Sunday, April 18, 2010

Web Visualization...

I have been trying to get my head around visualization for several months. Web presentation presents a few challenges that some of the product vendors seem to overlook.

First off, there is an ever increasing propensity for each vendor to develop and produce their own portal. It must be a common Java class in a lot of schools because it is so prevalent. And not all portals are created equal or even open in some cases. I think that while they are redeveloping the wheel, they are missing the point in that they need to develop CONTENT first.

So, what are the essential parts of a portal?

Security Model
Content Customization and Presentation
Content organization

In a security model, you need to understand that users belong to groups and are identified with content and brandings. A user can be part of a team (shared content), assigned access to tools and technologies (content distribution), and will need to be able to organize the data in ways that make it easy for them to work (content brandings).

In some cases, multi-tenancy is a prime concern. How do you take and segregate discreet content yet share the shareable content?

A Web presence lends itself very well to project or incident based portal instances if you make it easy to put in place new instances pertinent to projects and situations. This empowers the capture of knowledge within given conditions, projects, or team efforts. The more relevant the cature is, the better the information is as an end result. (The longer you wait, the more daat and information you lose.)

Single Sign On.

While vendors say they do SSO, they typically only do so across their product line. Proxying, cookies and sessions, authentications and certificates are all ways to have someone have to authenticate to access systems.

From the actor perspective, once you have to stop what you're doing to log into another application, subconsciously, you have to switch gears. This switching becomes a hindrance because people will instinctively avoid disruptive processes. And in many cases, this also refocuses the screen on another window which also detracts from user focus.

Every web presence has content, a layout, and a look and feel. Templates for content layout, branding, organization, become the more common elements addressed in a portal. In some cases, language translation also plays a part. In other cases, branding also plays a significant part.

I happen to like Edge Technologies enPortal. Let me explain.

It is a general purpose Portal with Single sign On across product, it has a strong security model, and it lets you deploy web sites as needed. You can synch with LDAP and you can bring in content from a variety of sources... Even sources that are not web enabled. They do this with an interface module integrated with Sun Secure Global Desktop(The old Tarantella product...)

The enPortal is solid and fault tolerant. Can be deployed in redundant configurations.

But web visualization in support organizations needs to go much further in the future. They need to enable collaboration, topology and GIS maps, fold in external data sources like weather and traffic data. And they need to incorporate reward mechanisms for users processing data faster and more efficient.

Data and information must be melded across technologies. Fault to performance to security to applications to even functions like release management, need to be incorporated, content wise.

Some Wares vendors in the BSM space claim that they support visualization. They do. In part... Alot of the BSM products out there cater specifically to CxO level and a couple of levels below that. They lack firm grounding in the bottom layers of an organization. In fact, many times the BSM products will get in the way of folks on the desks.

A sure fire litmus test is to have the vendor install the product, give them a couple of data sources and have them show you a graphical view of the elements they found. Many cannot even come close! They depend on you to put all the data and relationships together.

Ever thought about the addictiveness of online games? They have reward mechanisms that empower you to earn points, gold, or coins or gold starts - something. These small reward mechanisms shape behavior by rewarding small things to accumulate better behavior over time.

In many cases, the data underneath required to provide effective visualization is not there, is too difficult to access, or is not in a format that is usable for reporting. When you start looking at data sources, you must examine explain plans, understand indexes as well as views, and be prepared to create information from raw data.

If you can get the data organized, you can use a multitude of products to create good, usable content. Be prepared to create data subsets, cubes of data, reference data elements, as well as provide tools that enable you to munge these data elements and sources, put it all together, and produce some preliminary results.

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