Wednesday, April 26, 2006

First Tanooma Progress Report

We are having great traction in our development effort. The application is shaping up and we are still on plan to launch "Closed BETA" on May 18th. It is amazing to watch how fast development can be done these days by using smart tools. Creating a virtual economy isn’t easy. No place to look and see how others do it. No technology to read about and no processes to learn from other than abstracting how the physical economies were built – like in the US 250 years ago or Germany after complete distraction post WWII. But creating a whole new thing is such a rare challenge - it is a blessing.

The biggest challenge we were facing was the fact that users in Tanooma have by default multiple “lives”. There is the desire to manage personal applications like online bank accounts, access to financial services, online tax and other services. But there is also a need to mix that with the business applications such as CRM, accounting, marketing, research, HR applications and so forth. So for the first time the personal world and the business world has no longer clear boundaries. We needed to develop an architecture that ensures a single point of view but at the same time administrative separation for business and personal data. Even more difficult: if a user leaves a company. Business assets need to be cut while personal assets shall remain – and soon new business assets (applications and services) will be acquired. That new degree of complexity how ever should be completely transparent to the user – we promised simplicity! By looking into nature we began to copy genetic and motoric mechanisms and learned how to keep all that in the background. Like we don’t “think” we have to breathe and contract our heart mussels, a Tanooma user will not worry about the complexity of a virtually connected world.

The key focus of the Tanooma development is on its "Human Interaction Model" (HIM). Making it easy to search, find, identify, decide, relate, contact, connect, disconnect, communicate, learn, build and grow. The Tanooma world tries to eliminate boring tabulated data and get more interactive than any business application today. Even so we are far away from our vision – we will be able to show the path.

May 18th companies such as SaaS vendors, consultants, investors, enablers and other industry contributors will get access to the system and start configuring their outlet – so that June 20th when we allow users to beta test the new world, will find not only company names but details about their products and services.

We aggregated about 360 SaaS vendors, 85 SaaS focused VCs, 40+ Industry Analysts who track the SaaS space, a few new SaaS Enablers (companies like OpSource) and over 100 SaaS experienced consulting forms. All in all close to 700 companies dealing within the SaaS industry. The industry is not only slowly maturing – it is becoming VERY big – already.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

SaaS and Rapid Development Technology

As we progress with our prototyping effort it was time for us to decide what kind of technology we will use for our final application. So I had several conversations with executives from Macromedia trying to understand their strategy around ColdFusion, I explored Ruby on Rails, considered an Ajax/JavaScript pure play and obviously the traditional Java world. I learned a few interesting things: the most prominent community and also one of the top 10 sites in the Internet: is built on ColdFusion. I noticed that my Bank of America online banking application is a vast ColdFusion site. I was reminded that Java and JavaScript are two very different things and Ajax is a JavaScript based environment/methodology. Yet the richest and most widely used user interface outside HTML is Flash. The world is not as homogeneous as it was. It is no longer Java versus .net like it was C++ versus Basic.

Clearly Java is a very powerful development environment and a developer can pretty much do anything - but also make any possible mistake and take for ever to debug their code. It very much reminded me at the assembler days. Assembler was this powerful, development environment which produced lighting fast code. How ever development took for ever, mistakes were difficult to debug and changes to difficult to implement.

In the fast moving SaaS and Web 2.0 world we are at a similar crossroad. Do we go with the traditional Java code or do we rethink even that. In Tanooma we came to the conclusion that we choose speed over secure tradition.

The soon to be ready for Beta of Tanooma is a multi tenant multi organization cross communication application. Meaning multiple accounts such as SaaS vendors will use it, unlimited users will look at the respective offerings, consultants will be able to connect with vendors but also with users and investors will be connected with any company they are invested in or interested in. A technology which I call "Account Bridge" supports that cross organization cross communication. The development environment needed to allow that kind of complexity, support clustering to support a large amount of users to be simultaneously logged in and perform their activities. While Java seamed to be the logical choice - we decided to go with ColdFusion, AJAX, JavaScript, ActionScript and Flash. It took only 3 month to develop a functional prototype. The application is richer than pretty much anything on the market today - but at one price: There is no longer this one "language" we use. It is a collection of best of breed tools which all promised to interact - and we are very lucky: they do. But Tanooma is not the only company that questions Java as a development platform. Many of the new apps whether they come from Google, AjaxLaunch or many others avoid the long and rather complicated development cycles and leverage the rather new and much more user attracting Flash and Ajax world.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Single Sign On for SaaS

Single Sign On seems to be one of the hot items when it comes to SaaS application usage. While traditional software resides on your PC and you just load it - Internet Software Services need to be securely accessed over the Internet. The need for SSO (Single Sign On) becomes pretty obvious. As users have more and more SaaS applications in conjunction with other online services, the user-ID/Password handling becomes kind of ugly. Yes you can store them on your PC, but that doesn't feel too save either. In particular when you think of all the applications you access outside, BlueRoads, Recruitmax, RightNow and you name it such as etrade, schwab, bankofamerica, ebay, amazon...

Now - SSO is not that easy. There is either integration work to be done so that each and every software vendor is good with the service or there has to be whole new ways to be developed. We are working on various options within Tanooma and will provide some alternatives when we come out. But there is not only a technical challenges to overcome but also legal issues in regards to contract definitions. Some vendors for instance - such as LinkedIn, have very specific definitions in their contract regarding how you access the application.

So the SaaS industry has to overcome 2 battles when it comes to SSO - a technical acceptable solution and a legally respected way of doing it. We will work on both and welcome any input or concerns.