Archive for the ‘Trends and Predictions’ category

Fewer Silos For The Files: Managing Cloud Data

March 21, 2014

(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.

Three Rules for Building Highly Usable Enterprise SaaS Solutions

August 30, 2013

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!

9 Reasons To Choose A Corporate Job Over A Startup

March 21, 2012

I recently came across an article in FastCompany that almost reflects conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley.  The article was titled the– “8 Reasons to Choose a Startup Over a Corporate Job” – this inspired me to write a post from the opposite perspective.  This is more for those that haven’t had the opportunity to work in both environments and are (more…)

Social Content Governance: Who Provides It? How should it be Provided?

May 13, 2010

The Enterprise Content Management (ECM) industry has gone through significant transformations over the course of the past decade.  A seminal event that got ECM on the mainstream map was the Enron debacle a few years ago, followed by Sarbanes Oxley, followed by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure changes that occurred in late 2008. My point is that a series of events increased the need for better information governance, and the logical suppliers were those that provided information management capabilities using their ECM technologies. 

It can be argued right now that information governance as a market might even be a larger addressable market than the ECM market over the next few years, largely because of increased regulation and significant exposure to organizations from mismanagement and poor governance of information. 

But I think there is a larger problem that needs to be solved by these information governance initiatives: the need for governance of the social content  is starting to be generated within organizations at a very rapid pace. Wikis, ad hoc collaborative content, microblogs, and blogs like these typically don’t have good governance policies enforced around them. Those suppliers that provide solutions to address this problem will find themselves in high demand. Those that don’t effectively position themselves for it will be at a great disadvantage due to the rapid growth of social business content. 

Coming up with effective solutions won’t be easy, however. If usability and governance aren’t completely balanced, enforcement will be nearly impossible to achieve. Given the popularity and proliferation of cloud-based models in social computing, it might be an ideal time for the ECM vendors to bring about information governance capabilities as a cloud service.  Furthermore, it will be imperative for (more…)

Using Social Computing to Accelerate ECM Adoption

April 20, 2010

Last week I had a post on 8 ways to accelerate adoption for social computing. In this post, I want to tackle the much harder question; that of accelerating adoption for your enterprise content management (ECM) implementation.

While accelerating adoption of social computing and collaboration (SC&C) is a great opportunity, the inability to accelerate adoption of ECM systems is clearly a significant problem.

Therefore, I wanted to take a slightly different approach to this issue. But before we get into the mechanics on how to accelerate ECM adoption, it might make sense to explore why ECM adoption remains so poor. Below are the top 3 reasons that I believe contribute to the lack of broad scale adoption of ECM: (more…)

Why Your Social Computing Strategy Matters to Your eDiscovery Project

March 18, 2010

Organizations are quickly realizing the need to build a social strategy for their business.  This includes exploring how Facebook and Twitter-like functionality can be brought to the enterprise.

The sense of urgency for developing such a social strategy has been primarily driven by the consumer experience of individuals.  When consumers are far more productive at home than at work, they start to demand similar tools and capabilities with which they can interact with each other even at work.  And if they don’t’ get those capabilities at work, they start using tools available to them at home for work use.

While this is getting to be an increasingly accepted concept, what organizations at large haven’t done a particularly good job in is (more…)

8 Essentials to Consider for Social Computing and Collaboration in Business

March 18, 2010

2009 was the year for social services taking off for consumers.  2010 seems like the year where momentum is rampantly building for social services and software use in business.

However, risk exposure for organizations actually being successful with social computing and collaboration (SC&C) can’t be ignored.  Here are some factors that can contribute to an increased probability of success for organizations:

1. Focus on Adoption: If Warren Buffett were to simplify SC&C, he would probably say something like: Rule #1, Focus on Adoption.  Rule #2, Don’t forget Rule #1.  If there is a single criterion to bet on for the success of social computing, it should be to encourage adoption.  This is a viral phenomenon, and that is the best part of it.  Disproportionately focus effort on adoption acceleration!!

2. Ensure a Very Iterative Deployment Model: One way to ensure failure in social computing and collaboration is to treat it like an ERP project.  This cannot be an 18 month long project. It must have short planning, execution and iteration cycles with a maniacal focus on measurement of behavior, trends and usage patterns.

3. Recognition of the “Power Law of Participation”: 50% of content on Wikipedia is contributed by approximately 0.5% of the user base.  This participatory variability is a fascinating dynamic.  And I don’t deserve credit for the concept.  Ross Mayfield, founder of Socialtext was the first to coin the term “Power Law of Participation”.  (more…)


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