better awareness of technological advances which are significant to the organization.
- Ability to gain early mover advantage over competitors, and market differentiation, by incorporating advances in materials science sooner.
- Ability to preempt low-priced imports by introducing more specialized and innovative products.
- Lower risk of being one-upped by the competition with a significant technical advancement.
- More rapid, and greater overall, return on R&D investments.
Typical Use Scenarios and Guidance
A technology radar is established to pull in information from many disparate sources: RSS feeds, Twitter streams, email lists, and user submitted links to websites, documents and articles. Collaborative filtering through collective intelligence is used to filter the lower value submissions, while ensuring the relevant information gains visibility.
Employees throughout the organization view the radar, through the “emerging technologies” channel and take advantage of the information.
In some cases this may represent a “bottom up” scenario, such as an engineer finding an interesting new library which enables a feature the engineer likes... he quickly knocks out a prototype, shows it to senior management, and it is eventually adopted into a product release. In another case, this may be a “top down” scenario, where a senior leader discovers a new technology, and issues a mandate that R&D investigate its applicability to their product.
The process of identifying a solution for this situation discovered the necessity of the following technological capabilities:
- C1. Collaborative Filtering
- C2. Content Aggregation
- C3. External Application Integration
- C4. Personalized Information Stream
- C5. Real-time Alerting
- C6. Social Information Sharing
- C7. Trending Topics / Hot Items
- C8. OpenSearch Integration?
At MegaCorp, a North Carolina based manufacturer of advanced technical textiles, leaders are constantly jousting with rival HyperCorp, each striving to steal market share from the other. Recently, HyperCorp has released several innovative new products, with properties that MegaCorp had not considered possible, and were not able to deliver in their own products. After the most recent release, MegaCorp leaders dug in and discovered that HyperCorp had integrated advanced technology developed by researchers at Miskatonic University.
"Why," asked MegaCorp CEO Howard Phillips,
"did we not know about this sooner? This is actually a better fit for our product.. if we had done this first, we could have taken a huge chunk of HyperCorp’s market share, instead of letting them jump out in front of us!"
In order to address this lack of awareness of emerging technologies, MegaCorp decide to implement a Technology Radar. An "emerging technologies" channel is created (Capability C2), where every member of the organization can submit links to documents, articles and documents (Capability C6) that touch on technologies related to MegaCorp’s industry, along with relevant news-feeds and data streams from external content repositories (Capability C3). Users throughout the organization vote, tag and comment on each submission, allowing the collective intelligence of the organization (Capability C1)to filter the less important items, while pushing the key ones to the top. Product Managers and executives begin to make browsing the latest ‘top items’ (Capability C7) on the channel a routine habit... and some users configure the system to send them a dynamic alert via instant messaging when an entry reaches a certain score (Capability C5) while other users choose to filter entries by keyword or topic (Capability C4).
A few months later, the Flozzit Product Manager receives such an instant message - the link is to a paper published by researchers at Arkham University, detailing the development of a breakthrough in nanotechnology which solves a problem that MegaCorp engineers have been struggling with. MegaCorp quickly contact the AU technology transfer office, negotiate to license the new technology and begin integrating the new approach. They also manage to recruit two of the students from AU who worked on the project to join their own internal R&D department.
Using the new technology, MegaCorp are able to release their "Flozzit" material with properties which clearly outclass the closest equivalent material from HyperCorp,which had been steadily eroding market-share away from MegaCorp until now.
CEO Phillips talks to his managers and explains why he’s happy with developments - "If we hadn’t rolled that new stuff out when we did, HyperCorp would have been able to put a dagger into our heart. Now we’ve shown them, and the market, that they aren’t always the ones on the forefront of technical advancements. And the two new guys we hired from Arkham are already hard at work on some stuff that’s going to blow everybody away."
- Corporate culture which fosters a “Not Invented Here” syndrome.
- Lack of incentives for participation in the system.
- Lack of belief in the utility of the system.
- Lack of participation in the system by executives and other decision makers.
- Neddick Enterprise from Fogbeam Labs
- Other corporate knowledge repositories (blog servers, forums software, document management systems, HR management systems, etc.)
- Existing Data Warehouses / Databases / Knowledgebases
- External information sources (web pages, databases, etc.
RSS feeds, HTTP, OpenSearch
If you found this interesting, please follow us on Twitter or visit our homepage at Fogbeam.com
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Friday April 12, 2013 at 05:00PM in Technology
Inspired by a recent blog post from the folks at PMRobot - titled "The Truth about PMRobot" - I was motivated to write something in a similar vein. I was particularly struck by what PMRobot said here:
I recently watched an excellent talk by Jason Cohen from the Business of Software conference in 2011. He talks about the importance and value of being honest about your product's strengths and weaknesses. I’m putting this into practice by being brutally honest about our product in conversation with people I meet.
My experience is that people find honesty refreshing, even disarming. By being upfront about your shortcomings, you give them a reason to trust your claims about your strengths. Honesty, also makes you more human and relatable. It makes you the kind of people others want to see succeed. It opens you up for receiving honest feedback, which is essentially to any lean startup.”
When I read this, my immediate reaction was to think (and post to Hacker News) something like:
Love it, love it to death! There is so much truth in this article, on both a meta level and the obvious level. In fact, you have inspired me to write a similar post for Fogbeam Labs.
I sometimes feel torn when writing about us, on our blog, our website, etc... trying to choose between "generic corporate voice" where we try to sound like a typical "big company" and something more "down to earth, folksy and honest". And, truth be told, I think I sometimes default to "generic big company" because it's actually easier in some perverse sense. Figuring out how to write simply, directly, and honestly, while preserving the underlying message and not sending a different message, is - IMO - a non-trivial thing.
We want potential customers to know that we're a small company (2 people at the moment), that our products are unfinished, immature and buggy, and that we can't provide some of the things that IBM or Oracle can. But we also don't want them to think that we're a bunch of rubes who don't know what we're doing, or to think that we'll do anything less than bend over backwards to provide the best possible support to those who take a chance on us at this early stage. We also want people to know that we genuinely believe that we have what will be the best product offerings in our space, as things mature and we finish fleshing things out.
So what is the truth about Fogbeam Labs? Well, quite simply that we are an early stage, bootstrapped startup, self-funded so far, and comprised of two people. We were three people, but one co-founder had some really difficult issues going on in his personal life and chose to step down. And the truth is that our products are buggy, immature and unfinished. And the truth is that we don’t have the resources of an IBM or an Oracle or a Microsoft, to promote, support, build and enhance our products. And the truth is truth is that not everyone is a potential customer for us right now. Running as a lean startup, we are focused on conserving cash and minimizing overhead as much as possible, so we are focusing on serving customers in North Carolina first and foremost, then other Southeast states (VA, GA, TN and SC in particular) to minimize travel cost, and to allow us to be as responsive as possible to our customers. Simply put, we are small, so we can provide better service to a company in NC than we can to a company in Seattle, WA or in London, England.
We are also mainly interested in a certain type of customer. Because our products are buggy, immature and incomplete, but will - as we flesh out our vision for them - eventually be leading edge and offer some real competitive advantage to our users, we are looking for customers who fit the mold of what Steve Blank calls Earlyvangelists. An Earlyvangelist is aggressivly seeking to be on the cutting edge, and is looking for technology as a means to a competitive advantage. Earlyvangelists will work with unproven startups, pay money for unfinished products, and provide feedback and input that helps the startup flesh the product out into it’s finished form. They will also evangelize for the startup (assuming they deliver on their promises) and promote them to their peers.
So why should a company take a chance on Fogbeam Labs and our products? Simply, because we believe we have a broader, more comprehensive vision of how certain types of software products, coupled with new approaches to management and organizational structure, can allow a firm to develop a real, meaningful competitive advantage. And we believe that, in the hypercompetitive times we live in, many firms need what we are offering.
We also believe, very strongly, that proprietary software is a dead-end, and that enterprises have begun a slow, but steady transition to favoring Open Source Software, developed in an open and collaborative fashion, and released under a liberal license.
Finally, because we are not just “in it for the money”. At Fogbeam, our Mission and Core Values statement is not just a bit of glossy rhetoric or a marketing gimmick. It defines why we are here and how we do business. And we believe we are advocating a better way of doing business than many (if not all) of the traditional, big proprietary software vendors.
So, if you are looking for an Enterprise Social Network, an Enterprise Search engine and a novel Information Discovery platform which can provide the plumbing for improved knowledge management, knowledge transfer, innovation and productivity in your enterprise, give us a call.
Whether we wind up doing a deal or not, you know you’ll get one thing from us at a minimum: the truth.
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Monday April 08, 2013 at 05:36PM in Technology
Every where you turn lately, there seems to be someone who’s more than happy to dispense advice on how to be an entrepreneur, or - more to the point - dispense their opinion on who, exactly is or is not a “real” entrepreneur. Somehow, without ever having met you, and without knowing anything about you, your partners, your company, your customers, your market, your products, your competition, your funding, your complements, or any-fucking-thing else relevant, these people “know” how committed you are, how likely you are to succeed, when you should quit your dayjob, and everything else.
On the one hand you have people telling you that if you haven’t quit your dayjob yet, then you aren’t a “real entrepreneur”. Then you have people telling you that “older founders” aren’t as “committed” as younger ones. Next have people with fancy schmancy titles, like “VP of Entrepreneurship” at places like the Kauffman Foundation issuing decrees from on high, like:
“Unless there are real consequences for failure—until you’ve personally guaranteed a line of credit and tried to sell your product to an actual human being,” says Ruhe, “you won’t have the motivation needed to build a business that matters” -- Thom Ruhe, VP of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation
Now, I don't know who Thom Ruhe is, and I don't really care. But what I know is that this armchair quarterback with his fancy title, working for some foundation somewhere, knows bloody fucking bugger-all about my motivation, or lack thereof. You want to talk to me about motivation, dude? Quit your job at the Kauffman Foundation and come work with us. We offer no pay, no benefits (not even free coffee), long hours, sleepless nights, stress beyond belief, non-stop fear of failure, and an equity stake that could make you really wealthy if we succeed. Would you be motivated to take that swap, in order to gain the satisfaction of doing your own thing, the freedom of not having a "boss" and the sense of accomplishment that goes into building something? No? Well, guess what... we are. So unless you want to take me up on my offer, don't fucking talk to me about motivation.
Even from local organizations like CED, nominally dedicated to advancing entrepreneurship in NC, you get them telling you that “you can’t take advantage of our mentoring service yet, because you’re too early stage.” Wait, what? If we weren’t early stage, we probably wouldn’t be looking for bleeding mentors! Isn’t the idea for mentors to help, well, mentor, people with less experience, to help them avoid the obvious mistakes, and to shorten their learning curve? It just never stops...
And of course there are always plenty of people at any startup oriented networking event you attend, who are happy to criticize you, tell you that you need to “pivot”, or point out that you will be competing against $BIGCO and should therefore not bother. Again, without any specific knowledge of your startup, they somehow know all this stuff.
You know what I think? I think if all of these people are so bleeding brilliant, or prescient, they need to start a startup of their own, or head down to the local convenient store and pick up a handful of lottery tickets... or maybe head to the horse track. Because, honestly, I’m tired of hearing your opinions. Advice and constructive criticism are cool, especially when they are rooted in some actual meaningful context or experience, and when you actually know us, our team, our products, etc. Ultimately, the only opinions I care about are mine, my co-founder’s, and the people we’re selling to - along with a very select subset of people who have *demonstrated* to us that they have something constructive to add.
We are here on a mission and we have a company to build. So unless your advice is somehow directly contributing to advancing our cause, I really don't care what you think. Whether it’s the handful of local mentors / advisors we consult, or a few “net celebrities” like Paul Graham or Steve Blank, we listen to these people, because they offer actionable, useful, constructive advice and information. The rest of you can bugger off, and settle back into your armchairs to do some more Monday Morning quarterbacking.
If you found this interesting, please follow us on Twitter or visit our homepage at Fogbeam.com
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Monday March 25, 2013 at 10:29AM in Technology
There is an intriguing new post by Joe Procopio over at WRAL TechWire, provocatively titled “Rating the 'Series A' elite eight of Triangle tech startups”. The piece starts off with some interesting perspectives on the state of technology startups in the Triangle area, reviews some interesting new developments in terms of support for startups, and talks a bit about the availability of funding for startups. Now, if you’ve been around the Triangle for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the old saw that one of the major obstacles to building a startup here is the lack of access to funding. Investors in this area are reputed to be very risk averse and reluctant to invest, especially in early stage startups. So this is a topic that is always of interest to entrepreneurs in the area.The article also dives into what it will take to attract more attention to the Triangle startup scene and questions whether or not we need more startups here. Joe then proceeds to list off his 8 “elite series A” startups, based on their presumed chances of raising an A round in 2013. All in all, it’s an interesting article that appears at an interesting time for startups in the Triangle. There is some evidence that more funding is becoming available (there are rumors of a new seed stage VC fund being formed), and crowdfunding is becoming an option as the SEC gets around to implementing the requirements of the JOBS ACT. But... I find myself wondering if we, as a community, are spending too much time obsessing about fund-raising. Whether it’s the Triangle or Silicon Valley, Hacker News or Triangle Tech Talk or WRAL Tech Wire, TechCrunch or Quora, one topic that always seems to be on the lips of startup founders is “venture capital”. We obsess over what’s happening on CrunchBase or AngelList, gossip about who is or isn’t raising right now, who’s investing in who, etc. But is this really healthy? I consider this kind of thinking, in which people begin to mistake the means (funding) with the end (a profitable company) to be a disease. Call it “FundRaisingItus” if you will. It appears to be an epidemic among entrepreneurs, wantrepreneurs, tech journalists, and others attached to the startup scene. This danger of this disease, is that it leads entrepreneurs to spend time chasing investors when they could be talking to customers, doing market research, writing code, innovating, and otherwise working on building a company that creates value. Worse, it leads to entrepreneurs doing this when they don’t need to. Not every startup needs to raise outside capital at all, and even those who do don’t necessarily need to do so *right now*. Unfortunately, when we elevate fund-raising to being it’s own end it leads entrepreneurs to, at best, wasting time trying - and failing - to raise money. In an even worse case, they succeed, but raise too early, before they have enough leverage, and so they take really bad deals from investors - the kinds of deals you hear about where the entrepreneur gets “screwed out of his/her company”. Interestingly enough, Joe himself has written some words on this topic, hitting on a similar theme. In his blog post at http://exitevent.com/durham-startup-boostsuite-hits-5000-customers-13220.aspJoe says “In an era where most startup talk is concerned with who is raising how much and from whom, it's so much more rewarding to talk about who is landing customers, proving out their product, and raising recurring revenues.”And in his N&O article at http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/01/07/2589196/triangle-startups-follow-national.htmlJoe says: “But beyond the basic supply-and-demand issue, there is another trend of entrepreneurs focusing their efforts on revenue rather than investment. It might turn out that some of these startups won’t need additional funds beyond the seed stage”.I think that’s a pretty good assessment of the situation! Anyway, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every company should bootstrap / self-fund and avoid outside capital forever. I am saying that we, as a community, should close the Crunchbase tab, and the TechCrunch tab, for a while and quit fixating on fundraising - and focus on creating value and then exchanging that value for dollars. Wait to pursue capital until you A. absolutely must have it to continue or grow, and B. have the maximum amount of leverage possible, in order to get the best possible terms. Who knows, we may even find that we are able to fund our companies strictly from generated revenue anyway. After all, the point of a startup is not to raise money, but to make money.
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Thursday March 21, 2013 at 08:15AM in Technology
If you found this interesting, please follow us on Twitter or visit our homepage at Fogbeam.com
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Sunday March 17, 2013 at 05:02AM in Technology
2. Free Software Foundation
3. Electronic Frontier Foundation
4. Red Hat Now I'm thinking, there must be more than four, and there must be more than one "for profit" company which leans on the hacker ethic as a pillar. But no others immediately come to mind. Well, except for us here at Fogbeam Labs, but we don't really count, as we're a bootstrapped, self-funded startup, with very little in the way of resources. I'm thinking more about established, profitable, for-profit companies. So the question that occurs to me now is this: Is the Hacker Ethic, and related mindsets, including commitment to the Open Web, Open Standards and F/OSS, compatible with a for-profit enterprise? This hits very close to home for us here at Fogbeam, as our entire model is based on F/OSS. For those of you who don't know, all of our software is available under the Apache Software License v2, or another OSI approved license. (Aside: practically speaking, everything we do is ASLv2, but we might ship something that's BSD license, MIT license, LGPL or GPL. We don't be doing any CPAL badgeware crap even though it is OSI approved). Our goal is to follow in the footsteps of our neighbors in Raleigh, the fine folks at Red Hat, and build a profitable business around a true Open Source approach. So, since we're talking about Red Hat, one might say the question is settled, that RH are an "existence proof" that a company can be profitable (and growing) as a public company and still adhere to the Hacker Ethic. But one has to wonder, why aren't there more companies like Red Hat? And why has a company like Google, once considered a haven for hackers, started to look more and more like a 2010's version of 1990's era Microsoft? Of course, Google certainly aren't as evil as 1990's era MS, and maybe they never will be. Google have released a ton of code as Open Source over the years, and they bought the VP8/WebM technology just to make it an open standard. Android is still OSS (sort of), as is Chrome, and I'd still look at GOOG as more "hacker friendly" than Microsoft. But I think it is painfully obvious that Google have backslid in recent years, and that their reputation among hackers is somewhat tarnished. So, where is all this going? And why does it matter? Well, it matters to us, for aforementioned reasons... we want to be a company that grows into a position where we can make money, be influential, and become a great haven for hackers who want to get paid for hacking on cool stuff. But you have to manage to be profitable to do all that. And you have to wonder, if the sacrifices you have to make - in order to become profitable - necessarily mean slipping away from that core ethic. And, looking beyond our own immediate concerns, you have to question what all of this means for society at large. There are forces at work, and trends developing, which would limit access to technology and knowledge, and lock it down behind all sorts of walls and gates, both technological and legal, or otherwise turn it against the people it should serve. DRM baked into hardware, the Windows 8 UEFI / Secure Boot debacle, the DMCA and it's "anti circumvention" measures, CISPA, the list goes on and on. For a fascinating and in-depth analysis of some scary changes in the tech landscape, see the famous The Coming War on General Purpose Computing talk. So, my challenge to you, and to ourselves is this: Seek out ways to create companies (for-profit AND/OR non-profits and other organizations) that do embody the hacker ethic, and which can help fight the good fight to, as an old Lulu t-shirt said "Take Back Technology". And help promote and encourage the existing organizations that are on the right side of this. Also, continue to publicly "call out" the Google's of the world when they start to falter. Join, contribute to, or start a hackerspace, or a free culture meetup, or a Linux User's Group. Start or join an Open Source project of some sort. Whatever works for you. For my own part, I plan to chip in some more money to the EFF very soon. And Fogbeam Labs will continue to churn out awesome Open Source products as we play our (currently) small part in this story.
Join the Hacker News discussion or follow us on Twitter.
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Monday February 18, 2013 at 08:01PM in Technology
In our last post we talked a lot about how important Capability Cases are for Information Technology professionals on either side of specifying a software system. But what we didn't do was go very deep into explaining exactly what Capability Cases are. At least one reader was put off by our jumping straight into the rationale for Capability Cases without defining them (and perhaps some other terms) first. Posting on Hacker News, user hiccup said:I'm having a hard time cutting through the business buzzwords to understand what these capability cases are. Seems like a standard Waterfall design methodology used by big consulting companies. OK, heavy stuff, but we hope to correct that here. First, to the point about "business buzzwords", I would say that there are no "buzzwords" in the previous post. That is, in the sense that a "buzzword" is a word which exists only to tap into some sort of faddish sensation and which conveys no actual meaning. What there is - perhaps in excess relative to some audiences - is a lot of technical jargon from the business world. Anyone not familiar with Porter's Five Forces model or SWOT Analysis might have found some bits to be a bit cryptic. This is one of the dangers of creating a mechanism which is designed to bridge the chasm between two "worlds" which have radically different technical jargon. Anyone not versed in both sets of lingo will find the literature on the topic to be a tough slog. As it turns out, this "bridging" notion is the strength of Capability Cases, with the caveat that anyone who intends to master this technique must expend a little bit of effort to learn jargon, techniques, and skills from areas in which they may not currently be well versed. This is, perhaps, also a weakness of Capability Cases, as the technique demands its practitioners have at least a certain baseline of knowledge from both the "IT world" and the "Business World". With that said, let's start, then, with explaining what Capability Cases are and a bit more about the methodology behind them. First, as stated in the book, a Capability Case is "the case for a capability". Succinct, but not very enlightening without talking more about what a "capability" is, and without defining "case" more clearly in this context. In this context, when we talk about a "case" we mean something like "justification for" or "argument for". This is the way the word is used when someone says "make your case for X" or "what's the business case for Z"? It could also be thought of as somewhat akin to the "cases" or "case studies" that are used in business school. So, a "Capability Case" then is a detailed explanation, from a business perspective, justifying the development of a technological solution using a set of capabilities. This now leads us to the question of "what do you mean by capability"? The authors of the CapCases book put it this way "By Capability we mean the potential to deliver business functionality". Wikipedia defines Capability thusly: "Capability is the ability to perform actions". When we talk about a "technological capability" then, we are talking about technology which enables some action or function which has business value. An example of a Capability might be "placing orders and checking out online using a web browser" or "full-text search across an array of disparate document repositories". So how exactly do Capability Cases work to bridge the IT world and the Business world? First, a practitioner of this approach works to identify the problems or challenges confronting the business, using one or more well known techniques drawn from business analysis and strategic planning: Porter's Five Forces analysis, SWOT Analysis, Value Stream Mapping, review of Key Performance Indicators or perhaps the use of a Balanced Scorecard or Strategy Map. Once a problem or challenge has been identified, the next step is to identify candidate capabilities which could be used to address the problem and build a solution. An example problem might be something like "Revenue is declining and our sales people are spending too much time managing routine orders from existing customers, which cuts into their ability to prospect and build new business". Once a succinct problem has been identified, the practitioners begin to review technological capabilities, which can include existing capabilities developed within the firm, capabilities which can be acquired in the form of pre-existing COTS or F/OSS packages, or non-existing capabilities which would need to be developed from scratch. And it is at this intersection point that a firm truly needs staff who can walk - at least partially - in both "worlds", business and IT. To map the capabilities to the problem, and identify the most reasonable solution is the real work of capability cases. Once candidate cases are identified, a "solution story" can be constructed, which walks through a scenario involving the various actors, and explains how the capability leads to a solution to the problem at hand. A fully fleshed out Capability Case detail how one or more capabilities will be deployed to address the identified problem. Now, to hiccup's earlier point about this sounding like a "Waterfall" methodology: Nothing about using CapCases implies the use of a waterfall approach! You certainly can - and should - iterate through the development of the CapCases which lead to the commissioning of a project to implement a solution. One could think of the use of Capability Cases and the associated methodology as corresponding, roughly, to the inception phase of the Unified Software Development Process. This technique is also entirely compatible with Agile principles and could either front-end the initiation of a project using, for example, Scrum, or the analysis and review and development of the Capability Case could become a part of the ongoing Scrum process. Of course, the preceding discussion is focused on a scenario where a firm identifies a problem internally, and sets out to commission a technological solution to the problem. But I also argued last time that this technique is important to vendors, such as ISVs, as well. How can this be? Simply, an ISV should develop "canned" or "cookie cutter" Capability Cases which illustrate how the capabilities provided by their products are used to address commonly encountered problems in their target market. The cases can be used to salespeople to help inform their earliest contacts with firms they are attempting to sell to (you could think of a canned Capability Case as a "job aid" in Solution Selling terminology) and can be used as part of an educational marketing initiative. If your capabilities are new and exotic enough that many people will not be familiar with them, a strong Capability Case will help demonstrate the value of your wares. And, of course, a canned Capability Case can serve as the starting point of a more detailed analysis, tailored to suit a particular customer, as the exploration process continues. It should also be possible to talk about composing Capability Cases, and assembling more sophisticated cases at higher levels of abstraction, which are made up of less sophisticated cases, joined together. It should also be noted that naming your Capability Cases is important, as this gives you a vocabulary with which to converse at a higher level of abstraction. Of course, the case for a single capability may simply reflect the name of the capability, but a case which contains multiple capabilities, or a compositional case, may have a more illustrative name. So, hopefully this goes helps lift some of the confusion around this powerful tool. Capability Cases are a powerful tool, and developing a deep understanding is not something one can gain overnight. We highly recommend that anyone interested in learning more go and read the seminal book on the topic, and - if you have further questions - contact us. Please don't hesitate to leave a comment here, and consider following our Twitter feed for the latest news and updates from Fogbeam Labs. Join the Hacker News discussion.
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Saturday January 26, 2013 at 08:23PM in Technology
If you have not yet heard of "Capability Cases" and you are in the software business, run, don't walk, to capabilitycases.org or your favourite on-line / physical book retailer and pick up the book "Capability Cases: A Solution Envisioning Approach" by Irene Polikoff, Robert Coyne and Ralph Hodgson. Capability Cases are a must for any professional involved in defining, proposing, building, selling or creating software systems in 2013."Why", you might ask, "are Capability Cases so bloody important, and if they were actually all that, why haven't I heard of them before"? Glad you asked. In short, Capability Cases solve the problem of bridging between the worlds of the hardcore technologist - who appreciates technology for it's own sake, and values technical elegance first and foremost - and the business executive who is more concerned with solving business problems and defining solutions that will help the business address market challenges, operational deficiencies, and improve internal processes. As to why you haven't heard of them already, well, that's harder to explain. They are a new'ish idea, and the word about Capability Cases seems to have been drowned out by all the noise being generated in the technology world. Perhaps because a proper appreciation of the value of the Capability Case requires a rare breed of individual, someone who can walk in both the world of the technologist and the world of the business executive. In any case, this approach is a significant step forward in terms of defining software systems to solve business problems, and will soon be all but required in any organization which wants to do more than pay lip service to generating competitive advantage from information technology. "But wait," you might protest, "Nicholas Carr has already said that IT doesn't matter and can't represent a source of competitive advantage. You must not know what you're talking about." Well, it could be that I don't know what I'm talking about, but, to put it simply, Nicholas Carr is wrong. Information Technology absolutely still represents a means to achieve competitive advantage. The important point to realize, is that "IT for IT's sake" is not a means to achieve competitive advantage... a modern, enlightened organization must instead focus on understanding the capabilities which Information Technology can provide, and must understand how those capabilities enable aspects of their business strategy. In other words, competitive advantage is not a simple as "whoever has the best algorithms wins" but instead is derived at the intersection of strategy and technology. And this is where Capability Cases come into play. By beginning with the forces affecting the business, and driving through to solutions and the capabilities needed to enable those solutions, the Capability Case is exactly the means to understand how to leverage technology to achieve a strategic / competitive advantage. However, to gain the maximum benefit from Capability Cases, an organization is going to need people who can - to at least a minimal degree - speak both the language of business and the language of technology. If you are a technologist who speaks "Relational database" and "NoSQL graph database" and "CORBA" and "RMI" and "distributed / replicated cache" but does not know anything about "Porter's Five Forces" or "SWOT analysis" or the meaning of "Value Chain" or "Balanced Scorecard", you will not be properly equipped to serve in that "gap bridging" role. Likewise, if you are a business executive who believes "I don't need to know anything about technology, I'll leave that to the geeks in IT" and you don't know the difference between a database and a web browser, your days are numbered. The most valuable members of the most effective organizations going forward, will be those who can serve in this role of defining solutions using Capability Cases. So, are we saying that IT people need to go get an MBA, or that business execs need to go get a Computer Science degree? Not at all, but regardless of where you currently fall in this dichotomy, you will need to make a conscious effort to gain a minimal level of skills and knowledge from the "other" domain. If you are a technologist and you don't know the name "Michael Porter" and have no idea what "SWOT analysis" is, then go buy a textbook on Strategic Planning and dig in. If you are a business executive who has no idea how a "relational database" differs from an "application server" then go to http://www.codecademy.com/ and start programming, or go sign up for a course at Coursera. Do it now, or you will probably find yourself unemployed sooner than later. Likewise, if you are an ISV or other vendor of software solutions, if you are not able to articulate the capabilities of your software in terms of Capability Cases, you will struggle to communicate the value of your products to the people who control the purse-strings and make buying decisions. Influenced by Nicholas Carr and his "IT doesn't matter" mantra, executives have become more sceptical of proposed technology initiatives and want a better map to show how the initiative leads to an actual business benefit. That map consits of one or more Capability Cases, especially when the Capability Case is tailored to the specifics of the customer in question. Capability Cases are also an excellent tool for Lean Startups who are taking advantage of the "Customer Development" methodology developed by Steve Blank. Use the tools from the Capability Case methodology to help zone in on the important business forces affecting your customers, and you'll do a much better job of identifying high value needs, and developing solutions to those needs. To summarize: Capability Cases are a methodology for defining and specifying software solutions, which operate at the boundary between the business world and the technology world. They map from the forces affecting the business, to the solutions needed to address those forces, and to the capabilities which enable those solutions. They are the current state of the art in solving the problem of communicating between the business domain and the technology domain and are essential for turning technology into competitive advantage. Join the Hacker News discussion. If you've read this far, you should probably follow us on Twitter.
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Saturday September 01, 2012 at 02:54PM in Technology
Exercise: come up with 10 ideas today. Then throw away the list. Come up with ten ideas tomorrow. And so on. I’ve written before: but in six months your life will be completely changed as a result.I may be wrong, but intuitively, that feels like a very powerful exercise. I'm fascinated enough with the possibility, that I'm going to commit to doing the exercise for the next 6 months. I may tweak the parameters a bit, but it will basically reduce to "come up with 10 new ideas per day." In my case, I'll be mainly focused on business ideas, or product ideas that could be deployed here at Fogbeam Labs. I won't try to blog this every single day, but if I find some interesting revelation or insight from doing this, I'll definitely blog it. And I'll probably try to post a snapshot of the ideas every so often. Oh, right... you're supposed to throw the list away each day. OK, that's one parameter I'm going to tweak. I'll keep each day's list, partly because I don't want to accidentally reuse an idea, and also because I want to see how my idea generation evolves over time. Also, if there's a genuinely good idea in the lot, I don't want to lose it! Otherwise, here are the parameters I'm setting for myself:
- No reusing "old" ideas (by "old" here, I mean, ideas I've had and chewed on in the past), the focus should be on new ideas. I may relax this a little the first day or two, just to help seed the list, but the purpose here is not to rehash old stuff.
- No trivial derivatives. If the idea on day 1 is "a bitcoin marketplace for cat pictures" then no fair putting "a bitcoin marketplace for dog pictures" on day 2.
- Each idea should be something fairly concrete. That is, it should be something that I'm reasonably sure can be done, not an idea for a research project. So, "start an online business selling Fizbits" is game, but "use genetic algorithms for NLP??" is not.
I might just give it a try, to see how it goes. I'll start a list of ideas, and try to add 10 new (unique) ones to it every day. I'm guessing after about day 2, it'll be hard to come up with 10 new unique ideas, that aren't just ridiculous. By day 3, it'll probably look like:So, what techniques do you use for generating new ideas, brainstorming, etc? Join the discussion on Hacker News. If you've read this far, you should probably follow us on Twitter.
- Start a service to let people launch the remains of their deceased pets into orbit.
- an Android app that makes Farting noises (probably already exists)
- a YCombinator clone
- Something that combines the best elements of Slashdot, XKCD, 4chan, and Ebay.
- An AS/400 compatible RPG environment, to let businesses move off of (expensive) iSeries hardware and onto commodity Linux boxes without expensive porting costs.
- A bitcoin marketplace for cat pics
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Friday August 17, 2012 at 07:06PM in Technology
Earlier today, someone posted a question on Hacker News asking "What are you working on? I posted the following answer, but the entire thread wound up getting deleted for some reason. I've decided to reproduce the answer here, since it would have made a good blog post anyway.So, what exactly *are* Fogbeam Labs working on? We are working on some F/OSS knowledge management / collaboration tools, heavily based around social-networking, machine learning, collective intelligence and semantic web technologies. One of our projects, Quoddy, is sort of (to oversimplify) like a "Facebook for the Enterprise," but with a focus on actually integrating into value creating workflows, and supporting collaboration in new ways, as opposed to simply being another complement to (or replacement for) email. In other words, Quoddy is an open source social network for the enterprise. Another of our projects, Neddick is a lot like Reddit, and I guess you could call it a "Reddit for the Enterprise," but - again - with more of a focus on features that will make it a valuable productivity tool in an organization. Neddick is another example of open source social software for the enterprise, or "open source enterprise 2.0". Neddick is all about using voting, tagging, social ranking, content analysis, metadata and social connections to support social information sharing and knowledge discovery. Heceta is our open source enterprise search engine, which takes advantage of metadata from both Neddick and Quoddy to enhance search results. Hatteras is probably not going to remain a standalone project, but right now it's the "bridge" that allows Quoddy users to subscribe to business events from a SOA/ESB backend and surface those events in their news feed. Of the projects, Quoddy and Neddick are the most developed, Hatteras works just well enough to let us demo the business event subscription stuff in Quoddy, and Heceta mostly exists in my head and in some drawings. But we're making great progress, and we should have an alpha version of Quoddy that's developed enough to start trying to sell to "earlyvangelist" types fairly soon. There's also a good chance that we will work on "productized" versions of some other existing F/OSS projects, especially some ASF stuff. Nothing is written in stone, but you may one day see "Fogbeam Office, powered by Apache OpenOffice" or "Fogbeam BigData Server, powered by Apache Hadoop" or something along those lines. Basically, the goal is to be the next Red Hat, but with a focus on a slightly different part of the stack. Not that there might not be some overlap with them at some point, but time will tell.
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Friday August 17, 2012 at 12:01AM in Technology
As we mentioned last time, we're planning a "special initiative" to coincide with the CED Tech Venture Conference which is coming up in Raleigh, on Sept 11th and 12th, 2012. A number of local startups and tech firms are going to host a special "hospitality suite" alongside the CED event, where investors, customers, journalists, etc. can get away from the noise and babble of the main conference floor, and interact with a select group of startup founders in a more intimate setting; having one one one conversations, private demos, or whatever is required.Needless to say, pulling all of this together is a tremendous effort, and with Phil being isolated in Chicago doing the consulting thing all week, it's been a huge challenge. But thanks to a number of wonderful people, including Andy Hunt from Pragmatic Press, Robert Rice and Eric Martindale from LocalSense, Jason Caplain from Southern Capitol Ventures, Chuck Hester, and many others, this is shaping up nicely. More details and a formal announcement will be coming soon, including the full list of sponsors, participating startups, and more. And if, by chance, YOU would like to participate, either as a startup, or a sponsor (or both) let me know. Email fogbeam (at) gmail (dot) com for the full skinny. And now, off to bed, to try and get a full 8 hours of sleep for the first time this week.
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2012 at 01:56AM in Technology
So, this question hit Quora recently: Is anyone blogging their early stage experiences creating a niche webapp/product? Of course Fogbeam Labs are blogging our experiences, but - to be honest - we've all been so busy lately that there hasn't been much time for blogging. We've been too "heads down" grinding away.But, we know our adoring fans want more (you fans always do!) and we aim to please. So, here's some juicy stuff from the past week or so: Phil (that's me) spent some time chatting with the VP of Sales from a former employer of his, soliciting advice on sales, marketing and general "stuff". It was an enlightening conversation, but the biggest takeaway was probably the urgency to drop the "screwpile" name for the Open Source product suite. Honestly, we all knew it was a bad name (and I take credit for it), but had put off changing it because A. this stuff had been renamed once already, and we didn't want to seem too flakey, and B. we didn't really have a good replacement in mind. So we'd just been drifting along, keeping that on the mental backburner. But the conversation with Matt really emphasized the point, and we're now working on a new name. Sarah and Phil met at Beyu Cafe in Durham last week (that's one of our favorite hacking spots, drop by and say hi sometime if you see us there) and made some good progress on Quoddy - our Open Source Social Network for the Enterprise (aka "Facebook for the Enterprise, but better"). Sarah is driving some major UI improvements through, and Phil is working on our "User Stream Filtering" feature which will give the user more fine-grained control over what appears in their feed. Unfortunately, Phil is now distracted by working on an initiative related to the upcoming CED Tech Venture Conference and hasn't had much time to code this week. And tonight he started working on the NC IDEA grant application. Robert, meanwhile, has been hacking on a bug related to sending JMS messages, and on getting the codebase moved over to Grails2. So, dear Reader, as we end this post, Phil is sitting in bed in beautiful Chicago, IL (doing some consulting there by day to pay the bills), writing a blog post, and the others are back in NC, holding down the fort there. Phil will be lucky to get 6 or 7 hours of sleep tonight, but there's no rest for the wicked (or startup founders). Next time, we'll talk about more fun stuff, like the secret initiative for the CED event (it won't be secret by then), marketing plan(s), more about the projects themselves, and whatever else we can think of. Stay tuned, you do *not* want to miss this stuff. As we keep doing this, and find our voice a little, it'll get even more real, personal, gritty and, well, downright addictive.
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Friday July 20, 2012 at 09:11PM in Technology
Dear Friends of Fogbeam Labs:It's been a while since I had a chance to reach our to all of you with the latest news, and I wanted to take a quick moment and let you all know how things are going. Since last we spoke, things have been very dynamic and exciting here. We have had a new co-founder join the team, we've made tremendous strides one one of our products from a development standpoint, we've added a new project and some exciting new capabilities to our portfolio, we've had one of our projects used as part of a research project by researchers from The Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany, and we are continuing to iterate through the Customer Development process. First things first, I'd like to introduce our newest co-founder, Robert Fischer. (No, not the character from Inception!) Robert is a supremely skilled developer with tons of experience using Groovy and Grails (our chosen development environment) and has a strong AI / mathematics background. Robert also (literally) wrote the book on persistence in Grails. Needless to say, Robert's choosing to join us boosts our capacity tremendously, and he brings another great perspective and set of ideas to the team. In other news, we have been hyper-focused on building out Quoddy, the enterprise social networking component of our suite. For those of you who don't know, Quoddy could be considered something like a "Facebook for the enterprise," but it's better. Much better. And it's also better than software from competitors like Yammer (now Microsoft) and Jive Software, as our vision is to deeply integrate the social aspect into actual business value creating activities... not to provide a superficially useful addition/replacement for email. That brings me to one of our more exciting announcements. To support what we are referring to as "Business Event Subscriptions", we've created project Hatteras. Hatteras work with Quoddy and enables users to subscribe directly to relevant business events from their organization's ESB/SOA infrastructure. As we move forward with adding elements of machine learning and complex event processing to do event correlation and automatically link context to events, this becomes an amazingly powerful set of capabilities for organizations that are embracing the Digital Nervous System or "Zero Latency Enterprise" mindset. Regarding the research at The Max Planck Institute for Software Systems, one of their researchers contacted us some months ago, and asked if they could use Quoddy as one case study for a research project on scaling geographically distributed systems. We said "yes," and were happy to learn just this week that their research was fruitful, and that a paper which mentions Quoddy will be presented at the USENIX OSDI (Operating Systems Design & Implementation) conference in October of this year. And, finally, I have been in Chicago for the past few months, consulting by day in order to pay the bills... and while I've been here, I've been beating the streets, networking, making new connections, friending people, and working to expand the circle of people that are part of our Customer Development process to include some representatives from Chicago area firms. That process is going well, and will help us gain some additional validated learning, from a new set of customers. Thanks for reading this far, and feel free to ping us with any questions, comments, feedback or flames. For myself, Sarah and Robert, until next time: Cheers, Phillip R. : http://www.amazon.com/Grails-Persistence-GORM-Robert-Fischer/dp/1430219262
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Wednesday April 25, 2012 at 10:13PM in Technology
by Phillip Rhodes
Posted on Sunday December 25, 2011 at 07:54AM in Technology
Neddick Technology Preview Release 3 (tpr3) is available, just in time for Christmas! See https://github.com/fogbeam/Neddick/tree/tpr3 and enjoy!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all, from Fogbeam Labs.