» Archive for the 'In the Briefing Room' Category

In the briefing room: Consumer Electronics Show 2010

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 by David Goldes

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is so large that it defies categorization and can create a unique kind of Information Overload.

What's new in Vegas for 2010?

What's new in Vegas for 2010?

Indeed, many companies schedule multiple pre-CES briefings to ensure that they reach their intended audience (including us).  To spare you from such overload, here are three notable new products that we think you should know about.

HP Notebook Projector Companion
Despite great advances in projector technology, many meetings are marred by an inability to get an important presentation on screen (or on wall, for that matter).  Most people don’t travel with their own projector; rather, many rent projectors at hotels or meeting facilities (typically at exorbitant rates).  HP has a tiny yet powerful solution that weighs only 260 g yet it can project a high-quality 60-inch-wide image up to 2.5 m away.  The image is more than good enough for most meetings and much sharper than a pico projector.

Iomega v.Clone
Iomega, now part of EMC, an information storage and management company, offers a hard drive management utility that allows you to take a snapshot of your computer’s operating system, applications, and data files with you on an Iomega drive.  This means that mobile knowledge workers can access their data from any computer (as long as they have the drive with them) and can also make setting up a new or replacement PC much less of a chore.

Lenovo Skylight
Does the world need another category of tablet or laptop?  Lenovo is betting that it does and introduced the Skylight, which might best be described as a laptop crossbred with a smartphone.

The Skylight is always on, just like a smartphone, runs a version of Linux, uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chip, but does not run conventional laptop software, instead relying on a unique user interface comprised of live Web gadgets (it comes preloaded with 18, including ones for Gmail, YouTube, and Facebook) as well as a traditional Web browser.  It connects to both Wi-Fi as well as mobile broadband (AT&T will sell the Skylight to run on its 3G network).

David M. Goldes is president and senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Liaise moves into public beta

Thursday, January 7th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

It is always interesting to come back to a new product as it moves through the beta process and see what has changed.

Not so dangerous liaisons

Not so dangerous liaisons

A few months ago we wrote about Liaise, an inbox add-on 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.

Liaise recently moved into public beta with the addition of several new features.  What we liked about Liaise when we first heard about it was that it captures the action items that lurk in every e-mail and keeps them from falling through the cracks.  With the public beta offering, the company has added some new features which improve its functionality and fine tune how the tool works.

Liaise has added calendar integration for Outlook so due dates for action items pulled from e-mail appear in the Outlook calendar, as well as in the calendars of mobile devices that are set up to synch with Outlook.  This is the logical step for the product and links tasks, e-mail, and the calendar together.  Not having the action items integrated into the calendar was not a major problem, but the tool’s utility is definitely enhanced with this feature.

Another addition to Liaise is the ability to control more of what is displayed in e-mail messages.  In some situations, it may be preferable to have an e-mail appear normal to the recipient, particularly if that person is not a Liaise user.  At other times, for instance if the e-mail is internal only and all recipients are using Liaise, it may be useful for information about the action items pulled from the e-mail to appear in it.  The private beta of Liaise displayed this information by default.  More control is almost always a good thing and this makes the tool more likely to be used.

Liaise also had added support for cloud-based synching of project information among teams.  Particularly useful for keeping partners, clients, and disparate project teams up-to-date on project and action item statuses this allows information on projects to be updated when changes are made, without the use of e-mail.  Updates to projects can also be condensed into a single e-mail, in the event that the knowledge worker wishes to see a list of changes in one place.  Anything that cuts down on overall inbox traffic is to be applauded, although we do have lingering concerns about combining items in a single e-mail, as something may get overlooked.

As Liaise moves through the beta process the company is adding features and tweaking the user interface.  From what we have seen so far, the company is focused on improving integration, control, and the ability to synch information between users.  We like Liaise and think it has the potential to fix at least several of the problems that e-mail is plagued with relative to project and task management.  Looking towards the general release of the product as it moves out of beta, first on our wish list for future enhancements would be the expansion of the tool beyond Outlook.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: HP SkyRoom

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 by Cody Burke

A knowledge worker who is seeking to get a colleague’s input has myriad options available.

Can you see me now?

Can you see me now?

He can send an e-mail, fax or scan, share a screen, use Web conferencing tools, use a Webcam, use a telepresence solution, or simply invite the colleague into his office to take a look. Each of these options carries with it a potential disadvantage, ranging from lack of physical proximity to lack of an ability to share live images and show fine detail.

Indeed, collaborating with co-workers has become more complicated as knowledge workers have spread themselves across the globe and technological solutions have multiplied.

It is of course possible to share static screenshots of slide decks or documents and even live video via instant messenger clients, although this can be limited in terms of image quality. Often the most useful way to quickly collaborate with a far-flung colleague is to combine video chat with sharing part of one’s screen to simply show a live image of the work in question. There are many options, from the low end with Skype screensharing to the high end with advanced telepresence solutions.

But what about a high-quality video solution for the everyman?

With SkyRoom, HP is addressing that need. SkyRoom is a video conferencing system for up to four participants that allows users to select a portion of their screen to share. This is useful for limiting sharing to a document, slide show, or design being worked on while keeping the rest of the screen private. Meetings are initiated via a buddy list with presence indicators to show who is available, just as with an instant messenger client. SkyRoom also integrates with existing deployments of Jabber and Microsoft OCS.

The quality of the image is excellent and the system supports streaming of high definition content. In the demonstration we participated in, there was no discernible lag time; indeed, an engineering simulation that was shared between two computers over a wireless connection was crisp and looked identical to the original.

SkyRoom is a significant improvement from an entry-level solution such as Skype’s screensharing function and offers security features that make it a viable option for the enterprise. Although others in the meeting can’t participate actively, i.e. someone viewing an engineering simulation can’t make changes to it, the solution is nonetheless an effective way to collaborate on projects from the comfort of one’s office, without having to gather colleagues for a face-to-face session.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: ViVu

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 by Cody Burke

Online collaboration is tricky business.  It means many different things to different people.

Live, from New York, it's...

Live, from New York, it's...

For some knowledge workers, it means basic screen sharing and voice communications.  For others real-time video is key.  For most, however, typically deployed tools fall somewhere in the middle, in what is often a compromise of both ease of use and functionality.  Indeed, meeting attendees must often wait while technical glitches are resolved.

The next generation of online collaboration tools probably won’t resemble what we have become used to.  In fact, the very terms “Web conference” or “video conference” imply a certain aesthetic experience that has proven itself over and over to be not quite ideal for effective online work.  Sitting in a cubicle as a slide presentation whizzes by, accompanied by a faceless narrator or attending a meeting via an elaborate telepresence setup are not the only options.  Perhaps the next wave of online collaboration solutions will provide features that encourage true knowledge sharing, be it by slide decks, desktop sharing, chat, or video.

ViVu is a company that may very well be offering one of the first of a new generation of collaboration solutions.   Their solution is a Web-based videoconferencing tool that runs without any download or installation and features video, chat, desktop sharing, and the ability to share slide presentations.  The system is quite easy-to-use and the interface is clean and responsive and presents the user with modules that can be rearranged and resized on the screen.  Such functionality is quite useful; the video feed can be reduced to a small size and the presentation slides enlarged when necessary, or the slide deck minimized completely if the focus has shifted to the video feed.   Allowing the user to control his environment enables fine tuning that helps ensure sharp focus and maximum effectiveness.

The system scales from small meetings to large conference-style events.  ViVu is available as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or as an on-site deployment that keeps sensitive information behind the firewall.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Venuegen

Thursday, December 10th, 2009 by Cody Burke

I recently had the pleasure of attending a meeting on the deck of a sailing yacht; the sky was clear and the waves lapped pleasantly on the boat’s hull as I listened to our host explain his company’s vision for the future of enterprise collaboration.

And it never needs cleaning...

And it never needs cleaning...

At times, he got rather excited, gesticulating and laughing at jokes.

The amazing thing was, I did this all without leaving my office.  Instead, I was immersed in a 3-D virtual environment.

Meetings have been taking place in online environments, such as Web conferences, on a regular basis since PlaceWare was launched in the 1990s.  While there have been some significant improvements since then, the basic model hasn’t changed.  Meetings remain a combination of screen sharing, audio call in, and perhaps some integrated functions such as chat, hand raising, and polling.  Unfortunately, many subtle communication cues are lost due to the lack of a richer interface.  Advanced telepresence solutions are available to a limited few, but the cost of these solutions will not lead to mass adoption in the near future.

Second Life, a pioneer in 3-D virtual environments, has struggled to find a compelling business niche.  Indeed there was an initial land rush to set up virtual store fronts and facilities in Second Life but most people seem to have moved beyond.

The Venue Network is a company that developed Venuegen, an immersive, browser-based 3-D environment that is strictly business.  The system is simple to use and manage and offers a variety of meeting environments, such as conference rooms, lecture theaters, a coffee shop, the set of a late night talk show, and of course, a yacht.  Venuegen offers useful functionality that allows organizations and users to personalize the meeting experience.  One example: users can upload a personal photo that is then used to create a life-like avatar.   As with more traditional systems, Venuegen supports a variety of content, including slides, documents, flash content, video, and integrated Web browser and chat.

Avatars also have a wide range of facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language options that can be either randomly generated or manually controlled.  Slider bars are used to set levels of interest, intensity, and posture.  The on-screen avatar reflects these settings with remarkably lifelike movements and gestures, a manager can express anger or happiness while speaking with sales agents at a meeting, meeting attendees can express their impatience with an overly long speech or laugh at jokes.

Venuegen is a huge leap forward in enterprise-level 3-D virtual meetings, primarily for the features that personalize and bring a human element back into the meeting.  We have lost many of the visual cues that play such a large role in human communication as we have moved towards more online meetings, and Venuegen may truly be an idea whose time has come.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Socialtext SocialCalc

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Introduced as VisiCalc by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, the spreadsheet turned 30 earlier this year and continues to be one of the key lubricants in the knowledge economy.

SocialCalc adds collaborative tools to the process

SocialCalc adds collaborative tools to the process

For knowledge workers who are adept at their use, spreadsheets are a powerful tool for organizing, sorting, and calculating a wide variety of information. However, two elements that are necessary to successful knowledge work are missing, namely context and connectivity. Spreadsheets often exist in isolation and must be manually updated as new information (often from other spreadsheets) becomes available. This gap results in a loss of time, degradation of the quality of the information as it becomes stale, and a loss of context because the path that the information took is severed.

As we have seen with the utility and popularity of social tools such as wikis and blogs, adding context and creating dynamic links between content is extremely beneficial to knowledge work. The social element of those tools allows for users to explore supplemental information surrounding a piece of content, as well as have changes reflected quickly and in a traceable manner.

Socialtext is bringing these dynamics to bear on the ubiquitous spreadsheet with SocialCalc, its distributed spreadsheet offering. Developed by a team led by Dan Bricklin, SocialCalc is integrated into Socialtext’s collaboration platform, so all the features of the platforms, such as profiles, wikis, blogs, and microblogs, are present. Users set up spreadsheets that are dynamically linked to other sheets so that, when information is updated in one, it updates all sheets it is linked to. For example, a sales agent keeping records in a spreadsheet need not e-mail information to a manager; instead, the data will be dynamically updated in the manager’s sheet as the sales agent enters changes. This reduces time, friction, and a number of unnecessary e-mail exchanges.

Spreadsheets created in SocialCalc are publishable to Socialtext workspaces, where complete audit trails of who has done what are recorded. This is invaluable, as changes made to an e-mailed attachment are often lost. Additionally, the access controls from the workspace are applied to the spreadsheet, ensuring that only those with access to that particular workspace can see the sheet, even if sheets from various workspaces are linked together.

The spreadsheet was the original killer app and helped propel us into the information age. Today, social software is the latest in the information age’s arsenal of tools and the concept of adding context to spreadsheets via such tools holds the potential to allow knowledge workers to focus less on the tools and more on the information they contain.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Kana 10

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 by Cody Burke

One can find software for virtually any purpose today, yet this very fact highlights a key paradox in the knowledge economy. 

kana2

Kana 10 allows companies to create process flows visually

Today’s software tools can handle almost any task but, since they are mostly not integrated with one another, they force users to shift constantly between windows and interfaces in the course of completing a task.  This results in significant amounts of wasted time, and perhaps more critically, missed opportunities to obtain valuable information needed to execute tasks effectively.

The need to constantly shift between tools is a problem that will have to be addressed as companies move towards the deployment of a true Collaborative Business Environment (CBE), our vision for the future of the knowledge worker’s workspace that will drive efficiencies.  The CBE’s basic principles are the One Environment Rule (a single work environment), Friction-Free Knowledge Sharing, and Embedded Community.  Clearly, the problem of too many tools and interfaces is at loggerheads with the concept of the One Environment Rule.

Software companies have taken note and are moving to provide solutions.  Kana, a CRM company, has begun to address the problem for call center agents and managers with its Kana 10 platform.  Kana 10 is a CRM system that aims to optimize the experience for customers by providing agents with information that is contextual to the call they are on, without requiring them to leave the environment.

The primary point of interface for Kana 10 is the Adaptive Desktop, a single desktop environment that changes based on the user’s needs to present the modules, information, and cues to guide an agent through a given process, such as a conversation with a customer.  The system hinges on the idea that a system that provides all relevant information in the context of what the agent is doing will improve service and efficiencies.

To this end, Kana focuses on Service Experience Management (SEM), which in laymen’s terms means that the experience is controlled in near real-time as the agent progresses through a customer interaction.  Changes that are made to processes are reflected quickly, with no IT department involvement required.  Process creation and changes are done through a simple drag-and-drop interface that builds a process flow.  The ability to create flows that automate functions reduces the steps that must be taken by the agent, such as having to shuffle between windows and cut and paste information.

Kana 10 gives organizations the tools to build call center work environments that exhibit many of the positives that a true Collaborative Business Environment has to offer.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Dow Jones Companies & Executives Sales

Thursday, November 12th, 2009 by Cody Burke

In an age of ubiquitous social networking tools and near exponential content creation, rapidly rising levels of information that may or may not be relevant to a particular individual inhibit one’s ability to keep track of contacts, key industry news, and business intelligence.

Dow Jones Companies & Executives Sales

The ideal situation would be for sales and business development professionals to be presented with current and accurate information as it is needed.  Prior to a sales meeting, having a summary of a company’s and industry’s recent news automatically delivered would prepare the sales executive and increase the likelihood of successful conclusion.  This requires tools that automatically surface relevant information.  In addition to the time saved from eliminating manual searching, this type of system solves a fundamental problem that exists with searching for information: one has to know what is being looked for as well as how to use traditional search tools effectively.  Often, the most valuable information is that which is unexpected, for instance a surprise executive position change at a company that opens up the possibility for new business.

We wrote about these dynamics in great detail in our report, Searching for a Connection: Leveraging Enterprise Contacts with Social Software.  In that report, we discussed the acquisition of Generate, a business intelligence company, by Dow Jones, as well as various issues relating to the value of up-to-date information, the limitations of search technology, and what could be done to improve search in the enterprise.

Dow Jones has since incorporated Generate’s technology into the company’s business to business sales and marketing intelligence offering, Dow Jones Companies and Executives Sales.  The latest version of the offering makes some impressive strides towards delivering relevant information in a contextual and timely manner.  Users can set up triggers such as executive changes, product announcements, venture funding, and partnerships, which when detected result in an alert that includes company profile information, relevant executives and contacts, current news, and related documents.  The information itself comes from unstructured news content, Dow Jones’ owned and licensed content that includes company and executive profiles and records, CRM contact and account information, and personal contact lists imported from Outlook or LinkedIn.

Once a trigger event occurs, the system presents contacts that are weighted for relevancy to enable the user to follow up leads that are exposed by the trigger event.  A contact from LinkedIn, for example, is weighed highly because it is presumed to be a personal contact.  This enables sales and business development professionals to find the shortest connection path to a prospect or contact via their work history, CRM system, and personal contact lists.

Dow Jones Companies and Executives Sales is a significant step towards presenting useful information as it is needed without requiring extraneous effort, and will help to surface critical information that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.  It is great starting platform with great potential for exciting features and functionality, and we are eager to see how it develops

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Xobni Enterprise

Thursday, November 5th, 2009 by Cody Burke

The challenge for any new tool that fights Information Overload is to gain the legitimacy that is necessary to apply it in an enterprise setting.

How Xobni sees Basex Chief Analyst Jonathan Spira

How Xobni sees Basex Chief Analyst Jonathan Spira

Most large organizations have complex IT requirements that software must meet before it can be deployed, including centralized management and security.   Most important, the new tools must not suffer the unintended consequence of increasing the same Information Overload they are trying to fight.

We covered Xobni in the past, and the company received a Basex Excellence Award for its efforts in fighting Information Overload at the Information Overload Day Inaugural Event in August 2009.

Recognizing the need to move into the corporate market, the company recently released Xobni Enterprise.  The new offering is a new version of its e-mail and relationship management solution that is fine tuned for enterprise use.  Previously, installing Xobni was done on an individual basis, with no administrative controls.  The new release provides a corporate license and central administrative capabilities that allow Xobni to be deployed on a company-wide basis with oversight from IT.  A new Web-based administration portal enables configuration, deployment, and management of user permissions, policies, and enabled features.  For instance, a company may be fine with users having access to integration with FaceBook, but not Twitter, or vice-versa.

Search capabilities have also been refined: it is possible to search e-mail by sender, recipient, subject, and date by building a complex search query via a series of drop down menus that facilitate the filtering of results. Other enterprise-friendly features in Xobni Enterprise include support for standard policy settings such as those from Active Directory, the ability to create extensions for enterprise applications such as CRM systems and portals (extensions for SalesForce.com and Microsoft SharePoint already exist), and integration of corporate profiles via LDAP.

The release of an enterprise-ready version of its e-mail and relationship management software  brings another tool for fighting Information Overload into an area that sorely needs it, larger organizations.  Tools such as Xobni work best when they are universally used within an organization, and this release enables effortless adoption in an enterprise setting. The challenge for tools such as Xobni is to not overload the inbox environment by pulling in too much content, but to strike a balance between access to information and access to the right information at the right time.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: DotNetNuke

Thursday, October 29th, 2009 by Cody Burke

Finding a content management system that fits your needs is far from simple.

DotNetNuke's Marketplace

DotNetNuke's Marketplace

Indeed, as content creation skyrockets and organizations increasingly need to offer robust Web sites and portals for both internal and external use, the options become dizzying.  The ability to customize and develop channels such as Web sites, intranets, and community portals is increasingly attractive and necessary in a competitive market, no matter what business a company is in.

An offering that provides those kinds of customization options is DotNetNuke, a versatile open source development platform.  The DotNetNuke project, and eventually the company, evolved out of a modified version of Microsoft’s IBuySpy Portal that was released in early 2002 under a liberal end-user license agreement allowing modification.  By late 2002, Shaun Walker, who would go on to found DotNetNuke, released his own modified version that added features and sparked an active and vibrant open source developer community.  The project was renamed DotNetNuke in February 2003 and DotNetNuke Corp. was incorporated in September 2006.

DotNetNuke is an open source content management and application development framework for the Microsoft .Net software framework.  Like other commercial open source vendors, DotNetNuke has grown up around a specific product, in this case the .Net software framework.  The company offers a free Community Edition, and sells Premium and Elite Editions that include expanded features sets and support options.  At its core, the platform is designed to enable users to build Web sites that are customizable through use of open source modules and skins (basic reusable HTML files for graphical presentation that have placeholders for content) that the company provides via its online marketplace.

The platform includes modules for login, announcements, blogs, chat, events, FAQs, feedback, forms and lists, forums, help, newsfeeds, reports, search, site logs, surveys, users and roles, and wikis.  From there, users can customize the system by using modules and skins that an active community of developers and partners maintain.  A visit to www.snowcovered.com (which was recently acquired by DotNetNuke and replaces the company’s own marketplace), reveals a thriving ecosystem of third party modules and skins offering everything from event calendar and registration, video gallery, and document library modules and an expansive selection of skins for tweaking the look of a Web site.

When considering commercial open source solutions, the number of active developers and community members is reflective of the health of the project. What is attractive about DotNetNuke is the large and thriving ecosystem that, when paired with the modular approach the company takes with the platform, gives organizations the ability to set up sites and have a wide range of options for customizing them for their specific needs. This makes DotNetNuke a platform that will end up on more and more organizations’ short lists.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.


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