Understanding as a Service (UaaS) Part 1

In 2015 we are quite adept at producing massive amounts of data and almost prehistoric in terms of how much of that data converts into a significantly enhanced understanding of the world around us.

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”
Leonardo da Vinci

Self portrait and Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci

On May 19th 2014 in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by one of the 20th century’s greatest scientists, Freeman Dyson. He delivered a remarkable lecture titled “Are Brains Analogue or Digital?”. My attendance was an indulgence. Once upon a time I was a scientist and I sometimes miss it. However serendipity would have it that I chanced across a lecture that would inspire me like nothing I had heard previously. The following passage had a huge influence on my current obsession.

“One of the big unsolved problems of the modern world is to convert information into understanding. This is a big problem in science, in government, in business administration and in economics. In each of these areas we have huge amounts of information and very limited understanding. As a result of the rapid progress of digital technology, it has become far cheaper to collect information than to understand it.”
Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson

The problems encountered in deriving understanding from a rising tide of data are universal. The opportunity afforded by converting data into understanding is evident in almost every category of human endeavour — from healthcare provision to supply chain management to proteomics. Quantum analog computers will deliver levels of understanding unimagined in the primitive digital age we inhabit. That’s because it is infinitely better suited to spotting patterns — often unexpected ones. It finds useful needles in haystacks without us even defining what that needle is before we search. The endgame of efficiently converting data into understanding is a world in which data trawling is very often more fruitful when you do not pre-define what you are searching for.

However we are far from seeing quantum analog computing applied in a meaningful and useful way. Google’s D-Wave 2 processor is to quantum analog computing that which Charles Babbage’s mechanical devices were to digital. One purpose of such extravagance on Google’s part is to divert attention from a monopolistic advantage in the core business domain that it dominates. Personally I believe Google is actually interested in having a hand on shaping the future too. Google and Amazon are very good at distracting. People wonder which one is building the best drone and the media love writing about these things. Hats off to both companies. The ultimate goal of any great company is not to selflessly serve customers. It’s to build and sustain (for as long as they can) a monopoly. Being customer centric is a necessary element of achieving that. Rarely anything more. Not unless you’re a charity. Read more about monopolies sustaining themselves a little longer with distractions in Peter Thiel’s excellent ‘Zero to One’. Ok — distraction over.

We need to become a lot more sophisticated in how we extract meaning and understanding from the vast oceans of data we collect. And we can start doing that right now in the digital age. Companies can build all the analytics engines they like, but so called ‘big data’ will not realise its true value until we learn how to turn it into ‘big understanding’.

“A man may imagine things that are false, but he can only understand things that are true, for if the things be false, the apprehension of them is not understanding.”
Isaac Newton

Amasat has chosen to apply this paradigm specifically to software procurement (in the form of AppSelekt) because software defines modern living. It’s a cliché but software really is eating the world. Software procurement is complex, opaque and wasteful. Selecting B2B apps is an enormously problematic process. 64% of the B2C apps you download will be discarded within 12 months. B2B apps do not work that way. They can transform companies or fatally wound them. The effect is usually somewhere between those extremes, but its rarely trivial. The world lacks sophisticated tools for selecting apps. In fact there’s no effective tool for finding apps in existence. Zilch!

Google is a sophisticated search tool. It’s not a sophisticated tool for searching for apps. The AppExchange is an even less sophisticated tool than Google for searching for Salesforce ecosystem apps. Try searching for Marketo or Hubspot in the AppExchange. Useless search engine. The ‘why’ doesn’t matter. Would anyone seriously suggest that either of those apps are not a strong fit for a number of use cases? Once the owner of a marketplace starts to buy up some of the shiny stalls it’s impossible to remain impartial. And the marketplace no longer fully represents the ecosystem. Put ‘Marketo’ + ‘AppExchange’ into Google and you’ll find what you’re looking for (because its hidden away on the private AppExchange). That’s an app-centric search. Ergo it’s almost useless because you have to know the app you want and the market place where it’s listed in advance.

Now try searching for a category like ‘event management’ on the AppExchange. It returns a directory of shop windows. Can you tell me which of those options is best placed to help you deliver sports management implementations? Happy reading! Integration with Ticketmaster? Try typing Ticketmaster into the AppExchange. Actually don’t — it’s a waste of time. Where’s the understanding?

Another big problem. App procurement involves too much trust. That’s especially true for small and medium sized businesses. App makers want to sell licenses and consultancies want to sell days. Moreover in the B2B space ratings are largely meaningless and easily gamed. And before anyone from Microsoft, Oracle or SAP rubs their hands reading this, you guys are a country mile behind Salesforce.com when it comes to a co-ordinated approach to provisioning a semi-comprehensive, scalable, secure, flexible, integratable, joined-up selection of B2B apps via the cloud. And the AppExchange (warts and all) is a far better marketplace than any other B2B app marketplace. None of those great companies were born-in-the-cloud — and to varying degrees it still shows. However I’m talking about the concept of turning data into understanding. All the main software players are poor at this — regardless of where they were born.

Enterprise level organisations have the resources to carry out multiple proof of concepts when framing solutions and procuring apps. They follow process as they willingly dive down rabbit holes. I’ve seen so much wasteful activity in this regard. The mistakes of giants are rarely fatal (except to the project owner with the hot potato). However the majority of smaller companies can feel their mortality. Its cold breath frequently brushes the backs of their necks. Amasat is working on creating a solution to conquer this problem in the B2B app space.

We call this ‘Understanding as a Service’ or UaaS.

Our initial endeavour is to make it possible for buyers to select much more suitable apps by better understanding their own business requirements. We will help them frame the problem.

On the other side we want to help the long tail of small app makers get more frequently and accurately connected to appropriate projects (ones they understand how to deliver optimally). The big majority of app makers lack marketing sophistication and/or budget — not surprising as they are often new companies run by young engineers. However many of them have great apps.

Initially we’re focusing on the Salesforce.com ecosystem — including (but not exclusively) their B2B apps marketplace, the AppExchange. Our watchword is ‘impartial’ and democratisation of B2B app procurement our mission. We are honest enough to say that we are not a so-called ‘customer company’ i.e. we are not a charity. Customer centric? Yes. To the core. Impartial? Fiercely. We are of the opinion that Salesforce is the best B2B app ecosystem in existance. Within that we are impartial and data driven. As we build our site and app (they are not released yet), we’re constantly validating our product with the market, customers and other sides of the ecosystem.

If you enjoyed this article and you use Salesforce.com, I’d really appreciate one-click feedback. Please click on one of the four links below to reveal which one you believe to be the most truthful. If you made it to the end of this article, I definitely value your opinion!

1. Describing the problem clearly before searching for an app is hugely challenging

2. Selecting apps involves placing excessive trust in the hands of vested interests

3. Selecting optimal apps is a very expensive and/or time-consuming process

4. Selecting apps in the Salesforce ecosystem is no problem at all

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