A psihology of cloud

There is one thing which makes cloud offerings appealing in general: these are impersonal social transactions.

Now, let me clarify this a bit: when somebody buys an IT software solution Small shops custom solutionsthe usual way of doing this is by directly talking with the software development company (or a system integrator, somebody doing IT consulting.. etc). This means the buyer and the seller interact in a social manner (even though usually strictly professional šŸ˜‰ ) and work their way through the finalization of the “project”. A simpler case is for out of the box products but there are seldom such things in the business solutions space.

Cloud changes this. Not by itself, but it can really take off once people on all sides start taking advantage of it.

Everybody says cloud solutions are ‘simple”, “easy”… and we quickly think about this as being “feature”-simple/easy. This is a bit true but a major incentive is the fact that the buyer can obtain its reward without any emotional involvement. He does not need to actually “talk” to some other person, he doesn’t need to explain itself to somebody. He simply clicks. This is where the lure of cloud is.

Of course, this does not mean the traditional way of selling software solutions will die. It’s exactly like when you’re going to the mall/supermarket vs. to your local corner shop. Both will coexist, each of them adapting to the market demands.Supermarket browsing

Now, if any of this is true, we will see vendors adapt to fit this consumer psychology. Maybe it’s not such a big surprise that Amazon is so successful in cloud now… isn’t it?

We need wholesalers and retailers for software solutions. Cloud providers are going to do this and software vendors will transform to meet their demand. But just as in the current physical goods economy, in cloud you’ll find some brands and a certain uniform quality while we will also have local shops with “limited series” products.

This will drive standardization, because you can’t have a supermarket unless you do have many similar products (comparable by some metrics understandable by the customer). And here lies a very big challenge, since in the business solutions area there are currently no pervasive standards, formal on informal. I believe the vendor struggle to be present in cloud with their business solutions (something which we will see more and more in the next year(s), together with the consumer behaviorĀ  will generate these standards.

Clearly interesting times…

Content Management Solutions Interoperability

No, this is not about CMIS, although the topic can be linked together not just through an acronym.

infoexchangeThis is a bit inspired by the recent identity crisis manifested in the “Enterprise Content Management” space, by many esteemed professionals doing their best to define either “content” in itself or more nowadays replacing “Enterprise” with “Easy” within ECM. While these kind of discussions are good and provide at least food for thought, I would like to see how we can go forward.

After a period of effervescence in the mid 2000, looking around to see what kind of solutions and software we have for solving common business problems around content…. I don’t see a significant evolution.

Sure, there’s this “cloud” thing. But we’ve been doing SaaS for a much longer time. And there’s file sharing, that’s indeed cool.

What I do believe is missing today is a roadmap to have inter-operability at the business level. Everybody is tackling the “information silo” problem and, of course, this creates new silos based on brand new shining technology.

When Cloud was born, a lot of people said we need to have cloud inter-operability. To integrate one cloud provide with another. But most of the reasons behind this are technical and even if you related them to business needs, there are always more pressing itches which need to be scratched, so the money and time will go elsewhere.

What does the “business” need is actually a way to be able to scratch quickly and later on to exchange their information with other business areas/departments/systems/you get the idea. I don’t want to sound like a prophet, but I think we’ll see new and new information silos created everyday, much faster than any consolidation can occur. And we should not be afraid of this.

These silos need to inter-operate. This is the actual need. Technically, we have CMIS – for example. But not the technical issue is the main roadblock. It’s the data, with its meaning (context, as it can be referred to). How do you exchange data?

Picture this:

What if, every major ECM system (EMC Documentum, IBM FileNet, Microsoft SharePoint, OpenText XYZ, Alfresco etc.) will come preloaded with a set of predefined, extendable “schema” to exemplify how an “invoice” should be modeled? Or a “drawing”, or a “project plan”, or a “meeting minute”?

What if these schema would be built together by a consortium of all these people implementing solutions for customers (eg: Oasis)?

Imagine what this would do for enabling value driven inter-operability.

SharePoint and large files

Suppose you want to put SharePoint to some good use and you or your CIO thought “let’s just use SharePoint as a DMS”.

What can go wrong here? It can store files, users love it, we have plenty of licenses, integrates into Office, has search, versioning, metadata… all sorts of neat stuff.

This is completely true and SharePoint can definetely act as a very good DMS. If you know its limits and really understand that theoretical limits are a different beast in real life. As a side note, a DMS system is almost never just a neutral tool. It needs customization (or at least heavy configuration by a specialist) to implement business rules and processes. I’ll maybe touch on these on another post.

First, you will want to check the official Microsoft Sharepoint boundaries page here. Even in “small” DMS environments you will need to pay close attention to the “File size” limit and to the “Content database items” one.trextrying

So, you’ve found out that the maximmum file size is 2GB and that the recommended file size ranges between 50 and 250 MB. Chances are that you have many important files bigger than this. Jump to the internet and the best MSFT advice you’ll get is somehow sommarized in this TechNet post. Which basically says that you can’t. Or shouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. Technically, anything is possible in software and there are convoluted ways of making SharePoint handling files over 2GB in size. Such as splitting the file in volumes and storing those instead… and aggregating them on download… messy stuff.. Or use RBS for offloading the content database from SQL Server while you aim for the 4 TB limit (but still helpless for 2GB+). After which you are forced anyway to restructure your core DMS business solution logical architecture.

I, on another hand, have the opinion that a technology platform (eg SharePoint) should help me concentrate on business solutions (eg: solve DMS problems) not require advanced expertise just to make things kinda’ work and then keep an eye on the business requirements and solution to not break my pretty little technical-very-backend architecture limitations.

Back to the issue: can it be done in SharePoint?

Yes. But we need also another content platform to handle the exceptions.

What we can do is build a custom document library (or let’s say, a new type of document library with our additional features) which enable content transfer to and from the user using another content platform for storing the large files. This can work also to overcome the limitation of the number of items in a document library/content database.

Features can be implemented to create/destroy native SharePoint items as needed so that the user will be able to use SharePoint standard document library features on some selected documents if they really need to (provided that it’s not larger than 2GB, case when you are stuck with upload/download/stream only for the content.. no inline editing for you).

This way, the SharePoint limitations will not apply anymore (since the features are presented “at the glass” and interact directly with the other “hidden” content platform) but you still have the SharePoint features for selected items should you wish to bring them into the native space. Searches can be done a variety of ways. Either using SharePoint features (since it can index external stores) or the external CMS may have its own API for that.

Security is also ok, since you will choose a content platform which can really do item level security even for many or large files (in SharePoint you are advised to not use item level security if you have many documents in your library).

Linking the external CMS underneath a SharePoint document library gives you a lot of advantages… I’ll let you discover those, this is just a blog post.

One more hint: if your chosen content platform exposes itself as a CMIS provider, then you really hit the jackpot. Strategically speaking, because in real life SharePoint cannot act as a CMIS client anymore (since ShP 2013, although it could in 2010). But I think they will not be able to ignore this in the future and anyway you’ll find partners developing ShP addons to expose CMIS in the UI.

Here you have it. I just shared with you our solution on how to make SharePoint as a DMS when considering its large files limitation (and also works for the “many files” limitations).

ECM made simple – the hunt for

Anyone who has been involve in “Enterprise” Content Management projects will tell you that usually they are nothing but simple. This complexity rises from a number of from education to procedures, politics, skills, adoption, competence, technical chracteristics.. etc

The quick answer to this is to mount a big implementation project. And everybody is happy: the vendor sells licenses, the consulting team has billable months and the customer feels he gets something important since he spends the big bucks on it.

The problem is that this is the default approach from everyone at the table although it’s clear to any sane-minded person that at least half of such projects would be better if tackled with a different approach: give the customer a tool which he would want to use.

Most of the vendors identified this opportunity and addressed it with the “out of the box technical tool” or “platform” approach. These are at best some DIY kits for customer internal IT staff to still try to do a complex projects to address the ever complex business challege. SharePoint executed this quite well at least until it also hit the wall of complex projects/

Because the answer is not a technical tool or a platform.

There is no universal answer either. At least not about ECM šŸ™‚

We need to diversify. We need strong competence for complex projects but equally we need to have a market for simple to use and access business solutions / applications. There are probably very very few who can do both well, I’m looking forward for a disruption in this area.

This requires a culture change for all participants. I can’t count the meetings I’ve been into where the customer pushed to have feature after feature inside the solution while the supplier said mostly “yes” since it would bring him more money. I call this the hunt for more muney and the fear of failure. After all, the supplier needs to eat and the customer to succeed.

From this situation we can’t escape easily. But we do need to.

Cloud is here to help. Is an enabler, not the answer. But it generates the kind of focus which can lead to a new market. The market for simple ECM solutions. Cheap, easy to use and easy to dispose.

Image

Imagine buying a businessĀ solution for under 5k. Or paying under 1k/month for the use of your entire business unit.The CRM space is doing it so why can’t we? Basic Office is already like this, are we so much different?
And how do you tackle the complexity I’ve presented at the beginning? You don’t. You just let the customer decide and adapt. Money is the blood of enterprises and if you lower that entry point with a quality product then you just got yourself a new market. This does not exclude the big multi-million projects… it just adds up.It’s tough but it can be done and when can reach with it the impulse buy area for business owners, you struck gold.

But remember: business solutions, with the right equilibrium of features.

See you there!

Want to deliver ECM solutions in cloud?

While I’m no expert on the topic, I’ve spent a lot of my last years doing just that within our company – which is not a pure player in the space. Here are some ponderings which should be useful both for providers and for customers.The Cloud - from xkcd - http://xkcd.com/908/

If you’ve not been living under a rock for the last years, you probably noticed the hype called “cloud” (not to mention “big data”, let;’s just leave it to that for a moment). As many pointed out, “cloud” has many meanings and while some are new, a lot of work had already been done Ā under different not so cool names like PaaS, SaaS (why not AaaS?), IaaS.. etc. Infinite elasticity, scalability and “always on” are subliminal promises vendors lure customers with. Some deliver this better than other. Some customers need it, some not. Well… it’s a free market after all.

Say you are a solution provider (integrator, services, whatever) and want to jump on this bandwagon. You call somebody in the company and say “let’s do this!”. If you’re thorough enough, you’ll make a business plan (at least). Please consider this:

1. You can’t just take on-premise software solutions and make them run in “cloud”.

Especially ECM stuff. If that solution is a good onw, it’s probably very complex. Complexity doesn’t play nice with reusability. Cloud is about reusing as much as possible so you can make economies of scale. If you don’t care about that (eg: you expect less than 20 customers) then consider the people administering it. They will be your staff? If so, do they need to learn a lot of specific characteristics for each of your customers? Hmm….

I’m sure all your enteprise customers will use the same software application, just configured differently. Aren’t they? You’ll educate them? Or you will be the next Force.com? Consider it. Of course, you can isolate them and basically have an individual instance with all the peculiar characteristics customized for each customer. I sure hope they will be paying you the big buck, because it will be fun to keep that updated in time.

Or you will take the enterprise solutions you have and scale them down to fit a more “general”/small business need. It might work. Remeber: keep it veeeery simple to use. Very. For example; Metadata? You should innovate here. Checkout/checkin? Find another way. Your 20+ action menu? Trim it down to 5. Can’t?

2. Infrastructure is not scalable to the infinity

Put a virtualization layer on top, it eases things up. But you thought of that already. Reality check #1: virtual stuff runs slower than barebone hardware. Reality check #2: top grade infrastructure is expensive. Of course you can try the Google approach and build a lot using commodity hw. But you need special management tools and procedures fo do it. And maybe even rethink your software solutions. Goto no. 1.

Some ECM solution components might not even be compatible with virtualization. Hehehe. Are they yours or do you purchase/oem/integrate from other vendors? What;s their plan?

3. Business model si a different beast

How do you sell it? With the same sales people? How do you incetivize them? I’m sure you are aware that selling cloud stuff brings a tiny-tiny fraction of the initial revenue vs. selling one-off licenses & implementation services. When does your salesperson get bonused? Will this work for them or they will continue to push for the classic sale even if you have cloud to offer?

On the good news side, if you sell in the ECM space you should have already been thinking Ā about this for at least 1-2 years now… why? The days of multi-million solution sale are gone. The majority of customers are now planning for smaller initial costs and to have services and extensions spread over multiple years. With the ocassional exceptions, but if you’re counting on those, then you’re reading the wrong post.

What about licenses ? Your ECM solution will most likely sum up an impressiove number of third party licensing. Are those vendors providing a clear and adequate licensing model for the cloud? Do you change your user per GB stored? If so, you’re storage vendor is charging you based on the monthly reported usage? Eh?

4. Your internal processes and resources

Once you go live, you need to run it. If you have only a few customers, it’s probably not very much different than what you did until now. Especially if you already provided some sort of SaaS/PaaS before. But this is not the idea… “Cloud” should mean many more customers for you as it means more resources for your customers. Cheaper, for both. So, you will need to redesign internal processes (and tools) to be more effective. When you sell at 5 USD/user/month you need to take inspiration from Henry Ford. Considering you will still keep you current business model, beware how you mix people and resources around.

Support for an ECM solution is complicated. Will you take calls from all the end-users? Are your people capable of understanding this for all those many “cloud” customers you will hopefully have? Or they will just create frustration which will generate a lot of comments in the area of “why did we externalized this? it was much better when our (then thought lousy) IT handled it”. Remember, you’re changing a way of working, you’re not providing a solution to a greenfield area. What works for a telecom company providing commodity services and products will not apply in the ECM space.

The list can go on…

Is it all bad?

No way! Just look around. Although I called cloud “hype”, it passed that stage. Vendors are started to mature and many have realized the above items and are at avrious stages to address them.

This post is for you, our customers! Take care when choosing your cloud provider(s). I really do think you need one (the chances are you probably need cloud vs. you don’t). Do not evaluate in the same way Amazon with Box with EMC or with a specialized solution provider.They are different, at least for the reasons stated above. Work with them in understanding how did they solve the challenges, see their actual experiences and be cautious of “i know how to do it but we have no customers yet” offerings..

EMC Momentum 2012 – first day – preparing the launch

Today we kicked off at Momentum Vienna organizing the company booth. But enought about that… Let’s get to the quick facts.

The strategy of EMC is still on track. At least the part with going into the services based model of the solution delivery.

This is actually the biggest challenge IIG faces for the next year(s), and a lot of partners and customers are looking to EMC for more news and execution on it.

On the technical side, this week showcases the launch of several key products supporting the said strategy. More about this tomorrow, as EMC presents it officially. Expect Documentum 7 to come p with a set of features around mlti-tennancy and service based delivery, Captiva 7 with nicer UI and more intelligence within, D2 4.0 looks good and Syncplicity is raising a lot of interesting opportunities. And don’t forget xCP 2.0.

On the financial side, the road is a bit blurry as the whole IIG sales organization needs to move from the “license – one off” model to the “as a service subscription” sales model and compensation. And a lot of traction is targeted at vertical solutions which will be promoted by EMC itself.
I think this is a much challenging thing to do, besides getting the technology right and integrated.

Todays talks between EMC and partners were very well balanced. A lot of effort was spent until now, there is sign of rebounce for the IIG general performance, but there is also a lot more to do. Execution and focus is now key and I got the feeling that everybody knows and feels this.

Tomorrow is public speech and product launch day.

Let’s see the Documentum 7 powerhorse pulling IIG to a new era.

EMC Documentum Mobile – a quick review

Some months after being demo-ed at Momentum, the EMC Documentum Mobile client for iPad is finally here for us to actually work with it.

Go to the app store and get the app and go to Powerlink and get the server component. Can’t find the Documentum Mobile Server component in your download basket? Ask you EMC representative and sort it out. It’s kind of limited access right now.

Been there, done that… kit on my hands… let’s go! Here are my first impressions, not very filtered but a bit digested:

The Version is 1.0. We should note the choice of not making it 6.7 as in the current Content Server version although it’s supposed to be a part of it in the future.

First thing is that you need to install a server component to make the App talk to somebody. Of course, nobody expected the app to talk directly to Content Server but… maybe some expectations were directed towards the DFS way.

Well.. it’s not gonna happen. DFS unfortunately has proven quite a hog Ā for some apps and this time EMC chosed to go the JSON way with “RESTful services”. I’ll give them 10 points for that, it’s an excellent decision. Sorry DFS, not a big fan here.

That being said, we notice that currently only Tomcat and JBOSS servers are supported. On Windows and RedHat. Strange. Not a problem here but I can’t imagine why aren’t many others J2EE/servlet containers supported.

Standard requirements in hardware, nothing to see here.

Content Server needs to be very new (6.6 P10 or later). Also, a number of other products are “optional” but very useful: CTS and the Thumbnail Server. And some BPM DAR and Collaboration DAR. Makes sense for us who know what’s inside, but suddenly making the Documentum “mobile friendly” became a bit too complicated. Shouldn’t be so.

I’ll give 7 out of 10 for prerequisites.

During install you jump through the many hoops of unpacking the WAR, update the dfc.properties, repack the WAR… Somebody should find a better way for this.

Therefore, a 7 goes to the installation procedure. I was leaning to an 8… but not really because…

When you fire up the iPad App you need to create a “profile”. The profile directs the app to a certain mobile server and docbase. It asks for an URL of the mobile server. Help is of no use, says the admin will tell you what to write there. Since I am the admin I should know. But it’s not written anywhere (install guide/release notes/help docs)! So I take a leap of faith and type an URL mimicking the installation test: “http://server:port/mobile/”. Loading………. 404!

Ain’t that cute? As usual, the answer is simple: remove the trailing / from the URL and try again. So, note to all of you out there: when asked for the “Server URL” put in the complete URL to where you deployed the WAR but don’t put any / at the end.

Contextual help should provide a sample. Or the profile definition form itself. EMC… please.

When all this is done the application just works. Really.

The UI is inspired from the Twitter iPad app. Very responsive and easy to work with. Relatively intuitive. It definitely looks ok.

Since my environment does not have yet the Thumbnail server and I was only connecting to an empty new one… nothing fancy to see.

What I’ve noticed is that the properties displayed for each document are very limited: name, modified date&by, size, subject and owner. I’ll check for a custom object later.

Some errors ocassionally. Ā Even a crash. But it’s somehow espected from a first version.

Since I don’t have the collaboration DAR also installed, some features don’t work (but I can comment on documents !). It would have been nice to have them disabled in the UI instead of getting an error when trying to use them… but still… the error is “intelligible” (“the repository is not configured for…”). Ok’ish.

As a general note for the app, I’ll give an 8.

So, as a quick conclusion: it works, not a pain to install but with a lot of dependencies, good mix of features (browse, tasks, comments, download offline, watch, spaces, collections…), nice UI, fast (on an empty repo šŸ™‚ ). Sound very good for now.

In the next few days I’ll look into how it handles volumes and custom stuff. I’ll not look into the collaboration features.

Related reading:

Product page:Ā http://www.emc.com/apps/documentum-mobile.htm

Demo:Ā https://community.emc.com/community/connect/documentum/blog/2011/08/25/documentum-mobile-getting-started

ChalkTalk:Ā https://community.emc.com/community/edn/documentum/blog/2011/08/17/documentum-mobile-strategy

And again: congrats for not using DFS

PS: I think you said the source code will be available on EDN. Will it be? It would be very helpful and probably the way to go.