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.

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.

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.

Real-time Messaging in the Enterprise: Here We Go Again

There was a good Wired article, published yesterday, that bemoaned the rapidly-growing plethora of communication applications centered around real-time chat. Its author lists consumer-oriented applications to demonstrate the situation:

“I bounce through a folder full of messaging apps. I talk to a few people on Hangouts, a few others on Facebook Messenger, exactly one person on WhatsApp. I Snapchat all those people, too. I use Twitter DMs, GroupMe, HipChat, Skype, even Instagram Direct a couple of times. Livetext, Yahoo’s new app, is fun; I’ve been using that. Oh, and there’s email. And iMessage. And, of course, good ol’ green-bubble text messaging.”

The same problem is beginning to develop within businesses as their employees self-adopt enterprise-first chat tools from startup vendors that have been in-market for a while, including Slack, Hipchat, Wrike, Flowdock and others. Oh, and let’s not forget that many employees use the consumer-grade applications mentioned in the Wired article to conduct business, even if it’s against company policy.
Of course, all of these newer chat tools compete with IT-approved enterprise real-time messaging offerings for employees’ attention and love. IBM Sametime, Microsoft’s Lync and Yammer, and Salesforce Chatter are just a few well-known examples of longer-lived, enterprise-grade messaging applications and services that support real-time exchanges. To further compound the clutter, we are also seeing new chat offerings, from established enterprise collaboration software vendors, that mimic their consumer-oriented cousins. Jive Chime and Microsoft Send are real-time chat apps that have been released in the last four months to support organizations’ increasingly mobile workforces.
There are a few problems created by this overwhelming collection of enterprise real-time messaging options. First, these applications are largely siloed from each other, so employees have to remember in which one a certain conversation occurred or know in which application they have the highest probability of gaining a specific coworker’s attention. Second, some can interoperate with other enterprise applications via RESTful APIs, while others require more costly, time-consuming integration efforts. Third, some messaging applications support information governance initiatives such as records retention and disposal whereas other offerings essentially assume that chats are throw-away conversations that do not need to be archived and managed.
There are so many other issues that they will be better dealt with in another post. But they are bound by one clear fact: we’ve made all of these mistakes with previous generations of enterprise messaging technology.

The BIG Problem: Why?

The biggest problem facing the newest wave of enterprise chat tools is an existential one. It is not clear why they are needed when existing real-time messaging tools satisfy the same use cases. I voiced this in the following mini-tweetstorm on the day that Microsoft Send was announced. (read from the bottom of the graphic to the top)
Larry's Enterprise Chat Tweetstorm
That’s right. You can hold my feet to the fire on that prediction. Enterprise real-time chat is destined to quickly fail as a market segment and technology with significant, positive business impact. Just like the combination of status update and activity stream features in enterprise social software failed to displace email, instant messaging and other, well-established forms of business communication.
Insufficient technology is not the cause of poor communication within organizations. We have had at our disposal more-than-adequate messaging technologies for decades now. The real reason that employees and their organizations continue to communicate poorly is human behavior. People generally don’t communicate unless they have something to gain by doing so. Power, influence, prestige, monetary value, etc.
Well-designed technology can make it easier and more pleasant for people to communicate, but it does very little to influence, much less actually change, their behaviors. So the latest enterprise real-time chat applications may offer improvements in user experience, but they won’t measurably increase communication frequency or effectiveness in most organizations unless their deployment is accompanied by change management efforts that include meaningful incentives to communicate.
I intend to track and chronicle the rise and fall of enterprise real-time chat as part of my research agenda at Gigaom Research. Stay tuned over the coming months as we watch this drama unfold.
 
 

Google is reportedly creating its own on-demand ride service

Google is building its own ride hailing service, according to a Bloomberg report. The company will likely be integrating its service with its self-driving car technology.

There’s a pretty big conflict of interest here. Namely, Google Ventures is one of Uber’s big investors, and Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond serves on Uber’s board. That’s apparently how the news got out: Drummond told Uber what was happening, and now, Uber is weighing whether he can stay on the board, reported Bloomberg.

The news comes in the same hour as a TechCrunch report that Uber hired 50 senior scientists from Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics branch to develop its own self-driving car. It looks like the two companies are settling down to do battle over the logistics and transportation space.

It’s a big shift from Uber and Google’s prior relationship, which was quite cozy. Google spurned Uber competitors Lyft and Sidecar by integrating only Uber into its Google Maps’ directions feature. Google’s venture arm invested in Uber in the comparatively early Series C investment, leading the $258 million round.

Google believes it’s less than five years away from bringing its driverless cars to market. At the moment, the vehicles’ speed is capped at 25 miles an hour. As the technology develops and the cars get faster, however, the next obvious step is to shlep people about.

The fact that Google is already working on such a service, means the gauntlet has been thrown. Game on Uber.

This story is developing and we’ll update as we get more information.

South Carolina tells Uber to shut down in the state

On Thursday, South Carolina’s Public Service Commission (PSC) issued an order for Uber to cease operations. The state governing body warned the company to stop its service immediately and not to resume until all its driver partners have proper certification. In the directive, the PSC said, “Consumers benefit from, and deserve choices in, the marketplace. However, those choices must be consistent with state law intended to protect the public.”It’s not the only local government that feels that way. State governor Nikki Haley, however, didn’t feel the same. She sent a letter to the PSC Friday expressing disapproval at the decision.

Cygate’s automation odyssey

As a Sweden-based IT services firm, Cygate has faced the challenge of remaining competitive while not being permitted to develop the offshore labor model now common in its industry worldwide. Like many Swedish firms, Cygate has thus become an early user of technology to minimize their competitive disadvantage in labor costs, and their experience is instructive for enterprise IT shops looking to similarly leverage IT automation tools.

I spoke this week with Johan Toll, the CIO for Cygate, about their experience in implementing and adapting to IPsoft’s automation of infrastructure monitoring and service tools. Johan says Cygate has been growing at 20-30% a year, but able to keep its headcount growth nearly flat—an example of the ‘nonlinear growth’ that is something of the Holy Grail to the IT services industry. He attributes that feat primarily to their success in leveraging the IPsoft system.

Their initial implementation eliminated a department

Cygate customers tend to be highly visible and differentiated companies, such as airports and hospitals in Sweden, and so they are very much one-off implementations. Cygate also implements the automation tools one customer at a time. Johan says they first used the technology as part of their support services for a new customer and, as was their standard procedure, they initially added extra level-one support and operator staffing while they expected to learn the particular needs and issues for that customer.

However, upon checking in with the head of the service desk for the account after one month, he discovered that not one issue or problem ticket had actually reached the service desk—the IPsoft system had so well identified and handled directly any problems. This led to Cygate’s reorganizing their support for the customer—and for other customers for whom they have applied the IPsoft tools since. They no longer have service desk staff operators for those customers. Instead, those employees have been redeployed as level-two staff, and their level-two staff have been deployed to level three.

Not just simple, but also complex, repetitive tasks are prime targets for automation

Further, Cygate had found that the toughest 9-10% of their tickets traditionally had to be escalated to their expensive IT consultancy group for resolution. Upon automation, that has dropped to only about 1% of cases needing to go that more costly route.

These two sources of savings have confirmed for Johan not only the conventional wisdom that simple processes can be automated, but that complex processes can be automated as well—as long as they are repetitive in nature. This is because the automation tools can best ‘learn’ from and replace repetitive tasks, even if they are challenging and complex.

Quality management is another target for automation

Johan says much of this is analogous to the automation he sees with their manufacturing customers, such as a large automobile maker, have perfected over decades. A visit to the auto company’s factory floor inspired him to apply the tools in another area. Borrowing from the level of QM automation he saw on the factory floor of an auto manufacturer client, Johan looked to automate such processes as well. As part of the implementation, he actually went through hiring staff for six-sigma tracking. However, he quickly realized that there was no part of the process that the automation tools couldn’t handle without human intervention.

The human challenge

Johan says the greatest challenge with the automation, by far, has been the human adaptation. Previously support staff had been able to pick and choose which tickets to take personally and they chose when to close a ticket—sometimes before optimal completion. The system now assigns tickets on an optimized basis. The criteria considered in assigning a ticket include the agents’ level of experience with that client, the team (e.g., UNIX) required, and individual agent skills. Some issues, such as those outside of the service level agreement, can be closed by the system without human interaction. Also, the system can assure that an issue continues to be addressed until it reaches a proper conclusion.

Because agents have less control over what is assigned to them, Johan has found they take the initiative to sign up for more training in order to be prepared for what may come their way. This level of initiative has been very positive from a management standpoint. It makes for a more skilled and robust team that is less vulnerable to the loss of expertise if one team member leaves the company.

Because the system in some ways reduces the level of control that technical staff have, there may be initial discomfort and even some employees who, for the better, self-select out of the process. However, the advancement to handling higher-level issues with less repetition has ultimately led to not only more valuable, but also more satisfied, employees according to internal surveys. Johan is quite certain that this higher level of employee satisfaction in turn leads to more satisfied customers as well.

Cygate has been an engaged customer of IPsoft, nudging the firm into new areas of automation. With the expected new capabilities on IPsoft’s roadmap—including automating the process of identifying processes for automation (something now done bet network operating center staff), “cognitive automation” for interactive voice response (e.g. an automated agent providing highly customized interaction with a consumer-level insurance customer), anomaly detection, and big data predictive analytics anticipated by the year’s end—Cygate likewise expects to apply additional levels of automation to its processes.

Enterprise IT executives need to implement strategic labor—and systems—replacement

In short, Cygate has been able to eliminate both their front-line and much of their most expensive support labor. They also implemented an entirely new QM program that runs without any staffing at all. As Johan puts it, it took them six months to realize that what they had implemented wasn’t so much IPsoft operations—as it was labor replacement. Altogether, he has found 30-100% of human intervention in various applications can be replaced with automation.

Enterprise IT operations managers would do well to take note and scour their departments for potential labor replacement as well. But one more caveat applies for the enterprise environment. Rather than simply automating their current systems and processes, enterprise executives also need to take a rigorous inventory of their legacy systems to determine which can and should be contained in application—and which can and should be replaced with newer, lower-cost, more adaptable and less labor-intensive technology altogether. Either way, savings from automating IT operations should become a key element in freeing up talent and financial resources for new, strategic systems.

 

Don’t use that open API — it could be a trap!

Facebook’s shutdown of the Face.com API and Twitter’s increasing clampdown on its API reinforce the lesson that “open” APIs can be very appealing, but they can also become a lot less open over time — and developers and users can get trapped in the middle.