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!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It’s Not Just About the Unstructured Data

For well over a decade, the content management world has been claiming unstructured data. The argument usually goes something like this:
Structured data is the information that comes in the form of numbers, words, dates, percentages, and currency amounts that all fit neatly into the rows and columns of a database. Unstructured data, on the other hand, consists of documents, images, web pages, video files, CAD drawings, and PowerPoint files for which a database is ill suited and that thus require specialized technologies to ingest, analyze, manipulate, share, and archive it. This unstructured data – or content - represents over 80% of all the data in the enterprise. BTW, I’m pretty sure that Gartner made up that 80% number.
I admit that I was one of the early pioneers of this message and I carried it dutifully for years. The entire content management industry did that. But the more I’m learning about what customers really want, the more I’m coming to realize that we have been all wrong.
Because, customers don’t care about managing unstructured data.
What customers want are applications that address real business problems. Real business problems require real information and that almost always comes in both, structured and unstructured form. In fact I can hardly think of an application that doesn’t need to combine both types of data sets.

Take Invoice Processing. There is the structured data like the name of the supplier, the date, the list of goods, the total, etc. But there are also the invoice itself, the bill of lading, the damage reports and pictures, and other unstructured data.

How about Employee File Management? You have the employee files such as the original job application, resume, contract, performance reviews, and training certificates – all of them are unstructured documents or scanned images. But you also have the reporting structure, salary data, bank account info, benefits, bonus attainment, and other structured data.
In most applications, the structured and unstructured data need to be used together. Sure, the data may need to be kept in different containers – structured data in a database and unstructured data in the repository of a content management system. But using one without the other doesn’t really solve real business problems.
I think that the myopic focus on unstructured data has hurt the enterprise content management (ECM) industry. Sure, we need the specialized software that can manage the unstructured data but ultimately, customers need applications that can handle both, structured and unstructured data together in a single solution.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The World in Real-Time

I came recently across an amazing array of sites that provide a real-time or near real-time view of things happening around the world. I have picked my top ten favorites for my blog post today:

This service has been around for a few years but it continues to fascinate me. It provides a real-time view of the air traffic over pretty much any part of the world. I was once playing with this service on a flight UA902 from Frankfurt home to San Francisco using the on-board WiFi and I was able to locate my flight and see our position better than the screen in the seat in front of me:


Marine Traffic provides a very similar service as FlightRadar24 - but for ships. Of course, if we can track planes in the air, we should be able to do it for ships! Watching the ships passing by from the 18th floor of the Transamerica Pyramid while being able to identify them online is cool. Sadly, I never have time for something like this...

The US Geological Survey (USGS) web site provides a near real-time tracking of worldwide earthquakes. Living in California, I have this page bookmarked in my browser. Because when it shakes, you want to know...

LightningMaps.org provides a near real time view of the lightning strikes. Not much use in California where we never get any lighting but I've seen some amazing storms when I lived in Waterloo, ON! As I wrote this post, New Orleans was getting some action.

There are many great weather applications with real-time or near real-time weather maps. I particularly like Dark Sky on my iPhone with it’s down-to-the-minute precipitation forecast. This is a great app for a runner to check what to expect just before leaving the house or hotel! Dark Sky.png

Sailflow is one of the many real-time wind monitors, showing the wind speed and strength anywhere in the world. This is a great service for a [rusty] sailor like me! There are also services that show the near-real time data for ocean currents such as the NOAA site.

Digital Attack Map is a collaboration between Google Ideas group and Arbor Networks. It shows a nice visualization of all cyber attack by country. Kinda scary if you ask me!

GasBuddy provides a National Gas Price Heat map with the ability to drill down to see the current (or recent) gas prices at practically every gas station in your neighborhood. If you don’t mind a little detour, you can save some good money with this app:

Trendsmap Is another Google research project mapping in real time what’s trending on Twitter:

There are many, many other great visual tools tracking things in real time. I couldn't possibly show them all. But I thought my list wouldn't be complete without mentioning Waze, the ultimate real-time road traffic monitor based on crowd-sourced data:

Aren't all these tools amazing? I’m sure you know other examples of real-time monitoring services that I've missed. Please do share your favorites in the comments to this post!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

New World of Information Governance

The people won.

For many years, we used to talk about the information balancing dilemma.  On one side, organizations would like to assure themselves of complete risk elimination as it relates to how their employees handle information. Nothing good can come from employees having the ability to write something in public, right? It could easily result in a lawsuit, a damaging audit, or a security leak. The less people can share and communicate with the outside world, the better. If they have to post something on the outside, let’s make sure our Legal department checks it first!

The employees, on the other hand, want to use any tool that helps them get their job done. They are under constant pressure to do more with less and they are usually measured by objectives that rarely consider the constraints of information governance. They need to produce, perform, and deliver - and anything that prevents them from doing that is counter-productive. Not being able to freely share and communicate stands in the way of getting the job done. Filing records, assigning access privileges, classifying content assets - that’s all just a waste of time!

For years, one of the main value propositions of enterprise content management (ECM) has been helping organizations deal with this dilemma. ECM would offer productivity benefits in the form of search, well organized libraries, workflows, and collaboration while also ensuring a sufficient level of information governance with capabilities such as access control, records retention, authenticity and non-repudiation.

The success rate wasn’t that great, actually. Users typically had to be forced to use the information governance features and hence their compliance reliability was often dismal. Have you added metadata to any documents lately? Do you like filing records? Do you enjoy organizing your email into folders? Yeah, me neither…

At the same time, the restrictions imposed by security and governance requirements are usually seen as a software adoption hurdle. What do you mean I can’t invite my partners to this workspace? Why do I have to classify documents when saving them? What’s metadata, by the way? It was this constant tension between the people and the companies that left ECM in the middle.

Not anymore. Because, the people won.

It’s true. The groundswell of consumerization has swept across the enterprise and the scales have been tipped towards the users. They have clearly shown which tools they want to use - by flocking to the consumer tools and eventually bringing them into the enterprise, often while knowingly violating corporate policies and ignoring the rules of information governance. Yet denial is no longer an option for the organizations. You can’t hide behind corporate policies if nobody adheres to them. The users have won and organizations have had to change. And so does ECM.

As a result, enterprise content management is going through some profound changes. ECM depends on metadata and so far, the users were the primary source of that. Or at least they were supposed to be. But let’s face it, they won’t do it. Like it or not, that ship has sailed. In the new world of ECM, we can no longer rely on users. From now on, look to content analytics as the source of metadata.

Similarly, most information governance policies used to rely on users properly filing and classifying content assets. Yet again, they won’t do it. If you want the content classified - and you do want to have it classified, trust me - check out auto-classification technologies.

The same thing is true for security. The users will ignore it, not matter how much fear you instill in them. Sure, they will use strong passwords if you force them but when you think that they will be diligently managing access privileges for each document, forget it. If you want security,you need a system that will do it for them.

So, get ready for the new world of information governance. What you need is a content management system that to users looks just like the popular consumer tools such as Dropbox, Evernote or Google. Yet, it needs to be an ECM system that inherently and automatically takes care of user permissions, metadata generation, classification, and even workflows and business policies. That can only be accomplished by heavily leaning on content analytics, process analytics, auto-classification and other smart technologies. The race is on.

Chances are, you have an ECM system today that still relies on users doing the hard work. Or, your employees are using consumer tools without any notion of information governance, corporate data ownership, or data sovereignty. Or perhaps you don’t have an ECM system at all? Either way, you need to re-assess your requirements. If you are lucky, you already have a content management platform that allows you to add the “user-independent functionality”. If not, look for a system that will be able to evolve as the technologies mature. Because, guess what?

The people won.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Welcome to the Internet of Things, Farewell Big Data!

Industry trends can be quite fickle. Sometimes, it is hard to explain when and why they quickly gain momentum and then, all of a sudden, they fade away just as fast. Last year at this time, the media was going all ga-ga about Big Data. Now, a couple of months into 2014, the Big Data buzz appears to be fading. It’s not gone, but certainly tired. But don’t worry, another buzz quickly took the pole position.

The new red-hot trend of 2014 is called the Internet of Things. The term is actually not that new. It was first coined by Kevin Ashton, the father of RFID, back in 2009. The idea behind the Internet of Things is that increasingly, all our devices, appliances, gadgets, cars, meters, and sensors will be connected to the Internet - offering new ways of control and a tremendous wealth of data to optimize our lives.
The term “The Internet of Things” initially received little attention outside a small circle of thought leaders. The mainstream media didn’t discovered it until this January when it became a big topic at the annual CES show in Las Vegas and then, out of the blue, mighty Google decided to purchase Nest for an eye-popping $3.2 billion! There is hardly a better example of an Internet-connected device today than the Nest thermostat.

Nest is a tremendously interesting company. I bought their smart thermostat about six months ago and I love the ability to remotely turn up the heat in our house when returning from a trip. Of course Google’s interest in Nest is not so much for my comfort as it is the data Nest collects today and might possibly collect in the future. For example, Nest knows not only how much energy I use on heating my house, it also knows whether I’m home or not. That information has value for advertisers!
That issue is increasingly the source of an intense debate. On the coattails of the still recent NSA spying scandal, the Internet of Things is perceived as a new threat to our security and privacy. As if it wasn’t enough that the NSA collects data about what I do online, now even my appliances will tell the NSA what I do at home, in my car, and in my office. And if the NSA can get to it, so can the hackers and other bad actors. Not an encouraging thought, really.
Yet as usual, the new technology promises a tremendous advance in our lifestyle and  productivity which seems to always trump consumer security and privacy concerns. The Internet of Things is coming and we can expect that before we know it, we will be surrounded by smart devices connected to the Internet. These devices will generate a lot of data which will be potentially very useful for predicting everything from product demand to energy shortages. Interestingly, this is exactly what Big Data was originally supposed to be about, before the term was hijacked to mean just about everything.

As we are weaning ourselves off of Big Data, the Big Data idea lives on in the form of the Internet of Things. The king is dead… Long live the King!     

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Content Management Predictions for 2014

It’s the first week of January and that means it’s time for my annual predictions for the content management industry. If you have followed my previous predictions or my blog, you know that I take a bit wider view of ECM (enterprise content management). So my predictions span a broader - albeit very relevant - spectrum of technologies. So here they are, my 2014 predictions:
1. Big Data shifts to Big Content
In 2013, ‘Big Data’ seemed to be the universal answer to all problems. Do you want to sell more? Use Big Data! Want to spend less? Use Big Data! Looking for a solution for the Middle East conflict? You guessed it - it’s Big Data! All year long, I have been answering questions about Big Data from which I have concluded that none of us really know what we are talking about. It’s clearly time to move on and I predict that we will move on in 2014 and latch on to a different buzzword.

I also predict that we will hear quite a bit about the Big Content problem in 2014. That is a very real problem to solve - as most of our information resides in the content files and all of them are a mess, starting with your digital photos and iTunes library - all the way to your sales library. Cleaning up that mess automatically is the goal of the Big Content solutions and this will be one of the big trends in 2014.

2. ECM stays
The debate about the future of ECM has been raging over the last years. Many consider the term obsolete or at least tired and believe that it doesn’t capture some of the new hip technologies such as social media, cloud computing, and mobility. Since the term ECM was coined back in 2001 (with many self-proclaimed authors), it has to stand only for a traditional, boring, on-premises software. Right? Basically, ECM is dead and it has to be replaced by a new term.

Well, my prediction is that while the calls for its demise will continue, ECM will live happily on through 2014. Sure, there are some issues with the definition of ECM. Just look at Gartner - the ECM Magic Quadrant attributes significant score to adjacent technologies such as BPM (22% of the ECM score) and WCM (7%), which actually have their own magic quadrants. Yet the WCM Magic Quadrant pays no attention to ECM and the BPM Magic Quadrant doesn’t attribute any score to even having a content repository.

The bottom line is - ECM will be around and well by the end of 2014.

3. BPM market looking for direction
Mentioning BPM, I have another prediction. I consider BPM so highly adjacent to ECM that it is probably one and the same - but that’s yet another topic of a discussion for a later blog post. My prediction is that the BPM market will continue to look for a future direction. Little has happened in the last few years. At the core of BPM is the ability to analyze and optimize business processes, to orchestrate them, to integrate with other systems, to monitor their status, and to analyze the process activity across a period of time.

Well, everyone is doing that. Sure, there has been a lot of talk about leveraging some of the new trends such as social collaboration, mobility, and the cloud but let’s face it - every software does that by now. Not much has happened since the last true innovative thought which was case management. Even the analysts have been struggling to articulate innovation by introducing concepts such as Intelligent BPM Systems (iBPMS) and Smart Process Applications. Those are compelling discussions but they don’t really introduce much in terms of technology innovation. Instead, these concepts basically package existing technologies into a larger bucket.

I predict that BPM will continue looking for a new direction in 2014, without finding it. In the longer term (beyond 2014), BPM technologies will become a feature of other software including ECM, ERP, CRM, etc.

4. Digital marketing meets compliance
In the customer experience management (CEM) market, which is another market highly adjacent to ECM, we have been very focused on digital marketing this year. Indeed, the ability to provide a targeted and compelling experience across any communication channel combined with integration to the marketing back-end systems such as Marketing Automation Management and Customer Relationship Management is very compelling.

Yet the more personalized we want to get, the more personal data we have to use. Using personal data for marketing purposes raises all kinds of privacy and security concerns and it will be more and more subject to regulations. We will see that the digital marketing discussion will increasingly include compliance concerns and compliance will become a standard part of the digital marketing feature set in 2014.

5. Mobile market
My annual prediction for the mobile market introduces a perhaps unexpected turn from all my previous predictions. Sure, Google Android will continue dominating the market share as all the people still using feature phones will eventually upgrade to the cheapest smartphones which all happen to run Android. Apple iOS will continue making a killing on revenue and margin and will be pushing the envelope on innovation. BlackBerry is going nowhere.

But the surprise will come from Microsoft. No, it won’t be the Nokia phones, which still offer little over their iOS and Android counterparts, but the tablets will start getting meaningful traction. I predict that 10% of the tablets selling by the end of 2014 will have the Microsoft Windows 8 operating system (or whatever number will be current at the time). The idea of a tablet that is the same as a laptop is simply too compelling and many will upgrade their laptops to a Surface or a similar Windows 8 tablet.

6. Spying will continue
The NSA spying will continue. FBI, CIA, and police will join in on the fun. We will all be upset for a day or two, post flaming notes on Twitter and Facebook and then we will go and focus on the playoffs. There will be a high profile case again - something of the Wikileaks or Edward Snowden proportion and the media will write about it for a few days, until Kobe or Angelina offer more “important” news.

Spying will continue and we will not change our behavior as consumers in 2014.

7. Data privacy will become the new code of business conduct
Our employers, however, will act upon the backlash from privacy issues. The lawyers and HR will translate it into a new set of corporate policies and mandatory employee training classes. These measures will serve, as so often, to protect the organization from a rogue you. Should you go Snowden and start letting the world onto corporate secrets, you have done it on your own and your company has the right to declare you crazy.

That will also create an interesting dilemma for the whistleblower policies - which are ironically required by law today. We will see companies trying to limit the whistleblower freedom. After all, Edward Snowden could be seen as a whistleblower...or traitor - depending on where you stand on the issue. All in all, we will lose more data privacy in the enterprise in 2014, even though it will be a big topic.

8. The end of corporate social software
There is more to making a company social than just deploying social software. No amount of software will help when the organization fails to create a culture of sharing. If employees didn’t share their ideas, insights, and knowledge before the deployment of social software, they are not going to do it just because we have put a piece of software in front of them. In most organizations, “knowledge is power” and that concept is contrary to what social software is supposed to accomplish in the enterprise. The new corporate attitudes towards information security and data privacy I’ve described in my previous point won’t help either.

My prediction is that most companies will give up on building the generic “Facebook for the enterprise”. They will move on and lose interest in social platforms. Most likely, they will replace their social projects with file sharing and synchronization which coincidentally also promotes a culture of sharing. But sharing a file is much easier for most people than sharing a thought. Social software won’t go away completely. There are some legitimate uses, mostly as part of a specific application. But in this scenario, there is a clear focus and the community of people involved is coming together for a specific purpose. Social software will become a feature.

9. Cloud will go through a reality check
Cloud-based software is becoming hugely popular - to the point that many are predicting a quick demise of traditional on-premises software. While I consider enterprise cloud software hugely beneficial to the customers, I am not quite convinced that it is a sustainable business model for many of the vendors. I see over-hyped startups going through one round of financing after another – clearly operating at a deficit. I see the big public companies, Salesforce, NetSuite, and Workday, all operating at a loss. I see companies like Microsoft pouring billions into their cloud efforts with little to show for it.

In 2014, I expect that we will see a couple of enterprise cloud failures on a high scale. Some enterprise cloud companies will fail, they will be forced to scale back their offering, or they will have to raise their prices drastically and face the market’s backlash. Cloud customers will start asking questions about viability again.

10. Cars will beat wearable devices
In 2013, everybody got excited about wearable computing devices and yet not much happened. Google Glass became an overpriced prototype, Apple failed to release the iWatch, and while Fitbit is cool, it doesn’t do much. My Garmin watch is still way ahead as the most sophisticated wearable device with a practical use.

The wearable devices will continue to evolve in 2014, but I predict the emergence of another class of devices – devices for cars. I recently bought a new family car after many years and one of the big selling features was “Bluetooth” for – well, just about everything. But let me tell you, this is not the Apple experience. This is more like SAP running on a mainframe emulator back in 1990. That will change and quickly. In 2014, we will see the first mass production cars (read: not Tesla or Ferrari) to release interfaces that will seamlessly connect with our mobile device. The car manufacturers will also start releasing sophisticated apps that will handle everything from the car’s entertainment, navigation, and climate control to maintenance status. Tesla is showing the way with their new app.

So that’s it. These are my predictions for 2014. I will review them in December and assess my score – just like I did in previous years.

Until then – Happy New Year!