Monday, May 30, 2011

Securing Content via Tethering

A few weeks ago, I met with a group of customers representing the government institutions of a small Asian nation. For a variety of geo-political reasons it was apparent that for a relatively small country they spend quite a bit of money on their national defense. And so it was no surprise that every other question turned to security.

Securing content has long been an integral part of every decent Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system on the market. Most offerings provide solid authentication and access control (often called permissions). Robust auditing is a requirement not just for security but also for many compliance applications. For example, the 21 CFR Part 11 regulation in the Pharmaceutical industry is big on auditing and electronic sign-offs.

But what most of these security capabilities don't consider is that they are really securing the system and not the content. Yes, the repository is very secure but the content wants to be used, and to be used, it cannot just sit in a secure repository. Even the most basic use such as viewing usually means taking the content out of the repository where all of the fancy authentications and permissions become irrelevant. Indeed, as soon as users have the right to read a document and open it with their desktop application, the document is controlled by the users and not by the content management system (CMS). The users can save it on their flash drive, forward it via email or post it on Facebook. Not much security if you ask me.

During the meeting, I explained to the customers the two ways to secure content outside of the repository. The first method is using encryption via rights management - sometimes referred to as information rights management (IRM) or enterprise rights management (ERM). This approach is based on the same technology as digital rights management (DRM) which dates back to the mid 90s with companies such as Intertrust. DRM was the entertainment industry's attempt to control content piracy by encrypting the content and requiring users to apply a key that would control what they are allowed to do with it.

The vendors in rights management in the enterprise market applied the same approach by extending the repository permissions to content outside of the repository. But as we've seen with DRM, rights management really gets in the way of usability. The key distribution becomes a challenge and the users struggle to encrypt and decrypt their content. This inconvenience was so significant that consumer companies such as Sony and Apple eventually abandoned DRM altogether.

In the enterprise space, most rights management vendors got acquired by the bigger players who now rule this market - Oracle acquired Sealed Media (via Stellent), EMC got Authentica and Microsoft built their own RMS which OpenText integrates with to offer a solution for it's own repository. But because of the user inconvenience, rights management deployments are usually limited to specific applications such as deal rooms or contracts management.

Rights Management controls content
permissions outside the repository
The other way of securing content is much newer and more innovative: content tethering. Its main idea is to address the key security weakness of a secure repository - which is controlling the content when it leaves the repository - by not letting it ever leave. It's not a surprise that this approach has yet again been pioneered by the media companies. The most notorious example is YouTube which allows any user to view the content on their site but also make it available on any other site, blog, RSS reader, portal or mobile device by providing a simple widget that can be easily embedded in such applications. That’s done by copying a short snippet of code that YouTube makes readily available to anyone.

Widgets can be easily embedded
With the widget approach, the YouTube content can be easily used by any application but - and here is the beauty of this technology - the content never leaves the YouTube repository. The widget displays the content straight from the YouTube repository while YouTube retains complete control and security of the content. The content cannot be downloaded unless explicitly permitted (sorry Wikileaks) and the content owner can update it any time or take it down which is something YouTube has to do regularly to please those pesky media companies crying about copyrights infringement.

The content tethering works not just for video. SlideShare does the same for PowerPoint slides, Flickr does it for pictures and RSS feeds do it for news articles. And just as DRM found its use in the enterprise, the same is happening with content tethering.

Widgets enable tethering for any type of content
OpenText (yes, my employer) has released an enterprise version of widgets that allow customers to tether content residing in the Enterprise Library, a highly secure repository. Leveraging our own set of content viewers (remember that little Spicer acquisition in 2008?), the OpenText Widget Services work with virtually any type of content from documents to rich media. The widgets can be embedded via tiny code snippets into any web site, blog, portal or mobile site. And with tethering, customers have a new way to secure their content while making it widely available to users who don't need any pre-requisite software on their devices and who don't need to worry about how to decrypt that darn contract I'm supposed to review by noon today.

And that's an interesting solution for security sensitive customers like the security sensitive folks from Asia I met the other day.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Real Problem with the Cloud

I am a big fan of cloud computing. The idea of having software provided as a service without having to actually deploy it makes a lot of sense. But, I often encounter skeptics who keep bringing up what I think are the wrong anti-cloud arguments - security concerns, availability issues, or perhaps the lack of customizations. The troubles that Amazon, Sony or Twitter just recently experienced are only fueling such arguments.

While those are valid concerns today, they are just growing pains. They are often exaggerated by the media and the blogosphere. In time, the cloud offerings may be able to address these issues better than any on-premise deployment. Take security, for instance, which is perhaps the most common issue raised by the cloud skeptics. Every one of my employers in the US used a SaaS based solution for payroll. And since that particular vendor caters to millions of users, I trust their security more than I would have trusted any one of my employers.

The one thing, however, that worries me about the cloud-based solutions today is the ability of a customer to part ways with their cloud providers. Nothing lasts forever and it is very likely that every customer will come to a point where they will want to get their data, templates, process definitions, business rules, users profiles, permissions, and customizations off the cloud vendor and move them into some other cloud.

The reasons may be many. The vendor could go out of business - it’s not like all those cloud start-ups are widely profitable today and some of them will just not make it. The vendor could also decide to shut down the service just like Google discontinued Wave and Video. The vendor could be acquired by someone else who changes the business terms. Or, the customer’s requirements evolve and the vendor no longer meets them. In any case, getting off a cloud where you have invested a ton of data and work isn’t trivial.

Nobody is talking much about this today. Of course, all the vendors are keen to attract and keep customers. Nobody wants to advertise the ability to let customers go easily. But that’s exactly what they need to do to get serious enterprise customers. They need to provide the right APIs, tools, services and terms that make an easy farewell possible.

This is the one cloud challenge that has me worried. On-premise software is also tough to leave but at least the customer owns the system and the data and has usually a plenty of time to figure out how to dump their vendor. A 30 day notice is not what enterprise customers will be comfortable with.

Monday, May 16, 2011

BlackBerry Playbook - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I finally got to test the released version of the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook and here are my impressions of the PlayBook - the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

The PlayBook is a 7 inch tablet device with a new operating system by RIM. I am a fan of the 7 in format as I already determined when I  tested the Samsung Galaxy. The 7 inch format is big enough to get a decent browser experience and to be able to type and yet it makes the device immensely more portable. The device has two cameras and an HDMI slot, although I didn’t find any SD card slot to my disappointment.

The PlayBook has a very sharp looking display. The resolution is 1024x600 which is more dpi than the iPad with 1024x768 given its smaller screen size. I like the user interface of the new PlayBook OS (QNX) which makes the app interaction very easy - it is much more obvious about which apps are currently running compared to the iPad. Talking about the UI, I have to mention the Flash support which is something iPad doesn’t do. That said, I am not so sure lately I really want Flash to survive, given the abundance of invasive Flash adds. I do realize though that the advertisers will find another technology to annoy me with their ads if they don’t have Flash.

The PlayBook user interface is awesome
Finally, I like the standard set of applications that come with the PlayBook. Besides the usual suspects such as browser, music player, picture viewer etc., the PlayBook also comes with a set of office applications called Word To Go, Sheet To Go, and Slideshow To Go. I’ve tried to open up a couple of Office documents and I was positively surprised to see a pretty decent fidelity of a PowerPoint deck - something the Keynote app on the iPad still struggles with. That said, don’t expect to be able to use a complex Excel spreadsheet with pivot tables.

The Bad

There were a few things I didn’t like about the PlayBook. First, the device is surprisingly heavy. With 425 g, the device is too heavy to hold comfortably in one hand for a long time - i.e. when reading a book. The iPad weighs 607 g which is much more but given its size, the weight is not that surprising. The Samsung Galaxy weighs 385 g which is less but even that was too much for reading when I tested it. The Kindle only weight 241 g which is why it is such a successful reading device.

I was impressed by the fidelity of PowerPoint decks opened on the PlayBook's native Slides To Go app.
Many people have reported about the hard to use power switch. It is really, really hard to engage - the designers clearly haven’t tried the button themselves. That said, you don’t need the power button much - a simple sweep on the screen wakes up the PlayBook from hibernation. I did like the volume buttons that some of the reviews criticized. My iPhone and iPad have them too and I use them all the time.

While the PlayBook hardware appears very slick, the software was clearly a bit rushed. The PlayBook has no native calendar or email client. To use email, the PlayBook has to be tethered to a BlackBerry (smartphone) via a bluetooth connection which I wasn’t able to test since I traded my BlackBerry in for an iPhone not long ago. This limitation will likely go away in some future update but right now, the tablet’s usefulness is limited without email which is my number one application on the iPad.

The Ugly

In the end, it is all about the software - most notably the apps. And that’s where the PlayBook has its work cut out. The BlackBerry has been only slowly trying to catch up with Apple and Google in apps availability but the PlayBook OS (NQX) is distinct from BlackBerry and there are only a handful of apps available. While the PlayBook has in theory most of the apps one would need for work - let’s ignore that email issue for a minute - the fun apps are in very short supply. From the list of my most useful iPad apps, I was able to find a browser, a basic RSS reader, a note-taking tool, Twitter client, and I’ll throw in a Facebook client which iPad doesn’t have. From the list of my coolest iPad apps, I didn’t find a single one.

The Trump Card

The key to the PlayBook’s success will be RIM’s ability to attract developers. Right now, I am a bit skeptical. However, there have been some reports about the PlayBook’s ability to support Android apps in the near future. Should that come true - and should the apps run in a realistic mode with full capabilities - RIM might pull a great coup and address the lack-of-apps issue overnight. But until that happens, the PlayBook’s outlook is questionable.

My son is testing the 'play' part of PlayBook. He enjoyed the Flash support.

The Summary

The PlayBook is a beautiful, well designed device.  Assuming the apps will become no issue, it will be a solid option for many users, particularly those using it primarily for business. Besides the native office apps, PlayBook also leverages RIM’s security infrastructure and offers a much more secure option than Google or Apple. But the apps are a major issue today and with pricing on par with iPad ($599 for a 32 GB version), the PlayBook is hard to justify in comparison to the iPad.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Microsoft Crosses Swords with Cisco

Microsoft surprised many observers today by announcing the acquisition of Skype. By now, I’ve already read at least a dozen articles about this acquisition and since my blogging is extracurricular, I had to wait until the kids were in bed. Therefore, I will try not to repeat what everyone else already said but rather examine the acquisition from a different perspective. I see Skype as a major move in Microsoft’s war on Cisco.

Cisco has been working on unified communications at least since their March 2007 acquisition of Webex. Unified communications (UC) makes a lot of sense for Cisco which had already dominated network communication with its routers and switches. Cisco has also made a lot of progress in Internet telephony or voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as we like to call it. And once the human communication such as Webex was added to the picture, unified communication was born.

Skype is a Luxembourg-based company that was founded in 2003, acquired by eBay in October 2005 and Spun off to an investment group in November 2009. Skype is supposedly very profitable and with 170 million users, it is a tremendous asset. Skype has been clearly looking for a buyer since the spin-off and the possible suitors were rumored to be Facebook and Google. But in the end, Microsoft stole the show for a hefty price of $8.5 bln - the largest acquisition they’ve ever made.

The acquisition shows that Microsoft is willing to make big moves to get back at the new generation of competitors - from Facebook to Google and Apple. Microsoft is aggressively pursuing the mobile market with its own Windows Phone operating systems and a dozen or so partnerships with smartphone hardware manufacturers including Nokia who recently bet the farm on Windows Phone. And given that both mobility leaders, Apple and Google, have their own online communication offerings with Apple FaceTime and Google Voice, Microsoft needed to counter.

Skype offers great voice and video communication along with many advanced capabilities such as conferencing, voice mail, etc. But Skype will also give a great boost to Microsoft’s Lync offering. Lync is all about unified communications with capabilities such as presence, instant messaging, Web conferencing, and enterprise voice (VoIP). While some of the capabilities are duplicate between Skype and Lync, the very popular Skype service gives Microsoft a tremendous installed base as it straddles the consumer and the enterprise market which aligns well with Microsoft’s ambitions.

A major attraction of Skype for Microsoft must be its reach - it allows calls to non-Skype land-lines and mobile phones and it runs on practically all desktop and mobile operating systems. Contrast that with Apple’s FaceTime which only runs on iOS and Mac and thus faces an uphill adoption battle. Microsoft also needs to convince the carriers to embrace Windows Phone 7 devices and Skype might give them a great leverage or possibly an alternative.

With its focus on Lync and voice, however, Microsoft appears to have declared a war on Cisco. Cisco has been building out its unified communications business for several years with no major competition in sight and with a great leverage provided by its hardware business. Sure, Cisco competed with several unified communications players from Avaya to IBM and Siemens but none of them came even close to Cisco’s breath of offering and market presence. And the fact that all that voice and video traffic may cause customers to upgrade their hardware was an added benefit.

Well, that quiet time may be over now as Cisco found a mighty challenger in Microsoft. The Lync/Skype combination is a strong contender to Cisco’s collaboration and unified communications. Pretty exciting times, if you ask me!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My Favorite iPad Apps

I have owned the iPad for [more or less] exactly a year now and that’s a good opportunity to review what the iPad has done for me. It’s surprising that even after well over 20 million iPads sold, the debate about whether or not this device is useful rages on.

When I have tried to come up with a list of my top apps, I have quickly realized that there is a difference on the iPad between what’s cool and awesome and what’s useful. I suspect that most iPad users end up buying some of the really cool apps but those may not necessarily be particularly useful. The owner checks them out, shows them off to a few friends and goes back to using the good old email. And so here are my two lists:

Top 10 Coolest Apps on My iPad:

10. Kindle
No matter what Amazon says when paddling the Kindle gadget, iPad is a great reading device and the Amazon Kindle Reader works great on the iPad. That is unless you find yourself in  bright sunlight in which case you should just forget it.
9. Musicnotes
I keep PDFs of the dozen or songs I can play in my GoodReader. Musicnotes, though, takes it to the next level by providing sheet music for iPad, albeit rather expensive. Playing from notes on an iPad is so cool that the audience is distracted from my poor performance.
8. Bloomberg
One financial application had to make it onto this list and I do like the Bloomberg app. Nothing unexpected here - it allows me to see the market data, news, and stock quotes. There are many other apps like this but this is Bloomberg.
7. Wired
I’ve been reading Wired less and less lately mostly because its content keeps drifting away from information technology and gadgets to other topics. But their interactive, multimedia app has broken new grounds and shown the way of the future for magazine publications.
6. BBC News
Many TV stations provide their video news as an iPad app but I like this one from BBC. The app is cool and the content is available abroad which is where ABC and NBC fail me.
5. GarageBand
I’ve had about a dozen different music apps on my iPad until GarageBand was released. This is easily the most complex and sophisticated iPad app I have and it has made all the other music apps obsolete. OK, maybe except for the n-Track Tuner and AmpliTube.
4. AmpliTube
AmpliTube is a guitar amp and effect rig system for iPad which is the software for the iRig splinter which allows you to replace a slew of guitar sound effect accessories. If you have an e-guitar, you have to get the iRig.
3. Marine US
As a sailor, this app is a dream comes true. The NOAA charts are free in the US except that you have to pay the publishers for the printing. And the prints are expensive and you’ll need many of them. This app exposes the entire NOAA charts database for free which is awesome for trip planning. As for use on the boat, you will need wi-fi or 3G access and to keep in mind that the iPad isn’t waterproof.
2. SoundHound
This is really an iPhone app but the iPad version is really cool and the application still amazes me. You hear a song and SoundHound tells you what it is. Shazam is a similar app but I am finding that SoundHound strikes out much less than Shazam.
1. Netflix
Watching movies on the iPad is awesome and streaming them directly from Netflix just rocks as long as you have the bandwidth. What I love is that I can start a movie at home on the Apple TV or Wii, pause it and then continue on Netflix from a hotel room. Not being able to watch abroad is a major drawback, though, which has to do with the ridiculous artificial borders created around distribution rights. 

Top 10 Most Useful Apps on My iPad

10. OpenText Everywhere
OK, yes, I could have mentioned any enterprise social media application such as or Yammer - I use several of them. But OpenText Everywhere is not only made by my employer but it also provides the enterprise social experience within our CMS solution with all the existing workflows, folders, content assets, subscriptions and favorites readily available. Not to mention it runs on top of a secure and compliant content infrastructure... OK, OK, yes, I do work for OpenText...
9. Dropbox
This is pure file sharing and it is free up to 2 GB. This is a great way to sync my documents between different devices and to share them with others. Dropbox provides a work-around for the lack of file systems on the iPad.
8. NoteMaster
Note taking is one of the key business apps and yet it has been quite neglected by the leading vendors. The notes in Outlook are pathetic and I never got used to OneNote. And the iPad’s Notes tool is pretty bad too. NoteMaster allows better notes organization and rich editing of notes. BTW - I do have Evernote but that appears to be more of a memo app than note taking.
7. GoodReader
The GoodReader is a document reading app for the iPad. It supports PDFs as well as most Office formats. It also allows decent organization of the documents and is integrated with the Mail app. I often download white papers and analyst reports for a plane trip to read.
6. The Economist
Wired gets most of the credit for the new generation of multi-media magazines and rightfully so. But The Economist is one of the best news magazines out there and their iPad version is not only fantastic but it also arrives a week before the hard-copy. And since it is a weekly, who needs the hard-copy?
5. Twitter and TweetDeck
Since I am a big user of Twitter, I use both apps quite often. The Twitter app is fun to use while the TweetDeck provides useful filter-based columns that make the Twitter stream much more valuable.
4. Calendar
Well, the iPad calendar is not very fancy but I live by my calendar and so I use it many times a day. The functionality is still limited and I have to do certain things in Outlook, though. This is a standard app that comes with the iPad OS.
3. FeeddlerPro
I’ve tried several RSS readers and I have settled on Feeddler. There may be better ones out there but this one works pretty well. Catching up on what’s going on in the blogosphere is a piece of cake with an RSS reader on an iPad.
2. Safari
I prefer to use an app for web sites I use frequently whenever available but I am obviously using the browser a lot. I don’t like the Safari browser much and I hope that Firefox for iPad will arrive soon - the iPhone version got released recently.
1. Mail
iPad as an email platform beats the iPhone and BlackBerry hands down due to the larger on-screen keyboard. Since I pretty much live in email, I use the standard iOS email client a lot for both my corporate Exchange email as well as my private email. While not exciting or cool, this is the app I use the most on my iPad.

So, these are my top apps. Obviously, I am not big into games which is why no games ended up on my list - even though I have downloaded a bunch. Facebook and LinkedIn would likely make the list if they had a native iPad app. I do have Keynote and Pages (not Numbers) - neither have made the list because I don’t use the iPad much for real authoring, except for the occasional blog post. Skype would have made the usability list if I had an iPad 2 with a camera.

I’m sure you have other apps you love on the iPad - please do share them in your comments!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why Do We Rename Products?

Here it comes again - OpenText is phasing out the Vignette brand, IBM got rid of the Lotus brand for its WCM offering and Adobe keeps talking all about CEM while de-emphasising the Day and Omniture brands. As a result, the market is unhappy because these changes make no sense. Or do they?

When acquiring another company, the buyer rarely does so to keep things the way there were. In many situations, the acquired company was in distress, its stock had dropped because of a revenue shortfall and there is usually a reason for that. The performance has to be addressed and the inevitable changes often include re-branding.

The vendor also usually buys the company with the idea to complement existing offerings. The goal is to strengthen the overall portfolio by creating a more comprehensive solution set. Product A together with product B can do something that the individual products weren’t able to do. That  is hard to convey to customers when the brands are completely different. How would OpenText get credibly across that Vignette and Artesia are well integrated and together part of a greater solution? Re-branding helps to get across that the combination is a new and better offering.

In the end, it gets down to the vendor’s product brand strategy. There are two fundamental approaches called the house of brands and the branded house.

The house of brands is a company that puts the respective product brands above the company brand and does not mind having several of them. General Motors is an example of such company. Its brands such as Cadillac, Pontiac, Chevrolet, Opel or Vauxhall are what the market sees and often customers don’t realize that they come from the same company. This is a fairly costly branding strategy since the vendor has to promote each brand individually and the brands don’t benefit from each other - the German customers buying an Opel don’t know that Vauxhall is one of the most popular car makes in the UK. The benefit of this strategy is, however, that the company can have multiple independent business that can maximize its performance.

The branded house strategy is primarily focused on a single brand, usually the company’s name. BMW is a perfect example of such strategy. The benefit of this strategy is that the strengths of one product projects on other products. If you think that the BMW 325 is cool and sporty then the BMW X5 must be cool and sporty. This branding strategy is fairly efficient since it is very focused on a single brand. And as a result, that single brand is usually much stronger than the individual brands in the house of brands strategy. Just think about the difference in brand strength between BMW and Pontiac (Interbrand estimates BMW to be the 15th world’s most valuable brand while not a single GM brand made it to the top 100). The challenge is to convey the value proposition of the individual products - what’s the difference between the 320 and 325 and 525?

Many software companies pursue the branded house strategy because they hope the branding strategy will support their product strategy which is usually based on a technology vision with a logical architecture. They want to project the benefits of one product to another and suggest how the products relate to each other. Only when they enter truly different markets - which usually doesn’t happen until they are well past the billion dollar mark - they start diversifying their branding into a house of brands. IBM is a good example of such strategy as their brands such as Tivoli, Rational, DB2 or Lotus really don’t relate to each other. But even the mighty Apple has chosen the branded house strategy for its main business with the collection of iBrands (iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPad, iPhone, etc.) - clearly to convey the integration and relationship between the products. Does anyone doubt that they relate?

Changing a brand is never a trivial issue and the vendor usually weighs all the pros and cons. The major cons are the inevitable confusion that a name change causes and the cost of the transition. The benefit is the support of the overall product and corporate strategy as outlined above. Depending on the existing brand equity, the strategy might win over confusion which is usually only temporary. Unlike consumer software, enterprise software rarely enjoys much brand equity outside the circle of experts. And the experts are usually well capable of learning the new branding quickly - that’s why they are experts.

In the end, the response to a brand change is an emotional issue because it is a change. And change is always emotional. But it is first and foremost a business decision and emotions have to give way to rationality. And when considering the context of the company’s strategy, re-branding is usually a very rational business decision.