» Archive for the 'In the Briefing Room' Category

In The Briefing Room: Enlocked E-mail Security Tools

Thursday, February 16th, 2012 by Cody Burke

Enlocked's "Send Secured" button shown in the Gmail interface.

Knowledge workers who have been faced with having to e-mail confidential or sensitive information know the drill.  Break up the information into a few separate e-mail messages, use an external secure e-mail tool separate from your normal e-mail system, or just assume nothing can happen and send the e-mail regardless.

None of these solutions is ideal and taking action to secure e-mail frequently requires both the sender and recipient to take extra steps that interrupt their work and waste valuable time.  Getting the information to the recipient securely may require phone calls, sending of passwords via separate e-mail channels, the creation of locked versions of documents in PDF, or packaging information in secure ZIP files.

E-mail presents us with two distinct problems.  The first is the security of the message sent.  Standard e-mail messages are not encrypted and are vulnerable to interception, making it necessary to take further precautions.  The issue of e-mail security is particularly challenging for smaller organizations or individuals who may not have enterprise-level tools available to them.

Moving out of the e-mail client environment to ensure secure communications creates a second problem: in order to secure e-mail messages, the series of steps that must be taken slow down the knowledge worker, and are often simply ignored because of their complexity.  Recently, my colleague Jonathan Spira related to me how he sent sensitive information to his banker.  He first scanned the document, saved it as a PDF file, password protecting it from prying eyes, and then e-mailed it to the banker.  He then called the banker and gave her the password over the phone.

Enlocked, an e-mail security company, is attempting to solve both of these problems in a way that will not only secure important communications and safeguard information, but also not disrupt the flow for the knowledge worker.  Enlocked integrates into either the user’s browser or e-mail client, or it can be used via a mobile app.  Users are given the option of hitting a “Send Secure” button when sending an e-mail, which encrypts the message using the company’s cloud servers.  Enlocked uses the user’s existing credentials (e.g. Google ID if Enlocked is being used with Gmail) when encrypting, so the recipient can verify the validity of the encrypted messages.

On the recipient’s end, if they are an Enlocked user, the system verifies their identity in the same way, by checking the credentials of the plug-in or app.  If they are not an Enlocked user, the recipient is prompted to either download the plugin or to use a Web-based Enlocked Anywhere tool.

The advantage of a system such as Enlocked is that it addresses the two problems outlined previously, namely security and ease of use.  The process of taking the steps needed to exchange a secure e-mail is time consuming and causes the knowledge worker to leave the e-mail client.  This violates the One Environment Rule, a key tenet of Basex’ vision of the productive work environment, the Collaborative Business Environment.  Simply put, the One Environment Rule states that the more knowledge workers stay in one overarching environment to do their work, the more likely it is that the initiative will succeed, and the knowledge workers will be productive.  Conversely, the more the knowledge workers are forced to switch work environments, the more likely they are to fail in their tasks.

When it comes to security, knowledge workers today are faced with a conundrum.  They need to secure communications, but the process of doing so with the available tools slows them down and decreases their productivity.  Knowledge workers already live in their inboxes (for better or worse), and to ensure they use secure communications, any encryption tools must be added to the e-mail client environment.  Tools such as Enlocked, which recognize the necessity of allowing the knowledge worker to complete tasks without switching work environments, could bring easy to use e-mail security to the masses.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.  He can be reached at cburke@basex.com

In the briefing room: Yammer

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 by Cody Burke

A Yammer site shown in Dutch, with the activity feed in the center.

Microblogs and activity feeds, à la Twitter and Facebook, are the kinds of technology tools that can be both alluring and confusing.  Being able to quickly send out short missives about one’s activity and see updates from others in a condensed activity stream is sexy; it is the interface we have grown used to thanks to consumer social software, and the movement to bring that metaphor of communications and collaboration into a business setting is only natural.

The problem is that few people can clearly articulate the specific benefits that an activity stream-based social software tool brings into the workplace.  There is much talk about the positive impact resulting from ambient awareness of what is going on in an organization, the reduction of e-mail loads as users use the software to communicate, and the ability to reach out to experts with questions.  The tricky part is actually demonstrating, in terms of cost, how knowledge workers are made more productive through use of these tools.

We recently sat down with Yammer’s CEO, David Sacks, and Dee Anna McPherson, vice president of communications, to discuss this very point.

Yammer is a social software tool for businesses that allows employees of an organization to set up networks using their work e-mail addresses.  The network is restricted to those within that e-mail domain, which allows for private groups to form organically within the organization.  This is a plus in our view because it allows smaller groups to experiment with Yammer and show the value of the tool before wide scale adoption.  Companies can then upgrade to Yammer Premium, which gives an organization advanced administrative features and allows it to consolidate various networks that have been created by groups and individuals in the company.

Yammer features user profiles, communities, direct messaging, tagging of topics in conversations, group creation around projects or interest areas, and mobile access.  The main point of the interface is the activity feed, which, although not limited to 140 characters in the manner of Twitter, resembles a microblogging platform.

Sacks told us that he believes that Yammer can reduce e-mail loads for knowledge workers by pulling some communications out of the inbox and into the activity feed.  He also noted that some companies have used the service to replace meetings, or utilized Yammer as an expertise locator and question answering solution.

In our view, the potential for services such as Yammer that provide the activity stream interface for communication and collaboration is huge, but far more research needs to be done to show the specific benefits.  Reducing e-mail is an admirable goal; for example, if a question that is sent out in an all-hands e-mail to 5,000 people can be replaced with a post on a social networking tool that saves 5,000 people from an unnecessary interruption.  The use of the social networking tool still might not be the most efficient way to ask the question, but in the absence of a true expertise location system, it might be the best option.

While certain efficiencies can be created by reducing e-mail, it’s worth noting that the introduction of a completely new tool also has the potential to actually increase the amount of information that the knowledge worker is exposed to daily.  This is precisely why it is imperative to proceed with some caution when adopting these tools, although we do believe that tools such as Yammer have great potential for positive impact.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Harmon.ie

Thursday, March 17th, 2011 by Cody Burke

E-mail and SharePoint, living in harmony?

One of the weakest points in knowledge worker productivity and effectiveness is the constant need to switch among applications and windows while working.  These additional steps take extra time; they also increase the likelihood of errors.  The reasons for this are myriad and range from the time penalty of moving between applications to the exposure to interruptions that sidetrack and delay work.

The concept of a Collaborative Business Environment, which includes the vaunted One Environment Rule, both anticipates and describes this problem.  It also provides direction in terms of how to address this problem. Simply put, the One Environment Rule states that the more knowledge workers stay in one overarching environment to do their work, the more likely it is that the initiative will succeed, and the knowledge workers will be productive.  Conversely, the more the knowledge workers are forced to switch work environments, the more likely they are to fail in their tasks.

We are increasingly seeing products in the marketplace that adhere to the CBE philosophy.  Last week met with Harmon.ie, a company whose eponymously-named product promises to deliver “social e-mail”.

To do this, Harmon.ie provides a sidebar that works with Microsoft Outlook and IBM Lotus Notes e-mail clients.  This sidebar provides access to SharePoint files from the respective e-mail clients, as well as collaboration features such as presence awareness and instant messaging, via integration with Microsoft OCS or IBM Lotus Sametime, depending on the edition.

The mantra behind the offering, as articulated to us by David Lavenda, vice president of marketing and product strategy, is “One window, one context.”  Obviously, this appeals to us as the creators of the One Environment Rule.

Where Harmon.ie really shines however, is the way in which it deals with poor e-mail behavior, namely the gratuitous sending of attachments.  If users send a file as an attachment, they are prompted by the system to confirm whether they actually want to send the attachment, or have the system instead automatically place the file into SharePoint and replace the file in the e-mail with a link.

Research conducted by Basex in 2010 revealed that 60% of knowledge workers e-mail documents as attachments to colleagues for review.  Due to the resulting confusion when managing the multiple copies of a document this method creates, over 40% of knowledge workers miss edits and changes in documents that they get back from review.  Keeping documents in a repository and sending links not only keeps inboxes from becoming overcrowded with large files, but also avoids the many problems that creep into a document review process when reviewers work on stand-alone copies of the document.

Our research and observations at Basex have shown that modifying individual behavior patterns is extremely hard to do.  Knowledge workers, like all humans, tend to resist change and by default will fall back to what they see as the path of least resistance, even if that path is actually harder and more time consuming.  Managing document review by e-mail attachments, and making the inbox the hub of one’s work both fall into this category.  For a variety of reasons, the inbox may not be the best place to center knowledge work around, but the reality is that knowledge workers spend vast amounts of time there, and are unlikely change that behavior anytime soon.

Solutions that take the approach Harmon.ie is taking, which is to improve the tool that is already in use (e-mail) by streamlining processes and automatically correcting bad behavior (such as sending files as attachments), have great potential in terms of improving everyone’s effectiveness and efficiency by precisely adhering to the principles of the One Environment Rule, and because they do not force a large scale behavior change on the user.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Outlook 2010

Thursday, March 25th, 2010 by Cody Burke

As perhaps the most widely-deployed e-mail client in the corporate world, Outlook is where many knowledge workers spend a majority of their time.

A new Outlook

E-mail is so central to knowledge work today that the inbox has evolved into the nexus for not only communication, but daily tasks, scheduling, and document and project management.  As a result, it is of paramount importance for knowledge workers to have an e-mail experience that fully supports their work.

The forthcoming version, Outlook 2010, receives multiple enhancements and features that were first introduced in other Microsoft Office applications.  Perhaps the most significant addition is the Fluent UI and Ribbon.  While the Ribbon has had its critics, notably those stalwarts who prefer the old drop down menu system, the fact remains that it is now the primary user interface for Office and adding it to Outlook was a logical step in order to create a unified user experience across the Office suite.

We found QuickSteps to be one of the most intriguing and promising new features.  Quick Steps provides one-click buttons to automate common and recurring tasks such as filing e-mails, sending e-mail messages to predetermined groups of co-workers, or initiating a meeting with all members of an e-mail chain.  To automate more complex or personalized tasks, Quick Steps also allows the user to create custom buttons that control the desired functionality.  The Quick Steps feature increases individual productivity by saving small amounts of time multiple times each day.

Outlook now also features the new Backstage View, which provides access to settings and account information (for more on Backstage, see our previous analysis).

Another enhancement that has been rolled across all the Office applications is integration with OneNote.  From the Outlook tasks list, the user can access notes in OneNote by selecting the new Task Notes function.  From within OneNote, notes can be turned into tasks that are synched with Outlook task and appear on the Outlook calendar.  The integration allows users to use OneNote to create tasks, but subsequently manage them from within Outlook.

To address the misuse of e-mail, such as all-hands reply to alls and the unintended inappropriate e-mailing of confidential information, Outlook now has MailTips, an alert system that notifies the user when he is about to send a message that violates e-mail usage etiquette or formal rules.  Actions that would prompt an alert include sending potentially confidential information to people outside of a workgroup or the organization, large distribution lists, recipients who are out of the office, restricted addresses, recipients who are using automatic replies, and violations of size limitations for e-mail attachments.  The feature requires Exchange 2010, which works with Outlook to determine if an alert is necessary as recipients are added and the message is being composed.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Smartsheet for Google Apps

Thursday, March 18th, 2010 by Cody Burke

Last week, Google announced the Google Apps Marketplace, where customers of its Google Apps business software suite can search, download, and manage third party business applications that integrate with core Google Apps such as Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar.

Making Google Smarter

While there are a plethora of applications available in the marketplace, and that number is certain to grow, we wanted to a look at one company’s offerings to see where the integration points were and what the benefits for the knowledge worker might be.

Smartsheet, which we first wrote about in October 2008, has taken its collaborative spreadsheet solution and released Google App offerings including Sales Pipeline Management, Crowdsourcing, and Project Management.  The new applications provide hooks into Gmail, Google Docs including spreadsheets, and contacts.  The applications are installed in a company’s Google Apps domain and are accessed via the “More” drop down menu on the top the screen in Gmail.  The integration enables single-sign on with OpenID, management of Smartsheet from the Google Apps control panel, the ability to import/export Google spreadsheets, attach Google Docs to cells, and import contact information from Gmail.  Future plans include full integration with Google Calendar, to enable project plans to be overlaid with personal calendar data.

All functionality in the Google Apps versions of Smartsheet are the same as in the company’s regular releases; indeed, consumer Gmail users can already export/import spreadsheets and attach Google Docs from the regular Smartsheet offerings in addition to being able to use the OpenID single-sign on.  Given the existing integration capabilities, the main benefit that Smartsheet users will enjoy with the new Google App version is the integration into the Gmail interface.

For end users of Google Apps, the benefits of integration between Smartsheet’s offerings, Gmail, and the rest of the Google Apps are obvious; more users will be exposed to the unique functionality of Smartsheet.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Microsoft Office 2010 Co-Authoring

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 by Cody Burke

The latest buzzword in document creation is collaborative work.

Who will pop in next?

Who will drop in next?

While there exist various approaches to support collaborative work and varying definitions of what the term means, they all revolve around tools that allow knowledge workers to work together on documents.

Indeed, collaborating in the creation of a document can take different forms.  With cloud-based solutions such as Google Docs or Zoho Writer, collaboration means sharing, i.e. the document is distributed via a link in an e-mail message as opposed to sending along an attachment.  Since only one reviewer at a time can open the document, the annoying document version conflicts that plague workers in the information age are eliminated.

Working together on documents is nothing new, but the processes that are most prevalent are also very inefficient.  Indeed, a majority of knowledge workers send documents as e-mail attachments to multiple reviewers, which then causes version confusion, difficulties in incorporating edits, and missed edits and comments.  A remarkable 20% of knowledge workers say they print out hard copies to send to coworkers.

A different approach to solving this vexing problem is to allow knowledge workers to work on a document at the same time from different locations, be they in a real-time collaborative work session or simply working on the same document independently of one another.

In the forthcoming Office 2010 suite (currently in beta), Microsoft has added Co-authoring to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote.  The new feature requires SharePoint Server 2010 to link the applications and store documents.  Co-authoring allows people to work on a document concurrently, so that one person could be working on introductory text while a subject matter expert fills in details on charts.  Areas that are being accessed for edits are locked to prevent conflicts; the locking is possible on multiple levels including sentences, paragraphs, objects, textboxes, fields, headers and footers.

When entering a document, the user is alerted to other authors who are working on the document via a notification box on the bottom of the screen.  By hovering over the box, the authors who are working on the document at that time are displayed, with contact information so that communication by phone, instant message, or e-mail can be initiated with a click.

If an author is working on a section, it is locked to prevent simultaneous edits by others and changes and additions are only shown to other authors when the document is saved.  If changes have been made to the document, bubble notifications appear to show other users what edits have been made and who made the changes.

People expect the knowledge economy to run on twenty-first century time, which means that knowledge workers need immediate feedback on documents from multiple collaborators at once.   Microsoft’s Co-authoring functionality has the potential to support faster movement of information while improving what today is a grossly inefficient and error-prone process.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Alfresco 3.2 Records Management

Thursday, February 18th, 2010 by Cody Burke

The sheer volume of content that is generated by an organization in this day and age is nothing short of staggering.

Now where is that file?

Now where is that file?

Even more daunting is the task of managing that information for compliance and record keeping. The records that an organization must keep clearly qualify as content, and in today’s volatile economy and regulatory climate, records management functionality in an Enterprise Content Management system is not simply a nice-to-have capability, but a necessity.

To meet the need for managing the lifecycle of content and information, Alfresco recently announced version 3.2 of its ECM solution. Significantly new in the release is a records management module, Alfresco RM, as well as some advanced e-mail archiving functionality.

The Records Management module meets the Department of Defense (DoD) 5015.2 certification and it is thus far the only open source solution to achieve this. The RM module enables administrators to set up storage policies that manage the retention of data so that records that are no longer needed for compliance may be deleted or archived. The module also defines rules for moving content, so that the most current versions of records are kept in easily accessible storage locations, such as faster drives, while archived material is stored on slower drives. This not only keeps records organized, but also speeds up the process of accessing the content.

As an integrated component of Alfresco ECM, the RM module uses the same single repository as the rest of the suite. The module also features support for complex transfers, role-based permissions, legal holds, and saved searches to speed up searching for content.

The new e-mail archiving functionality in Alfresco 3.2 leverages new IMAP support, which allows users to access content via an e-mail folder in any IMAP client. Through the folder, content can be added into the central repository by drag-and-drop. The new functionality also supports the ability to configure attachment handling, such as pulling out attachments from e-mail and archiving them, or keeping them embedded in the e-mail.

The ability to manage records and integrate tightly with e-mail clients for archiving adds to Alfresco ECM’s appeal as a solution for organizations that need to manage content and ensure compliance. Managers seeking an integrated approach would do well to consider this solution.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Microsoft Office 2010 Navigation and Backstage

Thursday, February 11th, 2010 by Cody Burke

Microsoft Office may be one of the world’s most widely deployed software packages.

A backstage pass...

A backstage pass...

Indeed, with a user base of 500 million, any changes or updates to the suite are significant for that fact alone.

In the upcoming Office 2010 release, there are many areas that have been retooled and refined; however, for the typical knowledge worker, the most obvious will be the user interface.  In this research brief, we will look at how the user interacts with a document through the new Navigation pane and Backstage view.

The new Navigation pane in Word enables users to move around a document, search for content, and change the structure and organization of headings.  This replaces the old Document Map and Thumbnail panes and brings those feature sets into one place along with Find.  Users browse through a document by heading, page, or search results.  Content in a section is moved around a document by dragging-and-dropping the tab for the heading.  Additionally, the outline of a document can be manipulated to promote or demote sections.  When sections are moved, all headings and subheadings automatically adjust.

Office 2010 also features a new way to manage documents, the Backstage view.  This new functionality extends across the entire Office suite.  The Backstage view appears when the user clicks on the File tab from within an application.  The view that opens up provides the user with access to tabs that show document info,  permissions, versioning, printing options, and sharing options.  The user has multiple options for sharing including e-mailing the document as an attachment or link, or via a blog post.

Backstage also includes Accessibility Checker, which allows users to identify elements of a document that may cause problems when used with assistive technologies.  These functions were previously found in various Ribbon menus and, with 2010, have been separated out from functions that are needed for actual content creation.  The goal of Backstage is to help users work with documents, processes and workflows, as opposed to when you work in the document.

Features such as presence are incorporated into Backstage, making it possible to initiate contact with document authors and to see related documents.  Backstage is extensible, meaning that it can be customized to allow for a range of application data to be brought into the view.

The interfaces for Backstage and Navigation are smooth and intuitive to use, and the concept of separating these features and giving them their own panes that group like-minded features together is a good one.  Obviously getting used to features being in a different place takes some time, but Backstage and Navigation are both positive changes that increase usability .

We will be examining other important new features and enhancements in Office 2010 in the weeks to come.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Mail Triage and Topika

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

The Innovation Lab is one of my favorite places to spend time during Lotusphere.  For the uninitiated, the Innovation Lab is a large room with 20+ developers stationed at individual workstations showing off concepts that they are working on at the IBM Almaden Research Center.

Mail Triage: determing one's priorities

Mail Triage: determing one's priorities

What is demonstrated is the software equivalent of concept cars in the automotive world.

At Lotusphere 2010, two solutions that have the potential to significantly increase knowledge worker efficiency and effectiveness and potentially lower information overload caught my eye: Topika and Mail Triage.

Topika is a tool that attempts to resolve various difficulties in using collaborative tools (the developers of Topika, specifically exclude e-mail from being defined as a “collaborative tool” because, in their view, e-mail messages do not typically have shared materials.)  It was created by a team of researchers at IBM Research in Almaden including Tara Matthews, Jalal Mahmud, Tom Moran, Barton Smith, Steve Whittaker, and Julian Cerruti.

Topika, which integrates e-mail with collaborative tools, detects when a person is sending an e-mail message and suggests relevant social software tools that the sender could use in addition to sending the e-mail message.

In other words, when you write an e-mail, Topika suggests a place, activity, or site (such as Lotus Quickr or Connections) and stores it (including any e-mail attachments).  It adds information in the e-mail message that points to these places.  Right now the e-mail attachment remains in the e-mail message but an option to remove the attachment in future versions is under consideration.

Topika makes its recommendation by creating a work profile that is an index of an individual’s collaborative activities and the tools used.  By using Topika, knowledge workers can use e-mail to support collaboration via other tools.  Topika is in its early stages but it shows great promise.

Mail Triage and Personal Tasks is an innovative tool created by Jeff Pierce, a researcher who focuses on user sciences and experience research at the IBM Almaden Research Center.  It is one way of rethinking how we approach e-mail from mobile devices (as opposed to at a full-sized computer).  Mail Triage recognizes the fact that mobile e-mail usage is focused around triaging messages as opposed to reading them.  Knowledge workers want to know what’s new, what requires immediate attention, and what can be deleted.  Everything else can be deferred.

Mail Triage does just that.  It allows mobile knowledge workers to manage mail quickly by sorting, prioritizing, and deferring.  The top-level view of the e-mail client shows Triaged and Untriaged folders instead of the typical inbox.  It creates tasks for the user such as Call, Print, Read, Reply, Save, Schedule, Send, and Visit.

Once the user accesses his desktop computer, a Lotus Notes sidebar allows the user to access, edit, or delete tasks and further triage e-mail messages on the desktop (by dragging them to the sidebar).

Mail Triage has the potential to make the knowledge worker’s use of mobile devices more efficient and effective than is currently the case.  It will be interesting to follow this project as it develops.

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

In the briefing room: Avaya’s post-Nortel roadmap

Thursday, January 21st, 2010 by Cody Burke

One of the final chapters in Nortel’s history has now been written.  Nortel’s vaunted Enterprise Solutions unit has been acquired by Avaya, a company that, similar to Nortel, traces its origins back to Alexander Graham Bell’s original patent for the telephone in 1874.


The end of an era

This week, Avaya announced its roadmap for the integration and continuation of products and services from Nortel and it’s good news for customers of both companies as Avaya management has found a way to meld the best offerings from both companies into a unified set of products.  However, there are a few speed bumps ahead.

First, customers not on the platform that becomes part of the merged product line face a forklift upgrade and significant cost in the not so distant future as the product portfolios from Nortel and Avaya were largely proprietary and incompatible with one another.

In addition, based on how past mergers of similarly-sized tech firms have fared, Avaya faces multiple challenges as it integrates multiple platforms and workgroups while trying to maintain its ability to service its customers at the levels they require and are accustomed to.  In addition, Avaya expects to support its newly-expanded product portfolio with a newly-shrunk workforce.

The flagship unified communications offering for Avaya will be Avaya Aura.  Aura will be enhanced with the addition of Avaya (formerly Nortel) Agile Communications Environment (ACE) as well as the inclusion of technology from Nortel for a common management infrastructure.  For existing Nortel customers, Aura can be added and will sit on top of existing deployments.  Likewise, Aura customers can add Nortel solutions to their deployments.

In the roadmap, Avaya laid out a move towards a SIP-based system that is multimodal with an open rules engine and conference-based communications.  To this end, Avaya Contact Center Elite will continue as the flagship enterprise solution, and Nortel Contact Center 7 will remain as a mid market solution.  The release of Contact Center 8 will add features and technology from Contact Center Elite, with the ultimate goal of improving scalability in order to enable the company to offer one contact center solution to cover everything from the middle market to high-end deployments.

For the small- and mid-sized enterprise market, Avaya plans to continue to supply Nortel Business Communications Manager, Norstar, Partner, and Integral 5, but it will eventually merge these solutions into Avaya IP Office as the flagship hybrid offering.  Nortel’s Software Communication System will be the flagship offering for SIP environments.

With regard to data products, Avaya announced it will adopt the current roadmap of data products from Nortel, including offerings for Ethernet Switching, Routers, Wireless Networking, Access Control, and Unified Management.

What Avaya has released thus far is a roadmap and there are many details that have not yet been released that should clarify further what Avaya’s combined offerings will look like.  Avaya did have plenty of time to contemplate and prepare for the merger and, if nothing else, we give them an A+ for effort here.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.