Future of Work: What Does The IBM and Box Partnership Mean?

June 25 2015 07:17:57 AM Add/Read Comments [0]

IBM and Box

Yesterday, IBM and Box co-announced a new partnership between the two software vendors. As soon as the announcement was public I was contacted with questions about what this means to both companies, and especially how it impacts IBM’s current collaboration portfolio. Below are the key points you should be aware of.
It's Not A BigBlue Box: This announcement was not about an acquisition but rather a partnership. Could that happen in the future? Possibly, but let’s not speculate on that today and instead focus on the current and near term implications. It’s important to note, Box has also announced significant partnerships with Microsoft, most recently around Office 365 integration. This Box / IBM announcement does not indicate a similar level of functionality with IBM Docs.

This Does Not Impact IBM Connections Files: The primary focus of this partnership is not related to IBM’s collaboration portfolio: IBM Connections, IBM Verse, Notes/Domino, Sametime, etc. Yes, there is some integration between the two companies today, such as Box integration in Connections Communities, but this announcement is more about IBM’s Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Analytics capabilities. (see below) In January, IBM announced IBM Connections Files, which is essentially a Box like tool, but to be clear, IBM is not replacing that product with Box.

Insights Into Business Content: Over the last few months, IBM has made several announcements regarding integration of 3rd party content with IBM’s tools. For example, the partnerships with Twitter and Weather Channel. Box represents another large repository of content that several IBM customers rely on. Therefore, combining Box’s content-centric workflows with IBM’s analytics (IBM Watson) and governance (StoredIQ) capabilities, makes a lot of sense. This gives Box a great additional set of capabilities while IBM gets to deploy their tools against a large new source of (customer) content. Questions still remain as to what the combined solutions will cost, and what hosting options will be supported.

Let’s Get Vertical: Both IBM and Box have successful go to market strategies around vertical solutions such as healthcare, finance and manufacturing. This partnership will allow both vendors to tap into the customer base of the other. For example, a healthcare customer currently using Box to store medical records (or Xrays) will now be able to leverage IBM’s Analytics and Case Management capabilities to derive insights from that data.

Mobile Computing: Both IBM and Box are investing heavily in mobile access. IBM has recently partnered with Apple to create several applications which they call MobileFirst for iOS. As mentioned above, Box has a strong customer presence in those same verticals, so if Box integration is added to those iOS applications, Box customers will get a seamless file-centric experienced embedded in this applications.

That raises the question as to why IBM is using Box for file-sharing features of these applications instead of IBM Connections Files? The answer is most likely that Box, available for many years, has a significant head-start obtaining customers in these industries verses IBM Connections Files which has just recently launched. IBM is doing what works best for customers, realizing that if they don't, those customers will look elsewhere. As the Box/IBM announcement is not exclusive, I predict IBM will announce additional file sharing integrations/partnerships, including better integration with their own collaboration tools.

Developers In The Mix: One of the most interesting parts of this partnership is that Box’s APIs will be added to IBM BlueMix, their cloud based application development platform, or PaaS. That means developers building applications on BlueMix will be able to easily add Box’s features to their applications. This is a big win for Box, as it dramatically extends their reach to a large partner ecosystem. Here is example code from IBM developerWorks, Integrate Cloud File Storage and Sharing into your Bluemix App with Box

Keeping Things Secure: In 2013 IBM acquired Fiberlink, developer of the MaaS360 mobile management and security suite. Today MaaS360 supports secure file sharing for Box, so this is another synergy point between IBM and Box which they will continue to build upon.

Files. Files. Wherefore Art Thou Files? What about future hosting implications? Today Box’s infrastructure is hosted by Equinix. Perhaps a move to Softlayer could happen, but that is not part of the current announcement.



It’s certainly an interesting time in the enterprise file market.

A few years ago large enterprise software vendors such as IBM, Microsoft and Google did not really offer their own enterprise file storage solutions. To fill that gap, stand-alone vendors such as Box and DropBox stepped in and secured large customer bases that the enterprise software vendors are certainly envious of. But as file-sharing become a key part of organization's collaboration strategies those companies realized they required enterprise grade solutions. Fast forward to today and the large vendors now offer solutions such as IBM Connections Files, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Citrix Sharefile and Salesforce Files as integrated parts of their collaboration platforms; while Box, DropBox, Egnyte, Intralinks, Huddle and other stand-alone file sharing vendors continue to enhance the file-sharing specific elements of their solutions.

The trend now is to combine the best of both worlds. It seems like almost weekly there is a press release about a new integration or partnership between one of the enterprise software platform vendors and one of the stand-alone file-storage vendors. The key is that these partnerships need to go beyond the basic “you can open file X from inside platform Y”. Today’s Box and IBM announcement provides a foundation for more advanced integrations built to solve specific industry solutions leveraging the best of both IBM and Box. However, it’s important to move beyond the press release stage and deliver real code soon or customers (and analyst s) will quickly look for alternative approaches. I look forward to seeing demos of the IBM + Box solutions soon.

BTW, I'd be negligent as an analyst if I didn't notice that both companies have 3 letter names and blue logos, so the partnership is a natural fit. (don't quote me on that one!)


Collaboration Hits The Big Screen

June 11 2015 04:01:55 PM Add/Read Comments [0]

On June 10th Microsoft announced that Surface Hub, their large screen interactive display device, will be available for ordering on July 1st. There are two models, 55” for $6,999 USD and the statement making 84” model for $19,999. Surface Hub will be available for pre-order on July 1 in 24 markets worldwide, and will begin shipping in September.

Surface Hub is the evolution of the technology Microsoft acquired when they purchased Perceptive Pixel in July 2012. Since that time, Microsoft has been working on ways they could use these large displays to improve the way people collaborate. Last week I had the opportunity to meet with the Surface team and get an overview of the device and discuss the roadmap going forward.

So what is Surface Hub?

At first glance one may think it’s just a large conference room display. However, spend a few minutes with one and you quickly come to understand it is much more. On the hardware side yes it’s a large touch screen, but it also includes microphones, speakers and cameras on each side that come into play as soon as you start collaborating. It’s also a computer, so you don’t need to connect a PC to it in order to run applications.

As attractive as the device is, it’s the software that makes Surface Hub shine. As soon as you touch the screen you can either load an application, or instantly start a Skype for Business meeting. The core of that meeting experience is an infinite canvas whiteboard, allowing people to draw on the screen for brainstorming, event planning, content creation, story telling and hundreds of other scenarios. People not in the room can join the meeting and see what’s happening on the screen in real time. Disappointingly, remote participants currently can only view the whiteboard, they can not add their own markup to it, but that is planned for a future release. The whiteboard is actually a Surface Hub specific extension of Microsoft OneNote, so I’m optimistic that a lot more functionality will be coming to the white boarding experience, as OneNote offers several great note taking and brainstorming features.

The power of this type of immersive collaboration is not limited to simple whiteboards. Below you can see two video where I try out native applications. Here is a video where I work on a PowerPoint presentation, including copy and pasting images from Bing.

The next two videos showcase business partner applications. The first is 3D design software JT2Go from Siemens:

The second is brainstorming application Mura.ly



There are three critical elements Microsoft needs to get right to help keep the Surface Hub out of the conference room hardware graveyard.

1) Ease of Use: The experience needs to be extremely simple. Conference rooms, shared team spaces, executive offices and briefing centers are littered with old equipment like projectors, speaker phones and smart boards that no one uses. In my limited time with the Surface Hub, I found it intuitive and interestingly enough, actually fun. Touching the screen to move things around or using pens to dr aw (called Inking) felt natural. In just a few minutes I understood how to start applications, join meetings, and create content on screen. I would like to see more onscreen navigational aides that popup and help teach people the basics plus tips and tricks.

2) Partner Ecosystem: It can’t just be a large screen display for slides. As shown above, even before launch Microsoft has been busy working with business partners to make sure several applications are available. Microsoft has a huge business partner ecosystem, and it’s these 3rd party products that will make or break the success of the device.

3) Help People Get Work Done: Collaboration needs to be seamless and amazing. These devices are really designed to allow teams to work together. While the first release does have Skype meeting integration and OneNote whiteboards, there is a lot of room for improvement on the collaboration front. As mentioned above, remote participants need to be able to do more than just view content. I’d like to see a lot more Yammer integration, allowing people to attach conversations to objects anywhere on the screen. I’d like to see Microsoft rethink the entire meetings experience, changing the way people plan and prepare for the meeting, participate while it is going on, and then follow up and take action one the meeting is over. With the massive immersive experience I can picture a variety of ways to drag and drop participants, tasks, emails, attachments, and more to create an effective and entertaining meeting experience.

At $20,000 the Surface Hub seems very reasonable for an office that is updating their conference rooms or modernizing their meeting facilities. Customers need to consider all the hardware the Surface Hub replaces, and then think of the creative scenarios that it can be used for.

At a time where everyone is talking about mobile and wearable devices, what role does an 84” screen play in collaboration? If you’re just wanting to look at some PowerPoint slides that works just fine with everyone staring at their own laptops, tablets or even phones. But when it comes to true collaborative work in product design, engineering, manufacturing, architecture, social media monitoring, or brainstorming and creative content creation… the large screen and it's infinite canvas experience is quite impressive.


Smarter Meeting Rooms

Microsoft is not the only company thinking about the meeting room experience. Telepresence vendors like Avaya, Cisco and IBM are working on their next generation products as well. IBM is going beyond just thinking about how people can collaborate, they are working on ways the room itself can become a “smart" participant in meetings. They call these meeting rooms of the future Cognitive Environments. Below are a few videos about what IBM is working on.


Can you see beyond your own beliefs?

June 6 2015 09:16:24 AM Add/Read Comments [0]
Here is a wonderful story by a wise friend of mine Tom Dickson.

I love the section: "challenging a believer of conspiracy theories, I’ve learned, is a waste of time ... however strong your argument, he contorts it to fit his beliefs ... however reputable your sources, he dismisses them as complicit in the conspiracy … further discussion, you soon realize, is pointless, and you’re tempted to just leave it at that and move on."

The same holds for any "firm believer" whether is someone who is fanatical about their favourite sports franchise, a technology evangelist who refuses to see beyond their echo chamber, or someone who tries to force their political or religious views on you.

The irony is we live in a world where more information is available than even before and the ability to have open conversations is so simple, yet it's rare to find people willing to put aside their bias and be open to all sides of a story.

Collaboration Around Files - A Case Study On Working With Clients

June 5 2015 02:44:39 PM Add/Read Comments [0]

I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of the world's largest advertising agencies about how they collaborate with their clients. Details of their solution are covered in the Constellation Research case study "Powering Global Client Collaboration with Secure File Sharing, How a Leading Ad Agency Used Egnyte Adaptive Enterprise File Services to Work with Clients". Constellation clients can download the full report here

Here are a few highlights:

  • One of the main tasks of a digital agency is working with clients to create the multimedia assets used in their sales and marketing campaigns. The process is very collaborative, starting with gathering requirements, then brainstorming, multiple rounds of drafts and edits, followed by review, approval and production. Before Egnyte, it was difficult to share files and discuss changes via email. 
  • The CIO along with other department leads started a multi-year technology refresh that focused on platforms with strong cloud-based and mobile features. The project began by replacing their legacy email system with Google’s productivity suite, Google Apps for Work. Google Apps was used not only for email and calendar, but also word processing, spreadsheets, file-sharing and internal web-conferencing all via a single integrated offering. 
  • By switching to Fuze for real-time collaboration with clients, the Agency is able to easily share files from Egnyte into a Fuze video conference, where anyone can participate from his/her computer, phone or tablet. In these meetings, designs are reviewed and improved onscreen, eliminating the typical back and forth exchanges that lead to confusion and costly mistakes. 

Constellation clients can download the full report Powering Global Client Collaboration with Secure File Sharing to learn more about the challenges, solutions, benefits, takeaways and recommendations.


Moving Beyond Likes To Business Actions

May 29 2015 01:37:44 PM Add/Read Comments [0]

For years I've been saying that the key to adoption of collaboration software is "purpose". Without a real business reason to use a tool, it will just by another thing employees have to worry about. But if a tool is a seamless and natural part of a process, then organizations won't worry about measuring adoption, as everyone (invovled in that process) will be using the tool to do their jobs.

Several enterprise software vendors have latched onto the concept of "purpose" and have developed their collaboration platforms to integrate into the way people work. One such vendor is Collaborne, who recently introduced a feature they are refering to as "Call-To-Action".  Instead of just providing the standard "Comment" and "Like" action on posts, Collaborne enables customers to customize the way people interact with posts using a structured reply form.

In the example below you can see a new record has been created for a job opening in SAP and that record has been posted into the activity stream (newsfeed) in Collaborne.  Instead of standard text box for generic replies, there is a button called "Endorse a candidate". Clicking the button opens a form where people provide a link to a candidate and recomendations on why they suggest them.


While this may seem like a subtle difference, I think the impact can be signifigant.  The ability to openly collaborate (be "social") but at the same time have a level of structure to the content is a powerful mix that I'd like to see more of from enterprise software vendors.





Google Now - Helping You Get Things Done

May 29 2015 10:24:08 AM Add/Read Comments [1]

Yesterday at Google I/O they previewed the next generation of Google Now, their mobile digital assistant. It's like Siri for those of you familiar with iPhones. The major enhancement was "Google Now on tap" (which I'll refer to with the unfortunate acronym, GNOT)  which will provide information based on the exact context of what you're doing. So instead of just providing information like weather, stocks, news and flight details, GNOT will deliver content based on what is currently on screen.

Currently the examples Google is showing are all based on things you do in your personal life, such as  "if a friend emails you about seeing the new movie Tomorrowland, you can invoke Google Now without leaving your app, to quickly see the ratings, watch a trailer, or even buy tickets"

Google Now on Tap


While providing context specific information around our personal lives is interesting, what I'm the most interested in is the potential way GNOT could be used at work. Imagine if integrated into the Google Apps for Work suite, how GNOT could provide context sensitive information about the people or the content related to what you're doing.

For example:

- From an email, provide information about the people on the email chain, the companies they work for, the history of your relationship, their current social media posts

- From a calendar entry, display travel information (flights, hotel, cars), businesses in the area, people (colleagues or competitors!) that are near by

- From a document, show recent news or other data sources related to the topic

Google's blog post about GNOT says: "Since we launched Google Now, we’ve been expanding the ways it can help and do more of the work for you."  I look forward to seeing how GNOT fits into The Future of Work, not just for Google's products, but how developers can use it to enhance their own applications.

Google Now on Tap is scheduled to ship  Android M.


Getting the Swing of Microsoft Sway

May 22 2015 10:15:00 AM Add/Read Comments [0]

Below is an embedded Microsoft Sway. To view the entire thing, you will need to place your mouse over the Sway and then scroll down. (it's a bit confusing at first)