Many a times – new technologies appear to be solutions looking for a problem, recent developments in tablet technologies being no exception. The initial implementations and pilots conducted by organizations are typically:

  • Clipboard replacement: Convert a paper form filled in field/on shop-floor to tablet.
  • Enable access to data as required in the field for decision support ( e.g. if I discount by further 1%, how much does my sales commission change?)
  • Attracting consumers already using smartphones and tablets to an organization’s B2C properties( mobile website, mobile commerce).
  • Efficiency in field force and field assets ( optimizing service visits, sales, collections)

Almost all of the above are subset of systems already existing in the enterprise, of which the field access part is made more convenient from switching to a laptop or a paper based system to a mobile and tablet system.

Few organizations are moving beyond subset systems to solve adjacent problems. As an example – the geo-location capability of  phones can be used to locate the nearest ATM.

One of the simplest mechanisms to identify how new technology can help you is by the matrix below which I came across about 6 years back ( unfortunately – too long a time to remember who to attribute it to).

In this matrix, we list the new technology capabilities in one axis and issues/  problem / non-optimized operation processes, disproportionate expenses  and other business needs requiring improvement in the other axis.  Them we try to see if any of the new technical capabilities solves the issue.

Technology Capabilities – >

————

Business Issues

V

 

Capability 1 Capability 2 Capability 3 Capability n
Issue 1
Issue 2
Issue 3
Issue n

Lets see the matrix in action for mobile technologies for a coffee shop.

Technology Capabilities ->

Business Issues                              V

Small Form factor and rugged design. Communication capability – Bluetooth, Wifi, NFC Sensors – Accelerometer, proximity, light, location, haptic feedback Portable Accessories ( Printer, Card Reader, Biometric, etc) Available with most consumers
Queue for ordering Yes – staff can collect order in the queue on portable device. Yes – customers can communicate their arrival time reliably – along with their pre-orders; allowing order to be ready just in time. Yes –customers could pre-order before entering queue.
Payment time and dispensing change Yes – tap phone instead of swiping card. Yes – each staff can collect payment, no limitation of number of POS terminals Yes – customers could have pre-loaded wallet accelerating payment
Loyalty card processing Yes – Tap phone instead of stamping a card Yes – all staff can process, no limitation on POS Yes – customers may carry mobile loyalty card
Inviting trial for new products, spreading the word  Yes – video advertisement on tablet based displays Yes – push promotions
Limited space for menu board limits combos Yes – tablet based video displays and electronic menu Yes – Menu on your own device.
Training new staff on recipe Yes: Electronic recipe on work stations Yes – staff self learns on their devices
Periodic tasks Yes – check lists and reminder can be added on tablets fixed on different stations
Reconciling order to customers – which mug has what & whose Yes – order ticket / number can be printed to paste Yes – customers name goes with order which can be written/ or pasted on mug
Informing customers when their order is ready to pick Yes – click on customer name to notify their order is ready Yes – buzz customers when order is ready Yes – customers get notification on own devices.
View / process order tickets Yes – order tickets may be displayed on tablets on workstation
Need to wipe hand before handling compute  Yes – gesture may be used
Recognizing customers Yes – view list of “checked in” customer with pictures to recognize them Yes – declare their presence at store

Note that some of these are already implemented by Square Inc, Starbucks, Dunking Donuts and others.

Using the above matrix  along with persona mapping and value chain mapping of different industries, the identified use cases can help identify use of mobile technologies.

Image courtesy   Alek0505 | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Just launched www.avventura.in – for Avventura Outdoors – an adventure sport business promoted by family and friend.  This is what it took

1. Hosting & Domain: Justhost.com had a deal which looked good. However a .in domain required a different registrar.

2. User Design: This was a tough one – especially as the budget was under 100$. After a lot of search – i settled on “supermaket shopping” instead of tailoring. So chose one at TemplateMonster.com – all of $68

3. Technology Decision: Like any company, the need was to have static pages, testimonial, social activity, photo gallery, video, polls, blog, a small ecommerce and the works.  Given the feature list – I almost made up my mind to go to Drupal – before finally settling on Static HTML site with everything else happening on Facebook and WordPress and using eBay marketplace for commerce.  Just think about it. In professional life, it doesnt seemed good enough – but put a constraint of 200$ to put a website – and the HTML you get from templatemonster looks great ( they even have a lot of Drupal templates – but we happened to like a HTML template).

BTW – templatemonster is neat – it give PSDs and Fonts and HTMLs.

Content: Yet to figure out where to get photos from. Shutterstock.com seems to have best combination of pictures and price. So far sticking with what came by default till replaced by original pictures and keeping 50$ in reserve for buying pictures.

Setting up the HTML files and updating content took about 2 hours per page.

SEO: Just started and looking at whether its worth buying something for remaining 80$. I guess will go with standard search engine submission and inviting comments / links from websites of friends and family and business associates – till it happens.

Last year, I was trying to help a friend publish a book. After some search, we found a mediator who could print books at bulk printing rates and could make it available with major online stores in India. After some time, with trying to get an ISBN ( which is given for Free by government), trying to get a copyright, etc. it lost momentum and never went live.

During my last long haul flight – Atlanta to Dubai, I was surrounded by iPad carrying people who were reading books on it. I asked if there was enough content – and I learnt that there was and they were buying it. Though I learnt a lot more about iPad than I wanted too  ( I guess most  Apple and Bose users are fans and evangelists  – there are of course exceptions like  my wife who hates her iPhone ) . Anyway – I realized that eBooks were for real and assumed it would be lot more easier to revive the year old book and get it published as an eBook.

As everyone – my first reaction was to google as well as to ask around. It pointed me to Lulu, and a good article from Cnet . It pointed to Amazon DTP platform , smashwords , Barnes and Noble’s Pubit, and a couple others. A friend pointed me to a new service BookBrewer.

As Word of mouth is stronger than google’s results – I created an account at bookbrewer and started trying its services. It charges a fee of about a 100$ and places your book at Amazon and Borders – apart from giving a simple editing interface to create your eBook.

I was immediately stuck as I just couldn’t get any kind of formatting I wanted – and there was very little information available. It probably is a startup and are just setting things up. A few “tickets” to their customer support were responded extremely fast and ultimately they offered everything I could have hoped for in formatting – i.e. taking my own eBook and distributing it ( instead of insisting on something from their platform) – and put a rest to rest of my doubts.

As I was writing to their customer support, I also went directly to retail sites, Amazon / B&N etc to see how royalities stack up. There – it seemed that working directly with vendors was better – howevever – I am not based in US and the retailers wanted a lot of US tax info. Amazon and Apple wanted a  US SSN number or a TIN Number ( which apparently is available to foreigners) and I think B&N also wanted a US bank account.

Not to be bothered – I moved on, looked at other service providers – did some number crunching on royalities and fee – and settled on Smashwords – as it allowed not just paid distribution and good royalities – but it allowed generating discount coupons as well ( including 100% off). Smashwords wanted a word document with pretty limited formatting – and I went thru about 4 iterations before I could get the pictures in the word document appearing correctly on eBooks it generated. ( Ultimately – I realized that the trick was to use smaller images  like 800 Pixel wide – rather than having a 3000 pixel image and having it resize for you).Its input word document is easy to create but the insistence on using it’s services and not generating your own PDFs and ePubs is a bit limiting. I hope they introduce a “premium” service which allows you to upload your own files for a small fee.It uses Paypal to pay to foreign authors, doesnt need TIN, helps you get one by providing some letter – if you want one. It has lots of users and lots of information available in FAQs. Overall it looked easy enough and had comprehensive enough store list so my search ended there.

The book Brownie Tales is here at smashwords and hopefully will soon be distributed to the eStores.

Now I just hope that someone does similar for print as well.

My definition of such a print service would be someone doing  “Cost + profitshare” for self publishing instead of the current model which is profitable for the service providers on each and every book sold – by then keeping book prices about 12-15$. Elements of it would be:

Selling on a retail store like Amazon which offers Free shipping or offers a very low cost shipping.

Which does not take a print on demand rate of 6$+ per copy  but takes a bulk print rate of 1-2$ for a minumum quantity of as low as low 100s ( lets say about 500$ for about 500 copies).

Which gives the author atleast 1$ for books priced at about 5-6$ ( including the printing cost, retailer margin etc.)

Which can help with marketing from packages starting as low as a 100$.

I think it is a business proposition.

A friend has a book which needs to be published. Thru the process (which is still on ) I was fortunate to see the ring-side view of all options and here are some of the details.

Publishing: This is the traditional model which still works best if your book is selected by publishers. the publishers ask for a manuscript. If they like it, they will invest in it, do everything needed, and pay the author a royality. If your book appeals to publishers, maybe this is the best way. you get professional everything – editing, marketing,media, sales etc. and your book appears in more bookshelves without you lifting a finger than you imagine. You dont have to invest money and you get royality for sold books. Unfortunately, we were out of luck so we explored options.

Self publishing: Self publishing is quite mature now both in india and worldwide. Worldwide – you have companies like Lulu. In india, you have companies like CinnamonTeal and pothi. They operate on a “print on demand” basis – which means they will print books as they are ordered – even one book. However there were several dis-advantages

  1. Digital printing is most expensive. I thought Pothi’s price was quite reasonable at just over a Indian Rupee per page – even if you ordered just a single copy. This means that if you have a 200 pager book, you can sell it at 250Rs and make 35 Rs per book. Its not bad, but compared to something like 50-60 rs per book for printing when you print a 1000 copies, this does sound a lot. Actually its not that bad till you look at number 2.
  2. You can only sell via their online store. It wont get listed on flipkart and indiaplaza and other online book stores. You always have an option to buy copies and list on them. Now assuming that they want 30% margin, the price of the book goes upto 350 Rs. But if you leave it at the self publisher, the buyer doesnot get discounts or free shipping. Now, they charge you a prey steep shipping costs at about Rs 50 – taking the book price upto 300 Rs if you leave it there. So I am begining to think its a pretty neat deal for niche books – but slightly expensive for popular ones ( especially when your idea of sales is bullying friends and family into buying it).  The good part is that you get something in hand immediately, no questions asked – and given the fact that it is one book at a time its not a bad deal. 
  3. There is no pre-publishing ( more on that later), marketing, distribution to other stores at all. You are complely on your own. These costs may add up.

Now coming to the in-betweens. There are two options that I found out.

1) Sponsored publishing: Here you bear approximately half the cost of launching a book by the publisher [so even if the publisher is half convinced, they will go for it]. It has all the goodness of traditional publishing, and the royality you get is a bit higher, however, you start making money only after your book has sold between a 1000 to 2000 copies. This is not bad for a popular book. They promise everything – a launch, circulating it to media, getting reviews, listing it on online and offline stores via distribution channel, all logistics, inventory keeping etc. – everything. Now its upto you if you want to invest money on it, and expect returns only if the book is very popular. One of the publishers who agreed for it was Frog Books. They are very responsive.

2) Self Publishing ++ : Self publishing complaines offering traditional Printing+ Distribution: Sandeep of Blushing Pi got us this option. They offer all pre-publishing, printing, digital marketing, and distribution – most of it done via 3rd parties – but managed by them on a “a lat carte” pricing.

Now coming to a description of puublishing lifecycle as I understand it. People in industry like to divide into 3 stages (called pre and post printing or publishing depending who you talk to ):

Pre-publishing or Pre-printing : This involves completing the content – including editing etc, doing the design, and getting the files in printable format.

Publishing or Printing: Test print – proof – print.

Post publishing or post printing: including one time activities like finding distributors and ongoing tasks like Store inventory, distribute to online and offline book store. Marketing and sales are also a big part of this stage.

Pre-Publishing

Pre-publishing tasks involve

  • Finalize content
  • Obtaining copyright on material you are quoting:
  • Prepare manuscript to circulate to publishers
  • You could get agents who will take your book to publishers – for a price. Good agents could get you a long way.
  • Proof Read – preferably by a different person – this is to ensure the quality of what you have written.
  • Editing: get reviews and edits from a professional to increase the quality of work significantly.
  • Cover design : Work with professional designers to get this. Note that it might help to have an ISBN number before you do this so that the bar code could also be generated and added.
  • Preparing other illustration and graphics: For cover and for content if you need graphics, it might be a good idea to get it done from a professional.
  • Foreword : you may want someone else to write it – preferably someone popular who may be able to recommend the book to many :-).
  • Obtaining Copyrights for your book: As per laws in india, the copy right automatically happens to the author the moment the content is created. however, in case you want to go in for obtaining copyritghts – then you could register copyrights with copyrights office at http://copyright.gov.in/copyrightregistrationform.pdf. You can have a company handle copyrights for you for about Rs 5000. One of the companies who can handle it for you is Brainleague
  • Getting ISBN number – you need to know the number of pages, whether its paperback or hardcover etc. before you can get an ISBN number. In India, a person can get an ISBN number on their own. If you want someone else to handle it for you – that is also possible and not very expensive.

Printing

  • Digital printing: This is usually economical for upto 200 copies.
  • Offset printing: This is best for over 500 copies. For between 200 to 500 copies, either could be fine.
  • The material provided to printer needs to have proper typesetting. The offset printers usually bundle that service with no or minimal extra cost.

It might help to strike a deal with a distributor before you go for printing.

Post-Publishing

  • Getting a distribution deal: To list your book on online bookstore or in physical bookstores, you need to have a deal with distributors. Distributors order books from you, reach them to stores. The stores typically want over 30% discount on cover price of the book, so that they can offer discounts, free shipping etc. To do that, distributors want minimum 45% off cover price. Anyway, you need to strike a deal and they are likely to ask for more – with a most likely deal between 55% to 45%.
  • Inventory: you need to store books and provide them to distributors when they request for it. Its quite expensive to outsource it and it could cost 1-2% per month of book cost to store it.
  • Marketing: The traditional publishers have a set of contacts of journalists who review books based on their interest. They send the books out, and a few will send out a review whether they publish it or not. Usually, unpublished comments cannot be quoted. On a slightly higher end, you could have a book launch event where you can invite journalists and a few are more likely to write about it. You can also mail the book to libraries, push it to other influential people who can talk about it, have in-store displays. The no-money option is digital marketing which is to create a blog, place links, distribute e-books ( few chapters or full book)to bloggers etc. Digital marketing takes a lot of your time but doesnt cost much money. It helps if you order listed books to send to others rather than sending copies you have as the distributors and retailers will get excited by sales and may throw in extra advertising, promotions and discounts to push the sales further.
  • Direct sale: you could also sell directly via ebay or other marketplaces to earn the retailer money yourself.

I am still going thru the process and will update what I learn. Do feel free to contact me via a comment on this post if you need any details or contacts.

find . -name “*” -exec grep “Exception” {}  \; -print | more

Makes sense? If you are a developer and cannot make sense of the above – chances are that you will appreciate a GUI tool to ease your searches in log files. 

Few Collegues ( idea by Regu ) created a tool they named insight last year and have just made it open source. Here is the direct Download Link . It comes with a GUI- so dont worry,  you will not need to touch code or learn cryptic commands.

Developers who worked on it are quite sharp – so I am sure if you ask a question, add a wishlist or report a bug, you will get a response soon.

Mobile and Widget/Gadget based content delivery faces very similar issues. Both need to address limited form factors. Both need to address Multiple form factors. Both need to handle multiple platforms ( WAP/XHTML and possibly Flashlite for Mobile, Yahoo/Google/Vista and browser based gadgets otherwise). The bigger problem is that in the current state, there is no clear industry leader and that all the platform fetch marginal revenues ( Most of mobile revenue is Text/SMS – not addressed here).

However, both platforms are increasingly gaining importance. Data revenues is 12% or so of total revenues of Mobile service providers ( though it may be argued most of that is 3G cards to make Laptops connect to internet and not mobile). And widgets are coming up as useful tools – slated to rival RSS – for repeat/loyal traffic.

Today – atleast to my knowledge – there is no silver bullet for content delivery on these platforms. Companies are experimenting and implementing different ways.

For instance – there are two popular ways for delivering content effectively on mobiles

1) to use a platform like Volantis/Drutt/MobileAware  and more. to code once and deliver on multiple devices and form factors. These products do a good job of having an updated repository of mobile capabilities and limitations and hence can choose how to present content. Apoorv had earlier written this article about mobile content delivery to explain this concept.

2) To use a Gadget/Widget like approach as provided by Zumobi , Yahoo Go ( and I am sure there are more).

Similarly when coding cross platform widgets, people usually look up to use Flash ( which is supported on I think all widget platforms – yes even Yahoo supports it now – and which can be converted to executables for use as desktop widgets)

I just hope that both mobile platform and Gadget providers see this as a single problem and hope we have either a clear winner or a clear standard addressing both!

If any of you has pondered with this before – please post a comment and lets share notes.

Almost everyone wants guided navigation ( or multi-faceted navigation) now. Commercial entities like Endeca rule the space, but tend to get really expensive really fast.  So I looked at Apache Solr ( based on Lucene) for such need for a customer.

Solr is pretty impressive. You can do multi-faceted search and navigation based on pre-defined tags. The navigation could be based on string matches, one of multiple-value matches, date range match etc. – and you could optionally do keyword search as well.

This fits the bill where you have structured metadata ( like a product catalogue / product reviews like CNET review etc).

So what about “guided navigation” for content which has not been as effectively meta-tagged.

Now this is where it becomes challenging in open source stream. There are a few projects like Classifier4j – which uses byesian filter which can be trained to auto-classify content. There are projects like carrot2 which do search result clustering. Carrot2 is pretty effective in choosing the phrases to cluster against. About 80% of  categories it determines are very meaningful. It appeared a bit slow in the tests I ran. I am not very sure of its performance for large resultsets – or what % of meaning categories we miss out on.

The auto-classifiers need a lot more work. They are not simple plug and play – I dont know an effective open source alternative for this yet. So I am spending some time – looking at it from ground up using  a set of existing libraries which can provide base for text classification. I will update if I make a headway – Or will appreciate inputs from someone who has got it working.

Search result prioritization can be done on defined metadata easily – but I have not tried “learning” software here. Similarly  am yet to try “suggestions” and spell checks.

In short – Using lucene/solr for multi-facteted search is a very viable alternative to complex database queries and expensive commercial engines to implement the same.  But you are not getting a 1:1 equivalent of Endeca or Autonomy.

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