This is a dual post written and posted simultaneously. For the perspective of how Iceberg this benefits student, check the post over at iGeneration. Some bits are the same and used in both entries; ain't easy posting the same thing for different audiences.
A few weeks ago when I was trying to distract my ever marathon-running mind with the death of a close friend, I spoke to Wayne Byrne - a brilliant and inspiring young chap from the shining streets of Ireland. We spoke for the best part of 2 hours, and he talked me through this software.
As I wrote over on t'other blog, Iceberg is basically a platform which takes on a similar look to SharePoint, without being SharePoint. It's a web platform which enables you to make custom, complicated workflow based, high-quality and dynamic; yet stable applications simply, without writing a single line of code.
The key to Iceberg is the "no written code" factor to it, enabling anybody to really use it. I've used it and I know a little of Java (courtesy of two fantastic lecturers for my first year at university) and some web languages, but nothing exciting. With Iceberg comes a huge back-end database, but in terms of database knowledge, you don't need to know anything. All you need to know about using this software is what you want to make, and not how to actually make it.
Considering it's the CIO's and the CTO's of an organisation which will often make the Visio-style flowcharts, explaining everything that the application does and how it's meant to do it; it's these two executive officers who are the ones who can and should be able to design something themselves in Iceberg. Even low-level developers can make something faster - a better application, automatic chart generating, report generating, user access controls, calendars, views and data flows.
With .NET and Microsoft SQL Server 2005 running behind the scenes on the computer or server you've installed it on, you start off making a database. The database can talk to pretty much any other legacy database out there making inter-collaboration better; it can even talk to cross-operating systems and platforms. Any legacy databases can be queried live; lots of data could be out of date and you could get a semi-trained monkey (an intern) to use Iceberg and update it, without breaking anything.
With the search and databasing features, you can even update details on certain tasks done by which only that person worked on - even out of the entire user access database. It populates forms directly from the database - up-to-date or legacy - and does it fast.
This software is a great example of "Enterprise 2.0"; enterprise software enabling the organisation to work with XML and web services and nothing else. By using web services, web applications and protocols, it increases efficiency overall. The security features make sure you can't tread on anyone else's turf, with read only, read-write and full access permissions available.
One of the killer features is the Process Designer. If you do have a passion for coding, although not necessary with Iceberg, this is the place to do it... except you still don't write any code. You simple start dragging and dropping things into a Visio-style pane, all Flash based. This workflow viewing allows you to see the objects and manipulate them to how you want them to work.
The fields you can create are different for all things; it makes life so much easier and simpler for non-developers. The Enterprise 2.0 live connection to other databases allows you to see what fields are available to you to the micro-second (obviously dependant on your network speeds), and the rest of your visual fields are highly customisable.
Oh and there's more. Read on, fellow colleague of the wider enterprise symposium.
The Web 2.0 features don't stop there. When searching for something, a live search appears next to your search box so you can see the results as you type. The AJAX is all on the server, as this allows you to keep track of what you're doing in a "live feed". Because the system is so expandable, you don't have to change anything much. It'd take a hell of a lot longer to write the code, and this makes the nightmare of coding fade away. Whilst everything can be made searchable, the reporting features work a treat, allowing you to see what has been changed and who's done what, where and why.
This software is a breakthrough in the ability to edit, modify and change the way things work. It has editable lists, considering most enterprises use Excel for their simple databases and worksheets. Many enterprise applications are huge installations, and 90% of the work often is done in Excel; people don't like change much, and they like their simplicity.
With editable grids, whatever is changed, the event in the Process Designer is changed also. It allows you to change things for the users too, making the user interface friendly.
Using Iceberg, you can invite your clients in by adding a "switch" the processes, enabling the clients to approve or deny changes. It allows others to see the changes you've made, the time to do it by, and whether they like it or not. You can even make groups of users decide the fate of a change in their own project by allowing them control over each decision in the process.
You're probably aware that many enterprise applications have and use workflow. However, Iceberg can understand lateral language; not natural language as such, but to the varying degree where you can essentially describe what you want and it'll understand it.
Back into the Process Designer, you can edit the properties of each part of the workflow diagram. When in the properties of an event, you can apply business characteristics of certain events. Take this for example. Say you want to ask a client if the changes made are acceptable, but you don't want to bug them at ridiculous times. You can apply a calendar say from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, including public and bank holidays, as well as regional and cultural holidays, to ensure they're not bugged when they can't reply.
If you're working in a time zone or a culture where you don't celebrate Eid (the Islamic holiday marking the end of Ramadan) but ask the client to make changes, it'll hold off until the holiday is over and then request the changes. Not only that, you can set time parameters on an event, so if something on the client side is overdue, you can apply an event to email the client and remind them. Ingenious.
From the client's perspective, the tasks pane with the objects held there, it'll tell you what needs doing. By simply clicking on it, you get a Boolean value of "approve" or "deny", making it idiot proof, even for the work placement intern.
Something else which will get the enterprise interested, is the ability to download into Iceberg. You can send a document to a client via ordinary Outlook email and carbon-copy it and it'll be sent into the Iceberg document repository. It automatically works out who it is from, and then stores it where it needs to go.
Not only that, you will be able to send faxes to Iceberg. It'll download them straight into the platform under similar circumstances to mentioned previous downloads, but it'll store them as individual pages. The eFax services will get devices and technologies talking, or in the near future you'll be able to create a .NET object with an OCR component, and have it wired up to your process flow and include it into your overall project.
For websites which have self-service applications, you can get the core object from Iceberg and simply put it in an IFrame on your website and it'll work seamlessly. Even though the age-old IFrame may appear to have died out in the late 90's, it's still around to this day. It's as if it's "coming back into fashion" like flared jeans or pimp-sticks.
If you opt for the third-party solution, you can use your Iceberg environment in the cloud as a hosted service. You can buy rack space which gives Amazon EC2 for .NET; after all, Iceberg is basically a website - a very clever website, but nonetheless, just a website.
The user interface leaves little to be undesired, as most people in the enterprise industry will have come across SharePoint, if not still use it in their current line of work. Everyone seems to work with it for their portals, whether internal or external ones. However, Iceberg with its looks and feel isn't a replacement for SharePoint - it's a replacement for code. SharePoint doesn't do anything that Iceberg does as such; SharePoint is for document sharing, whereas Iceberg is an entire non-code development environment.
So what can you really do with Iceberg?
With this magnificent feat of subtle ingenious and slight insanity (sorry Wayne, the two come hand in hand, it's not a bad thing!), you could replace 100 odd CRM applications. (Look, I even used a buzz-acronym - Dennis would be so proud!)
Programming takes ages, and many programmers don't understand the business solution. It's always full of bugs or security flaws, not necessarily the code written but maybe the backend running engine. Iceberg makes it easy to understand, but the people who want it - the clients.
This is a plea from me. Enterprise bosses, executives, CIO's and CTO's alike - at least take a look and give it a spin. You'll save time, money, energy, client-side and business-side costs, and will throw your company into the Enterprise 2.0 era; one where every system works and communicates with each other like public schooled English gentlemen.
A little like me and Dennis actually. Why would you not want your company to work like us, eh? The mind boggles.