Friday, August 25, 2006

Enhanced Customer Experience

Online sales are growing five times faster than store sales according to a benchmark study that reveals new trends in online shopping sites. As more companies turn to the Web to generate revenue, web designers and developers should review this study and develop skills to help organizations generate revenue.

"Leading retailers understand that 'customer experience' is the next competitive battleground," according to the study's author. "Ultimately, a company fosters a more loyal customer base, and customers are inclined to spend more." A press release is available from the Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group. A more detailed analysis entitled Enhanced Customer Experience: A Benchmark Study (pdf) is also available for review.

The study concludes with four suggestions to help internet marketing executives stay ahead of the curve in the battle for the future. These recommendations offer sound advice for any Web professional regardless of whether or not the website currently offers products and services for sale:
  • Keep a vigilant eye on what competitors are offering
  • Stay close to customers to understand their unique needs and preferences
  • Constantly look for better ways to improve the site's ease of use while providing deeper, richer multimedia content
  • Create meaningful ways for shoppers to interact with the company and each other when on the site
Twenty websites were evaluated in the benchmark study including the Top 10 U.S. Web retailers by revenue. Links to each site along with an analysis of the Web technology used at each website are listed below:

In summary the majority of the largest online retailers utilize one of two competing technology clusters as follows:

[Note: Many technologies are easy to detect by their file extension (for example, .jsp, .asp. aspx, etc.) The five sites marked "unknown" may use Java or some other technology I am not familiar with.]

Web designers and developers who wish to position themselves for career opportunities as online retailing continues to expand at a rate of 20 percent per year would do well to learn one of the four technologies listed above. Access Boston Market -- July for links to job opportunities for Web professionals with knowledge and experience using these skills.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Oracle & Open Source

A survey of more than 250 companies using Oracle's proprietary database reveals that open source software is being used at 60% these companies. The most popular open source database software at these locations is MySQL. A press release (pdf) and a detailed survey results document (pdf) are available for review at the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG) website.

While MySQL is gaining ground Oracle remains king of the database world. According to
an analysis of the database market released by IDC, the Big Three database vendors are as follows (percentage of worldwide market):
  • Oracle (45%)
  • IBM (DB2) (21%)
  • Microsoft (SQL Server) (17%)

The study finds that Microsoft is the big mover in this market and is gaining momentum with the release late last year of SQL Server 2005. "Microsoft is not the only vendor that the two giants -- Oracle and IBM -- are worried about," according to the study's author. "Alternatives such as the open source RDBMS [relational database management system] vendor MySQL are also attracting a good deal of attention and loyalty from a new generation of database developers."

As we saw in the Boston Market -- July TACK analysis, listing database knowledge and experience on your resume can open the door to more than ten times as many opportunities as listing design skills such as Dreamweaver and Flash. So, how can you learn about Oracle's proprietary database software when this software can cost tens of thousands of dollars (pdf) to purchase and install?

Here's the inside scoop: Oracle supports the open source community. In particular, Oracle and PHP are two compatible technologies. While PHP is free to download and use, Oracle is not -- at least not until recently. Oracle has followed the lead of Microsoft in developing an Express (FREE) version of its popular database software. An now, like Microsoft's SQL Server 2005 Express Edition before it, books are starting to appear on how to use the Oracle Database 10g Express Edition.

Strategy #1: If you are new to databases and PHP programming, then start by downloading PHP, MySQL and Apache, all FREE open-source software. Quite a few books are available to help get you started, including Sams Teach Yourself PHP, MySQL and Apache All in One, 3rd Edition.

Strategy #2: If you want to upgrade your skills (and your market potential) into the Big Leagues, consider an investment in Oracle Database 10g Express Edition PHP Web Programming. This book will be available on September 8.

More than 500 Oracle jobs are currently available in the greater Boston area. Can you afford not to add Oracle database knowledge to your resume?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Emerging Technologies

An analysis of 36 key technologies has been released evaluating their potential impact on business over the next ten years. The technologies were classified into three major themes as follows:

  • Web 2.0
  • Real World Web
  • Applications Architecture

The technologies in each category were given one of three "impact" ratings: transformational, high or moderate.

Key technologies in the Web 2.0 category along with their impact rating are listed below. Each of these technologies are expected to hit mainstream adoption in less than two years:

  • Social Network Analysis (high)
  • Ajax (high)
  • Mashup (moderate)

The evaluation was conducted by Gartner, Inc. and is part of a series of studies called 2006 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle. The analysis is an attempt to determine if a technology is a wave of the future or simply hype.

A press release offers details including the following definitions of key terms in the Web 2.0 category:

  • Social Network Analysis (SNA) is the use of information and knowledge from many people and their personal networks. [LinkedIn is an example of a social network for professionals.] SNA involves collecting massive amounts of data from multiple sources, analyzing the data to identify relationships and mining it for new information.
  • Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is a collection of techniques that Web developers use to deliver an enhanced, more-responsive user experience in the confines of a modern browser.
  • A "mashup" is a lightweight tactical integration of multi-sourced applications or content into a single offering.

So, what are the implications for web designers and developers? The time is now to begin developing solid skills in the technologies that underlie these emerging trends. In the area of Social Network Analysis, the key skill is database knowledge and expertise focusing particularly on Structured Query Language (SQL), the language used to move information into and out of databases. Ajax, of course, requires knowledge and expertise in JavaScript and XML.

SQL, JavaScript and XML. These skills are in high demand today as evident by the Boston Market -- July TACK analysis. Web professionals with expertise in implementing these technologies in a web environment will be in demand as the web continues to evolve and Web 2.0 goes mainstream.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Boston Market -- August

The summer ushered in a minor slowdown on the employment front in the greater Boston area. The Monster Local Employment Index (pdf) for June dropped slightly. This decrease appears to reflect a seasonal slowdown that has experienced each of the last three summers. However, online demand for computer and mathematical (IT) positions reached a new high "suggesting an upbeat third-quarter hiring outlook for local technology professionals," according to the company's press release.

This continuing demand for IT workers is also reflected in the
IT Employment Index (pdf) for July calculated by National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses (NACCB).

This month's market analysis explores the demand for professionals with the title of
webmaster. According to Wikipedia, "a webmaster (some women prefer webmistress) is a person responsible for designing, developing, marketing, or maintaining website(s). A broader definition of webmaster is a businessperson who uses online media to sell products and/or services. This broader definition of webmaster covers not just the technical aspects of overseeing website construction and maintenance but also management of content, advertising, marketing, and order fulfillment for the website."

So, a webmaster needs not only technical skills, but also, analytical and marketing skills. A search on keywords at job posting sites reveals that as the role of a web designer/developer expands from the expense side of the company's ledger (How much money will this website cost?") to the revenue side ("How much money will this website generate?") the number of job opportunities also expands.

Here is a listing of keywords commonly associated with "webmaster" along with the number of job listings posted for that keyword at two popular job search sites [ BostonWorks ] [ Monster ]:

  • webmaster [ 9 ] [ 14 ]
  • SEO (search engine optimization) [ 6 ] [ 19 ]
  • web analytics [ 9 ] [ 22 ]
  • e-marketing [ 5 ] [ 29 ]
  • e-mail campaigns [ 24 ] [ 37 ]
  • e-commerce [ 84 ] [ 268 ]

The bottom line is that web designers and developers who position themselves as valued members of the revenue-generation (e-commerce) team will experience more and better job prospects in today's marketplace.

The first step in positioning your skills for e-commerce opportunities is to demonstrate the basic ability to measure website traffic, referred to as web analytics. For an overview of web analytics, access a 13-minute podcast entitled Startup Guide to Website Analytics.

The market leading software company in this space is WebTrends. A basic open-source version of this software is available for FREE from Google. Google Analytics is offered by invitation only; however, you can request an invitation. My experience is that you'll only have to wait a few days to receive instructions for getting started.

Adding "web analytics" to your tool kit is an easy first step in developing the analytical skills necessary to position yourself on the revenue side of any company's balance sheet. And once you can demonstrate that your expertise pays for itself, what company wouldn't hire you?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The 90 / 90 Rule

Over the next five years state and local governments will lead the push toward open source software, according to an analysis conducted by market research firm Government Insight. The report estimates a 30% compound annual growth rate in open source software spending through 2009.

Combine this trend with the shift toward
Internet-based software (Software as a Service) in the form of Web applications and the future looks bright for Web designers with "back-end" programming and database skills.

Let's look at the data. According to Netcraft's
July 2006 Web Server Survey, Open-source Apache Web server hosts approximately 60% of the world's web sites. Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) hosts approximately 30%. And Microsoft has experienced a resurgence in the past six months capturing market share from Apache. This growth spurt corresponds to Microsoft's release of Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and ASP.NET 2.0.

The practical implications are the following:
  • Web developers in the government, not-for-profit and small business sectors should position themselves for future growth by investing training time in learning "LAMP stack" technologies (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP)
  • Web developers in the large-company, for-profit world should consider developing Microsoft-specific Web application technology skills centered on ASP.NET and SQL Server

Here's the 90 / 90 Rule:

"Ninety percent of the world's 90 million websites are hosted on two technology platforms: Apache and Microsoft."


Web developers proficient in open source (PHP & MySQL) and proprietary (ASP.NET and SQL Server) technologies will be best positioned for career security for the remainder of the decade.