Bing(o) or B(or)ing?

Lots of developments recently for Microsoft-watchers to get their teeth into. I’ve not picked up the individual announcements here, because lots of other people do it; but it’s time for a round up.

So the most recent announcement is Microsoft’s at-long-last deal with Yahoo! which will move Microsoft’s Bing search technology into Yahoo’s space. Subject to regulatory approval it might go live next year.

Well I haven’t seriously tried Bing, so this isn’t a technical evaluation. But for a business analysis of the potential impact of the deal (or lack of it), there’s an interesting discussion on Knowledge@Wharton. In brief, they suggest, the real target of Bing wasn’t Google but precisely to achieve the kind of deal now done with Yahoo. And that the impact on market share will be negligible despite the marketing deals. People like Google. And perhaps that the smaller deal will “invite less anti-trust scrutiny” than last year’s proposal to swallow Yahoo entire.

There’s a joint website called “Choice. Value. Innovation”, set up as if it were a fully fledged independent company with “Investor Relations” and “Press Room”. Draw your own conclusions.

What else? BOPS of course; Microsoft’s Business Online Productivity Suite. The “Standard” package capitalises on existing brands (or tweaks them to work outside the office perimeter): Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and Office Communications Online.

So BOPS It doesn’t occupy the same space as Google Docs or other offerings like ThinkFree (who I visited with a study tour to Silicon Valley in 2006 and, I must admit, didn’t think they’d still be here by now). It does overlap Google Wave, which I reviewed recently. Gizmodo reports that Office 2010 Web apps will be free; Office Live, Windows Live and Azure exist. Either we can believe that Microsoft is still playing catch-up, when there’s so much technology already out there that’s integrated and works; or we can see the pattern of a lot of pieces about to come together and create something really powerful

Microsoft still owns the business IT mindset. Gartner quote a case study with a headlinecollaboration cost reduction of 20% So what do you think?

• Microsoft-Yahoo a Yawn for Google, Knowledge@Wharton, 29 Jul 2009
Microsoft, Yahoo! Change Search Landscape, Microsoft Press Pass, 29 Jul 2009, featuring videos from both Ballmer of Microsoft and Bartz of Yahoo!
Choice, Value. Innovation.
Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, Microsoft
Move to Microsoft BPOS Cuts Collaboration Costs by 20%, Gartner, 9 Jul 2009 (client access only to full document)
Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps Will Be Free; Testing Starts Today, Gizmodo, 13 Jul 2009
• Microsoft Windows Live
• Microsoft Office Live and Office Live Small Business Edition
• Microsoft Windows Azure

Social computing and the enterprise user: something’s missing

Something’s missing from our discussions about social media (and Web 2.0 more generally, and Cloud even more generally).

We often discuss the benefits of user-managed technologies (is that a useful phrase?) and despair of  “The answer’s no. Now what’s the question?” from corporate rottweilers. Thought leaders like Euan Semple provide clear case studies and benefit realisation.

That stereotypical response (and no, it’s not always like that in practice) is driven perhaps by two things. A perception that central is better and that the need for control is absolute. And, more in line with the business, a strongly developed sense of risk both to the corporate infrastructure and its data stores, and to potential leakage of intellectual property.

As I’ve commented elsewhere, these reactions are not new. They characterised many companies when email and the Web began to replace newsgroups and FTP networks. But let’s look at more positive scenarios.

Suppose you’re a member of an enterprise research team; you use many external sources of information. Should you create a Googlemail account for these, separate from more specifically workplace-oriented email? What’s the case for? and against?

Suppose you’re a senior international manager, with direct reports in several countries and your own boss in yet another. You have a range of industrial strength collaborative tools at your disposal, but simple desktop videoconferencing isn’t one of them. Some conversations benefit substantially from face to face contact, and your travel budget has been cut. So should you buy a cheap webcam and use Skype on your company computer? Or on your mobile phone? Or from your home computer if Skype is blocked at the firewall? What’s the case for any of these options? Or against all of them?

You’re a marketer. You want to experiment with virtual presence but SecondLife isn’t accessible through the company network. Do you just go and do it from your home computer?

These choices can be made without involving the corporate IT department. Or even in order to circumvent the restrictions of the corporate environment, which might be as simple as lack of bandwidth, as complex as incompatibility with a core company application, or as explicit as the threat of disciplinary action.

But so far as I’m aware there’s little help for responsible users trying to make decisions, or which supportive IT groups might deploy to guide them. Not “can this do the job?” but how to assess terms of use, risk to the organisation, standards, interoperability, unintended consequences … We can ignore cost, I think; these services conform to Euan’s rule that “No-one bothers about ROI if the I is small”.

But take the SecondLife (2L) example and suppose that our user is a genuinely responsible corporate citizen. How far is it reasonable to go?

In her own time at home she creates a private persona in 2L and experiments with what she can do there – learns to walk, sit down, communicate, attend meetings, build property and so on. I don’t think anyone at work would be concerned.

But she then begins to develop ideas for a marketing campaign and wants to keep the credit. She stays home for a couple of days, on her own initiative, and works intensively in 2L. Still on her home computer, and not involving the use of company information. No problem?

Later, her enhanced presence could identify her or the company to those with sufficient information to recognise the clues. The competition, most likely. She forgets to fence off her 2L area with “No entry” barriers. She then discovers that the 2L protocol isn’t actually blocked at the company firewall, so she demonstrates her work to a couple of colleagues through the company network …

Now re-cast the example, but with the latest, newest, unproven, “risky” cloud service in place of SecondLife (which, after all, is getting pretty respectable by now).

The point is this. Our employee is working for the best interests of the company, as she perceives them. But she’s working in a vacuum. There’s no set of guidelines she can consult. And I do mean guidelines, not rules. Not “SecondLife is forbidden”, for example. There might need to be a few like that, but it’s a losing battle of the boil-the-ocean variety.

Here are a quartet of ideas. I’d like to gather yours.

1 – Always look at the terms and conditions when you sign up. Read them with the company’s needs in mind. These are enforceable legal contracts.
2 – Do you lose control over the content which you confide to this system? (Look at Sharing your Content and Information, for example, on Facebook)
3 – How far does the provider claim the right to monitor your traffic? (Most systems at least prohibit explicit or inflammatory content)
4 – Does the service claim access to your computer? (You don’t get a more respectable institution than the BBC; but the early versions of iPlayer operated peer to peer, so they used everybody’s processor cycles and disk storage)

Please contribute, so we can build up a body of advice on this. I look forward to your ideas. And if anyone knows of a body of best practice like this that already exists, I shall be delighted to be corrected!

• Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
The Obvious Euan Semple’s blog (or see my posting Social media Q&A: Euan Semple at Guru Online)

Social media Q&A: Euan Semple at Guru Online

Do you know someone who’s trying to figure out what’s meant by Social Media, whether it’s appropriate for business, and how it can help them? I had a conversation like that with a friend – not a business colleague – on a visit last weekend. Or maybe it’s you or your company.

Have a look at this video from Euan Semple, posted at Guru Online. It’s posted as a series of short clips, each addressing one of a series of questions, rather than one long interview. It’s well worth the effort. Euan understands business, he understands the issues that get raised about these new opportunities for collaboration, and he has answers to them too.

While you’re at it, have a look at some of the other stuff on the Guru site.

• Social Media advice for businesses, Guru Online

Gartner Blogs directory improved

I’ve finally implemented a long-planned improvement to the InformationSpan directory of Gartner analyst blogs. Actually, two improvements.

The first sounds simple but proved remarkably difficult to achieve. There are a small handful of Gartner bloggers who are not listed in Gartner’s own online directory of analysts. They are people like my friend Val Sribar, who are senior members of Gartner’s research management team and not “analysts” in the regular sense of the word. Or they might be new arrivals, who haven’t made it into Gartner’s online list yet.

Up to now, these individuals have had special mention at the foot of the “by name” page, and haven’t appeared in the directory of coverage areas at all. Well, that’s changed. They are now fully integrated into the main lists, with a neat little dagger indicating their status.

The second enhancement sounds complex but was much easier. The index of blogs by coverage area has now been split into three sections: Technical coverage (the part of Gartner that most of us look at); Industry verticals (the sectors for which Gartner has a focussed specific advisory service); and Management focus (which at the moment includes two areas: Gartner for Business Leaders, and the Small/Midsize Enterprise IT service). This split doesn’t exactly match Gartner’s own, but it makes sense to me. The three sections are still on the same page; just page down.

Also there are a small number of new blogs highlighted since the last update. The number of analysts blogging has pretty much reached its plateau, I think. I wonder if the joining rate permonth over the last couple of years would plot into a hype cycle shape?

Why not have a look at our Blog Index.

PS – for the technically minded, the implementation uses some arcane Excel coding to sort out the information into the order wanted. The new code vividly exemplifies Niklaus Wirth’s statement: there is no problem in computing that can’t be solved by adding another layer of indirection. Two layers, sometimes, here!

Cellphone directory project pulled before launch

There’s been an interesting development over the promotion by a UK company, 118800, of a directory of cellphone numbers. The service has been available since June, but suddenly it’s off the air. For non-UK readers: the “118…” company name reflects the UK’s assignment of 118xxx phone numbers for directory services.

The UK media covered the story in June, interviewing 118800 executives and covering privacy concerns. The privacy regulator had approved the new service. That doesn’t mean they like it – that’s not their job. All it means is it doesn’t appear to contravene applicable law.

But approval did require an easy opt out. Most of the stories covering the new service publicised how to do this. Registering to protect your number as ex-directory (XD) is indeed easy, from either your phone or (the way I did it, on Thursday) from the web. And there’s no reason to disbelieve the message that came back saying that my details would not now be published.

It was actually a well thought out service, from the privacy point of view. It wouldn’t release numbers. What it would do – will do, if it gets up and running – is to offer the call to the target number and then connect the call.

Well … I registered XD on Thursday, following an email which was circulated, chain-letter style, from a relative. The alert said that XD registration had to be completed by Monday. I don’t know if that was actually the case, in fact I rather doubt it; but, real or otherwise, it triggered me to do the deed.

Today, two days later, the service’s web presence is reduced to one page which says Service suspended whilst we make improvements and goes on to say … whilst we undertake major developments to our ‘Beta Service’ to improve the experience for our customers. Everything’s suspended, including the ability to go XD. This is progress from yesterday when, as reported by a Taily Telegraph‘s columnist, the service was just “unavailable”.

Now I emphasise that this is pure speculation, but I wonder if so many people have gone onto the site to have their data protected that either the site crashed under the pressure, or the promoters have decided the service isn’t viable after all.

What’s interesting is the light it sheds on our understanding of the “Facebook generation”. It’s usually reckoned that the Facebook and Twitter generation – who are also the mobile phone generation – are less protective of their personal space. They tweet about all kinds of things and publish a wide range of pictures and content on Facebook which many people can see. But, if my guesses are right, it seems that my mobile phone number is still my castle. Even for Generation Y, there are limits.

And here’s another thought. I de-registered with 118800. Yet, if I could swallow the £1 fee for each use (whether they have the number or not) plus whatever charge is made for actually connecting the call, it’s the kind of service I might well use. I freely admit there’s a contradiction here. I want to protect my data, but I’d like to be able to see other people’s. But then, I trust me. I don’t trust unknown people on the other side of a 118800 account.

What do you think?

• Screenshot: captured on 11 Jul 2009
• 118800: Has the privacy backlash already begun?, Basheera Khan, Daily Telegraph blogs, 10 Jul 2009
Mobile phone directory to launch, BBC, 9 Jun 2009
• I have failed to locate Connectivity UK (the parent company, based in Theale, Berks) on the web. If you know their website, please let me know.
• Incidentally you can still find quite a lot of 118800 website content by doing a Google search and looking at the cached pages.

Chrome, Microsoft and Linux

So Google’s Chrome OS is finally seeing the light of day, with the pitch that it’s a lightweight software base designed to get people up and active on the web easily. A few comments.

First: it’s new in the sense that Mac OS X was new; it’s built on Unix – Linux this time (ok I do know the difference) instead of BSD, but the principle is the same.

Second: maybe this explains why the Chrome browser hasn’t made it to the Mac market. Seems like the browser was just the pilot for this larger project, to carry the fight to Microsoft.

Third: interestingly, in my newspaper (The Guardian), the Chrome OS announcement makes it into the main news pages but the technology section, in the print edition, carries two other apparently unconnected articles. The combination is interesting. One is a long interview with Google’s Marissa Mayer about the future of search which, Mayer suggests, is tied up with real-time information (and that means Twitter). The other is a Victor Keegan Opinion column discussing why Asus dropped Linux as its netbook platform in favour of Windows and a string of non-free services. Keegan, though, hasn’t caught up on the Chrome OS announcement. It would be interesting to know what he thinks.

Oh, and hidden in the Mayer interview is the interesting snippet that Google has been conducting research on which shade of blue for a link is most likely to encourage a user to click through. More blue is better than more green, apparently. I must check my website!

• Introducing the Google Chrome OS, Official Google Blog, 7 Jul 2009
• Google targets Microsoft with new operating system, Guardian, 8 Jul 2009 (print edition 9th July) – it’s worth doing a search on the Guardian website for “Chrome OS” as there are several other articles
• Did Microsoft force Asus to axe Linux?, Victor Keegan, Guardian, 8 Jul 2009 (print edition 9th July)

Waves and MQs: an experienced analyst comments

Mike Rasmussen has blogged a critique of Forrester’s recent Wave on Global Risk and Compliance, in a piece which deserves an audience outside the GRC community.

Mike is the doyen of GRC analysts and, in his time at Forrester, authored two previous versions of this Wave. He’s quite explicitly not getting at the authors of the new update; it’s the process that’s at issue. And the comments are well worth reading if you use any Wave, Magic Quadrant, or similar tool to help your purchasing decisions. Especially if your management board won’t approve a purchase unless these tools “endorse” the choice.

Mike has two criticisms. One of them isn’t a surprise, but it’s worth a reminder. The picture presented in a point-of-time report is, almost by definition, out of date before it’s published. Vendors don’t stand still while a report’s being researched. Indeed, some vendors opt out of supporting an evaluation because they’re close to a new release and don’t want to be judged on the old one.

InformationSpan has a similar issue: if you download our free report on insight service coverage for BI, you’ll find that its assessment of Forrester’s coverage is significantly out of date. It was written last November, and they’ve put out a lot of new coverage this year.

But secondly, Mike comments that the assessment criteria for the GRC Wave haven’t been updated while the discipline of GRC has moved on substantially. Analysis needs to recognise this.

These are process questions. The first one reflects the length of the evaluation process; things go out of date while being evaluated, and vendors sometimes decline to commit the resources. Mike asks whether this can be streamlined.

But the second question reflects the fact that the process was designed for systems delivered into a relatively mature marketplace, where the underlying concepts being modelled in software (for example) aren’t changing greatly.

GRC in the enterprise isn’t primarily about tools: it’s about management discipline and process. Tools simply support the process; tool capabilities develop rapidly as the discipline itself develops. And there are other areas like this.

For example, there’s an emergent unified approach to change management, configuration control and release management (CCRM) – I attended a workshop about this recently. Or there’s architecture, needing new approaches to integrate the benefits of cloud services securely into the enterprise while the first wave of architecture repositories and other tools are still evolving. No doubt you can identify other examples.

This isn’t about the pace of change. It’s whether a process implicitly predicated on a stable environment can cope with changes which are about much more than new technical ways of doing essentially the same thing.

So what’s the way forward? More than Mike suggests, I think. The key must be to separate the market snapshot from the analysis report. A vendor’s vision or ability to deliver don’t change over the timescale of report writing – nor with the actual issue of a new release, though the market’s reaction to it may be significant. So here’s my suggestion.

First: let the analysts get behind the versions to give a well researched, more stable view of the vendors and their contributions in a particular sector. Detach this from the assessment of current releases: they are data for the assessment, in this understanding, but not the core of it. Gartner’s MarketScope, an alternative to their better known Magic Quadrant, targets this: their aim is to provide “an overall market rating that indicates the strength and potential for the market in general. This is particularly important in emerging markets, when … it is difficult to assess the long-term viability or evolution of offerings. In mature markets, MarketScopes provide insight about the ongoing value of products and services“.

And second: make the process continuous, rather than point-in-time. Then it can respond continually not just to new products but to new assessment criteria as the underlying paradigms change. If  new tools were continually tested, and the results added to the database, a Wave or MQ could be dynamically delivered from the most current data. I don’t think anyone does this. Tell me if you know different!

It’s a step beyond what Mike’s asking for: not to streamline the process, but to change it.

So read Mike’s comments, and apply them to your own specialism. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of Waves and MQs as they currently exist. Comment back to me here – does anyone know of an assessment tool which is already dynamic in this way? And always remember, when you’re using any of these analyst tools, that they provide insight – not ready-made decisions!

• The Forrester GRC ?Ripple? … , Corporate Integrity (Mike Rasmussen), 2 July 2009
• Coverage report: Business Intelligence, InformationSpan, Nov 2008 (free download from this page)
The Forrester Wave
Magic Quadrants and MarketScopes: How Gartner Evaluates Vendors Within a Market, Gartner, Jan 2008 (this document appears to be openly available)