5
Mar

Perhaps accurate metrics on the extent of cloud adoption are not important

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthA lot has been made over the last few weeks about a skew between Microsoft’s announcements about sales of cloud SaaS and PaaS subscriptions to enterprise business and the extent to which these subscriptions are actually used. For any readers unfamiliar with the current chatter about Microsoft on this topic, an article titled Microsoft’s Cloud Successes Based on Sales Not Usage? may provide a quick introduction to this tract of opinion.

But what if the question of adoption really does not matter? What if the more important metric, at least at present, meaning March 2015, are the actual statistics of big businesses signing onto Office 365 and/or Azure? After all, to what extent are businesses using all of the components in the Google Apps for Business set? I would argue not much.

In fact it may simply be too soon to expect high levels of enterprise business adoption of cloud computing services. If nothing else stands in the way, simply consider the current noise about the insecurity of data communications via public cloud options. Surely most readers will attest to a deafening volume, with some new, prominent business or US government agency pushed into the limelight almost on a daily basis. Why would 28K people at Merck (simply to name one very large organization) drop their other computing options to embrace Office in the cloud given the potential risks?

But according to what most readers will likely take to be a combination of a testimonial, and a customer success story, Merck has, nevertheless, purchased Office 365 and is using it. The Office blog on March 5, 2015 featured an article titled A new foundation for connected business processes at a German pharmaceutical and chemical company. This article is attributed to Dr. Matthias Geselle, who is introduced as “a Vice President, member of the IT leadership team at Merck.” The content describes a collaboration solution, named “Connect 15”, which is built on Microsoft components. “Connect 15” replaced a combination of Lotus Notes, “IBM Sametime”, and WebEx.

The Office blog includes a number of these articles. Perhaps some of the more vocal naysayers in this public discussion would benefit from reading them. Every one of the articles is written by a representative of the customer, meaning the enterprise business opting to purchase Microsoft’s cloud services. It is hard to argue with this type of testimonial.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

20
Feb

Enterprise tech ISVs should recommend hybrid computing platform scenarios to their customers

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthEnterprise technology consumers have made their reluctance clear. In most cases they will not agree to incur the expense and effort required to migrate on-premises computing platforms, like Microsoft SharePoint, to public cloud tenancy. So the ISVs owning the IP supporting these platforms, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, IBM, EMC, etc, should promote hybrid computing scenarios to these customers.

Anyone reading an article written by Jeffrey Schwartz, and published to the RedmondMag web site on February 20, 2015, will get this dose of reality. The article is titled SharePoint MVPs: ‘On-Prem is Very Much Alive and Well’, and is composed of a set of quotes from participants in a TweetJam, including Asif Rehmani, who is a client of ours. Rehmani is the CEO of VisualSP. VisualSP is also the name of Rehmani’s leading product, which, in my opinion, should be a core component in any adoption strategy for SharePoint for a large community of users. VisualSP provides SharePoint users with access to high powered technical tips, in video format, directly within the SharePoint workspace — in other words, “in-context”. This writer serves as Vice President for Business Development for Rehmani’s company.

The TweetJam was organized by Christian Buckley who also served as its moderator. Buckley, himself, is a SharePoint MVP and a familiar spokesperson on SharePoint topics.

The specific challenge platforms represent to stakeholders thinking about migrating enterprise applications to public cloud alternatives, is the opportunity users have, more often than not, seized to customize them. An ERP system built on SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft components, for example, usually includes an extensive set of features either provided by third parties, or built, from the ground up, with custom code. As the MVPs quoted in Schwartz’s article make clear, from their quotes, the effort required to migrate these “computing realms” entirely over to a public cloud PaaS like Office 365 is a non-starter.

Apparently Microsoft (the clear leader in this effort. Microsoft has used its “Mobile First, Cloud First” campaign to help its enterprise computing customers decide to migrate to Office 365 and Azure. The start of this campaign coincided with Satya Nadella’s ascendance to the position of CEO of the company in 2014. Nadella was the first to articulate this slogan of the Microsoft brand) has gotten this message. Several articles were published over the last two days about an event freshly added to the Microsoft Ignite schedule for May, 2014 — an early peek at SharePoint Server 2016.

This change is a healthy transformation of a campaign which appears to have been too brittle for its targeted audience to adopt. Hybrid computing scenarios, with a public cloud component supporting appropriately chosen computing requirements, operating, in tandem, with an on-premises data center, is the solution the enterprise computing market appears to favor. After all, no one likes ultimatums — least of all one’s core customers.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

17
Feb

Microsoft lowers the volume on its Mobile First Cloud First clarion call at least for SharePoint

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthIn the aftermath of SPTechCon Austin, and a number of announcements from Microsoft, not the least of which being the planned debut of SharePoint 2016, later this year, it is safe to say the volume on “mobile first, cloud first” has been turned down by Redmond.

But not without a fight. Anyone reading a post to the Office blog titled Evolution of SharePoint will not find a section dedicated to “SharePoint Server 2016” in this roadmap. Nevertheless, the impact of the following acknowledgement: “But, we realize many customers continue to run their businesses on-premises, within the firewall or with hybrid deployments. That’s why we are committed to making the next version of SharePoint server the most secure, stable and reliable version to date—allowing organizations to take advantage of cloud innovation on their terms” cannot be missed.

Somewhere at Microsoft, a Kubler-Ross level of acceptance (stage 3 of her “On Death and Dying” presentation) has developed about the likelihood of enterprise business and comparably sized organizations in the public and private sector deciding to drop their on-premises SharePoint servers for SharePoint Online/Office 365. Wholesale migration to Office 365 cloud SaaS services will not happen any time soon for this market segment. But a hybrid computing scenario of on-premises computing PLUS a cloud component may work.

I attended SPTechCon Austin along with Asif Rehmani (Asif Rehmani has maintained a position as a SharePoint MVP for each of the last 8 years, and is the CEO of VisualSP). We were exhibitors at the conference. Asif Rehmani also delivered two well attended presentations on no-code approaches to custom process development for SharePoint.

I spoke with representatives from some of the larger companies based in the US (top 5 businesses in the energy sector, global financial firms, and manufacturers of heavy equipment), as well as with representatives from US government agencies at state and federal levels. With the exception of one of these conversations, the others were either entirely focused on SharePoint Server, on-premises, or on a hybrid computing scenario, where SharePoint Online, Office 365 would be implemented in parallel to on-premises servers.

The unique problem represented by SharePoint server, on-premises, in my opinion, is its historical role as a computing platform for the organizations opting to implement it. When applications are customized to enhance their usefulness within a computing platform (like an intranet, or an extranet), it becomes a monumental task to de-couple them from the platform, itself. Microsoft apparently recognized this back in December of 2014 and devoted over 6 hours of its Microsoft Virtual Academy training offer to a presentation on Transform SharePoint Customizations to SharePoint App Model.

Ironically, with a more appropriate perspective squarely in place, in my opinion many more of the larger communities of SharePoint users will be likely to decide to implement SharePoint Online, Office 365 than would otherwise have been the case. At the same time, Microsoft will likely benefit from a popular new on-premises server offer in the form of SharePoint server 2016.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

28
Jan

Competitors exhibit a strong desire for some of the recent success of Microsoft’s Office 365

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthOn Wednesday, January 28, 2015, Amazon announced the launch of a new product: Amazon WorkMail. This new offer is targeted to enterprise businesses in need of email and calendar management offered on a subscription basis via a cloud service.

The announced features of Amazon WorkMail position the product as an alternative to Exchange, Microsoft’s backend for Outlook Web App (OWA), one of the core components of the Office 365 application suite. A lot of the editorial comment already published on this product makes additional mention of Google Apps for Business as a target. But Amazon WorkMail operates just fine with Microsoft Outlook as the client interface, something Google Apps for Business does not do.

With Amazon challenging Microsoft on the email and calendar front, and Facebook challenging Microsoft’s Yammer and, arguably, the rest of the collaboration features built into Office 365, it looks safe to say enterprise business consumers have increased their appetite for cloud SaaS productivity suites. Microsoft reported strong growth in the number of subscribers to Office 365 during its Q2 FY 2015 earnings conference call. Three big competitors are now on the playing field looking for some of the same action.

With consumers trending in this direction, the likelihood of competitors addressing product development from the perspective of “competition to be the best” certainly increases. As I have written on numerous occasions in this blog, Dr. Michael Porter argues this strategy is a mistake. I like Dr. Porter’s position. Readers interested in learning more about what he has to say on the topic may want to read a piece written by Joan Magretta back in 2011 for the Harvard Business Review titled Stop Competing to be the Best.

The cost of product development, together with a substantially narrower prospect horizon for multiple players marketing to, in theory, the same prospects (in actuality I would argue no two enterprise organizations are really the same, nor do they often exhibit the same needs), are two warning signs ISVs should take very seriously as they consider jumping into direct, brand to brand competition.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

31
Dec

An unfortunate success story for anyone keen on Office 365

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthOn December 30, 2014, the Business Insider website published an article written by Julie Bort, titled Why An Ex-Microsoft Exec Chose Google Apps Over Microsoft’s Office 365 For His Startup. Bort’s article follows the form of a success story, much like the success stories Microsoft publishes on its web sites. But the success story presented by Bort’s article actually tells the story of the conversion of a once prominent executive at Microsoft, and his new business, over to the ranks of subscribers to Google Apps. Even worse, Rahul Sood (the former Microsoft manager of Microsoft Ventures) explains how his team considered subscribing to Office 365, before finalizing their decision, but decided to pass.

One wonders why Microsoft’s own PR effort hasn’t produced more of these articles: in other words, success stories written by writers not directly affiliated with Microsoft, and published on independent websites. As I just noted, Microsoft’s own websites present an extensive set of this content. But somehow the impact of an article like Bort’s is greater, especially given its title. As to the actual detail she presents, arguably, basing a decision on the email component of a suite of Office applications like Office 365 (or Google Apps) is not likely to be appealing to cloud, SaaS stakeholders from any organizations looking to move beyond email, and into one of the more collaborative and informative methods of exchanging data included with Office 365; for example, Yammer newsfeeds, or SharePoint Online Document Libraries and Lists.

But the detail doesn’t matter when the title, itself, amounts to news potentially embarrassing to Microsoft. There is no way to ensure once prominent Microsoft executives like Rahul Sood will continue to choose Microsoft’s own solutions. But there should be no impediment to the PR team at Microsoft looking for the same type of content (meaning ex-executives at Microsoft competitors opting for Microsoft solutions) to balance the public perception of just who is using Office 365.

The kind of content tracking capability implicit to Office 365’s Managed Metadata Service may not be important to a gaming startup like Sood’s. But any startup in a heavily regulated industry will likely pass on GMail as a principal method of exchanging data, anytime, and choose, instead SharePoint Online Document Libraries and Lists, if compliance reporting is a requirement for the business.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

10
Oct

In 2014, is “responsive and accomodating” the new recommended posture for Enterprise IT?

In the Keynote presentation for day one of Microsoft’s Office 365 Summit event in New York City, Michael Atalla, Microsoft’s “Office Guy”, described what he portrayed as a very new world of enterprise computing, where the pace at which innovation is introduced is managed by users, rather than the enterprise IT organizations tasked with supporting them. This relationship, and the posture it requires enterprise IT organizations to assume, contrasts, vividly, with how this relationship played out a mere 10 years ago, when, Atalla contends, all of the innovation emanated out from enterprise IT to users. The net effect on Enterprise IT organizations, Atalla contends, is to transform their activity into much more a process of accommodation as new devices appear on the consumer tech market, than has ever been the case in the past.

What enterprise IT is accommodating, Atalla explained, is innovation in the form of new devices and processes entering the enterprise as the result of formal BYOD policies, and personnel taking advantage of them. Boiled down to simple terms, this process amounts to the latest Smart Phone, tablet (or even PC) magnetizing interest from the community of computing users at the organization. People start to purchase these devices, which may result in unsupported processes showing up on enterprise IT’s radar. So it falls on enterprise IT to quickly regroup around this phenomenon to provide the support and structure required for personnel to safely consume the new processes across the internal network.

Atalla’s presentation took up at least a third of the Keynote for this event. Perhaps it would have been helpful for the audience attending this presentation to hear a bit about how a cloud SaaS like Office 365 can provide enterprise IT with a tool they can leverage to get ahead of users as this BYOD phenomenon continues to unfold.

With Office 365, or Google at Work, or any other similar competitive service, the actual processing of tasks, and “housing” the computing activity produced by them, takes place in, ostensibly, a much more “static” environment than one might otherwise expect to be the case. Regardless of the device, cloud SaaS solutions require a type of functionality referred to in the past as terminal processing. Or do they?

In 2014, there are important, and challenging, issues with client devices functioning as terminals talking to servers located in the public Internet, or cloud. The app model (which Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon have all embraced) requires a lot more intelligence on the consumer device end of the data conversation. Therefore, even Office 365 computing is not as simple as it may otherwise appear to be.

Regardless, Microsoft is subtly presenting a new message in its effort to hasten the pace at which larger organizations come to accept cloud, SaaS offers as legitimate opportunities to reduce costs and increase user benefits. Many of the attendees of this event likely came away from Atalla’s presentation with this notion about Office 365, as a method of smoothing out an otherwise uncomfortable relationship between IT and users at larger organizations.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

25
Sep

Microsoft Continues to Service the Majority of Very Large Organizations with SharePoint and/or Office 365

If the group of attendees at this year’s SPTechCon, Boston, can be used as a reliable gauge of the positions of Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 in the enterprise computing market, market interest in these solutions remains healthy and infectious. This writer has had numerous conversations, at this popular conference, with stakeholders from large organizations spread across a number of industries, including:

  • Government, both State and Federal
  • Healthcare
  • Banking
  • Insurance
  • Consumer Staples

In each case, these contacts have expressed keen interest to do what it takes to improve the computing experience of their users, and, thereby, hasten their adoption of computing methods unique to SharePoint, or SharePoint Online, Office 365.

A number of these contacts let us know their organizations had either decided to migrate from SharePoint on premises, to SharePoint Online, Office 365, or to implement the latter in parallel to SharePoint running on premises. Under normal circumstances this point would not be noteworthy, but when the industries within which their organizations compete — healthcare, banking, insurance — the notion of any of these firms seriously considering public tenancy on a cloud, SaaS has to be seen as some sort of win for Microsoft.

Contrary to a lot of market commentary, these organizations did not exhibit a diminishing interest, neither in SharePoint, nor in SharePoint Online. On the contrary, many of them spoke to a very high level of utilization for SharePoint, which can only elevate the importance of an application like this one to the position of a “mission-critical” set of procedures.

Once an application takes on this importance for an organization, it is not likely to be unseated. Since many of these organizations include thousands of seats, Microsoft should be able to count on a dependable, substantial revenue stream from these products for years to come. The only possible threat is the intensity of Microsoft’s own efforts to convince its customers to migrate to Office 365. Pressing much harder on this petal could turn out to be a bad thing to do.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

23
Sep

IBM Debuts BI Applications Powered by Watson Running on an iPad

On September 6, 2014, the New York Times published an article written by Steve Lohr on, arguably, a new look for IBM’s Watson machine learning solution, which is, apparently, an ambidextrous tool. This time Watson was said to be powering a rich set of BI dashboards displayed on an iPad. The article is titled IBM Offers a Data Tool for the Mainstream, With Watson’s Help.

The image displayed on the web page presenting this article says a lot. A woman holds an Apple iPad tablet computer, which is exposing a set of Business Intelligence (BI) charts, dials, and the rest of the usual accoutrements of what are commonly referred to as “dashboards”. Presumably the woman holding the tablet is an example of Gartner’s notion of a “citizen developer”, meaning the type of power user targeted by this marketing effort for Watson. For readers otherwise unfamiliar with the notion, a “citizen developer” is an enterprise business user, with some authority, who maintains a voracious appetite for technology, but can’t write software, and has little interest in learning how to code. These people devour so-called “no-code” applications built on workflows.

By “says a lot”, this writer means the notion of someone (like the woman depicted in the image, who is enthusiastic about technology) high on energy, but low on computer programming skills, successfully creating a full-featured dashboard of data, without recourse to developers, points to a direct, head-to-head competition between Apple/IBM and Microsoft for the same market, namely enterprise customers looking for “no-code” solutions and lots of BI.

The product on the table on the Microsoft side, in this presumed comparison, is Office 365 and the suite of BI solutions included in the Power BI Excel offer. IBM certainly has the position in the enterprise computing space to represent a serious, credible threat to Microsoft’s dominance. The fact the dashboard is depicted running on an Apple iPad, rather than a Microsoft Surface is, as well, something to think about.

This competition is nothing new. IBM and Microsoft have fiercely competed for BI business before. IBM’s Cognos has traditionally owned a large piece of the market, with Microsoft challenging via a combination of SQL Server, SharePoint, and efforts of some prominent partners — notably Neudesic. What is different about the potential challenge represented by the combination depicted in Lohr’s article, is the dramatically lower cost of acquisition likely for the kind of solution we see running on the lady’s iPad. Redmond will likely get the wake up call.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

15
Sep

Microsoft Magnetizes a Large Turn Out for an Online Q&A About Delve, a New Feature of Office 365

On September 10, 2014, Microsoft’s Delve and Office 365 teams hosted an online question and answer session on Yammer. The session was very well attended by what appeared to be technical representatives from a cross section of corporate tenants of the Office 365 service. The question topics were all specific to Delve, a new feature of Office 365, which addresses data search from a new angle. Delve first serves results from the most frequently used content sources (prioritized in “trending” order). It can even push information out to Office 365 users from any content repository for which “signals” have been configured.

The Delve question and answer session took the form of a Yammer “yamjam”, which is, presumably, Yammer’s version of Twitter’s “tweetjam”. This writer noted well in excess of 100 posted questions on a wide range of topics. Of particular interest were several on the question of the controls available for corporate tenants to selectively expose content for search use to this new feature. The answers posted from Microsoft personnel indicated a lot of forethought had been undertaken by the Delve and Office 365 teams on the question of information privacy in advance of this public forum. So it should be safe to assume a comparatively smooth rollout for the feature.

On the topic of just how quickly Office 365 tenants can add the feature to their subscriptions, it appears the right answer is “very quickly”, indeed. With merely one changed settings to our Office 365 Enterprise plan subscription, we were able to set up our tenant for Delve. We were happy to find a new tab in our Office 365 ribbon within less than 2 hours of changing the setting. The feature is not yet operational, but we expect it to “wake up” overnight, or very soon, thereafter.

What kind of impact can the availability of a feature like Delve create for Office 365 consumers? Given the importance of search, as a persistent, daily activity for most Internet consumers, and the unique requirement of corporate online consumers for a type of search capable of sifting through a very wide range of content repositories, the short answer is likely to be “big and positive”. This likely reaction should be even more likely for corporate Office 365 consumers in heavily regulated industries.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

10
Sep

Microsoft Provides Customers with Incentives to Hasten User Adoption of Office 365 Computing

On September 3, 2014, Microsoft published a press release [a]nnouncing Office 365 deployment benefits for new customers. Now organizations can avail of a multi-featured program, offered directly through Microsoft, to increase the odds of success for larger organizations choosing Office 365 and SaaS for their office automation needs. The features of this program include direct management (at no additional charge for qualifying customers), by Microsoft, of the Office 365 onboarding process for any new customer purchasing 150 Office 365 seats, or more, for specific Office 365 subscription offers (which are listed in the press release).

The program also includes “the Office 365 adoption offer”. Under the terms of this offer, eligible organizations with 150-1000 seats on Office 365 can receive a cash payment from Microsoft of $15.00 per seat should they purchase consulting services from a “qualified partner of [their] choice” to “conduct adoption activities”. Similarly, eligible organizations with more than 1001 Office 365 seats will receive a cash payment from Microsoft of $5.00 per seat.

The notion of whether or not personnel within a larger organization require an adoption program, or not, has been, and remains a controversial issue for Microsoft’s customers for Office 365, and its predecessor, SharePoint. This writer is directly involved, currently, with a client marketing a set of solutions, which can be used to hasten user adoption of either Office 365, or SharePoint, so he can attest to the difficulties these organizations experience as they seek to define a real need for help in this area.

The September 3, 2014 press release from Microsoft should be of interest to anyone following this mature ISV’s business activities, as it includes direct mention of adoption as a step organizations ought to consider as they look into methods of rapidly transitioning from on premises office automation solutions, over to Office 365, cloud SaaS methods. Historically, some of Microsoft’s promotional information about SharePoint and, later, Office 365, attempted to emphasize the ease of use for average users, out-of-the-box. This announcement, in contrast, directly addresses the difficulties most organizations experience as they attempt to migrate over to Office 365, and, further, includes an offer for Microsoft to contribute to the funding of an effort (adoption) to ease the process.

In this writer’s opinion, the program Microsoft has announced should contribute, at a minimum, to more larger organizations seriously considering Office 365. The upside potential looks promising.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved