Thursday, April 2, 2015

They Should Be Business Tools

A few weeks ago, Google decided to quietly sunset Google Glass. They never said it publicly and in fact they might be considering another strategy for the device, but by all measures, Google Glass as we know it has failed. There are many theories for the reasons of this failure ranging from privacy concerns to the lack of social acceptance for walking around with geeky glasses. My theory is that the failure may be related more to the $1,500 price tag as consumer gadgets are simply not supposed to be that expensive.

Sergey Brin wearing Google Glass
That’s perhaps really the problem. Google Glass was certainly too expensive as a gadget for consumers but it likely wouldn’t have been too expensive as a business productivity tool. Most companies wouldn’t have a problem with the devices price, particularly with the customary volume discounts, if it demonstrated tangible benefits.

I can think of numerous business applications for Google Glass – from instructions while operating or repairing complex machinery, to patient records during surgery, to production data on the assembly line and supplier data in the warehouse.

But none of that was ever a priority apparently. Instead, Google put all their efforts into marketing Glass to consumers. The consumers may represent a greater opportunity in terms of volume but the enterprise market may represent a greater opportunity to optimize revenue. Just ask Microsoft.

There have been other technologies that I thought would have benefited from this strategy. Microsoft Kinect for Xbox comes to mind. While popular with gamers, the novelty of gaming via full body motion control is now wearing off. Let’s face it, most gamers want to shoot at aliens while sitting on their sofa and the Kinect is not the optimal weapon for that.

I would have hoped that we’d see Kinect being used in business – the repair technicians with oily hands reviewing designs, foremen at construction sites reviewing blue prints, surgeons with sterile hands reviewing patient records, farmers with dirty hands, lab technicians working in gloves – there are many use cases for gesture-based interaction.

When gestures are not practical, voice-based interaction might be appropriate. This is another technology that might have a greater application in the professional world than in the consumer space, at least given the current state of voice recognition. While the consumers relish in finding out the shortcomings of the still relatively new technologies such as Apple Siri or Amazon Echo, the business use cases may be more feasible. The business vocabulary is more precise and predictable, particularly in the given context. Professionals usually have to learn their business vocabulary as part of their job training and that makes it easier and less ambiguous.

Consumers usually resort to calling a company’s 800-number only after they failed to accomplish something online. At that point, we are exposing the already frustrated consumer to a voice recognition system that is far less mature than the web site and expect it to deliver a great experience. People usually don’t call in to do something that can be done with a smartphone app – like to check their account balance. In the business world, on the other hand, users are already trained to use a fairly precise language and their voice commands are usually in the context of a specific data set or business process.

I need the Q3 revenue data for Europe broken down by product group” is much easier for a machine to understand and act upon than: “I want to buy a companion ticket for my spouse using my miles to match an already issued ticket purchased by my employer”. This relatively common task requires many additional data points - ticket number, flight numbers, account number, name and DOB of the traveler, seating preferences, credit card number, etc. – and that is very difficult for a voice-driven system to piece together.

Apple Watch. Yes, I want one!
A few weeks ago, Apple launched its new Watch. By all measures, it is already a success even though it won’t ship for another few days. The demo by the Apple team was very impressive and the press reviews are glowing. I have no doubt that the Apple Watch will become a success. But I wonder about the practical use cases of the Watch for consumers. So far, most wearable devices have focused on fitness but that market is very saturated already. The serious athletes will be hard to separate from their specialized Garmin, Timex, and Suunto watches. The hobby athletes are well served by the Fitbit, Jawbone, and Nike Fuel fitness trackers or they simply keep using their smartphones.

I can’t help but to wonder about the business use cases for the Apple Watch. There are many possibilities – approving process tasks, participating in simple collaboration activities, delivering business context-relevant information, etc. Smart watches are looking for a killer app and sharing your heartbeat is probably not it.  I suspect that we could find it sooner in business rather than the consumer space. 

Google Glass page on March 31, 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015

Business Process – the Future of ECM

This is a blog post that summarizes the presentation I delivered on March 19 at the AIIM Conference 2015. The link to the presentation slides on SlideShare is included below.

For years, enterprise content management (ECM) solutions were adopted primarily for two main use cases. The first was to achieve compliance, and many early adopters of ECM continue to successfully use it to address various regulatory requirements. Compliance provided functionality for records management, archiving, and information governance. A while back I wrote a blog post titled What Features Ensure Compliance? that elaborates on the functionality required for compliance use cases.

The second use case was around team effectiveness with functionality such as collaboration, document sharing, and social capabilities. Collaboration is subject to frequent changes in direction as every new technology promises an easier and more compelling user experience—from mobility and social software to file sync-and-share. The frequent feature churn in the collaborative use cases doesn’t go well with the compliance requirements that often need the system to remain unchanged for several years (validated environments, anyone?).

ROI and Dependency on the User
Not only were the two primary use cases not really well aligned in their feature requirements, they had two additional challenges. Neither use case provides a very strong ROI. Sure, we marketers always calculate the savings in storage and government fines that compliance solutions help you avoid. But let’s face it: preventing penalties is not exactly a hard ROI and storage is cheap (or at least everybody thinks it is). The collaborative use cases are even worse—measuring the ROI here is fuzzy at best and often impossible.

The second challenge was the dependency on the users to do the right thing. For the compliance use cases, users were expected to diligently file their documents, weed out their inboxes, type in the metadata, and apply the right retention policies. Obviously, users are not very consistent at it, even if you try to force them. In the case of collaboration, users were expected to share their documents openly with others, comment in a productive way, and stay away from email and all the other collaboration tools around them. As it turns out, this type of behavior very much depends on the culture of the team—it works for some, but it will never work for others. The adoption of any collaboration solution is therefore usually very tribal.

So, is there any hope for ECM? Can we get an ROI and get employees to use it without someone watching over their shoulder?

ECM: Part of the Process
As it turns out, there is a third type of use case emerging. It is the use of ECM as part of a business process. Business processes are something people already do—we don’t have to force anyone. That’s what companies and working in them is all about: everything we do is part of a business process. Business processes are also important, relevant, and very measurable. There is an ROI behind every business process. Every instance of a business process includes the context, which can be used to populate the metadata and to select the right policy automatically. Business processes can handle the automation of content management and don’t have to rely on the end user to do it.

But business processes don’t live in ECM. Sure, the process artifacts usually reside in a content repository, but it would be a stretch to claim that the entire business process happens in an ECM application. Nor does it live in the BPM application, even if that application may be the primary application for some users. In fact, there is usually a master application from the structured data world that rules the business process: enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), product lifecycle management (PLM), supply chain management (SCM), etc.

That’s why it is important for ECM to connect with the master applications through the business process. This is not just a simple way to link data sets or to hand over data from one system to another. Using modern, REST-based technology, it is possible to achieve integration that goes much deeper and involves users, roles, permissions, classifications, and of course the user experience.

Deal with Content Chaos
ECM addresses some very important problems that every organization has to deal with. Given the volume and relentless growth of content in every enterprise, it has to be managed. Yet ECM struggled to be adopted widely because of lack of tangible ROI and a difficulty to attract end users. Tying ECM to a business process through a master application addresses these challenges. It may not solve every problem with content in the enterprise and there will still be content outside of any business process, but it will go a long way to dealing with what AIIM calls “Content Chaos”.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 2014 Predictions Scorecard

Just like every year, I review my predictions from last January and publicly score how well I did. After all, predicting the future without accountability is something only a futurist would do. Futurist is a cool job if you can get it. It’s fun just like a historian, except you can’t be confronted with any actual facts. Well, I’m not a futurist and so this is how I did:

1.     Big Data shifts to Big Content
I predicted that the industry would get tired of talking about ‘big data’ and that we would start looking for insights coming from ‘big content’, large volumes of unstructured data. Well, this has really happened, even if the term itself isn’t used much. The media got tired of ‘big data’ and replaced it pretty early on in 2014 with new buzzwords such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and – yes! – Analytics. Analytics refer to the ability to get insight from unstructured data, in contrast to Business Intelligence (BI), which is primarily focused on structured data. Ever heard of IBM Watson? Well, that’s all about analyzing large volumes of content.
Score: 1 out of 1

2.     ECM stays
I predicted that the term Enterprise Content Management (ECM) will survive another year unscathed, even though many voices will keep calling for its demise. Not only has ECM survived, I find that it’s stronger than in the last couple of years. Many of the vendors from adjacent industries such as Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) and Capture are reinventing themselves as ECM wannabes. As the market is consolidating, the term ECM seems to be one of the constants.
Score: 2 out of 2

3.     BPM market looking for direction
I predicted that the BPM market would continue looking for a something new. It still is. I was at the Gartner BPM Summit just a couple of weeks ago and among the 20-30 sponsors, hardly anyone stood out with their ability to differentiate. I have further predicted that BPM will become a feature of other solutions. That hasn’t exactly happened yet, even though I have not seen many BPM deployments lately that didn’t involve a repository and one or more core applications. Yet the BPM market remains solidly an independent market for now and I can only give myself half of a point here.
Score: 2.5 out of 3

4.     Digital marketing meets compliance
I have predicted that amid the consumer security and privacy pressures, marketers will start paying more attention to information governance and data security. I was completely wrong on this one. While there has been a security breach story every week through 2014, still nobody cares about consumer privacy and data security. The last of all who will ever care are apparently the marketing departments. #Fail.
Score: 2.5 out of 4

5.     Mobile market
I’ve predicted that not much will happen in the mobile market with iOS and Android keeping their massive share while Blackberry remains stagnant. I have also predicted, though, that Microsoft will enjoy a substantial adoption of their Surface tablets, reaching 10% share of the tablet market. Why did I ever make a quantifiable and verifiable prediction? The market stayed about the same, with Apple and Google far ahead of anyone else. The Surface gained a lot of adoption and I see a whole bunch of them now when I travel. Yet, its market share according to Statista was only 5.7% in Q3/2014 - not quite enough for 10%. Still, I think that I deserve half of a point here!
Score: 3 out of 5

6.     Spying will continue
I predicted that we wouldn’t see any material changes in legislation or any proof that the NSA would change any of their data collection practices as a result of the Snowden leaks. Indeed, nothing changed. We have moved on, accepting the spying the same way as we have accepted security controls at airports. Life sucks a little more but not enough to take it to the streets.
Score: 4 out of 6

7.     Data privacy will become the new code of business conduct
Yes, yes, yes. This has happened. As I have predicted, many companies started putting their employees through mandatory security and data privacy training classes. Just like in the case of the code of business conduct training, the primary goal is to reduce corporate liability rather than to address the actual problem - which may or may not be even possible. Anyway, I call it progress towards security awareness and get a point here.
Score: 5 out 7

8.     The end of corporate social software
I’ve predicted that most companies will give up on building a generic social water cooler and that they will simply replace social software with file sync and share. This happened – since sharing files is apparently the highest level of collaboration most employees are willing to endure. I’m not sure anyone even mentioned enterprise social software at all in 2014. Pure play vendors continue disappearing with some of the once-leaders going through major shake-ups including CEO replacements (i.e. Jive) and company re-branding (i.e. Newsgator – now Sitrion).  Just like I have predicted, social software became a feature. What’s even more interesting is that the traditional collaboration software and – gasp – e-mail are going through a renaissance with a new breed of solutions such as Google Inbox and IBM Verse.
Score: 6 out of 8

9.     Cloud will go through a reality check
2014 has become a year of reality check for cloud software vendors. The big event that I predicted would come was Box when they filed their now fabled S1 document with the SEC. The filing exposed an alarming and widely unexpected disregard for profitability. The market gasped in unison and Box was forced to postpone their IPO indefinitely and we haven’t seen any other cloud vendors rushing to disclose their numbers. As a result, things have certainly cooled off a bit on the venture-funding front and people are all of the sudden asking those pesky questions about monetization, cash flow, and (oh dear!) profits. That said, we haven’t seen an actual failure of a cloud vendor and nobody is worried about viability of any of the cloud vendors who are now safe-guarding our corporate data. So in all fairness, I don’t deserve a full point on this one.
Score: 6.5 out of 9

10. Cars will beat wearable devices
I’ve predicted that wearable devices would not be a big hit in 2014. That has happened – Google has effectively killed its once-hyped Glass, Apple failed to ship the Apple Watch (though I still want one), Nike did something stupid with the FuelBand and not much new happened otherwise. That said, I have also predicted that more attention would be paid to the user experience in our cars, which didn’t happen at all. While everyone continues drooling about the Tesla, nothing new happened in the auto sector, not even at Tesla. That’s too bad because most car manufacturers still believe that better user experience means dark wood interior trim… I will have to stretch the rules to give myself half of a point here. But then again, I’m doing the scoring so why not, right?
Score: 7 out of 10

With 7 out of 10 points, my predictions weren’t particularly good. Some of them were obvious, some didn’t happen. The greatest disappointment in 2014, albeit one that I predicted, was the lack of advances in data security. The problem is becoming dire and yet nobody cares. This has to be the greatest problem to be solved right now – and I am not sure it will be solved anytime soon. The one prediction that I have missed completely was the Internet of Things (IoT), which is where most of the innovation occurred. With the IoT, home automation is becoming reality at a reasonable price, which is very exciting. Other than the IoT and the re-invigoration of email, 2014 was kind of a slow year.

We’ll see what happens in 2015!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Security and the Internet of Things

I am a big fan of the Internet of Things - all the smart devices that are changing our lives by being connected to the Internet. I consider myself a pioneer and early adopter of these gadgets. What worries me though, are the security and privacy issues involved with using such devices. So, what are the concerns?

Well, I am not too worried about my IrrigationCaddy sprinkler controller. Even if someone was to hack into it, the most damage they could do is to make my lawn look greener. After all, we’ve been conserving water heavily in California and the lawn looks pretty dry. Similarly, I am not too worried about all the Belkin WeMo switches and outlets that control the lights in my house. A possible hacking could lead to some pranks or annoyance but it would probably not represent a significant security concern.

But I am a bit more worried about my Nest thermostat. The concern is not so much the temperature in my house but rather the fact that the device knows when we are home and when we are away. After all, we set it on “away” mode when we leave town to conserve energy. Knowing we are away could be some very useful information for a potential perpetrator planning a break-in.

Similarly, the wearable devices represent a privacy concern. Jawbone recently published a fascinating blog post about the effect of the Napa earthquake on the sleep of Bay Area residents. While the data is fascinating, it also conveys a disturbing fact – the device knows when you are asleep! What’s the worry with that? Well, if someone were to break into your house, knowing that you are asleep would be pretty useful information, wouldn’t it?

The concern with cloud-based cameras such as the Dropcam – which is now owned by Nest, a Google company – is also pretty obvious. The camera feed is available and often also stored in the cloud, which begs another obvious privacy concern. The fact that Google owns both Dropcam and Nest is only adding to the concerns. After all, Google has been pretty open about their disregard of consumer privacy.

What concerns me even more is the trend towards smart cars. Sure, the Tesla is pretty awesome and the factory’s ability to upload and deploy patches and updates over-the-air is amazing. But what vital systems of the vehicle can be controlled remotely? Could a possible hacker make my car stall while driving on the on the freeway? Could they lock or switch off my breaks? That could become a life-and-death scenario.

I was recently at a conference where I saw a panel about the future of smart cars.  It was scary to see how the insurance companies are chomping at the bit to get the car manufacturers to implement smart devices that would monitor our driving behavior. They claim it is only to our benefit – the good drivers would pay lower premiums than the bad drivers. In fact, the Progressive Snapshot already does that, albeit on a voluntary basis. But it is a small step from Snapshot to the Fitbit activity tracker and if your health insurance company starts accessing your daily activity data to adjust your premiums, you may get worried about the Internet of Things. And rightfully so.

The Internet of Things, the world of smart devices connected to the Internet, will make our lives better. In fact, it will make our lives amazing. But if the data falls into the wrong hands, which is not an unreasonable concern, the smart devices could represent a major privacy and security concern for all of us.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

File System in the Cloud

Today, Microsoft and Dropbox surprised us all by announcing a partnership. According to the announcement, Microsoft Office applications on mobile devices will be integrated with Dropbox to allow direct access to documents from within the Dropbox folders. This is a big deal.

With this announcement, Dropbox has the chance to effectively become the file system for mobile devices – the file system in the cloud. This is something that Apple didn’t include in all the ingenious plans for its iOS operating system. Apple has always claimed that applications and their data need to be compartmentalized. But people wanted a file system – perhaps that’s what 30 years of DOS and Windows dominance have taught us. Dropbox came up with an alternative and it became hugely popular.

Apple eventually relented and started introducing iCloud as a way to share data in the cloud, primarily for music and video content that is. Yet Apple didn’t pay much attention to documents, which opened up the window of opportunity to the likes of Dropbox, OneCloud, and Google Drive. Not to mention that only a few users have figured out how Apple iCloud actually works.

Since then, Dropbox has been a run-away success, attracting well over 300 million users. Google, Microsoft, Apple, and dozens of other vendors attempted to follow in their footsteps. Now, it would appear that Microsoft is conceding the race to Dropbox. That alone is huge. Microsoft OneDrive struggled from the beginning to gain any meaningful market share and now, its future is uncertain.

The greater deal yet, is the fact that by way of closely integrating with Microsoft Office, Dropbox really has the opportunity to become the default file system for mobile devices; a cloud based file system – something that Apple failed to deliver.

The announcement begs another question. Giving up on OneDrive in favor of Dropbox is a massive concession. Microsoft doesn’t concede anything often. Dropbox got itself a sweet deal and Microsoft didn’t do it just because it gives the users a choice of storage. Sure, Microsoft gets more money from selling Office than they ever would get from OneDrive, but I suspect that Microsoft is likely getting something more in return. Today, we can only speculate what it is. If I were to place my bet, I’d be putting my chips on Microsoft Azure right now, at the cost of Amazon EC2. I suspect that Dropbox may be leaning closer to Azure now. But that’s of course just speculation.

Today, the world may have changed a bit. Or, maybe it changed a lot. Dropbox has been given the opportunity to become a major force in the cloud-a mobile game of thrones. It doesn’t change much for the enterprise customers who will still need to ask whether the consumer-focused Dropbox is an adequate solution for sensitive corporate data. But in the consumer space, Dropbox has been handed the keys to the kingdom.

Accessing files in Dropbox from within Office on iPad. Cool!