Sunday, February 27, 2011

In Her Majesty’s Service

On the curvy path of destiny, I found myself living and working in Canada. It was certainly not by design - I didn't dream about living in Canada when I was a kid. In fact, I was probably dreaming about living in California which I have ironically ended up leaving for the job in Canada (and yeah, I do miss the sunshine - especially in February). But Canada is turning out to be a great experience and I will share some of it today.

At the Canadian Embassy in Washington
- the only Embassy on Pennsylvania Ave
and it has a great view of the Capitol!
I work for OpenText, one of Canada's largest technology companies and being a Canadian company, we have a strong presence in the country. Besides the headquarters in Waterloo, we also have major development sites in Ottawa and Montreal with sales folks sprinkled around the country. This level of Canadian presence carries some weight with the Canadian government which is not only a customer but also a partner.
The Canadian government and particularly the Trade Commissioner Service of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is chartered with the promotion of the Canadian economy through international relationships. Just like any promotion, a few poster-children are always useful to prove its impact. And OpenText has become such a poster child, helping the government and vice versa.

With the Czech Ambassador to Canada 
at his recent visit in Waterloo.
What that means in practice is that the government helps OpenText leverage international contacts with the goal to promote the Canadian economy. And OpenText helps the Canadian government demonstrate that we can handle some of the most demanding customer problems. Since our successful project at the G20 Summit in Toronto last summer when we delivered the social collaboration site for the summit, there have been many other governments and multi-lateral organizations that are interested in leveraging our expertise. 

Canadian Ambassador to Sweden 
at an OpenText event
As a result, our team is now jetting from Ottawa to Stockholm, Singapore, Pretoria, or Dubai. Who would have thought that we would be meeting with senior diplomats and government officials around the world but that's exactly what's happening. In fact, we sometimes jokingly refer to ourselves as the "OpenText Diplomatic Corps".

So here I am, representing the joint interests of a Canadian company and the Canadian government while working to inspire all people in the world to work, interact, and innovate in a secure, engaging and productive way. And since the head of the state of Canada happens to be the Queen of get the silly headline now, eh?
The Queen of Canada

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Mobile Battleground

The mobile wars are raging at full swing right now. The key players include Apple, Google, RIM, and Microsoft. The battle lines have been drawn based on the mobile operating systems but there are in fact, at least three fronts:

1. Devices
What’s a little puzzling is how the smartphone manufacturers expect to compete. Today, HTC, Samsung, LG and Sony-Ericsson all ship smartphones with the Android operating system which means that they all have the same functionality and applications. For now, the phone features are still distinct as they have different sizes, cameras, or expansion slots but within a year, they will all likely be identical. The Windows Phone 7 phones will face the same challenge as I have already described in my take on the Microsoft-Nokia partnership. Clearly, only Apple and so far RIM have a differentiated strategy as they own the hardware and operating systems and don’t license it to other vendors. HP could be in the same boat but they have yet to ship a device.

2. Apps
It’s all about the apps, baby. Actually, it is about application developers since they are the ones who have to be compelled to build their apps for the respective mobile operating system. Maintaining the apps for the multitude of OSs is very costly and so most developers want to focus on 1-3 systems. The spots 1 and 2 are today firmly in the hands of Apple and Google and therefore position 3 is highly contested by RIM, Microsoft and HP. RIM has some lead based on their market presence but Microsoft has more experience in courting developers and so the game is on. HP has no market share, no developer ecosystem and no applications to speak of - a tough hill to climb.

3. Services
Besides applications, most mobile operating system vendors have a deeper agenda - they want to provide online services that consumers use on their mobile devices. Mobile devices are the key to some of the consumer spending online whether it’s by selling content or advertising. And the consumer power and profits associated with these services are just as compelling as the mobile market itself. Apple has clearly figured it out first and that’s why the company is today making piles of money on mobile devices and on selling music and movies. Google is leveraging its power in search to drive consumer advertising and even RIM figured out that the free BlackBerry Messenger is a very powerful service that drives consumer demand for its devices.

The table below compares the consumer stack of key contenders. It shows not only who provides which service but also contrasts it with the leader in each respective category:

Comparison of the consumer stack among the mobility players.
 The color represents the heatmap - the darker the color, the stronger a given vendor is at that particular service of the consumer stack. As we can see, Apple and Google have a pretty solid position with most services covered and many of them strong. Microsoft has made big strides towards having most bases covered but many of them are lacking on traction. What’s also interesting is that, in so many areas, the leading service is provided by a vendor without a mobility agenda. This hints at possible partnerships - the way RIM has embraced Facebook and Twitter by developing their own BlackBerry apps. I expect that more such partnerships and even acquisitions are likely.

The consumer stack is an important factor in the mobility war. The mobile vendors want to take advantage of their strengths but they will need to be careful not to overtax the users. Google, for example, wants to leverage its search-based advertising but too much of that will be a turnoff for mobile users. Microsoft wants Windows Phone 7 users to live in Windows Live but since this service has relatively low adoption, they must not lock the users to their own consumer stack. The vendor who gets it right will reap the benefits on both ends - making money off the devices as much as off the services. Just like Apple does with iPhone, iTouch and iPad and the music and movies content.

Friday, February 18, 2011

OpenText Acquires Metastorm

OpenText announced today the completion of the Metastorm acquisition. We do many acquisitions at OpenText but this particular acquisition is very interesting for a multitude of reasons. Metastorm is the leader in business process management (BPM) which is a discipline quite related to enterprise content management (ECM). In fact, enterprise content management has long included a process-centric category of solutions called transactional content management (TCM). Kyle McNabb and Connie Moore from Forrester were perhaps first to articulate this category in their groundbreaking 2005 report titled Transactional, Business, And Persuasive Content: A Better Way To Look At Enterprise Content.
Metastorm headquarters in Baltimore

The TCM solutions deal with optimization of business processes that involve content. In fact, at least half of all business processes involve content: a received fax, scanned paper, or submitted form. The Metastorm acquisition will allow OpenText to significantly raise the bar when it comes to managing content-related processes. I am not talking just about the technology but also about market presence, reputation, number of R&D engineers as well as expertise in sales and marketing.

Many business processes that customers optimize using Metastorm software do not involve content. This market is very interesting for OpenText as well. According to Gartner, the BPM market grew by 15% in 2009. Obviously, that represents a great growth opportunity for OpenText, no matter if the solutions are content-centric or process-centric. And Metastorm is a leader in BPM according to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Business Process Management Suites.

On top of that, Metastorm adds two other product areas to OpenText’s portfolio: business process analysis (BPA) and enterprise architecture (EA). Metastorm is a leader both areas - according to the respective Magic Quadrants. Just the fact that each of the areas has a Magic Quadrant suggests that these are separate, albeit very related, and substantial markets. And given that Metastorm is a leader in three different spaces makes it a very compelling addition to the OpenText portfolio.

A particularly interesting trend emerged in the last year or two - Case Management. Case management is a powerful way of organizing all the case-related documentation and process optimization capabilities involved in managing a case. A case can be anything from lawsuits to government grant proposals to insurance claims. And while OpenText already has had a case management offering for a couple of years, this is an area of focus today and it is likely that some of the BPM, BPA or EA capabilities from Metastorm will find their way into OpenText’s case management offering. Note: this is my take at the acquisition and not an official OpenText roadmap. Read the press release if you want the official information.

The press release discussed how Metastorm adds to OpenText’s portfolio in the Microsoft ecosystem. The ecosystem value proposition is a big part of OpenText’s strategy - the company partners with Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP and offers solutions for customers in all three of these ecosystems. And since Metastorm’s software is very friendly to the Microsoft stack and it does have existing integration with SharePoint, it is a natural fit. SharePoint is not used for process optimization today - Metastorm is a key partner of Microsoft for this purpose. This now becomes a natural addition to the portfolio of solutions we can offer to customers with significant investments in Microsoft technologies.

OpenText builds software and acquires companies to solve customer problems that relate to content. This is what we do and how we stay ahead of the curve. With all the assets and talent that Metastorm brings, this is a particularly exciting acquisition that opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

If I Was The King of Finland

I have been to most countries in Europe but I have never been to Finland. I really don’t know much about the country except for a couple of hockey players and Formula 1 drivers who speak in a flat toned voice with absolutely no emotion whatsoever. But this much I do know about Finland - I know that Nokia is from Finland. In fact, it is one of the national icons of Finland. I suspect that the CEO of Nokia is more influential in Finland than the president Tarja Halonen, even though she been a topic on the Conan O’Brian Show a few years ago.

Stephen Elop and Steve Ballmer
On Feb 11, 2011, Nokia announced the plan to adopt the Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system (MOS) on its smartphones in favor of the Symbian MOS they were using so far. This move is not a major surprise as Nokia, once the dominant leader in mobile phones, has been rapidly losing market share over the years. Also, the new Nokia CEO Stephen Elop came recently from Microsoft and since no story of Steve Ballmer throwing a chair at him appeared this time, he must have left on relatively good terms.

The move towards Windows Phone 7 is significant. It gives Microsoft a strong ally in the mobile wars which have been raging since 2007 when Apple launched the iPhone. It is definitely a great move for Microsoft which has finally started to take mobility seriously with the launch of Windows Phone 7. Microsoft’s previous attempts in mobility were lackluster at best and Microsoft needs to gain market share quickly to come at least in sight of Apple’s and Google’s taillights. Nokia will absolutely help Microsoft. But is this move the best for Nokia?

This is a tough question and if I was Stephen Elop, I would have been looking at the following options:

1. Give Symbian another push
The problem is the lack of apps on Symbian. From the app vendors point of view, Symbian is at best the number 5 mobile platform on the market, trailing behind Apple iOS, Google Android, RIM BlackBerry and Microsoft Windows Phone 7. Just getting to position 4 means beating Microsoft which is a big mountain to climb.

2. Sell out
Of course Nokia could have sold out - get acquired by another company that could afford the $35-40 bln market capitalization. Selling out is rarely the intent of a new CEO unless he or she got hired for that specific purpose. I guess we know the answer now. The possible suitors could have been Google and Microsoft as both companies attempted to sell their own devices in the past and failed. I’d argue that the merger with Microsoft is still a possibility down the road.

3. Go with Android
Nokia could have teamed up with Google and embraced the Android operating system. That would have gotten them to position 2 in mobile platform rankings which would give them instantly thousands of apps. The Android MOS is open sourced and so there is no royalty to pay to Google. The disadvantage would have been the difficulty to differentiate with Samsung, HTC and other Asian manufacturers who have already started offering Android-based phones and tablets months ago. I’ve shared my impressions about the Android-based Samsung Galaxy tablet recently.

4. Go with Microsoft Windows Phone 7
Teaming up with Microsoft was a predictable choice given Stephen Elop’s Microsoft background. This move gets Nokia to position 4 in the mobile platform rankings with a fighting chance to eclipse BlackBerry should RIM stumble with PlayBook. But that’s about it. The number 4 mobile platform is not going to get as many apps built as the top 1-2 and what they need are apps, apps, and apps. With Microsoft, Nokia found a powerful marketing ally but Windows Phone 7 isn’t open sourced and Nokia will have to pay royalties to Microsoft. Also, differentiation is not a slam dunk since Samsung, HTC and other manufacturers already ship Microsoft-based phones.

I’ve also considered a scenario of Nokia merging with RIM and embracing the BlackBerry OS but since the companies have virtually equal market capitalization, I have dismissed this scenario as a viable option.

Stephen Elop, Nokia's CEO
Obviously, Stephen Elop has opted to go with Microsoft and take advantage of a powerful and motivated ally with the risk that even this combination might not succeed to win over application vendors. And even if that battle succeeds, Nokia will have difficulty to differentiate. Within 12 months, all the devices will have every bell and whistle and with the same OS and the same apps available, the battle will be probably fought on price. And that’s not an enviable position to be in.

The reality is that Nokia had to make a move and the new situation is decisively better than the situation before. Possibly, Nokia might end up licensing Android in addition to Windows Phone 7 just like Samsung and HTC do. Or they might sell out after all - most likely to Microsoft. In either case, both companies have their work cut out. 

Images: Courtesy of Nokia 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Testing Samsung Omnia Running Windows Phone 7

My office is very close to the office of our head of development for OpenText Everywhere. As it turns out, he’s the ultimate gadget man. He gets all kinds of devices to test them. The result will apparently be Everywhere running everywhere - at least that’s his excuse for getting all those gadgets. In any case, I’m keeping him on my good side as I like to play with the gadgets. A few days ago, I got to test the Samsung Omnia 7 for a week. His words were: “I’d like you to test it and blog about it. Just don’t post any pictures of me...”. I'm developing a reputation internally, I guess.

The Omnia 7 is a Windows Phone 7 powered smartphone and since I have never had the opportunity to play with Microsoft’s latest OS, I jumped at it. The Windows Phone 7 OS is Microsoft’s 12th version of their mobile OS - a lineage that started with Pocket PC 2000. It was a road paved with many disappointments and so I was a little skeptical about the Windows Phone 7 operating system.

But first I must comment on the Samsung Omnia 7 phone itself. It is very nice. I was pretty impressed by the Samsung Galaxy tablet a couple of months ago and the Omnia is a similarly cool device. It is sleek, made of a great composite material, and I love its 4" screen. The screen is slightly larger than the iPhone and the device is also thinner than the original iPhone. I don't have iPhone 4 yet and so I could only compare it with the 'old iPhone'. The picture gives you an idea of the two devices side by side.

Samsung's Omnia compared with Apple's iPhone
I also liked that the Omnia has a USB interface, replaceable battery, and a built-in radio. The touchscreen is sharp and worked well.  That said, I struggled a bit with the typing although I struggle with the iPhone too since I got used to the iPad. Talking about typing, I liked how the system provides multiple suggestions for possible words as you type. It worked pretty well.

The typing suggestions work pretty well
I also loved the camera button which is a real 'hardware button' that is placed in the right place when you hold the device sideways to take a picture. That said, the camera is lousy - I failed to take an acceptable picture even after several tries.

The screen didn't always switch automatically when I turned the phone from vertical to horizontal. It worked fine in some applications (i.e. Twitter) but it wouldn't switch in others. Notably, it appeared to never switch in the operating system which was rather annoying. Talking about the operating system, it was well organized - I was able to easily find every function. What was weird was the fact that the screen content often wouldn't fit onto the screen itself and the OS ended up cropping it instead of resizing. That was sometimes looking cool and artsy but often annoying and sometimes even unusable.

Not only does the text not fit on the screen, the screen didn't flip to horizontal either
I liked the big tiles that you can pin on the homepage - they made it easy to customize the device and to simplify its use - very handy while driving (which is of course illegal and I would never do). The tiles allowed me to set up the device in a way that resembled more of a mobile phone rather than a smartphone with simple and straight forward functionality. This cellphone level simplicity will surely appeal to some users.

The biggest drawback of the phone was it's Microsoft centricity. Basically, it wants me to live in a Microsoft world that consists of Windows Live, Hotmail, Zune, MSN, Bing, etc. I was able to connect to my Yahoo! Mail easily but I failed to figure out how to connect to my Exchange-based work email. That was surprising since iPhone makes that task really easy. Unfortunately, the operating system treated the Yahoo users as second-class citizens compared to the few users I have in Hotmail. Same thing happened with the Facebok users. The system asked me to connect with Facebook which didn't lead to any obvious benefit. I have downloaded the Facebook app from the Windows Markeplace and it was great but it didn't connect to the rest of the OS capabilities in any way.

The Marketplace was straight forward but the assortment is far, far behind iTunes. I loved the fact that many applications offered a “try before you buy” option which is something iTunes needs to introduce. The music store is as poorly supplied as the app store and movies are not available at all. The Bing search is omnipresent, in fact, it keeps popping up often to my annoyance when not expected - Microsoft is clearly obsessed with search right now. That said, search in the Marketplace lacks the ability to sort results by content type and I was having a hard time finding anything in the long results list consisting of apps, games, and music. Should Microsoft gain support of the developer community and end up with some 100,000 applications, nobody will be able to find anything.

The device provides promising support for Microsoft Office with the key applications available as part of the operating system. Having Word and Excel is great. That said, I couldn't test the synchronization with my desktop since my desktop happens to be a Mac and Windows Phone 7 doesn't  integrate with a Mac. That's pretty much a K.O. criterion for me.

I was somewhat surprised that Flash isn’t supported. We all understand by now that Steve Jobs hates Flash which is why the iPhone does not support it but I didn’t realize that Steve Balmer hated it too. I tried to download the Flash player from the Adobe web site but the operating system is apparently not supported.

I have tested the actual phone capabilities with a SIM card from my BlackBerry which worked fine. I have liked the three buttons on the phone's face which include the home/menu button (just like the iPhone) and also the 'back' button (awesome) and the 'search' button. The hardware buttons on the side were in the way and I ended up turning the phone off inadvertently several times. That happens to me on a BlackBerry too and I ended up disabling some of the buttons eventually. I did like that camera button, though.

Watching my 7 years old son play a game tells a lot of ease of use and ergonomics
All in all, the Samsung Omnia 7 is an intriguing smartphone. It will not work for anyone who's already hooked into the Apple world through iMac, iTunes, iPod, or AppleTV but I can see how someone who's upgrading from a regular mobile phone could end up with a Windows based phone. If you live in the Microsoft universe, this phone must be great but the only such people I know are Microsoft employees.

I wonder if Samsung provides the Omnia with the Google Android operating system. They probably do. It must be an awesome gadget...

PS: If anyone from RIM is reading this, you should know that I can’t wait to test the PlayBook. I’ll even run across the parking lot to your offices to pick one up ;-)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Closed or Open Source

There are many ways to segment a market. One of them is based on how customers expect to run their enterprise software deployments. The definition of enterprise software implies a degree of customization - no deployment is the same. Even the same process or function in the same industry is done differently. Just think about accounting and how difficult it is to compare financial statements from any two competitors in a particular sector.

And when we say ‘customization’, customers turn out to have different expectations. There is a scale from expecting out-of-the-box functionality to in-house developed solutions. All customers fit somewhere on this scale and it would be foolish to say that one end of this spectrum is right or wrong. As a result, customers tend to flock to two distinct camps:

1. Shrink-Wrappers
Shrink-wrappers is my label for customers who expect as much functionality as possible coming out of the box (which is a figure of speech - enterprise software doesn’t come in boxes much these days). Of course there is rarely such thing as out-of-the-box enterprise software but the customers want more pre-packaged modules, pre-defined object models, and ready-to-use interfaces and templates for everything. The shrink-wrappers are more likely to lean heavily on a professional services organization - from the vendor or from a system integrator (SI) - to do any necessary integration and customization work. They don’t want to employ a team of developers for the on-going production system. These customers buy primarily software from ‘closed-source’ vendors, not least to have a throat to choke if something doesn’t go the expected way.

2. Tinkerers
Tinkerers is my label for customers coming from the opposite side of the spectrum. They know that no out-of-the-box software will ever match their needs and they would prefer to just build it themselves. But past experience with cost of maintenance of a home-grown deployment steers them towards a vendor. They do have a team of developers on staff and they intend to keep it that way. They are likely to do most of the customization and integration work themselves. These are the kinds of customers attracted by open source - software built by developers for developers. The developers on their team like to participate in the open source development community and they can whip out a solution very quickly. And then change it again and again as needed.

Customer expectations on enterprise software deployments
There is nothing wrong with either type of customers. Both, the shrink-wrappers and the tinkerers are right and most customers fall somewhere along this scale. Some are heavy into open source, some use it just a little and some don’t accept open source software at all. The only wrong would be to claim that some of these customers have made a mistake and that they will eventually switch sides. Customers are always right.