Cisco taking on SharePoint

November 11, 2009

In case you missed it, Cisco took the wraps off its social/collaboration strategy yesterday at its Collaboration Summit (#ciscocollab) summit in San Francisco. Cisco fired a salvo deep into the territory of Microsoft and IBM Lotus (and to a lesser extent, Google) with its own suite of products covering messaging and social computing. Cisco also introduced numerous video and real-time collaboration products designed to broaden access to its telepresence suite, mate video with WebEx web conferencing, and easily enable inter-company collaboration.

On the social/messaging front, Cisco introduced the following new products:

Cisco Pulse – An on-premise applications that analyzes messaging, tags, content, and e-mail to essentially create an internal cloud tag for users, groups, or the entire organization. Cisco’s markets Pulse as allowing you to “Take the Pulse” of your organization. Pulse is an embedded application into Cisco’s new Media Engine platform.
Enterprise Collaboration Platform – Maybe not the greatest name, but this is Cisco’s SharePoint/Connections killer. Not only does it provide the shared workspace and collaboration capabilities of others, but Cisco embeds voice and video sharing and integrates personal profiles into other communication application. Essentially ECP could become the ultimate user portal, allowing workers to manage all their communications and collaboration through their home page.
Show and Share – this is a video editing and content management application. The “killer app” is that it can split the audio track from a video, and then transcribe the voice track into text so it becomes searchable. Users can view video by looking at transcript and only watching the parts they want. This also runs on Media Engine. The user interface is similar to iMovie, and users can easily take their own videos (that Cisco hopes you will create with its Flip camera), edit them, but in chapter markers, and publish to their communities.
Cisco WebEx Mail – A SaaS service based on their PostPath acquisition. WebEx mail supports a rich AJAX-based web client, or existing Outlook clients, as well as any mobile device that supports ActiveSync (or BlackBerry BES). Cisco is offering a 25 GB mailbox, arguing that WebEx mail will enable administrators and users to end the pain of PST files, especially as video drives larger and larger mailbox sizes. WebEx mail provides in-the-cloud security as well.
In addition to all of these announcements, Cisco introduced a new UC client (on-prem, or hosted as a WebEx product) and new options for cross-company federation for video and presence (see the posts over on No Jitter for more details.)

Now comes the questions: What’s the go-to-market strategy? How do they provide support? How do they build a developer community? How do they differentiate themselves from Microsoft, IBM (and SocialText and Jive)? What’s the ROI? How do you integrate legacy applications or even potentially federate between Cisco and Microsoft collaboration applications? All these and more to be asked, and hopefully answered over the next 2 days. [From Enterprise 2.0 Blog » Blog Archive » Hi Everyone, Cisco Is Here]

What is SharePoint ?

November 5, 2009

Having been priviledged enough to attend the second SharePoint conference this year and given the opportunity to see both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer deliver the keynotes at these two events, one point became very clear. What is SharePoint? I have known the answer to this for some time and pleasantly surprised when Steve Ballmer did not have an answer to this that impressed me. It took to long for him to get the point across and by the time he did I had lost my will to live.

The point being that the CEO of Microsoft did not have the words to properly define his best selling product, where do we as mere mortals and sales people even start with this concept that at every release seem to consume more and more functionality and products under the banner of SharePoint.

Well I’m pleased to say that Steve’s lieutenants did not have difficulty in bringing the point across. The answer is pretty simple really. It is an Information Operating System. This might make it easier to help identify the types of problems customers currently have and can be suitably resolved on the SharePoint Platform

SharePoint can be viewed in two primary dimensions:

SharePoint as a Product

One as a product where the opportunities are broadly speaking directly related product core features. An example of this might be Document Management, Records Management, Search etc. These types of solutions often find themselves competing with best of breed products, and when compared on this basis more often than not it seems to be a relatively costly competitor. Depending on your licensing arrangements in place.

The following often misleading concept is that of using SharePoint product features and finding that they have shortcomings. Primarily this could be attributed to the design principles of the product not to be a best of breed but to provide a stable platform for building these types of solutions on top of.

These gaps are filled by ISVs focusing on a variety of areas including disaster recovery, migration and functional enhancements such as CRM and Project Management to name but a few. Considering al of these elements when evaluating the suitability of SharePoint for your needs will help inform your decision.

When extending the scope of the implementation you may indeed find that better ROI can be achieved, the following section considers this viewpoint.

SharePoint as a Platform

When we see SharePoint as the Information Operating System the opportunities are endless. Consider the Windows Platform, can we truly begin to name the number of solutions built on it each with a specific need and each with a set of requirements defined by a segment of the market that created the demand. These applications all have one thing in common, without the capabilities of the Operating System it would be impossible to build these in a cost effective fashion as each product would have to build their own mechanism of instructing the hardware on the appropriate instructions.

When taking into account the common elements that the applications in your organisation currently have and how many those are duplicated. Not only on the same platform but also across other platforms. Now consider the time and effort it took to construct these application features and add to that the overhead of managing them on a daily basis. Considering these elements to inform the design of single platform for implementation of enterprise wide applications might yield more returns than can be imagined. Simple and easy, however we should not under estimate the time and effort to get to this “nirvana”.

It does help to take step back and define clearly the objectives , formulate a strategy and subsequently a migration plan. Keeping all implementations aligned with benefits realisation against a Clearly Defined Business Case.

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Free Microsoft Open Source Content Management

November 5, 2009

Microsoft is working on a set of free open-source content-management application and set of reusable components for it that is codenamed “Orchard.”

The company is slated to share details about its plans for Orchard at TechEd Europe next week.

I asked Microsoft officials for more information on Orchard and got back a no comment.

But here’s what is known so far about the project, courtesy of the session write-up from the TechEd site: [From Free Microsoft open-source content management app to get its debut next week | All about Microsoft | ZDNet.com]

SOA and Why it Matters

November 4, 2009

Services, clouds, and mashups: Why buy enterprise software?

In previous ZapFlashes, we talked about how the emergence of services at a range of disparate levels combined with evolutions in location- and platform-independent, on-demand, and variable provisioning enabled by clouds, and rich technologies to facilitate simple and rapid service composition will change the way companies conceive of, build, and manage applications.

Instead of an application as something that’s bought, customized, and integrated, the application itself is the instantaneous snapshot of how the various services are composed together to meet user needs. From this perspective, enterprise software is not what you buy, but what you do with what you have.

One outcome of this perspective on enterprise software is that companies can shift their spending from enterprise software licenses and maintenance (which eats up a significant chunk of IT budgets) to service development, consumption, and composition.

This is not just a philosophical difference. This is a real difference. While it is certainly true that services expose existing capabilities, and therefore you still need those existing capabilities when you build services, moving to SOA means that you are rewarded for exposing functionality you already have.

Whereas traditional enterprise software applications penalize legacy because of the inherent cost of integrating with it, moving to SOA inherently rewards legacy because you don’t need to build twice what you already have. In this vein, if you already have what you need because you bought it from a vendor, keep it – but don’t spend more money on that same functionality. Rather, spend money exposing and consuming it to meet new needs. This is the purview of good enterprise architecture, not good enterprise software.

When you ask these people to show you their enterprise software, they’ll simply point at their collection of Services, Cloud-based applications, and composition infrastructure.
The resultant combination of legacy service exposure, third-party service consumption, and the cloud (x-as-a-service) has motivated the thinking that if you don’t already have a single-vendor enterprise software suite, you probably don’t need one.

We’ve had first-hand experience with new companies that have started and grown operations to multiple millions of dollars without buying a penny of enterprise software. Likewise, we’ve seen billion-dollar companies dump existing enterprise software investments or start divisions and operations in new countries without extending their existing enterprise software licenses. When you ask these people to show you their enterprise software, they’ll simply point at their collection of services, cloud-based applications, and composition infrastructure.

Some might insist that cloud-based applications and so-called software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications are simply monolithic enterprise software applications deployed using someone else’s infrastructure. While that might have been the case for the application service provider (ASP) and SaaS applications of the past, that is not the case anymore. Whole ecosystems of loosely-coupled service offerings have evolved in the past decade to value-add these environments, which look more like catalogs of service capabilities and less like monolithic applications.

Want to build a website and capture lead data? No problem — just get the right service from Salesforce.com or your provider of choice and compose it using web services or REST or your standards-based approach of choice. And you didn’t incur thousands or millions of dollars to do that. [From You'll be far better off in a future without enterprise software | Dana Gardner’s BriefingsDirect | ZDNet.com]

SharePoint Online Price Drop

November 4, 2009

Microsoft is cutting its Exchange Online pricing from $10 per user per month to $5 per user per month. It also is cutting the price of the BPOS bundle — which includes SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, Communications Online and Live Meeting — from $15 per user per month, to $10 per user per month. [From Microsoft chops prices of its hosted enterprise cloud offerings | All about Microsoft | ZDNet.com]

SharePoint 2010 (The Bottom Line)

October 27, 2009

Having seen what the trends are as outlined by Steve Ballmer, these are some of the items on the long list of new features and enhancements that I thought warrants a mention.

For starters the name has changed to drop the “Office” element from the brand, this does not mean less integration and in actual fact the integration has been enhanced to allow for surfacing data into the clients such as Outlook and Word with productivity enhancement tools and configuration. To crown it this data can be made Read / Write.

Secondly the strap line has changed to “The Business Collaboration Platform for the Enterprise and Web“. The wheel has changed somewhat however not too much and still provides the high level overview of grouped functionality.

The value propositions are as follows:

Connect and Empower People

Cut Cost with Unified Infrastructure

Rapidly Respond to Business Needs

This simplified message very much aligns with the three stakeholders that you will most likely encounter namely Users, IT and the Business. All the messages and enhancements can easily be grouped under these three main headings.

The enhancements that I believe will open new opportunities for SharePoint are the following:

Multi-tenancy – That recurring revenue stream that have been eluding you forever and a day might very well no be possible as it allow tenants to happily live together in perfect harmony on a single implementation. The only caveat is that you should be able to speak PowerShell, a small sacrifice really.

Scalable Architecture – much more granular than before and allowing for a configuration that can be as standard as you want or as complex as your environment requires. Service Applications (preciously shared service providers) are now broken down into true service that can be scaled out depending on you needs and even load balanced via a built in feature or additional load balancing provisions should it be required.

Tagging – Aka Metadata, Folksonomies, Taxonomies. Whatever name you choose for this, it certainly makes the content relevant and up to date by allowing real users to associate the context they want to their data. I can see this taking off a big way. Managing structure taxonomy, something I have had many a request for in the past, is now done and can be shared across farms. Pretty decent to be honest.

Standards Based – In broad terms much of what is been developed have followed some sort of standard where applicable. The most notable instance of this is the web interface that is WCAG 2.0 compliant, someone did slip that it is AA however I have seen no written evidence to this effect.

When 7500 people come together to Share their enthusiasm for a software product that is not so much for recreation, you start thinking resistance is futile…

Amazon: Windows 7 is Bigger Than Harry Potter

October 22, 2009

Windows 7 is the biggest grossing pre-order product of all time on Amazon.co.uk.

Product Driven Development – Reduce the Cost of Implementation

October 21, 2009

So we now have a strategy, or have a strategy for defining one, and we have a project, all things being equal we are good to go. Maybe not. Before you go down the road of no return it might be worth evaluating how consultancy can be used to add value up front rather than at the tail end of delivery when things have gone, well lets just say not so well.

Through my various engagements at Microsoft and various other client projects have implemented a delivery framework targeted at product development paradigms. The Framework in concept is addresses the need for a structured approach to solution delivery harnessing the platform (product) features.

The framework enables teams to collaboratively develop application on the platform and through the application of process and technology I was able to create an environment that support the following aspects of delivery that is not natively supported by products that allows for runtime configuration aimed at power users:

·      Configuration Management

·    Automated Infrastructure Deployments

·    Continuous Integration

·    Integrated Unit Testing

·    Automated User Interface Testing framework.

The Framework delivers the following benefits:

·       Provides the opportunity for deployment artefacts to be created, maintained and continuously regression tested throughout the development lifecycle de-risking final deployments.

·       Enables the use of a modular approach to delivery and facilitates the reuse of artefacts between projects and deployments, enabling the organisation to create IPR.

·       Efficiency of resource through the capability of rapid team mobilisation using a standard framework ultimately reducing cost.

·       Time to Market (TTM) is reduced through the application of well established processes and practices.·       Collectively the Framework aim to maximise profits through reuse and productivity.

Below is the Project Delivery Outline and it identifies Composition and elements that requires focussed effort in terms of delivery.

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When we look at how the functional components are developed and the quality controls are put in place the following diagram depicts the process that forms the foundation for the framework.

SSDF.jpg

In broad terms the framework has proved its worth in terms of simply reducing the Cost of Implementation whilst promoting quality controls. Please feel free to contact me should any of the objectives in the article align with what you may want to achieve in your Project, Programme or more importantly Organisation.

Product Driven Development – Realising the Value

October 21, 2009

How often have you encountered a person saying “we need to use SharePoint for this Application”. That in most cases is a valid response however when it comes to doing the math and begging the CFO to release some of his well guarded cash, the story changes.

Why is this the case ? Well in simple terms buying a whole lot of infrastructure and investing the time and money to get up to speed with the new technology costs money, and when that gets allocated to a project to do Application X, the numbers simply does not add up and will sees you retiring back to your desk in the dark room with no windows.

How do successful organisations then make the most of these products ? Simple really, they have a strategy that is collectively defined by the business and IT allowing for innovation in technology to influence the strategic direction. As opposed to “here is your budget, see you next year”. In most cases organisations that differentiate themselves from the competition are proactive about what they do and see technology as enabler to be responsive. As this is a technology blog I’ll not say Agile in case we start sprinting and scrumming.

So back to the value argument, how does this work then? When we strategise IT has on its radar things that will move and change the landscape in terms of trends and technologies. If they don’t, well that is another problem that broadly involves HR and is not suitable for this audience ;-)

We take these trends and more importantly technologies and define a strategy for implementation. This includes a portfolio of projects that most likely will enable the organisation to take another step towards nirvana in terms of their strategy. Now we can do the numbers, inline with what we are trying to achieve.

Having identified the technologies and projects we can now assign the base cost proportional to a number of projects (Economies of Scale), and the implementation cost to each individual project (Realise the Value of each project)

Does this make sense? Well in most cases it does, the challenge is being brave enough to make these changes and planning for a portfolio rather than individual projects.

Ultimately SharePoint is one of those products that can be used as a product for say a Corporate CMS or as an Applications platform on which all the noise (other apps) can be aggregated into a stable provision that standardises implementations and makes life easier for operational support to name but a few long term benefits.

Making a decision on which one it is and then formulating an argument in terms of Return on Investment(ROI) and Total Cost of Ownership(TCO) will not only make the CFO love you(as he now understands what you are saying) but also make the CEO realise that you might be on to a winner. Good luck.

SharePoint Conference 2009 Keynote Summary

October 21, 2009

Steve Balmer had a good introduction to what he believes the strategy will be going forward. I’ll summarise my view of the world as I see it, not always aligned with those of others.


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It basically comes down to what analysts have been saying for a long time. Any enterprise has an IT services element that can broadly be divided into two types of offerings. These are Differentiating Services and Non-Differentiating services.

With the new “cloud” looming large it seems that no one will commit to fully move all there services into it as yet but that it would be a good place to move all non-differentiating services freeing up resources to create the stuff that makes you (your enterprise) unique and gives you the edge over the competitor.

Good candidates would not to be moved would be your eCom Site that outperforms any high street store. Chances are you would not want to surrender this to the cloud as yet. However stuff like document management, mail etc might be good services to release into the cloud allowing to focus more resource onto the areas that will allow for innovation.

If anyone follows what Gartner and Forrester have to say these days you would probably be wise to the fact that Mobile is the next desktop and that Television is an expected area for growth, most likely as we all know how to use it but in terms of getting useful data from it its pretty useless.

Following sound principles like standards, WCAG and more, makes life easier in terms of cross platform support, however Steve made it clear that all will not always be well related to operating systems that resemble fruit (Apple) and related browsers for obvious reasons.

Moving forward the design seems to focus on releasing data from the vaults (databases) that currently lock them up and to make it easier to govern implementations. “Dog food” and all that dictates that when you run an environment the scale of the cloud you would most likely want to know what you are doing, when it comes to operations. These lessons and tools are making its way into the product, however as rightly pointed out governance is 80% Process and 20% Technology

Development tools have also been enhanced to now actually “speak” SharePoint and the ability to run an implementation on Windows Vista and 7 makes it much easier to be productive. (This will not be done on my watch for the obvious reasons). Everything is moving towards PowerShell however it is not all there yet. Expect more to come I guess and yes STSAdm will still be working.

In summary all is pretty much as expected and as things are getting better in terms of scalability and governance. I can’t say that it was a big surprise except for SQL Server Power Pivot. Allowing you to work with masses of data in excel (desktop) and server-side at warp speed. Pretty impressive to say the least, part of brining BI to the masses

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