Category: Technology


Aditi had done her bit of making our wedding cool by getting me to do a pre-wed photo shoot – that turned out awesome thanks to Frames of Mind. It was my turn and I had to prove to the lady (who had agreed to risk her life with me) that as a Product Manager I was creative enough, and thought of surprising her with our own “wedsite”. When the question of build-or-buy came up, I couldn’t find anything that matched my needs and the flexibility I needed to fiddle with it. So without much thought, I created a sub-domain, grabbed a copy of Bootstrap and got glued to NetBeans. I released the first cut online in less than 8 hours of work, and improved it over the next couple of weeks part-time (24 hours in all I guess). And yes, it really cost me $0, because I had already purchased hosting space and the prasadgupte.com domain.

It was AditiWeds.PrasadGupte.com for the guests…

With domain & hosting available, this was just 24 hours of work @ $0

With domain & hosting available, this was just 24 hours of work @ $0

The pre-wed shoot had given us quite a few fun pictures, and together with the nimbu-mirchi trick View full article »

Full-text search & inline display of information are key differentiators

Full-text search & inline display of information are key differentiators

In the last couple of years that I’ve owned an Anrdoid, I’ve tried everything from ColorNotes to Any.Do to store small bits of information. Trivial stuff such as

  • daily medicine dosage
  • recipe of my favorite sub (which my wife needs me to text every time)
  • frequent flyer / loyalty membership numbers
  • utility / bank account numbers, etc.

Such information that needs to be handy is usually lost under complex navigation menus. I’ve seen folks saving this information as draft messages (SMS) or even using memos which does not allow tags & full-text search. And that’s precisely the problem I tried to solve with Bitstore.

Download BitStore*

My hands were yearning to write some code and this couldn’t have been a better time to try out mobile app development with PhoneGap. Before this, I did try installing the Android SDK but the learning curve seemed quite steep, and after all, my purpose wasn’t to develop coding skills. PhoneGap with jQuery mobile & Jasmine for unit testing View full article »

Google Reader had been a close buddy for quite a while, after Chitresh Jain got me addicted to a bunch of feeds, most importantly FMyLife :) And then comes the sad shut down news  that creates a lot of rant all over the web. After trying a few alternatives immediately, I was hopeful (and sure) that this would tickle opportunists and deliver a much better RSS reader. The threat of data lock-out that Google users were anticipating after the announcement was more than relieved with Google TakeOut and their commitment to Data Liberation (FYI, this was #6 on my list of the top 7 non-functional requirements for web-based products). And I am huge fan of the Google PR team. They made good sound great, and bad sound hopeful. And they’re so unbiased, they even delegated listing out the best alternative to end users itself.

Early July, Google Reader finally went down - RIP Reader – and I was exposed to Feedspot through Anuj Agarwal‘s bio on Quora. I had some troubles importing my subscriptions directly from Reader, but that looked like a problem at the Google  end. It gulped the Reader TakeOut export without a hitch.

Excellent use of real estate

Excellent use of real estate

What I loved:

+ Minimalistic, responsive, consistent UI – Zaaro glitches View full article »

What is configurability?

Configurability is the ability to change application behavior (functionaility) and the interface by changing application parameters, without the need to rewrite code. This can either be done in the front-end by users, or through back-end configuration. On the other hand, customization requires making change to the application code to modify existing or support additional requirements. Sophisticated application design (e.g. web hooks) can permit customization by externalizing the new functionality. But modifying existing functionality in a multi-tenant application is really not advised.

Top 3 / All-time favorite requirements

  1. Web forms / Custom fields: Customers may require the flexibility to add additional fields to a particular document/record (object). Moreover, there would be a need to validate the input to the field based on data-type, or a script. For example, tenant A may require tax-ID as an additional integer field on the customer information object, and also make it a mandatory input. This has grown to be complex enough to support attachment fields, link to master data, controlling access to specific roles/user, etc.
  2. UI customization: Customizing the user interface involves matching the look-and-feel with the customer’s branding: corporate color scheme and adding their logo. Allowing users to customize their own data views (record lists, reports) is just assumed to be there. Sometimes controlling data elements could also be a requirement. (E.g. End-users wont know certain information, so a section needs to be hidden for them. But the next user in the workflow View full article »

I am sure that the way I have configured my mail client or tablet’s home screen is different from yours. The reason we love modern-day apps and operating systems is because they let us configure the product to match our specific needs. Configuration is not a new concept – even old radio transformers allowed listeners to tune into the station of their choice without having to open any screws. Configurability isn’t a feature; its a vision. And it doesn’t come free; too much of it will also backfire. There are at least 3 compelling reasons why product managers need to plan configurability around every feature:

1. Customization

No product is designed for a single customer. And it would be rare that 2 customers had similar business processes. To adapt to the difference, without having to create customer-specific code bases, an application needs to be customizable. Gone are the days when customers would 200% of license fees on getting the product customized to match their business needs. In today’s scenario, solution providers need to cover the cost of customiztion through one-time implementation fees.

2. Rapid Implementation

Besides, customers are not looking at multi-year transformation projects with huge budgets. Project managers need to create compelling business cases and promise hard dollar recovery through the proposed solution. Every project is like a turn-key project and a vendor has no chance unless they can promise rapid implementaiton and unlock the RoI in stipulated time. View full article »

I’ve discussed web frameworks before and how they can help in rapid development. In this post, I’m presenting some general guidelines around selecting the best web development framework, based on your requirements, in the the preferred language: Java, Ruby, PHP, Python. The main criterion is evaluating the non-functional requirements it provides out-of-thebox, which can greatly aid rapid development.

What to look at in a framework?

You should know how the design considerations mentioned below are addressed by the frameworks you are evaluating. Depending on the business needs, some might be redundant, but tend to provide a holistic view of the framework’s capability.

  • Scaffolding code: What is the ETD to get a web-form with basic CRUD running?
  • Does it offer the flexibility to choose between convention & configuration?
  • How is input data validation achieved?
  • Is the View layer simplified with a template engine?
  • Does it employ object-oriented design patterns? and demand OOP?
  • Does it follow MVC (Model-View-Controller) pattern? How is routing (URL management) achieved?
  • What ORM tools (object relation mapper) does it support?
  • Does it have built-in support for multi-tenancy?
  • Does it support I18n & L10n out-of-the-box? (Internationalization & Localization)
  • How is Authentication & Authorization managed: inbuilt, using a module or plug-in?
  • Does it allow rapid development/deployment in line with Agile principles?
  • Are there cases of proven success for enterprise class applications?
  • What is the performance benchmark vis-a-vis other frameworks?
  • Is there in-built support/plugins for caching, unit & scenario testing?
  • Is it easy to debug applications, and if possible with in-built support through an IDE?
  • Associated costs & TCO: to build developer & infrastructure expertise, hosting, licensing, support?
  • Does the licensing permit free use for all purposes and the right to modify code as necessary?
  • Does it have a clear product roadmap, sufficient documentation & an active community?

The decision

Don’t get carried away by flashy white-papers, classy developer events or generalized case studies. Your application is going to be different (a reason why you’re building that product in the first place) and while it is good to use guidelines, you need to see what fits your requirement best. Take a weighted approach to evaluating a framework based on the evaluation criteria above and make sure you have enough reason to be convinced.

This post is part of the SaaS Application Development series, extracted from my final dissertation submission at BITS, Pilani that closely looked at rapid-development of SaaS-based applications.

Every Product Manager is a ninja when it comes to dealing with functional requirements. But it doesn’t end there in the B2B space. You may not be a technical product manager, but you still need to understand and address some non-functional requirements without which your product isn’t ready to sell – especially if its transactional in nature, holds sensitive data or requires integration with the client’s IT eco-system. By ‘address’, I don’t mean you need to plan these as features or get involved in the R&D – it’s just about getting answers to what has been done in this regard.

What makes non-functional requirements so important?

Good question! If your product touches any of the 3 aspects mentioned above, the client’s decision to buy the product is incomplete without involvement of the IT team. You might have the CXO’s approval, but even if a single IT executive deems your product unfit for the IT security standards the client is committed to – the sale is likely to fold. You need to make a compelling offer, not just to the functional decision makers, but also to these non-functional evaluators whose buying is equally important. And there is a fair reason to it. Imagine, if you’ve worked hard to keep a floor clean, and someone wants to walk in with their own shoes – no matter how clean they claim to be, would you let them in? IT doesn’t want to risk their network either. I really don’t see this coming in the way of B2C sales – a LinkedIn premium membership or even Online Banking for that matter.

What needs to be taken care of?

Here at at-least 7 areas for which you will need clear answers.

  1. Software requirements: With SaaS, customers have fallen in love with apps that railed on web browsers. But IT remains unsatisfied with the ‘my app runs in a browser’ response. They need to understand whether it runs ‘best’ on a particular browser or a specific version. As a product manager, you need to know the share of each browser version and build support accordingly. Dependency on components (e.g. FLASH) can cause the deal to hit a road-block.
  2. Data Security: Customers always question the security of their data while using hosted services. And this becomes all the more critical when you’re selling a multi-tenant application. If you’re able to help them get over the SaaS phobia, the next questions could be around data security & access control, data center certifications, third-party quality assurance reports, etc. Apart from this, customers solicit information about user authentication and authorization capabilities, user management from the application console and integration with existing user management solutions like LDAP. Don’t be surprised if a client demands a sandbox for a hands-on verification.
  3. Flexible application stack: Customers may explicitly specify software requirements such as the use of specific database engines or application servers. In some cases, they are even willing to pick the tab for additional license fees to ensure View full article »

I was having a discussion with my friend/colleague Amit Shinde about the quality of things, and he brought up this topic of expiry dates. Fortunately for us, here in India, we now – at least – have an expiry date for most food stuff sold on the primary economy. The underground economy – or System D as it is known – is so vast and so uncontrolled that the government cannot even dream of regulating it.

But Amit’s concern was much beyond perishables. He mentioned his iPlugs for example (I’m not a Apple guy and don’t know if they call the iPhone earplugs that). He said that although there was no visual damage, they weren’t performing as they did. After all, everything has a shelf life – which may or may not be straight-forward to predict.

Take vessels for example. The old copper & brass vessels – now costly souveniers – have served families for years. There even exists a maintence process to extend its life. But the non-stick we use today in our fast lives is not built for centuries. Who knows how the coating disintegrates or how the lower layers react with oil/soap. I’m sure there is a point at which it has to be discarded – which is left to the consumer’s discretion. And when it comes to Indians, experimenting overage tolerances on expiry dates

View full article »

PHP: Print amount or number in words

Its been real long since I updated this space. And instead of adding something for the heck of it, I thought of posting something really useful. This is a piece of PHP code that returns an amount/number in words. This is in English, but you can easily translate it to your own. Hope this helps!

This reminds me of Semester 1 assignment given by Shalini Puri ma’am to determine the optimal number of currency coins & notes required to put together a specified amount. Good old days!

Rapid Development

Over the last decade, there has been a massive growth in the number of web-based applications. For every category – email, collaboration or knowledge management to name a few – there are a large number of applications available, and new ones on their way. This has created extreme competition in the market with each application claiming to be better than the other. Even if a new concept exists that is strong enough to drive the market, time-to-market is a crucial factor that will decide the success of the product.

To address this, a rapid application development strategy needs to be in place so that the product and incremental features can be delivered at the expected rate which is dictated by the market & customers. Besides this, development needs to also follow an agile model so as accommodate ever-changing business requirements. This is especially true in the case of product development, where a single product must fit multiple customers with varying business requirements, and the classic waterfall model can lead to complete failure.

Web Application Frameworks

A web application framework (‘framework’ hereon) is a software framework that is designed to support the development of dynamic websites, Web applications and Web services by providing core, non-functional features out-of-the-box. A framework streamlines application development by automating many of the patterns employed for a given purpose and thus resolve the overheads associated with common activities performed in web development.

A framework also adds structure to the code, prompting the developer to write better, more readable, and more maintainable code. It promotes code reuse through the use of libraries for database access (using ORM), template engines, session and user management, logging, internationalization, etc.

Framework selection (we’ll elaborate this in the next post) is thus crucial in delivering the required functional & non-functional requirements within stipulated timelines. Non-functional are the primary influencers View full article »

prasadgupte | 1999-2014