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.

Branson’s iPad Magazine App — Flashy and Confusing

Virgin billionaire Sir Richard Branson has jumped into the iPad magazine sweepstakes with a new entry called Project, which takes advantage of video, motion, interactivity and plenty of other features that the Apple device allows, but mostly winds up being flashy and confusing to navigate.

Mix Up the Workweek by Setting Your Own “20-Percent Time”

Google has what it calls “20-Percent Time”, where its employees spend one day each workweek on projects they’re passionate about, while 3M calls its version “15% culture,” which “encourages technical employees to spend 15 percent of their time on projects of their own choosing and initiative.”

What Every Client Needs

All clients are different, but there are some things you can count on every client needing from you as a freelance contractor. Some may be obvious, but others might not be so apparent, and having them in place could save you a lot of both embarrassment and money.

In this post, I’m going to list the standard things I provide every client. If any of these elements are missing, I find that someone walks away dissatisfied, be it the client or me. When present, they seem to allow things to progress fairly smoothly, although, as we all know, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. Read More about What Every Client Needs

3 Microsoft Project 2010 Productivity Enhancements

As a longtime user, I’ve seen that one of the biggest obstacles to users adopting Microsoft Project (s msft) is the app itself. It’s quite a complex application, and so it’s due for a productivity makeover to help it become more accessible to users who aren’t PMI certified.

The launch of the Microsoft Office 2010 Beta brings with it a number of changes. Here are some of its productivity enhancements:

Visually Enhanced Timeline View. Because the Gantt chart can be a miss with some audiences, the multiple and enhanced view options in Project 2010 should help project leads communicate project scheduling and status data to stakeholders and clients. Read More about 3 Microsoft Project 2010 Productivity Enhancements

Raising the Dead: Bringing Failed Projects Back to Life

1217399_sinistro_2Recently, I’ve noticed that more new clients are coming my way with a single request: to help them revive or resurrect a project, web site, or product that has failed in the past. I’m also capable of creating failed projects myself — sometimes I look at my track record and try to fix my worst projects hoping that I can make them better. Read More about Raising the Dead: Bringing Failed Projects Back to Life

Microsoft Project 2010 Promises Significant Improvement

Picture 19 Microsoft Project (s msft) is frustrating. Although it’s still a very good planning and project management tool, it’s tricky for non-PM professionals to get the hang of, and it hasn’t seen any significant updates in a very long time — while its (mainly online) competitors have been improving apace. Hopefully, that frustration should be eased next year, when Project 2010 is launched. Project 2010, officially announced today at the Microsoft Project Conference in Phoenix, looks like it will include significant improvements to the user experience, coupled with better integration with other Microsoft products.
I had a chance to speak to Senior Director of Product Marketing for Project, Seth Patton, prior to the announcement to get the lowdown on the new version. Patton says that it will be significantly easier for non-PM professionals to use, with an interface that includes the Office ribbon and a wizard-like Task Inspector that will make it easier to discover Project features without overwhelming the user, while at the same time retaining (and building on) the functionality that seasoned Project pros need. Simple collaboration will be available via SharePoint (so companies won’t necessarily need to shell out  for Project Server), and Project now integrates tightly with Visual Studio and Dynamics. The Project product range will also be streamlined, with a clear pathway to more advanced project and portfolio management capabilities as business needs change.
If you’re growing tired of the lack of updates to Project and are considering switching to one of its online competitors, you might want to hang tight until you can give this new version a run for its money. Somewhat annoyingly, Microsoft hasn’t made a beta available with the announcement, so you can’t try it out just yet; according to Patton, the public beta (which you can sign up for here) is due to land “before the end of the calendar year.” The final release should happen early next year, to coincide with the main Office 2010 launch.
Are you looking forward to Project 2010? Or have the lack of updates to the product forced you to jump ship?

Give Your Projects a Final Polish With a Standard Checklist

731545_check_it_2Soon after I clicked the “Publish” button on my blog dashboard, I realized I had made a mistake.
I’d read my post through three times before hitting that button, but somehow missed adding a crucial word — the word “don’t”. Inadvertently, I had told my readers that they “have to sacrifice too much to lessen their cost of living,” . Furthermore, two of the hyperlinks I had added were broken.
I am a sloppy self?editor, mostly because I am forgetful. I realized it was time to create a standard checklist to remind myself of all the steps I have to take before clicking “Publish”.
Since creating this checklist, I’ve made fewer mistakes and I haven’t had another “oops” moment. I created a similar list for my fiction, too. Anyone who does creative work should have a similar checklist to ensure that their projects are polished before submitting them. Read More about Give Your Projects a Final Polish With a Standard Checklist

The Deadline Game: Three Types

deadlineWhether freelancing, or in the corporate world, we all have to contend with deadlines. Deadlines generally come off sounding like shlock horror villains: they inch closer, approach, loom and grow larger. I’ve worked in settings where deadlines were paramount, and followed rigorously, and in situations where they meant surprisingly little.
In this post I’m going to discuss deadline management. Successfully managing deadlines is part knowing why specific deadlines exist in the first place, part knowing which are soft and which are firm, and a big part relationship management. Striking the right balance depends on the situation at hand, but generally speaking, deadlines fall into one of three categories and should be managed accordingly. Read More about The Deadline Game: Three Types