Crossing the ECM/Capture Chasm – ‘This is the Renaissance’

Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com CEO, has been famously quoted on his opinion of cloud computing in terms of saturation-point, as well as technology innovation, for a viable business model.

“This is the heyday of the Cloud. This is the Renaissance.

We are in the Great Time. ”

…and he continues…

 “So we’re still at the very, very beginning.

We are in the first innings of Cloud Computing.

This is still the Renaissance. ”

While this is just one man’s opinion I personally happen to think he is absolutely correct.  We truly are in the first innings and, in particularly, as it relates to Capture and ECM moving to the cloud.  Future innings have yet to be played.  In this baseball analogy the convergence of old-school “traditional – behind the firewall” technology and new “innovative – cloud collaboration/mobile” technology are on a crash course of epic proportions.

Then on 9/6/2012 as Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com CEO, was proudly introducing his companies’ new Kindle Fire tablet device he was quoted as saying the following:

“We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices.”

 

Salesforce.com reinventing themselves

Let’s take a high-level look how Salesforce.com’s business has changed over the years since the company started business in 1999.  They started with their (1) core Customer Relationship Management (CRM) service and then they (2) offered a development platform.  Next, they (3) built an ecosystem of development partners, and then they created sales and marketing programs to (4) resell third-party as well as additional Salesforce.com branded-services.  All along, they have been strong in their advocacy of (5) using mobile devices so they have provided pre-built applications and also development tools for integrators to create mobile applications for Salesforce.com.

 

Amazon.com reinventing themselves

Just like Salesfore.com reinventing themselves; Amazon.com has also done a great job on continually enhancing their business and the formula to success, at a high-level, is amazingly similar.  First, Amazon.com had their (1) core business of electronic commerce selling books and music items.  Next, they (2) built a platform and exposed their product information via Web Services.  Once they offered these Web Services, third-party web sites could integrate and (3) sell products directly from the Amazon.com online catalog with Amazon Affiliates.  Amazon realized their Web Services were world-class and their data center infrastructure could be additional sources of revenue so they started offering Amazon Web Services (AWS) for software developers to (4) create new applications other than just e-commerce.  And, of course, with the recent aggressive announcements with Kindle Fire, Amazon has made a huge investment in the future of (5) delivering content, over the long-term, to mobile devices as a financial business model, not when customers purchase the hardware itself.

 

Cloud Capture Convergence

This is not to say that this convergence of Traditional technology and Cloud technology is necessarily a bad thing and, in fact, can be quite good.  For example, ECM systems (or Systems of Record2) have a long history of positive results if implemented and governed properly.  There really is no question about this, however the truth of the matter is that with this legacy comes baggage which slows down technology innovation.  Baggage just means that there is an existing customer base that you must support and there is a feature improvement list gathered from customer feedback that is probably quite extensive.  Also, from a software architecture standpoint, the software was not engineered with modern capabilities such as mulitenancy, web services connectivity or thin client design.

However, on the complete other end of the technology spectrum you have a whole host of cloud-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) applications (or Systems of Engagement) which are highly collaborative with these modern capabilities, yet most of them lack the most basic capability in terms of enterprise-type features that have proven ROI over the years.  One of the most basic productivity-enhancing and cost-reducing capabilities missing, of course, is automatic Data Capture.  The cost of your investment is really easy to calculate just with the number of labor hours that can be recouped simply by eliminating manual data entry.  I admire these companies of being so forward-thinking that they overlook the obvious.

 

The formula to success is rather obvious

So what’s the point of me pointing out these bold comments by these CEO’s from some of the more successful cloud companies?  The point is that both Amazon.com and Salesforce.com have quite similar business models now, yet they were born very different companies as their core business.  These companies are quickly transforming into “services” companies.  Both of these companies have fully-embraced cloud as a business model, not just a casual interest, or a fad that will fade away.  Both companies have built amazing technology and integration platforms for developers to quickly and easily create powerful applications like never before.  Each company has created two of the most thriving and robust ecosystems in computing history with partners gladly and enthusiastically promoting solutions built on these respective platforms.  Then one of the newest similarities of these two successful cloud companies is their absolute focus on using mobile devices as a delivery method for their content and services.

 

The application of the future

So now for my own bold prediction.  As these cloud applications evolve they, too, will start to incorporate core functionality such as automatic Data Capture themselves directly into their applications or mash-up software applications will be created that deliver the realization of best-of-breed solutions.  Let’s use two famous companies and describe the future of a best-of-breed business productivity software application, with specific details.  First, in the “traditional/behind-the firewall” ECM business let’s take Microsoft SharePoint Server.  Unquestionably one of the most popular ECM systems in the industry and very ‘disruptive’ since Microsoft starting sincerely promoting SharePoint as more of a true ECM solution instead of just a collaboration tool.  Secondly, in the “cloud/collaboration-mobile” business let’s take a look at Box.  Box is also a leader in their respective market space of cloud storage with high-security and easily accessable content via mobile devices.  (Admittedly, Box is a much smaller, newer start-up company but a leader none-the-less.)  ‘Where am I going with this vision?’ you might be asking yourself since you might be aware of Box’s infamous bashing of SharePoint as seen below in this billboard advertisement.  Well since these early days the rhetoric has been tempered quite a lot, in my opinion, and might I even dare to say that using each products respective strengths can help achieve the ultimate in business efficiency?

From a pure data capture and ECM standpoint, SharePoint has features that Box simply does not offer.  This includes a robust metadata framework, this also includes enterprise search and managed metadata just to name a few features that inhibit Box from serious contention if an organization requires these traditional ECM capabilities.  However, SharePoint has its own deficiencies and right now one of these areas is poor support for mobile devices.  Box absolutely excels in the area of mobile application development because their service was built with a “mobile first” mentality.  So what if we could blend the positive qualities into one to provide users with the functionality they desire on mobile, yet still adhere to traditional ECM policy and governance with metadata support?

The answer is “you can”.  Through the beauty of modern integration techniques users can now view, manage and edit documents stored in Microsoft SharePoint through the Box user interface on mobile devices.  Just imagine the enhanced productivity that can be achieved through a highly usable experience for the users themselves but also the piece-of-mind that your organization is not sacrificing critical features necessary to run an effective business.

This is the vision of the application of the future.  Remember, “we are in the first innings – This is the Renaissance.  We are in the Great Time.”

 

More information:

1Geoffrey Moore:  “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers” (amazon.com paperback)

2John Mancini:  “A future history of content management” (slideshare.net presentation)

Frankie-the-frustrated worker dealing with lack of direct Line of Business integration and Manual Data Entry

For this particular blog post I would like to use a light-hearted approach to a major problem.  The problem is lost productivity and user frustration around populating data into Line of Business applications via Manual Data Entry versus Automation.

To illustrate my point let’s take one of the most popular Software as a Service (SaaS) applications ever, Salesforce.com.  And while the application is absolutely simple to use and easy to manage, what lacks is the ability to take information from paper and/or an image and put it directly into Salesforce.com database fields.
1.  Let’s take a moment to go through the steps to import data into Salesforce.com and follow the steps Frankie-the-frustrated worker must take to get this task done.
2.  Commentary of Frankie-the-frustrated worker:
“Frustrating!  Step 1 of 7????”
3.  Commentary of Frankie-the-frustrated worker:
“MORE FRUSTRATING!!!  WASTING TIME!!!”
4.  Commentary of Frankie-the-frustrated worker:
“MORE THAN EVER FRUSTRATED!!!!!!!!!  
WASTING TIME, MONEY, AND ENERGY!!!!!!!!!!!” 
5.  Commentary of Frankie-the-frustrated worker:
 “FORGET IT!!!!!!!!!!!! 
 THIS WILL NEVER END!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 
 WHY IS IT LIKE THIS????? 
 ISN’T THERE AN EASIER WAY????????????????” 

Education and modern technology reduce Frankie’s frustration

Are we still living in the stone age when it comes to data entry into computer systems?  Isn’t there a more efficient method to automatically populate data in your software application instead of costly manual data entry?  It’s 2012 after all, not 1912.  Why do we accept such primitive methods of data entry?
Answer:  Because we need to educate the market on the capabilities of capture technologies.  We also need to strive to make integration and usage as easy as possible.  If you build it, they will come.
Eliminating Frankie’s frustration with Ubiquitous Information Capture
Realizing the dream of Ubiquitous Information Capture directly into applications is much easier than you might think but we must educate the market on current capabilities.  The idea is simple, yet highly effective.  Embed the ability to take photos with a smart phone and/or capture paper documents from a scanning device directly into your software application.  Note that all I’ve done in the screen prints below is add a small icon of a camera and scanner directly into my CloudConnectMashup software application.
Now, I can offer my users a truly great user experience because contributing information is nearly effortless and removes pain associated with manual data entry.  This translates directly into reduced operational costs, improved efficiencies and an overall better work environment.
Think about all the lost opportunities to drastically reduce labor costs, most likely in the billions if not trillions of dollars, associated with manual data entry in just the use cases below:
  • Transportation applications with Bills of Lading, Proof of Deliveries, Trip Sheet or Scale Tickets
  • Field Service applications with Proof of Work delivered, Vehicle Identification Number, Work Orders or Assessment documentation
  • Contracts Management applications with Amendments, Terms and Conditions or License Agreements
  • Invoice Management applications with Invoices, corresponding Packing Lists or Proof of Performance
  • Sales/Contact Relationship Management applications with Business Cards, Agreements or Correspondences
Do you know a Frankie in your organization?  Do you have a story, good or bad, to tell?  We’d love to hear your feedback.

Development Platform

Boy was that easy, simple and effective!

What is you you ask?  You are reading it right now.  Creating this web site with a highly-effective blog from WordPress , then adding a Content Management system from Joomla , then adding a testing/education application from moodle , and then adding a social portal from elgg  took me maybe a grand total of one hour time.  This is not to brag but rather to demonstrate the fact how far we have come regarding the great progress of offering simple, yet highly-effective point-and-click tools to make powerful applications.

This web site is an example of just this.  It cost me a grand total of the domain fee of ~$10/year plus one year of hosting at ~$60/year.  ~$70 total!  All the software is open source and free to use for non commercial usage.  A great deal, in my opinion.

Anyhow, I remember all that not long ago how I would have had to manually install databases and configure connectors and mashup applications.  It was doable but time-consuming and frustrating.  This ease of use allowed me to jump right into settings up this web site exactly how I want it to be from a functionality standpoint instead of dealing with all the technical details of getting everything working correctly.

I think this type of dynamic is what is going to be changing in the Information Technology world.  Traditional IT folks will need to become more agile on enhancing business processes or become more focused on creating useful tools instead of the details of software installation, patching updates and/or upgrades.  In other words, I can have my applications hosted in ‘the cloud’ where a service provider does all the low-level technical things that still need to be done, but I can channel my energy to more productive activities.

The idea of a Development Platform being so easy to use, yet powerful enough to be deployed for enterprise applications is here to stay.  It’s a way to easily jump start your path to efficiency!

What do you think?

CloudIsAFad.com is born

Whelp folks – Welcome to Cloud Is A Fad.com!

This web site is born out of the idea that a few of my friends share regarding “cloud computing”.  Often times we hear from non-believers, naysayers and doubters that “cloud computing” is just a passing ‘fad’ and will go away.  “No one will ever trust their sensitive information in ‘the cloud'” or “It’s just for personal use and it will never be embraced by enterprise organizations” is what they say.

“Ohhh realllllyyyyy???” is my typical response.  Ever use Gmail?  Ever use Facebook?  Google Docs?  All cloud.  Online Banking?  “No one will ever trust their financial information online”.  Ever buy something from Amazon.com?  Cloud.

So, long story short, this web site is created with an ironic spin to the notion that “Cloud Is A Fad”.  We invite your participation.