Originally published in InformationWeek on December 19th
I continue to be amazed by the rapid pace of innovation in virtually every technology market. Every time you blink, it seems there's another startup taking on the old guard.
Conventional wisdom in technology is that you need to abandon the existing order when faced with a new bright and shiny product. However, as someone who has worked with both startups and global leaders, I know it cannot be an either/or approach. Scrapping years or decades of investment in infrastructure is foolish, and the innovators who are winning are building their breakthrough tools on top of proven technologies. Two great examples are products I use and love: Flipboard and Nest Thermostat.
By nature, Nest and Flipboard improve upon existing products instead of trying to replace them. For example, instead of creating its own content from scratch, Flipboard compiles content that already exists into a format based on users' preferences. By the same token, the Nest Thermostat makes no attempt to re-engineer an entire heating/cooling system. Instead, it offers a smarter thermostat that integrates with the heating/cooling infrastructure that's already in place.
With the enterprise technology space becoming more competitive by the day, you may be asking how we can apply this model to enterprise technology. Let's dig a bit deeper into the Flipboard and Nest strategies to find out.
Flipboard reimagines existing content
Flipboard recognized that while there is an almost unlimited quantity of content available online, consumers spend a huge amount of time skimming through dozens of sites and hundreds of pages to get to the content that interests them.
So, Flipboard developed breakthrough mobile apps, a polished user interface, and a curated reader-driven content strategy to pull in readers. This formula allowed the company to continue innovating while adding hundreds of thousands of users along the way.
One issue the company needed to address was content producers' desire to maintain a distinct brand and form relationships with readers. That's why Flipboard pays such close attention to format and look and feel with features like customizable layouts and user interfaces that adapt to your device. That way, they can keep both the content producers and the readers happy.
Nest makes the system smarter
Nest had the breakthrough insight that, while the actual delivery mechanisms for residential heating and air conditioning systems were working well, human errors and inefficiencies of traditional thermostats were leading to wasted energy and rising heating and cooling costs.
Nest came up with an elegant and simple solution that worked and has continued to release new versions of the thermostat and its software, improving its simplicity and user friendliness. Nest has also continued to develop products beyond its initial market beachhead, including a smart smoke/carbon monoxide detector, which is a logical extension that naturally appeals to those who own or are interested in the Nest Thermostat.
It's clear that Nest has made it a priority to know its customer base: the homeowner. Homeowners are making the purchase decision and need to be convinced of the product's value. So, Nest offers rebates, proof of energy and money savings, and the option to easily control the product through your mobile device.
Enterprise technology: How does it fit the mold?
As Flipboard and Nest show, new technologies don't need to reinvent the wheel. This is even more important in the enterprise, where companies have invested millions of dollars in their IT systems.
Take Splunk, for example. IT groups need analytics on all the critical systems they manage to better understand how they are performing. Rather than require IT admins to provide logs in a standard format, Splunk designed its system to import files in any format directly from the systems IT manages, and developed a dashboard of insights and alerts. It fundamentally changed IT operations without completely starting from scratch.
On the other hand, most cloud file storage solutions have taken a different approach. Every company has a system for managing its files and information, but new technologies such as cloud, mobile, and social tools have changed the way users share and access data. In response to these major technology trends, popular new tools for file sync and sharing, like Box and Dropbox, are creating new information silos that are not integrated with existing file systems. While these services are easy to use, you must drag the files you want to share into a proprietary cloud one by one.
There is clearly value in these new solutions, but a better approach is the Nest and Flipboard method: Incorporate new capabilities such as user-friendly mobile apps, hybrid cloud storage options, and newsfeed-like streams on file changes, but integrate them with existing corporate file servers, security standards, and compliance regulations.
Continuous innovation has been key for both Flipboard and Nest, whether it's in well designed mobile apps or a constant cycle of hardware and software updates. Established industries and processes like heating and cooling systems, the publishing industry, and enterprise IT exist for a reason: They are effective solutions to real problems. If new ideas don't fit within the existing frameworks, they can cause more disruption than they are worth. Instead, be like Nest, Flipboard, and Splunk: Disrupt, but don't break.
2013 was an amazing year for enterprise IT—the pace of innovation is higher than it has ever been and there is no sign of any slow down. In my view, 2014 is going to be a pivotal year in the transformation of enterprise IT. Here are just a few predictions of what I see happening in enterprise software in 2014.
It’s a flawed approach to believe that a "one size cloud fits all” approach is appropriate, particularly in the enterprise and specifically for cloud storage. According to a survey that will be published in early 2014 by ESG, a leading analyst firm, 97% of IT professionals who have already deployed an online file sharing solution in the cloud are “extremely” or “somewhat interested” in on premise storage options. In 2014 hybrid cloud will emerge as the de facto choice for organizations that don’t want to and can’t afford to treat all applications and information equally.
Mobile consumer apps have trained people to not just want, but demand a great user experience. One victim of this movement will be the death of feature-bloated apps. Instead, there will be a relentless focus from enterprise software vendors on simplicity of design and function. Those companies who fail to embrace this imperative will be left behind.
We’ve heard a lot about the impact of predictive analytics on the enterprise and how they inform data-driven strategies. Now, the next leap in predictive analytics will be user driven. For example, content creation and collaboration will move from simple access and editing to automating of mundane tasks. Imagine you’ve just completed a meeting in which you created an elaborate whiteboard diagram that you want to share with all the meeting attendees. Predictive insights will prompt you to automatically email the photo of the diagram to all the people listed in calendar invite, eliminating time from a simple but low-value process.
In a mobile world, where users work on multiple devices, any time and anywhere, the notion of desktop backup and recovery is not enough. True protection of business-critical files requires that files are backed up the moment they are modified no matter what device is used to perform an update. And if a device is lost, stolen, or malfunctions, a user should be able to pick up any other device and keep working without missing a beat -- and without needing to recover from a backup first.
Congress will be forced to find a solution to the H-1B visa issue that continues to slowly eat away at the long term competitiveness of U.S. tech companies. We need to treat Silicon Valley and other technology centers as growth engines and give them the badly needed talent they require to fuel their innovation.
We need to dramatically increase and diversify the technical talent pool within our country and initiatives such as Code.org, an organization dedicated to expanding participation in computer science education, and Code For America are examples of programs headed in the right direction. The emergence of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg as high-profile technology leaders will also help drive more girls into technical and business careers, creating a far larger and more diverse technology workforce.
It is not 1999. The tech industry has regained its footing and many ideas and innovations being invested in today are delivering long-term value. That said, there is considerable irrationality in the market as well, with some company’s valuations not being in line with core business fundamentals. For enterprise customers, financial stability and laser-focus on enterprise needs matters in the long term. “Land grabs” can generate a lot of early market hype, but when it comes to enterprise-scale deployments the landscape can change very fast.
What are your predictions for 2014?
Syncplicity’s Enterprise File Sync and Share solution has taken another leap forward with the addition of Secured Shared Files, which we are making available to qualified Enterprise Edition customers today in a Controlled Release. The Controlled Release is ideal for customers who want to securely share documents with external parties and would like to evaluate this feature.
With Secure Shared Files, security “follows your files” when they are sent to other users via Secure Shared Links. This gives users and IT the ability to stay in control of enterprise assets and content even if they are moved to a different folder or device after being shared. Secure Shared Files provides enterprise users with an easy and secure solution for sharing files outside the organization, maximizing collaboration while giving IT the tools they need to ensure digital content is within their control wherever it goes.
Security That Enhances Productivity
This is the next evolution in our drive to provide enterprises secure file sharing, but without creating end-user complexity. We have always believed that users and IT can both love a solution, and that security can enhance productivity. In the early days of Syncplicity we launched Shared Links, which give users the ability to avoid email attachment limits and protect files by being able to deactivate links. This year, we added Secure Shared Links, which enables users and IT the ability to restrict the recipient list, require passwords, and set automatic link expiration. Now, with this controlled release we are offering Secure Shared Files, the ability to manage file permissions and activities after the recipient has downloaded the files.
Users today demand unprecedented ease of use, and choice of device, when it comes to collaboration. We expect to be able to work with business files, on all our devices, as easily as we handle photos and music. Existing solutions for secure file sharing—even “new” SaaS solutions on the market – have put an unnecessary “tax” on end users by forcing them to change they way they work. With Syncplicity Secure Shared Files, they can now add security and control to files without missing a beat— so there’s no need to change the way they work on our account.
Controlled Release Availability
The Controlled Release is available only for Enterprise Edition customers who have an on-premise Syncplicity StorageVault deployment. If you are interested in participating in the Syncplicity Secured Shared Files Controlled Release Program, please complete the following form. Once the form is complete the Syncplicity team will review and a Syncplicity representative will be in contact.
Secure Shared Files will be generally available in 2014.
Join Syncplicity and EMC Isilon on December 18th at 10:00 AM PST for an informative webinar Innovative Data Storage Strategies to Power Your Enterprise. You’ll have the opportunity to hear from two experts, Mike Noble, Senior Product Marketing Manager, EMC Isilon and Jeff Schultz, Syncplicity’s Head of Marketing, as they discuss Isilon scale-out NAS and Syncplicity’s online file sharing solution.
During the webinar, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more how Isilon scale-out NAS can solve your data management and storage challenges. And, you’ll hear how to maximize the power of online file sharing with a secure, on-premise Isilon storage solution.
Register now and find out how to:
Register now to reserve your seat or to watch later on-demand.
Employees are demanding the use of consumer devices for business purposes. But as Terri McClure, ESG Senior Analyst explains in this video it doesn’t matter if it’s a personal or corporate device – it’s just too easy to download multiple business apps and load them with confidential business data.
Terri calls this Rogue IT.
One area this is happening most often is with Online File Sharing and Collaboration applications where employees use free consumer apps and fill them up with company data. A recent study from ESG, found that 70% of IT professionals know or suspect rogue usage. This worrying new trend poses numerous risks.
To learn more, watch Terri McClure as she discusses IT trends and insights and offers solutions for how IT organizations can combat this growing trend that puts companies in jeopardy.