» Archive for September, 2009

In the Briefing Room: Liaise

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira and Cody Burke

Think carefully about the last action item you sent someone.  It was in an e-mail and it’s been several days and there’s been no acknowledgement.  In fact, you are not sure that the recipient is even aware of its existence.  So you send another e-mail and wait.

Your last action item is now with umpteen others that have not seen the light of day.

How many action items and requests fall through the cracks?  Some tasks, due to the nebulous nature of how they are communicated, may not even appear to the recipient as a task at all.  Some tasks are unimportant, busy work that is not critical and should never make it on to a task list.  However, others may be extremely important, yet these may not be recognized for what they are: steps that need to be undertaken as part of a process.

It is simply not possible for knowledge workers to recall on their own everything that has been done and what has not yet been addressed.

In a sense, e-mail is a pit that we tend to throw requests into, hoping that they will resurface, completed.  The problem is that the content of e-mail is static: once sent, it is locked into the e-mail and not linked to other content or systems in any meaningful way.

However, there are some potential solutions looming on the horizon.

One, the eponymously-named Liaise, is a new inbox add-on (currently only available for Outlook) that scans e-mail messages as they are being composed and creates a task list based on any action items it finds in the e-mail.  The underlying technology, called KeyPoint Intelligence, automatically finds, identifies and captures key points in a message.  Over time, the system learns and adapts to a user’s writing style in order to improve performance.

Liaise differentiates between issues (the report is late), and action items (review the report), and compiles all of these into a separate task list.  The tasks are scanned to determine the nature of the task, who is involved, and when it is due.   When an e-mail is sent, any new tasks are automatically added to the user’s list.  If the recipient does not have Liaise, the e-mail is delivered as usual and when it is replied to, the system scans the message and updates the task list accordingly.  If both users have Liaise, then both see the new tasks in their respective the task lists and any changes or progress made is automatically updated without further e-mail being sent around a team.

Additionally, Liaise allows a knowledge worker who is about to go into a meeting to automatically see information such as all e-mail, tasks, and issues associated with the attendees.  This provides context to the knowledge worker and gives a quick overview of where people stand on projects they have been assigned.  Liaise shows the people in the meeting, the level of interaction that they all have, and relevant open matters.

Liaise is an exciting new tool for e-mail and task management that has great potential to reduce Information Overload by cutting down on the overall amount of e-mail in the inbox.  More significantly, Liaise has the potential to illuminate the dark pit that often is the knowledge worker’s inbox by extracting the important tasks, issues, and action items that otherwise would be lost in a sea of noise.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.
Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Gist

Thursday, September 17th, 2009 by Cody Burke

In an age of Information Overload, the inbox has come to dominate the knowledge worker’s world.  E-mail is, however, far from alone in competing for the knowledge worker’s precious time.  The rise of social networking, tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, along with other sources of content that have exploded in use such as wikis and blogs, have created a tidal wave of content that more often than not swamps the knowledge worker.  It isn’t only the sheer volume, but the disparate sources of content that create Information Overload, which in turn impairs the knowledge worker’s ability to process information, make decisions, and get things done.

One solution to this overwhelming amount of content from various sources is aggregation, where the tidal wave is filtered down to a manageable stream, with only the most important and relevant content being presented to the user.  This reduces the harmful effects of Information Overload by limiting the non-essential content that is presented as well as dramatically reducing the time that would have been spent locating that content manually.

One company that is addressing this pain point is Gist, which launched an open beta of its eponymously-named  relationship and information aggregation offering.  Gist retrieves content from sources such as Gmail, Outlook, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, ranks the content, and then prioritizes it based on relevancy (determined by analysis of a users inbox habits).  The content is also enhanced with further material culled from the Web, such as a blog posts and news stories that set context.  The result is a dashboard presenting a snapshot of the user’s contacts and wider social network, combined with supplementary relevant information.  Assembling the same array of information manually would be a time consuming process; Gist does this automatically, by parsing and rearranging the data in a meaningful way, depending on the context.

In practice, Gist is useful for drilling down on a person; a meeting attendee for instance, and quickly compiling information, past communications, and other relevant data.  From the individual’s page, which would present contact information, blog posts, aggregated communications, the user can pivot to a company’s page, which presents the same variety of information, giving context on the person for an upcoming meeting or sales call.

The service can be accessed from an account on the Gist Web page, via an Outlook plug-in, or from within Salesforce.  Gist has three options for inputting data.  Names of people may be added manually, and the system will then compile content on them; a list of contacts may be uploaded, such as a list of meeting attendees; or the system can run automatically and pull information from e-mail accounts and contact lists.

Gist, as its name suggests, is meant to provide the user with a general understanding of what is going on with their contacts and allow for deeper drill downs as needed, reducing the information flood to a manageable, and critically, relevant stream.  The offering does an excellent job of extending the functionality of Outlook via the dedicated plug-in, adding some much needed capabilities to the knowledge worker’s inbox.  As Gist moves through its beta phase, it shows great potential as a remedy for Information Overload and is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Skype Founders Sue eBay, Investment Group

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Skype founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, through their company Joltid, filed suit against Skype in the Northern California U.S. District Court. earlier today, a move that could hinder eBay’s plans to sell 65% of the company to a group of investors.

Skype's founders are suing the company and investors for copyright infringement

Skype's founders are suing the company and investors for copyright infringement

The investor group, including Silver Lake Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, and Index Ventures, was also included in the suit.

Joltid holds the rights to some of the core technology used by Skype, technology  that eBay allowed Zennström and Friis not to include in the sale when it paid $2.6 billion for Skype in 2005.  Zennström and Friis left the company two years after the acquisition.  Joltid’s main product, Global Offering, is a self-organizing and self-healing peer-to-peer technology and is covered by U.S. patent 7,480,658.  Skype uses Global Index to enable voice, video, and chat communications.

The licensing arrangement has been seen by some as potential leverage that would allow the two to reacquire Skype from eBay once the company had decided to sell it, although eBay ultimately took a different course.  Earlier this year, Joltid alleged that Skype and eBay were in violation of the licensing agreement for the technology and terminated the agreement.

Joltid is seeking an injunction against Skype, damages for copyright infringement, and profits that Skype has made while using the technology in breach of its license.  The suit claims that Skype is using the Global Offering technology “in manners unauthorized by Joltid,” including making the software available to third parties as well as copying and altering it.

EBay, in SEC filings concerning the Skype sale, said it is working on developing technology that will replace what it licenses from Joltid. It also said that consummation of the deal was subject to “no settlement of the pending litigation with Joltid Limited having been effected without the consent of the Buyer (subject to certain limitations).” EBay, citing pending litigation, declined to comment.

The investment group was organized by Michelangelo Volpi, now a general partner at Index Ventures.  Volpi is the former CEO of video company Joost, which in turn is owned by the two Skype founders.  He was recently removed by a shareholder vote from Joost’s board of directors and from his position as chairman of the board.  Volpi is also named in the suit as a defendant.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Notes from the Road Warrior: Happiness is a Room with Free Wi-fi

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

This past week, I’ve been travelling in Central Europe, mixing business and pleasure. I’ve stayed at three hotels, the Loisium in Langenlois, Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), the Hotel Herrenhof in Vienna (which opened at the end of last year), and the Hotel Sifkovits in Rust, in Austria’s Burgenland province.DSC_2445 (Large)

Both the Loisium and Herrenhof are very modern, up-to-date hotels while the Hotel Sifkovits is older and more traditional. All three not only offered Internet access but it was free – and working.

The Loisium provided Wi-Fi access in common areas and wired access in guestrooms. The others were Wi-Fi throughout. I have only just arrived at the Sifkovits so I haven’t yet tested it fully but the connection at the Loisium was fast and simply requiring only a cable (available from the front desk if you don’t travel with one); the Herrenhof’s system required the entry of a user name and password every 24 hours (the front desk provides you with a card and you have to scratch off a strip to see the password).  My computer lost its connection several times and one card lasted only three hours but the front desk happily provided another card (reading me the login information over the phone to save time) and that did the trick.

The first part of the trip focused on Austrian Wine Country. You can read my journal and view photographs from the trip here. Then it was on to Vienna for my business meetings.

The slide show takes you through one day of the trip.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Acquia Drupal

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Cody Burke

Open source software comes in a variety of options, from the completely free downloads that require technical expertise to make them useable to commercial open source offerings for which support and implementation services are available from the vendor.  As with many things in life, with open source software the buyer typically gets what he pays for.  If an organization chooses to implement an open source solution on its own, it can expect to either put in a significant amount of time and effort, or hire another company to do the heavy lifting.  Commercial open software vendors such as Alfresco, Hippo, or Nuxeo specialize in a single open source project, and step in to provide support and integration services.  Other commercial open source vendors, such as Bluenog, take multiple open source projects and prepackage them as a platform, in addition to providing the aforementioned support services.

A relatively new entrant in the commercial open source field is Acquia, founded in 2007.   The company released its primary offering, Acquia Drupal, in September 2008.  Essentially, Acquia has taken the well-regarded open source Drupal content management system and positioned itself as a kind of guide for organizations that are looking to or have already deployed the Drupal system.  Acquia offers subscription-based services for support and partners with Drupal developers.

Acquia Drupal provides a convenient starting point for Drupal deployment by prepackaging a group of modules that include blogs, forums, social networking, vote and rating, mashups, and wikis.  The included modules are from Drupal 6, the Drupal development community, and Acquia.  Users can download the modules and quickly set up a Drupal site via a wizard-driven interface.  This relieves users from the heavy lifting that would include finding the key modules themselves and wrestling with integration.

Other Acquia services include support for all modules of Drupal 6 through subscriptions to the Acquia Network, a suite of remote site management services that includes search, profile management, spam blocking, site usage statistics, and software update management.

The company also recently demonstrated Drupal Gardens, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) version of Drupal, based on Drupal 7, which is presently in alpha.  The offering is still unreleased at this time, but Drupal Gardens is intended to allow non-technical users to quickly set up Web sites via a browser-based interface.

Acquia is fitting itself into a timely niche in the open source market.  The company is leveraging Drupal, a content management system not known for its simplicity or ease of use, and introducing products that provide users with an entry point to using Drupal as well as delivering on simplicity, the previous lack of which may have held back adoption.  The complexity of open source, in this case Drupal, has translated into a business opportunity for Acquia to both offer entry-level solutions as well as build a business providing support services for the inevitable problems that will crop up.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Skype is set free

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 by David Goldes

The sale of Skype to a group of private investors presents the company with both a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is to transform its popularity as a platform for free voice and video calls from computers and smartphones into greater profits.

The opportunity is to return to its roots, akin to its mode in the pre-eBay days, and get into startup mode.  This should translate into greater innovation and far more flexibility as well as the ability to operate with less disclosure (as a public company, eBay’s investments in developing new technologies, for example, would be disclosed in public filings).  The company can also grant new and existing employees stock options, something that can improve retention of key employees and help bring in new ones.

Rumors of a sale have been around for a while (we speculated on this last April).  Somewhat surprisingly, the buyer didn’t turn out to be a traditional telecommunications company with a vision for the future.  Another surprise was that the sale didn’t include Skype’s founders, who own key intellectual property that is currently part of a licensing dispute.

Regardless, as an independent, Skype itself may turn out to be a next generation traditional telecommunications company – if it can find a way to leverage its current worldwide base into a profitable one.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

In the briefing room: Alfresco Share

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 by Cody Burke

Information does not exist in isolation; indeed, most if not all content in an enterprise setting is touched by multiple knowledge workers who have to collaborate in some manner to complete their missions.  Not only that, but as more and more knowledge work is performed by distributed and disparate teams, with members located in different cities and time zones, companies need to factor this in and integrate collaborative processes with content management.  Despite the reality of how work is conducted, there is little to no underlying functionality to achieve this in tools that manage content.

Alfresco Share is one option to address the lack of collaborative features in content management systems.  Alfresco has made a name for itself in the content management space through its commercial open source business model that provides a cost-saving alternative to offerings from traditional content management (CM) vendors.  Not satisfied to rest upon its laurels, the company has introduced Alfresco Share, an interface for its ECM offering that manages team collaboration around documents, projects, and teams.

Alfresco Share sits on top of the company’s document repository alongside its Document Management and Web Content Management solutions as part of Alfresco’s Enterprise Content Management offering and is included in both the Community and Enterprise Editions from Alfresco.  In Alfresco Share, all content, be it in documents, blogs, or wikis, is treated the same and stored in the central document repository.

What Alfresco Share brings to the table is the empowering of knowledge workers to interact with content and colleagues via features they are familiar with from social networking applications that allow them to share content, form virtual teams, and monitor project status and team updates.

Knowledge workers form virtual teams around projects that allow them to collaborate together and create communities where both internal and external users can work around specific content.  Specific sites are created for projects were team members can access content such as blogs, wikis, and documents, find contact information for team members, and keep track of recent activity around the project.  One key omission is the lack of imbedded presence awareness and direct contact options, although it is possible to work around this to some extent, for example by cutting and pasting phone numbers into a soft phone.

One feature that knowledge workers will find particularly useful is the inclusion of activity feeds, which allow the knowledge worker to keep tabs on the actions of coworkers and stay up-to-date on relevant content.  The utility of activity feeds, or streams, is that they provide a personalized single location to present activity that is relevant to the user.

Collaboration is without question the wave of the future for knowledge work, and surely we will see more collaborative functionality from Alfresco and other CM vendors in the future.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Putting All of Our E-Mail Eggs in One Basket: Gmail Down Once Again

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

I gave more thought to this column’s headline than I usually do (our editor-in-chief will heartily agree on this point, to be sure).  Others that came to mind were “Don’t Send a Boy to Do A Man’s Job” or possibly “You Get What You Pay For.”

Regardless of what the headline reads, the fact is that more and more people are relying upon a free e-mail service, Gmail, for business purposes.

When it fails, which it seems to do with alarming alacrity, Gmail users go crazy.  Yesterday, Gmail was down yet again, this time for almost two hours.

“I want to strangle someone” a senior executive at a large retail company said to me yesterday.  “I told you not to outsource your mail to a free service,” was my reply.

The last major Gmail outage was in February, unless I missed one since then.  This week’s would be the seventh major outage in one year.  Most of what my colleague David Goldes had to say then still holds, so in the interest of brevity, I’ll ask you to continue here.

Google blames the outage on a capacity miscalculation during server maintenance.  You can read what they had to say here.  But I implore you, please go there one at a time so we don’t overload their servers.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.