Coghead, A New Web App Machine

23 Comments

The Enterprise is widely viewed as the next playground for collective technologies known as Web 2.0. While there has been a lot of talk, only a handful of companies have come up with Web 2.0 inspired offerings targeting the enterprise. EMail software provider, Zimbra is one such company that has impressed. Add Redwood City, California-based Coghead to the list of those companies.

The three-year-old company, has combined various technologies – Ajax, RSS, and what not – with open source platforms and has developed a “web based application development environment.” Initially known as Versai Technology, the company was started by Greg Olsen, co-founder of Extricity that was acquired by Peregrine Systems. His co-founder is Paul McNamara (now the CEO), formerly of Silicon Graphics and Red Hat Software. The company has received $3.2 million in funding from El Dorado Ventures.

Though the company is not going to launch its offering for a few months, it has lined up some large customers to do a private beta, and is going to go for a public beta later this summer.

Coghead in many ways is the encpasulation of some of the trends I have written about in the past. For starters the web 2.0 collective technologies are now able to give you a near-desktop like experience. (What’s missing is an offline connectivity option, but even that might be moot if some start-ups have their way, or ubiquitous broadband.. whatever comes first.) The other trend I have been a big believer in availablity of open source platforms married to industrial grade components and the complex infrastructure at very low costs.

Like Ning, Coghead is also a web application development environment. Those who are familiar with Ning know that the Palo Alto-based company has created an environment where almost anyone can clone-and-customize applications to create their own social networks, community sites or even bookmarking services. DabbleDB is another company that can be loosely placed in the same class of start-ups.

Coghead, on the other hand is targeting corporate work groups who need custom applications developed and have to outsource that work. “In this environment the the traditional customer software development model doesn’t make sense because it takes too long,” says McNamara. On-demand is the best option, since it doesn’t interfere with the existing IT infrastructure, says McNamara. “We are going for smaller groups, and not the IT department.”

“When we refer to cogheads, we are talking about problem solvers,” says McNamara, “They may not do java programming but they know how to solve their business problems. ”

Olsen, thinks we are a point where we will see a new category of creators. “We wanted to make the whole process of creating applications so simple, that anyone can write these custom apps,” he says. “In some ways we are trying to do what print press did for books, and helped the book publishing sky rocket. This is the similar for, Internet applications.”

Olsen makes a good point, though I won’t use the book publishing analogy. Coghead’s impact on web-app development for corporations could be similar to the early days of desktop databases. The emergence of those desktop databases led to a mushrooming of applications written on top of those desktop databases. Even today you can find thriving businesses that sell solutions on top of say, FileMaker. Coghead takes a similar approach. Olsen says while not everyone can write apps based on its platform, anyone who can write excel macros or write simple database-apps (on top of say Microsoft Access) and follows business logic can build custom applications that are available through the browser.

At Coghead, we’re developing a web-based platform that will allow people to create business applications without having to write code. And because its all web based, there’s never any software to worry about or hardware to install. Everything gets done with a browser and an Internet connection. [via]

There are many components already available to the app-creator who can drag and drop these components and put them together as lego building blocks. The company has done a good job thus far, but will their eventual users bite, and start writing web-apps? What do you think?

23 Comments

Nadeem

Suganya,

I just went through your website, i had some queries related to your product (Zoho). Suppose that i have a database schema with me say a basic HRM schema with say 150 tables (remember i dont have data in the spread sheets, its a blank database), i want to create an appication from scratch using this HRM shema. Is it possible?

If so how much time will this take?

What if i want to introduce some changes to my HRM application at a later time in the project, is this possible too?

What if i want to create a application using Zoho but i want the created application to point to a specific data base schema running somewhere in my LAN. Is it possible to do the same?

Thanks,
Nadeem.

Nadeem

Suganya,

    I just went through your website, i had some queries related to your product (Zoho); Suppose that i have a database schema with me say a basic HRM schema with say 150 tables (remember i dont have data in the spread sheets, its a blank database), i want to create an appication from scratch using this HRM shema. Is it possible?

If so how much time will this take?

What if i want to introduce some changes to my HRM application at a later time in the project, is this possible too?

What if i want to create a application using Zoho but i want the created application to point to a specific data base schema running somewhere in my LAN. Is it possible to do the same?

Thanks,
Nadeem.

Anil Sharma

I had been technical leader and part of the team building “no-code” platform. The lessons learnt:

  1. People do not build custom applications for simple problems. Such problems have enough complexity that very soon data structures and programs start showing up on the stage. If it is simpler than that then it has been solved using Excel.

  2. A simple data structure manipulation is a nightmare using any declarative or graphical approach. It becomes trivial when you think in terms of a programming language.

  3. If someone asks me to use a graphical tool to write XPath and XQuery, I will run as fast as I can … and … someone will want to check me for substance abuse.

Call us dumb head. We had no way to use scripts. Last I remember, a very senior engineer was debugging paragraph length XPath/ Xquery until he passed off – all he wated was to get 13th element of an array if first element was two; but only if 3rd element was not 1; provided 7th element is negative … otherwise …

I had a few email exchanges with a senior architect at MicroSoft on this topic. He had been through the same “less travelled roads”.

Please, please, have scope for scripting…

Matthew Steffen

I was wondering if you have ever heard of Interneer Intellect? It is a web-based project and process management system that is extremely flexible. It is designed to be configured by the basic business user who has no knowledge of programming. It is similar to CogHead. I would just say that it currently is developed to the point that Coghead could hope to be in 2-3 years. Interneer was the first company to really get involved in web-based user-configured business management software. That’s why Interneer is so far ahead of all the newbies just now getting into the game… like Coghead.

http://www.interneer.com

Greg Olsen

Brian, our service allows users to define whatever data structures they need in creating their applications. The service supports bi-directional integration (i.e. we dynamically generate inbound external web service interfaces for applications created by users, and our users can build applications that make outbound calls to external applications and services and then compose the results). The product provides a very simplified version of the workflow/process and data transformation capabilities you may be familiar with in EAI products. I hope this answers your question.

  • greg
Brian

Paul – interesting points you make – especially the one about being web based and there centralized by default. My bias comes from 10 years of implementing SAP in the enterprise and the pain I saw with departmental apps.

One other question for you – is there an underlying DB schema that is geared at the enterprise or is there another EAI layer for transformation to data stores etc.

I look forward to watching Cogheads progress.

Best,
Brian

Paul McNamara

Brian, I tend to agree that the sweet spot is probably mid-market companies. But let me give you a counter argument for the enterprise. I spoke to the CIO of a very large company last week. He said that they have always seen (and always will see) a flood of operating departments coming to them looking for IT to create custom apps. This IT group, as with most, doesn’t have the resources to respond to this kind of request. A few years ago their policy was, ‘we can’t do it for you, and we won’t allow you to do it for yourself’. After a few years, they recognized that this policy was unworkable, so they changed to, ‘we can’t do it for you — if you do it for yourself, you’re on your own, don’t come looking for support from us’. Under this new policy, operating departments began to develop Access and Filemaker apps for their own departmental need. Now, these operating departments are coming back to IT and saying “wow, managing this is hard, we need help and we are willing to pay you, Mr. IT, to support us”. This CIO is interested in Coghead because it will give him the ability to respond to the needs of operating departments, but to do it in a managed centralized way, without needing any new IT infrastructure. Because Coghead is a 100% web-based model, all of the apps and the data sit in one centralized place (Coghead’s data center) and are managed just like a centralized computing model. The trouble with products like Access is, as you point out, that you get a proliferation of application instances that quickly becomes unmanageable. But Coghead is the opposite of the 4GL model from an application and data management standpoint. With a web-based model like Coghead you are actually managing it as a centralized resource. There is always only one software stack and one version.

Mohammad

I have used Remedy (now part of BMC Software) which allows users to create custom applications using very high level constructs. Remedy required the server to be installed and managed on the users’ servers, so security and deployment issues were not of concern. Although developing business processes using Remedy was very simple, many companies hired expensive contractors to create such processes. I wonder if the same thing will end up happening with Coghead.
There is a lot of value in allowing customers to either host the service within their firewalls or leave it outside. I personally thought it was a headache to take care of the Remedy installations whenever they had an update. We had to host it locally to maintain the security of our databases and customer information.
Remedy also had off-the shelf suites that you could buy instead of developing them from scratch and I always thought they were over priced.

Ashish Tomar

I like Pip Coburn definition of change. Change = function (user’s crisis v user’s perceived pain of adoption)

I think it’s a cool idea, BUT I also know that an employee just can’t use any web platform to build “smaller custom project” in a fortune 1000 company.

There is always an IT department, internet security policy, software licensing policy, confedianlity policy between the innovator and the do-it-yourself-excel-killer-no-programming-required platform.

One thing that we all can agree is that coghead is not solving a crisis. Enterprises are doing just fine with excel email network folders but the perceived pain of adoption, I would say is at least 6 on a scale of 1-10 (Raise a PO for software license, explain it to the Boss, to IT department and then purchasing department, get team usernames and passwords, etc……)

Its just too much hassle…………..

I think they have better chance if they change their customer focus towards 100 employees businesses and help them in deploying/automating Business processes.

dave

personally, i’ve gotta say that when somebody figures out how to aggregate the kazillions of VB programmers out there under one unified platform and tool like this, then we’ll see a winner…i heard (a while back) that the number of folks proficient in VB is roughly 1000 times the number working in c/+/# …this kind of approach to declarative programming also just continues to sound like a lot of what companies like microsoft have been talking about for a long, long time (think anders hjelsberg), and take a look at the new visual studio coming out – does this kind of stuff really even compare? it’s one thing to build a nifty little app that does a to-do list, it’s another to convince GM or Ford to use it to manage production in a real business environment…this stuff smells like pure novelty (dabbledb excluded, that’s some real work going on there)

Paul McNamara

Revneet, Ning tends to describe themselves as focusing on “social apps” and as such is aimed more at consumers. We’ve built Coghead with a laser focus on the needs of business users. Brian, you raise a great point about administration for business users. Our approach is to give customers a simple-to-use yet powerful way to manage permissions. The customer can control the privileges that each user has to each component of the system.

Jason Kolb

I think people who have never programmed before are far too scared of application development to pick up something like this. To them it seems like magic.

Also, people have tried this before. Remember Access and InfoPath? I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’ll fly. There’s a reason why programmers make lots of money, it’s not an easy concept to learn.

Solomon Folks

I see they are following in the footsteps of Peregrine Systems (now HP/Peregrine Systems) with this particular example (Incident Management). This particular segment of the Enterprise has the greatest need for a flexible solution as the many commercially available off the self packages (COTS for us old farts) are too expensive, too cumbersome, and too proprietary to provide a decent ROI. This and DabbleDB could make the enterpise space interesting if they can get any true widespread adoption.

Brian

Om – thanks for the clarification on the control aspect of Coghead. Maybe this will be the Web 2.0 Lotus Notes?

Do you plan to write anything on the real time collab market?

Best,
Brian

Om Malik

Martin,

I have been using Zimbra (Network Edition) and it seems to have enough admin controls for me to run and manage it for my tiny little staff. It is not as complicated as Exchange, as far as I can tell.

But beyond that you do make good points. Could you elaborate a little on this issue of SAAS. In terms of why do you think there is resistance.

Om Malik

Brian,

in terms of coghead, i did not want to get too geeky – but they have hooks into the corporate infrastructure which gives the IT departments enough control over everything. it is a managed service that can offered within the firewall as well. it is a very well thought out product. and they are not going in for replacing the IT dept, but this is good offering for smaller custom projects so to speak.

my bad, for not making it clear enough.

MartinE

One thing I see with this and Zimbra, etc., is a lack of administrative controls. This becomes a very big deal when entering the enterprise markets. In my experience, without exception, they demand administration tools that give hierarchal control over who does what with the application. This is especially important for countering IT resistance to hosting their data on someone else’s server, the primary objection to SaaS. When you offer a good set of admin tools they get a lot more receptive…

Brian

Companies like Ning and now Coghead are betting that the Enterprise (I read this as Fortune 1000 Companies) will now give up a more centralized control of data and apps and let departments again run amok with “silo’d” apps. I think this is a risky play at best. The Enterprise does not want anymore HTML front ends to SQL DB’s created at the department level.

Of course, we know this will sill happen and this is where Coghead, Ning etc. will have to compete with Microsoft – I think MS wins. IT depts will not mind if the silo’d systems are built on an already purchased, corporate accepted back end (yes, I said back end) of MS offerings (including Exchange, Sharepoint, LiveComm Server). Let’s face it – 95% of the Fortune 500 run on MS Excel anyways, so why will this change in the future?

No, I do not work for Microsoft -just very familiar with the offerings and spent a lot of time in the collaboration space.

Best,
Brian

Ravneet

Om;
Whats the future and real enterprise wide usage of web application development environments.
Take Ning for example, are there any real usable applications coming out of it? I find it more like a playground for first time curious users.

Ravneet

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