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.

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.

The Smart Mac: Address Book & Mail

Apple’s original implementation of “smart” file management isn’t just limited to the Finder, and in fact, you’ve probably seen it more often in other applications like Address Book and Mail.

Here are some ideas of how you can harness the power of these two applications using the same idea as Smart Folders.

Smart Groups

Address Book provides support for smart groups which allow for dynamic content, just like a smart folder. As new content is added that meet your guidelines, the group will automatically update.

Creating a Smart Group is as simple as going to File and selecting “New Smart Group…” or by clicking the plus icon (+) in the lower left corner of the Address Book window. Then give your group a name and set of criteria. As you add your second criterion, you’ll have the choice for your group to consist of any of your rules or all of your rules.

Here’s some ideas for useful smart groups. Read More about The Smart Mac: Address Book & Mail

Readtwit: Aggregate Links from Your Twitter Stream as RSS

As Twitter continues to grow, many of us are using our network of friends as a filter for news. In many cases, those trusted relationships are beginning to displace RSS readers as news aggregation tools. Of the 280 or so people I’m currently following, most are personal connections or experts in their field.

My usual workflow involves following sources of news in both Twitter and Google Reader (s goog), from where I might retweet links or bookmark them in Delicious. I know merging my RSS sources into my Twitter stream would be too noisy, though I’ve often thought an RSS feed of links from Twitter would be something I would benefit from in my reader.

Enter Readtwit, a simple, free service with a singular purpose: to roll all of the links shared by the people you follow on Twitter into a single RSS feed. Read More about Readtwit: Aggregate Links from Your Twitter Stream as RSS

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

App Review: Keymote Makes Shortcuts Even Easier

keymoteThere are no shortage of iPhone apps that function as remotes for your Mac, Apple TV, or just about anything else. Keymote (iTunes link), by Iced Cocoa, takes the concept to a new level by allowing custom “keysets” for all of your favorite applications.

So why would anybody need an app to do this when most apps have keyboard shortcuts already? Well the answer is simple if you consider the power of leveraging the large screen on the iPhone. When it launched sans a physical keyboard, Steve Jobs commented that it was a great idea to do away with it, because there are times when you don’t need a full size keyboard. If you are typing in numbers, it would be great to see large numbers instead of individual keys. Read More about App Review: Keymote Makes Shortcuts Even Easier

How to Evaluate New Applications and Services

530438_measure_upIt’s a great time to be a web worker. Almost every day, a new site, service or product comes on the scene that promises to make our work more efficient (or more fun). Some areas, like project management or image editing, are crowded with options. And in order to gain a following, many services are being offered inexpensively or at no cost.
But as Paisano wrote recently, current conditions won’t last forever. Many sites will eventually become fee-based; others will shut down when their funding runs out, or when their owners decide to move in a different direction.
So when I evaluate a product that I’d like to incorporate into my company’s workflow — especially a product that will be visible to clients — I try to consider the product’s feature set, along with the issues raised in Judi’s 2007 WWD post. I also ask the following questions: Read More about How to Evaluate New Applications and Services

Create Effective Project Milestone Sheets

The project milestone sheet is an incredibly important document for freelancers and their clients. It defines all the most important tasks, who is assigned to them, and when they are due. In other words, it serves as the map for your entire work process.

So how can you create a milestone sheet that works?