Monday, December 26, 2011

Looking Back at My Most Popular Blog Posts in 2011

As a technology veteran of twenty plus years, I cannot remember a time more exciting and turbulent than right now. Sure, when the Web first arrived in 1994/95, it was exciting except that there was not much to do on the Web back then. And the dotcom era was exciting except that the irrational exuberance was somehow making people think that was a high tech company. The year 2011 has seen many interesting technology trends convert and deliver measurable benefits to our lives. Sure, we are probably in a bubble with LinkedIn, Groupon, and Zynga having gone public raising huge amounts of money. But have seen some massive changes that are probably real and permanent. Now, this is fun!

And as the year 2011 nears to end, the time has come to take a look at what happened - on this blog. The list below are the articles that have received the most hits in 2011. That alone is a wrong metric, of course, since the articles published in January had much more time to score hits than those published in December. But let’s not get stuck on technicalities - here are the top posts in 2011:

10. Struggles of a Professional iPhone User
Having switched to iPhone from a Blackberry in April, I have described many deficiencies related to business tasks in email, calendar, search, etc. Some of them are still valid but I love my iPhone.

9. BlackBerry PlayBook - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
I got to test the new PlayBook back in May and I wrote a pretty positive review. Some folks apparently didn’t agree with me since PlayBook was not much of a hit in 2011.

8. OpenText Acquires Metastorm
I only rarely write about my employer but people are usually taking interest in acquisitions and my blog allows me to share some insights and so these posts usually score pretty well. This one was published in February.

7. Testing Samsung Omnia Running Windows Phone 7
I don’t consider myself a great tester but as these devices were coming out, people were really interested in the reviews. And so I tested and shared my opinions - which I am good at doing!

6. Practical Gamification Use Case
This is a customer success story, describing the gamification deployment at OpenText. Gamification was a big topic in general and I felt compelled to write about it as I was able to experience it first hand and talk to the developers.

5. Who Will Own Enterprise Social Media?
By March, it was clear that every software company had some sort of social media initiative (‘social media’ was what we used to call ‘social business’ back then). In this post, I argued that we won’t be able to participate in more than a couple and that some of the vendors probably don’t stand a chance.

4. Why Do We Rename Products
In May, I stood up on my virtual soap box and explained the rationale behind some of the marketing decision that follow acquisitions. Lots of folks were interested in the answers and Lee Dallas from EMC even disagreed with me in his counter-post Why Re-Branding Makes Us Crazy.

3. HTML5 vs Native Apps
In this post, I argued that while HTML5 is great and will gain significant adoption, it will not become the panacea that will save the world from the need to develop native apps for multiple operating systems. That was in September and in December I even got to argue this point at the Gilbane Conference in Boston. That was great fun!

2. Why We Acquired Global 360
In July, following the February acquisition of Metastorm, OpenText acquired another BPM vendor Global 360. The title alone compelled many readers to find out what the answer was, not to mention that this was a pretty big acquisition anyway.

1. Content Management Predictions for 2011
This post was a surprising winner by a huge margin. Even more interesting was the fact that it was getting hits throughout the year, sometimes becoming one of the top posts for a given month. Of course that can only mean one thing:

...I will start the year 2012 off with my Content Management Predictions for 2012. Stay tuned and thanks for reading my blog. Happy New Year and all the best in 2012!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Can Social Software Ever Replace Email?

According to Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, the year 2011 was supposed to be the year when email finally died. Or at least the year when email was taken over by social software. Yet it didn’t happen and we all still email today. Sure, there are kids out there sending each other messages via Facebook but nobody has given up their enterprise email in favor of Facebook yet. So, why is it that email isn’t dead?

Well, it is because email has our share of attention. Email offers one-to-one or one-to-many communication which is what enterprises need and we are all programmed to go to our email several times a day to check what’s happening. Our email inbox serves not only as a communication terminal but also as a reminder of what to do next, what to put on our task list,  what meetings to prepare for, and what’s going on. Email is a go-to destination and it gets our share of attention.
Facebook is also a go-to destination. That’s one of the secrets behind Facebook’s success. We go to Facebook often several times a day to see what’s going on. Unfortunately, Facebook is a very consumer-oriented service and does not lend itself for enterprise use outside of marketing communications. In fact, many enterprises are rather paranoid about the possibility of their enterprise communication happening on Facebook.
Twitter too is a go-to destination which gets our share of attention and Twitter has established itself for business use. But due to it’s one-to-all type of communication, it lacks the core concept of security - communication to those I chose and not those who happen to be listening right now.
Is Google+ a go-to-destination? I’m not sure that’s happened yet and the jury seems to be still out. But given the growth in number of users, it is likely to happen. Is LinkedIn a go-to-destination? For some, perhaps. The LinkedIn features such as direct messages and private groups may even meet the one-to-one and one-to-many communication requirements of the enterprise but no company has switched off email in favor of LinkedIn yet. Or in favor of anything else, the recent PR coup by Atos notwithstanding.

Thierry Breton, Atos CEO, recently banned email in his company.
So, how about your enterprise deployment of social software? From what I am seeing, the adoption is very tribal today. There tend to be groups in the enterprise that embrace it and experience a high degree of adoption but also groups that ignore it. And herein lies the challenge of replacing email.
What we like about email and social software is the fact that it enables asynchronous communication. The beauty of asynchronous communication is the fact that it is not disruptive. The challenge with synchronous communication such as the telephone, Skype, or even instant messaging is its disruptive nature that automatically limits the number of conversations possible. When I’m in a meeting, I can’t be on the phone. Email, on the other hand, can wait for me to respond. That works!
For an asynchronous communication tool to be successful, it has to gain a share of our attention and significant adoption. Email not only has our attention, but it has reached a mind-blowing adoption that is nearly 100%. On top of that, email works the same across our professional and personal needs. We may use separate accounts but it works the same and when we make a mistake and cross the boundaries, it is usually forgiving. The share of attention and the high adoption make email a top go-to destination for all of us.
Social software has the possibilities to get there, but it is a long row to hoe. Email didn’t reach its adoption in a day and not even in a year. Not long ago, managers used to have assistants to handle their email. It took our parents or grand-parents years to embrace email. Even today, email is subject to a relatively formal protocol starting with “Hello …” and ending with “Kind regards”. For better of worth, we have established rules about who can email whom and with what degree of urgency. We had to develop pretty solid spam filters to avoid being eaten alive by unwanted email. It took years and we did all of that to get the email adoption where it is today.
On top of that, email has another useful feature. Since the mid 90s when email met the Internet, email addresses became universal identifiers. Your email address is usually a relatively simple derivative of your real name and yet uniquely and unambiguously identifies you. That’s why your email address is used as a login on a myriad of online services - from your bank to Facebook. All that has propelled email’s 100% adoption.
100% adoption, or even 80% adoption is not a small feat. Until any alternative communication technology gets there, we cannot talk about the death of email.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 Predictions Scorecard

At the beginning of this year, I published my 2011 Content Management Predictions. I received a lot of good feedback on this article, which has since become by far my most popular post this year. But now, the time has come to see how I did on my predictions. I do believe that it is the responsibility of anyone making predictions to openly review their results. So, here it comes:

1. Mobile devices as a primary interface
I predicted that in 2011, we would see people using their mobile devices as their primary way to access content applications and data. I found my first evidence of this just a few weeks later when I took a picture of my co-worker using his smartphone while sitting at his desk. This prediction has become a reality. Perhaps not as much for smartphones but certainly for the iPad. Many of us started bringing the iPad - and just the iPad - to meetings, conferences and business trips and this trend continues to grow with every additional iPad sold.

I have further predicted that the content management vendors will start building their apps with the “mobile first” principle. This too I see happening now. Many content management vendors now offer mobile apps and increasingly, I am seeing capabilities developed for mobile devices first. In fact many apps are only really valuable when used on mobile devices - file sharing, note-taking, social media, etc. OpenText Tempo is a good example of such an app - secure document sharing and synchronization between multiple devices built as “mobile first”.
Verdict: Hit, Score: 1/1

2. End of MS Office monopoly
Back in January, I predicted that in light of free alternatives, Microsoft would lose its dominance over the office productivity applications. In the course of the year, there has been a lot of Microsoft bashing in the media and indeed, Microsoft is increasingly seen playing defense rather than offence. Google Docs is probably the most tangible threat and I see increasingly people using Google Docs (BTW, I’m writing all my blog posts in Google Docs). However, it would be too soon to declare victory for Google Docs or any other Office alternative. In the enterprise, little has happened this year and Microsoft Office remains strong. I’d say that I was simply wrong on this one.
Verdict: Miss, Score: 1/2

3. eDiscovery has gone SOX
My prediction was that in 2011, the excitement around eDiscovery would fizzle away the same way the Sarbanes-Oxley problem has eventually dwindled after a lot of initial publicity a decade ago. Sure, the problem of presenting electronic evidence upon a subpoena isn’t going away. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act didn’t go away either, even if Senator Paul Sarbanes announced his retirement a few weeks ago. But time has taken the mystery out of the problem and most companies have figured out what they need to do and have moved on to solving the next set of problems. That was my prediction and I maintain that it happened. The problems of the year 2011 included anything from social business and mobility to analytics and big data. eDiscovery isn’t that hot anymore.
Verdict: Hit, Score: 2/3

4. Wikileaks would be the next SOX
My next prediction was related to content security which made headlines when Wikileaks published sensitive government information and pre-announced that the banks would be the next target. This issue has created plenty of concern and publicity, particularly in situations where the weak link wasn’t an external attack but an internal leak instead. In the course of 2011, Wikileaks itself has gone a bit quiet with Julian Assange busy fighting his extradition case instead of stirring up trouble. However, the insurgence of the Arab Spring of 2011 has been widely credited to some of the information Wikileaks published and the sheer consequences of Wikileaks support my prediction. Security is back in the spotlight particularly in the world of mobility, social media and cloud computing. I’m calling it a hit and I’m sure that Mr. Mubarak or the late Mr. Gaddafi would agree.
Verdict: Hit, Score: 3/4

5. Experience will go from browser to apps
In this prediction, I’ve argued that the content management vendors will follow in the footsteps of the consumer market where users have overwhelmingly embraced native apps in favor of web browser-based application. The vendors were expected to start developing apps and just like the consumer apps, the enterprise apps were expected to become more atomic - focused on a relatively narrow functionality or a single task. Well, most vendors started building apps and those apps are for the most part more narrowly focused but I have not seen the kind of atomic functionality yet I had in mind - apps focused on a specific task such as file travel expenses, or submit purchase requisition. I still believe that we are headed towards the “app-tastic” world as the OpenText CTO Eugene Roman likes to call it, but we are not quite there yet. I’d say this one is too soon to call and I give it half a point.
Verdict: Too soon to call, Score: 3.5/5

6. Social media will pass the peak [of inflated expectations]
This was a pretty straight forward prediction about social media following the Gartner hype-cycle model. As a result, we should have passed over the peak of inflated expectations towards the trough of disillusionment. This has happened in 2011. Not in the consumer world where Facebook and Twitter are still growing strong but it is happening in the enterprise. Many enterprises are learning that just because you’ve built a social site, it doesn’t mean that the employees are using it in ways that stimulate corporate effectiveness. The companies are learning that this is more about change management and corporate culture than about the technology. On the technology front, the vendors are not making any money on social software this year. Just check out the S1 filing from Jive which is supposedly the most successful of the social vendors. Sure, Jive has just gone public today and raised a ton of cash but their solution is already becoming obsolete. The customers who want on-premise social software can get it as a feature from their existing vendors (i.e. Salesforce or OpenText) and those who want it in the cloud get it for free from Yammer or Box.
Verdict: Hit, Score: 4.5/6

7. Case Management will catch on
This prediction was about the expected success of case management and how it will differentiate from business process management (BPM). This was probably my least controversial prediction since case management was already happening at the time. And it continues happening with some vendors delivering separate product lines for BPM and for case management. My employer OpenText was probably the best proofpoint for this prediction coming true when we acquired a BPM vendor Metastorm first and a case management vendor Global 360 a few months later. Case management is catching on - not much argument here, I suppose.
Verdict: Hit, Score 5.5/7

8. Web sites and portals need refurbishing
Next, I predicted a strong year for Web content management (WCM). The space has evolved in 2011 by changing its mission from just managing Web content to Web experience management (WEM), and most recently to customer experience management (CEM). I reasoned that this growth would be fueled by the pent up demand of marketing departments who didn’t have the budget for innovation during the recession. That’s very much what I have seen happening in 2011. Most WCM vendors in the space were doing well and even Oracle decided to jump in by acquiring FatWire. In addition, we have seen marketing departments emerge as a key buying audience for WCM software (and WEM and CEM) which is another proofpoint that I was right on this one.
Verdict: Hit, Score: 6.5/8

9. Enterprises won’t rush to public cloud
This prediction was arguing that while the cloud remains a hot trend and we will see a lot of adoption in the consumer space, enterprises won’t rush to the public cloud. Note that I was explicit about public cloud since I consider the adoption of a private cloud a no-brainer. Judging this prediction is a tough call. I believe that what happened in 2011 is that enterprise indeed didn’t rush to the public cloud but at the same time, enterprise users have done so. This is the effect of consumarisation and I see enterprises having to deal with this issue while accepting that you can’t stop the tidal wave.

The users - their employees - are using cloud based services from Dropbox and Skydrive to Yammer. The enterprises - the enterprise IT and legal departments - are not happy with that and are looking for alternatives. This is a volatile situation and the data suggests that the corporate world is divided about 50:50 on this issue. Half of the companies want to be draconian and put the end to this while the other half is looking for a peaceful way to let the users decide without compromising enterprise security and legal concerns. This is perhaps another prediction that is too soon to call.
Verdict: Too soon to call, Score 7/ 9

10. There will be more consolidation in ECM
Boy was I right on this one. Just consider some of the companies that were acquired in 2011: FatWire, Endeca, ATG, Iron Mountain (ECM assets), CA Technologies (ECM assets), Autonomy, Metastorm, Global 360, weComm, Operitel, Alterian, EchoSign, and many others. This was perhaps the busiest year the ECM market has ever seen.
Verdict: Hit, Score: 8/10

I wish I had predicted the power of consumerization back in January. That is the most glaring trend that happened in 2011 and I didn’t predict it. Consumerisation impacts mostly mobility which I had on my list but also includes the adoption of apps and cloud based services which I didn’t have on it.

But, 8 out of 10 hits isn’t bad even if two of them were too early to call. What do you think? Of course you may see some of the results differently but that’s the beauty of qualitative predictions. If you do, please do comment. In the mean time, I will write my Content Management Predictions for 2012.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Amazing Accessories for iPhone and iPad

The other day, I found myself in an electronic section of a department store and I noticed an entire shelf of accessories for the iPad and iPhone. Since we are in the middle of the Christmas shopping season, I have decided to devote my blog post to the lighter topic of amazing things you can use your iPad or iPhone for.

Most iPad and iPhone owners already have all kinds of chargers, docks, mounts, cases, speakers and keyboards and I will not be discussing those. Instead, I want to feature a bunch of interesting hardware add-ons that truly extend the use cases of the platform into previously unexpected applications.

- Heart Monitor
Wahoo makes an ANT+ add-on (hardware) that communicates with the chest strap and monitors your heart rate while running. Wahoo also makes a similar monitor for biking.
- Blood Pressure Monitor
iHealth makes a blood pressure measuring system that keeps your history in an iPhone app.
- Scale
The scale from Withings gathers info such as weight, fat, muscle and body mass index and sends it to your iPhone via wi-fi network.
- Photo accessories
An amazing set of accessories from Photojojo can add filters and lenses to the iPhone camera and some of them can even turn it into an SLR camera.
- Microscope
This contraption by Brando feels like a square peg in a round hole but, it promises to turn your iPhone into a microscope at a very reasonable price.

- RC toys
The HELO TC helicopter by Griffin Technology uses the iPad as the remote control. Not bad, actually.
- Baby monitor
The baby monitor by iBaby allows you to see the baby on an iPad or iPhone.
- iPad toys
Disney produced a series of toys called AppMATes that interact with a iPad application. They look like the characters from Cars 2 which alone makes this game pretty cool.

- iRig
This amazing gadget connects your electric guitar with an iPad and an amplifier and produces sound effects like a whole set of sound distortion pedals.
- Piano
The Piano Apprentice by ION turns your iPad into a pretty smart musical instrument.
- Scratch Mixer
Feeling like mixing some tunes for your next party? The Jensen DJ Scratch Mixer will help! I should perhaps also mention the Soulo karaoke system and the ION iCade at this time.
- Arcade
A gizmo that turns an iPad into an Arcade game machine? Atari!
- Square
Credit card payments for everyone! Since receiving payments is still surprisingly difficult in the US, the Square solution s finally giving the little man a chance to solve this problem.

- Pico Projector
If you make your living by giving presentations to small groups of people - i.e. customer meetings - the combination of iPhone with Keynote and any of the pico projectors is something to consider!
- Radar detector
Cobra iRadar uses the iPhone as a display. Well, what can I say? Drive safely, folks!
You must admit these things are cool aren't they? What's amazing is that they all take the iPhone and iPad into new areas of applications which Apple has perhaps never envisioned. That's the sign of a true platform.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Are You Ready for the Cloud?

Cloud computing has been the marketing topic of 2011. You could hardly attend a conference without being bombarded by predictions of how cloud computing is going to revolutionize our technology landscape. Indeed, having your data in the cloud is quickly becoming a necessity in the time when we are dividing our computer time among multiple devices.

Yet companies have been a bit more conscientious rushing to the cloud. Sure, there have been stories about many users and departments signing up for various cloud-based services such as collaboration, file-sharing, or project management. But not many enterprises have ripped out their existing on-premise solutions in favor of cloud-based offerings yet.

There are reasons why enterprises are careful. Security concerns are usually being mentioned as the top concern. The data in the cloud is not under your control and so it is less secure, right? Actually, I’m not sure I buy that argument. In fact, the cloud vendor most likely has better security in place than most enterprises could ever afford to deploy.

A much bigger issue is the data control and ownership. First, there is the issue with employee-owned devices that end up containing corporate data. In case of a device theft or employee departure, the company isn’t allowed to wipe the device and has no control over the data. That is a problem for corporate security and legal liability.

The second issue related to data ownership is the protection provided by the cloud service providers. Take Google Gmail, for instance, which is being used by many employees. The Section 11 of the Terms of Service contains the following paragraph:

By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.

That clause alone made me think really hard about how much am I willing to use Gmail for communication with my tax accountant or investment advisor.  

And then there is the Patriot Act issue which forces US based companies to comply with law enforcement requests to hand over your data. Dropbox’s Privacy Policy, for example, includes the following passage:

We may disclose to parties outside Dropbox files stored in your Dropbox and information about you that we collect when we have a good faith belief that disclosure is reasonably necessary to (a) comply with a law, regulation or compulsory legal request; (b) protect the safety of any person from death or serious bodily injury; (c) prevent fraud or abuse of Dropbox or its users; or (d) to protect Dropbox’s property rights.

Good faith belief that disclosure is reasonably necessary” - that isn’t exactly the Swiss Banking Act, is it? While it may be the law in the US, it may also be beyond the tolerance threshold of many companies - particularly those from European countries that have a much less casual attitude towards data security and privacy.

As a result, companies are being very careful when taking advantage of cloud based services - particularly those that primarily cater to consumers. Such services will be likely supplemented by private-cloud based offerings that provide similar capabilities under the organization’s full control.

Also, a hybrid cloud approach might be used more often to address corporate concerns. One customer recently told me that they are moving their users to a cloud based email except for critical functions such as the financial and legal departments and their entire executive team.

This kind of approach may result in lower capital expenditures, but probably higher overall costs and complexity. Well, welcome to the Cloud Age!

Monday, November 21, 2011

When Algorithms Go Wrong

Earlier this year, PC World published an interesting article about the key algorithms that rule the World Wide Web. These algorithms include everything from the Google search and Facebook friends stories, to Amazon’s recommendations and even the eHarmony’s matchmaking algorithm. Very interesting stuff, particularly when you consider the economic impact of such Internet services today.

One of the algorithms is the algorithm that drives ad presentment - the idea is to present you with the most relevant ad based on your profile date. Or, actually, with the ad that you are most likely to click on. But a few weeks ago, I had an interesting experience with Facebook. First, Facebook decided, for no particular reason, to present me with ads all in German. My first reaction was actually positive. Among the few bits of information that I have volunteered to Facebook is the fact that I studied at an university in Germany and occasionally, I even respond to a friend’s post in German. And so I thought that Facebook is so smart that it is trying to appeal to the ‘international-man-of-mystery’ side of me.

But last week, all the ads turned into French. Well, I do happen to get by in French but I am pretty sure that I have not volunteered any info about my French connection to Facebook. Sure, I have friends all over the world, including France, but that’s not enough for even the smartest algorithm to label me as a target for French ads. Besides, I could hardly be expected to act on an ad offering me a skydiving experience in France next weekend. Clearly, something has been going wrong with the Facebook algorithm.

When an algorithm serving ads goes wrong, it is perhaps a laughable matter. After all, nobody gets hurt, right? Well, nobody, except for the companies that paid a ton of money for their ads to hit the right audiences. There have been plenty stories in the past about the innocent looking algorithm changes in Google that end up having a devastating effect on many businesses. If you build your online business that depends on the organic Google search driving your traffic, you can find yourself very quickly out of business when that stops working.

With their tremendous reach, it is perhaps time for the Web's Major League players to start realizing the economic power they have. With thousands and often millions of companies depending on them, Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. have to take their responsibility seriously.

This responsibility starts with the profile data integrity, customer privacy, information security and also the algorithm dependability. Algorithm changes can be very controversial as we've seen when Klout changed its algorithm a couple of weeks ago. It’ one thing to gamble with your own fortune, quite another thing to gamble with the fortunes of those who depend on you. Too many livelihoods are at stake. Abusing this responsibility may be perhaps the greatest risk Internet businesses face today.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Future Upon Us

All the innovation and converging technology trends will likely have a major impact on what we can do but also on our culture, our behavior, our ways of interacting with each other and with the technology itself. This presentation discusses some of such changes that we need to get ready for.

This a narrated recording of the presentation I have delivered as an OpenTalk on November 17, 2011 at the OpenText Content World in Orlando, FL.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I Want My iDishwasher

For years now, the world has been raving about the success of Apple products. Not just the computer platforms iMac, iPad and iPhone but also gadgets such as iPod and Apple TV have enjoyed a phenomenal success. Most pundits and consumers agree that the design, user experience and ease-of-use are key factors to their success.

For months now, the world is expecting the next line of devices from Apple that will surely yet again turn an established industry upside down. The device the iTV, or at least that’s what we think it will be called, is supposed to be an Internet-enabled TV set, no doubt seamlessly integrated with the iTunes store and all the other Apple gadgets in my house. iTV will most likely be a runaway success in an industry with many players, no differentiation and cut-trout margins. Apple will apply its magic and a boring TV set will become a must-have gadget at double the price of a regular TV set from Sony or Panasonic. My wife - who is not really the type of geek I am - is already planning on where to set it up in our house.

But I am seriously hoping for more. Looking around my house, I see many devices and appliances that need the Apple magic really badly. In our kitchen, we have a modern stove. It has 22 buttons plus a 10-key numeric keypad, not counting the knobs for the gas burners. I don’t know what all of those buttons are for. Nobody knows. Basic tasks such as preheating the oven require multiple button sequences which is usually done by trial-and-error. This is the MS-DOS v2.0 equivalent of a stove. I want an iStove.  

The iStove would have very simple controls, designed for what people do with a stove - cooking, baking, heating up food etc. The controls would be logically arranged and the operation would be easy to learn with no need of a manual. Think about the differences between the controls on the old MP3 players and the iPod. I want the iStove to be like the iPod.  

What’s more, the iStove would be cool looking. It would become the central point of the kitchen. I would love it just like I love my iMac, iPad, iPhone, and the iPod Nano that I’m wearing like a watch.

I want more than just the iStove. I want the iDishwasher. We have a brand new dishwasher that we absolutely hate. I want a dishwasher from Apple that I could love. I also want the iRefrigerator, iWaterSoftener, iWasher, iDryer, and iFurnace. I don’t want any more mysterious buttons, knobs and dials. I don’t know what they do and I don’t want to be spending hours figuring it out. I just want those devices and appliances to work. That’s all.

I am very encouraged by Nest and their new learning thermostat designed by former Apple designers. I’m pretty sure I will buy one as soon as it’s available. My current thermostat is very sophisticated with many programmable options but it is a pain to control. It is so hard that we rarely bother and instead either suffer in the cold or waste money and energy on heating. I love the idea of an iThermostat.

The way Apple has shaken up one industry after another is great for us consumers. Many of these industries have been piling up cash for years without ever caring about the customer. The home appliance and consumer electronics are such industries. For years, they have been competing with each other on useless features like a glass-top range (which sucks, by the way). As a result, it takes my ultra-modern TV set almost two minutes to boot up - longer  than it used to take those vacuum tubes to warm up. It’s time for the Apple magic to shake things up. I can’t wait and I will buy those gadgets!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Parallels between Document Capture and Voice Recognition

I was doing some research about the history of document capture last week. As I was reading about the early imaging machines capable of scanning 30 checks or lottery tickets per second, I came to realize an interesting parallel between the world of document capture and voice recognition.

At first, the purpose of document capture was just creating a readable image of a paper document which could be electronically stored and shared. That alone was a big improvement in efficiency. The analogy in the audio world would be the creation of the MP3 standard which allowed us to make inexpensive recordings of music and share them easily via services such as Napster. Too easily, complained the entertainment industry over and over, until Apple came and took over their business.

The next milestone in image capture was optical character recognition (OCR) which allowed us to extract the text from the image and make it searchable. Intelligent character recognition (ICR) augmented these capabilities by extracting hand-written text. That was particularly important to those high-volume imaging systems processing millions of checks or lottery tickets. In the audio world, the OCR and ICR capabilities are akin to the speech recognition software such as Naturally Speaking by Nuance or IBM’s ViaVoice. The purpose of this software is to convert speech into searchable text - just like OCR.
OCR and voice recognition are both about searchable text
Finally, document capture evolved to the point where it became possible to automatically detect the document type through document recognition (i.e invoice, application, job application, or travel expenses) and subsequently extract the actual data value from the document. Not just text, but rather metadata fields such as billing address, date, total, or payment terms. As a result, document capture can be connected directly with process automation software such as workflow or business process management (BPM) to gain even greater efficiencies from automated document processing.  

In the audio world, the analogous technology is voice control or the recently introduced personal voice assistant Siri by Apple. The idea of this software is to issue voice commands together with the dictation (voice-to-text capture). The commands can make the computer perform a task or a process step. Many phones understood basic voice operations such as “Call home” but those are just shortcut commands comparable to bar-codes and QR codes in the document capture world.

Understanding the meaning from natural language without learning predefined commands takes voice recognition to a different level. Such voice control has been featured in many sci-fi movies from Space Odyssey to Avatar but remains so far mostly in the experimental stage. Microsoft promised to ship a new version of Xbox with voice control for task such as movies or music search which could be extremely useful. Siri appears to be the first intelligent voice control-based software entering the mass market with capabilities such as scheduling appointments, searching for music, sending messages, or checking the weather.

The voice recognition technology has been following a similar innovation trajectory as document capture. Today, software such as Siri raises voice technology onto a level that is on par with the state of the art in document capture. It will be interesting to see what innovations will emerge in both of these worlds. In the mean time, we should practice the interaction with a computer in natural language because Voice Recognition is about to Re-Wire our Brains.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Compliance Starts with Explaining Why

I’ve just finished reading a couple of books by Kevin Mitnick, the famous computer hacker and phone freak who, after serving some time in prison, eventually became a security consultant. In his books, Kevin not only describes how amazingly easy it was to dupe employees at various organizations to willingly grant him access to their systems, but he also provides many suggestions for corporate security policies and measures.

The one thing that becomes obvious from reading Mr. Mitnick’s books is that people will comply with policies much more willingly, when they are explained. Why is this policy in place? Don’t just mandate a screen saver with a password protection to increase your data security level. Explain to employees why they need it. People aren’t dumb. With the proper explanation, they will remember and more likely comply.

Whenever I’m flying, I notice how the air travel experience is filled with seemingly contradictory rules and regulations that come with no explanation. For example, I have to take my laptop out of the bag for a security check while all my other electronics, including the iPad, can stay in the bag. Why? During take-off and landing, I have to turn off all electronic devices even though I can’t really turn off my digital watch nor can I turn off my iPod Nano. Again, there is no explanation provided and I see more and more people simply ignoring the rule altogether.
I can see very similar challenges with enterprise compliance. The HR department makes employees take mandatory training on business ethics but rarely, is there any explanation provided as to why we are taking these course. The reason is probably not that the HR department suspects us to be taking bribes or contracting out work to our relatives. The reason is more likely that by making us take the training, the company reduces its own liability. That’s a good reason and the employees should be told.

The same thing happens with adding metadata, classifying content, and completing compliance related work steps. We create rules but rarely do we take the time to explain why. What benefit will the organization gain?

The results are often disappointing: poor quality, lack of consistency or simply a complete refusal. Such results become very costly for the organization and practically impossible to remedy after the fact. People don’t follow the rules because they were never really told why should they bother.

Yet the solution is often amazingly simple. Give your employees the rationale behind the rules and most of them will try to do the right thing. You may not get a 100% compliance nor the perfect quality but you are going to experience measurable improvements.

Because good compliance starts with explaining why.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Security Makes Things Hard

Consumerization of the enterprise is sweeping the technology world today. Just look at all the unsupported iPads, iPhones, and Macs around your office. Employees are more and more frequently discovering that the cool technology they use at home can be used quite effectively in the office - with or without IT support. Enterprise software is not an exception.

Content management often gets compared with the consumer experience. No, I am not talking about the design elements of the user interface. Those are usually based on highly personal and often hard to define user preferences. I guess, some folks might even like the ribbons in Office... I’m talking about the interaction, the process of creating, collaborating on, sharing, and using content.

Take search, for example. How many times have we heard that we would like to see enterprise search be just like Google web search. But trust me, you don’t want it the same. On the Web, Google has it easy. It’s finding content that wants to be found. In fact, the content often really, really wants to be found. Some content owners want their content to be found so much that they spend millions of dollars on search engine optimization (SEO) and on Google ads to make sure their content can be found on the World Wide Web.

In the enterprise, nobody is search-engine optimizing their documents to make sure they can be found. You can also not pay Google to make sure your document called “Corporate Strategy” will be found every time somebody tries to search for those words. The search engines are working much harder to find the relevant content. Only metadata and proper classification can help - and most organizations struggle to handle metadata consistently. But wait, there is another major challenge in the enterprise: security.

All my Facebook friends could see this post...
For security reasons, we often don’t want every user to find every relevant content. In the enterprise, some users are not privy to certain information and thus they should not be able to find the documents. In fact, they should not even be able to see the document titles in the search results as the document names alone could give away too much information. Just imagine your employees finding a document titled “Corporate Restructuring”. To prevent that, the result set has to be filtered by permissions before sending it back to the requesting application.

This post on our internal deployment of OpenText Pulse was only visible to a few.
Another example that shows how content in the enterprise is different is social software. When you upload a file or link on Facebook, Facebook announces it to all your friends or followers. In the enterprise, that is yet again not acceptable. When I upload a file called “Acquisition Proposal”, only those of my coworker-followers who have the permission to see such a document should be alerted about it by the social software. You must not have to select a predefined group or circle of friends; it has to happen automatically - the software has to validate the user permissions before showing the alert to anyone.

Enterprise software is different. Security makes it much more difficult to expose the right information to the right people which is critical in the enterprise. Actually, I’d argue that security is quite important in the consumer space too and I hope that the technologies related to security and privacy make the jump from the enterprise to the consumer world. Consumerization of the enterprise need a bit of ‘enterprization of the consumer world’.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Voice Recognition Is About to Re-Wire Our Brains

Voice-based data input to a computer is not a new idea. While the keyboard, mouse, and more recently, gestures, have been the primary way of interacting with computers, the idea of voice-based interaction is as old as the HAL 9000, the talking computer from Space Odyssey. Software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking (since 2005 owned by Nuance) or IBM’s ViaVoice have been around for almost two decades and let’s not forget the often infuriating Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) used by most telephone support departments today.

Voice recognition software stole the spotlight last week when Apple released its new iPhone 4S with built-in Siri software. Embedding voice recognition directly into the operating system is a major milestone and having it included in a mobile device makes perfect sense as we can see from the video commercial by Apple. Only the TV set is a device that needs voice control even more – I am still waiting for the kind of interaction Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) was using in the Back to the Future II movie. In fact, Siri for Apple TV is rumored to be on the way and Microsoft recently demonstrated voice-based movie search on Xbox 360.

So, how come we have not been talking to our computers for the last decade since the technology was there? Well, part of it was the accuracy of the recognition. When I used Naturally Speaking Back in the 90s, I had to train the software to understand me which was a lot of work for meager results. We all know the frustration with any IVR based system: “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Could you please try it again?”. And while Siri represents the next generation of voice recognition, plenty of stories about the funny results that its use can result in circulated on the Web immediately after the new iPhone was released.
Source: STST
With increased computing power and better software algorithms, the quality is becoming less of an issue. One day, the software might even understand dialects or foreign accents like mine. But I suspect that’s only part of the adoption challenge. The other part lies in our ability to express our thoughts verbally to a computer. Most of our verbal communication is not very straightforward and we even enjoy taking our time before coming to the point. In places where communication has to be clear and precise such as military orders, radio protocol, or business negotiations, it is only possible after many hours of training. Naturally, people don’t speak that way.

However, just some 30 years ago typical managers didn’t have computers on their desks. They would spend several hours each day responding to correspondence by dictating letters onto a tape which their secretaries would later transcribe on a typewriter and later on a word processor and eventually on a PC using Word Perfect. Another 10 years before that, the dictation was done in real-time and the secretary had to know short-hand to keep up. It took years before the PC made it to the manager’s desk. What amazes me today is that the managers were able to dictate complete letters in full, well articulated sentences.

For most of us, that’s not so easy anymore. Today, we have a generation of PC users spoiled by the editing power at our fingertips. Most of us, knowledge workers, formulate our sentences as we write them and since it is so easy to rephrase any sentence or start from the beginning, we do it all the time. I’ve been observing many people doing this and I know that I am not alone. Most humans, even professional writers, would have a difficult time dictating in complete sentences. Giving commands to the computer such as search requests is one thing but authoring text via voice recognition requires a new skill set that is underdeveloped in most of us today. We know from the past that we humans are capable of such skills but the last 30 years of PC revolution have re-wired our brains differently.

Now Siri and other voice recognition software may be starting a new era. An era where we can – and perhaps must - express ourselves verbally in a new way. Let’s see how it goes. [computer, strike last sentence] Ehm…

By the way, when is Siri going to be available on iPhone 4?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Courage to Lead

What else could be the topic of my blog post this week other than paying tribute to Steve Jobs. All the writers have written countless obituaries this week about this great man, his life and his work. Today, I want to write about a particular aspect of Apple’s strategy - Steve Jobs’ strategy - that has really impressed me over the years.

It is the ability to pursue the future by letting go of the past.

When a new technology arrives that is capable of replacing an old one, the typical approach for a technology company is to hedge its bets. Start embracing the new while continuing to support the old. You don’t want to disrupt anyone, you don’t want to leave anyone behind, you want to smoothly transition from one technology to another. That means that for several years and revisions, your product comes with duplicate, redundant technologies to make this smooth transition possible.

Image: Jonathan Mak
For example, many PCs today still ship with a built-in 56kb modem even though hardly anyone knows how to use dial-up to access the Internet anymore. But you have to support the modem in case some grandma in Minnesota still doesn’t have DSL. After all, she might select someone else’s make of PC and that would be bad, right?

That’s not how Apple operates. That’s not how Steve Jobs pursued the future. In his world, when a new technology comes around that it better than the old one, you just go for it. You want to speed up the transition. You want to drag everybody with you, even that grandma in Minnesota. A leader has to lead and Steve Jobs never hesitated to do so.

When the first Macintosh came on the market in 1984, it had a graphical user interface (GUI) instead of the then usual command line interface. There was no command line anymore on the Mac - everything was done though the GUI. Windows 7, in contrast, still has a command line interface available just in case you feel like typing “C:>ipconfig /renew Local Area Connection 2”. OK, the "cmd" program is bit more hidden now than it used to be, but Windows has opted for a long smooth transition from DOS. Apple just went for it.

The Mac also came equipped with the relatively new 3 and ½ inch diskette drive and no longer with the then much more common 5 and ¼ inch drive. The 3 ½ “ diskettes were far superior to the “floppy disks” but PCs would be shipping for another decade with dual drives for both 3 ½“ and 5 ¼“ diskettes. Again, most PC makers opted for a smooth transition while Apple just went for it.

Shortly after that, Steve Jobs was famously ousted from Apple and not many bold moves happened until he came back. In the mean time, he became a billionaire by taking Pixar public and eventually selling it to Disney. Then he also sold NeXT to Apple and in 1997, he was back at the helm.

When the iMac shipped in 1998, it came without a diskette drive. No diskettes, only a CD-ROM drive (later a DVD drive) and a USB slot. That was bold and controversial back then. How are people supposed to exchange files without diskettes? Using the network or a flash memory wasn’t the way people usually did it back in 1998. For many more years after, that PCs used to come with a diskette drive and most people had a box of diskettes next to their PC (if you are over 30, you still have that box somewhere in the attic, just admit it).

In 2001, the iPod was launched with some amazingly bold limitations. It would only play files in the MP3 format (and in the Apple Lossless format which I am a big fan of). Remember, back in 2001, there was a plethora of audio formats used to play music including Microsoft’s WAV, Real Audio format (.RA), Sun’s AU format and others. But Apple said, forget it, we go with MP3 which was popularized by Napster and we all followed. Most of the other formats are disappearing today.

The other famous format bet that Apple made, is the bet against Flash on mobile devices. We are still not quite sure how this one ends up but the history shows that Apple usually gets its way.

Talking about mobile devices, I have to mention the iPad. When it first launched in 2010, it drew plenty of skepticism for coming only with a wireless Internet connection. No diskettes, no CDs, no DVDs, no USB slot...heck, not even a SD card slot. Many of us are still moaning that we want at least a SD card slot but we are happily buying our iPads anyway.

My final example is the Apple TV 2. When it was released in September 2010, Apple decided that the old way of hoarding content in your home library is no longer sustainable as the HD movies are too big. And so they shipped the new Apple TV without a drive for storing movies. Instead, renting is the way to go - the only way to go. Last week, Apple announced their iCloud service, and so I suspect that a cloud-only music player might be coming soon and we will stop hoarding music too.

From a vendor point of view, all these moves were incredibly courageous and for most vendors they would be considered huge gambles, well beyond the comfort level. Yet they all follow the principle that Apple and Steve Jobs embodied for decades - decide what’s best for your customers and have the courage to deliver it. Lead, don’t ask for directions! Even if it takes courage to lead.

To pursue the future, it is good to let go of the past.

Stay foolish.