Where did Microsoft Office go?

I’ve had my Eee PC for a week now and made some surprising observations. While I was expecting to use this for the occasional bit of web surfing and e-mailing in front of the TV, it’s become the machine I use more than any other – mainly because of the almost instant power up time.

The shock discovery though, is that during this week I haven’t needed to use any of my Microsoft PCs at all – for anything. It would appear that pretty much everything I do is done through a standard browser. When did that happen? It also appears that the company is also slowly reducing it’s use of Microsoft Office products. Our intranet has a content management system at the heart of it, and people are now using this to produce all documentation, both internal and external. There are exceptions, obviously – the accounts team are still heavily dependent on Microsoft Excel, and the sales guys still like to have PowerPoint on their machines, but as a general purpose office package it has become increasingly redundant.

Had I needed to use any Office products, the Eee PC provides two options, Google Apps and Star Office, but the point here is not that there are free alternatives available, it’s that we just don’t use them any more. Instead we use a range of web technologies that allow us to create, perhaps counter-intuitively, a richer document than typical Office applications do. We have documents with video in, discussion threads attached directly to the Project Briefing documents, and social discovery systems embedded within the documents themselves.

This got me thinking about how we interact with our customers. With the exception of printed sales and marketing materials, pretty much everything is done either through e-mail, or via the community sections of our web site – we’re even starting to experiment with things like Twitter. Even PDFs are starting to lose their appeal as they too don’t provide the level of interaction that we’ve come to expect from the intranet.

It appears, for us at least, that the standard “one way” document type is succumbing to a new interactive document type – dynamic documents that leverage relationships between people.

Will office e-mail be the next to go?

The End of Wikis, Blogs and Forums?

Have you noticed how little you see chat forums on web sites nowadays?  They’ve all but gone, replaced by messenger type applications on the desktop, or creative use of Ajax.

I’ve spent some time recently looking at the new breed of web sites coming along – things like UserVoice and StackOverflow and I’m starting to see an interesting shift in what people are producing.  In the past people have understood new technologies by the “badge” that’s applied to them, “does it have a wiki in it?” “It’s got forums, right?”  But now we’re starting to see lots of software focussed very tightly on solving a simple problem.  UserVoice for example, is a system for collecting requests and bug reports from your customers – rather than bolting the usual suspects together (typically a forum) it does it in a very simple, but very effective way by ignoring the usual suspects and developing something very specifically “built for purpose”.

At last!

This feels like the start of something different – tight, efficient, well thought out technology focussed around a single problem, instead of bolting a variety of established components together to come up with some half considered solution.  Is this the beginning of the end of what we now call wikis, blogs and forums, all to be replaced by a new breed of solution specific applications?

Now all we need is something to tie all these things together.  I once heard someone suggesting Shibboleth, but I think they must have been drunk at the time.

Outstanding Performance breeds Unattainable Expectations

I ordered a shiny new Asus 901 from Amazon yesterday.  I must have spent thousands at Amazon this year alone and I’ve grown accustomed to having whatever I order arrive on my doorstep the following morning – without fail (with the exception of those items supplied by companies using the Amazon marketplace).

It didn’t arrive this morning, so I looked at my account and it still says that it should arrive today – but it also said that it hadn’t yet been dispatched.  I checked the item details, and what previously said “released on August 12, pre-order now!”, now said 1-3 weeks delivery – so was I getting it before I went on holiday or not?  An e-mail to customer services yielded no response after a few hours, so I cancelled the order and bought it from somewhere else (who I rang up first, and got through to a human being to check stock and delivery times).

It occured to me that I was so frustrated with Amazon because of the level of expectation that I have of them.  The better we are at something, the more people expect of us and the less willing they are to accept the occasional mishap.

SaaS in Education

We offer our systems both via SaaS and Appliance models and are starting to experience exactly the same dynamic in the commercial sector that we have with education. A couple of years ago the UK government practically mandated the use of a SaaS (Software as a Service) model for software delivery in schools, but there are a few fundamental reasons why people choose not to – not yet anyway. This is primarily to do with performance, availability and security.

I recently spotted a comment from Ross Mayfield, CEO of SocialText, one of the most visible in the Enterprise 2.0 crowd, saying that “of their 4,000 customers, 80% use the SaaS product, but 80% of their revenue come from the appliance”

This is the same message: sure, there are lots of people talking about SaaS, lots of people “playing with it”, lots evangelising about it, but at the end of the day those that take their enterprise technology seriously want a server in their organisation where they can guarantee it’ll be available, run quickly enough to handle their ever increasing data usage, and where they can see, touch, smell and caress it.

SaaS is, however, a very effective marketing system as it allows people to get hooked in without having to make a significant purchasing decision. Some folks use the same marketing principles with crack…

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Recruitment Drive

We’ve just about finished our latest recruitment drive and I’d like to welcome all the latest and imminent starters:

  • Carly Brown
  • Jaycie Hall
  • Stefan Allsebrook
  • Denise Whyman
  • Danielle England
  • George Chilcott
  • Tony Booth
  • Darren Farley
  • Paul Tate
  • Matthew Charlton
  • Gareth Halfacree
  • John Walker
  • Peter Nixon
  • Tom Hudson
  • Lee Neilson

Hopefully that’s almost it for a while!!

We’ll be encouraging everyone to maintain some kind of online profile over the coming weeks, so you should be able to put faces to all these new names and maybe even get to know a few of them through our shortly arriving community section – or even our new twitter account!

The Secret Sauce

I put the diagram to the right together a couple of nights ago to provide a framework to explain where Frog is heading in the future. It worked quite well, and while I won’t go into  anything about our future work here, I thought I’d put some explanation of this down in case it’s of use to anyone.

This diagram explains the “magic” of a successful implementation. While we deal primarily with Learning Platforms in education, this is a model for any kind of large scale software implementation / culture change project.

With ENGAGE, we have the 3 F’s:

  • FUN – There is absolutely no reason why using software has to be boring and formal. Software companies often forget that their software will be used by real human beings. If it’s fun people will look forward to using it, if it’s boring they’ll try and avoid it. Simple really.
  • FANCY – When people leave work, or school and go home, they are now playing with more sophisticated, interactive web technologies, whether it’s Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or many of the other latest breed of web “applications”. Enterprise systems have to compete. How can we expect our staff and customers to take a piece of enterprise software seriously if it’s rubbish compared to that free thing they chat to their friends on at home?
  • FAMILIAR – Many users of enterprise software will be occassional users, so the system needs to be accessible without a manual. If anyone needs to read anything before they can access and meaningful operate the software, then you’re on to a loser.

These three elements remove the vast majority of initial objections. Your first experiences are fun, impressive and familiar. Nothing to dislike.


Once people have had a look at the new system (and been pleasantly surprised) there’s still a need to provide an instant and meaningful payback, otherwise it’s just a novelty item. It doesn’t matter what this is, and it’s different in every organisation, what’s important is that there is at least one in there from the start.


This is where the magic starts. The journeys that our customers travel on are always a surprise to us, constantly coming up with new and exciting ideas, ranging from improved administration processes, to some outstanding examples of student engagement programmes in schools. There are two key requirements here:

  1. That the software is flexible enough to cater to ANY request
  2. You have the appropriate resources to MAKE the software do what is asked for

What we’re looking for here is for the grass roots workers (be it teachers, or any staff throughout the whole organisation) coming up with their own ideas and either implementing them personally, or getting the necessary help to do so. Every single time this happens there is a little more ownership, empowerment and enthusiasm towards the programme. When someone wants to do something new and exciting and they ask “can you make it do this?” the answer has to be yes!


This is really the end result of a few months of the Adapt stage. It is undeniably hard work getting to this point, in many cases taking 12-18 months, some organisations never commit sufficient executive leadership or resources to get there.

The first signs that you’ve reached the “Immerse” stage is that Frog is the first thing people think of when trying to solve a problem (either physical or virtual), you’ll hear phrases like, “there must be a way of getting Frog to do it?” It’s at this point that the 12-18 month leadership push gives way to more of a “holding on to the tiger’s tail”. The leadership must quickly recognise this and start to try and manage expectations within the organisation. Not everyone can have everything at the same time.