MLW Labs

MLW Labs: Ideas for the Improvement of Management

MLW Labs: Observations on Content Representation and the Supporting Technologies

There are many powerful tools for composition and publication. Business Development and Program Management makes use of most of the standard Microsoft Office like capabilities. Microsoft's PowerPoint is a phenomenal tool that we have used for basic business development presentations to major proposals for bids on large commercial opportunities. Templates are well defined and the basic software is widely available. There are Similar Open Source tools available that provide WYSIWYG capabilities.

The basic question becomes “Why do anything different?”

Today's Web development tools are phenomenal. Software and Hardware technologies allow for substantial applications to be deployed and offered over the World Wide Web. When looking at how content is rendered over the Web, it is immediately clear that the power of the Web allows for a rich and dynamic demonstration of capabilities far greater than the two dimensional representations of tools like PowerPoint. It is reasonable to suggest that the tools for Business Development and Program Management should produce results similar to what can be demonstrated with Web tools.

One of the requirements with using Web capabilities and the kinds of technologies that we support at MLW Labs is that they require programming. Implementation with these technologies require a well defined structure, but the total time needed to lock a design could take longer than it would take to do similar tasks with WYSIWYG tools. With that caveat, our approach in designing structured presentations is to build well formed templates based upon a style guide that defines geometric and content specifications. We prefer to calculate the template structure rather than a drawing approach to template design.

One of the clear advantages to using calculated templates is that you can easily integrate active elements like pop-up pages or message boxes into your design without the need to invoke a special language to enhance your product. This leads to more flexibility when designing tools that contain rich dynamic content.

Using these tools the density of information in a view can be increased in a clean and simple fashion using active elements and providing additional information to the viewer without crowding a view or providing the same information on a separate page. A view is simple and additional information is viewed only as required.

Also, this technology makes dynamic content possible. With this capability, you can see how, for example, in Project management Status presentations a standard structured presentation can be developed with fresh data fed into the template from a database.

MLW Labs: Observations on Search

Search can be considered as a supporting technology under Content Management. Given its preeminence in Web use and everyday document processing, it deserves special focus. This brief discussion will focus on the typical search performed by Contract Managers, Lawyers, and almost all other business professionals who need to look for something.

It is our observation that the daily use of the extraordinary (search) power of common tools such as Microsoft Word is minuscule. Yet, Information Management and Business groups will hold long and costly discussions including evaluations of powerful enterprise search engine tools. Why? Why bother adding an additional layer of technology (with nightmarish integration implications) on top of existing underutilized technology. If you examine everyday use of existing tools and the return on the investment for the tool, you might decide to kill the tool with the cost for the license and just use simpler tools already supported in your infrastructure. To test this assertion with regard to search, poll your Microsoft Word user population and ask them if they use the search function in Word and if so do they use the regular expression capability to conduct search. You are fortunate if you have a significant population that say yes. If not, I suspect that this lack of understanding and use for existing capabilities is one of the reasons that Information Management departments have a difficult time getting good core requirements for document, corpus and enterprise search. I submit that organizations need to reconnect with their users and show them how to use the power of the existing (search) tools and seriously consider strategies for search that start with looking at the value proposition for search at every level of the value chain starting with individual daily use and going up the chain to one-off cross organizational investigations requiring enterprise level search capabilities. In many cases you might find that you can meet most of your needs with your existing in-house technologies.

Here at the Lab, we love technology, but we are concerned about the value it provides to a business and the drag that it will have on business performance when it is poorly implemented and under used.

The Pitch - Our specialty is Business Development and Program Management

If you would like to look at a demonstration of some of the concepts discussed above please download "pm_presentation.exe" and save it in your home directory. To run the app simply double click on the app's icon to launch the demonstration. This file will only run on a Windows machine. If you want a version for Linux or a Macintosh, please send an email to me with your platform identified and I will email the app to you. It is a Tcl/Tk stand-alone Starkit application that does not access any of your system for other than cpu-time,memory and whatever libraries Starkit requires to function.

A Comment on SVG

Here is my attempt at replicating the BD Client Value chart in the stand-alone application in Scalable Vector Graphics: BD Client Value Example Chart (use this link for the Safari Version). In fact, I have developed an SVG demo presentation equivalent to the TK presentation for comparison. SVG is a powerful XML Graphics engine for the Web. Unlike the TCL/TK demonstration, which is a stand alone application, SGV files are light weight text documents written in XML/SVG. Your ability to view these documents depend upon your browser or an application that is able to render the SVG code. I find this standard fascinating in terms of the results, but challenging in terms of scripting. I used JavaScript in the SVG example. It took a little more effort to think through the code design using SVG and JavaScript than with TCL and TK. I would have enjoyed the combination of TCL and SVG. Maybe, one day we may see this.
My logo (found in the rh top corner of the demos) is in SVG in the SVG demo, and it is a bitmap in the TCL/TK demo. The SVG logo can be scaled at almost any resolution and it will be very clear, whereas the bitmap, when scaled, loses its fidelity. SVG makes it easy for you reuse any complex object that you design by simply change a scaling factor. This capability alone is worth the design effort required for reusable objects.

►Multi Media SVG

If you look at the SVG(1.2) standard you will see that the W3C has been adapting SVG so that SMIL fits perfectly in the SVG picture. This means that you can define animation for an SVG element inside the element tag boundaries. This includes video (via a specific video tag). This is a great thing. The possibilities for application to real world practical situations are endless. To date (03142011), the only browser in which (HTML 5) video can't be rendered isIE. Here at the Lab, we continue to test various ways compound documents and active/interactive presentations can be rendered for maximum delivery of information in minimal space. We have developed a very simple demo of a video rendered in a SVG element. This demo also shows how a movie can be part of an animation. This activity will lead to the update of the SVG demo presentationto include a chart with a simple movie to start, and then animation of the movie element. Eventually we will show how to include animation in the movie and then onto how this technology can be used for virtual presence applications.

Ok! Here is the big deal. Currently, Flash with other browser plugins, is how video and other animation are delivered to you. It is pretty good stuff! In the future, given that a browser is, and will increasingly be a major delivery mechanism, the ability to develop and maintain browser based animation and video will be that of (simply) maintaining a markup. In fact, because animation is enabled for tag elements, no scripting is needed to provide either animation and/or video. This state of technology can have profound implications on the cost of development and maintenance of Multi Media applications. We will analyze the potential efficiencies that may be acheived. Stay tuned...

►Multi Media VML

Currently, IE 9 renders SVG. This is a very satisying situation since IE still dominates a large share of the market. As users migrate to IE 9, there will be very little resistance to deploying vector graphics applications. To reach this market with vector graphics, until IE 9 is widely used, VML or Flash will continue to be required. I have been using VML to create organization charts for VVIDSYS, LLC. This allows me to quickly develop views and make them available for review with my business partners in html format. The size of the files are less than 10K. I can model different chart styles quickly and post the results for review without sending bulky files via email.

Post date: 04242009. SOAP Thoughts and a CIO Caution

A few years ago a client asked me to provide a concept for a Pharmaceutical R&D Information Architecture with an emphasis on how SOAP would be used as an enabling technology. It was a fair request at the time given all of the vendor hype around the promise of SOAP. Looking at this as an exciting advanced development business opportunity I exhorted my expert architects to spare no energy in developing a response. At the time, the response that I received from my experts was vacuous. My disappointment was large and I was embarrassed that we could not respond to the request with a grand scheme. I envisioned our competition responding with great depth and understanding, leaving us looking grossly non-visionary and unresponsive. I was truly desperate. I provided the client with a response indicating that we were not ready to take a leap of faith that SOAP would be the only approach to achieving a Pharma R&D architecture.

In hindsight, I am glad that we did not provide a different response. From an engineering perspective we did not have an engineering solution that would sustain rigorous examination.

Consider where we were in 2009. This is an extract from a Call For Papers for a "Workshop on Software INTegration and Evolution @ Runtime" to be held in August 2009:

"Current component-based runtime platforms such as Service Oriented Architectures, realize the technological foundations for runtime reconfiguration and evolution. However, software engineering methodology has not kept pace with the rapid leap forward in platform technology, so that adequate methods, techniques, and tools for managing runtime integration and evolution are not yet available."

At the time we had no basis for proposing an architectural concept without supporting methods for sustainable system operations concepts. So, my CIO caution is to take a close look at your ICT architecture and make sure that you understand where it lacks an adequate support structure. Make sure that your risk management plan properly addresses this situation.

Melvin L. Wilson, © 2011