Friday, July 29, 2011

What can we learn from Google Takeout?

One of the biggest pain points of Enterprise IT is the timely access to quality data. Data is typically spread across multiple systems, organizational units, diversified platforms and technologies/products. Now, if someone needs to have a unified view of such distributed data, its going to cost them a lot!.

And Enterprise IT world typically addresses these problems with heavy-duty solutions - Enterprise Information Models / Canonical Data Models, Data Governance/Standards, Master Data Management, Service-oriented Architecture, Application Integration, Business Intelligence solutions/ETL - Feeling Tired? :-)

End users are not that patient enough to wait for these heavy-duty solutions to pay off in multi-year transformational programs. The reasons being cost is too high and time-to-value is too short. If those programs deliver late in the cycle, the data itself could become irrelvant during those times!.

So, What would be the potential solution for these problems? Consumerization solutions have a lesson to teach to Enterprise IT products. And, this time its none other than Google.

On the day when Google launched Google+, its beta social networking site, it also launched 'Google Takeout', an initiative by Data Liberation Front within Google. The objective of this initiative is to enable the user to export his personal data from a variety of Google sites, whenever he/she wants.

To test the service, I tried exporting my personal data using my Google Id and downloaded the zip file. I would encourage you as well to do so!. You will be in for a surprise!. :-). Right now, Google takeout supports exporting from a variety of Google sites, including the newly launched Google+. Google claims its a big advantage over Facebook!.

Now, the question is, Why can't we have such a simple solutions to Enterprise Information Needs?. Pls note, Google Takeout supports exporting data not just from one app, but a variety of Google applications!

The second example I would like to quote is the integration of Google Maps with SAP BI solutions where SAP's BI data can be plotted in Google Maps!. This is a clear example of consumerization!. Enterprise BI solutions can no longer afford to boast about the computing capabilities or structural complexities!. The business/IT users are no longer in interesting in those stories anymore!. Deeply influenced by consumer-intensive IT solutions, the futurstic BI solutions need to demonstrate value in terms of novelty in simple/effective user experiences!.

Bring Your Own Robots?

In next few years, the issue of 'Bring Your Own Device' in Enterprise IT could also include 'Bringing your own Robots' to the company. :-). You may not be carrying a smartphone. You may be having a mini-robot which could assist in your work!. Does it sound like a sci-fi movie?. Not really!. It could be a reality soon!. And Corporate IT would be challenged to identify the security threats attached to those scenarios! :-)

Recently, Microsoft has released the Kinect Services for Robotics. This means that one can use Kinect SDK to develop robotics applications. And like any other technology, Robotics is also being consumerized. With Kinect having entered the Guinness book of world records for becoming the World's fastest selling electronic gadget & the release of Kinect SDK early this year opened up new explorations such as - 'what does this mean for end consumers?. What does it mean for Enterprises? What kind of business/consumer applications one can develop using Kinect?'

By releasing the SDK for Robotics, Microsoft has paved the way for using Gesture-based Computing/Sensor Technologies to be applied in robotics domain. The trend would not have got enough coverage, had it been released by a non-IT company. Microsoft, being an Enterprise IT & Consumer Technology company, it has generated lots of interests!

The next few years could be the defining years for transformation from industrial robots to consumer robots. The consumer robots can assist humans by offering a variety of services such as Elderly Care, Health Care, Home Automation/Management, Training, Tourism.

With Microsoft's cash cows being Windows & Office/Business Applications, its trying to apply kinect in Collaboration scenarios. It would be interesting to see the emerging app ecosystem around Kinect & Robotics!.

Incidentally, I also happened to read a IEEE article on Robotics which talks about Robotics & its impact on overall economy [Courtesy HP Blog]. The biggest question that gets discussed was - Will Robots take away jobs?. In the interview, the Industrial robotics company Adept Technology CEO talks in detail about Robotics, its impact on overall economy and international government policies. The interesting takeway from the interview is that Robots may take away jobs in the near term, but it could lead to generation of more jobs with company expanding to new markets/services.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Are you Game for Gamification?

Received a newsletter from MEGA, an enterprise architecture tools product company, today. The newsletter emphasized a lot on Gamification. Gamification means applying the mechanics of game to nongame activities to change people's behavior. Of late, its turning to be a powerful strategy for influencing and motivating groups of people. Analyst firm Gartner has been publishing a lots of positive views on this trend. It predicts that by 2016, nearly 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application. By 2016, $2.8 billion will be spent on “gamification” development in the enterprise. MEGA predicts that introducing Gaming concepts in Enterprise Architecture activities can lead to quality content contribution from the entire company.

One of the biggest influencers of Enterprise Applications in the last decade has been the collaboration features. Look at any of the multinational corporations, you will have minimum hundreds of Microsoft Sharepoint Websites, if not Thousands. Next to Outlook/Microsoft Office, Employees are used to lists, discussion forums, document repositories, and quite bit of Web 2.0 flavors -participation/commenting/rating/reviews. These collaboration features have also made inroads into business applications in scenarios such as B2C, B2B, B2E Portal solutions.

Its not just the technical ease at which these Sharepoint sites can be rolled-out alone contributes to massive proliferation, the fact that most of the business processes today are built around unstructured processes and unstructured artifacts also contributes to the adoption.

I believe the next biggest opportunity for Horizontal Portal products is to provide out-of-the-box support to introduce Gaming Mechanics and Dynamics to Collaboration Features. Similar to the way we incorporate workflow features to stitch diversified set of tasks and people to a common process, it should be possible in future to add gaming mechanics to any business process / workflows. Gaming mechanics are the various actions, behaviors and control mechanisms that are used to "gamify" an activity to create an engaging user experience. Gaming Dynamics are the desires and motivations that contribute to the mechanics. The mechanics include Points, levels, Challenges, Virtual Goods (e.g. virtual currencies). The dynamics include Rewards, status, Competition, etc.

While the idea of 'Gamification' is exciting, the use cases for applying Gamification concepts within enterprise applications should be carefully selected. The unstructured processes (like Innovation/ Ideation/ Brainstorming processes in a new product/service creation lifecycle) could be great candidates. In addition, the 'semi-boredom' activities within the company where people are not really motivated to do a good job since the nature of the job is so routine, can also be considered for Gamification.

Here is an interesting case study 'Idea Street' - Gaming mechnics applied to idea generation/development process - from UK Government.

Selecting the right use case, applying the right Gaming mechanics, Incorporating rich user interfaces - all in tandem can contribute to compelling & engaging user experiences. Engaged & Participating stakeholders in an enterprise's ecosystem can help to achieve a variety of business goals.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Telecom 2.0 & Communication Enabled Business Processes

When Amazon Cloud player was launched, I posted a note saying it doesn't make sense to store my personal music on the cloud and listen to the list by streaming over the network. I wrote, with the idea of applying cloud computing models all around the place, the biggest beneficiary is not going to be the user - but the Telecom operators!.

All new solutions target for a bigger and bigger network pipe - be it unified communications, Internet 2.0 coined by Cisco for multimedia content, real-time web, activity streaming, Audio/Video Uploads and Downloads. No doubt there is a value behind these new offerings. But, I believe 'bigger' doesn't necessarily mean 'smarter' solutions.

Its time that we demand 'smarter' pipes from our Telecom operators. We transact so much with Internet from PCs and Mobile Phones, that there is enough scope to offer 'smarter/intelligent' services over the Internet Pipe. Mobile Web is gaining lots of traction with the advent of smartphones and their PC-like capacities. Mobile Carriers have a larger role to play in rolling-out those value added services on top of their network.

When I had a chance to work with, I also realized the fact that granularity of service invocations would have an impact on your costs both from your SaaS provider and the Internet Service operator. More calls you make to the SaaS provider, the more you may end up paying on data charges!.

I had this question for a long time - Is this an Optimal design to do everything over Cloud?. If Cloud is inevitable, what more I could do leveraging the power of the underlying network?

I learned that industry is thinking on similar lines and started working on something called 'Telecom 2.0'. As part of the next generation carrier services, some of the operators have started providing APIs over their networks. So, People can develop innovative applications that can operate on their networks, as if they are interacting with application platforms. What could they do using those APIs? - For example, they can limit or expand the bandwidth availability to an application on-demand at runtime by interacting with carriers, they can communicate about their current location, they can convert voice communications to text, they can process SMS/MMS as intermediary between source and destination, they can in fact optimize the network communications (e.g. Caching the interactions with Cloud - This is my wishlist :-)).

Recently, world's third largest telecom operator Telefonica introduced network APIs called BlueVia that enables these new generation of applications.

For example, Some of the pilot applications written over those APIs include - SugarCRM customer representative receiving incoming voice mails in the form of text messages / return those calls from the application itself / another app called 'Caller ID 2.0' - providing the details of the user who calls you on your VoIP phone. That sound's really interesting!.

These apps fit in the category called 'Communication Enabled Business Processes'. I strongly believe this is going to be next biggest disruptor in business application space. Microsoft Lync and other unified communication solutions, if bundled the rightway, could become the next killer application & ubiquitous use case.

To top it all, the most interesting use case is - TaxiStop - a taxi booking and fleet management application that uses a Network APIs called BlueVia from Telefonica Corporation. The mobile application is available for Android, iPhone and Windows Phones and the core service sits in Microsoft Azure Cloud. The Cloud based service mediates the booking between the passenger and the driver in real-time and in the course of the transaction, it uses network APIs to send and receive SMS/MMS. Please note neither the passenger, nor the Taxi management company is managing the booking application. The services are all brokered via an intermediary which sits in the network. This is a classic example of multi-tenancy and innovative business model!. Apps like TaxiStop truly signal the arrival of a new paradigm - 'Network is the Platform, Network is the Data Center'. Its a significant mind shift change to rethink our business models and IT architectures!.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Who has your Social Graph?

This post is not really a mainstream topic of interest to Enterprise IT. Nevertheless, it could be of interest to observers of Social Networking tools/platforms.

Internet is abuzz with the launch of Google+. The site already started receiving lots of positive reviews from several critics. One of the key differentiators of Google+ from Facebook is said as the ability to create groups and manage the privacy within the groups. The groups in LinkedIn are pretty much public and anybody can subscribe to it provided the group moderator allows the registration. However, in Google+, as I understand, one can create groups that are specific & visible only to his profile and send messages that are visible only to certain groups. I was wondering, such a simple feature difference is a big deal?. I don't know. We'll have to wait and watch the success of Google+.

Here is another story that records an observation that users' activity in the Web is shrinking and most of the time is spent in Facebook. While the main story itself is not so noteworthy, the comments to the story are!. One of the commentor has rightly said Facebook is an American phenomenon and to succeed in emerging markets like India, Facebook needs to understand the local culture!. He also adds that Facebook must become a platform provider that would enable new players to launch value added social networking enabled services on top of the platform. I couldn't agree more!

This post is on the Indian culture and Social Networking!

Meanwhile, Yesterday I had a chance to attend a family function in my relative circle. During the occasion, I also had the opportunity to talk to several people whom I have not been in touch with, for a long time. I interacted with People of various age groups ranging from reasonably old (60+) to young (30). Certainly, it was a pleasure to talk to known people after a long time!.

One of the interesting aspect that I observed while talking to Seniors are - they are amazingly good in their memory, especially old memories. [Incidentally, this reminds me Nick Carr's comment Google makes us Stupid?]. When I enquired about someone who had joined the occasion, one of the Senior Gentlemen was able to articulate the entire "Social Graph" connecting himself and the other person. He was also able to give a "Social Graph" version connecting me and the visiting person. Remember, the Graph was like a linked list and it can be traversed from both the directions. While the Senior was able to seamlessly able to articulate the graph in few seconds, I was struggling to grasp and recall the social graph and interpret what it means to me!. A point to be noted, the Senior was highly educated and a Doctorate in one of the core sciences.

That's the Indian Culture!.

People in India, especially the previous generation who are in their 60+, educated or uneducated do not use technology for the sake of it. In their view of the world, using technology to capture certain interactions or transactions is less trustworthy!. Yes, if the trust factor is less, they need to record it!. Otherwise, if there is an interaction/transaction between two people from close networks, they would prefer the 'tacit/verbal agreement' way and that is deemed 'trustworthy' as well. That is because, People in close networks trust each other and using those networks, lots of things happen in people's lives - be it career counselling, arranged marriages, business relationships, conducting events. That was the power of the network. And all these happened without the use of technology (may be they used telephones/mobiles to certain extent)

And they accurately remember the 'social graph' of those family networks. My father used to simply surprise me by describing someone's identify in 5-6 levels of indirection in between :-). He didn't use technology!. And am sure People from India can relate to this experience quite well!.

This is just an example!. Similar to this, every country would have its own way of managing relationships and interacting them in their cultural ecosystem!. That needs to be truly understood if someone wants to build a truly social network that is valuable!.

A person's identity is not just a set of metadata!. Just because a person creates a new account in Facebook, doesn't mean that he needs to start from scratch to build his relationships!. He/She has a history behind him/her and that history holds much more powerful network than what he/she would create in his/her new account. The problem with Facebook, Google+ kind of networks assume that they need to be "told" about their relationships!. Maybe, this will appeal to 20+ who are just starting to use those social networks as hangout places to discuss movies/trivia. But, Networks are much much more powerful. They can help you accomplish a lot more in life if you know how to invest/harvest in the right way!.

Now switching to Enterprise IT...

The communication lines and information flow are restricted to lines in the Org. Chart within the company. And sometimes, the messages that flow between those lines are also based on certain org. protocols :-). And those flow lines eventually generate sparsely populated social graphs for individuals. Organizations having those cultures would have a tough task of realizing the social enterprise objectives. The Org. ecosystem should enable/support creating new information flow lines that would be productive to the individual and the overal l company.

Similar to the Indian culture, a person who works in an organization is much more than a collection of metadata. He/She has a history of experience/background/networks which could be lot more valuable to the organization if derived and codified in the right way among the corprate social networks!.

Well, then what is the right way?. Maybe, we'll need a Google ++ :-)