Tuesday, January 22, 2013

RIM: One Year Later

Thorsten Heins, RIM CEO
What's up with RIM lately? A year ago, the company was pronounced dead. The revenue was collapsing, the company was losing market share, and the press was having a field day with delivering disaster stories about the BlackBerry maker. When Thorsten Heins was named the new CEO in January 2012, I was cynically thinking that here was another of those German technology company CEOs who will show us how to run a business the "proper way". Just remember Michael Spindler at Apple, Eckhart Pfeiffer at Compaq, and Leo Apotheker at HP!

However, Mr. Heins has so far proven me wrong. While it is way too soon to speak about a turnaround, he has clearly managed to calm the company down. The revenue has stabilized, the string of bad news about various mishaps and calamities has seized and the press is yet again buzzing with excitement about the next model of BlackBerry. As a result, the stock has bounced back from the summer lows.

Living in Waterloo, Ontario, where RIM is the largest employer in the region, I can also see that the doomsday scenarios haven't come true. There has been no massive exodus. The housing market is relatively strong and houses are selling fast. No thousands of “For Sale” or “Going Out of Business” signs. When recruiting, I see more resumes with RIM experience than a year or two ago but there are no RIM bread lines at the local Starbucks. After the layoffs last year, most of the workforce has been quickly absorbed by the more than 850 high technology companies in Waterloo; my employer OpenText among them.

The RIM stock has bounced back from its low levels 
Sure, RIM is far from being out of the wood works. The company continues losing market share and several of the big RIM customers have publicly jumped the ship. The BlackBerry PlayBooks has been officially declared a flop and working on a BlackBerry phone comes today with the same image as driving a Ford Crown Victoria. The pressure is on. All eyes are now on the soon to be released BlackBerry 10 which will be the most significant innovation since RIM switched from a 2-way pager to the BlackBerry smartphone. All the chips are on one number: the BlackBerry 10. It has to be a success - RIM won't get a third chance.

So far, the BlackBerry 10 looks solid. There is plenty of buzz about it and the "leaked BlackBerry 10 picture" campaign is working like a charm. The technology blogs are loving it and reporting about it daily. Most of those reports are very positive. While I am not much into following celebrities on social media, I noticed that RIM has engaged them as well - just the other day, the marathon champion Paula Radcliffe tweeted about her BlackBerry 10 crush. If the BlackBerry 10 fails, it won't be RIM Marketing's fault.
BlackBerry 10 (Photo: closari on Flickr)
RIM is now finally doing the right thing to address their key weakness - the shortage of applications. Last weekend, RIM was running another “portathon” and actually offering cash to developers for porting their apps to the BlackBerry OS. While $100 per application might not be much, I suspect it is more than what some of those apps earn in their lifetime. This is something that even Microsoft has yet to learn. In fact, the battle for the 3rd place mobile OS - after Google Android and Apple iOS - will be fought between RIM and Microsoft and the outcome is wide open today.

The bottom line is that RIM managed to get itself a little bit of a reprieve. This is no time to declare victory, but if the new product hits the mark, there is a sufficiently large and loyal customer base that will embrace it. Let’s hope the BlackBerry 10 delivers!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Big Data Solution for the Big Security Problem

Recently, I wrote about the content security dilemma. As much as we are trying to secure our information without completely giving up on convenience, we can barely stay one step ahead of the bad guys. The hackers, equipped with easily available immense computing power are using brute-force attacks to overcome even the most sophisticated authentication and encryption technologies.

The inconvenient truth remains, that we don’t really have any practical security today outside the perimeter security measures offered by encryption. As soon as the information leaves the secure repository, it is basically no longer secure. If I share a report with you via email, social software, or shared folder, I can only hope that my trust in you will be rewarded by your discretion. If not, you can easily share the document with anyone and I can’t do anything about it.

So what do we do? How do we secure our data in transit? After all, we have to make it travel to put it to work. Data locked up in a vault is of limited value. The answer isn’t easy and it will likely consist of multiple measures.

First, we will adopt advanced means of authentication to ensure that it really is the right person accessing the data. I have described some of such advanced authentication in the above mentioned article - ranging from multi-factor authentication to, yes, chip implants.

Next, we will employ our social media networks as a mean of collective endorsement of authenticity. Authenticity is an issue for both, the people and the information assets. Is the message from Barack Obama really from the President or from an imposter? Is the report I’ve received the right report or has it been substituted by malicious disinformation? Endorsement by a group of people doesn’t completely solve the problem, of course, but it adds another hurdle for the bad guys. Just think of the product reviews on Amazon. Sure, they can be fake but it is a lot of work to fake them and so most of them can be trusted and so can be the products they endorse.

Finally, we will see a greater use of analytics to identify any suspicious behavior - just like the credit card companies do today. The idea is that they trust every transaction as long as the transaction remains within the expected pattern of behavior. When the behavior deviates from the expected pattern, you get one of those calls. Most of us have received a call alerting us to a fraudulent transaction at some point. The system works. It may not prevent the initial fraudulent transaction but with a sufficient audit trail, that transaction can be investigated. What’s important, though, is that the timely detection prevents any subsequent transactions.

This is a big data problem in need of a big data solution.  Analytics software will be reviewing the behavior patterns of people accessing data and detecting any behavior that is out of the norm. Such behaviors will be flagged for investigation while the system shuts down any additional data exposure.

Yet again, there is no perfect solution in sight. But we may have a few options to stay ahead of the bad guys. Because for the foreseeable future, information security remains an arms race. The only way to defend ourselves from the ever smarter hackers will be our ever stronger defenses.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Social Media is Evolving. Are You?

I have quite a few friends and acquaintances who are steadfastly resisting any temptation to join Facebook or Twitter. When I ask them why, I usually get some version of “I don’t care about what people are having for dinner”. That’s actually interesting because I do vividly remember the times some 2-3 years ago when both Twitter and Facebook were flooded by such mundane updates. But that has changed.

In fact, I rarely see any message about what people have for dinner anymore. Sure, there is the occasional picture of a spectacularly prepared dish or a cool looking drink but those are usually somewhat interesting. Thanksgivings, of course, comes with dozens of pictures of dead birds on Facebook but that’s part of the spirit - kind of like Christmas decorations. For the most part, the “what’s for dinner” updates have disappeared today.

One or two years ago, most of my running friends including myself were diligently sharing daily updates about our training runs. As a runner, nothing motivates me more than knowing that my friend Joe in Boston is ahead of me in weekly mileage or that my friend Andreas in Germany will compare my pace to his. But I got the message from my non-running Twitter followers and Facebook friends - sometimes rather explicitly - that they don’t care about that level of detail of marathon training. Once, I was even asked how I lost all that weight while getting the unsolicited advice to reduce those running updates in the same conversation... I reduced my training log updates and I noticed that all my running friends did so as well.

What happened is that we have evolved in the way we use social media. What appeared like a great idea and initially received positive responses from our followers, became less interesting and eventually perhaps even annoying. Ultimately, that made us figure out that this is not the right use of social media...for the moment. You can rest assured that the way social media is used today will likely be different a year from now.     

I wonder about those “denialists” who decided to ignore social media altogether. One day, they may join after all - likely when looking for a job - and they will go through the same learning curve - but years behind. I also worry about all of the marketing departments who are fine tuning their marketing campaigns assuming that the way we use social media will remain the same. Well, it won’t. Because social media is evolving. Are you?

PS: When you don't have something interesting to say on social media, it’s OK not to say anything...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Content Management Predictions for 2013

It’s January 1st and as in previous years, I am writing my predictions for the year ahead. Since I have the habit of reviewing my previous predictions in December, I end up waiting with the new ones until January. That has the advantage that I can read everybody else’s predictions first. But there is also pressure to be at least little different. With that, here we go, here are my Technology Predictions for 2013:

1. Facebook hits rocky grounds
I predict, that Facebook will actually lose active users in 2013 or that the volume of interactions will slow down. Obviously, the adoption of any free social service is based on the fine line between the value received vs. the price we pay. That price is measured in exposure to advertising (annoyance) and privacy loss. Under pressure to generate profits, the social vendors will cross the line. The ads are becoming too annoying, particularly on mobile devices, the privacy concerns and endless terms of use changes are becoming too sneaky, and the marketers are increasingly seeing social media as another channel for spam. That will backfire and the usage will go down in 2013.

2. Everything will be digital
The Razorfish founder Jeff Dachis once famously proclaimed that “everything that can be digital, will be digital”. Well, he was wrong because with the advent of 3D printing, everything will be digital. The blueprints and CAD drawings for any object will become a mainstream content type and allow us to load them into the printer and create (almost) any object. For 2013, I predict a major resurgence of engineering drawings management which has been a niche of enterprise content management for years. In 2013, it will gain importance beyond the traditional sectors like oil & gas and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC). OK, I might be pushing my luck on the timeline here but hey, no point predicting what already happened. Right?

3. The rise of intellectual property management
When CAD drawings enter the mainstream and become valued intellectual property (IP), there will be a new wave of piracy. Because the day will come when instead of buying the latest Rolex, it will be much cheaper to get the blueprints from PirateBay and make it yourself. This will generate a new wave of demand for security and IP management. The need for security is obvious - companies will guard their blueprints from thefts and industrial espionage, The new demand for IP management will enable legitimate licensing and sub-contracting work using CAD drawings and any other types of content assets. By the way, I’m predicting a rise in demand. I’m not so sure we will find a practical solution in 2013.

4. Internet of iPhone things
Mobility has been on my list in some form in previous years and it won’t be missing in 2013 either. There has been a lot of talk about Kevin Ashton’s Internet of things already but in 2013, the main focus of innovation will be on devices and systems that use smartphones as a point of control. In the consumer space, we will see more and more new devices such as the Nest thermostat, the Belkin WeMo switch, or the Lockitron door lock. In the enterprise, we will start using smartphones for similar purposes - to control office and lab equipment, to replace authentication tokens, or to open secure doors.

5. Mobile market predictions
As for the mobile device manufacturers, I predict that Apple will continue to dominate by all metrics except for market share which is perhaps a less important metric anyway. It’s like comparing Porsche with Kia - who cares about their market share? What matters more is revenue, earnings, reliability, and customer satisfaction. Google Android will be the most common mobile OS, to a large extent due to feature phones being replaced with Android based phones even by people who don’t use their capabilities much. There will erupt a brutal price war among the Android device vendors in 2013. RIM will continue facing challenges but it will hang on to their niche - there are enough highly loyal users in love with the keyboard and its business usability of email and calendar. Microsoft will continue struggling as their new devices are too expensive and lag behind in application support. I also predict that Microsoft will be forced to go multi-platform with their software strategy in 2013.

6. Censorship will succeed
Governments around the world, including many US agencies, believe that this “free for all, anything goes Internet” is evil. They have been repeatedly launching attempts to control, regulate or censor the Internet by law. So far, they have only succeeded in places like China while most other attempts have failed so far - just remember the SOPA and PIPA proposals that both failed in 2012 and so did the recent UN Internet conference in Dubai. With so many government initiatives to control at least some aspect of the Internet, however, it is inevitable that some of them will succeed. In 2013, we will see the first laws passed in the US or in the EU that will have a practical impact on how we use the Internet for business by introducing new demands for compliance, legal risk mitigation and data sovereignty. BTW, I am really hoping that I get this one wrong as I am a strong proponent of a free, uncensored, and unregulated Internet.

7. New wave of computers
Forget the smartphones and tablets-  they are so 2012! In 2013, we will see the emergence of a new wave of computers that will look very different. They will have the shapes of watches, glasses, helmets, goggles, jewelry, and various pieces of clothes. Typing will be replaced by dictation and gestures - Apple’s Siri may be going through some growing pains but it shows the way. Similarly, Microsoft Kinect and the Leap Motion Controller show how useful can gestures become. The display will move from a screen to head up display (HUD) which will evolve from fighter jet pilot helmets to glasses (like in the Google Glass project) and eventually to contact lenses. The Kickstarter is full of amazingly creative ideas today - just check out the Pebble watch!

8. Responsive web design will be the buzz
With the proliferation of mobile computers and with the new wave of devices coming, there will be an even greater demand for an optimal viewing experience on every type of device, no matter what the screen size, form factor, display resolution, or its technical capabilities. Unfortunately, it is becoming exceedingly expensive for companies to support multiple versions of their mobile websites and mobile apps to deliver the optimal experience to each device. Responsive web design (RWD) promises a solution for this problem by taking advantage of new concepts such as fluid grid design and flexible images. I predict, that RWD will be quite the buzz in 2013.

9. Security finally becomes a market
Information security is an interesting issue. Every customer I speak to emphasizes how critical security is for their organization. Yet, when I probe deeper, the only security measures I usually find are firewalls, HTTPS and strong passwords - perimeter security measures designed to keep the bad actors out rather than to protect the information. The elephant in the room is the fact that information security is still very much an unsolved problem in most organizations. Particularly when we consider the balance of security and convenience, security is a tough nut to crack. For 2013, I predict that customers will finally start to take security seriously. Security will move from words to actions and customers will begin implementing real security measures to protect their information. That leads to my final prediction for 2013:

10. IT strikes back
Consumerization, mobile devices, and social media have conquered the enterprise IT fortress in the last few years. IT departments have been declared obsolete and users have taken over. Well, that will change in 2013. Enterprises come to realize the security, compliance, legal exposure, and intellectual property risks that the new technologies introduced. The CIOs will be asked to address this issue. The solution will likely manifest itself in more stringent corporate policies, greater control of the devices, and more forceful ways to extend the company’s control over its information. No, I am not predicting the end of any of the new technology trends - they are here to stay. But I am predicting that enterprises will find ways to exert more control over their information. The information belongs to the company and not to the users... and certainly not to the consumer services. The IT departments will be responsible for that.

Well, that’s it. These are my predictions for 2013. I hope that you disagree with some of them - otherwise, I would think I wasn’t trying hard enough ;-) In any case, I plan to review the success of my predictions in December. Until then, I hope you will check out my blog from time to time.

Happy new year!