It’s time to shake up the enterprise software market

Kristoffer is chief executive at Starcounter.
The enterprise software industry as we know it is changing significantly. Recently, it’s seen a rise in ‘best of breed’ apps, which in turn, has contributed to the fall of the enterprise monopoly. More specifically, there are three factors fueling this change, including the reality of the problem, the collective app economy, and new technology enabling the next generation of business applications.

The reality of the enterprise problem

Over $600 billion is spent on enterprise software each year. And to date, modern enterprises have had two options: buy big, unfocused packages that excel in nothing; or buy small, focused ’best of breed’ apps and risk an integration nightmare.
First off, the major software platforms purchased by IT departments provide tools to make thousands of different features for thousands of different types of users. These products are cumbersome when they are overloaded, often perceived as hostile by the user, and difficult to learn. What’s more, this obstacle isn’t bypassed when they move to the cloud in an attempt to keep up with changing trends. But since these products seem to solve everything, they’ve been successful for quite some time and become the status quo in the software market.
In the meantime, the ’best of breed’ apps have been the preferred choice by business executives, and they have increasingly received support among all employees. With the consumerization of enterprise technology, products now enter a company from the bottom up, rather than the top down.
In the private space, you can easily compose your own suite of software tools to accomplish a task. To throw a birthday party, for example, go to the app store and get a calendar app, a social app, an invitation app and you’re set.
Those who have grown up today with the ease of an app store are entering into the positions at enterprises. They want their daily business tools such as accounting and smart marketing tools to be as accessible as messaging apps and car navigators. Enterprises must endorse this through the fast and easy delivery of efficient tools to employees who need a certain software to accomplish a special task.
Although these have been the two prevalent options among enterprises, the reality is that 68 percent of IT projects fail. These failures are forcing CIOs and CEOs at enterprises to seek change from the status quo.

The collective app economy

When multiple small apps band together, they can upend the status quo – this is the new collective app economy. Today, new technology is allowing this to happen:

  • Allowing enterprises to mix and match best of breed apps without the need for complex and expensive integration projects.
  • Allowing each vendor to be on top of its own food chain.
  • Allowing new business models to outperform the existing ones in the enterprise software business.
  • Allowing app stores, for example, to deliver interoperating apps and to be truly polylithic.

The ’best of breed’ app vendors often have an innovative edge because of their focus and domain knowledge. Though they still cannot check off as many boxes as the big vendors with their ecosystem of piggy-backers, and buyers shun complex, expensive, lengthy and risky integration projects.
The incumbent software platforms will not be replaced by a single app, no matter how elegant, intuitive, and powerful the app is. That’s because a single app can never replace the full functionality of the large players’ platforms. The best of breed apps must be able to be mixed-and-matched without the need for complex integration projects.
A single mobile payment app, for example, cannot replace a full retail solution. However, combining best of breed apps for accounting, product stock and point of sales results in a virtual retail suite that can outperform the larger players. These new apps are promising and must meet two critical conditions to gain any significant market share:

  1. It must be possible to run multiple independent business apps by different vendors side by side in a modern web user interface. Together they create your virtual business solution.
  2. The apps must operate on the same set of data without knowing about each other. All apps being aware of all other apps simply does not scale. APIs have been the peer-to-peer glue between apps for 50 years, and independent business apps still do not operate on a single set of data.

As new technology is now solving the vital, if not all, components of the ”shared data and shared screen” problems, this will have a major impact for enterprise software vendors and enterprises.

The next generation of business applications

Technology comes before revolution. Always. Though not typically obvious when first introduced, the importance of truly novel technology is not something reserved for tech geeks; in fact, it is and has always been vital for the evolution of the human race. Modems and computers were not invented to power the web. Rather, the web was discovered because we had computers and modems.
The new generation of in-memory application platforms will not only transform the database industry; it will forever change the enterprise software industry. How? By combining an in-memory database engine, data processing and application server into a single business operating system. This technology can deliver the capabilities of a huge data center in that single server. It can allow many small independent applications in combination to replace a monolithic application. It can remove the need for a single application to be the master of all others. Plus, the speed, radical efficiently, low costs and openness will help drive fast and wide adoption.

Time to band together

The enterprise software landscape will change dramatically in the near future. The new software landscape will be simultaneously fragmented and connected, with new business models created by collaboration among many small vendors.
It is time for vendors and talents to band together in order to provide businesses with the freedom to use the best tools needed to meet their goals, instead of being locked into a single vendor that is a jack of all trades, but master of none.

This Digital Transformation is Not the One You’re Looking For

I was sorting through some browser tabs that had been open for a couple of weeks on my laptop and rediscovered a press release that had caught my attention earlier. After rereading it, I realized that I had left the release up in my browser because it could be the poster child for the inane manner in which technology vendors and IT consulting firms are talking about and selling what they very much want to be the next big thing – Digital Transformation.
CA Technologies’ press release was a horrific example right from the start. It’s title, “CA Technologies Study Reveals Widespread Adoption of Digital Transformation”, nearly made me spit coffee all over my laptop. Really? Is Digital Transformation (DT) something that can be adopted? Hardly. After all, DT is not a discrete technology. Rather, it’s a never-ending journey that organizations undertake to better the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations.
DT involves making changes to business objectives, strategies, models, cultures, processes and so many other elements. Many of those changes can be supported by the deployment and adoption of enabling technologies, but DT isn’t about the technology itself. It’s a mindset, a way of thinking and acting as an organization that spans across all of its planning and execution.
In that regard, DT is very much like the discipline known as Knowledge Management (KM) that was similarly a darling of technology vendors and their consulting partners nearly 20 years ago. Most large enterprises at least considered implementing KM practices and technologies. In fact, many did, although the majority of those ‘efforts’ failed to survive an initial pilot program. In the end, only a few big companies, the ones that treated KM as something more than a technology set to be adopted, whole-heartedly embraced the discipline and successfully wove it into nearly every aspect of their businesses.
We’ve seen the same phenomenon play out with Social Business. McKinsey & Company has been tracking the deployment and impact of social constructs, behaviors and tools in a cohort of roughly 1,500 enterprises for nearly 10 years now. Earlier this month, in a teaser to its complete report of annual survey results, McKinsey published these related and telling findings:

“…35 percent of the companies had adopted social technologies in response to their adoption by competitors. Copycat behavior was also responsible for their diffusion within organizations, though at a slightly lower rate: 25 percent of all employee usage. Roughly a fifth of the companies we studied will account for an estimated 50 percent of all social-technology usage in 2015.”

Most organizations and individuals tried to ‘adopt’ social technologies because they felt competitive pressure to do so (thanks, in part, to vendors and consultants), not because they had investigated and understood how ‘being social’ at work could change how well their organization actually performed relative to both its current state and its competitors. On the other hand, a minority of organizations (20% in McKinsey’s survey) have made the dedicated, all-in commitment needed to succeed with Social Business.
Today, we are beginning this cycle all over again, this time under the moniker of Digital Transformation. Consider these findings from CA’s study:

“Digital Transformation is being driven as a coordinated strategy across a majority of organizations (55 percent)…  As a result, 45 percent of respondents have already seen measurable increases in customer retention and acquisition from their digital transformation initiatives and 44 percent have seen an overall increase in revenue.”

In other words, if you aren’t “adopting” DT already, you’re toast. At least that’s what CA and other technology vendors and consultants want you to believe in a fresh state of panic. Hence these findings from CA’s study:

Digital Disrupters have two times higher revenue growth than mainstream organizations. They report two and a half times higher profit growth than the mainstream organizations.”

That may be accurate, but surely those “Digital Disrupters” did not achieve the reported results merely by adopting technology, whether it be from CA or another vendor. They’re the ones who have taken a comprehensive view of DT and, as CA itself puts it, have “…many projects underway in multiple areas of the company, including customer services, sales and marketing, and product/service development.” It’s not a coincidence that CA was only able to include 14% of the organizations surveyed in the group it labeled “Digital Disrupters”. That matches up pretty well with McKinsey’s finding of just 20% of organizations surveyed making more than a token effort at becoming a social business.
All of this is to say beware of vendors and consultants selling technology as the cornerstone of DT initiatives. Yes, technology is an invaluable piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the only or most important one. DT can’t simply be adopted; every aspect of it must be considered and actively embraced by the entire organization.

Dropbox Paper is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Last week, I wrote about the commoditization of the enterprise file sharing market and how pure play vendors are being forced to evolve their offerings to stay alive. My post focused on Hightail (originally YouSendIt) and its announcement of Spaces – a specialized file sharing, annotating and publishing offering for creative professionals.
Dropbox also made a product announcement last week, albeit quietly. The company has expanded beta testing of Paper, a new offering that was released in a highly limited beta, in March, under the name Notes.  Like Hightail’s new offering, Dropbox’s illustrates how they are responding to the functional parity that vendors have achieved with basic file sharing offerings and to their rapid downward price movement.

Yet Another Collaborative Authoring Tool?

Most commentators, including Gigaom’s Nathaniel Mott in his article from last week, described Paper as “a collaborative writing tool”. They compared it to Google Docs, Microsoft Office (especially its Word and OneNote components) and startup Quip. For sure, Paper has similar functionality to those products, and it allows people to write and edit documents together in real-time. However, I don’t believe that is the main point of Dropbox’s beta product. Instead, Paper is intended to be used as a lightweight case management tool.
Case Management is a discipline that brings resources, including relevant content, related to a single instance of a business process or an initiative into a common place – the case folder. While many think of Case Management as a digital technology, its principles were established in business activities that were wholly paper-based.
Think of an insurance claim years ago, where a customer filled out a paper claim form, and it  was then routed throughout the insurance company in a paper folder. As the process continued, additional paper documents, perhaps even printed photographs, were added to the folder. The last documents to go into the folder were the final claim decision letter to the customer and a copy of the check, if a payment was made on the claim.
Today, that same insurance claim process is likely to generate and use a mix of paper-based and electronic documents, although insurance companies are slowly moving as much of the process online as possible. However, the concept of organizing information related to the claim into a single folder remains, although the folder is now likely to be an electronic artifact, not a paper one.

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Take another look at Dropbox’s beta Paper. Do you see it? Paper is a single point of organization for new content, files stored in Dropbox (and other repositories), existing Web content and discussions on all of those things. It’s a meta-document that acts like a case folder.
Paper enables lightweight case management, not the industrial-strength, production kind needed to handle high-volume, transactional business processes like insurance claims. Paper is case management for small teams, whose work might follow a pattern over time, but does not conform to a well-defined, repeatable process.
Working on a new software product at an early-stage startup with only a few coworkers? Start a new document in Paper, then add the functional and technical requirements, business projections, marketing assets, sales collateral, even the code for the software. Everything that is relevant to the product is one place in which it can be shared, viewed, commented on, discussed, edited and used for decision making. Just like a case folder in Case Management.

A New Way of Working

Still not convinced? Dropbox Product Manager Matteus Pan recently said:
“Work today is really fragmented…teams have really wanted a single surface to bring all of [their] ideas into a single place.” “Creation and collaboration are only half the problem,” he said. “The other half is how information is organized and retrieved across an entire company.”
That sounds like case management to me, but not the old-school type that you are likely more familiar with. Instead, Paper reflects the newer principles of Adaptive Case Management.
Adaptive Case Management (ACM) is a newer technology set that has been evolving from Production Case Management (PCM) over the last few years. ACM helps people deal with volatile processes by including collaboration tools alongside the workflow tools that are the backbone of PCM.
Dropbox Paper may be viewed as an extreme example of ACM, one which relies completely on the manual control of work rather than automating parts of it. In that regard, Paper takes its cues from enterprise social software, which is also designed to enable human coordination of emergent work, rather than the automation of stable processes. As Paper is more widely used in the current beta and beyond, it will be interesting to see if its adoption is stunted by the same obstacles that have limited the wholesale changes to established ways of working that social software requires.

Crashing Waves

I have not yet seen a demo of Dropbox Paper, but the screenshots, textual descriptions and comments from Dropbox employees that I have absorbed are enough to reveal that the product is more than just another collaborative authoring tool. If I was asked to make a comparison between Paper and another existing or previous tool, I would say that it reminds me of Google Wave, not Docs or Microsoft Office. Like Wave, Paper is a blank canvas on which you can collaborate with team members and work with multiple content types related to a single idea or business process in one place.
Google Wave was a powerful, but unintuitive tool that failed to get market traction. Will Paper suffer the same fate? Perhaps, but Dropbox hopes that the world is now ready for this new way to work. In fact, Dropbox is, in some regards, staking its continued existence on just that, as it tries to differentiate itself from other purveyors of commoditized file sharing services.

Commvault updates its data management platform

Commvault, a data management company, is rolling out updates to many of its enterprise products today, with the aim of simplifying the process of actually using your company’s data.
Among the updates are new open APIs that promise not to lock in customer data, better data searching tools, and a new back up mechanism that only saves blocks of data that have been recently changed. The company has also improved its disaster recovery tools with a dashboard that can be used to handle “provisioning, management, retirement, and cross-platform migration [or] recoveries,” according to its senior product manager of data protection and recovery, Jonathan Howard.
This is the eleventh version of what Commvault calls its “solutions portfolio.” Existing customers will be able to upgrade to the new tools — or “seamlessly consume” them, in the company’s parlance — without hassle. (And if there’s anything people hate when it comes to buzzword-laden cloud platforms that allow them to “activate” and manage their data, it’s gonna be any hassle.) They will also be available to new customers, as is the way of new product releases.
Here’s what Howard had to say about the new product releases: “Our focus on open access, flexibility, and automation provide customers the ability activate their data in ways that were never before possible. This allows customers to reduce or eliminate backup windows, instantly access or recover workloads while providing automation to eliminate manual and complex operations.”
Commvault began as a development group in Bell Labs in 1988, and was a “strategic business unit” of AT&T Network Systems until it went solo in 1996.

Hightail to a Defensible Niche

It’s hardly news that enterprise file sharing technology has become commoditized. That process has very visibly played out in the tech media over several months now. However, most of the articles written have assumed that pure play file sharing startups have a bleak future, if any, as Microsoft, Google, Citrix and other platform vendors continue to commoditize both functionality and pricing.
Reality begs to differ. Box has convincingly moved beyond commodity file sharing by offering ready-made, industry-specific solutions and a developer platform chock full of APIs for organizations that prefer to build their own applications using Box technology. Accellion and Egnyte have focused on the sharing of content in hybrid environments that combine cloud-based and on-premises file storage.

Hightail Makes Its Move

Hightail is another enterprise file sharing pure play that was supposed to be put out of business as a result of market consolidation. It too is still standing and has just announced a new offering, called Spaces, that essentially repositions the company from commodity file sharing to content-based collaboration for creative professionals.
Spaces is an attempt by Hightail to help people who work at ad agencies, film and music studios, and in Marketing departments to not only share, but also to give and get feedback on audio and visual files. Collaborators can make annotations directly on visual files and comment in-context of one of its elements. Comments on audio and video files are also made in context, as they appear in the track’s timeline.

Spaces is really a project management tool for creatives, albeit one with only lightweight task management functionality. Individuals can establish a collaborative space in which the creative artifacts related to a specific project are shared, annotated and commented on, and distributed in final form. There is also a dashboard that lets the owner/administrator of the space monitor activities taken by it members on its assets, including comments made and downloads of files.

Darwin’s Theories at Work

Hightail is a clear example of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and specialization at work. From its inception (as YouSendIt, in 2004) the company has evolved from a provider of technology for sharing large digital files to one that also stored those files in the cloud. Now Hightail is specializing to ensure its continuing existing. Its CEO, Ranjith Kumaran, recently acknowledged that roughly 80% of the company’s revenue comes from creative agencies and firms, so focusing the company to serve those customers was a logical move.
Hightail is certainly not the first company to start as a purveyor of a general technology and then specialize to survive. It’s not even the first in the context-centric collaboration space. As noted above, Box has also created industry-specific solutions. The real question is whether or not this pivot will provide Hightail with a niche that is large enough for the company to not only sustain its current level of operations, but to grow as well.

We’ve Seen This Movie Before

Central Desktop may well serve as a historical example of Hightail’s future.  In 2011, Central Desktop launched SocialBridge, a new offering that repositioned the company from the generic social collaboration space to the same niche that Hightail has selected – creative and marketing agencies. While Central Desktop saw some success and growth as a result, it sold itself three and a half years later to PGi, who wanted to augment its existing solution for real-time meetings into a more holistic collaboration offering.
Hightail’s evolution may take a similar path. Adobe could combine assets from its Creative Cloud and Document Cloud offerings to create something similar to Hightail Spaces, but Adobe could also choose to buy Hightail. One of Adobe’s traditional foes, such as Corel or Quark, could acquire Hightail in an effort to better compete Adobe. It’s even possible that Apple could want to buy Hightail to augment its existing offerings for creative professionals.
Whatever happens to Hightail down the road, they’ve made a move this week that they needed to do to stick around a while longer as an independent company. They’ve also demonstrated that generic file sharing has become completely commoditized and that evolutionary specialization will be required of all the other pure play enterprise file sharing vendors if they want to continue in business.

Of Mashery and Men: Tibco builds bridges to the cloud

After spending some time at Tibco’s customer event in London today, I thought I would jot down some thoughts while they were still fresh. Tibco has managed that rare thing in the IT industry — to hang on to a mid-market position without being swallowed by one of the tech giants or being overtaken by more agile startups. Few companies achieve this over the long term (NetApp, OpenText and, until recently, Citrix spring to mind).
Having maintained its place through acquisitions of its own, such as Spotfire and JasperSoft, one year ago Tibco followed others in removing itself from the stock market ostensibly to give itself some freedom to think beyond the quarterly report. “Tibco will have added flexibility to serve our customers and execute on our long-term strategy,” said then-CEO Vivek Ranadivé, a view echoed today by his replacement, Murray Rode.
In practical terms this strategy has meant moving away from the traditional market of software running inside the enterprise, and looking towards delivering visualisation, integration and analytics services that fit with, dare I use the term, the ‘digital’ world — working with cloud-based services, devops practices and non-IT customers. Far from being marketing bling, Tibco believes that this aligns with clear and present demand. “We are just responding to what customers are asking for,” says CTO Matt Quinn.
In a nutshell, this means delivering tools that work with both in-house and cloud-based software. To reinforce this point, the company today announced it was acquiring Mashery, an API management company, from Intel. Can Tibco deliver? There is no reason why not; the only open questions are how well it manages to integrate the older and newer elements of its portfolio together and broaden its customer base (therefore growing revenues), both of which remain a work in progress.
All the same and like AWS, the company is highly oriented to responding to customer needs, a pre-requisite of survival in these messy times which appear to favour the new over the old. Unlike AWS, Tibco sees genuine benefit in both in-house and cloud-based technology. If the future is hybrid (which it will be for the next decade or so), there is value to add helping companies bridge the gap.
While the immediate future of technology may be difficult to chart, this doesn’t phase the company. “We thrive on complexity and change,” says Matt. Indeed, more fragmentation of technology, an inevitable consequence of current trends, begets greater need for integration and simplification.
Whether or not the organisation will retain its independence in the long term remains to be seen. In the meantime, simply helping its customers respond to the dual pressures of delivering innovation while keeping existing systems going (and helping both work together) should be sufficient basis for Tibco’s continued success. “We are blessed with some wonderful customers,” says Murray. And it is by helping these that Tibco will itself ride the digital wave.

VMware scoops up hot email startup Boxer

While VMware parent company EMC has generated plenty of attention with its massive $67 billion merger with Dell, VMware itself has made a deal of its own with the purchase of email and task management startup Boxer.
The acquisition, announced today at the company’s annual european VMworld event, is part of VMware’s strategy to provide apps for use with its data management platform. A hit with those running Cyanogen, Boxer initially started as a consumer-facing mobile email app that makes it easier for people to quickly sift through a backlog of messages, and speeding up the process of creating and assigning tasks. It later expanded its focus to enterprise-level customers, adding better security along with it.
Now, that might not seem like a big deal, but it is when you consider the range of popular cloud-based services Boxer integrates with (Box, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Gmail, iCloud, Salesforce, Twitter, Outlook, Yahoo, etc.). And businesses whose employees use these services on the job can be more confident that company data is secure.
The Boxer team will join the company’s Airwatch unit, working towards launching a suite of secure apps for the enterprise, according to VMware CTO Noah Wasmer, who called Boxer a “consumer-grade” enterprise app.
“For business users, the most mission critical application is email, followed quickly by content and business apps that contain the data, insights, and information to master their job,” said Wasmer in a company blog post today. “We all love the native email experience across iOS and Android devices but what if they were optimized for businesses with the security and control that they require? This is why we are doubling down with the planned acquisition of Boxer, Inc.”
Financial terms of the acquisition deal were not disclosed. Austin-based Boxer previously raised $3 million in funding.

The Dell-EMC deal is huge, but where’s it headed?

I forget about Dell. It happens all the time — I see that cheerful, round, delightfully dated logo and have something of an “remember when?” moment. Dell hasn’t been a serious part of the big consumer device discussion in years, and some of that’s by design, really. Dell isn’t stupid — it knows that its strength in the PC market is waning and that soon, there won’t be enough meat on the bone to sustain a company that just made one of the biggest pure tech deals ever.

Today, the company made it official and announced the (inconceivably huge) $67 billion deal that’ll bring it together with EMC — making it, in Dell’s own words, “the world’s largest privately-controlled, integrated technology company.” This acquisition of EMC proves total recognition on Dell’s part that devices are not it’s way forward. Instead, Dell is targeting big IT and the enterprise market.

Information Technology and enterprise are aggressively unexciting arenas for consumers, but at a time when Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, HP, Dell and everyone else are vying for a piece of the big enterprise pie (albeit in very different ways), it’s no small part of the vast technology landscape. The Dell-EMC deal is almost inconceivably massive, with that $67 billion price tag, but also serves as a larger indicator of what’s taking place in enterprise computing: consolidation.

“The market cannot continue to sustain all of these players,” said Glenn O’Donnell, Forrester’s Research Director for Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. “It’s going to continue to shrink into a number of mega-vendors.”

Dell’s trying to claw it’s way into a infrastructure and enterprise market that’s being rapidly devoured by cloud services–most notably, Amazon’s. Enterprise is where the money’s at, but it’s not a market that’s especially friendly towards fragmentation. So, is the Dell-EMC deal a game-changing power play or a $67 billion death rattle? That remains to be seen.

“They’ve got to consider how they’re going to play as a new and different vendor. Perpetuating the old-school IT model is not going to work,” said O’Donnell with regards to Dell going forward. “In the general landscape of technology, one big question has been looming…and that is: ‘What is the future for traditional tech? Are the HPs and the IBMs and the Dells and such really in a position to succeed in this new world order where the Amazons and the Microsoft Azures and the other cloud players are taking over…More and more of the IT investment is going into the cloud services, so what does that mean for these more traditional models?”

There’s a clear divide between hardware-heavy, old-school enterprise models and the light, agile enterprise solutions that are quickly eclipsing the clunky business tools of yore. Dell’s marketplace perception has long been one intrinsically tied to the devices it makes–the physical deliverables that are becoming a shrinking line item in its revenue stream.

“That is something that they need to move their messaging away from,” said Mukul Krishna, the Global Head of Frost & Sullivan’s Digital Media Group, “from a device company…to a much more agile, reconfigurable enterprise solution, scalable partner for the technology enterprise.”

To put it simply, big business is trying to lighten up and those not willing to join the cloud game and rethink flexible, scalable enterprise systems will be left behind. “Many of the technology companies who have taken a beating because they’ve focused on a very hardware-centric approach for a long time, have been trying to figure out what they need to do,” said Krishna.

So why these two companies? And why now? Well, rumors have been swirling around EMC for some time in light of stalling growth. And Dell? It’s looking to reinvent.

“One of the main reasons that Dell went private is because it wanted to restructure itself without all of the scrutiny,” said Krishna. “Buying someone like EMC that has been for a long period and has a very strong pedigree of selling that enterprise market was a very, very good thing because they immediately solved the perception problem.”

Effectively pulling EMC off of the market will allow Dell-EMC to make decisions without the scrutiny that comes from answering to the slew of investors that come with the public trading territory.

“The major attractiveness is that by merging with Dell and taking the company private it puts EMC’s assets in the hands of an owner that understands the value of EMC’s technology and also provides clear leadership in Michael Dell (as Joe Tucci retires),” said Matt Eastwood, an analyst with IDC. “The go private nature allows the company to make long term strategic bets around cloud, security, and analytics which will be critically important for the company in the future. The investments are difficult to defend as a public company looking where investors have a shorter term horizon for their returns.”

And as a company that needs to rethink its strategy for staying relevant in an enterprise conversation that’s quickly taking off towards the cloud, that freedom to maneuver may prove to be vital. Or, shall we say, Pivotal.

Pivotal is a joint venture between EMC and its most notable offspring (VMware) and was designed to compete with the enterprise cloud giant, Amazon Web Services. Dealing in big data and cloud computing, Pivotal encapsulates much of what Dell-EMC needs to become to keep up with the burgeoning enterprise market.

“The assets and strategic direction of the Pivotal umbrella cannot be overlooked,” said Laura DuBois, an IDC analyst. ” There is a change underway in enterprises – custom applications and being written in new ways, mimicking the direction Pivotal has taken.  These new applications lend themselves to server-based storage approaches.  So Pivotal gives Dell expertise in the app dev side and Dell provides the infrastructure software and systems.”

What about everyone else? We’ve established that enterprise is a big market with big margins. Where does a $67 billion deal leave the rest of the enterprise players? In short, it may lead to significant changes in enterprise technology cooperation.

“For the broader technology market, there will be shifts in strategy and partnerships that emerge,” said Eastwood. “For example, Cisco (a long term strategic EMC and VMware partner) may need to strike deeper alliances with others including NetApp, Microsoft Citrix, etc.  At the same time, Lenovo (another EMC storage partner) may be drawn closer to IBM for their storage needs.  Longer term, I believe the merger or EMC and Dell together will create the biggest headaches for HP Enterprise as they have many of the same hardware assets but Dell will now have deeper software assets in security, data management, virtualization and software defined infrastructures.”

Slack Posts New Functionality

Slack is widely acknowledged as the enterprise real-time messaging (work chat) tool with the most traction, having passed the million daily user mark in June. It seems that the company is not content to stay boxed into the work chat category, however. Yesterday, Slack announced and released Posts 2.0, a feature that enables the rich authoring of blog posts and publishing them to targeted collections of people.
Since its launch, Slack has had this feature, called Posts, that lets people write content that far exceeds the length of a normal chat message. However, it was so clunky that few people used it, if they were aware of it at all. To create a Post, one was sent out of the Slack application to a web browser, where text was written using a very simple editor and then saved back to Slack as an entry in the conversation stream of a specific channel or group.
The new Posts 2.0 includes an inline text editor, which improves the experience in two ways. First, it keeps users inside the Slack app. Second, it lets them create rich text with formatting styles like headlines, bulleted lists and checkboxes. Beyond that, the new editor also acts on embedded URLs by automatically displaying graphics, showing previews of websites and expanding tweets.
Once written, Posts can still be shared with specific individuals, channels and groups, whose members can comment directly on the entry (as opposed to creating an chronologically-ordered entry in the Slack conversation stream). This is one of two places in Slack where properly threaded discussions are possible; Files is the other.
There is another important new feature in Posts 2.0 – the ability to save and access Posts in the Files section of the Slack application. So rather than having to scroll through or search the Slack conversation stream to view a specific Post again, it can be easily found in the Files repository. Additionally, if an author stars a Post in the editor or a reader does so in the conversation stream, it will show up in Slack’s Starred Items list. 

Cool, But Do Businesses Need This? 

With Posts 2.0, Slack has complemented existing features with new ones that, in combination, begin to move the application beyond being primarily a work chat tool. Slack has now effectively become a lightweight Web Content Management System that enables blogging (to a targeted audience), file storage and sharing and threaded discussion (around Posts and documents stored in Files only). It’s a lightweight people directory with profiles too. Oh, and it’s still a communication and collaboration tool.
This expansion of mission is fine, but it immediately raises the question that I previously asked and continue to pose about Slack. Why? Do work teams really need an alternative to existing corporate communication and information management applications that already satisfy the same use cases that Slack is addressing? How is Slack better than the status update, IM, blogging, file sharing, and discussion tools for communities (groups) that are bundled in the enterprise social software applications and platforms that organizations have already licensed and deployed?
In addition to the functional redundancy, one also wonders if Slack will ultimately lose its audience by becoming the opposite of what it was originally. The application’s strong initial appeal was the simplicity of its user experience. By adding more communication and collaboration features, Slack risks becoming a complex mess of functionality that few will care to use, especially on mobile devices.
On the other hand, Slack may intentionally de-emphasize its application in the future, positioning and going to market as a platform on which developers can create their own apps. We’ll see. Many already refer to Slack as a messaging-centric platform. Time will tell if that is indeed their market strategy for the long-haul, but, for now, Slack is beginning to look like yet another bloated application.

The Internet of Things and Networks of Everything

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a hot topic for several months now, and there are new stories about it in the business and technology press on a daily basis. While it’s easy to view these as hype at worst and vision at best, there is no denying that purveyors of hardware, software and services are dedicating and creating the resources they will use to capitalize on the IoT. Last week alone, there were three announcements that show just how quickly the IoT market is progressing and how big of a business opportunity it is.
On Monday, September 14th, IBM formally launched a distinct IoT business unit and named former Thomas Cook Group CEO Harriet Green as its leader. The new IoT unit is the first significant step by IBM toward delivering on the $3 billion commitment it made to IoT in March. IBM signaled in Monday’s press release that the unit will “soon” number about 2,000 consultants, researchers and developers, who will use IBM’s assets to help customers get up and running on the IoT. Those assets will likely include the Bluemix platform-as-a-service (PaaS), Watson and other analytics software, as well as the MQTT messaging protocol standard for machine-to-machine communication that IBM submitted to OASIS in 2013.
The next day, Salesforce.com used its annual Dreamforce conference as the grand stage on which to unveil its IoT Cloud. This offering has at its core a new “massively scalable”, real-time event processing engine named ‘Thunder’ (to complement Salesforce’s ‘Lightening’ UI framework). IoT Cloud connects IoT resources and Thunder rules-based workflow to route data between them, triggering pre-defined actions. For example, when an individual enters a retail store, a beacon can offer them discounts based on qualification criterion such as loyalty program status and in-store inventory levels. Scenarios such as this will be possible because of IoT Cloud’s integration with the Salesforce Sales, Marketing and Analytics Clouds. IoT Cloud is currently in pilot and is expected to be generally available sometime in the second half of 2016.
While these two announcements are important milestones in the respective organizations ability to help customers connect to and use the IoT, they do not enable them to do so immediately and risk being labeled as more IoT hype. The sheer magnitude of resources assembled for each of these vendors initiatives signals that they believe that the IoT will be both real and profitable in the not-so-distant future.
The final piece of related news from last week underscores that smaller, pure-play vendors are delivering tools that help their customers get on the IoT now. Build.io announced that Flow, its integration PaaS that had been beta released in March, is now generally available. Flow features a drag-and-drop interface that is used to connect IoT elements ─ sensors and other intelligent devices, backend systems, mobile applications and other software ─ into an integrated system. Connections are made at the API level. Like Salesforce’s Thunder, Flow uses rules-based event processing to trigger actions from IoT data. In essence, Build.io is delivering today a critical part of what Salesforce intends to make generally available later this year.

Current State of the Internet of Things and Networks of Everything

These announcements, taken together, mean that the IoT is poised for takeoff. The first sets of user-friendly tools that organizations need to connect IoT nodes, transmit their data and use it to drive business processes are available now, in some cases, or will be coming to market within a year. We are on the cusp of a rapid acceleration in the growth of the market for software underpinning the IoT, as well as the network itself.
This latest batch of IoT announcements from software vendors underscores another thing: the IoT will initially be built separately from enterprise social networks (ESNs). Many organizations, particularly large enterprises, have experimented with ESNs and a few have managed to build ones that are operating at scale and creating value. Those businesses will be turning their attention to IoT development now, if they haven’t already. They will pilot, then scale, their efforts there, just as they did with ESNs.
Eventually, organizations will realize that it is more efficient and effective to build Networks of Everything (NoE), in which humans and machines communicate and collaborate with one another using not only the Internet, but also cellular, Bluetooth, NFC, RFID and other types of networks. This construct is just beginning to enter reality, and it will take a few years before NoE get the market attention that ESNs did five years ago and the IoT is now.
At some future point, when NoE have become a fixture of networked business, we will look back at this month (Sept. 2015) and declare that it was a watershed moment in the development of the IoT. We’ll also laugh at how obvious it seems, in hindsight, that we should have just built NoE in the first place.