Friday, April 30, 2010

What Will HP Do With Palm?

This one took us all by surprise. The tech giant HP has announced the intent to acquire the once-hot mobility player Palm. The company has been struggling for years, living in the shadow of its former glory. Palm used to have a market cap over $30 billion 10 years ago and it is being sold to HP for a mere $1.2 billion. Palm’s roots go back to the 2000 spin-off from 3Com which got Palm via the US Robotics acquisition in 1995. Palm has pioneered the market for PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) which were the precursor to today’s smart phones.

HP is also not new to the mobile market. As a result of the HP-Compaq merger in 2001/02, HP started selling the once leading-edge iPaq which is still being sold by HP today. In contrasts to the Microsoft Windows Mobile-based iPaq, Palm comes with its own mobile operating system webOS. Introduced in early 2009 and based on Linux kernel, webOS is considered state of the art with capabilities such as multi-tasking and advanced user experience based on HTML5 and other contemporary technologies. That was, however, not enough to rescue Palm in the face of competition with the giants such as RIM, Apple, and Google.

The big question is now what will HP do with Palm. Are they going to consolidate iPaq and Palm or are they going to keep separate product lines and hedge their bets? Consolidation is likely, in my opinion, and my chips are on Palm. That said, HP will face an uphill battle with Palm, trying to get back into the game with the big boys who are fighting it out with ferocity.

There are four, well maybe five, possible scenarios I can think of:

1. Minor improvement. This is a likely scenario in which HP puts some muscle behind Palm and succeeds to double the current market share. But that will still keep them way low in single digits, competing for the 4th position after RIM, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Symbian. I give this option a 50% chance.
2. OEM Play. HP might have the clout to become the leading supplier for all the Asian and European mobile phone manufactures who don’t want to or cannot go with other options. Realistically, the open sourced Android and Symbian have the dibs on this space and so I’d give this scenario only a 10% chance.
3. Specialized solutions. This is going to be the likely marketing message we will hear from HP. They will talk about comprehensive stack for mobile applications, based on an on-premise or hosted infrastructure, leveraging the HP storage, HP servers, and HP management software. HP will be able to host complete mobile turn-key applications with Palm as the device, possibly customized with software and hardware accessories such as barcode scanners and mobile printers - this is HP, after all! This is not a straightforward scenario as the users will need to be convinced to embrace Palm which lacks the consumer appeal of its competitors. Therefore, I’d give it a 30% probability.
4. Home run. HP will succeed to establish itself as one of the top three players. That will mean to win over multiple of the major players – Apple, RIM, Google, Microsoft, and Symbian – which is going to be very difficult. Even should Microsoft or some other player acquire RIM, as I have suggested in a previous post, HP is facing an uphill battle here. I give this scenario only a 10% chance.
5. WebOS only. Todd Bradley, EVP for HP’s Personal Systems Group which will be Palms new home, has been quoted in WSJ claiming that HP bought Palm for the webOS alone and that it intends to use it in devices other than smart phones. While that sounds like an interesting strategy which might even succeed, $1.2 billion is a high price for a mobile OS when open source options are available. Also, HP is unlikely to walk away from the current Palm revenue of over $400 million. HP will probably launch their own tablets which might be webOS based, but that will not replace one of the previous four scenarios.

It is not obvious to see why HP acquired Palm. The mobility market represents a huge opportunity and we can expect that other players will want to have a slice of it. By the way, what will be your move, Mr. Ellison, Mr. Chambers, and Mr. Palmisano? I can’t think of any other scenarios for HP right now. Can you? Let me know your thoughts.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Problems Waiting To Be Solved

The entire ECM industry is focused on a number of problems today, ranging from compliance and collaboration to SharePoint integration and process optimization. However, there are many other pressing issues that will need to be solved that do not get the same headlines as yet. Note that this is not a list of trends which would surely include mobility, e-discovery, or social media but rather a list of problems waiting for a solution:

1. Too much information
Until recently, IT departments were focused on getting us access to information. Now we have it and we already drown in it. We have passed the tipping point and our IT departments are no longer about providing information but rather about how to reduce the amount of information that users have to deal with without compromising their capability to get their jobs done.

2. Metadata
The problem with content is that – unlike structured data - it is meant for humans and not for machines. In order to make machine processing at all possible, metadata is necessary. And for decades now, we have been trying to convince users to add metadata to content assets – with no success. Users won’t do it. Period. And so we have to come up with reliable and consistent ways of automatic generation of metadata.

3. Storage
Storage is cheap and so we just buy more of it, right? Yeah, dream on! Storage might be getting cheap as measured by $/MB but the data is growing at a faster pace than the storage capacity. The culprit is the proliferation of recording devices e.g. security cameras, smartphones, etc. and the growth of file format size. Just think about the data explosion caused by the switch to High Definition format for video.

4. Social compliance
At the time when most organizations are just coming to grasps with the compliance challenges represented by e-mail, social media introduced a new security, compliance, and liability nightmare that cannot be avoided. You may disable access to social media sites from within your organization but that will merely frustrate your employees. It will not prevent them from going out there and talking. Today, we simply have no control over possible liabilities on Twitter or Facebook.

5. Desktops
So, you think you have a content management infrastructure? You think you have a handle on compliance and information governance? You have deployed collaboration, social media, and intranets to capture your corporate memory? Well, think again. Most of your information resides on desktops and mobile devices and not on servers and repositories. Not managing the desktop and smartphones represents a major hole in your content management strategy.

6. Security
Content security is another issue that to date has not been taken seriously. Yes sure, we have a secure repository with access control, strong authentication and maybe even encrypted file system; however, as soon as users have the right to read a document, the repository’s security becomes irrelevant and they can do whatever they want with it. For years we have tried to solve this issue with digital rights management but that approach has little traction today. Yes, your repository might be secure but your content is not.

7. User interface
The primary interface with our content today is the QWERTY keyboard – an interface that has been designed more than a century ago to slow down the typist to prevent jamming. Well, it doesn’t seem right that we should continue this folly. The new era of user interfaces is likely going to be rich in experience, contextual, and based on a data entry different from the typing today. Just think Minority Reports and you get the idea.

8. Electronic Trail
Not long from now, everything we ever do will be recorded. Not could, it will be recorded. Every keystroke will be captured, every word in a conversation will be recorded, and every movement we make will be tracked via GPS. We will either end up in an Orwellian society or the legal environment might have to change. But in the mean time, technology will need to deal with the immense volumes of records that need to be stored, secured, retrieved, and correlated.

9. Content types
There is a lot of content in your organization that is still living in content silos. Just think of voice mail, maps, surveillance video, usage patterns, or meeting conversations. There are many more content types that need to be included in our content management strategies and cross-referenced with others to be of any use.

10. Formats
You know the frustration – you try to play a video file and you get an error message. The codec is missing, the language is wrong, or the screen resolution does not fit. If video is expected to become the next big thing in communication, the format Babylonia will have to be united. The current battle between Flash, HTML5, and Silverlight is another example of a format war that users couldn’t care less about.

11. E-Signatures
You mean that a hand-signed document transmitted via fax is legally binding and an electronic signature via strong authentication is not? Are you serious? Forging a hand-signed signature is much easier than breaching an electronic signature security. This will have to change.

12. Privacy
We are just a few years away from a point where everything will be monitored and recorded for posterity. Are you sure that the sensitive e-mail you have just deleted in your gmail account is really gone or has it been merely removed from your account? Pretty soon, all objects – and possibly all people – will be equipped with an RFID chip and everything will be tracked. Just imagine the consequences if somebody were to hack into the information regarding everything you have ever done.

Those are some of the challenges that will keep us busy in the years to come. And this list is likely not exhaustive.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Are Our Skills Becoming Obsolete?

At a recent visit to the Alexander G. Bell Museum, I was taken aback by having to explain to my children the workings of a rotary phone. This was something that I grew up with and it was as natural to me as are the Web, Tivo, and iPhone to my kids today.

This experience made me think of the changes in work-related skills that we will go through from one generation to another. A generation ago, many managers relied on the help of a typist who was skilled in mastering the QWERTY keyboard which was originally designed to slow down the typist to prevent jamming of the early, unreliable typewriters. While the typists knew how to type, the managers used to know how to dictate complete and well-structured sentences. With the introduction of word processing, the dictation skill has disappeared because we can construct sentences as we type. Only doctors and CSI investigators on TV still dictate. Everybody else became a typist.

Indeed, some of the skills we teach in schools today might be vanishing soon. Typing might be less and less useful should mobile devices replace PCs - unless we start needing lessons in high speed thumb-typing. But should video-mail replace e-mail, dictation might become a necessary skill soon again.

How about skills such as spelling or multiplications? With spell-checking software built into every text-entry interface from Word to Twitter, spelling is becoming less and less a necessary skill. Similarly, nobody does complex calculations on paper any longer, even though we still teach it in schools. Just like we don’t teach the use of the abacus or slide rulers anymore, we might not need to teach multiplications or divisions any longer. And who uses a sextant with complex tables for navigation today? Only the hard-core hobby sailors still learn the science of celestial navigation– the pros use a GPS.

Which skills will be required in the future? For sure, we will need the skill to extract useful wisdom from information overflow. Doing research no longer means to gather information but rather to decide what to skim, what to ignore and what not to trust. We might also need the skill related to metadata and data modeling to be able to retrieve and manipulate information effectively. Organizing an iTunes library requires such skill on a basic level.

Should we really start using video instead of keyboard entry, we might need some of the communication skills reserved today for media talent such as lighting or sound mixing. Otherwise, we will have to live with a lot of really bad pictures of ourselves. And most of us like to pick a ‘good picture’ for our Facebook profile.

There will likely be many other new skills that we will need in the near future. Therefore, we should probably start retooling today to be competitive tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

10 Reasons Why Microsoft Should Acquire RIM

Perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek, but my recent exchange with Ron Miller has made me think of a possible and affordable solution for Microsoft’s mobility predicament. That is if you consider RIM’s market cap of $39 billion affordable which Microsoft does – they were willing to pay $50 billion for Yahoo! just a couple of years ago. Of course I’d be thrilled if Microsoft made a big play in my present port of call, Waterloo, ON. And so, here are my top reasons why Microsoft should acquire Research in Motion (RIM):

1. Microsoft needs a viable mobile strategy. The greatest threat they face is not search but mobile devices free of Windows and Office.

2. Microsoft has proven that a mobile OS cannot be based on Windows. Not that they didn’t try with Windows CE, Pocket PC, Widows Mobile, Microsoft Phone, etc.

3. SharePoint wants to be mobile. SharePoint users will end up using Apple's iPad if Microsoft doesn’t provide a mobile solution.

4. Even Google realized that search alone is not going to shift the balance of power away from the desktop. Microsoft engaged in an arms race with Google creating Bing to achieve…what exactly?

5. Microsoft can’t afford to acquire Apple for the iPhone. Apple’s market cap is about $220 billion.

6. Microsoft cannot buy Google to get Android. Google’s market cap is about $180 billion.

7. Microsoft could buy Palm but that would hardly get them any further. Palm’s market cap is $870 million but who cares?

8. This deal could finally kill off Lotus Notes, making life easier for everyone.

9. Microsoft could finally have a hip product again, used even by the President. Last time that happened, it was the XBOX 360...on Saturday Night Live.

10. BlackBerry fits into Microsoft’s product strategy: it is not open sourced, it does not promote Linux, it is not free nor does it depend on advertising revenue, and it is pretty hard to get rid of once installed (think ELA).

My prediction is that someone will want to get RIM since they are a major force in the mobile market and they are 'acquirable'. And Microsoft needs them more than anybody else.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Solution for Too Much Information

Many organizations deploy content management solutions to stop the flood of content in which they are drowning. They deploy content management solutions ranging from document management to social media, to deal with this challenge. And most of these offerings have been designed following the same principles as in the paper world – from user experience, content assets are basically objects that reside in containers – folders, directories, or tables.

Initially, the containers appear to work great as they are intuitive to navigate. But as soon as any folder contains more than a couple dozen objects, it becomes difficult for humans to browse through. Finding a document or microblog post in a container with over 100 other objects can become a very tedious task requiring time and concentration.

But wait, you might say, isn’t search supposed to solve this problem? Yes, it does, but only when it returns a single and accurate result. That happens in some applications when searching for an unambiguous piece of data such as customer account number but that assumes we know what we are searching for. As soon as a search query results in more than a dozens of hits, the result set becomes just as difficult to review as is browsing through a container. Search does not solve the container problem.

I’d argue that this problem hasn’t been solved today but we can see some approaches today. One is the best practices approach mimicking the paper world by separating important objects from the noise. This is mostly manual and its aim is to keep the ‘important stuff’ container down to a small number of objects. Another approach is emerging now – the use of content analytics and visualization technologies that can automatically classify important content and expose it to the user in relevant context, i.e. via faceted navigation or tag cloud based on dynamically generated content clusters.

Needless to say, I am a big fan of the automated approach. While still in its infancy, content analytics might be finally a way we could deal with the greatest challenge of our time – too much information.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Is Blackberry Really in Trouble?

The Blackberry maker RIM, the largest tech company in Waterloo - my present port of call, has been growing fast, particularly since the smartphones took off. Apple and now even Google jumped in with smartphones of their own and already, we hear voices claiming that the era of Blackberry’s dominance is over and that RIM is in trouble.

Well, I have no doubt that the popular iPhone will dominate the market in terms of units shipped. But Apple (and Google too) is targeting the consumer market – a market that RIM never owned. So far, RIM has been selling in the enterprise space, allowing busy professionals to remain productive while on the go with the killer enterprise application – e-mail. Today, we have more mobile enterprise applications than just e-mail and the Blackberry is a really useful device.

Apple and Google don’t pay particular attention to the enterprise. Sure, they have been trying to establish an enterprise line of products for years but those represent a tiny fraction of their overall revenue which offers little motivation for investment compared to the billions made in the consumer space. RIM on the other hand has been selling almost exclusively to enterprise, establishing a stronghold in the corporate IT department with their Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES), which provides a secure communication channel from the mobile devices to corporate data.

The BES represents the greatest competitive asset for RIM. It has been deployed by every organization using Blackberry which represents a huge percentage of the enterprise market. BES can be used not only for e-mail but for any application. For example the recently announced Open Text Everywhere, the enterprise application for content-based tasks, is simply piggybacking on the secure tunnel already established by BES. It means that the IT department does not have to install anything else to run other secure applications, and that’s what iPhone and Google Android don’t have to target the enterprise. Not only do they face an uphill battle convincing the IT departments to punch another hole in their secure firewalls, but they both miss the enterprise DNA and a credible security reputation. And that’s a major concern for any IT department.

Don’t take me wrong, there are solutions today that allow companies to connect either iPhone or Android to the corporate environment including e-mail. However, RIM has a tremendous head-start in the enterprise while Apple and Google don’t put enough emphasis on it. Sure, RIM wants a piece of the consumer market and Apple and Google want to get into the enterprise and so they will be fighting it out for years to come. But when it gets down to enterprise mobility, the battle is RIM’s to lose.