Saturday, November 27, 2010

Did Foreigners Help Obama Win?

I wrote about Content Without Borders a few months ago, wondering why media companies continue to create artificial borders on the Internet. Right now, I am sitting at the Zurich airport in Switzerland and my Netflix is telling me that I cannot watch any movies even though I pay a monthly subscription. And so I have to write another blog post. This time, I will touch upon politics although the topic is really social media.

Much has been written about the role of social media in the 2008 US presidential election. The Obama camp has skillfully used Facebook and other social media tools to amass a huge number of supporters, donors and volunteers. Their eventual victory has been at least partly attributed to this social media campaign and since then, marketers have started to take social media very seriously.

What has not received as much attention was the role of foreigners in the 2008 election campaign. Indeed, people from around the world had been widely supporting Mr. Obama as a presidential candidate which became clearly obvious when he received a Nobel Peace Price just weeks after being elected. In 2008, however, the foreign nationals didn’t have to just cheer from the side lines. Thanks to social media, they were able to participate. Sure, foreigners couldn’t vote but they could and did endorse and support their preferred candidate – without any doubt influencing the eventual choice of at least some of the registered voters in the US.

Just think about the implication of this. Technically, these were groups of foreign nationals interfering with a democratic election process of a sovereign nation. And that nation wasn’t just some 3rd world dictatorship; it was the very US of A. Their support in form of public endorsement and sometimes donations was something that wasn’t possible ever before – at least not overtly.

Sure foreign governments were always supporting change in other countries if that suited their interests. Just think of the French support of the American Revolution or the German support of the October Revolution in Russia. But all such support was done either covertly or as part of an open conflict. This time, however, there was neither conflict nor a clandestine government intervention. In fact, the governments had nothing to do with it – the people did it on their own.

This shows that the Internet really is without borders – and it should be. The people of the world are clearly impacted by the domestic and foreign policies of the United States and they should have a right to voice their support – even if they don’t have a right to vote. The Internet natives are changing the rules of life as we know it and politics will not be an exception. Who knows - one day we may need to rethink the definition of voters and of citizenship.

However, I will leave that up to the politicians to figure out. I’m just excited to have the entire world at my fingertips. That is except for my Netflix movies…

Sunday, November 21, 2010

OpenText Is Everywhere - Even On a PlayBook

OpenText announced a new release of Everywhere last week at Content World. And since there was a lot of buzz about a lot of things at Content World, I want to add a few thoughts and comments about this mobility announcement. No, I won't talk about the usual features and benefits of mobile applications. Instead, I took a look under the hood of the product.

This is the second product release of OpenText Everywhere. Its primary focus is on expanding the capabilities that expose the functionality of the underlying ECM Suite with focus on process automation, social interactions, and content access. It is also adding support for Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices, alongside the previously provided support for RIM’s BlackBerry. And in his keynote, OpenText’s CTO Eugene Roman demonstrated an early version of OpenText Everywhere running on RIM’s PlayBook. That was apparently the first time the PlayBook has been shown outside of keynotes delivered by a RIM executive. Yes, OpenText and RIM are both headquartered in Waterloo and so there is an obvious connection there. (Note: The support for Playbook has not been formally announced yet but rather eluded to in a fairly public forum).

The thing that makes Everywhere distinctive is its design. Instead of trying to be a mobile rendition of an existing desktop application, it has been designed natively as a mobile enterprise application. Here are some examples of what makes it enterprise-ready:

- Bandwidth-Management: Managing bandwidth utilization is critical and not just because of performance. Bandwidth on a mobile device costs money. And when you are on international roaming, it costs a lot of money. To avoid spiraling communication costs, the mobile applications has to be designed as much less “chatty” – something that is often not a big concern for desktop applications. When accessing a 20 MB PowerPoint presentation, you don’t really want the file downloaded to your iPhone – the roaming charges could be excessive. OpenText Everywhere solves it by converting the presentation on the server-side into a set of images rendered on the fly. OpenText owns this rendition technology since the 2008 acquisition of Spicer and this technology is now embedded into the OpenText Everywhere application.

- Connectivity: Many of my iPad applications are useless if I don’t have any connection. All I get is an error message which might be OK for a free consumer application but an enterprise application needs to be productive even if when I am on a plane with no connectivity at all. OpenText Everywhere makes this possible to work offline and it queues up my activities for when I reconnect. In addition, Everywhere allows to be configured to work over Wi-Fi or 3G to better manage my connectivity.

- Security: Security is paramount for enterprise applications and it is a major concern for mobile devices accessing your confidential data. Today, IT has to support a multitude of devices with different security capabilities while some are corporate while others are employee owned. OpenText Everywhere leverages the existing security infrastructure of the device for encryption and the ability to wipe clean a lost device. This is much easier with BlackBerry than with other devices but that will be the topic of a future blog post. OpenText Everywhere has been also designed to support existing security policies such as use of a directory-based authentication and the leverage of the highly secure and compliant infrastructure provided by the ECM Suite.

- Usability: A mobile enterprise application cannot be just a scaled down version of a desktop application. To gain user acceptance, the applications need to be designed specifically for the mobile device and ideally leverage functionality of the application the employees use regularly. That means it must not attempt to squeeze the same amount of information and the same number of buttons on each screen. To do this, OpenText Everywhere has been designed with the device in mind and it takes advantage of the unique facilities of each device (e.g. touch screen vs keyboard) and push notifications – again, these concepts don’t really exist on the desktop. As a result, for example the Everywhere screens for search results and ‘my assignments’ list look and behave differently than on desktop – they are optimized for the task at hand and for the device.

I see more and more of my co-workers using mobile devices as their default tool. While mobile enterprise applications are still in their infancy, I expect that the mobile interface will be the default user interface in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Presentation on The Problems Waiting To Be Solved

I wrote an article back in April about various problems that Enterprise Content Management needs to solve. I always thought that the topic would make for a good presentation and I had the opportunity last week to deliver it at OpenText Content World which is our annual user conference. I have received some very encouraging feedback and so I have recorded the presentation to share it with you.

This is not a product pitch and I am not talking about any OpenText offerings here. We at OpenText are aware of these problems and we may be well on the way to solve some but others are still waiting to gain the awareness needed to become a priority – for anyone. Let me know if you agree.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Yes, They Could Be Models

I never thought I would be writing this as I usually stick to technology related topics. But as the OpenText annual customer conference Content World ends today, I took away an interesting experience. Our marketing organization pulled off an awesome show which includes a complete re-branding of the visual imagery at the show. With the start of the show, all our corporate images changed to a new, fresh and contemporary look. And we have consistently changed everything – from the show signage and presentation templates to the web site. Pretty impressive!

As part of the conference, we have run a series of customer focus groups on our branding. I have listened in on several of the sessions and something amusing occurred. When asking about the new images we use, several customers commented that the people in the pictures don’t look real – they look too good as they are clearly models. "They are not the kind of OpenText people you could actually run into at the conference".

This is amusing, because many of the images feature actual OpenText employees. Yes, they are all good looking and smiling - just like models, but they are my co-workers from Waterloo. You don't believe it? Well, just check out this picture of Robyn in front of “her picture” – straight from the show floor. Robyn works in our Corporate Marketing group and she has graciously allowed me to use this picture.

And here is another piece of evidence - this time a picture of Husam who also works in our Marketing group in Waterloo (taken at the office):

So, what’s the take-away? Well, customers are always right but the focus groups might be wrong. They did provide us a lot of valuable feed-back that we will act upon but yes, while the images look like models, most of them are OpenText employees.

By the way, why is there no picture of me, OpenText Marketing?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Perils of Social Media

There has been a lot of buzz last week about the appearance of Firesheep, a simple tool allowing anyone to hijack access to various web sites on public networks. The sites turning out particularly vulnerable are the social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. While many people sound alarm about this tool that makes identity theft a child’s play, Eric Butler, the Firesheep creator has defended his creation as a way to alert the world about the perils of social media.

Eric is right. Firesheep didn’t introduce a new security breach. It merely exposes an issue that has been around for years. The social media sites have to take responsibility for their users’ security and make sure the traffic is encrypted so that hijacking is not possible. After all, my bank’s site uses SSL for the entire session – why cannot Facebook do it?

The ultimate issue, however, are the users themselves. Any information posted on a social media site such as Facebook or Twitter has to be considered public. Facebook has 500,000,000 users – that sounds pretty public to me. Once you have a couple hundred of friends, you cannot consider anything you share with them private or confidential. And you need to be really careful about what you post on Facebook.

Social engineering is a simple hacking technique that uses information posted on social media to gain unlawful access to your private data. The idea is very simple. Your bank and other highly secure sites use your personal information to facilitate automatic password retrieval: mother’s maiden name, name of your pet, or name of the high school you went to. Knowing such tidbits of your personal life is often sufficient to retrieve your password and gain access to your private data. And if you share such information on Facebook, you are making it too easy for the social engineers.

The solution is simple. Don’t ever share any information that could be used to retrieve your password, to compromise your security or your privacy. And don’t consider your Facebook friends a trustworthy group of responsible individuals. There are many articles such as this one available that help you decide what to share and what not to share. Be particularly careful about any personal information that identifies you unambiguously such as e-mail address, home address, or phone number. Such information is a bonanza for hackers. And finally, beware of what others post about you – they may unwittingly disclose such compromising information about you.

All this precaution may still not be enough to prevent your Facebook account from being hacked. The result of such misfortune could be embarrassment or impropriety, possibly very serious. But being careful with your personal data will protect you from possible financial ruin or identity theft. And that’s a pretty good reason to be careful.

And try out Firesheep at your local Starbucks wi-fi network. Once you did, you will think differently about your online privacy.

Image: Scene from the movie The Lives Of Others with the late Ulrich Mühe as a East German Stasi Captain spying on his target. And you might also enjoy this video:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Open Text and Oracle - The Secret of Ecosystem Strategy

No, I am not going to repeat what’s in the press release. Instead, I would like to comment on what’s behind this story in terms of Open Text’s strategy. Open Text just announced a new level of partnership with Oracle. The deal allows Open Text to license Oracle technology in order to build content solutions for the Oracle ecosystem. The goal for Open Text is to expand its existing set of offerings for Oracle customers. Open Text has similar partnerships in place with SAP and Microsoft.

You may wonder, what’s the secret behind Open Text’s success in partnering with the largest enterprise software vendors? In short, it is the fact that Open Text does not have any stack agenda. Sure, Open Text’s flagship product line is the ECM Suite 2010 but a suite is not a stack. For years, ECM was based on the idea of a comprehensive platform combining everything from document management, records management, and BPM to WCM, DAM, collaboration and social media. Thus, the vendors built such capabilities either organically or by acquisitions. And all this time, their mantra was an integrated architecture in which all the functionality was available on a common stack of technology. Whether or not anyone deployed the software this way was rarely questioned.

But this is where Open Text plotted a different course. While integration is a fundamental characteristic of the Open Text ECM Suite, the offerings don’t necessarily run on a common stack just for the sake of architecture. Instead, the Suite has been designed with customer needs in mind, allowing for fast deployment of typical technology combinations and for quick integration of acquired technologies. And this flexibility, free of a traditional stack agenda, makes Open Text particularly suitable for partnering with other vendors who do have a stack agenda of their own. Being a Switzerland is a fundamental part of Open Text strategy.

To be successful in the environment of an enterprise vendor such as Microsoft, Oracle, or SAP, it is imperative to embrace their own stack. These vendors have established quite significant footprint among their customers and the customers want to leverage their investment as much as possible. And their sales force would fight vehemently at any attempt to disrupt this stack. Open Text ECM Suite has the flexibility to replace its own technology components with that of another allowing it to embrace a stack technology in a way that preserves customer investments and does not alienate that vendor’s sales force.

Most customers deploy ECM solutions to solve their problems rather than to build vendor-designed stacks. So chances are high that they already have some components of a suite from another vendor. That’s particularly true when adding value to SAP, Microsoft or Oracle deployments - ECM solutions in such environments have to embrace the stack of these vendors and often deal with the fact that these stacks include certain content technologies. Specifically, the ECM solutions for SAP need to embrace the NetWeaver architecture, the Oracle solutions must be based on Fusion Middleware and Oracle DB, and Microsoft solutions need to leverage components of the Microsoft stack such as Workflow (WFW) or SharePoint. This means that rather than push its own stack, Open Text has to be able to provide value in a flexible manner, sometimes willing to replace its own technology components with those from the target stack.

Following this strategy, the just announced deal with Oracle allows Open Text to embrace a greater part of the Oracle stack. As a result, Open Text will be able to provide broader set of content solutions for the Oracle ecosystem by leveraging Oracle technologies while adding its own applications to address specific business problems. For more, check out the recent press release.

Picture: Minutes after the Open Text session at the Oracle Open World a few weeks ago (from left to right):
- Andy MacMillan, Oracle Vice President of Product Management (for ECM)
- Rich Buchheim, Vice President of Open Text's Oracle Solutions Group
- John Shackleton, CEO of Open Text

Monday, November 1, 2010

About Italy and the Correlation between SMS and Twitter

I have had some interesting discussions about the use of social media in Italy. Of course Italians are very social people – they love to communicare and exchange personal information. This is not just a stereotype. Italians like to hang out with each other and if they can’t do that in person, social media comes in handy.

According to a March 2010 report by Nielsen, Italians are the world champions in spending time on social media - on average, every Italian has done so for 6 and half hours per month. Facebook has effectively become the virtual piazza, where Italians go to meet with each other and sip on a virtual amaretto.

However, when looking at Twitter, Italy is punching in a much lower weight category. According to the research by Sosomos, less than 0.5% of tweets are being contributed by Italians. Twitter is clearly not particularly popular in Italy which might come as a surprise considering the strength of Facebook.

Originally I thought this was because of the forced brevity of Twitter messages. After all, you can’t speak with your hands on Twitter and, really, how much emozione can you fit into 140 characters? But that argument fails given the massive popularity of SMS messaging with a 160-character limit which Italians use heavily. Italians SMS almost as much as they talk on their mobile phones, which seems to be all the time. (I found a Nielsen report from 2008 that says that only the Russians and Swiss text more than the Italiani).

So maybe it is the apparent lack of personal communication on Twitter. After all, SMS messages are one to one while Twitter posts are one to many. Facebook relationships are bi-lateral while Twitter followers are unilateral. I follow Eric Schmidt but he doesn’t follow me (by the way, why not, @ericschmidt?). The public nature of Twitter posts might seem to be more akin to public speaking than to a dinner-table discussion of Facebook conversations. After all, the heaviest users of Twitter are Americans who love public speaking. The Italians are more into looking good, making a bella figura, over being popular.

I am speculating, of course, and the real reasons may be very different. But I find it fascinating that there are such differences in communication between countries and I also find it notable that there appears to be no correlation between the popularity of SMS and Twitter.