SaaS and the Enterprise

I hate desktop software. Every new application is a potential conflict with mission critical software. Then you have the effort of installing and updating. It is a terrible model for the enterprise. Wherever possible I am looking for Software as a Service (SaaS) option.

Adobe has a potentially great service in their CreatePDF SaaS offering (once they add the ability to manipuate PDFs online). The need to create and manipulate PDFs is wide-spread in my organization, but I don’t want to take on the burden of installing Acrobat or some similar app on hundreds of desktops.

Unfortunately Adobe is rolling CreatePDF as a consumer offering. A separate credit card for each use is not a model that works for the enterprise. People like me would be lining up for this service if there were a front-end where our Provisioning team could easily add and remove users and we could receive a quarterly invoice based on the number of users.

I think Adobe is missing the boat. DropBox is another cool app that does not have an enterprise model (box.net seems like a good enterprise alternative).

Thoughts About The Cloud

There is a lot of buzz about “the cloud,” as there should be. Still, it is amazing to me how the hype, especially IT company advertising, seems to miss the mark. Here is an example, the Microsoft commercial with the couple stuck in the airport.

They are able to use “the cloud” to remote into their home PC to watch a video. I think this commercial sucks for the following reasons:

  • In my opinion, this is not using the cloud. I will explain my definition below.
  • Watching video over a remote connection is like taking a shower with your clothes on. It sort of works, but the experience is awful.
  • Few people use Microsoft technologies to record TV. It would have been more realistic (and more cloud-like) if they downloaded TV using iTunes, or Amazon.
  • If you want me to empathize with this beautiful couple, don’t have them watch “Celebrity probation.” I have my share of guilty pleasures, but still…

Worst of all, this ad obfuscates what the cloud means. I suspect Microsoft’s only goal is to associate their name with the cloud. What the couple is actually doing may be irrelevant to Microsoft marketing types.

Nothing Microsoft does in this commercial helps us better understand “the cloud” and why is it noteworthy.

Everyone has their own definition of the cloud and typically they are written in a way that justifies their interests. To me The Cloud is a means to deliver an application as an IT service, where:

1. the service is hosted on servers and storage that are not on our private network
2. those servers and storage are connected to our private network via the Internet
3. the application is accessed by the user using a standard browser without any plug-ins, active-x controls or java requirements. Just HTML5.

I don’t believe in private clouds, or other variations. That strikes me as market-speak that organizations use to make their products and services seem like they are part of the hype. The cloud is not about watching bad TV with a massive latency and audio synch problems while we are sitting on airport carpet.

The cloud is about buying IT as a service to shift time and focus away from:

  • deploying and managing data centers; and
  • installing and troubleshooting desktop software.

Spending less time on these technical things should allow a business to focus on leveraging IT to drive even greater business value.

After the Brainstrom

Sometimes I see people cling to old habits, even though there are clearly easier ways to do things.  I am not talking about something that would require a new computer system and a large IT project.  Just day-to-day stuff.  Here is one example…

I love whiteboards.  I love to use them to brainstorm ideas.  Once upon a time SmartBoards were popular.  They were a way cool, but expensive, way to capture those notes on paper.  They are no longer necessary.  An average digital camera can capture a large whiteboard with enough detail to preserve and share your moments of inspiration.  I find a camera needs to be at least 5 megapixel to get the desired resolution, so cameras on mobile phones (including BlackBerrys and iPhones) are less than ideal. Like most gadget lovers I upgrade cameras frequently.  So my former primary shooter becomes my work phone.

While the .jpg files straight from the camera work fine there is a free web service that will make those images even better.  You can upload your images Qipit.com, which will turn them into PDF files that are much more readable. [Update: on 25 October 2009 I received an email from Qipit stating that they were shutting down their online service.]

whiteboard

This tip applies to those giant easel pads. Don’t carry out all that paper.  Your digital camera is a great way to capture those too.

Bonus tip: if you have a whiteboard in your office, keep whiteboard wipes on your desk.

To Do 2.0

I never really used Outlook’s To Do list. I tried a couple of times, but it became overwhelming and there was not enough functionality to assign deadlines, add notes and stratify tasks. So, I managed my To Do list in my Inbox and in my mind.Remember The Milk Logo

After a number of positive comments rememberthemilk.com (or rmilk.com for short) I decided t try managing my life online. So far so good. This web 2.0 application is proving to be have enough boost of functionality to make it worthwhile. I am almost always wired, so I use it in my browser. There is a BlackBerry sync, but I have not tried that.

I will let you know if I stick with it.

Hospital Web Sites

I think the folks at the Affinity marketing department have passed me up in terms of web savviness. Earlier this decade I felt that they did not “get it” when it comes to the web. I had tried to retain control over the creative portion of the web site. Then, I would go to marketing andAMG Doctor make sure I got the logo and colors right.

But, with the demands of clinical IT I have not been able to make the web a priority. It turns out our web site did not need me. The Affinity marketing folks are putting my efforts to shame.

The most popular page on our web site (and nearly all healthcare provider web sites) is the jobs page. If you don’t have an online job application you are WAY behind the times. Time to jump on the clue train.

The second most popular area are those related to the find-a-physician function and the associated physician profiles. At Affinity we are using a technology called “Webouts” that make physician profiles pop off the page. Check it out:

http://www.affinityhealth.org/page/physicianProfile.html?id=1882

I wish I had thought of that. But, I am more delighted that more and more people are seeing the web as an important aspect of nearly every organizational strategy and we are benefiting from the collective wisdom of the folks looking to leverage the web. Plus, it is really cool.

Web 2.0 Favorites

I love some of the web 2.0 tools.  I use a lot in my personal life and some have even crept into the enterprise…

QuickBase

I have blogged in the past about QuickBase.  This web-based tool allows the average person to create a simple database application.  It has taken off like wildfire in our organizations.  You know something is meeting an untapped need when you see this kind of organic growth.  The other validation is the acceptance by our partners.  Consultants, vendors and others take to QuickBase quickly.  Because it is web based you can add an external person without going through IT.

We have over 3,000 applications in QuickBase.  The vast majority are created by non-IT users.  There are some common applications like team workspaces and contract issue tracking.  Some are more unique like the one we created to track schedule our interpreters and track their time.  I am aware of scores of niche applications that we have been able to eliminate or avoid because we were able to meet the need with a QuickBase application.  It is a great value and QuickBase has proven to be enterprise-class in its stability.

Gliffy

Gliffy is a web-based drawing program ala Visio.  It is much simpler than Visio and the missing functionality appears to be the kind of stuff that the average user does not miss.  I have been using Gliffy quite a bit lately and an considering using it as a less expensive Visio alternative.

Twitter

My use of twitter seems to inconsistent.  at time I track my ever move.  Then I get out of the habit of updating it for a few days.  Because I record how I spend my time it helps me keep a history of what I do.  More importantly, it is a great way for my folks to keep tabs on my.  My 160 team members are spread across Wisconsin.  This is there way to see if I am reachable and how to best reach me.

Does anyone out there have other web 2.0 favorites?

Is Epic MyChart Struggling with Vista?

Even though my hospitals run MEDITECH or GE Centricity, I have an Epic MyChart account.  I really wanted to see how well Epic worked in the clinic and I wanted to be able to see their MyChart patient portal.  So, I scheduled an appointment with a competing health system to check things out.  It was actually very interesting experience and worth the time (despite a thorough physical exam).

I was most impressed with MyChart.  It far exceeds what anyone esle has, including niche vendors in this area.  With the exception of e-visits, it is a fairly comprehensive system.  Perhaps the most impressive is the ability to do true round-trip scheduling.  This isn’t the ridiculous “request an appointment” blank forms that take more time and effort than driving to the clinic.

Frankly, MEDITECH has fallen so far behind in this area it is disappointing.  While they have a product, I am unaware of anyone that has implemented it.  Maybe they have something up their sleeve.  But as of now, they are way I believe that are way behind Epic in this area.

While MyChart is way cool, they seem to be having trouble with Vista.  At least the provider I went to is having a problem.  I suppose it could be something unique to their implementation, but that seems unlikely.  Here is an excerpt from an email that I received from that provider:

If you have Windows Vista, please do the following to maximize the performance of <snipped provider name> on your computer:

Within Internet Explorer, open Advanced Internet Options from the Tools menu Scroll down to the Security Section and disable TLS 1.0

Yikes.  I think your average patient would struggle with these directions.  I wonder if there are any applications that would break as a result of disabling Transport Layer Security.  I am unaware of any.