Tuesday, December 20, 2011

So, who is behind all this? Introducing a new kind of resume

Part of the reason Infrics.com exists is to provide a voice for my ideas about the future of technology, business, and society.  I have done a lot of work doing research for others.  On this site, you've seen the ideas that reflect my own original work, based on my IT career that started answering help desk phones, took me into C-level strategy meetings, and included a lot of discussions with leading IT vendors about the future.

Infrics.com is also designed to make my research, analysis, social media, and journalism skills visible to a prospective employer--contract, commission, or full-time.  One of the frustrations for the latter goal is that conventional resumes and conventional wisdom about them (summary form only, use lots of keywords to get caught by automated scanning systems, keep it to only 2 pages) leaves most of my talent unseen.

In consultation with a recruiter and career coach I trust, I've looked at his samples of great resumes that broke that mold, and taken a different tack with my own.  It starts with a this 10-second story about my value, a "Donald Ham Venn diagram."  At a glance, you or a prospective employer can see where I come from and where it's valuable.  You'll also learn the four ways that value becomes tangible, and meet the idea of a "fox" in the enterprise.  What are the other three?

Take a look.  If you've found value here in all the free content on Infrics.com, I'd appreciate your help to let people know I'm available, your consideration for consulting or contract roles in your own company, and your good wishes to help me continue this work -- making a good living by doing it.

Donald Ham's resume 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

From ReadWriteWeb: CIOs see consumerism as threat

Read this on the ReadWrite Enterprise site and see if it doesn't sound familar:

CIO survey: consumerism threatens the enterprise cloud

One quote in particular is comment-worthy:  "Consumers just have unrealistic expectations for the levels of services that IT departments are capable of delivering, say 74% of CIOs surveyed worldwide and 81% of U.S.-based CIOs. As a result, IT departments are having to be tasked with delivering functionality levels and multiple device support that they're not even ready for."

This is exactly what we've been discussing in the "era of you" series, and is a natural corollary to the conversation I reported with Podio's Ryan Nichols.  The IT organizations as they exist in most enterprises, and by association the businesses they serve, are threatened by the expectations of their users, and by the services those users can deploy themselves without an IT department at all.

The quote from CIOs has a hidden prefix: "As we operate today, if we don't change, we can't meet consumer expectations."  The logical extension of that quote is this: "we have to do things differently in order to meet those expectations."

Three things to start changing today: the big ideas

  1. Get your services house in order.  Structure data, infrastructure, ERP, and other elements that are mission-critical but unrelated to competitive advantage so they can be delivered as reliable, repeatable, recomposable services.  Manage complexity here to enable the flexibility you need at the user level.  This is hard work, but it's crucial to your success. 
  2. Get out of the business of managing devices.  Virtualize users' desktops, adopt stateless devices, sunset old client-server technology wherever possible, require new applications to be web-enabled.  Secure your data and quit thinking that securing the device is your responsibility.  Once you are stateless, every app and all the data lives in the cloud, and the device has virtually no security risk anyway.
  3. Organize for less command-and-control, more responsibility moved to individuals and teams. No organization can compete well in an era of empowered users when everything is subject to committee, cover-your-ass stagegates and approvals, and "I can't budge until I'm 100% certain I won't be blamed for doing the wrong thing" thinking.  
The fears about consumer demands are very real.  Moreover, in an improving economy, those consumers inside your company and without will vote with their feet, and take their skills and their business to those who implement the action points above.  

How much longer do you think you can get away with inaction? 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The digital personal assistant: Google's Majel project says "make it so"

Image from Android and Me website
Android and Me just published this article on Google's AI/personal assistant/Siri competitor, Majel.

More info on Google’s Majel, moving a little faster towards that Star Trek future | Android and Me:

I believe one of the biggest tech changes we'll see in our lives in the near future will be the digital personal assistant, powered by artificial intelligence, completely voice-enabled, and democratizing the experience of top executives, who have a trusted personal assistant.

It's the missing piece in a fully realized tech immersion life, in which we effortlessly know what we need at all times. See this article on "Rosie" for a sample of this life, and how it can happen. In that article I said that Google might be the best positioned company to deliver this future; this article hints at how close they are getting.

'via Blog this'

Friday, December 9, 2011

Operating systems don't matter much anymore | Applications - InfoWorld

Thanks to John Gallant, head of IDG Publications, for the LinkedIn alert to this story, which reinforces one of the 3 Big Idea topics, stateless computing.

With this quote, we see the emergence of "OS-as-a-service."

"Operating systems will remain important for us as long as we use computers. But for the most part, they are only going to matter to people behind the scenes."

Author Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols also refers to one of the key metrics in another big idea, services-driven business and IT: the hallmark of a well-delivered service is that consumers of the service don't have to know or care how it was delivered, only that it works.

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Innovation Excellence | The Geoffrey Moore Interview – ‘Escape Velocity’

Innovation Excellence | The Geoffrey Moore Interview – ‘Escape Velocity’:

This is an excellent interview from the Innovation Excellence site, with great enterprise leadership takeaways: Especially note the differentiation between leadership (currently undervalued) and management (over-valued). And the idea of "neutralization innovation," responding to competitive threats in order to minimize their impact. For instance, if RIM had moved quickly enough with the BlackBerry to neutralize the iPhone threat, their business might not be under threat today.
'via Blog this'

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What happens when users won't play "Mother, May I" with IT?

--part 2 of the "Big Ideas" conversation with Podio's Ryan Nichols

Last week, Infrics.com featured Ryan Nichols, formerly of SAPs strategy office, formerly of cloud integrator Appirio, and now a vice president for applications at startup Podio.com.  Nichols has been on the front lines of the three current faces of enterprise software: big legacy ERP, cloud platforms and applications, and now with Podio, end-user empowerment, and the rise of "citizen programmers" who can purpose-build their own applications without the presence of any IT department.  Here is the article about Podio's approach:  "The two-minute, user-created app; how Podio leads the era of you."

Life in the C-suite is never easy, but right this minute CIOs and the CEOs of their companies face daunting tech challenges: on the one hand, there are enormous pressures to be more agile, yet still deal with legacy technology installations, execute on existing efforts, and manage costs; on the other, a loud and increasingly empowered base of business units and end-users who are mad as hell at IT for not keeping pace with their tech experiences as consumers--and who now have the power to source their own tech solutions without any input from the corporate IT department. Add to this the simple fact that a larger corporation has built-in inertia and change resistance that render it like a big steamship approaching icebergs; you can see the danger, but avoiding it is slow at best.

"Shadow IT," or "Rogue IT" is big enough to elicit this article from CIO.com last summer, "How to Keep Rogue Cloud Software from Making IT Irrelevant", and a cover story on the issue in September.  Research studies suggest that corporate IT departments significantly underestimate the extent to which users in their own businesses are "doing it for themselves."

Since Nichols has had a presence across many facets of enterprise IT, and now is with a company designed specifically to put tech development into the hands of end users, we talked about the whole "era of you" idea, which led to this discussion:

Don:  This whole social, consumerization, all this is moving toward a dramatically greater degree of personalization for each of us as an individual and as a worker, but also moving the power to choose, implement, and get value from technology much closer to the people who use it every day. Taking IT out of the picture as the people without whom you can’t do your job. One reason Podio is especially fascinating to me is that it seems to facilitate that “era of you” concept--that you do it for yourself.

Nichols:  that’s exactly what we’re going after. The first wave of platform-as-a-service has been very enabling for IT, where IT can build apps without having to worry about infrastructure...but I have to say, at my last company we ran our entire business on salesforce and force.com, and I never once built an app of my own. I took what IT gave me and then when I needed to get something done, I turned to a Google spreadsheet. That’s broken, there’s this huge in-between space where all the time I’d be trying to manage something, trying to get something done and getting it done in e-mail and documents--there’s a more productive way to do it.

Don:  You play “mother may I” with IT.

Nichols:   Yeah, and that’s broken too. It’s in nobody’s interest for me to do that. But these are the tools that I’m given, so that’s what I make do with. There should be a better way.

Don:  If I’m a CIO, and let’s say I’m at a company that’s three or five billion dollars a year, and I’m seeing this promise, but I’ve got huge volumes of data and thousands and thousands of employees, and regulatory compliance, and my legal department...what’s your advice to a CIO like that? Podio might be part of their picture, but they understand on some level that this is all broken, too. It’s a common refrain among a lot of analysts that enterprise IT is broken.

You represent kind of the extreme of ultra-agile user empowerment. As someone who’s out there scouting in that area, what’s your message to big legacy-bound CIOs?

RN: First of all, I have to communicate, they’re in a tough spot. There’s no easy answer for enterprise CIOs because it’s not a question of whether they’re going to empower their employees or not. Their employees ARE empowered. They are doing what they need to do to get their jobs done and to the extent that IT helps them with that, great, but when that stops, they’re ALREADY doing the rest themselves. And whether they’re doing that by using existing tools in unintended ways--e-mailing spreadsheets of very confidential information around--or whether they’re using unauthorized tools like the plethora of consumer-grade apps that we see being adopted like crazy in the enterprise.

So it’s happening anyway. It’s ITs choice to get behind what’s already happening and put in some degree of combination of control and support.  If you are participating in that and engaging in that dialogue in as secure a way as possible, then that’s a far better outcome for your enterprise than either pretending like it’s not happening, putting on the blinders, or putting up a fence and saying “you’re not going to break out of this fence,” because that’s just not the reality.  This is happening anyway and I think ITs only choice is to embrace and extend: accepting the fact that, yep, people are going to be using their own devices. Let’s embrace that and figure out how to make that secure.  They are going to be adopting all the software tools that are available to them on the internet to get their job done.  Let’s figure out how to do that in a way where they’re using SSL to access them, just to give an example.

I think those are going to be the tradeoffs that enterprise IT is going to have to make.

Don: That sounds like it might be part of your own value proposition to Podio, because you’ve been on the other side. With a career at SAP, that’s about as un-Podio as you can get and still talk about technology.

RN: (laughs) I think that’s true. You know, the reality is that enterprise IT is going to be looking to different vendors for different things, and I think one of my learnings from the time I spent at SAP is that SAP’s enterprise customers want SAP to be the system that doesn’t change, be the system that they don’t need to touch more than once every five years. That’s what they want SAP to stay, which is why it’s so tough for SAP to innovate and change because at the end of the day, their customers don’t really want them to.

Don:  As you know, except for the cost of licensing and maintenance, probably the biggest single complaint with that company is UI (user interface.)  It has been since I’ve ever known of SAP. Podio must care very very deeply about UI because it’s just you and me out there making things.

RN: It’s one of the core values in the company, and one of the reasons I think we really benefit from our headquarters in Copenhagen. There’s just something in the DNA of Podio around beautiful, simple, clean design. It’s the only choice. If something’s complex, if it’s cluttered, if it’s wrong, it doesn’t make it into the product. It helps being able to start with a clean sheet of paper; even systems that have started five years ago, ten years ago, are burdened with a usability legacy that Podio isn’t burdened with.

When you’re able to start fresh and build something that’s built to support this type of work, you can make it beautiful and that’s absolutely what we aim to do.

Don: It’s funny to think of salesforce.com as being the slower alternative.

RN: Salesforce has a really nice problem of being dragged upmarket and embraced by IT and embraced by IT at larger and larger companies. And that’s great for salesforce, it’s good for their business. I think that it does leave space for a lighter weight way of doing things. This is a natural trajectory of solutions to be dragged up, and that creates a space underneath for a new generation of software with even subtle architecture shifts that you have to bake in from the beginning."

In another part of our conversation, Nichols and I talked about the challenge a company like Podio might present to a CIO, ways to think of that as an advantage instead, and how enterprise software may soon be created and shared via social means--how tech-enabled community may enter the enterprise equation in new ways:

Don: Since I used to wear a corporate IT buyer’s hat, I can say to Podio, “you’re the gateway drug for shadow IT, and you’re going to cause me a huge headache when all these user-developed apps start hitting my enterprise.” How do you respond to that idea?

RN: I would argue that you’d much rather have those things in Podio, where we have centralized administration and you can control the users who have access to these different spaces than where they are today, which is on Excel spreadsheets that get forwarded to who knows whom and posted who knows where, and saved in dropbox.

Don, So if I take off my corporate hat and become the Podio salesman, I say “no, we’re the gateway drug that lets you say yes to your users.” Is that the value proposition?

RN. That’s exactly right. And over time, there’s a lot more that Podio can do to empower IT to be even more supportive and involved in this process. We’re early in that.

Don: If I’m an SMB or a startup, and I’ve got a green field, this sounds extraordinarily attractive, but what if I've got legacy apps in my enterprise and I still want to take advantage of the agility and user empowerment that Podio promises?

RN: I sometimes draw a pyramid; companies that are bigger use Podio in different ways than companies that are smaller. Companies that are smaller use Podio for a broader variety of things because they don’t have established systems. Small companies use us as a CRM system, which, even a 500-person company would struggle to use Podio as the customer master system of record, it’s not really built for that. But for a smaller team it works great.

For larger teams, we have 500 person teams using Podio all the time for project management, event management, those sort of use cases, where it’s not the system of record, it’s a situational app for this project, for this event.

You can bring data into Podio in a couple of different ways, which is helpful if you have an existing system, and want to use Podio as the social layer, the integration layer. We built out integrations with a lot of systems that our small business customers use, like Freshbooks and Zendesk for ticket management. We have a number of customers who use Zendesk for their ticket management, but when they want to have a discussion around a particular ticket--how is this going to translate into our product roadmap--they take that into Podio, and Podio is kind of the social layer around the Zendesk ticket. The (Podio) apps are built up around that data that comes in from Zendesk.

We have a handful of those integrations today, that’s an area that we’re growing in, and that actually comes back to your earlier question about the developer community. I spend most of my time talking about these business-person developers. That’s the second half of our developer community -- the ecosystem of SaaS applications that we’d love to integrate with Podio, so that Podio can be that extensibility layer. The easiest way to build an app to extend Zendesk should be Podio, right, the easiest way to extend Freshbooks should be Podio.

We have a couple of those early proofs of concepts, but that’s the other area that I’m looking to grow our app community. That’s a more commercial aspect of our app ecosystem. Today our app store is primarily businesspeople building apps to share them to support each other and to swap best practices, and to just be more effective. That’s what’s going to motivate a businessperson to share an app in our app store. An ISV is going to build a Podio integration and then use that as a way of driving traffic to their business, making their solution more attractive to their customers.

Don: so there’s a place for VARs (Value Added Resellers) there too?

One consultancy in particular has put Podio into more than 50 of their clients. This is despite having no formal resale program and no formal VAR program. They just find it to be a very effective of doing the stuff at the edge where the business has all these requirements that they don’t want to go off and get an app for this, an app for that. They just want them all to be in one environment where you’re just getting your work done--and that’s Podio.

Don: It strikes me that if so many people have the power to create their own app, some people, maybe across different companies, are going to end up solving similar problems at the same time. Is there a social means for them to share knowledge or find subject matter expertise? Where does that fit in Podio’s universe?

RN: So this is where our app store is headed. App store is almost the wrong word. We call it an “app store” because people think app store is the place to get apps, which is exactly what it is. But today It’s not really a commercial environment; all the apps in the app store are free and a lot of them, an increasing number of them, are created by Podio users. We seeded it with apps that we created. Now, Podio users are sharing the apps that they’ve created, largely to do exactly that.

They’re putting it out there they know that this was a useful starting point for them, but they’re curious how other people are doing it. Every app has its own feed, a common feed, where people are engaging in dialogue. And that’s really the first step towards building out communities that help us go to market vertically. We found that we had over 50 real estate brokers using Podio to manage their interactions with their real estate clients. None of them are competitive with each other, they’re all in different geographies, and I’d love to put those 50 real estate brokers together into a Podio space. Let’s put those 50 people into that space and get them swapping tips and tricks with each other. That’s the direction you’ll see us go, we haven’t done much to connect those 50 people with each other yet, except for the app store, so you’ll see us move more in that direction."

Enterprise IT as we have known it is in trouble.  But the intersection of the three big ideas I've been elaborating this year offers hope, even to very large companies and very large enterprise IT operations.  As Infrics.com big ideas coverage continues, we'll build out that outline for a better future:
  • Core services where you maintain security and regulatory control, and rigorously standardize to provide reliable, predictable tools for business units and users to create the tech answers they alone understand best.
  • How stateless devices let enterprises get out of the business of managing laptops, tablets, and phones, and why it's one of the most powerful ways to make things better.
  • Organizational structures--flatter, modular, and collaborative--that free empowered users to drive the business forward.
  • Social and application tools at the user level, and the social behaviors that can revolutionize business process and execution.
  • ...and the IT department that disappears into the business itself, at last delivering the promise of technology as trusted business partner.

More on this soon, in the forthcoming article, "How business succeeds in the era of you"

Monday, November 28, 2011

An Infrics.com research consult day: money well spent

Since I took the infrics.com site live last spring, the most popular articles by far have been the ones on planning, buying, and managing research.

Vermeer's "The Geographer"
image from wikipedia.org

I understand this well, because in all my years of buying research for a living, I never did see good objective analysis of the field itself: the strengths and weaknesses of the research companies, the sales and customer service strategies they use, and the best practices for spending research money as a consumer of those services.    The series of articles is here:  The Business of Research.

Those articles are free, and always will be.

At the paid level, an Infrics.com consult day combines that insight with specific advice for your own company, delivers a research strategy and action plan, and acts as catalyst to make best use of the time and money you devote to your research efforts.

These are the deliverables:

  • Opening workshop;  your own business research needs, mapped in real time against your organization, culture, and goals. Who are your research "customers?" What do they want?  What do you want FOR them?
  • The big 3 research companies: Gartner, Forrester, and IDC.  Best practices for choosing, buying, and working with each.
  • Other research sources: some are free, many are much less expensive than the big three. Learn what they are, why they're important, and how to work with them.
  • Social tools and expertise sharing in your organization: how they are a "hand in glove" fit with research. Work hands-on with social tools.
  • The 80/20 rule for research: could it be the best answer for your organization?
  • Strategic and tactical research: why you need both, how to get highest value from each.
  • Organizing internally for research value: centralized? federated? distributed?  Ways to envision research management.
  • What's your RoR--Return on Research? How to know, when standard metrics measure the wrong things.
  • Walk away with a specific action plan. Entry level, mid-tier, or all-in? We'll create each, and compare cost and returns.
  • Ongoing support: unlimited followup calls for 12 months after the initial engagement at no additional charge.
The one-day on-site engagement is $2500 plus travel.  While I will happily discount for non-profits, NGOs, and startups, I will NOT gouge a larger corporation for huge consult fees just because it's the standard (a day with an analyst from the big three is typically priced at $10k.)  Please feel free to ask about customized plans,  and combinations with other workshops like Tech Triggers Innovation, or Big Ideas.  

E-mail to discuss scheduling or other questions, or leave a comment below and I'll contact you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The two-minute, user-created app: how Podio leads the era of you

--the first of two parts: an “era of you” Big Idea feature story

The ability of end users to choose and implement technology without technical skills, often without the need for a formal IT department, is central to one of the largest tech trends shaping the future.  The ways we live and work--and the degree of personalization and individual choice we command as we do--are undergoing a revolution.  

Podio's Ryan Nichols
The best IT department is the one you no longer need.  We’re seeing this emerge first in small companies, then the small-and-medium-business (SMB) category.  Neither will large enterprises be immune, as newly-empowered employees and departments begin taking tech matters into their own hands when IT can’t perform fast enough.

Innovative startups see this trend--the “era of you”--and are moving quickly to be a part of it.  This story is about one of them, and a silicon valley veteran who is on the forefront.

Ryan Nichols can speak about emerging technology from a career across many enterprise tech worlds.  Classic in silicon valley credentials, he is a Stanford business graduate, and directed the corporate strategy group at SAP.  He was VP for marketing and product management at cloud integrator Appirio.com when we first met in early 2009 during an Appirio engagement at Avon.  He blogs at ComputerWorld.

Today, Nichols looks at the way work is done and says, “there has to be a better way.” In September, Nichols joined Podio, a company that’s working to enable end users to be their own app creators, and offer the platform to deliver that “better way.”  

The Copenhagen-based company exudes startup excitement and agility.  Their U.S. office is in a downtown San Francisco tech co-officing loft space, an old brick two-story building with steel casement windows; somehow it escaped the wrecking ball as conventional office buildings loomed around it. There’s the ultimate tech-driven gestalt of jeans, rumpled dress shirts, open beams and brickwork, backed by the hum of people on a mission to make their fortunes while re-making the world.

On a blustery early November day in San Francisco, my meeting at Podio US involved a 20-something receptionist-for-the-whole-building waving me in, saying “Podio’s upstairs at the back left corner, the tables by the window,” picking my way through tables occupied by 10 or 12 other companies, and a short wait while Nichols returned from a meeting.  There are no cubes, no offices per se, just a series of small conference rooms around the perimeter of the workspaces, with no sort of reservation system beyond “hey, is anyone using this room?”   If you’ve ever trudged to work in a standard corporate IT cube farm, this is really heady stuff.

I’m in a modern, Aeron-style chair at a trestle table with three or four other Podio staff, a programmer intent on his laptop nearby.  Like a lot of knowledge workers lately, for everyone in the building, their entire office is their laptop, tablet, smartphone, a backpack or messenger bag to carry them, and a WiFi connection. There are a few bigger monitors scattered here and there, a whiteboard or two, a dusting of sticky notes from a brainstorming session.

The “this is the very edge of innovation” feel is in stark contrast to my last meeting with Nichols, at Appirio’s San Mateo office in August, in a modern atrium office complex across a suburban boulevard from a shopping mall, all khakis and BMWs.   As I would learn just a few days later, that August meeting was right before Nichols announced the move to Podio.  There are two different startup vibes in the bay area now.  As we’ll learn in the course of the conversation,  even a very innovative company like Salesforce turns out to be one step behind the curve from a use-case and architecture perspective.  Nichols told me, “I saw Appirio grow from 30 people to 300 people, and I was kind of itching to get back to 30, which is about where Podio is now.”

“When I saw what Podio was doing, building a very, very horizontal platform to help businesspeople develop their own apps that they really owned and fit the way that they wanted to get work done, that was pretty intriguing to me,” Nichols explained, “It seemed like a really fresh approach. In a world where there are a lot of online project management tools, a lot of online task management tools--the idea of creating a platform for people to create their own tools was pretty intriguing to me.”

Nichols says, “I sometimes describe Podio as “Excel meets Facebook.”  

"Today, when you’re in that in-between space--you know it’s too structured to get done in e-mail,  but there’s no application to support you--what you do a lot of the time is create an Excel spreadsheet with ten, twenty things on it, five columns, column number four is “who’s responsible,” and column number five is “comments.”  And you e-mail it out to 10 people and you say “fill this out for me.”  That ought to be an app.  That’s a perfect use case for Podio.  That’s something that’s “no developer required.”  It’s as easy to build as an Excel spreadsheet, but when you’re done, it’s as engaging and interactive as Facebook.”

Here is a video from Podio demonstrating how users build their own apps:

Nichols says, “This is definitely one of those services where it’s “go to podio.com, enter your e-mail address, and you’re off and running.”  You’ll have an app two minutes later, and you can make it your own two minutes after that, and then share it with your team two minutes after that.”

The platform is mobile-enabled automatically, with iOS and Android apps that allow users to log in and use their Podio applications with no custom programming. 

Nichols tells the story of a small firm that took Podio’s platform and ran with it:  “we had a swimming pool cleaning company in Kuwait that created an application to help them to manage groups of guys going out in vans to clean pools.  There’s no commercial application to support the pool cleaning business, at least not one that’s any good. 

So they created an app in Podio where there’s a pool app that keeps track of things like pH balance and depth and so forth, and a van app that keeps track of who’s in what van.  Then, every time there’s an algae bloom in a particular pool, they have a little collaboration around “hey, let’s get the expert involved and figure out how to handle this.”  

They built it and were using it on the web, which was fine, guys were bringing back their clipboards and recording everything back in Podio.  When we released our iPhone app, it changed the game.  

They deployed iPhones to all their drivers, and they automatically had their own mobile app, which is a pretty cool thing.  For an organization that size, I think they have one IT contractor, no IT department essentially, to be creating their own mobile productivity app that they really run their business on is pretty cool.”  

Podio has signed up 40,000 organizations.  A Podio app store already lists 600 applications, arranged by horizontal uses like business development, marketing, or CRM and by vertical business needs like accounting, HR, and property management.  More than 200,000 have been downloaded by Podio users.

But Nichols added, “app store is almost the wrong word.  We call it an “app store” because people think app store is the place to get apps, which is exactly what it is.  But today It’s not really a commercial environment; all the apps in the app store are free and a lot of them, an increasing number of them, are created by Podio users.  We seeded it with apps that we created.  Now, Podio users are sharing the apps that they’ve created, largely to do exactly that."

Podio is “a classic freemium model.”  The first 10 users at a company are free, so is collaboration with anyone outside your company; Podio just announced that the platform will also be free to university students worldwide.   Beyond that, “there’s a per-user, per-month charge for every employee you have using the Podio platform.”

Podio reflects the “era of you” idea all the way to its data architecture, which, as Nichols explained, “has the user at the center of its data architecture, so “user” comes above “org,” which is the exact opposite of every other SaaS system out there--org is kind of the primary thing, and you almost had to do that, because at the time, the only way you could sell the concept of multi-tenancy to a buyer was to really emphasize the “tenant” part of that.  Really emphasize the fact that everything was in a virtual container for your company.  The buyers have matured enough to realize that there are other ways of providing security, and we can put the user at the center, and have users be part of multiple orgs.  That’s an enormously powerful shift.”  

Podio handles user and role security segregation, so users only have access to the things they have rights to. Nichols says, “It’s every bit as secure as the other model, but it gives us a whole bunch of flexibility.  It’s just more usable to be in one environment and see all the different organizations that you work with, because we all work with different organizations.”

In this way, Podio has demonstrated one of the ways in which innovation happens; the idea of user-centricity needed deployed iterations of multi-tenant cloud computing to help the buyer community adapt to the concept and prepare them for a newer model.  In the user-centered data and security model, it becomes much simpler for Podio to allow users to be part of networks with other Podio users.

What is the implication of the newer idea?  “Podio can spread virally from company to company across business ecosystems, “ Nichols said, “that’s something that business software has never been able to do: spread virally across companies.” This is the sense in which a new company has seen beyond today's hot idea, cloud computing, and enabled a new kind of cloud-based innovation.

This screen shot shows what that looks like in practice:

As organizations evolve, as the community and social tools of the consumer space find their value expressions within companies and the life of work, we’re sure to find new value delivery opportunities.  Among these will be much more flexible, repurposable work teams, and the rise of internal “free agents” who connect flexibly to multiple organizations, teams, and projects. That's the very model enabled by Podio's user-centric architecture.

There will be more “situational” tech deployments that arise quickly, serve a need, and disappear.  Small businesses will have greater power to look and feel like very large ones, and very large companies may achieve levels of agility, personalization, and responsiveness that could make mom-and-pop operations jealous.

But all that implies a lot of challenges as well.  Companies with legacy appllications and infrastructures, command and control organizational structures, and service delivery structures that are either not there or not fully realized all are positioned to run headlong into the changes that society and technology are advancing.  For small and large businesses alike, a lot depends on how well they understand and act upon the big ideas, the changes at hand, especially the era of you.

In the second part of my discussion with Ryan Nichols, we examine those questions:

What happens when users won't play "Mother May I" with IT?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In the Era of You, you know more, and expect more: Ross Dawson on increasing technology expectations at work

Ross Dawson
Do you hire or manage people? Do you work in an IT department, or influence technology choices?  One of the most powerful trends driving the future is the relentless movement of technology choice and power ever closer to the people who use it.

If you or your IT department represents a barrier to that trend, instead of an enabler, better batten down the hatches.  Users and business departments will make greater demands, and will go right around you and do it themselves if you slow them down.  Thanks to ever more powerful consumer devices and cloud-sourced, low inertia applications, they can.

Futurist Ross Dawson just posted this article, outlining employee expectations.  Excellent reading.

5 facets of employees’ increasing technology expectations | Trends in the Living Networks:

'via Blog this'

More on "the era of you"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wired Magazine interview with Jeff Bezos: Kindle Fire, taking the long view, and why Amazon is the opposite of Apple

Image from wired.com
Steven Levy, a senior writer at Wired magazine, just shared a preview of an upcoming feature on Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos.

Jeff Bezos Owns the Web in More Ways Than you Think

I admire a lot about Amazon, and this article is well worth reading; do you agree with Google's Eric Schmidt, who says the four most important tech companies are Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon?

Much of what Amazon.com does falls right in line with the big ideas I've been evangelizing here on infrics.com: back-end standardization to enable agile deployment of services, and server-based, device independent delivery of applications and content are leadership areas for Amazon.  Levy presents the idea, which I think is spot-on, that if Apple is post-PC, Amazon is post-web, "in which our devices are simply a means for us to directly connect with the goodies in someone’s data center."  

I follow Steven Levy on Google +

Friday, November 11, 2011

"The first completely new payment system in 30 years"

Dwolla founder Ben Milne. Image from Business Insider.com
LinkedIn just featured this story from the Business Insider website, and it's a natural for the business innovation ideas we've been talking about.

Dwolla is "an innovative online payment system that bypasses credit cards completely."

By using the existing bank-to-bank ACH system and charging only $.25 for a transaction of any size, this startup is now moving $350 million a month.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mission: Cats has a $300 (total!) tech budget, but you'd never know it by their social media impact

Benton and Maeby at Mission:Cats
They are up for adoption.
On 18th Street in San Francisco, in the Mission just around the corner from Folsom, is a new 2 story office condo, urban-hip and all corrugated steel panels. It houses a lot of very small businesses, some of them using 300 square feet or less. On the ground floor is a micro coffee shop, barely large enough for a couple of customers.  There's a hair salon.  And Mission Cats, a cat boarding hotel run by life partners Genna Darby, 23, and Ash Wilkie.

The women are not from the tech world, but they're lifetime tech natives.  Mission: Cats is not a big business (5 employees total,) nor a tech startup hoping to be acquired and make its founders' fortune. But they have much to teach us all about technology in business, largely because for Genna and Ash, it's just something they know instinctively.  As Genna told me, "it's a cat care business, but I feel like the technology is just so integrated, just like it's integrated into the City of San Francisco and the bay area. People just expect it."

Genna Darby
What do they do?
  • Cat-cams are online for a good part of the day, allowing owners to check in on their cats in real-time.
  • Throughout the day, staff take photos and videos of the cats, and post them on Facebook and tumblr.  
  • Real-time alerts of new posts are issued throughout the day on Twitter.
  • Cats Exclusive monitors reviews on Yelp, and takes full advantage of referrals from the site. 
  • Owners can also opt for photos and videos by e-mail while they're away from their cats 
How much has all this cost the small startup business? "We have about $300 total invested in software and equipment," Genna said, "we have a used Mac mini we bought on Craigslist, some webcams, and we did spend $30 for webcam management software from Evocam."  Mission: Cats uses the free gMail product, a free-while-in-beta webcam broadcasting service from Sensr.net, Intuit's Quickbooks payroll ("online, not the downloaded version"), and payment systems from Square, which allows small businesses to swipe and accept credit cards using a smartphone.

Square, was founded for companies just like Mission: Cats, who want to accept credit card payments using simple tools with minimal setup and simple processes.  An iPhone, iPad, or Android device, a small card reader that plugs into the earphone jack, and a flat 2.75% fee are all that’s required.
Technology Review examines the history and potential of Square in the feature story, “The New Money.”

Every Yelp review has been positive (one is 4 stars, every other review was 5, the top rating,) and customers make comments like, "the thing that impressed me the most was how devoted the owners are to their guests - my cats got a lot of attention. Did my cats tell me this, you might ask? Is this a crazy cat lady review? Nope, I could see it on the cats cams and could also tell from the way my cats behaved when I picked them up. It was so great for me to be able to see them with updates and pictures on twitter and fb."

From another review:  "each time (my cat has) stayed there they've introduced her to some of the Wonder Cat Rescue kittens that are fostered there and Risa's had a ball playing with them. I know this because I've seen photos on Facebook, gotten the daily email updates from Mission: Cats staff ($1/day), and even seen a video they posted on their blog. I actually have one of their webcams open in another browser window right now and I can see a staff member playing with my cat. Amazing!"
Prudence relaxes.
Cat images from missioncats.tumblr.com

The effect: although started just seven months ago, Mission: Cats is operating at near full-capacity in their 1300-square foot facility.  They are sold out for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons; while I was there, Genna took several calls, politely turning away overflow customers with "here are several other cat boarding facilities we trust, or try Craigslist for sitters, but be sure to find one that's insured and bonded."

Mission: Cats serves as a powerful reminder of one of technology's most important emerging roles: to re-personalize the business experience.  It is a relationship builder and community enabler.

Technology ushers in the era of you.

Some important things Mission: Cats "gets," and some important lessons for much larger firms:
  1. People buy more than just goods and services, they buy relationships. Technology--especially social technology--is a critical success factor for any business making good on this promise.
  2. It is worth the time to maintain those social connections with customers. Social technology is not an inconvenience, not an added cost. It is a core of what business is about.  By the way, did you notice the customer comment about the daily e-mail?  Mission: Cats has turned social technology into an upsell opportunity, a $1/day charge for an e-mail and photo of your pet every day. 
  3. Good use of technology is more about what you do than what products you choose.  Lightweight, inexpensive solutions, many from the consumer world, can have big business value. 
  4. Technology reduces barriers to excellence, and to competition. Mission: Cats is low "tech inertia," and was able to start delivering big-company value from day one, at minimal cost.
If your business doesn't now have this mindset, a realization that technology-enabled community is easy, real, and important, I promise you have competitors who do.  Some of them might not be in business yet, and see your company's inaction as a huge profit opportunity waiting for them to explore, with tools they can acquire at low cost and implement in days.  Are you ready to learn from a gen-Y 23-year old with $300 to spend on IT? 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

C-suite talk: the siren song of low-hanging fruit

This story is a case where the everyday world reminded me of the challenges executives face every day, choosing where they will invest their treasure of time and company resources.  The Meyer lemon tree in our south Florida backyard has rewarded us with a big crop this year, literal low-hanging fruit.

Meyer lemons almost touching the ground. Low-hanging fruit
The phrase is beloved of vendors and service providers, promising great rewards for doing easy things. Business cases and ROI studies tell us they are going after low-hanging fruit as soon as you give the go-ahead to their project.

Chances are, you've worked hard and made good choices already, or you wouldn't have that C in front of your title. There's not a lot left that's near the ground.  But maybe we can turn the metaphor around and think of some other lessons to learn from the saying:

  • Someone had to plant the tree.  High-reward/low-effort opportunities rarely just appear out of nowhere.  There are cases where the confluence of emerging technologies (tech triggers) makes a new LHF situation appear (web-based applications and cheaper/faster/more reliable network access, for instance, make IT moves to the cloud easier and more rewarding.)  But in many cases, what looks like low-hanging fruit is the result of a lot of hard, disciplined work in your organization--one of the best examples is Master Data Management (MDM) -- heavy lifting,  but it enables a cascade of service-enablement across your entire company.  Leading to the related idea:
  • The heavy lifting you do should move the rest of the fruit lower, not buy you taller ladders.  A crucial C-suite mandate is to make things better, not just solve today's problems.  If huge chunks of your talent and money are maintaining burdensome legacy processes or technology, your company may stay upright, but you're just buying taller ladders.  If you're working to simplify processes, mask complexity, and enable a service-oriented enterprise, you're moving the fruit lower.
  • Where there is fruit, there are windfalls. Let's think of it this way: there are opportunities to find benefits that fall outside the mainstream: to mix metaphors, the long tail of the crop. Is there a corollary business benefit to be gained by letting small teams explore niche opportunities to repurpose other efforts?  The ability to think "repurpose" is dramatically helped once you adopt the service-oriented model, which relentlessly standardizes core services to enable greater ease of personalization and micro-customization at the user level.
  • It doesn't all ripen at the same time. Sometimes, you walk away from a classic LHF situation thinking, "yeah, that WAS a high reward for a relatively small effort." In the IT and business world, one of the clearest today is web-based e-mail: necessary but not a competitive advantage, adapts well to mobile and consumer-driven usage.  Don't turn away once that's done.  The experience of web-based e-mail may enable further benefits from the cloud-sourcing of word processing and other office productivity applications.  Can cloud-sourced productivity apps pave the way for "bring your own device" policies and respond to workforce consumerization?
  • On the other hand, should you pick low hanging fruit at all? In 2008 I saw a presentation from a mid-size corporation that had decided to commit to cloud-enabling IT wherever possible.  In the slide showing a grid of the applications in the cloud, corporate e-mail was still in the data center. "Why not e-mail?" asked an audience member, "isn't that low-hanging fruit."  "Yes," said the CIO, "but our existing e-mail works fine.  Why take the time to change it when it's not a problem?  We wanted to concentrate on areas where the cloud could make a real difference for us."  In other words, just because you can doesn't always mean you should.  Web-based mail can make a lot of sense, but in this case, other priorities came first.  No matter how easy an opportunity might seem, sound rules of business value cannot be repealed.
Do you have a success story of an easy win that came from an unexpected place?  How do you maintain focus on long range improvements when there are so many demands to solve problems close at hand? Leave comments, or drop me e-mail.

Monday, November 7, 2011

from Read Write Web: an update on Mozilla's plans for a stateless phone

Sample screens from Boot 2 Gecko. Image from readwriteweb.com
Stateless devices--lightweight operating systems running web-based applications--are one of the three Big Ideas infrics.com covers.  I think they are the genuine wave of the future; Google's Chrome OS is the first to market, but you may recall I reported last summer that Mozilla was at work on a stateless phone, Boot 2 Gecko.

I asked Mozilla to let me talk with the B2G team when I visited silicon valley in August, and they refused.  Since then, Mozilla has been somewhat more forthcoming and Read Write Web has found out more: here is their report.

This could be big, and I wanted to let you know right away.  Remember, the defining characteristic of a well-delivered service is that the people who use it don't have to know or care where it came from, just that it works.  If that can be made to happen on a mobile phone, the disruptive influence--and the benefits to users--could be seismic.  Let's keep an eye on Mozilla.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chromebook update: at 4+ months

Samsng Chromebook image from Amazon.com
It's been over four months since I took delivery of my Samsung Chromebook, the first commercially available computer using Google's Chrome OS, the lightweight operating system in which applications and data come from the cloud rather than the local device.

So, how is it to live with every day, and see the benefits and shortcomings firsthand?  Is Chrome OS a legitimate way to live and work with your computer?  In a word, yeah, it is.  This is a fairly short article, because for the most part, Chrome OS just works.  I don't feel deprived by using a lightweight operating system, despite the fact that a good part of my work involves writing and creating graphics for blog articles.

My action item advice for any enterprise that's curious about Chrome OS: do a pilot, even with just a few of the leaders of your IT division and your main lines of business.  The idea will reveal its value to you through use and iteration.  You will justify it because of potential cost savings, but you'll deploy it because it makes lives better and work more productive.

That said, here are three experience reports from this field test to consider:

  • Web-based applications: I now use Google Apps exclusively to write and create graphics and presentations.  All of their services are being improved very quickly, and if you haven't tried Google Apps lately, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.  There is a new look to the interface across the board, which I'll call "post-imitation-3D."  Shadows around buttons are gone, so are brightly-colored icons that look like jellybeans and the like.  It's very professional in appearance.  Where I live online: Faceboook, LinkedIn, TweetDeck, Google+, news sites, the infrics.com site and composition area, all are fully functional and there is no sacrifice.

    But there is a benefit.  One morning I spilled my whole cup of coffee right on the keyboard of the Chromebook.  It spluttered, zapped a bit, and shut down.  "Oh, (expletive!)" I did not want to replace a $500 machine so soon after I bought it.  But to keep working, I just booted up my regular laptop, launched the Chrome browser, and was right back to work, every word I had been writing saved to the cloud in the background.  The idea that everything you need is available everywhere you are, on almost any machine, is truly transformational; it deserves much more attention in the enterprise and the marketplace.

    By the way, both Google docs and Gmail now have offline capabilities that allow for limited use in the rare cases (like on some flights) where you can't reach the internet.  Not perfect yet, but getting much better.
  • Which leads me to Samsung's Chromebook as a machine.  The actual device is somewhat less robust and less satisfying than it should be for a primary business tool. Key action is a little too cheap-feeling, the materials are a bit low end, and I find the no-button trackpad (right click requires tapping the trackpad with two fingers, for instance) gives me less control than I'd like.  The very bright display continues to be great, and the long battery life has become my expectation; charging the laptop and using it all day on battery just feels like the way things should work.  But I want a bit more class; simple does not need to mean cheap.

    However, I am pleased to report that after the coffee spill incident, I left the machine open, on its side, in the breeze of an air conditioning vent at home for two days, hit the "on" button, and it came right back. It has continued to work flawlessly ever since.
  • Finally, what about Chrome OS in general.  I'm very impressed. The background updates have spoiled me; when I have to launch a regular computer and wait (and wait and wait and wait...) for updates to run, that just seems terribly old fashioned.  When it takes 90 seconds or more to get booted up and online, I know there is no longer any reason to put up with that. In August, I went to Google's home campus and met with a team leader from the Chrome OS-for-enterprise effort.  He told me that a growing number of enterprises "get it," and they are some of the strongest advocates. Fast and easy are my new normal. It's not that the fat-OS world is awful, it's just no longer worth it.
Anything else?  I have to say I fear Google's commitment to Chrome OS has yet to be proven; the excitement and discussion around Chrome OS has been lost in the volume of news about Android and Google+.  Will it become the next Google Buzz, and be quietly killed off later?  

With the explosion of tablet computing, when will that form factor enjoy the stateless computing benefits of Chrome OS, or will it forever be Android?  Android is maturing rapidly, but still suffers the fat-OS limitations of locally-installed software, locally-maintained data, and the need for updates to both OS and applications on a regular basis.  Google pointed out to me that both Apple and Microsoft maintain separate OSes for their mobile platforms--but that fails to answer the question, "why not stateless everywhere?"

One area where the Chrome OS idea has yet to be used to full advantage is price.  With powerful conventional-OS laptops competing in the same price point, there is really no justification for the Chromebook to cost $500.  The Acer WiFi-only model is $349.  I think there could be explosive growth in the stateless idea when the lower cost benefits of the simpler model make it to the bottom line that consumers (individual and enterprise) pay.  

Please feel free to contact me with questions about my experience, or share your own in the comments. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Where in the world is Don?

I'm in the bay area and silicon valley this week, and wanted to let you know of a couple of upcoming articles that will result from the visit:

I'm meeting with Podio, a Denmark-based company, at their SOMA offices in San Francisco. Podio is doing some very innovative work to allow businesses to move technology choices closer to end-users, and in so doing, may be amazingly well positioned to take advantage of the Era of You effect I've discussed.

Butch, from missioncats.net
Mission Cats is a small business, but one that has grasped the power of social media in a big way.  This small, cat-only boarding service understands the desire of owners of pets in their care to stay in touch with their cats while they are away.  They offer cat-cams, and "the chance to be an internet star."  But they also tie into the internet cat meme, with pictures and video of cats for all to see.  I'll talk with the owners to learn how they did it, what the impact of hands-on social involvement has meant for their company, and find lessons we can all take away.

More soon.  Let me know about the work you're doing; I'd like to do more features about people who are creating the future, and how they're putting innovation into action.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mashable/Sandvine networks: How the US consumes real-time entertainment online

The move to online media is happening very quickly.  This is important, because it reflects both the reason that stateless devices--that deliver cloud-based applications and content--are the wave of the future, and the enabling factor of having rich content available online.  Click this link for my infrics.com article on the stateless future of media

Here is mashable.com's article, which includes this infographic:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Apps belong on the web

Scott Jenson image from netmagazine.com
Mobile Apps Must Die!

This article from .net magazine reiterates core ideas I advocate about stateless computing:

Applications and data belong on the web. 
Devices are for network connection, display, user interface, and consumption of web-based content.
Thanks to Devlin Dunsmore on Google+ for the alert about this article.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mary Meeker's annual report on the state of the internet

This is one of the most valuable reports you can find; it's free and available for download.

Internet Trends 2011  

Among the findings:

  • 81% of users of top internet properties are outside the USA
  • smartphones and tablets outshipped PCs (desktop, laptop) in Q4, 2010
  • mega-trend of 21st century: empowerment of people via connected mobile devices

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Infrics.com is purple today, October 20

Spirit Day: to honor Gay, Lesbian, Bi, and Transgendered youth.
To fight bullying of young people who are different, and in honor of those who have taken their own lives when the torment of being different was too much to bear.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

C-suite talk: can you make complexity disappear?

Building blocks, not jigsaw pieces.
Image from countingblocks.com

In the last of the C-suite articles, I talked about managing complexity, either by relentlessly simplifying processes and applications, or by abstracting a complex service in such a way that it appears simple to those who consume it.  This time, let’s take a closer look at the latter: how to use complexity abstraction and why it’s an underappreciated business tool.

A service oriented enterprise is composed of 4 service tiers (for more on service tiers, see “How Technology Disappears”):

  1. Lines of business, end users
  2. Service Orchestration
  3. Service Management
  4. Infrastructure
There are exceptions, but in general, the tiers build on one another: service management uses the products of the infrastructure service to enable service orchestration to serve end users. One of the simplest measurements of success at each level is the degree to which service providers can offer consumers freedom from concern over where the service came from and how it was provisioned. It just works.

This is not revolutionary, but it’s very actionable. By simplifying and standardizing component parts of complex things, the care taken by providers at each service tier abstracts the complex into a simple, consumable product.  How can you do this?

  • Standardize: practice strong, almost rigid exception management when customization is requested at lower service tiers.  This is an area, especially in IT, where businesses have traditionally operated backwards.  Your business and your employees are locked down to enable success of highly customized infrastructure and applications, when it should be exactly the other way: very high levels of standardization at lower levels in support of ease of deployment and customization at the user side.  If you are abstracting complex services by standardizing their component parts, you almost automatically guarantee your business is right-side-up here.
  • Reliability engineering: Attack the weakest link in a complex process, and do the heavy lifting required to get its reliability up. Think of your car engine: the ignition system and fuel delivery systems were once high-maintenance items that demanded a fairly high level of driver involvement. Today, both are handled by computers. The Bosch computer in my old car has now managed ignition and fuel injection without attention for 22 years. Reliability is a great complexity abstraction if you make it a component of service delivery.
  • Building blocks, not jigsaw puzzle pieces: each can be assembled into something useful, but jigsaws can only be assembled one way.  Building blocks are the ultimate abstraction, and can create many outcomes from standard shapes. That structure is the metaphor for your abstracted complexity.  If it only has one purpose, it it worth it?
  • Externalize: instead of creating abstraction inside your own four walls, pay someone else to do it for you, and purchase a consumable service, which appears simple to you as the consumer. This is the province of services like cloud computing, third party payroll managers, and distribution services like UPS.  Their success lies in managing away the complex so you don’t have to.  It’s their core business strength.  Is it really worth it to make it part of yours?  The greater core simplicity you can structure into your business--the areas that don’t justify customization or added complexity--the more opportunities this solution presents.  The explosive growth in enterprise-ready external services and their abilities is also moving favorably in your direction.

The idea is to create a virtuous circle: structuring for managed services enables simplification and abstraction of complexity, which enables greater agility and higher business efficiencies. It sets you up for “one question to rule them all,” namely, “do I have to care about where that service came from, or can I just put it to work?”