Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 02/89 item 01 - scanned

Put tailored applications on the Agenda

The other day I got a press release from Lotus announcing a couple of scanners and a telephone manager which could be used with its Agenda package. What struck me was that Agenda was being billed as an 'information manager'. Not, you will note, as a 'Personal information manager', or PIM.

Lotus UK decided a long time ago that it didn't want to associate itself with this new product category. The problem is, it didn't explicitly tell anyone. When the beta copies went out for review and the UK company's first brochure came out, 'personal information manager' figured prominently.

This initial burst of information, together with the many articles which appear in the press, have conspired against Lotus UK's wishes. It prefers to emphasise the more substantial applications of Agenda, such as crime detection, technical support and personnel management.

Quite rightly, too. I don't believe that Agenda will ever become a mainstream application without the enthusiastic commitment and support of value added resellers. The reviewers don't help. Their consensus seems to be that Agenda is a solution looking for a problem.

I have spoken to a number of people who are focusing their energies on building Agenda applications, offering consultancy and training users to make the most of the product. It's not by any means a large industry, but I suspect it could be. Although Agenda can be used more or less off the shelf, such use is likely to be trivial and poor justification of the £315 it costs. The program needs work done on it before its users can properly benefit from its potential.

Perhaps I should explain, for those who have not yet seen Agenda. The program takes freeform textual data in the form of items and notes. The first are brief-up to 350 characters. The second are long-up to 10K - and can be either internal to Agenda, or external files.

All this information can be categorised, either automatically or explicitly. This can be done by various dates (when entered, when due or when completed) or by the textual content of the items.

Applications are created by analysing what type of information is going into the model and how the user will want to view it. This means designing views, deciding categories and working out how the information is to get into the model.

This is where the dealer comes in. I believe that Agenda's true role is at the heart of VARs' tailored applications. Forget the £315 price tag. The money you could earn from Agenda will be healthy multiple of this price. If you specialise in a particular market, you could develop an applications framework once. Then you could tailor it to suit each customer's data.

This would involve systems analysis, macro writing, documentation, training and then, following installation, additional consultancy work as the customer's needs change.

The downside is that you will have to invest resources in learning the program. You will have to build the application framework and design your training courses.

Perhaps you're thinking 'why bother?'. After all, you're probably picking up plenty of bespoke, consultancy and training work already. The point is that Agenda can be used for applications that have never been seen before. Some people might regard it as a justification for buying computers in the first place.

The average user has neither the time, the skills, nor the inclination to unearth and exploit the product's potential. But the dealer can do this. You could expand the range of solutions you offer to your clients.

Having spent more hours than I should have with Agenda, I have discarded it for my personal use, but see great opportunities for it as an engine at the heart of a brand new application.