Productivity Gets Reimagined when Mobile is the Design Baseline

Posted May 27, 2014 by Jeetu Patel
Categories: Uncategorized

 (Originally published on Reflections Blog)

ImageWhy bother with 6AM conference calls and 14-hour flights? Because we are at the early beginnings of an era where imaginative thinkers are changing everything in sight – from thermostats to software.

I’m talking specifically about design shifts in mobile enterprise software, the likes of which one day we will look back upon with awe. These past few weeks, I saw it in spades, as we launched Syncplicity’s mobile apps.

What’s different now?

In the first wave of mobile software development, incremental innovation simply brought old functionality to a new device. In the process, fundamentals were often missed.

How frustrating to see a document for review on your mobile screen, yet be unable to edit it? Design was simply your desktop basic functionality, brought awkwardly to your smart phone.

The second wave brought mobile on par with the desktop. Functionality was refactored amidst the new memory and added capabilities of our favorite gadgets. Less and less R&D teams argued if a mobile version of their software was next.

But such design was still a parallel effort, a passenger alongside the driver of monolithic application development. SharePoint is now in the cloud? Interesting, but it doesn’t solve my problems.

The reality is that mobile itself is the new design baseline, cleanly isolated and independent of any lingering PC notions. Mobile is the superset form factor, under which all functionality must be derived and considered.

This third wave of design is what ignites our imagination and makes us want to drive 24/7 to brilliant new productivity solutions.

Once we unleash imagination, it’s only a matter of time before the way we think about “productivity” will change in thrilling ways. Remember what “taking pictures” used to mean? 

It was a time-consuming and disparate routine of carrying camera equipment with you, buying film, configuring the camera settings, and at last, waiting to process the film.

By rethinking “taking pictures” as “sharing moments,” however, those inefficiencies not only disappeared, but new worlds opened up. Ubiquitous devices brought image capture to the masses. Apps made photos easy and addictive to share. And social created a place where all the people to share photos with are constantly present.

The same thing will occur as we rethink “productivity” from the mobile perspective. Many attributes of mobile are barely tapped today: proximity, location and personalization, for example.

And we already we see new segments quickly embracing the third wave first, as inklings of what’s to come:

  • retail workers processing credit card payments without the customer ever waiting in line
  • flight attendants logging meal orders as they walk the aisle with their device
  • citizens never bothering with the red tape to turn on a “land line”

It’s time to think: how else can we eliminate knowledge workers’ wasted time, speed their transactions, and heighten their ability to share their value?

Yes, mobile itself offers rich new design inspiration. But imaginative designers will rethink it all – the meaning of “productivity” included.

Fewer Silos For The Files: Managing Cloud Data

Posted March 21, 2014 by Jeetu Patel
Categories: Cloud, Enterprise and Social Implications, Trends and Predictions

Tags: ,

(Originally published in Data Center Knowledge)

The demand for ubiquitous access to any file, any place on any device has resulted in a wide range of new cloud services over the last five years. While many of these services do deliver to some extent on this promise, they also end up creating entirely new silos of information. Now, when you want to access an important piece of information, you have to remember whether it is on your local hard drive, your shared file system, the document management application or the consumer file sync and share. Or all of the above? These silos exist because there is not just one that satisfies everything you are trying to accomplish.

Vendors don’t necessarily intend to create information silos, but their limited architecture and short-sighted approach forces users to drag and store all content in their system to make it work. This creates significant barriers for users who want to access their files. Where did they save it, is it the most current version and can they even access it from the road?

But wait. What if there was a better way – a method that started to break down all of these silos rather than creating a new one. How would that be? First and foremost, it makes much more sense to open up existing silos than to create new ones that circumvent the infrastructure you’ve already built – and we can now do this.

Bringing Your Data to the Cloud 
An ideal enterprise solution would not copy all the files from the local server and place them in a separate information repository in the cloud as many consumer-centric file sync and share solutions do. Instead, it would simply open up the company’s existing file storage systems, making files and home directories available in the cloud just as they are on the local server. For example, as a tool specifically designed for the enterprise, EMC Syncplicity will be making information from Isilon and many other storage systems accessible automatically via the cloud.

This approach solves a common problem: with so many apps for file sharing, collaboration and productivity, users must often switch between different user interfaces and try to remember where exactly a file is located. This can be a problem if you are just using one file system, and it increases by an order of magnitude with each additional system you use.

As a comparison, think about how much easier your web experience is now that you can log in to consumer apps and sites using Facebook, giving you access to all your Facebook friends and the option to seamlessly share updates from those apps on Facebook. This eliminates steps, saves users time and creates a great user experience.

Unlocking Existing Silos
Furthermore, as the device ecosystem continues to expand and the BYOD trend continues to proliferate, having access to files on every device at all times is becoming less of a perk and more or an expectation. File sharing tools, especially for the enterprise, should unlock existing information silos so they are accessible on all the devices their employees may be using. Documents and files are useless unless they are accessible when, where and how users need them.

Many content management platforms, like Microsoft SharePoint, have thus far only been accessible via PCs connected to an organization’s server due to the lack of a secure, streamlined and cost-effective approach to delivering mobile access. Opening existing document management and file storage infrastructure to mobile, and eventually all connected devices, without requiring a full-scale migration of data is a challenge cloud file sharing services must tackle to truly turn on an increasingly mobile and connected workforce.

Just as files are useless if users can’t access them, a file sync and share solution fails to deliver on its promise when it only mimics the existing experience of yesterday’s technology. Mobile devices have penetrated almost every aspect of consumers’ lives and apps like FlipBoard have redefined how we interact with content, yet most file sharing solutions, like Box and Dropbox, are still simply recreating 20-year-old file trees on a small screen and calling it a mobile app. The companies that are helping move the enterprise into the future, the ones that will ultimately come out on top, are developing truly innovative mobile apps that allow these devices to function as full work platforms that take advantage of contextual elements like location, proximity and social feeds. Features like in-app document editing, simplified folder navigation optimized for the touch interface, and use of mobile-only contextual data such as location and proximity make for a dynamic and powerful user experience on mobile devices.

Breaking down information silos to create a streamlined way for users to interact with their files and get their work done when and where they want is the only way to allow productivity for the evolving workforce. And in the end, it all comes down to how we can be most productive in our work, in the office and everywhere else.

In Enterprise Software, Digital Disruptors Can Be Your Guide

Posted December 30, 2013 by Jeetu Patel
Categories: Enterprise IT Transformation, Uncategorized

Originally published in InformationWeek on December 19th

I continue to be amazed by the rapid pace of innovation in virtually every technology market. Every time you blink, it seems there’s another startup taking on the old guard.

Conventional wisdom in technology is that you need to abandon the existing order when faced with a new bright and shiny product. However, as someone who has worked with both startups and global leaders, I know it cannot be an either/or approach. Scrapping years or decades of investment in infrastructure is foolish, and the innovators who are winning are building their breakthrough tools on top of proven technologies. Two great examples are products I use and love: Flipboard and Nest Thermostat.

By nature, Nest and Flipboard improve upon existing products instead of trying to replace them. For example, instead of creating its own content from scratch, Flipboard compiles content that already exists into a format based on users’ preferences. By the same token, the Nest Thermostat makes no attempt to re-engineer an entire heating/cooling system. Instead, it offers a smarter thermostat that integrates with the heating/cooling infrastructure that’s already in place.
With the enterprise technology space becoming more competitive by the day, you may be asking how we can apply this model to enterprise technology. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the Flipboard and Nest strategies to find out.

Flipboard reimagines existing content

Flipboard recognized that while there is an almost unlimited quantity of content available online, consumers spend a huge amount of time skimming through dozens of sites and hundreds of pages to get to the content that interests them.
So, Flipboard developed breakthrough mobile apps, a polished user interface, and a curated reader-driven content strategy to pull in readers. This formula allowed the company to continue innovating while adding hundreds of thousands of users along the way.
One issue the company needed to address was content producers’ desire to maintain a distinct brand and form relationships with readers. That’s why Flipboard pays such close attention to format and look and feel with features like customizable layouts and user interfaces that adapt to your device. That way, they can keep both the content producers and the readers happy.

Nest makes the system smarter

Nest had the breakthrough insight that, while the actual delivery mechanisms for residential heating and air conditioning systems were working well, human errors and inefficiencies of traditional thermostats were leading to wasted energy and rising heating and cooling costs.

Nest came up with an elegant and simple solution that worked and has continued to release new versions of the thermostat and its software, improving its simplicity and user friendliness. Nest has also continued to develop products beyond its initial market beachhead, including a smart smoke/carbon monoxide detector, which is a logical extension that naturally appeals to those who own or are interested in the Nest Thermostat.

It’s clear that Nest has made it a priority to know its customer base: the homeowner. Homeowners are making the purchase decision and need to be convinced of the product’s value. So, Nest offers rebates, proof of energy and money savings, and the option to easily control the product through your mobile device.

Enterprise technology: How does it fit the mold?

As Flipboard and Nest show, new technologies don’t need to reinvent the wheel. This is even more important in the enterprise, where companies have invested millions of dollars in their IT systems.

Take Splunk, for example. IT groups need analytics on all the critical systems they manage to better understand how they are performing. Rather than require IT admins to provide logs in a standard format, Splunk designed its system to import files in any format directly from the systems IT manages, and developed a dashboard of insights and alerts. It fundamentally changed IT operations without completely starting from scratch.

On the other hand, most cloud file storage solutions have taken a different approach. Every company has a system for managing its files and information, but new technologies such as cloud, mobile, and social tools have changed the way users share and access data. In response to these major technology trends, popular new tools for file sync and sharing, like Box and Dropbox, are creating new information silos that are not integrated with existing file systems. While these services are easy to use, you must drag the files you want to share into a proprietary cloud one by one.

There is clearly value in these new solutions, but a better approach is the Nest and Flipboard method: Incorporate new capabilities such as user-friendly mobile apps, hybrid cloud storage options, and newsfeed-like streams on file changes, but integrate them with existing corporate file servers, security standards, and compliance regulations.

Continuous innovation has been key for both Flipboard and Nest, whether it’s in well designed mobile apps or a constant cycle of hardware and software updates. Established industries and processes like heating and cooling systems, the publishing industry, and enterprise IT exist for a reason: They are effective solutions to real problems. If new ideas don’t fit within the existing frameworks, they can cause more disruption than they are worth. Instead, be like Nest, Flipboard, and Splunk: Disrupt, but don’t break.

Mobility and Security Spark Innovation in File Sharing Today, But What Else Tomorrow?

Posted November 18, 2013 by Jeetu Patel
Categories: Sync and Share, Uncategorized

History keenly documents how the industrial age push for productivity eventually led to an innovative electric light bulb. That contained energy, in turn, vastly impacted how people worked, lived, traveled, and experienced our world.

ImageI don’t think it’s a far stretch today to look at work and personal lifestyle pressures that are prompting innovation in our content management space. Two trends in particular are at the forefront of our new Syncplicity release today – Enabling Mobile File Sharing and Protecting the Mobile, Enabled Users.

1. Enabling Mobile File Sharing

The power, storage capabilities, and screen style of mobile devices has not only changed how people share content, but has catalyzed their motivation to share it. When it’s intuitive and touch enabled to share files with colleagues, the odds quickly improve to do it more often. As we’ve seen with the skyrocketing number and usage of consumer apps, offering a compelling, highly functional and well-designed interface builds volumes of users.

Coming at mobility from a content management lens, the average worker today owns about 3-7 devices and constantly interacts with unstructured data, especially Office files. Mobility to them means intense travel schedules, a mix between personal and commercial on the same device, and time pressures forcing the need for significant productivity. They have little time to respect process, policy, or seemingly “intrusive” security controls.

These dimensions of mobility have sparked innovation in our Syncplicity design principle.

Make file sharing a simple, productive, and enhanced experience that makes users want to use it again and again. Use a cloud-delivery model to keep features comparable, if not better than, innovations in consumer apps, to ensure users consistently use it over time. And keep adding capabilities to shave off user time, worry, or frustration.

But mobility cannot be viewed as a stand-alone pressure, else security risks will elevate together with usage. Just like electricity eventually spawned the need for circuit breakers that prevented fires, a powerful file sharing solution needs to address security concerns as well.

2. Protecting the Mobile, Enabled Users

While the free flow of files may thrill and delight end users, it may also alarm and disturb those charged with protecting an organization. Files may contain sensitive information provoking legal action, intellectual property, internal process instructions that can be exploited, and many other truly harmful types of content if fallen into the wrong hands.

Spark_Launch GuyTogether with innovation for mobile users, the latest Syncplicity release equally builds in several powerful security capabilities for IT professionals. Set policy across files. Graduate the levels of protection based on the user’s geography, profile, or other parameters. Choose whether data resides in the cloud, in your private network, or in a hybrid environment.

Thanks to the intuitive design that attracts users, IT can also set security policy across a single solution that’s happily and voluntarily used by the majority of stakeholders. Finally, user convenience is not at the expense of compliance, and security in fact enhances productivity rather than detracting from it.

What’s Next?

As I look at these two formerly opposing trends and see how we’ve woven innovation together to address them, I also think about what’s next. Now that users can safely share files around the world, will they create more of them? Now that we have the broadest and safest levels of reach for content, will global knowledge and productivity rates rise? Once users get a taste of “awesome” secure apps in their enterprise, will that pressure HR benefit tools, Sales tools and other enterprise apps to improve as well?

I welcome your comments on what impact Syncplicity innovations might have on your organization and your ecosystems of vendors, partners, and customers. Please share your thoughts below.

When the Disrupted Become the Disruptors

Posted September 19, 2013 by Jeetu Patel
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

Conventional wisdom holds that the consumerization of IT is going to take over virtually every market and that the entrenched enterprise vendors are in big trouble. This is no more apparent than in file sync and share where it is suggested that the new kids on the block are going to own the market at the expense of the establishment and that the needs of end users will trump those of enterprise IT.

However, as someone who is in the trenches of this market every day, it is obvious that this is an overly simplistic view and ignores a number of truisms of enterprise user and IT requirements that aren’t going away.

Our view is that strategic and trusted enterprise technology vendors not only have a role in the future of end user computing, but that their customers are asking that we help drive this transformation for them. This takes innovation and risk-taking, but before I expand on that, a little background.

The Reports that Enterprise IT is Dead are Greatly Exaggerated

Some vendors in this market are trying to be all things to all people, pursuing a one-size-fits-all approach. This assumes that users will simply adopt what they want and IT will be helpless to reverse the trend. In reality, enterprise IT is alive, well, and very much aware of what is occurring in the file sync and share market. And they are increasingly controlling the selection and usage of the services, which cannot be defined in singular or generic terms. Consumers, SMBs and enterprises have different requirements and success requires focus— it is practically impossible to serve the needs of all of these markets in the long term. In fact, end users have greatly different requirements – the needs of an individual that wants to share photos is very different from one who is sharing business-critical files.

The enterprise might be the trickiest market to solve because you are essentially going after two audiences – end users and IT – whose needs seem to always be in diametric opposition to each other. To succeed, you need to achieve a critical balance.

1. To be considered for enterprise deployments, you MUST have the blessing of IT. As the gatekeepers of technology deployments, they are never going to evaluate and bless solutions that touch a company’s most important asset – its information – without thorough compliance and security testing.

2. Getting 25 users in a small department in a Fortune 100 company to use your solution does not make you an enterprise solution or even make it easier to become the standard in a large company. The iPhone didn’t become an accepted enterprise device until it satisfied IT’s security concerns with email.

3. That said, enterprise IT knows that it needs to adapt and evolve. Users must love the enterprise file sync and share solution and have it become part of their work routine. If your IT department blesses the solution and no one uses it, then you have wasted your time and resources.  

Disrupt but Don’t Break

While enterprise file sync and share has emerged as a critical service, for it to be embraced in the enterprise, it must disrupt old, inefficient ways of doing business, but not break either your IT infrastructure or your employees’ work habits.

1. Frictionless user experiences trump feature bloat. You cannot change the way people normally send, access, edit and save files – from any device on which they are working. File sync and share has to be an easy extension of what they are already doing on their laptop, tablet or smartphone, not a completely new paradigm.

2. Enterprises have spent billions of dollars on SharePoint, file servers, and other technologies to store content. Enterprises won’t solve the “silo problem” by spending billions more creating a new silo and assuming their customers will move everything there. That approach is the reason why we have so many silos to begin with! Any new solution must be an easy overlay to your existing systems – IT departments will not rip out and replace their existing investments.

3. Enterprises have an enormous IT and legal risk in meeting regulatory and security compliance. You must be able to support the compliance, data residency and security policies of the enterprise—and that means giving IT the flexibility to work within the existing security and compliance infrastructure they’ve already established. Do not force a new one on them. If you do, strike the word enterprise out of your product name.

With these rules in mind, how do existing enterprise vendors lead the way? Simply put, to avoid being disrupted they need to be willing to drive the disruption themselves. While clearly a consumer example, Apple did just that by releasing iTunes on the iPhone even though they had a significant franchise with the iPod. And it worked.

For file sync and share market, disruption means providing your customers flexibility. It means supporting and integrating with a wide range of cloud-based and on premise storage solutions. It means adopting business practices that are very different from the traditional enterprise technology approach, such as deploying key services in the cloud to maintain a high pace of innovation, pricing on a consumption model to better align with customer adoption, and making an inordinate investment in mobile apps and the end user experience.

For those of us who have been and remain completely focused on the enterprise, this is a very exciting time. We are demonstrating that IT gets what they need and can serve the needs of the business user. The result: the incumbents have a legitimate chance to drive the disruption in the market.

Three Rules for Building Highly Usable Enterprise SaaS Solutions

Posted August 30, 2013 by Jeetu Patel
Categories: Cloud, Hoping for a Discussion, Sync and Share, Trends and Predictions

Tags: ,

Although SaaS companies like Netsuite and Salesforce.com have been around awhile, the market is still in the early stages of delivering software as a service to enterprises. There are two schools of thought on this.

One common mindset is that enterprise IT organizations will eventually have to move in the direction of SaaS as users dictate how software gets consumed.

Another view is that consumer-originated SaaS companies have the user interface down, but don’t understand the enterprise. And that large enterprises will never accept this model.

I believe reality is somewhere in between. The challenge will be giving enterprise users consumer-grade ease of use with enterprise-grade security and compliance.

At Syncplicity we have formulated three ways vendors can successfully offer highly usable—in fact beautiful—applications for the enterprise with zero compromise.

Rule #1 – Build Beautiful and Frictionless Applications

Everyone knows it’s important to delight the user. When you build a great app, user engagement will be high and measurable.

At Syncplicity, these are our guiding principles for driving usage through design:

  • Use modern UI paradigms. Users expect apps to look sharp and modern. Incorporate best-in-class design: clean and simple fonts, clever scrolling, and motion. Your apps will go viral.
  • Inherent personality of the OS. Users adopt different devices because they love the UI. They aren’t interested in a generic or atypical experience.
  • Eliminate extra steps. Our goal is for users to take “no extra steps” to get the job done with our service. We adapt to the way they work rather than forcing artificial change.
  • Obsess over use cases. Clearly define specific use cases before designing new features. Ask questions about who is using the app, under what conditions, and what they are trying to accomplish. If the feature doesn’t align, it shouldn’t make it into the app.
  • De-featuring is a feature. Offering too many features actually discourages usage. Monitoring tools assess what features are being used. Eliminate the rest.

Rule #2 – Don’t compromise security

The best enterprise apps provide security and compliance without over-burdening the user. Sometimes, they can even enhance the experience.

The Syncplicity approach:

  • Protection can be seamless. Single Sign On is an easy way to enhance security while accommodating users. Try to leverage customers’ existing security infrastructure rather than replicate it.
  • Set it and forget it. Using centralized policies offers security and compliance without requiring users or IT to take extra steps. We recommend setting a policy for external folder sharing rather than asking admins to set up secure workspaces.
  • Policy-driven compliance. Policy-driven approaches to data location ensure compliance without impacting user experience.
  • Protect by enabling (and monitoring). When users bring their own device to work, data is at risk, often without IT’s knowledge. Controls and meaningful and automatic reporting let IT manage the unmanageable.
  • Hands off the data. One of the biggest inhibitors to cloud adoption: questions about who owns, or has access to, customer data. SaaS vendors need to clearly state that they don’t own customer data and can’t use or even see customer data.
  • Trust but verify. It is critical for SaaS vendors to go through the appropriate certification process to make customers comfortable with their selection.

Rule #3 – If it doesn’t get deployed (properly), it won’t get used

The proliferation of consumer tools in the enterprise has convinced some in IT that they don’t need to focus on deployment anymore. That may be true at the individual, team, or even departmental level. But enterprise vendors need to focus on “deployment at scale” as much as on user features. Here are our recommendations:

  • Make deployment easier. Then users can get started right away. For IT, this ranges from making it easy to provision and pre-configure user accounts to working with existing infrastructure such as authentication and storage.
  • Not all users are alike. Different groups require different configurations and policies. Highly usable enterprise apps need to accommodate all without creating a burden on the user or IT.
  • There’s no such thing as “no training needed.” No matter how simple the app, when deployed at scale, guidance is needed. Be prepared to offer users best practices to drive adoption.
  • Monitor and adjust. It’s important to give users (and IT) the tools they need to monitor and ultimately optimize and promote proper system usage.

The age of delivering consumer-grade experiences within enterprise-grade apps is a relatively new phenomenon, and I expect these rules will keep evolving. But the trend is here to stay. The way we design, build, and deploy enterprise apps has been permanently, and positively, transformed forever. And that’s a great thing for users, IT, and vendors alike!

Enterprise Software: 5 Ways SaaS Changes Everything & 3 Ways It Doesn’t

Posted March 27, 2013 by Jeetu Patel
Categories: Sync and Share

Tags: , ,

Originally Published on: http://bitly.com/10wfvga

As enterprise software moves into the world of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and consumer technology innovations invade the workplace, how companies evaluate enterprise software vendor changes dramatically in many way. Yet, in some ways, it remains the same.

First, five things that SaaS changes forever:

1. Quality User Experience Drives Adoption

Gone are the days when IT could mandate software solutions with a less than stellar user experience. Today, users will go rogue and adopt consumer apps over enterprise-approved software if it makes them more productive and more mobile. Before you select an enterprise SaaS solution, put yourself in the users’ seat and compare the experience to leading consumer apps. Do they match up? If not, you better keep looking.

2. Simplicity Trumps Feature-Rich

For decades, enterprise software providers have jammed features into their products to meet every IT and user need. The mobile first, cloud-computing world is all about apps that do one thing really, really well. A portfolio of simple, elegant products that are easy to use and easy to implement makes more sense than a complex, comprehensive solution with a long roll-out time and a steep learning curve.

3. Continuous Improvement Is Expected

The 18-month product release cycle is a thing of the past. Today’s users demand constant improvements to the way they work – without radical changes that require retraining or disrupt productivity. And you’ll find it’s a great advantage to have your vendor improve features without having to install any software updates. Ask your SaaS providers how they maintain their products with regular releases that streamline and bring the best to the top. What is their pace of innovation?

4. You’re In The Driver’s Seat

One big change in enterprise software is the shift from perpetual licensing that hits capital expense budgets to subscription-based pricing that hits the operational expense budget. Software in the cloud requires no capital investment, expensive roll out or prolonged training. With relatively low initial investements, if a service doesn’t solve the problem or users don’t adopt it, cancel your subscription and move on.

5. Your Success Is Critical To The SaaS Vendor’s Success

Because there are no huge upfront costs, SaaS vendors have to keep customers happy on an ongoing basis. Enterprises have no problem paying good money for software that delivers value, they just have a problem paying upfront for technology that they are not likely to use.

And now, three fundamental ways your relationship with your vendor doesnot change.

1. You Still Want To know And Trust Your Provider

No matter how much digitization permeates our lives, people will continue to make large software or Software-as-a-Service purchases from people they know and trust. But this is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to partner with vendor in it for the long haul and are accountable beyond any one product or service.

2. Security, Compliance And Management Still Matter

IT technology restrictions may not seem logical to users, but the need to mitigate risk and comply with requirements remains and enterprise reality. A SaaS provider may be highly secure and have a terrific consumer following, but if it doesn’t meet the compliance bar, it doesn’t belong in the enterprise.

3. You Still Need To Know What’s Coming

SaaS companies that cater to the consumer market often introduce new features by rolling them out to users even before they tell them. Enterprises need predictability and a transparency about upcoming changes. Updates may have important implications for security, compliance, compatibility and workflow. Make sure your SaaS vendors communicate proactively.

Gone are the days when IT could mandate which tools were used where. People want to work as efficiently as possible, anywhere, on any device. That dramatically affects how enterprises choose and buy their software, but some things never change.


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