Focused Apps Ease E-Mail Overload

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-09-23 Print this article Print

Water runs downhill, and users do what you make it easy for them to do.

Readers of my weekly newsletter know that I see e-mail as a mixed blessing. Yes, its a new and improved nervous system for our business and personal lives, but its also a path of least resistance to redundancy and confusion. But people ask me, "What would be better?" Fair question.

One example of doing things right is Accolade 4.0, last weeks release of the product development system produced by Sopheon. In the same way that software developers strive to catch design errors at the upfront stage of requirements development, Accolade improves a product teams access to the internal and external resources that can help them kill bad ideas early and get good ideas to market more quickly.

Accolade connects resources in ways that make them much more useful. For example, an internal directory of company experts in a particular area can be associated with a threaded conversation of related concerns about a new product proposal. When in-house skills directories are actually used, people are more likely to try to keep them complete and current: a virtuous circle. Accolades process-oriented design keeps overlapping schedules from getting entwined in a tangle of e-mail exchanges.

Accolade harnesses organizational and environmental knowledge, using IT networks and tools, to make a critical process work better—rather than just opening channels of communication and hoping that useful information will spontaneously arise where there are connections.

Another approach is to accept that people want to use the tools they understand and to build a back end that deploys the result in a more productive form. For example, if people are accustomed to expressing knowledge, beliefs and predictions in the form of spreadsheets, why not turn spreadsheets into authoring tools for an application generator? Thats the core concept of Nobilis Ci, a "process writer" that was also announced last week by Nobilis Software.

Water runs downhill, and users do what you make it easy for them to do. Either build a process-oriented tool or harness familiar tools to process-oriented foundations—or watch your enterprise nervous system succumb to internal noise.

Tell me how you separate the signals from the static at

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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