Voices in AI – Episode 59: A Conversation with Tiger Tyagarajan

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About this Episode

Episode 59 of Voices in AI features host Byron Reese and Tiger Tyagarajan talking about AI, augmented intelligence, and its use in the enterprise. Tiger Tyagarajan is the President and CEO at GenPact. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering, and he also holds an MBA.
Visit www.VoicesinAI.com to listen to this one-hour podcast or read the full transcript.

Transcript Excerpt

Byron Reese: This is Voices in AI, brought to you by GigaOm, I’m Byron Reese. Today I’m so excited my guest is Tiger Tyagarajan, he is the President and CEO at GenPact. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering, and he also holds an MBA. Welcome to the show Tiger.
Tiger Tyagarajan: Byron, great to be on the show, thank you.
So let’s start, tell me about GenPact, what your mission is and how it came about.
Our mission continues to be, Byron, to work with global enterprises in a variety of industries, to actually help them become more competitive in the markets they are in. We do that by actually helping them undertake change agendas—transformation agendas to drive value for them—either by helping them drive growth or better pricing, or better risk management or lower fraud, better working capital, better cash flow etc.
Our history goes back to when we were set up as an enterprise and 100% subsidiary of the General Electric company (GE) in the late 90s. Then in 2005, seven years into our existence we spun off into a separate company, so that we could serve other clients. Today we are about $3 billion in revenue, serving 700 clients across the globe. GE continues to be a big relationship of ours, but only accounts for less than 10% of our revenue, as compared to everyone else that accounts for the balance of about 95%.
And tell me, you’re using artificial intelligence to achieve that mission in some cases. Can you talk about that, like what you’re doing?
So Byron, early days, I would say about 5+ years back, we came to the conclusion that digital is going to pretty dramatically change the way work gets done along many dimensions. We picked 12 different digital technologies to actually bring into the company, build capabilities, and change the way a lot of our services get delivered, and a lot of the way work gets done by our clients, and one of them we picked was artificial intelligence. Within the family of AI, we picked computer vision, we picked computational linguistics, we picked machine learning, three examples that are very relevant to the kind of services we offer. We’ve gone down the path of building those capabilities, acquiring those capabilities, partnering with other companies in the ecosystem on these capabilities, so that we can change the way work gets done and services will get delivered, in, I would say, a dramatic fashion that I would suspect some of us could not have imagined.
Well, don’t just leave it there, give me an example of something dramatic that’s happened.
I’ll give you a couple. Some of the clients that we deal with are banks, and think about a bank that is in the business of small and medium business lending. So half a million dollar leases for equipment or a loan for equipment to a mid-market company, that is actually manufacturing a product somewhere in Ohio etc. And the way the small business lending world works is that the customer gives to the sales person a bunch of documents, and this would be financial statements of the company, cash flows of the company etc. A lot of those documents are produced by these companies, in their own way they are audited by a small audit firm, somewhere in the vicinity and therefore they are written up in different ways, with different accounting standards and so on.
Now when a bank receives it, typically they would have to change it to actually match their understanding of cash flow the way they define it. They have to recast all the numbers, they have to read the footnotes, and then after a few days, they have 5 questions to ask, so they go back to the customer, ask those questions, and finally [it] takes about 15 days, 20 days in some cases to say, “hey customer, I’ve given an approval for half a million dollars, go buy our equipment.”
Now, in today’s world, that is way too long. Now if you bring in a combination of being able to read those documents, read unstructured data, read the language in the footnotes, interpret it using computational linguistics that then converts it into a specific standard financial statement in the way that particular bank understands financial statements, the way their definition works… You could actually argue that I could take a decision, the bank would take a decision in 30 minutes.
So think about the ability to tell a customer that your application for a loan to buy your equipment is approved in 30 minutes versus 3 weeks. I mean that makes a huge difference to the small/medium enterprise, that makes a huge difference to their business, their ability to grow, and if you think about the U.S. and if you think about small/medium enterprises in the U.S., that is the backbone of this economy, we’re beginning to see the use of this in a number of banking relationships.
I would say it’s still early days, and I would say it could make a huge difference to the top line of the banks, to the pricing power of the banks, to the ability to actually satisfy your customer dramatically. I think that is a great example of some of the ways that service changes versus a human being spending a lot of their time in actually passing the data before they take a decision. Now in the end the decision, by the way, is still taken by the human being who brings their expertise which is why we think about AI, and it’s always a combination of man + machine.
Listen to this one-hour episode or read the full transcript at www.VoicesinAI.com
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Byron explores issues around artificial intelligence and conscious computers in his new book The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity.

Blockchain, its new rival, and their future in the enterprise

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are already starting to shake up the financial services industry. They have also got entrepreneurs thinking about other applications for the blockchain technology that underlies them, including ones that address various processes inside non-financial companies such as contracts, audits and shipping. The digital signatures that certify each transaction and the distributed, write-only online ledger that constitute the core of the blockchain tech have the potential to offer even more security in these and other areas than more traditional approaches used by businesses.
Blockchain isn’t the only game in town either. The Linux Foundation recently revealed that it is leading an open source effort to develop an alternative to bitcoin’s underlying tech. The initiative, which has been dubbed the Open Ledger Project, is being supported by a coalition of leading financial services and tech companies, including Wells Fargo, State Street, the London Stock Exchange Group, Cisco, Intel, VMware and IBM. IBM, which has been a driving force behind the project, is reportedly contributing many thousands of lines of code to it as well as considerable developer resources.
The new kid on the block will have some catching up to do with blockchain, which is already being employed in some innovative ways. Nasdaq OMX, the parent company of the NASDAQ stock exchange, wants to use the tech to oversee trades in the stock of private firms and the Securities and Exchange Commission recently approved a plan by Overstock.com that involves the online retailer issuing stock using blockchain technology. Startups such as Digital Asset Holdings and Coinbase are also looking to profit from growing interest in digital tracking and trading using the new approach.
The firms that gain traction here will get plenty of attention. Investment banking firm Magister Advisors thinks that financial institutions will be spending a total of over $1 billion on blockchain-related projects in 2017. And finance is just one industry where the new technology could drive significant change. In the music world, startups such as PeerTracks and Bittunes are aiming to use it to revolutionize the way music is bought and shared. And in the art world, Verisart is harnessing the blockchain to improve the way art is secured and verified.
Looking at enterprise markets, there is a huge opportunity to apply blockchain technology or other variants in any place that involves swaps, trades or exchanges. One of the most obvious applications is in contractual situations where there is a need for proof that various parties are committed to a transaction. Companies such as Block Notary and Bitproof are developing ways to bind digital signatures into the blockchain and some firms are also experimenting with the technology to create escrow contracts that hold money on account until mutual agreement is recorded.
Another area where I expect to see more activity using blockchain technology is in auditing. Deloitte is one of a number of professional services firms that is experimenting with distributed digital ledgers. Here, transactions can be posted into a blockchain, which would apply a timestamp and act as a repository. Typically, auditors only choose a sample from a set of transactions to check; but using the new approach, it may well be possible to verify a much broader range of transactions securely and cost-effectively. There are a lot of regulatory issues still to be ironed out, but the opportunity to provide certainty with significantly less friction is a compelling one.
There is also a big opportunity to use the technology to improve shipping and supply chain management. An example of a startup here is Thingchain, which is applying a bitcoin-inspired cryptosystem to multiple use cases, including proving the provenance of goods and who owns them.
Many companies are still learning about the potential of blockchain technologies, so it may be some time before we see broad adoption beyond finance. But the potential is significant—and not only in the areas that I’ve outlined above. Entrepreneurs are already exploring enterprise applications that cover everything from patent registration to recording the results of boardroom votes. Expect to see more and more businesses joining the blockchain gang in 2016 and beyond.
Martin Giles is a partner at Wing Venture Capital (@Wing_VC). He was previously a journalist with The Economist.

Facebook At Work Will Quickly Change Enterprise Social

It may not yet be generally available, but Facebook at Work is a quickly evolving solution that will change how enterprises think about and conduct social interactions. It will also dramatically change, if not eliminate, the single-person role of Community Manager.
Carrie Basham Young, an experienced and respected social business strategist, published a series of blog posts on Facebook at Work last week. Her main thesis across these posts was that Facebook is playing a long game in which the line between social interaction in people’s personal lives and at work becomes blurred or disappears altogether. Facebook is betting that it can change enterprise social to more closely resemble the way that people interact outside of work, on Facebook.
Young made many other astute observations in the posts, including,

  • Facebook controls the message with respect to its product and the social networking industry in mainstream media
  • Adoption (logging in for the first time) does not equal engagement (ongoing, purposeful use)
  • Facebook at Work is “incredibly easy” to use and may nearly eliminate the need for user training
  • Facebook at Work’s extreme end-user focus may cause problems for enterprises, and IT staff at big companies will have a negative view of Facebook at Work until it incorporates enterprise-grade identity management, security and information lifecycle management functionality
  • Facebook has the power to change the entire conversation, user expectations and their behavior without input from currently active community managers

Changing Nature of Work and Organizations

The present (and future) trend in the workplace is toward fewer managers in less hierarchical organizational structures. However, eliminating roles that command others’ work does not equate with getting rid of those who guide and coordinate work. The need for people who can design, facilitate and monitor people interactions within business networks will only increase as authority, responsibility and accountability are decentralized across the employee base of an organization.
If Young’s assessment of the irreplaceable contributions of community managers is correct, then Facebook’s intention to minimize or eliminate them may be a fatal mistake. Instead, Facebook at Work should give all employees access to the tools that Young cites as necessary for successful community management. By doing so, Facebook would accelerate the existing trend of democratizing authority and distributing work ownership. Everyone would be responsible for contributing to the management of communities in which they are members, and stewardship of them would shift contextually.
This vision is not unprecedented. Over the last two decades, Knowledge Management (KM) has moved away from being a top-down activity started and executed by an individual situated fairly high in a company’s organizational chart. Instead, the notion of Personal KM has gained favor, making all employees responsible for creating, capturing, sharing and using knowledge within their company.
It is possible that day-to-day community management will move in the same direction and become a distributed responsibility and activity. Young clearly acknowledged this when she wrote,

“Facebook will maintain a pure focus on viral adoption, resulting in an industry-wide slow shift away from the concept of managed communities and toward the concept of ad-hoc, self-driven collaboration as a new normal employee behavior”

I disagree with Young’s interpretation of Facebook’s goal for Facebook at Work though. I think Facebook seeks to de-emphasize or eliminate community managers, but not community management. It appears that Facebook at Work has been designed for distributed, bottom-up community coordination, rather than top-down, imposed management. (I sincerely hope that Facebook at Work does not intend to have communities ruled by algorithms that decide which topics and interactions are given preference in an employee’s activity stream.) While this will be unappealing to existing community managers, Facebook’s vision for more self-governed collaboration is consistent with the larger trends that are distributing and democratizing work coordination in increasingly flat, networked organizational structures.

Enterprise Social Will Change Sooner Rather Than Later

Young is right that Facebook at Work will upset the status quo in enterprise social and community management, but I think her timeline is too long. This change is likely to happen in 3 years or less, rather than the 5-10 years she predicts.
It will be faster because Facebook can learn from other vendors in adjacent enterprise software market segments, most notably Box and Dropbox in the Enterprise File Sync and Sharing space. Like Facebook, both of those companies began as consumer-oriented services that emphasized user experience over other considerations, including breadth and depth of functionality. Box has since built an offering that meets many of the security, privacy, administration and integration requirements of business customers.
Dropbox has also undertaken that journey, although it did not begin it until well after Box started. That is an advantage in some ways. Dropbox is moving down the learning curve quickly because it has watched Box and learned from its strategic decisions taken and tactical moves made to effect the consumer-to-enterprise shift.
Facebook will do the same, gaining insight from both Box and Dropbox. This will allow Facebook at Work to become enterprise-ready in a fraction of the time that most expect. Watch for Facebook to gradually expand beta access to Facebook at Work over the coming months, then make a version that meets most enterprise requirements generally available by the end of 2016.

Embedded Experiences Are Coming to the Browser

One of the most interesting and valuable developments in enterprise social software (ESS) over the last few years has been the introduction of embedded experiences. Simply put, these are event-driven notifications, usually from other enterprise applications and systems, that surface within the activity stream of an ESS application. Embedded experiences go beyond merely notifying of something important; they also allow one or more actions to be taken to move a business process to the next step.
chatter notification vacation approval
 
Embedded experiences are great, but they have been written in proprietary code tied to a specific ESS vendor’s offering. It has not been possible to reuse actionable notifications across vendors’ solutions.
Google has announced a new feature in the latest beta version of its Chrome browser that will provide an open standard alternative for the delivery of extended experiences. Chrome 48 Beta enables developers to quickly create notifications with buttons that let users complete tasks. Those notification can be pushed from browser-based applications and webpages, as well as from Chrome OS applications and extensions to the Chrome browser.
Google and Mozilla employees have contributed to the development of the fledgling Notifications API standard under the auspices of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) community. This specification is what has been implemented in Google’s Chrome 48 Beta.
A Notification Generator built to define HTML-based embedded experiences has been created by Peter Beverloo. The generator shows how easy it is to define an embedded experience that can appear in any HTML5-compliant web browser.

Notification GeneratorSource: http://tests.peter.sh/notification-generator/#actions=1;;requireInteraction=true

As previously noted, embedded experiences have been proprietary to individual vendor’s applications and platforms. Google’s beta implementation of the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification is a first important step toward embedded experiences that will work across operating systems and applications. When the feature is properly vetted and becomes part of the stable release of Chrome (and, we assume, Mozilla’s Firefox browser), open, actionable notifications will be reality.
This is important because it will make the development and use of embedded experiences far more practical and widespread. Enterprise software vendors who choose to implement the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification will empower their customers to more easily create interoperability with other vendors’ browser-based tools. Actionable data embedded in notifications will be able to be passed between systems, business process execution will be accelerated, and personal productivity will be increased.
This news further intensifies the browser-based versus operating system-dependent application debate, especially with regards to mobile computing. The current preference for native applications on mobile devices will be challenge to the uptake of the Notifications API specification, given its dependence on the Web browser. Development of more of these types of Web standards is precisely what is needed to swing the pendulum back toward browser-based applications.

Atlassian, Slack, and the promise of ChatOps

The consumerization of enterprise IT is entering an exciting new phase. The process of bringing consumer-inspired technologies into the workplace has been accelerated by the spread of smartphones and tablets imported by employees fed up with antediluvian office tech. We’ve also seen the introduction of applications such as Salesforce’s Chatter and Microsoft’s Yammer, which mimic the likes of Facebook and other social media platforms. The latest phase of this megatrend is the rise of enterprise messaging apps, which have been inspired by hugely successful consumer offerings such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Within the corporate world, services such as Slack and HipChat are spreading fast, which helps explain why the companies behind them have attracted lofty valuations from investors. HipChat’s creator, Atlassian, which is preparing to go public, set its IPO price range this week at $16.50 to $18.50 a share. A price at the midpoint of that range would value Atlassian at $3.6 billion. One of the reasons the company is attracting so much interest is that enterprise messaging apps are morphing into platforms that have a range of other business applications embedded in them so that people no longer need to leave the chat environment to use other software. This phenomenon has given rise to a new buzzword: “ChatOps”.
Signs of the shift towards embedded applications in messaging services are multiplying. Atlassian recently revamped the app store associated with its messaging service so that users can embed applications from the store directly into the chat environment. Before the change, HipChat users who got an alert from, say, a customer service application such as Zendesk would have to exit HipChat. Now, they can open the application within it.
Slack, which is being used by more than a million users a day now, is also becoming a platform that attracts other developers. As an example, Blockspring has come up with an application that makes it very easy for a Slack user to build simple bots that can pull data from across the web into a spreadsheet format within the messaging service. Howdy, a startup that recently raised $1.5m of funding, has come up with an application that runs automated tasks for teams using Slack. It plans to develop apps for other messaging services too.
More of these services are likely to appear. Facebook recently revealed that Facebook at Work, which lets employees chat with one another on a private social network, now has its own chat client, too. (Facebook at Work is still in private beta with some 300 companies.)
I’m not sure which enterprise messaging service (or services) will end up ruling the roost, though Slack is certainly off to a flying start. But I’m confident that ChatOps will become a mainstream way of doing business if enough innovative companies emerge with embedded applications for the various platforms. After all, it makes sense to bring all kinds of applications to a collaboration service rather than trying to inject collaborative capabilities into standalone applications one by one.
The companies that prosper most from the ChatOps trend will be those whose embedded applications are:

Easy To Use – That means providing simple, intuitive interfaces and ensuring that applications integrate smoothly with companies’ internal systems.

Authentically Mobile – This may seem obvious, but all too often mobile applications for companies simply translate desktop functionality to mobile devices rather than tapping their unique capabilities more creatively. (Slack has hinted at the potential here by making it possible for users to book a ride via Lyft straight from a chat window.)

Secure – Applications will need to meet appropriate internal security and privacy standards

Data Smart – As well as helping people find internal data they need for their work, embedded chat applications will also need to find, import and integrate relevant information from external sources. The best ones will also gather and display collective organizational knowledge about data sources and business issues.

We’re still in the early stages of the enterprise messaging movement and there will be bumps in the road ahead. Startups will need to find sustainable business models and be alert to the risk that messaging services could offer their own, competing applications. This kind of competition has surfaced occasionally in consumer markets, but it is widely accepted that businesses such as Facebook and Twitter grew so fast in part because they nurtured vibrant ecosystems of developers. That lesson should not be lost on Slack, HipChat and others. ChatOps represents an exciting opportunity to create new businesses in the enterprise realm that can use a new generation of fast-growing messaging platforms as a springboard to success.
Martin Giles is a partner at Wing Venture Capital (@Wing_VC). He was previously a journalist with The Economist.

WeTransfer Moves Toward File Transfer as a Microservice

It shouldn’t be news that enterprise file storage, sync, and sharing software and services (EFSS) have largely become a commodity. Prices continue to fall, in part because providers’ storage costs are still decreasing. More importantly, their cost to actually transfer a file has always been negligible, even with the application of strong encryption.
With costs low and decreasing, it’s fair to ask which of the aspects of file storage, sync, and sharing creates enough value for customers that providers can charge for the service. When you stop and think about it, the sharing or transfer of the file has always been the action that the rest of the bundled offer hangs on, especially for cloud-based services. A file can’t be stored on a provider’s servers until a copy has been transferred there. Similarly, changes to files must be transferred to keep copies in sync. The vast majority of the value proposition clearly lies in the transfer (sharing) of the file.
So it makes sense for the file transfer element to be the focal point for providers’ monetization strategies. If you accept that premise, then the next logical conclusion to be made is that file transfer can be monetized as a stand-alone service. In today’s world, that service would be built and licensed as a microservice, which can be used in any application that can call a RESTful API.
WeTransfer, a company based in Amsterdam (despite claiming San Francisco as its headquarters), has announced today the first step toward the creation of such a commercially-available file transfer microservice. A new partnership makes WeTransfer’s file transfer service an option (alongside Dropbox) for delivering photos and videos purchased from Getty Image’s iStock library. WeTransfer works in the background while the customer remains in iStock.
WeTransfer has exposed its file transfer API to Getty Images only at this point, but will be able strike up similar partnerships with other providers of graphics services. Of course, WeTransfer could also license API access to any developer looking to incorporate file transfer into an application. While it isn’t clear from their statement today if and when that will happen, the possibility is very real and quite compelling.
It’s important to note that both Box and Dropbox have made their file sharing APIs commercially available to developers for several months now, so WeTransfer is playing catch up in this regard. However, WeTransfer has emphasized file sharing almost exclusively since its founding in 2009 as a web-based service that only stores a file being shared for seven days before deleting it from their servers. Dropbox, on the other hand, originally was popular because of its simple-but-effective sync feature, and Box was initially perceived as a cloud-based storage service.
The potential market for file transfer microservices is so young and large that no provider has a clear advantage at this point. The recent nullification of the Safe Harbor agreement (PDF) between the European Union and the United States also presents a significant challenge to file services vendors that provide file storage for a global and multinational customer base. If WeTransfer emphasizes its legacy as an easy-to-use, dependable file transfer-only service with its newly-created microservice, it could gain a larger share of the market and expand well beyond its current niche of creative professional customers.

Facebook Beta Launches Work Chat Application

Late last week, Facebook quietly made its entry into the work chat (enterprise real-time messaging) arena with the very limited release of its appropriately-named Work Chat application. There was no announcement in the Facebook Newsroom; the app just showed up in the Google Play store and was called out in a TechCrunch article. Work Chat is available for Android devices only now; an iOS version is in development and expected to be available soon.
Work Chat is the corporate equivalent of Facebook Messenger. Those applications appear to have the same user experience and feature set, although TechCrunch noted that Work Chat allows individuals to temporarily turn off their notifications, so as to not be disturbed when on vacation and when other personal activities are prioritized.
Work Chat is intended solely for organizations that are Facebook at Work customers. Anyone can download and install the app, but it will not work without a Facebook at Work login.
Screenshot_2015-11-20-14-13-51
Facebook at Work is still in closed beta, so very few companies and individuals will be able to use Work Chat today.

Is This a Market Disruptor?

While it’s impossible to gauge the actual market impact of Facebook’s Work Chat at this point, we can draw some conclusions about its potential effect. First, it will boost awareness of, and interest in, chat-based, real-time communication tools in organizations of all size. Individuals who use Facebook and its Messenger app in the personal lives will push their IT departments to consider the Facebook at Work and Work Chat combination.
In all likelihood, many organizations will try Work Chat, at least in a pilot implementation. It’s been reported that Facebook at Work will be available in a free version that will likely have a limited feature set and support. If that is true and the same applies to Work Chat, then a company’s cost to try the app is negligible.
Facebook’s land and expand strategy for enterprise sales may indeed work and, if it does, Work Chat would likely be swept along with the tide of Facebook at Work adoption. Facebook has already said that some of the roughly 300 companies in the Facebook at Work trial program have announced their intent to scale its use next year. Heineken has already grown its user base from 40 to 550. Royal Bank of Scotland plans to have 30,000 employees on the platform by the end of Q1 2016 and aims to roll it out to all 100,000 employees before the end of the year.
It is entirely possible that Work Chat will see those kind of adoption numbers as well, resulting in a decent share of the enterprise real-time chat market segment for Facebook. Other vendors of communication and collaboration platforms, suites, and applications should not dismiss the potential impact that Facebook at Work and Work Chat could have on their revenue streams. If Facebook can build an enterprise sales capacity and execute well, they will become a formidable competitor.

Jive Software and Egnyte Sync Up

Enterprise collaboration software provider Jive Software and Egnyte, an enterprise file sync and share vendor, have formed a new partnership and technology integration. According to the press release announcing the deal, mutual customers may now take advantage of a bi-directional sync between the partners’ software that enables the following actions:

  • Collaborate on Egnyte files directly within Jive, with comments synced across both platforms
  • Upload content to Egnyte from Jive
  • Securely access content from mobile devices
  • View files stored in the cloud for easy accessibility, store locally to meet security and regulatory requirements, or sync with a hybrid solution
  • Easily embed links to Egnyte content in Jive’s comment and discussion fields

Egnyte has put together a short video that demonstrates these actions.

Existing, mutual customers may enable the integration at no additional charge, according to Egnyte’s blog post. The two companies are also jointly offering a special promotion to new customers who are looking to use both systems.

Jive Has Other Existing Content Management Integrations

This is not the first integration that Jive has done with a third-party content management vendor. Jive has had long-standing integrations with Alfresco, Box, Google Drive, and Microsoft (Office, Office 365 and Outlook). The Google and Microsoft integrations were built by Jive, without official partnerships being formed.
The joint Alfresco-Jive solution was launched in 2012 and used CMIS to sync documents and content actions between the two systems. Interestingly, Alfresco has a webpage describing the integration and still lists Jive as a Technology Partner, while Jive no longer acknowledges Alfresco as an official partner on its website.
Finally, Jive still has an active technology partnership with Box. Like the Egnyte integration, Jive and Box have built a bi-directional sync that pushes changes made in one system to the other.

Potential Reasons Why Jive Added Another Content Management Partner

While I have not yet spoken with anyone from either Jive or Egnyte, I can lay out some possible explanations for why they partnered and integrated their offerings.
First, the integration may have been done simply because a large number of mutual customers asked for it. That is not an unusual situation in enterprise software, and both Jive and Egnyte listen and respond well to their customers.
This partnership and technology integration may have been proposed and largely built by Egnyte, who is facing stiff competition, as well as feature and price commoditization, in the EFSS market. Partnering with Jive creates a competitive advantage for Egnyte over rivals such as Accellion, Citrix ShareFile, Syncplicity, and others. The comparative quality and depth of the press releases from the two partners suggests that Egynte may well have had the lead here. That impression is underscored by that fact that Egnyte created and published the video demonstration embedded above.
A final, possible explanation is that Jive is looking for an alternative partner to Box, which has moved up the food chain by forming deep technology and go-to-market partnerships with Apple, IBM, and Microsoft. Perhaps Box is now more focused on helping its customers integrate with IBM Connections and Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 instead of Jive. As a result, Jive would need a more active partner, which it may have found in Egnyte. Another consideration is that Box is a cloud-only service, while Jive’s partnership with Egnyte enables cloud, on-premises, and hybrid joint deployments.

Takeaways

Regardless of the reason(s) for the Jive-Egnyte partnership, it represents a win for their mutual customers, who now have a pre-built integration that enables secure, mobile-friendly content storage, discovery, sharing, and collaboration. This partnership could also have upside for the two vendors, if they can work with the other’s existing customers to sell their own offerings.
This deal also has implications for the collaboration and EFSS market segments. If nothing else, it underscores that the line between the two, which was already quite blurry, is in fact disappearing. Pure-play EFSS vendors, in particular, will have a difficult time sustaining their existing business, much less grow it, as file services continue to be pushed into collaboration platforms. Their last hope to remain independent may rest on the growing uptake of containerized, microservices enterprise computing architectures, in which they can provide cutting edge file services.

Recent Enterprise File Sync and Sharing News

Here is a brief round-up of some recent news from the Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing market segment.

EFSS Application Security

MobileIron published a whitepaper, titled “State of App Security”, that includes results of a survey conducted with its customers. The survey and white paper are briefly summarized in this post.
Survey respondents were asked to list the cloud applications that had been blacklisted by their IT departments. Of the top ten apps listed, five were EFSS solutions: Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, and SugarSync.
It’s important to note that all of these blacklisted apps are consumer-oriented and their vendors do offer business versions that are not commonly blacklisted because they include better security features. However, the unauthorized or “shadow” use of consumer EFSS solutions within businesses continues to pose significant information security risks.

Dropbox Doubles Down on Business

Dropbox made several product and business strategy announcements at its inaugural customer event, Dropbox Open, which was held on November 4th, in San Francisco. Most were directly relevant to the company’s increasing focus on businesses, rather than consumers. They are  briefly summarized in this Dropbox post, but here’s the skinny on a few.
First, it’s clear why Dropbox is doubling down on its efforts to win over organizations. The company announced that it has signed up around 50,000 new organizations as paying Dropbox Business customers in the last year. Dropbox now claims to have 150,000 business customers; that’s organizations, not seats. The company stated that business is it’s fastest growing target market.
To underscore the point, Dropbox announced a new product, Dropbox Enterprise, which “provides the same core security features, admin capabilities, and modern collaboration tools as Dropbox Business — plus new deployment tools, advanced controls, and services and support designed specifically for large organizations.”
Dropbox also announced three new administrative features that will be included in Dropbox Business as well as in Dropbox Enterprise. The new capabilities ‒ suspended user state, sign in as user, and custom branding ‒ are available now through the company’s Early Access program, with no general release date given.
Dropbox is going down the same road that Box has already traveled. It started with a consumer grade product, added functionality to make it more attractive and useful for small and medium businesses, and now is incorporating the robust security and control features that IT departments in large enterprises demand. The big question now is can Dropbox overtake Box in the EFSS market?

Google Drive Adds New Features

Google announced three new capabilities that are intended to improve the usability of Google Drive. These new features apply to all Google Drive users, not just business employees.
It’s now possible to receive a notification from the application on your Android or iOS device when someone has shared a file or folder with you. Previously, those notifications were made via email. The new notifications are actionable; clicking the link will take you to the document or folder that has bee shared.
Google Drive users can now request and grant access to a file or folder to which a link has been sent, but the owner forgot to extend access rights. The feature is mobile friendly. Android users can request access with a single tap. File and folder owners can instantly be notified of the request and provide access from their Android or iOS device.
Finally, it’s now possible to preview files stored on Google Drive on Android devices even if you don’t have a Google account. That feature has been available in Web browsers for a while and makes sense in that context. It’s hard to imagine why an Android device owner wouldn’t have a Google account, but, apparently, its is a problem and Google chose to address it.

Syncplicity Plays Catch-Up on Mobile Security

Syncplicity announced partnerships with AirWatch and MobileIron to help customers secure files on mobile devices. It should be safe to assume that the integration with AirWatch had been ready (or nearly so) for quite a while, since both were owned by EMC until it spun off Syncplicity a couple of months ago. At any rate, these partnerships merely bring Syncplicity even with its competitors, who have had similar partnerships or their own mobile device containerization capabilities for some time now.

Box Expands Its European Presence

Box has opened two new offices in Europe in the last 3 weeks, one in Amsterdam and another in Stockholm. This continental presence is crucial to Box as it seeks to grow by expanding overseas sales efforts. However, the new offices also raise questions about how Box (and competitors) will deal with the recent nullification of the Safe Harbor agreement that had been in place between the European Union and the United States.

ownCloud Brings Control of Open Source EFSS On-Premises

ownCloud announced the newest version (8.2) of its open source EFFS offering, which moves it to a hybrid model. With ownCloud 8.2, it’s now possible for customers to deliver security and control of their files residing in the cloud through an on-premises adminstrative console.

Linoma GoDrive Customers Gain Mobile Access

In another transformation to a vendor’s existing EFSS model, Linoma Software unveiled its GoAnywhere mobile apps for its GoDrive on-premises EFSS solution. Linoma customers can now access files residing in GoDrive from iOS and Android mobile devices. While files and folder are encrypted during transit, Linoma does not secure files while they are on a mobile device. However, they do provide an administrative capability to deactivate and wipe files and folders from devices that have been lost or stolen.

Google Inbox Smart Reply: Cognition Meets Communication

How hot is work chat in the enterprise? So trendy that it’s now being used to improve the very thing it’s supposedly killing off – email.
Google announced yesterday a new feature for its Inbox application, which is an alternate Gmail interface designed for use on mobile devices. That feature, called Smart Reply, lets Inbox users reply to an incoming email with a short message (one phrase or sentence) that has been suggested by the application.
Google’s blog post announcing the new feature highlights the natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning technologies that work behind the scenes. Inbox uses these technologies to formulate three possible short responses for each incoming message. The user taps on the most appropriate one to embed it in her response and has the option to manually type or verbally dictate additional text. (Click on the image below to enlarge it and see this in action.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

How Smart Reply Works

The three auto-generated, suggested responses are based on the content of the incoming email message and the responses that were generated and selected for previous, similar messages. Smart Reply uses separate neural networks that work in tandem; one network reads and makes sense of every word in the incoming text and the second network predicts best-fit responses and synthesizes them into grammatically correct replies. (See this post on the Google Research Blog for more technical details on Smart Reply.)
The principles and even some of the technologies behind Smart Reply are not new. The Autonomy IDOL technology that Hewlett-Packard infamously acquired four years ago is used to auto-classify digital documents based on their content. Once classified, the documents can more easily be searched for, used in workflows, and archived.
Just last week IBM announced its new intelligent data capture solution, IBM Datacap Insight Edition, which uses cognitive computing capabilities to read document-based content and auto-classify it. Like Google’s and H-P’s technologies, IBM’s software must initially be trained with a set of control documents and then continues to learn as it reviews documents in a production environment.

Smart Reply and Chatbots

Inbox’s new ability to read text and formulate multiple, viable short responses doesn’t quite turn email into real-time messaging, but it does help individuals respond more quickly to the incoming messages in their email queue. Pair that with instant notifications of new incoming email messages on a mobile device and email becomes much more like instant messaging and other forms of work chat.
Google has taken a significant first step toward creating an intelligent bot that replies to email messages for you based on their content. Contrast this with the current practice of employing prebuilt, user-defined rules to reply with a canned response depending on who sent the incoming email or based on the recipients schedule (think vacation autoreplies).
If Google were to apply its deep neural network technology in Hangouts, it would move closer to Slack, HipChat, Telegram and other work chat tools that use bots to reply to user generated queries and as intermediaries between users and integrated third-party applications. In fact, Hangouts would have a differentiated advantage – the ability to parse not only incoming messages and suggest appropriate responses, but to do the same with text-based documents that are attached to chat messages.
It is likely that Google will go beyond applying this new technology in apps like Inbox and Hangouts. Imagine the power of having Smart Reply baked into Android, so it could be deployed on watches, in cars and as part of other emerging hardware-based platforms that run on that operating system. Tap on the watch’s or car’s display and quickly choose and send a response to an incoming message.
Some more advanced variant of Smart Reply might be used to semi-automate communication between nodes in mixed networks of machines and humans – Networks of Everything. Take as an example the current generation of software (the machine) that listens to social media and discerns trending topics related to a company’s customer-facing operations. This type of software could be enhanced with cognitive capabilities so that it would be able to suggest appropriate Twitter-length responses to an individual tasked with responding to relevant incoming social content. Eventually, the software might be able to respond, without human intervention, directly to someone expressing their opinion on social media.
The possibilities are numerous and mind-boggling. For now, Google has taken an important step toward a computing future in which real-time communication at work is increasingly semi- or fully-automated.