Web hosting and Email VAR

I could enter the email hosting market right now if I know how.
Maybe I should pass it off to Fastmail.fm or Tuffmail.com?
Maybe I should get Exchange running or I mean get a hosted Exchange and then be able to develop apps off of it.

43 things

Top three on the page when I visited:

Travel the World

Learn Spanish

Drink More Water

All three of those are high on my list (okay, I don’t really want to drink more water, just less cokes.) So I must be keeping with the trend. I am so herd instinctive.

Focus

I need to limit my goals.  Last night’s post was good, and I’m glad I reminded myself of the bigger picture this morning.  But the real trick will be learning to pace myself and see what I’m capable of.  I tend to bite off more than I can chew and not follow through.  It’d be nice to have infinite time and resources, but I need to focus.  Saying that, I don’t want to back my self into a corner and just do something simple.  This six months will be an incubator, and after 3, I will decide whether it’s time to monetize or hunker down for a bigger investment.  I won’t make a huge investment in time or money until the 6 months is up.  I might come straight back to Ecuador and throw $20,000 into wages or even get big financing.  Or I might decide to take it easy and brew again.

Office Organization

I see several internal categories of customers applications are developed for, and often the mistake is made of building a product with the wrong user in mind (often management or business intelligence is stressed over accomplishing the work — likely because these are the people with the purse strings.)

An arbitrary set of categories:

Strategic Planning
Management
Product Development
Sales & Marketing
Fulfillment
Services & Support
Accounting
HR
Infrastructure

The CEO and top management need to know the big picture. Summary reports, sales statistics, product development & IT costs, customer satisfaction, profit & loss, etc. but are really outwardly focussed. Their job is to think about potential customers, competitors, investors, and decide where the business should be going. They mostly need reports, I’d argue not even reporting tools beyond spreadsheets, etc. for number crunching comparisons. Tools from all the other departments should make it easy for them to provide strategic data on demand, but I’d argue, not even have a view that a CEO could use. It’s a waste of his time to learn to use it anyway, and he’ll probably mis-interpret the data, or end up micro-managing.

Management tools should be focussed on managing their teams, not on gathering reports for decision making. A manager should not need to know time tracking information beyond that Joe is always late or work, or Judy always goes over budget. Interfacing with HR and Accounting are what they need, because that’s how they work with budgets and employees. Joe should be able to go to his manager about insurance or schedule concerns, and Judy should be able to procure what she needs. Management does need to budget time as well as money, but that’s limited level strategic info, and should be given to them as a report with comments, they shouldn’t be making their own reports or micro-managing their teams’ tasks.

Believe it or not, Product Development is the core of a business. It’s not Sales. Without sales, you couldn’t pay to develop your product, but what is sales selling? It’s what your business does. You make widgets. No one goes to a business saying “I’m looking for someone to sell me something.” Likewise, all the other departments are dependent on product development. These are the “employees” HR cares about. The things that fulfillment is fullfilling, support is supporting, and accounting is counting. Figuring out the *something* to produce is the strategic decision. Producing the product is core. Everything else is details.

Development, QA, and Project Management tools fall in here. It’s why automation is so big in industry. Insuring quality is key to differentiating from competition, and Project Management makes sure you know how these two tasks are going.

Probably the biggest tools market is in Project Management these days, and truth is they’re mostly all bad because they’re geared towards letting managers and executives (and accounting and HR) stick their fingers in the pot and grind the gears of development to a halt.

In the physical world, product development automation has the biggest pay off, and is probably the most mined. Quality Assurance is the hardest to automate, because their job is to make sure the development is done right. And I’m not just saying that because I have a career in QA. I may only know it because I do, but it makes sense — or else I’m blinded by my perspective.

But the better, cheaper, and faster you can verify quality, the better off you are. This is where things like time tracking, budget oversight, and quality control tests come into play. It should be outside of management, partially so management can make dispassionate decisions.

In the recent past, Customer Support was thought to be the big win. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but the truth is, it’s the support that’s lacking, not the tools. Support needs the tools to know about things like inventory, shipping, customer accounts, etc. AND THE POWER TO USE THEM. That’s the part that’s lacking. And the tools are pretty bad, to boot.

Sales consists of two types. Salesmen, and Point of Sale. They are completely different. One is going to customers, the other is handling the customers that come to them. One is trying to convince people, and the other hopes they don’t change their mind, because they are already customers, they just haven’t paid yet. Therefore, Point of Sale personnel need good information on inventory, accounting, fulfillment, and product features. (It wouldn’t hurt if salesmen knew them either, but let’s not expect too much.) Salesmen, however, need to listen to customers, and take back to Strategic planning and product development what the potential customers want. There are two sides to customers relations, and I think this is where a lot of tools fall down. Of course the idea is to cross-sell to existing customers, but that’s changing their mind. Service and Support (perhaps an extension of the point of sale) shouldn’t let a new product poach their customers, unless a strategic decision has been made that it’s worth risking losing existing customers for existing products to try and convert them. Don’t ever think you can have your cake and sell it too. If so, that’s great, but don’t count on it.

Infrastructure, IT (and I’d almost put accounting into this category too), janitorial, whatever keeps the business going. I know it’s an unsung field, but that’s a sign of a good job. The business isn’t about you anymore than it is about sales, but you’re just as important. Sales pays the bills, but you keep the product rolling, and everyone else humming. These tools are usually pretty technical in nature, and truth is, you have to be able to fix when tools break.

HR is mostly a growth of the legal environment. Managers should be able to make decisions, but there is just too much red tape for a manager to handle. The fact is, employees can sue, and so we need you. Gone are the days when accounting cuts paychecks and managers hire and fire. Maybe this isn’t a real category, but it’s a big enough element in most businesses that there are tools targets. People create data, and it’s often very complex. And if you’re not a customer, you’re an employee, and fall under HR’s purview. Departments like HR need to enter data and query it. They can probably get by with a file cabinet, even in the largest organizations (10,000 employee files an inch thick would easily fit into a medium-sized room, and could be retrieved within a couple minutes, if sorted alphabetically.) But this is the computer age. We don’t need the filing cabinet, and Joe doesn’t need to punch a clock, and Judy doesn’t need to fill out her expense reports in triplicate. This is the low hanging fruit. Regulation is the big issue here, but it’s simple forms and databases. What’s really needed are backup and security solutions.

3 more

I will also look at three Open Source Applications I want to support. I’ll concentrate on apps I can host or deploy and provide value-ad. Some potentials to investigate:

OpenRealty
SugarCRM
OrangeHRM
OFBiz
OSCommerce / Zencart
Compiere (ERP)
Alfresco

Software for hardware utilization:

Asterisk (VOIP, PBX, Digium Cards)
EWRT, Portless, etc. (WIFI Routers)
NoCat (Wifi Captive Portal)

I need to look at shopping cart, content management, catalog, order fulfillment, payment processing, fulfillment, shipment tracking, for the typical web site; and accounting/bookkeeping/general ledger, payments received, invoices, shipping and receiving, inventory, paychecks and bill pay, etc. for back office solutions. I need to look at business intelligence and reporting, ERP, CRM, HR, etc. for the front office. Also time, task, product management for productivity (specialize in coming at it from a QA centric approach.)

and 3 commercial apps to support:

1. Microsoft Office (for forms to database and report generation. Template based documents. Alternately look at Outlook applications and plugins. Email based workflow will be huge.

– Also look into Open Office for this. An open office form builder and db/spreadsheet validation back end would be gold. Like creating VB/Access for open office users. It’d be the number one was to drive up usage of that suite.

2. Salesforce.com — There could be good money in this, though it won’t be fun work, I hear it solves a lot of problems for a lot of businesses. Things like SugarCRM may overlap here.

This is probably a sales model I want to emulate with a QA application service. Though I think in house, maybe product management appliances or virtual machines.

I’d also like to see plug an play email server, spam filter, antivirus, etc. appliances or shared hosting. I want it for myself. Network accountability, records compliance, secure document storage and backups, etc. This end of the market may be saturated, but there isn’t good understanding. All I can think of is the Barracuda networks radio ads. Maybe they’re the best, or maybe there’s someone else. Maybe fast-mail has a good service. Maybe there’s an open source (or commercial) solution I could package or recommend & support.
3. Mercury testing tools. LoadRunner, WinRunner, QTP, Test Director. This is always a high demand skillset. Though personally a red flag for a company in my opinion. It’s not typically the type of job I want, but if paying the bills six months of the year is in my future I want to keep my hand in.

I also need to look at the open source and commercial alternatives. Segue (Borland) and Rational (IBM). OpenSTA, TestMaker, Watir/Samie/Pamie/Jiffie/PHP?, Selenium, Canoo, etc.

That’s a lot to do. On top of that I may be spending a lot of time training employees, working with partners, reviewing work, managing, etc. I need to find a revenue stream, but I don’t want to get tied to one too quickly and narrow my focus.