A few weeks back, my normal channels of information were full of news about a revolutionary new web software that was, and I quote; ‘An invention that could change the Internet for ever’. If you haven’t heard, Wolfram|Alpha (and yes the troublesome vertical bar is in the name, but fortunately not in the url – www.wolframalpha.com), is the revolution. The description from the site of its ‘goals’ or capabilities is pretty formidable:
Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries. Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

Put simply, it tries to answer questions posed in a more ‘human’ way with understandable replies; this makes it less like a search engine and may be a move towards a knowledge management system. The best view of its capabilities is from an excellent piece on Mashable entitled: ‘five things that Wolfram|Alpha does better (and vastly different) than Google’. My own views were echoed by a number of blogs – you need to phrase the question very carefully in order to get a factual reply that can be computed from the range of information available. Otherwise you will get the underwhelming reply: ‘Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input’. Right now I’m not too convinced that it’s ready – as is claimed – for the normal human being interaction! However you can form your own opinion from two sources. First, courtesy of UK Newspaper The Telegraph is the top ten funny answers Wolfram|Alpha provided to questions and second, it’s back to Mashable for their so called ‘easter eggs’ piece – showing how well it handled some tricky questions.
Now let’s go to a more recognisable new capability which I think in its own way creates a game changer and – unlike Wolfram|Alpha – was a pretty low-key announcement so you may well have missed it. Cordys is the latest company for Dutch serial software entrepreneur Jan Baan who seems to have been in the right place at the right time for each new wave of technology or capabilities. The announcement was made under the title of ‘Cordys enables business process automation for Google Apps’ and once again it takes some digging around to really understand what is a most interesting new capability.
Google Apps provides a wide range of collaboration tools covering everything from Gmail and Google Calendar, through to office productivity tools for producing documents and slides. But it aims at personal productivity and interactions and is therefore effectively ‘unstructured’. This prevents Google Apps from handling other enterprise tasks which require there to be a ‘managed workflow’, and are usually considered to be ‘structured’. Cordys’ Process Factory provides the capabilities to build workflow over Google Apps thus opening up a whole range of new possibilities. Not only that, but it runs from the ‘cloud’ environment and doesn’t require anything to be installed at the user’s site. This opens up the possibility that – as far as I can tell – it could also support intra company workflow too.
The best place to get a ‘look and feel’ is at the Google marketplace, which by the way, I suspect a lot of people don’t know about. It is well worth spending a few moments to see what else is around. So, Cordys may not have the excitement factor of Wolfram|Alpha but it certainly rates for me as a usable breakthrough that takes Cloud Services another step forward.