Archive for January 2014

One (Messaging) App To Rule Them All

 

There are so many messaging apps on the market right now that just keeping track of them is close to impossible. WhatsApp, Snapchat, Path, and Line live alongside Google Hangouts, Skype, Facebook Messenger and a plethora of instant messaging stalwarts like Yahoo! And AOL. And these are just the consumer apps. For business communications you have BBM from BlackBerry, Microsoft Lync, instant messaging that’s part of Salesforce1 and Chatter plus messaging built into unified communications platforms such as Jabber from Cisco. Add to that a boatload of SMS applications and the sheer number of ways to send someone a simple message is overwhelming.

There is one big problem with all messaging platforms, mobile or otherwise – the applications don’t talk to each other. Most of these messaging applications are closed networks and can’t communicate through a common protocol. This is not a big problem for consumers who connect to a limited number of friends and family over a few networks. For business users, however, with many contacts spread across company approved networks, it makes it hard to have a single platform to communicate internally and externally. At present, SMS and Email still have the advantage for the business user since they use protocols common to all applications of those types.

Instant messaging is a great way to have a less intrusive, real-time conversation. Applications in business include arranging and convening meetings, making quick decisions, or answering a question immediately. It’s like a phone call without having to stop what you are doing. And it makes no sense to dismiss consumer messaging applications in a business context. Many SMB organizations use consumer products and it’s hard to imagine that the consumer app developers don’t want to find a way to leverage their technology in businesses. Business-oriented or consumer applications alike are hampered by the inability to send messages across platforms. In other words, the utility of messaging platforms is limited by lack of interoperability between applications.

For messaging platforms to realize their potential in business, there will need to be a way to send messages to any potential platform without having to provide specific hooks into a very large number of applications. Instead, a common message transport is necessary for business users to really draw value from messaging. This is why email has been so successful. An email sent form any email client or email server can communicate with any other email system. The same is true for SMS. Multi-protocol clients are not the answer since they can’t keep up with all the platforms, new and old.

Instant messaging platforms have been around for over 20 years. Isn’t it about time that we finally had just one, standard protocol for all users?

Social-Mobile-Cloud in the New Year

Happy New Year! As I look out my window I can see the snow and wind. The weather may be gloomy but the software industry is looking quite hopeful – sunny even. This is because 2014 is the year when everyone gets down to work. Making already-purchased social, mobile, and cloud software really work in an organization will be the primary focus rather than new products. That may not sound exciting but it will certainly be better than all the hand wringing that has accompanied the software market over the past few years. In that vein here are some of the trends that I’ll be watching in the upcoming year:

  1. Embedded connected business objects become more common. This is the way companies will finally get real value from enterprise social networks and jumpstart the internet of things. By embedding social business objects in enterprise applications and vice-versa, knowledge workers will finally have a reason to use enterprise social networks. Social workflows will make much more sense when business objects are part of them and business process enhanced by social features. The same is true for the internet of things where embedded service and sales objects will provide access to services that consumers want, when and where they want them.
  2. Hybrid cloud applications. Enterprise cloud applications (basically SaaS applications) suffer from trust issues. Most companies can’t trust all of their data to an outside vendor. They can trust some of their data to an outside vendor while other data and functions must remain under company IT control. Expect to see more enterprise applications partitioned between cloud and on-premises data centers. At present, several vendors will offer a cloud version and an on-premises version with some synchronization of non-sensitive information. At some point, vendors will allow the application’s functions to be split between the cloud and customer data centers. So a majority of an application will be housed in the cloud but a small part with sensitive information will remain on-premises. This provides the best balance between efficiency and access benefits of the cloud and the security of on-premises solutions.
  3. Adaptive design takes off but adds something beyond a superior layout. Adaptive design provides a better user experience since a server determines from the beginning what the layout needs to be. It eliminates the confusion that sudden changes in UI cause for the user. Mobile designers will be going beyond simple UI changes though. Developers are just starting to truly understand how knowledge workers use different end-points and which changes in workflows make for the best user experience.
  4. The backlash against data driven enterprises. The hype for big data and analytics has finally reached its apex as the data driven enterprise. In theory, by embedding analytic objects inside applications (as opposed to in reports) is the ultimate delivery model for business intelligence. Some business journals have even suggested that we will need to train knowledge workers to override their instincts and experience and trust in the data. Instead, knowledge workers will be bombarded with data which they lack the skills to interpret it. Even if they can properly place the data in context, it would be irresponsible to trust it explicitly. Computers do not think and cannot make complex decisions. The idea that a data model can tell you everything you need to succeed is predicated on perfect models and a perfectly predictable world. Managers especially will soon realize how few real decisions are truly data driven. Data helps humans make decisions but cannot drive them.
  5. M&A activity will continue to grow. 2013 was a banner year for acquisitions and 2014 will be even better. There are too many companies in the enterprise social network, mobile messaging, and social marketing space. That’s not why we will see companies being purchased though. We’ve gotten to that point in each of these markets where scale really matters. That will drive small companies into the arms of big ones and force many companies to combine. Bigger will be better.

On the surface, this may seem to be a boring year for enterprise applications. There will be few new blockbuster product categories like social or earthshattering platform activity as happened when cloud and mobile applications first came on the scene. Instead, 2014 will be the year that all three become mainstream and part of the everyday life of knowledge workers. Finally, the conversation will be shifting from technology to the business.