Thursday, July 28, 2011

The New Apps Frontier

Apple seems to be running circles around its competition right now. Just as it looked as if Android might be gaining enough market share to put some pressure on Apple’s, Apple turns one record quarter after another. Sure, Google is gaining market share but the only profit from Android-based phones appears to be made by Google’s advertising business.

Impressive are not only Apple’s revenue and profits but also the diversification of their portfolio. Not only does the iPhone account for more than half of Apple’s revenue, the iPad contributes now more than the iMac which is not doing too poorly either. And yet Apple has another trump card in their pocket which they will pull when the time is ripe - the Apple TV.

It hasn’t been widely reported, but the Apple TV is powered by iOS - the same operating system that is used in the iPhone and iPad. That suggests that many of the hundreds of thousand of apps available in the App Store today could run on Apple TV too. Not all of them will work, of course, as the user interface, resolution, and other capabilities of the device are different. But popular apps such as weather, news, RSS reader, maps, charts, calendars, and even a browser are apps that would be useful today on a TV screen.

Apple TV actually already provides a small number of apps including Netflix, YouTube, Flickr, a photo viewer and a music and video player. Presumably not much is needed to open the device to developers and I suspect that the existing development tools and skills are highly applicable. It is also likely that Apple will add a mouse or the touch pad to Apple TV which would open the door for many more interactive apps.

This will be a massive source of additional revenue for Apple and also a huge competitive advantage. Developers are already realizing that building apps for iOS gets them way more bang for their investment buck than building for the other mobile operating systems. A single iOS app runs on all devices including iPhone, iTouch, and iPad. In contrast, many developers are today complaining about the fragmentation of the Android market where an app built for Samsung Galaxy may or may not work on the HTC EVO. That’s why most developers still start with iOS support before moving on to Android - at least that’s what Flurry, Inc. recently reported.

Apple is not the only vendor pursuing this idea - all the game consoles have the same ambition. My Nintendo Wii supports a couple of apps including Netflix. Microsoft demonstrated their Xbox 360 with Lync-based video conferencing at the recent Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC). Intelligent devices connected to a TV set are going to be the next app frontier. And Apple has an incredible advantage as their TV device runs on a well tested operating system with thousands of existing apps.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Practical Gamification Use Case

Gamification is a buzz word making the rounds lately. The idea is very simple – drive user adoption and employee engagement by turning the use of enterprise software into a game. Deep inside, we are apparently all gamers and can’t resist playing. It starts already in kindergarten when we used to collect stickers on a chart – whoever had the most stickers got a reward – I win, you lose. 

Now, we are applying the same principle to the workplace by adding game elements to enterprise software. We can earn points and badges by sharing information, contributing to discussions, completing assignments, passing tests, or closing deals. What used to be a performance chart on the manager’s office wall is now a leader board with employees leveling up all the way to a Champion or Grandmaster level. 

I must admit, it is pretty addictive and the amazing thing is that it seems to work. Inspired by the world of video games and more recently by social games such as Foursquare, gamification is invading the enterprise. I have recently spent a little bit of time with the IT developers at OpenText who have built our new gaming application called the “Leaderboard”. Leaderboard is not an OpenText product; at least not yet. This is OpenText as a customer building a custom application on top of the existing commercial offering. That commercial offering happens to be OpenText Pulse, a social media product that the OpenText Content Server customers can simply add on top of their existing deployment.

I've quickly completed a couple of tasks get a decent ranking

The team designed the Leaderboard not only to drive internal adoption of Pulse but also to stimulate the desirable employee behavior. Different social interactions earn points – posting a comment, liking someone else’s comment, sharing a document, etc. By collecting points, users can level up to different levels – from Newbies to Masters. There are also points available for non-Pulse activities such as correctly adhering to the iterative development process (IDP) or through learning more about our products by watching a training video and taking a quick test.

The team actually used the concepts from a Bartle Test to design how different users can approach their path to earning the most points in a way that best suits their personality. Richard Bartle defined four types of game users: Achievers, Explorers, Socializers and Killers. This concept has since been used by many game developers and so our team designed the Leaderboard with something to offer for each gamer type. Being a friendly Canadian company, they have renamed the gamer types into something a bit more politically correct.

James Knight, Trevor Sharpe and Quinton Roberts - the Leaderboard development team

The results are more than promising. The Leaderboard has been the buzz for weeks on Pulse and when it had gone to beta, available to the IT team only, outsiders like me had to beg to be invited (Google doesn’t have a lock on scarcity marketing tactics). After just a couple of weeks of the beta test, the IT level of active participation was well above 60% which is significantly higher than the current average in the rest of the company. And the users are truly engaged – many competing with fervor to beat their co-workers. The “side effect” is more communication, employee engagement, and expertise sharing which is what Pulse is all about. As the OpenText CIO Steve Hunt told me: “It's like cyber crack .... They’re hooked!”.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why We Acquired Global 360

Yesterday, OpenText announced the acquisition of Global 360. As we are expanding our market reach into the business process management (BPM) market, Global 360 adds a complementary set of technologies to OpenText’s portfolio and strengthens the OpenText partnership with Microsoft. With the combination of Metastorm and Global 360, we are now the largest provider of BPM solutions for the Microsoft ecosystem. The BPM solutions complement our existing information governance and archiving solutions for SharePoint and Exchange. But what’s more important, Global 360 increases the critical mass of process management focus inside of OpenText.

The OpenText ECM Suite already included solutions for Transactional Content Management (TCM), which is a close cousin of BPM. OpenText has long provided offerings for scanning and imaging, our own optical character recognition (OCR) engine and fax server (RightFax). Many of the OpenText solutions offered in the SAP and Oracle ecosystems are based on TCM – Accounts Payable, Employee File Management or Travel Receipts Management, etc. And of course, OpenText provides the secure compliance infrastructure that many transactional solutions require.

Not long ago, OpenText acquired Metastorm which added BPM capabilities together with cloud-based process design, business process analysis (BPA) and enterprise architecture (EA) software. Now, Global 360 brings additional capabilities particularly around dynamic case management (DCM), cloud-based process discovery and process analytics and reporting.

The Global 360 acquisition is unique, though, as it allows OpenText to not only expand its offerings, but also reach a critical mass needed to establish itself as a serious contender in a new market. This is not a minor matter. Acquiring companies successfully is not easy, and for a billion dollar vendor like OpenText, acquiring a smaller company could easily result in “swallowing it up” without much tangible impact. One way to prevent this is to fold the acquired organization into an existing group that sponsored the acquisition in the first place.

That happens, for instance, when a company acquires a smaller vendor to accelerate its technology investment or to add services capacity. Such was the case with the recent OpenText acquisition of weComm. OpenText already had a mobility group that needed to address the challenge of cost-effectively supporting multiple mobile platforms. weComm addresses that problem and was naturally combined with the existing mobility group.

When a company branches out into an adjacent space, however, there may not be a group that would be a logical home for the acquired company. In fact, the acquired company is expected to become such group. By buying Metastorm in February 2011, OpenText made a move into the BPM market. According to the analysts, Metastorm is a leading player in BPM which represents a natural expansion opportunity for OpenText. After all, many BPM solutions depend on content.

And now, by combining Metastorm, Global 360 and the existing TCM solutions, OpenText has one of the broadest product portfolios and one of the largest and most experienced teams in the world of BPM. The acquisition not only puts us on the BPM map, it makes us one of the strongest players in terms of market share, number of customers, and market presence. And, the BPM products and people won’t go unnoticed within OpenText as the business process management DNA now represents a significant portion of the company.

That’s why we’ve acquired Global 360.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Did You Just Tweet That?

I've spoken at a conference recently and just like most conferences lately, the discussion turned inevitably to social media at some point. Such conversations are always fun since I enjoy the diversity in people's opinions - from absolute addicts to the cynical denialists.

But at some point someone asked me if I was tweeting during the conference and I of course admitted that yes, I did. I like to tweet at a conference for multiple reasons:

1. Repeating a key point in writing helps me to remember it. This is Notes Taking 2.0, even if Twitter doesn't make it easy to go back to your notes after a while.
2. Sharing some of the key points of wisdom allows me to contribute to the community of my followers - those who didn't make it to the conference can get some of the key messages.
3. And then there is the personal branding aspect - tweeting about a particular session shows that I care about the subject and makes me part of the club and attracts like-minded followers.

Now, the other question that was raised is how polite is it to tweet while I am at a conference. Is it impolite to the presenter to see people staring at their iPhones or iPads? Is it socially acceptable to my co-workers or friends who are there with me? Am I just not paying attention?
Hobnobbing with Tony Clement

Recently, I was on a panel at a RTNDA conference (Radio and Television News Directors Association) and on the panel after me was no one else than Tony Clement, Canada's federal minister of industry. Mr. Clement is very much in touch with the Internet and technology and he's a very frequent, interesting and authentic Twitter user. Unlike many other politicians, he doesn't have a PR staffer do it on his behalf. Tony Clement tweets himself.

At the RTNDA panel, he was tweeting straight from the stage. I was in the audience and I've exchanged a couple of tweets with him as he was right there on the stage. And you know what, you can't accuse him that he wasn't paying attention when he was being asked a question.

Tony Clement (3rd from the right) tweeting while on a panel. And why not?

With social media and mobility, our culture is evolving. The mobile device is much more personal and intimate than a laptop which was always seen as a work tool. And working while listening to others is always a little rude (yeah, yeah, I like multitasking too). But using a personal communication device in the company of others is becoming much more acceptable.

I still don't think that it is acceptable in a one on one conversation and I certainly don't get away with it at the dinner table. Some of it needs to stay that way. But we don’t need to look far to see the future. Asia has been far ahead of North America in mobility and so is Europe. And we've all seen the pictures of packed trains in Tokyo with every passenger staring at their mobile device. While the culture in Japan might be different, mixing the in-person and the virtual social engagements will be becoming more and more the norm.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Is Device Convergence Happening?

A few days ago, a report by Pew Internet came out that revealed a surprising statistic about e-readers. According to the data Pew presented, e-readers such as Kindle and Nook have reached a 12% penetration among the US adult population. That’s actually not bad even though it is far behind other devices such as mobile phones (83%), laptops (56%), and MP3 players (44%). But this number is way ahead of the tablet penetration which is still relatively low with 8%.

That effectively means that the iPad didn’t at all manage to kill the Kindle. I must admit, that when the iPad first arrived, I thought it would mean the end of the Kindle. You can read books on the iPad and Amazon even provides a very good Kindle reader app for iPad. And after all, how much does Amazon really care about the Kindle? They make money no matter what device I read their books on, right?.

I suppose the e-book readers are doing so well because they are really good at what they have been designed for. They are single-purpose devices optimized for their job. For reading books, some of their advantages include the screen that allows reading in bright sun light, the ease of e-books dowloading and, my favorite, the light weight. All the tablets I have tested so far are too heavy for reading in bed. Kindle is featherlight with its 241 grams (8.5 oz) and it makes reading in bed easier than with a paperback.

This is really begging the question about convergence. Are we going to end up with a single device that can do it all or are we going to keep a multitude of devices? Convergence is definitely appealing, if nothing more than to eliminate the clutter of power chargers and adapters that I complained about while packing for vacation last summer. But having the right tool for the right job is unquestionably not a bad approach either.

Are we going to dump the e-reader and read on an iPad? Maybe, if it becomes lighter and learns how to handle the glare. Or maybe the e-book readers will add the apps and blur the line between tablets and e-readers.

But how about the convergence of other devices? Do I no longer need a watch because I have a smartphone that can tell the time? Well, I am really attached to my mechanical watch. Are we going to throw away the GPS and use the iPhone instead? Yes, it works, but the dedicated GPS is still a little easier to use while driving. How about the laptop that I keep schlepping around together with my iPad? If I had a keyboard and a mouse, I could perhaps get rid of it. Couldn't I?

Well, I don’t know what the answer is but I do know that the key is going to be the user experience. The simplicity and compromise-less user experience - software and hardware - will determine whether or not a particular device will converge. If a device doesn’t give me the right experience, the convergence won’t happen, even if the functionality is there.