Monthly Archives: August 2015

Technological Damnation 91: Proprietary Madness

It’s bad enough that we have to deal with IP & Patent Madness, as chronicled in our post on the 89th (Technology) Damnation, but proprietary madness is likely to drive us all mad (and may someday push the doctor over the edge, into the land of the crackpot, where at least one blogger in the space is already dwelling).

Just what is proprietary madness? It’s mega-corporations, especially in software and electronics, taking the rights of ownership to extreme. Started, and continued, by the current and former Technology heavyweights, including the likes of IBM, Microsoft, and SAP, it’s not only the creation of company specific standards for software and hardware interfaces, its the restriction of the specification of those interfaces to approved partners and suppliers, limiting the supply of support services and related products to a handful of vendors. This not only drives up the price of those products and services to well above the market average price for support services for software and products with open and published specifications, but can make it difficult, if not impossible, to get support when demand is high or related products if one of the few vendors who can produce products shuts down.

Those of you with SAP know exactly what we’re talking about. Unlike Oracle, which publishes its core schema, and does not change it between minor versions, SAP does not publish its score schema, does not guarantee any stability between bug updates between minor versions, such as between 4.7.1 and 4.7.2, instead requiring you to go through its proprietary NetWeaver interface, which you will, of course, have to acquire to actually support any customizations (and likely build applications in the Portal). And learning the portal is no easy task. One of the most complete books on it is 700 pages alone! Then you need to find the documentation on the data stored in each R3 module you are interested in and how to get it out. There’s a reason that not every shop does SAP support — and that’s because, even though SAP now has a lot of documentation on their website, you need weeks of expensive training just to learn the basics of Portal Development, R3 interface, and the core data types and record types used to pull the data you need out of R3 and push modified data back in. Getting to the point where you are effective at developing and integrating custom supply chain applications requires months of training and mentoring and years of experience. As a result, it’s typically only SAP partners who can provide this support. In contrast, with an open Schema, as found in Oracle and MySQL, all you need is SQL experience and the interface library for whatever language you are using (whereas NetWeaver limits you to Java) — which makes it much easier (and cheaper) to not only find support resources, but vendors with best of breed software modules and platforms that can plug and play with Oracle right out of the box!

But it’s not just software vendors that create proprietary technologies, it’s hardware vendors too. Dell, IBM, HP, etc. all have custom control and administrative solutions for their server platforms. Want a third party virtualization platform to work out of the box on a new server configuration and take full advantage of the capabilities? forget it! You’ll probably have to wait six months to a year or more before third parties, like VMWare, are optimized and configured for those platforms (assuming that the full specifications are published upon technology release and licenses for custom drivers aren’t required), making their administrative software a must if you want to upgrade to the latest technology, and not upgrade to technology that was outdated a year ago.

But it’s not just IT companies that have proprietary technologies and interfaces. Big electronics companies do this too for most of their consumer (and even enterprise) electronics, including companies like Samsung (and its new Mobile AP core) and Sony (and its new ultra high definition TV technology).

And while there is nothing wrong with proprietary technology, as a company needs some assets in order to survive, the lengths at which some companies go to keep it secret and protect it, in a world where data needs to be shared and products need to be utilized with other products makes development (and the supply chains that rely on that development), a nightmare.

We need open standards and open interfaces. The sheer existence of IE alone should make that clear. (There’s a reason that many new IT start ups simply won’t support it anymore, and that’s because they can write stuff that runs almost flawlessly in Chrome, Firefox, and a dozen of other browsers or that runs almost flawlessly in a single version of IE on Windows platforms only, but not both. Since Chrome and Firefox and similar clone browsers run on all major platforms, and IE doesn’t, and since Chrome and Firefox almost fully support the open standards, whereas IE supports the Microsoft standards and those portions of the open standards it feels like, and, to top it off, [older versions of] IE allows case insensitive JavaScript!) Restrictive proprietary standards and interfaces just make life unnecessarily difficult.

But too many companies are too big and powerful, so it’s not going to happen and we’ll be forever wasting countless hours checking interface requirements, versions, and support availability instead of focusing on whether or not the technology meets our needs and will help us get our work done. It’s more daily damnation for all of us.

Today Nintendo Lowers its 2DS Price to Just 99.99 USD

In the ongoing battle to milk every cent out of an obsolescing platform before it’s time comes to an end, today, as per ars technica, Nintendo lowers its 2DS price to 99.99 USD.

Why is this significant? It emphasizes a harsh reality of Sourcing in just about any technology or non-raw material category. Whatever you’re sourcing today, you won’t be sourcing tomorrow, and if you are, chances are the organization won’t be around much longer as sales will dry up, the balance sheet will dip into the red, and bankruptcy will be inevitable.

But should it be this way? In the age of the PC, even though, as Weird Al clearly pointed out in the now classic It’s All About the Pentiums, it was obsolete before you opened the box, it didn’t mean that you had to throw the whole thing out and get a new one to take advantage of advancements. Motherboards had removable processors extra slots and you could throw in or replace cards with math co-processors, better video cards, parallel and serial device interfaces to printers, scanners, and analog signal converters, etc. Now, you knew that eventually you would have to upgrade when a better bus came along or the register size doubled, but even then the new mother boards came with interface slots to the previous generation cards so you could keep using them until you were ready to replace them. You could keep the same case for the better part of decade with smart upgrades.

Now we have slim case laptops where everything is built in and nothing is upgradeable. You have to buy a whole new unit every two years. Not only does this mean Sourcing needs to source a whole new product design at least every six months, but it also has to focus on reclamation. Many modern electronics, especially those that run on cellular or wireless networks, require a significant amount of rare earth minerals and expensive metals that need to be reclaimed due to the limited supply. Plus, in many locales, it’s illegal for a consumer to throw it out, and not only do they need to take the product to a recycling location, but some locales, such as the EU, require the producer to take the product back and appropriately recycle it.

But you know all this, as SI has been ranting about this and the need to design for recycling since the beginning, but, at this point, that’s not enough.

At this point, SI really thinks that all products need to be designed for perpetual upgrade. It should be possible to replace all components of a device as needed as they wear out or need to be upgraded. And it needs to be easier than it was with old desktop computers where you had to open the case, remove a bunch of wires to get to the card/drive/processor, do a precise sequence of presses, twists, and pops to safely get the component out, do the reverse to get it back in, reattach the wires, put the case back on, and then power up and test you don’t cross any wires (while wearing rubber gloves, just in case).

Each component should be a self contained “box” with a standard interface connector, using an upgradeable design that can support the fastest speed the configuration of connected components can effectively support. For example, a copper-based multi-pin connector (which, as demonstrated by Thunderbolt and USB 3.1, can support data transfer rates in excess of 10 Gbit/s) for low-end consumer devices and optimal connections (which, as multiplexing technology, will allow faster and faster transfers in the future) for high-end consumer devices and business devices. Boxes should have multiple smart connectors that can register the type of device they are connected to, and the devices they are connected to (as the components will communicate over an internal high-speed network), allowing the device to be upgraded with new components, and capabilities, not imagined when the initial set of components were first built.

For portability, durability, and weather-proofing, custom enclosure boxes could be built that would hold a standard set of components that would represent a power-house desktop computer or a portable tablet/laptop (where the screen slid out of a sheath and plugged in to the top of the main box and the keyboard folded down).

We may never see this, but imagine how much easier it would be for everyone if the same components could be used for years, investments lasted longer, and Sourcing strategies could be more consistent and predictable.

Just a revelation encased in a rant triggered by a reaction to another price reduction required by planned obsolescence.

Creative or Crackpot. How do you tell the difference?

the doctor has been called both. Thought leaders early in their career, including modern legends in science and business, have been called both. And anyone who pushes the boundaries in unusual ways will be called both. But how do you tell the difference?

It’s a tough problem. There’s such a thin line between genius and insanity, and even if the individual was a genius yesterday, who’s to say the genius hasn’t crossed the line and become a bonafide crackpot today.

But it’s one that should be tackled. the doctor could cross the line himself someday and the best way to prevent that from happening for as long as possible is to be aware of the warning signs and take proactive action. (Just like the best way to avoid dementia is through a combination of good eatin’, regular exercise, stress management, and regular mental activity.)

So the doctor did some research and found a pretty interesting article over on boingboing that provided some advice on the identification of the modern crackpot.

According to the article, written by Maggie Koerth-Baker, the science editor at boingboing and a Nieman-Berkman Fellow at Harvard University from August 2014 to May 2015 (which only accepts candidates with the potential for journalistic excellence), there are five indicators that, if present, might indicate the individual has crossed the line into the realm of the crackpot (or, even worse, has always lived in crackpotopia).

1. Is the story being uttered by the individual too feel-good?
(Like the Big News from Grand Rock.) Good educators care more about the evidence, technology, or practice than the story.

2. Is the proof being presented by the individual too self-evident?
If it really is obvious common sense, the individual is not as smart as he is making herself out to be. And if it’s not, there’s more smooth in the talk than there is substance, and that should set off a lot of warning bells. Proof generally requires explanation. Sometimes lots of it.

3. If the individual is trying to convince you that acceptance of the new idea will make you smarter than the official experts, be suspicious.
Very suspicious. Experts aren’t always right, but they usually are. Plus, at best, you should be as smart as the experts. Not more so.

4. If the studies the individual is using are (really) old, if there’s only a few studies, or if the individual is trying to use some weird meta-study across mostly unrelated studies (and ignore Pinky and the Brain’s lesson in statistics), dig deep. Really, really deep. What looks like truth when you look at five samples can quickly become completely untrue when you look at five hundred.

5. If you are told that you cannot trust any other source of information (because of some big, corporate, conspiracy or because such-and-such expert is a sell-out), then the individual is either the pre-eminent expert or a complete crackpot. (And we will leave it to you to guess which one is considerably more statistically likely.) An individual must know his or her limitations. There’s a reason SI tends to focus on some things (like optimization and analysis) and ignore others (like market speculation and merger benefits). That’s because the doctor is an expert in the first and not an expert in the latter.

This is not a complete or exhaustive test, especially since the greatest of geniuses who truly see the future years before anyone else will often only have a few studies to draw on, come up with proofs so logical that they seem self evident, require you to mistrust most accepted sources of information, and present a story that is truly exceptional. However, ground-breaking advances like this tend to only happen every few decades at most. So the test present by Ms. Koerth-Baker is a good one.

Procurement is Still in the Technology Dark Ages

A recent post over on Deal Architect discussed how, despite claims to the contrary by recent analyst firms, most organizations are still in the technology dark ages, and this goes double for Sourcing and Procurement.

Not only is it the case that most organizations do not have modern e-Sourcing and e-Procurement platforms, but many are still stuck on outdated MRP and ERP systems that actually hinder, instead of help, Supply Management.

Consider the plethora of problems with ERP systems that often make it worse than not having a system at all:

There is generally little requisition management and no sourcing / tender / RFX support. In an ERP the process starts with a purchase order, flips into a goods receipt, and, maybe, just maybe, correlates with an invoice for payment.

There is generally little support for any type of real analysis. There is usually a built-in report library that has a few standard reports on suppliers, products, bills of materials, invoices, and payments.

There is only one schema, and it generally doesn’t lend itself to any particular form of analysis, reporting, or inquiry beyond the built in reports and any sort of global trade analysis, import/export analysis, tax analysis, or tariff analysis is just a pipe dream.

There’s a reason that Sourcing Innovation recently blogged about how hose that still rely on ERP could end up in the supply chain disaster record books and that is because ERP systems are not a supply chain management platform. But it, and maybe a few free web tools, are the best many organizations still have, and that has to change.

Especially when many organizations still pump millions of dollars into these platforms that don’t adequately support Procurement, don’t adequately support Sales, and don’t adequately support modern logistics and inventory management in the age of 3PLs (third party logistics) and VMI (vendor managed inventory).

Investments need to be made in the right products and platforms that serve the core needs of each department, starting with Sourcing and Procurement.  And there are plenty out there.