Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Waterloo, The High Tech Metropolis

Yes, it is the holiday time and I am spending my days with other things than writing blog posts. But I have played a little with this mash-up, which allowed me to show the concentration of high-tech power in the relatively small town called Waterloo, Ontario. Well, it shows the 25 RIM buildings and then some of the other high-tech companies in town, including the OpenText building - actually, soon to be two buildings:

This mash-up is open, which means that you can add to it or correct it. Feel free to do so.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Shopping in the Digital World

Benny Landa, founder of Indigo, wrote back in 1993 that Everything That Can Be Digital, Will Be Digital. Mr. Landa was right. Today music, movies, software, books, and increasingly even magazines are available in a digital form. In fact, the physical versions of these goods are pretty much disappearing. Some faster than others but the trend is clear.

This trend is very exciting. The manufacturing and distribution of digital goods is significantly less expensive and more environmentally friendly. As a result, we have access to a far greater selection of content at usually lower prices and with a far greater degree of convenience.

However, the digital goods can become an issue during a Christmas shopping season. Most of the mentioned goods make for popular Christmas presents – books, DVDs, and CDs are among the most common items gifted. If you want to go digital, however, the gift giving becomes much more complicated.

There is the problem with devices. You want to give a digital movie?  Well, does the person have an Apple TV or a similar device that allows playing movie on a TV set? Nobody wants to watch their movies on a computer screen. If you want to gift an e-book, you better make sure the person has an e-book reader. Oh, which one? The Kindle or the Nook or an iPad? If you want to gift music, you must be confident that the person has an iPod or another MP3 player. And software? Does the person have a computer?  Is it a PC or a Mac? How about the latest OS?

Then, there is the problem with formats. For movies, there is QuickTime, AVI (Audio Video Interleave), Windows Media, MPEG (Moving Pictures Expert Group), or RealVideo. As for eBook, there are about 20 different e-book formats available today. If you think that at least music is all standardized on MP3, dream on! Some people, including yours truly, are much opposed to the strong MP3 compression which leads to fidelity loss. Instead, Apple Lossless and FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) provide a hi-fi alternative to the two dozens of other compression-based formats such as MP3, AAC, WAV, and RAM.

And if this wasn't complicated enough, there is the question of membership and consumption preferences. I'd like to give as a Christmas present an audio book via which I am personally addicted to. But if the person does not use Audible, or if he or she doesn't like listening to audio books, the gift will be a flop. Similarly, I thought of gifting a song book (sheet music) via MusicNotes for iPad. Besides the question whether or not the person uses an iPad, the gift would be pointless if she's not into MusicNotes.

In the old, physical world, the only concern was whether or not I could manage to find a gift that the receiver will like. Even if they didn't like it, re-gifting or returns were pretty easy. In the new, digital world, gift giving has become much more difficult. Well, I ended up still giving some paper books as presents this season, even though it is against my Paper-Free World convictions. Digital gifts have simply still too many inherent complications. What we need is more format and device standardization as well as ability to re-gift, try-before-buy and return digital content easily.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Testing Samsung Galaxy

Samsung Galaxy Tab running Android OS
I had the opportunity to test the new Samsung Galaxy Tab over the weekend and so I owe the world a little review. The Galaxy uses the Google Android operating system and this was my first interaction with Android. The Android OS is alright with all the key capabilities pretty much on par with Apple's iOS. I was able to do everything related to the OS (setup etc.) fairly quickly although I always had the feeling that I was thinking like a programmer when using it. What was missing was iTunes with all my music and movies and the ease with which Apple allows me to download the content to my iPad and iPhone.

Note the dark space around the app
I have installed a few applications from the Google App Marketplace which was pretty straight forward and I was able to find easily most applications I use daily on my iPad. Some of the apps made a poor use of the screen size, leaving about 40% of it dark which is a shame. I suspect those apps were written for an Android phone with a much smaller screen and I wish there was the 2x button like on the iPad. If there was, I didn't find it.

The form factor and size of the Galaxy is what it’s all about. With its 7 inch screen, the Galaxy is size-wise between the iPad and the iPhone. I immediately fell in love with the form factor and the ability to hold the device in one hand while typing with the other. That's something I can't do on the iPad which is too big and heavy for that. Weight is, however, still a factor for Galaxy. When trying to read in bed, my arm was getting tired quickly and I ended up holding it with both hands just like the iPad. And so while I love the form factor, the weight and thickness have to come down to the Kindle level before it will really work. We'll see who gets there first.

iPad, Galaxy, and iPhone next to each other
The big difference with Android is support for Flash which makes the Web experience better for the many sites that use Flash. The screen rendering was different than on the Apple devices – Apple adjusts the size for the small screen, effectively rendering a miniature view of the entire page. The Galaxy didn’t change the size, showing instead a snapshot of the content in its original size. That might be eventually better as you would usually end up clicking several times on an iPhone to increase the font size and you end up seeing a snapshot as well. When first landing on a home page, however, it looks kind of messy.

The browser on the Galaxy is bad, just like the browser on my iPad. Seriously, Apple, Google, I want my Firefox!

I didn't test many other features, as my time was limited. I didn't test the phone and video capabilities since I don't care for phones much anymore – the last thing I want to do on my smart phone is to make phone calls. I'm sure I missed many other cool features but I was primarily trying to compare the Galaxy with the iPad that I do use every day. I even did a little “scientific” performance test which you can see in this video:

Obviously, the test results conclude that there is no measurable difference between the two. The Galaxy took longer to render the Flash which iPad didn’t even bother with. When I tried the same test on a site without Flash, the rendering performance was identical.

All in all, Apple does have a worthy competitor in Galaxy. The lack of iTunes and its content is a problem in the consumer space but the form factor might be a winner in the enterprise or for professionals on the go. We'll see how RIM does with the PlayBook early next year – it uses the same form factor but a different operating system. BTW, my Waterloo neighbors, I’d be happy to test a PlayBook for you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Will Content Management Stop WikiLeaks?

WikiLeaks created quite the buzz in the last few weeks, showing us all that in this world we live in, information is not only a valuable commodity but also a huge source of liability. We can debate whether or not we condone what WikiLeaks did but the bottom line remains that there will always be people out there who will be try to misuse our information.

Image: Borrowed from WikiLeaks
As expected, the IT industry, and particularly the enterprise content management (ECM) vendors have been quick to point out that WikiLeaks is yet another Y2K or Sarbanes-Oxley event that will generate a good media scare and – if we are lucky – even a legislative mandate that will stimulate some software purchases. ECM vendors, in particular, have a strong stake here as managing your content properly is the first pre-requisite to prevent it from appearing on WikiLeaks. ECM has a long history with compliance and information governance which deals with some of the issues at the heart of the WikiLeaks problem. However, I wouldn't go as far as to claim that if you deploy ECM, you will prevent your own WikiLeaks.

The WikiLeaks problem is not a traditional content management problem. For years, the ECM vendors have been more focused on the problems related to content inside the enterprise – mostly driven by the need for control and the fear of liability. Records management is all about keeping the authentic version of a content asset for a prescribed period of time with the attitude of 'shred as much and as soon as can'. Information governance adds a framework that addresses additional concerns such as security (well, mostly access control, really), accountability and efficiency but that too is focused on the content inside the company. And eDiscovery, the hot topic of late is primarily concerned with the liability of content that might get discovered inside the company to be subpoenaed as evidence.

The WikiLeaks problem is an issue of content meant to stay “inside the company” but has gotten out, which was never the intent. This is a problem of security as much as content governance and is actually really hard to solve. We don't know if the State Department used any content management system for the content leaked on WikiLeaks but even if it did, that system alone would have hardly solved some of the key issues:

- People security
While it is possible that the government repositories were hacked, it is more probable that it was a people problem. It is very likely that the authorized and trusted people in the government leaked their content out either deliberately or inadvertently. I am not going to speculate about Bradley Manning here but even with all the screening and background checks that the government (hopefully) does, there is still plenty of chance that people with legitimate access mishandle information. Solving this problem is hard if not impossible since someone has to keep the master key and that person could be compromised.

- Leak prevention
Most of the content management repositories are pretty secure. Solid authentication, granular access control, and auditing capabilities are the basics and many vendors go far beyond that with capabilities such as repository encryption and mandatory access control. The problem is that most of the content in an organization is on desktops, in email, on mobile devices – everywhere but in the secure repository. Rights management (or DRM, IRM, ERM) has been offering a decent solution for this problem for years but since it gets in the way of usability, the adoption has been poor.
Content tethering is a promising new approach provided by some ECM systems but even here the adoption is in its infancy. The only reliable approach to solve this problem is elimination of all leak points - no laptops, no flash drives, no DVD burners, no printers and no outbound email and Internet traffic. Obviously this is practical only in organizations that are more concerned with security than productivity (e.g. military, intelligence, etc.). The rest of the world is looking at rights management, content tethering and data loss prevention (DLP) technologies for at least some help.

- Leak detection
Eventually, a security conscientious organization must assume that the content will leak out. Therefore, it is important to discover the leaks quickly to plan a response and to track the leaks back to their source to plug them. Systems that automatically monitor and analyze target sites can help although such systems still struggle with performance (data volume) and reliability of detection today. There are many solutions for monitoring Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites; however, most such systems are focused on marketing drivers such as sentiment detection.
Some solutions do approach the problem from a security and liability angle, though. The tracing of leaks back to their source is also possible today. Watermarks have been used for years for printed documents and a similar technology exists as part of content management solutions today which, together with strong auditing, helps to discover security leaks.

Yes, the WikiLeaks problem has been a wake-up call for many organizations concerned with the security of their data. And as you can see, the problem is difficult if not impossible to solve completely. But the combination of content management and advanced security is a great step towards addressing the WikiLeaks challenge. In the end, there will arguably never be a perfect security solution but security is a game of attrition. Every security measure put in place makes it more difficult and more expensive for the bad guys to breach your defenses. If you don't get complacent, if you keep raising the security bar, you are lowering the chances of a data leak – or a WikiLeak.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why Chase the Consumers, RIM?

BlackBerry has been declared the loser in the raging smartphone battle. Apparently, Research-in-Motion (RIM) has been losing market share to Apple and Google even though it continues growing. I am impressed that our neighbors in Waterloo keep on fighting as witnessed by the very positive preliminary reviews of the PlayBook tablet device. But one thing continues puzzling me: Why is RIM so determined to fight for the consumer market? Virtually every marketing message the company has been sending this year is about the consumer. They even had the rapper as a keynote speaker at the Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) this year. No joke - I was there.

BlackBerry has had a complete monopoly on the enterprise smartphone market. Having cracked the code on the first real killer application – e-mail – RIM has dominated the enterprise. And it still does to a large extent. The BlackBerry provides a significantly more secure and enterprise ready platform. Why else would the US military and even the President exclusively use the BlackBerry? It offers a far better bandwidth management (that means lower communication costs, dear CFOs) and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which has been already deployed in every enterprise, is RIM’s greatest asset that allows better management of the devices. Apple and Google don’t have anything like that.

But instead of focusing on the enterprise, RIM has been fighting Apple on its home field – the consumer space. And the results are not convincing. Sure, I keep hearing about teenagers loving the free BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) but the tough reality is that I keep seeing more and more iPhones in the enterprise. And that’s a big mistake on RIM’s part. They should not have allowed Apple and Google to enter the enterprise. They should have kept hammering home the message of security, bandwidth cost and manageability which would allow them to keep the intruders at bay. Why, I ask?

RIM might possibly believe that people will want to use only one device and that their consumer preferences will be the decisive factor in selecting which one. I don’t agree with that assumption. I believe that professionals will use the best tool to do their jobs and accept its consumer capabilities – albeit inferior - or that they will simply carry multiple devices.

If I was Mike Lazaridis for a day, I would refocus my development and my marketing on the enterprise. Make the BlackBerry the best device for PowerPoint; add decent Office applications; provide a Bluetooth sync for desktop folders; turn it into a single sign-on token - whatever it takes in the enterprise. And, work with enterprise software vendors such as Saleforce, SAP, Oracle, and [yes, of course] OpenText to make sure their software for BlackBerry is the best and first on the market.

Yes, BlackBerry needs to do a better job at playing music and movies. It needs to provide a far better browser and it needs to aggressively recruit application developers. But fighting Apple on its own turf is like David fighting Goliath without the sling. Differentiation is the name of the game and BlackBerry still has differentiators today. But time is running out and I don’t see BlackBerry displacing any iPhones anytime soon.

Image: as a keynote speaker at WES 2010 (source: Flickr, Official Blackberry Images)

Monday, December 6, 2010

To SaaS or Not To SaaS

A couple of years ago, Nicholas Carr published the book The Big Switch where he proclaimed that Software as a Service (SaaS) is taking over IT. Since then, it’s been a few years now and we are still waiting for the next SaaS killer application since Sure, there is Gmail which is supposedly a SaaS replacement for Exchange. But Gmail is basically the same as Yahoo Mail which we have been using since the early 90s – it would be presumptuous to declare that SaaS based email has made the ‘big switch’.

Don’t take me wrong, I am a SaaS optimist. I do believe that you can start a company today in which the entire IT infrastructure consists of a wireless router. But for most existing organizations, the big question is which applications are candidates to be taken on by SaaS and which are not. The following factors should help:

One of the most common questions about SaaS applications remains “can we trust a SaaS provider with our confidential data”? But what if your data could be more secure in a SaaS application than inside your enterprise? Many organizations use ADP as a SaaS application for their payroll. I’d trust ADP’s security more than the security of most employers. Similarly, when subjected to a denial of service attack, Amazon may be better equipped to protect you than your own firewall. I believe that security is only a factor in truly high-security environments such as military or national intelligence.
2.Mission Critical
Can we assume that SaaS applications candidates are only the non-mission critical applications? After all, can hardly be labeled as mission critical. Sure, a Salesforce failure in the last week of a quarter sounds like a bad thing but most of sales pipeline work is not done in the last week and even then the sales reps find a way to get the contract signed using e-mail or fax. Not many organizations that use Salesforce actually process orders in a SaaS application.
Are SaaS applications more likely to succeed in an area without a lot of history? Replacing incumbent applications, particularly those with significant data legacy is difficult. Sales Force Automation existed before but it had a very low penetration and most of the deployments replace spreadsheets. If you have terabytes of transaction data in your ERP, you may not want to move it all out into the cloud. And if you don’t you will end up keeping your on-premise system and not achieve your SaaS objectives.
Are SaaS applications limited to solutions that need no customization? After all, the most widely used SaaS-based application is e-mail which is a perfect example of no customization. is combating this challenge with APIs and an array of add-on modules but it can hardly be expected that every SaaS solution could do the same. Besides, highly customized Salesforce deployments start resembling the complexity of on-premise applications. Also, the customization needs are correlated to the application maturity and their innovation cycles. Less-mature applications should expect a high pace of innovation with frequent upgrades.
If you entrust your data to a cloud, you have to accept that it will not be managed consistently with the data in another cloud. When applications require a common data store, it can only work if they actually come from the same vendor. I don’t think that all applications need to share a common data model and policies but some for sure do. If they do, SaaS might not be the right approach.
6.Data Volume
The math is pretty simple – the total costs of ownership of a SaaS application is determined by the number of months and megabytes of data stored. If your pricing model includes charges for the volume of data stored, you need to consider that a factor for SaaS suitability. Annual performance reviews in SuccessFactors hardly consume a ton of data. An email archive, however, does, and if it charges by data capacity, you might be looking at a steep bill down the road.
One of the greatest benefits of running a SaaS application is the ability to leverage a vast infrastructure providing sufficient provisioning for any peak in utilization. That is assuming that your SaaS provider operates an infrastructure shared across multiple customers and that all the customers don’t experience peaks at the same time (e.g. quarter end or tax time). Scaling effortlessly to utilization peaks is important to certain applications and such applications are good candidates for SaaS.
Performance is only a factor in some cases. The performance of SaaS applications is likely to be better than the performance of on-premise web-based applications – the SaaS apps enjoy greater resources and better optimization. Only certain applications in which users are paid by the volume of processed transactions or where they manipulate vast data volumes need to consider performance a factor.

The table below features examples of different content applications, covering a broad spectrum of ECM. I have done a simple and very high level assessment of the factors above. This assessment has to be taken with some care as there is a lot of room for interpretation. But the table suggests interesting results:

As you can see, there are only very few slam-dunks here. Arguably, new product introductions and idea management are well suited for SaaS deployments. A marketing web site and litigation discovery (used for the review, analysis, and production stages of the litigation process) are also likely candidates. Running a terrorist threat assessment or insurance claims processing, on the other hand, seem to be better done on premises. The bottom line, however, is that the answer is almost always ‘it depends’. But it depends on the factors laid out above. Those factors and their weighting should be examined for every application before making the call whether to SaaS or not to SaaS.