Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Sweat the Small Stuff

November 13, 2014

Collaboration is the essential ingredient for intelligent “workplace” teams, as studies have told us for decades — yet for many enterprise organizations even today, working together easily still remains elusive.

I can point to a few reasons historically for this failure, but more hopefully, I see multiple trends that will change our future.

Turn Quadrants Upside Down

First, for the past twenty years or more, the team collaboration topic has often been approached with the classic 1970 Boston Consulting mindset: solve the largest problem for the largest gain. In fact, coming at “working together” from an individual user-based perspective is a better strategy in today’s product-as-a-service world.

I would argue that IT apps should eliminate small, frustrating, and painful tasks to create instant user gratification. Doing this repeatedly over time, I believe, earns loyalists who are thrilled to use your collaboration tools and are then highly productive.

Take the common collaboration roadblock of trying to share a file. Fixing this alone might dislodge the majority of pain holding back teamwork in your enterprise.

In a typical scenario, a team working together wants to share a large PowerPoint file, but IT blocks large file sends through email. Instead, IT could enable shared folders with a smart phone app, then allow easily copy/pasted folder links sent in email. Work teams would gain immediate file access, even while traveling, to keep collaboration going.

All it takes is prioritizing the user pain.

Focusing on improving one small productivity task increases the likelihood of it getting solved. Choosing the most frustrating or inhibiting user problems to solve generates rampant user engagement — the number one criteria for enterprise software success in a cloud future.

Similarly, using apps that do one thing well can drive productivity through the roof. Sweating the small stuff that holds users back will pay off in team motivation and their day-to-day ability to work together productively.

Respect Muscle Memory

Second, old yet productive working habits have been outright forsaken for the new. If colleagues are adept with email and use it fluently, incorporate that habit into the newest services you deliver.

Allow teams to continue using email as a sharing mechanism while taking away its inefficiencies. Better yet, give them improvements, such as protection from malicious email attachments.

Habits are embedded in muscle memory. The fewer you have to change, the better. How much are your collaboration apps undoing productivity for the sake of productivity?

Adapt to Users, Not to Initiatives

Finally, rethink what’s causing frustration or creating inefficiencies in your teams in the first place. Does solving the root cause of working together really require a complete technical rearchitecture?

Considering that the tenure of corporate leaders continues to drop, fitting collaboration projects into smaller 1-2 year efforts with rapid iteration cycles is critical. Look for creative and innovative solutions that keeps users productive first.

My favorite example is that you don’t have to reconfigure SAP and change your invoice processing workflow, just to solve getting SOWs signed. We simply incorporated electronic signatures into our file sharing app. If an executive is on the road, no need to print, sign, fax and return a document. Just fingertip sign and click to share, all in one place.

Enterprises have enough company-wide initiatives to drive, and coming at collaboration as an entire reconfiguration can lose steam before it ever delights a single user. Adapt your collaboration services to users first, so approved apps are immediately desirable at the grass roots level. And rethink functionality from the user level to uncover potentially simple, shorter-term solutions.

Why the Future Looks Brighter

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and there have been valiant attempts to make collaboration better. Recent studies are looking at how to design the smartest teams possible in the first place so they’re predestined to collaborate, for example.

But from a technology perspective, I see several trends that were not pervasive decades ago. These have changed behaviors and laid the groundwork for us to come at collaboration differently. This is why I’m hopeful things will change for the better.

For IT, for example, the ease of delivering incremental software changes to users has greatly improved. Users know how to self-procure apps. They are on the lookout for, and willing to try, better ways of working. IT can take advantage of this new mindset by delivering the best user-loved solutions. IT can lead impactful changes that address strategic organizational needs, like productivity and global collaboration.

Vendors have changed as well, amidst the popularity of smart devices. The constraints of small screen sizes have forced the quality of software to improve. Only the most essential functions can be presented to today’s users, who are constantly swiping and mobile. This mobile design discipline has made it a requirement to do less things very well, rather than delivering distracting or unused feature sets that might slow users down.

These future trends and an understanding of past failures can help us, as leaders, navigate to gain incredible team efficiencies in the present. Start by solving the painful annoyances that hold teamwork back; carry forward learned productivity habits that work; and focus on users, not initiatives.

Productivity Gets Reimagined when Mobile is the Design Baseline

May 27, 2014

 (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.

In Enterprise Software, Digital Disruptors Can Be Your Guide

December 30, 2013

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?

November 18, 2013

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

September 19, 2013

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.

A Partnership for the New User

May 11, 2011

As you may have heard from EMC World, we’re working with Cisco to deliver an enterprise social collaboration platform. During my keynote yesterday, Murali Sitaram, Vice President and General Manager of the Collaboration Software Group at Cisco, joined me as we demonstrated the power of the Cisco Quad platform with EMC Documentum.

Below is a short conversation Murali and I had to discuss our plans.

The Post PC-Era

May 11, 2011

Yesterday, May 10, I gave a keynote presentation at Momentum at EMC World in Vegas, and shortly after I began to reflect on the past several months which have been a whirlwind.

As most of you know, I joined EMC’s Information Intelligence Group last July after having co-run Doculabs for close to 17 years.  Not knowing how it would feel to move from a “think-tank outfit” to a major enterprise vendor, and my strong obsession for not wanting to make my blog a commercial for a company’s products, I decided to take some time to reflect and hold off on writing blogs. But now I’m back, in a big way. And what a great period for reflection it has been!!

This is a great time to be alive in the high-tech sector.  We are undergoing a major market transition in technology that only occurs once every 10 to 15 years.    So here are my thoughts on how fundamentally (more…)


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