Thursday, July 30, 2020

Empower the Real Users of Software - with a No-Code Approach

Way back in the distant past, I used Hypercard, FileMaker, and, later, NeXT tools, to build complex expert systems, knowledge management, and financial planning tools for a diverse customer base. Applying a little bit of "MBA-powered" know-how with real-world entrepreneurialism enabled me to solve problems in the environmental sector, for small businesses, and even for the mortgage industry.

Fast forward to present day, and we see many software-as-a-service solutions that offer pre-packaged solutions to widely acknowledged challenges. My own solution for team management comes from a history of fixing broken projects for others -- I am a firm believer in the philosophy of "eat your own dogfood."

Now, we loop back to the past, with the increasing availability to low- or no-code software development solutions. Airtable, the Salesforce platform and web-based tools such as Ninox for databases are all useful tools to quickly assemble software to address highly specific problems. These are kind of the "spreadsheet" of the 21st century. One stand-out is Zapier, which has opened the door for many to integrate existing platforms with other popular web apps. Integrating applications with code can be a challenge, but Zapier makes it possible with a few clicks.

While no-code won't solve all technical challenges, having an easily accessible stack can undoubtedly help get specific jobs done faster, easier, and cheaper. Democratizing development is the overall benefit of no-code software development solutions. A few others include reducing the work load on an IT department, as such solutions enable business users to build applications without any coding knowledge. This reduces the burden on an understaffed IT department.

We can also enjoy an accelerated development cycle, so one doesn't have to wait for solution requests to be answered by theaters. Tasks that used to take months (even years) to complete can now be done in a few hours or days, depending on its complexity.

With many point-and-click user interfaces for the development of no-code solutions, one can quickly build solutions to meet exact requirements and specifications, and be updated on the fly. These aspects are important to keep the business competitive and agile. While a no-code solution allows the development of applications for immediate impact, it can also prove to be cost-efficient in the long run.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Oracle or SAP? How about.. neither? Go Open Source for your ERP

Seems like there are two major contenders for an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Oracle and SAP. However, there are a number of flexible, feature-rich, and cost-effective open source ERP systems available, as well.

Over at Forbes, we read:

How Do The Core Businesses For Oracle And SAP Compare? Oracle provides products and services that address enterprise information technology environments. The products and services include applications and infrastructure offerings that are delivered worldwide through a variety of flexible and interoperable IT deployment models. These models include on-premise deployments, cloud-based deployments, and hybrid deployments (an approach that combines both on-premise and cloud-based deployment).       Oracle’s geographical revenue mix is strong with 55% coming from the Americas, 29% from EMEA countries (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), and the rest from Asia-Pacific.
   SAP is a multinational software corporation that develops and delivers software, services, and support that address business needs. The company offers a wide range of enterprise resource planning applications which includes customer relationship management, human capital management, financial management, product life-cycle management, and supply chain management. The company also has a foray in business intelligence with SAP BusinessObjects. SAP’s geographical revenue mix is also strong with 44% coming from EMEA countries (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), 40% from the Americas, and rest from Asia-Pacific.

Depending on the organization's needs, more features doesn't always mean better. Further needs may evolve as the business grows, so search for an ERP system that can expand. That could mean the system has additional modules or supports plugins and add-ons.

Most open source ERP systems are web applications that can be downloaded and installed on a server or with a VM image. But if lacking the skills or staff to maintain a system, look for a hosted version of the application. Choose an application that has good documentation and good support, which may be either paid support or an active user community. Some include:

ERPNext is a classic open source projects, featured on in 2014. It was designed to address a particular need, replacing a creaky and expensive proprietary ERP implementations. It includes modules for accounting, managing inventory, sales, purchase, and project management. The applications that make up ERPNext are form-driven—you fill information in a set of fields and let the application do the rest. The whole suite is easy to use.

pache OFBiz's suite of related business tools is built on a common architecture that enables organizations to customize the ERP to their needs. As a result, it's best suited for midsize or large enterprises that have the internal development resources to adapt and integrate it within their existing IT and business processes.

OFBiz is a mature open source ERP system; its website says it's been a top-level Apache project for a decade. Modules are available for accounting, manufacturing, HR, inventory management, catalog management, CRM, and e-commerce. You can also demo out its e-commerce web store and backend.

Odoo is an integrated suite of ERP applications: project management, billing, accounting, inventory management, manufacturing, and purchasing. Those modules can communicate with each other to efficiently and seamlessly exchange information. Odoo provides a friendly, almost spartan, interface. Odoo is a web app, with subscriptions to individual modules, or download the source code from GitHub. It's licensed under LGPLv3.

Solving complicated supply chain or financial management problems for a business doesn’t mean buying a big-money ERP system. While vendors like Oracle and SAP may dominate the market, there are free and open source solutions that can help get an organization digital with little investment.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Another Tool to Help Address the Housing Crisis

Most believe renters "throw away" money because they don’t build equity over time. But new startups are hoping to offer  a different approach. For example, when someone rents an apartment in a new complex in Columbus, Ohio, they can now also get a financial stake in the building.

Companies such as Rhove offer the security of ownership with the flexibility of renting. Rhove extends “renterships” to tenants in Rhove-partnered apartment complexes. The arrangements give tenants a stake in the building -- and their assets grow with the property’s value.

Rhove acts as an investor in the property by paying a lump sum to the owners. Tenants earn returns as property owners collect rent from the whole building, and as the property appreciates, the value of the shares increases. Another start-up, Nico, offers a similar concept, launching in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park, where gentrification threatened to push out some long-time residents. By purchasing rent-stabilized buildings and registering them in a financial trust, Nico offers portfolio shares to residents. This provides an opportunity keep their homes. Such ideas are not new: a real estate investment trust (REIT) is a closed-end investment company that owns assets related to real estate such as buildings, land and real estate securities. REITs sell on the major stock market exchanges just like common stock.

According to Hotpads, a young person will spend $200k+ in rent over the course of his or her lifetime. With many Americans spending a third of their income on rent, it can be difficult to save money to eventually buy a home. And renters generally don’t have the same opportunities to accrue wealth as homeowners. This Harvard study found wide wealth gaps between older homeowners and renters, even when their incomes are similar.

Read more here

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

New Chips from Apple - Good for Performance, but Goodbye Bootcamp

Apple has said that switching to its own, ARM-based Apple silicon will end Boot Camp support.  Apple will start switching its Macs to its own ARM-based processors later in 2020, but users won't be able to run Windows in Boot Camp mode on them.

Microsoft only licenses Windows 10 on ARM to PC makers to preinstall on new hardware, and the company hasn't made copies of the operating system available for anyone to license or freely install. By switching to ARM-based machines, Apple might not be ruling out Bootcamp, Parallels, etc., but it is significantly reduce the number of available apps available on either operating system. ARM CPUs process instructions differently from x86 CPUs (made by Intel and AMD) so any specific app has to be written for ARM in order to function. This will hurt people who rely on specific apps (either MacOS or Windows) until/unless the vendors for those apps release updates that support ARM.

On John Gruber's WWDC Talk Show, Craig Federighi confirmed that Apple would not support Boot Camp on ARM Macs: "We're not direct booting an alternate operating system. Purely virtualization is the route. These hypervisors can be very efficient, so the need to direct boot shouldn't really be the concern."

Apple demonstrated Parallels Desktop running Linux in a virtual machine, but there was no mention of Windows support. VMWare has asked its community about how they would use its Fusion virtualization on ARM-based Macs, but there’s no commitment to building the app just yet.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Robo-Taxis on the Streets of China... by the millions?

Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing says it plans to operate more than a million self-driving vehicles by 2030. The robo-taxis are to be deployed in places where ride-hailing drivers are less available, according to Meng Xing, Didi’s chief operating officer, speaking at an online conference hosted by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper.

In 2016, US tech giant Apple invested $1bn in Didi in an unusually large and public investment. Apple is known to be interested in autonomous driving, having tested its own driverless vehicle on public roads in California in recent years.

The local government in Shanghai awarded Didi a permit to test its autonomous vehicles on public roads in Jiading District of Shanghai. The company says it plans to expand beyond that district starting in 2021, deploying “30 different models of L4 autonomous vehicles.” (L4 means Level 4 on the Society of Automotive Engineers scale of autonomy, which means the vehicle is able to operate without any human intervention within a defined geographic area.)

It wasn't that long ago that the company experimented with autonomous vehicles... read more here...

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Leverage Serverless for a Better Tomorrow

Over at this podcast, we hear Johnny Boursiquot, Site Reliability Engineer at Heroku tell how he has found Go to be a useful language for building Function-as-a-Service (FaaS) style applications -- an extension of microservices. In an interview, he expounds on the capability to build Go applications into a static binary -- and reduce the need for dependency management. With rapid application startup, another benefit is runtime speed and scaling.

Focusing on a development toolchain focused on the cloud means programmers benefit from flexibility. For example, many cloud providers provide local runtimes such as AWS SAM Local, and service simulators. Testing in production is facilitated by the ability to do on-channel launches and test deployments with a "canary in a coal mine" approach.

One can develop “serverless” applications while not avoiding the need for operational expertise on a DevOps team. Designing systems appropriately and getting the most out of the runtime (with minimal cost) requires knowledge of the underlying infrastructure components.

An emerging role is that of the Site Reliability Engineering (SRE), often an expert who can adapt well-established patterns and practices into their activities. They act as “go-betweens,” working closely with product teams to share knowledge around operational best practices.

One under appreciated skill is the ability to teach or mentor, regardless of the job. Knowledge transfer to coders or setting as SOPs important operational principles is extremely valuable.

Listen to the podcast here...