Category Archives: Crystal Ball

2015, Marty McFly, and Programming.

Lots of internet posts, memes, and even videos have appeared to lament the missed predictions for 2015 from Back to the Future. However, one thing is for certain, we’ve seen a lot of other predictions come true.

We may not have a hover-board that will allow us to cruise across ponds, but we’ve got some awesome new tools.

1. Google Android Studio

http://developer.android.com/sdk/index.html

This thing has some real potential. Until now most of our developers have been using Eclipse which isn’t exactly an Android IDE, but merely a Java IDE. Initial impressions: “wow”. Our clients may opt to just build their own droid apps with technology becoming so self-contained and interactive.

2. Wearables

http://www.android.com/wear/

We’re not there yet, but 2015 could be the year. Android beat Apple to the punch in 2014 but Apple is set to release their offering which is sure to inspire all manufacturers to imagine and put their best foot forward. What’s still missing (and we have some ideas) is what “else” can a wearable do? Google Glass for instance, really missed the price point in its first iteration, but we don’t expect that we’ve seen the last of that. On our wrists we want more than a watch, or calculator, or even view of our emails. What can be cleverly fit there? Expecting some big surprises in 2015.

3. Code Automation

http://macaw.co/

WYSIWYG has always managed to stay just a little bit too good to be true. I’m having flashbacks of Visual Studio form layouts that don’t quite look good enough “snapped to grid” only to end up meticulously go to the properties of multiple elements to adjust the dimensions manually. Or gosh, remember the Dreamweaver days of little golden shields? As dynamic content became more functional those little golden shields took over the whole WYSIWYG pipe-dream. 2015 may finally turn designers into full-on coders, but this is probably one of the least likely scenarios in the list today.

4. SaaS

We shall believe it when we see it. 2015 will bring about more offerings, and while Google Docs and TurboTax have managed to establish some niches, other common offerings continue to disappoint. The problem in this space seems to be lack of ambition. Just last week we had a client demonstrate their new provider as they moved from ADP to Abila. It was like a bad movie that makes you want to spend time and money doing the public service of warning the world to avoid. Other niche offerings like FreshBooks or even some of the web-based anti-virus systems are volume based propositions. They exist because they managed to keep pricing very low and volume high. A crap shoot to say the least. This is probably our most off-the-wall prediction in this list, but expect 2015 to see SaaS decline as developer tools continue to enhance productivity and organizations continue the trend toward in-house teams. What in-house team is going to allow their shop to pay FreshBooks any significant monthly fee to do what any decent developer can build from scratch in a matter of a few days?

I imagine that 2015 will surprise us, but we’re off to the races with some of these tools and looking forward to it!

Adaptation, on the origin of the integrated health registry.

For more than two years I’ve witnessed firsthand the evolution of healthcare via skunk works in Southern Colorado. The concept seemed simple enough. The need to coordinate care for clients between multiple agencies.  With enough familiarity with the local resources that are available to guide, to “navigate”, to council medicaid members through their care decisions they’ll justify the extra effort in reducing waste from a few key areas. It seemed simple.

“I felt a bit like Noah suggesting that we build an ark.”

“The missing link in this evolution was the tool. EHR [Electronic Health Record] software is designed to document treatment from a limited and pretty specific list of specialties. Care coordination is an entirely different thing. Purposely broad and general in nature. I felt a bit like Noah suggesting that we build an ark. When the state seems to be suggesting that they are going to flood your organization with 100,000 new responsibilities a sense of urgency is an understatement. We panicked a bit in a very good way. Two years ago we panicked. Now it’s raining and we’re enjoying the rain. We didn’t misinterpret the signs. We’ve hit 60,000 members in January and that population is growing weekly. So far our ark is holding up.”

That “ark” is an application that Spanish Peaks refers to as an integrated health registry (IHR).

health-registry

“We originally just called it ‘the care coordination application’ internally, and then we called it ‘CareTracker’ until we discovered there was already an EHR of the same name and we were even using that EHR at one of our centers!”

Now they call it an integrated health registry. Whatever they call it the functions are crucial to the management of a large influx of members and needs.

“Just like Noah, we haven’t gotten to this point without our share of detractors. Now some of them are standing in the rain and still shaking their fists, pleading ignorance, and rationalizing their strategies. When the state gives us two years’ notice that our entire medicaid population is going to transition into a new model of accountable and integrated care, it’s imperative that we adapt.”

Adapt they did, and only now is the necessity of their new tool becoming evident. Spanish Peaks has now dedicated a large portion of a building and more than a handful of FTEs to this effort. Their jobs are somewhere between RN, social worker, and telemarketer. The contact management data they require and collect is just such a different schema from care-oriented electronic health record software.

“You can try to store your eggs in the cookie jar with the cookies, but it won’t be very efficient.”

“We realized early on that trying to use an EHR to do integrated care would be like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. There are names and addresses, basic demographics like any system, but beyond that one needs to get far too creative to justify creating bogus treatment plans, placeholder services, and then tripping through the clumsy process all that would necessitate. You can try to store your eggs in the cookie jar with the cookies, but it won’t be very efficient.”

Spanish Peaks Behavioral Health Centers of Southern Colorado have leveraged technology effectively to perfect integrated care coordination through their integrated health registry program. When asked about the technology:

“We’re mostly a Microsoft shop, and we’ve combined a few key products in an unconventional way. Not the expensive products either. This effort cost the organization nothing in new licensing.”

When pressed further, one of the developers admitted with a smirk:

“I didn’t say it was entirely Microsoft. I said mostly. So 51% or so, make of that what you want. We’ve had to roll with a lot of punches, so this thing had to be fantastically flexible, but also functionally concise. We’re back to not even knowing what to call it, but in my 20 years of software development I’ve never seen a system architecture quite like this. It is quite literally infinitly flexible, without being cumbersome. That’s a tough balance to maintain on top of the rigorous security requirements.”

I got a peek at their system and it is quite unique. The user interface looked more like a colorful PDF report than an average windows application. Yet tap elements in the report and the magic begins. On the Windows Surface tablet I was using – rumor has it it works on iPads too – the gestures and format were very intuitive. A drill-down report that was literally a robust interface to a full featured IHR (Integrated Health Registry), or whatever they decide to call it next month. Leadership in Integrated Care coming from a rural area of Southern Colorado. Newsworthy.

-Josh

An Expensive Downgrade.

What percentage of development shops are pigeonholing their clients by their loyal adherence to their prescribed stack? Far too many. At V-Tek, we’ve found that .NET often fits quite nicely into our mostly open-source toolbox. Especially when our client already has an MS oriented product.

Everything from raw library-less JavaScript, to RoR coding by convention, should be fair game for a development studio worth its salt. Otherwise the first thing they will want (and have to) do is uproot your existing modules. While uprooting modules may be exactly what you need, doing it only because your trusted developer doesn’t understand them is just stupid. What you already have could be ingenious, but if your developers don’t recognize genius when they see it you may well pay a lot of money only for them to downgrade your system.

One of the most powerful combinations we’ve leveraged somewhat regularly is PHP scripting routines against MSSQL systems on Windows servers. Combine the power of CLI PHP with Windows’ Task Scheduler, libraries like CURL and Sockets, and we accomplish things that other shops have flat out claimed impossible.

So unless you, as a customer, are narrow-minded, then it is best not to hire a narrow-minded development shop that will treat you like a child while they themselves waste your money.

Entrepreneurial Philanthropy

Entrepreneurial philanthropy has been really gaining momentum in the tech sector. We know in the late 90s that a start-up could dive in just for the sake of profit and if the business plan showed promise they’d acquire investors. Then the bubble popped and sent those investors looking elsewhere for revenue.

Today it’s tough to make it mainstream, even for viable business models. However, a trend has developed that not only requires only mediocre viability, but also manages to keep investors from jumping off the sinking ship much longer. We like to call it “entrepreneurial philanthropy.”

People are bargain shoppers, and there are plenty of people in this world that are simultaneously burdened with a desire to be meaningful and make some difference in the world. Enter the entrepreneurial philanthropist (hereafter referred to as EP).

The EP has identified a niche market with capitalists who are willing to incur much greater risk on the possibility that the end product of their investment could, even in a small way, make the world better. After all, it’s the thought that counts isn’t it? Well, actually no.

1. Handing out money to beggars on the street feels good but the reality is your money is very unlikely to make that beggar’s life any better. In fact it will only enable them and neutralize any actual potential that individual had in the first place. It will make their life worse. If the EP is the beggar then the “actual potential” would have been an actually viable business model.

2. Philanthropy really isn’t about looking to make a financial return on your investment. So let philanthropy be about philanthropy and your investments be about investments. There is nothing noble nor charitable about wasting money for no profit and no improvement. As already stated in #1 the lack of improvement probably means that you are making lives worse with your money. This is the kind of wasted potential that made Dagny Taggart so grumpy.

3. I’ve rarely met a good investor that did not accept Occam’s razor except when it comes to EPs. A few pictures of hungry kids can and should move us to tears, but not to stupidity. There are proven ways to feed kids, and that is by feeding them. The EP will have more assumptions than answers in their presentations but still fools eager to be parted with their money will bow to the emotional appeal.

So beware of the EP. While viability and charity are certainly not mutually exclusive in the world of business models, charity is also not a suitable replacement for viability. If you know of an EP project that failed financially but succeeded socially please do let us know in the comments below. Otherwise, assumptions aside, viability must be important whether your investment is philanthropy or entrepreneurial. Otherwise you’ll likely accomplish neither.

Microsoft PubCenter Omen?

PubCenter for Content
The illusive PubCenter for Content!
It is true that there are a few web publishers that have the ability to put Microsoft’s PubCenter ads on their websites. We have seen the interface ourselves, and have come to learn a bit about it.

For the last few years Microsoft has not allowed new users to access this function and rumor has been that it is for a lack of ad inventory. A few folks that got in early have enjoyed some reasonable payouts on par with Google AdSense, and recently sometimes on par with the glory days of YPN (Yahoo Publisher Network). However, the interface was chintzy to say the least. Plagued with odd bugs and dysfunction. If Microsoft’s acquisition of Yahoo included a review of YPN it would undoubtedly have been chosen as the most ready-to-ship interface.

Accounts have remained available for integrating with Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 applications. However, the web is full of laments about low payouts. Our clients tend to focus on Droid or iPhone, and neither are supported by Microsoft’s PubCenter. Whether short sighted, or strategic, it is what it is.

So now for the omen, at the end of last month we were contacted by a client that had noticed a drastic drop in ad revenue. As we mentioned before, the interface is bug ridden, not just a little bit. Our alpha demos typically have fewer bugs. If you click in the wrong place your browser may well go into a seizure of recursive reloading. Use any browser but IE and you’ll be lucky to get any results at all. QA has clearly been procrastinated. However, working with a group like a possibly rouge and obscure advertising team within a big organization like Microsoft requires some street smarts. If you so much as change your email address in a fragile system like this revenues could collapse to never recover. It’s a degree of paranoia that is necessary. Once you’ve got things balanced, don’t touch ’em! Don’t even comment in a forum about them — more less write a whole article — just leave them alone!

However, our client had carefully heeded our warning. Even resisting the urge to view reports too often for utter fear that the balance would collapse. It’s only weird if it doesn’t work right? Yet earnings were dropping, very quickly. Earnings that had remained stable for several years, offering nice bonuses on occasion, but never such a dive. We were confounded. Their traffic demographic was exactly the same. Other ad programs were actually earning more, not less. Coverage (the percent of pages that showed ads) was identical to prior months at 99%. Yet PubCenter has flat-lined.

On a call, we had to ask again, are you sure you didn’t change anything? They hesitated, and then finally admitted that they had attempted to submit a new W9 to the site. We lamented, first that they hadn’t explained this sooner, but secondly that this may be irreversible. Like an episode of House M.D., after a strained admission on the patient’s part, we had diagnosed the cause and we’re pretty certain that it is terminal.

So in delusional hope we offer other possibilities, this could be somehow related to the end of the year. Though that seems unlikely since their “publisher traffic quality score” steadily dropped from 10 (for over a year straight) to 1.5 within 6 weeks. The only other thought is that M$FT may be giving up on content ads altogether. It would be nice to hear from any of the endangered species of organization that may be running content ads via PubCenter. However unlikely as it may be, since those individuals have quickly learned to keep their heads down and not rock the boat.

We are now more like divers exploring a ship wreck than developers coding to standards. In the secretive world of online advertising, be it Google, or Microsoft, or even obscure 3rd parties, we are left with vague TOS documents that may or may not contain any clue as to why Zeus chose to frown on our client today. Instead we try a half dozen different things in hopes one will work. This client is lucky, they have an AdSense account already. That is until Google’s Zeus is unhappy with his breakfast and decides to take it out on the minions.

HP, DELL, Microsoft

Some major changes this week on the PC front. While DELL announced a more conservative income outlook HP has announced that they will sell their PC unit altogether. While the market has weighed in with its opinion already, it is possible that they are wrong. Specifically about Microsoft & Dell. If HP feels that they will do better focusing on server equipment, they should do it. They do produce some of the most popular server equipment in the world. However, poking Dell or Microsoft for it is illogical. Dell is the second most popular PC builder at 25%, and when HP bows out Dell is well positioned to pick up their quarter and perhaps rise to well over 30-40%. Interestingly enough Apple still sits below a third of either of those two and really does not even qualify being beaten out by even Acer.

Finally there’s Microsoft. By far the most popular OS in the world. We recently ridiculed articles claiming that Windows dropping below 90% market share was newsworthy. It’s a fact, for every 10 computers sold in the world, 9 of them are Windows computers.

So make what you will of current news, however the fact remains, no matter how many “experts” bloviate their predictions about the future the present is the only thing sure. For now Microsoft and Windows 8 are still the biggest player in the business. Anyone who proceeds on the fictional laurels of delusions of visionary brilliance and attempts to operate a business without Windows will sentence their disciples to drastically degraded possibilities. That’s the current reality, and has been so for 20 years, when the only major player to compete with Windows was Novell. There are many who get by with Linux or OSX, but they do so at their own loss. NTFS remains the most flexible and powerful file system for networks to this day.

Windows users, don’t apologize for using the most advanced operating system in the world. That’s the present reality.

Google’s Monopoly

google desperateWe’ve discussed this before and will likely discuss it again. Google. Google is again being scrutinized concerning their business practices. Anyone who has worked hard to generate significant search engine optimization for a client will know that Google keeps it a moving target. Their motto is “Don’t be evil.” However that hardly qualifies as verifiable transparency and accountability. The idea is nice, but what happens when their income streams thin out? About 8 or so years ago well financed marketing managers were falling all over themselves to give Google money. A click for Mesothelioma was worth $75 or more. That’s just one click!

It sounds absurd and that’s what it was. It took a while for the executives to realize that their ROI was going to make them look quite silly. In fact, many remained in denial for years. They dreamed that they could just pay Google and get all the sales they wanted. They assumed that the lack of conversions (or actual sales) was a mistake of their staff and just tried again with a different “guy”. Like someone who paid too much for their car (or a Mac owner) they bragged to their friends about how great their hot rod is. Their friends jumped in too. However, when pay-per-click did not deliver much beyond bills, as the now proverbial “ad blindness” set in and clicks only kept getting more expensive the “fancy car” failed to deliver for many of the markets that patronized it. The inexperienced still rush to buy up their “keywords” in hopes of a marketing miracle. However, the only marketing miracle is that Google made a killing in a market that had the lifespan of a Great Dane.

Great danes have a short life span at about 8 years.
Great Dane’s life span is about 8 years

So the game is over, the hay day is exhausted, and Google is handing out vouchers for $75, $80, and $100 worth of free ad space. Sparky, our beloved but old Great Dane is spending most of his days sleeping on his mat and the vouchers amount to putting vitamins in his food. All they will do is allow the uninformed to discover for free how little value there is left in PPC advertising. After they’ve spent their $75 voucher and generated a few hundred clicks and maybe 2 or 3 conversions into something whose return amounts to ten or twenty bucks, then only fuzzy math will convince them to spend more. It’s an act of desperation that will mostly net folks that cannot use a calculator. There are some niches that this works in, but it is but a shadow of what it once was.

So where does that leave corporate Google and their motto “Don’t be evil?” It’s easy to do the right thing when the wind is blowing your way, but true character is only demonstrated when things get tough. It’s obvious there aren’t any Mac fans here, but one thing Steve did manage to do is create a sustainable fantasy. Google’s PPC fantasy was not sustainable. So what is Google doing to remain profitable? After all, “organic” search results don’t pay them, or at least they shouldn’t. The funny money valuations of “audience potential” are the stuff bubbles and bankruptcies are made of. Enter the FTC.

The Federal government, along with a lot of the more paranoid of us techie types, have our suspicions that Google’s “organic” results aren’t really as “organic” as they appear. You can believe what you’d like, but a company that built its business on scraping other people’s sites for content only to turn around and ban other sites that do the same thing citing “copyright” violations as their grounds sure doesn’t seem capable of not “being evil.” Press releases can say all kinds of things, but the cash cow was adWords and that dog just ain’t hunting. Android is great, and nobody really knows for sure, but on the face it seems to be open-source and royalty free. In fact there are rumors that Google has been paying manufacturers to use it. Yes, maybe 5 years ago Google could afford to have high standards, maybe they can for another 5 years. But, try to knock Wikipedia out of the top spot on a key term for your niche market, try to get about.com out of your way. About.com just so happens to run Google ads, Wikipedia, well while their is no obvious connection they are Google’s example of a “content is king” site. So it may well eat up so many SERPS simply as evidence in Google’s “don’t be evil” favor. If corps are paying for “organic” SERPS positions the connection will not be obvious. If Google is purposely burying their competition on top searches you can bet they will have some more obscure examples to show the Feds, and if they don’t now they will when the time comes.

What will the FTC find? It just depends on how deeply they dig, but Google is a corporation and they will do what they need to to keep the revenue coming. What will the FTC do if they do find impropriety? Well, here’s our guess, they will find a young man named Saddam Hussein and make him an honorary citizen of Detroit, then wink at him and tell him to “do the right thing.” In other words, it’s not likely any good will come of it. Sure Google is gaming the system. At least they have demonstrated a realization that there are limits to how much we will tolerate before giving Bing another chance. The government on the other hand seems to see no limit at all to how far they can manipulate. I say if Google wants to sell search engine positions let them. Just let the public know what they’re doing and let us decide how we deal with them. What we don’t need is “ObamaSearch 2011”.

Microsoft Market Share 87.5%, that’s HUGE!

In an article entitled “Apple crushes forecasts again…” the Reuters “reporters” rely almost entirely on the words of one Tim Cook, who just happens to be Chief Operating Officer of… you guessed it, Apple.

On the same day, Intel’s PR department was explaining that there had been some strong purchasing in the past quarters and current numbers represent modest results, despite headlines like “Intel’s sales shine, defy PC growth fears” or “Intel’s earnings leap on business demand for PCs“.

So now look at the MacObserver version of this: “Apple Crushes PC Market with 28% Growth in Mac Sales. Wow, impressive. Also, again, lots of quotes from Tim Cook. In fact a lot of similarities with the Reuters article, only everything bigger, and now for the fun quotes:

IDC pegged Apple’s March quarter market share at 8.5%, up from 7% in the year-ago quarter” – Though half a year ago we were reading this: “Apple’s now third largest PC vendor in US with 10.6 percent market share. That was from Engadget, but don’t be fooled, that could be a different type of market share. Now look at this article from just about a week ago: Gartner rivals IDC to report Apple fifth largest, with 9.3% share of US PC market.  Ah, ok, now Gartner thinks the market share is higher, but look closely at the chart! Yes, that is a vendor list, it isn’t Apple vs. Microsoft, it’s Apple vs. Toshiba. That’s the same stat as the other two articles! Not only that but the stat that is consistently chosen by Mac fan sites are the vendor lists, not the OS comparisons, why? SPIN! Apple is still tiny in the PC Market and the most recent OS specific market share numbers (averaging 7 different reports March 2011) Microsoft 87.5%, Mac 7.12%. On phones, Android has more than TWICE (4qtr 2010 Gartner) the market share, despite the headlines.  Now just for laughs, how do you like this one from Apple fanboys pretending to be reporters in January 2009 (yes, 2009, that’s no typo) “Apple market share tops 10%, Windows share lowest since tracking began. So in January 2009 it was 10% and now it is 8.5% and this is fantastic news? That’s what Apple wants you to believe. BTW, the “Windows share lowest ever” had Windows at 88.7%. Gulp, they lost 1.2% share in more than 2 years. At this rate anyone else has a chance at getting just half the market share in, oh, roughly 75 years.

Apple has tapped into some powerful fuel. Firstly, fanboys. Fanboys are so completely loyal that they completely ignore any logic or factual information for the sake of their cause. They create faux IT news sites, blogs, and even magazines to promote their cause. The second, the tendency of news to really emphasize small things while downplaying the truly large. In other words, straining at gnats and swallowing camels. Hence the title of this article. Just don’t be fooled, there is a LOT of fluff, especially in the APPL stock price.