Infor is Hooked On Collaboration, Design and Data

September 17 2014 10:50:05 AM Add/Read Comments [3]
This week enterprise software vendor Infor held their annual customer conference in New Orleans. While Infor may not be a household name the way Microsoft, Google, SAP or Oracle are, they are a massive multibillion dollar company that focuses on solving specific business needs of over 73,000 customers. Rather than simply making CRM or ERP software, Infor focuses on tailoring solutions for specific industries. For example, 95% of the largest aerospace companies use Infor. As do 80% of the major teaching hospitals in the US. Some of the other key verticals for Infor include Automotive, Hospitality, Fashion and Food and Beverage.

So why would I attend a conference for enterprise software business processes if that’s not what I cover in my research?  Simple. Because over the last few years Infor has focused heavily on improving the way people use their software to get their jobs done. To accomplish this developed Ming.le, an enterprise social networking tool that adds collaboration features seamlessly into their product portfolio. Ming.le enables people to communicate and collaborate within the specific content of their jobs while using Infor products like SX.E for product distribution. With Ming.le integrated into Info Sales reps can discuss a customer’s account, mechanics can communicate around fixing a part, or doctors can coordinate all aspects of a patient’s treatment. These specific use-case driven collaboration workflows are what I call Purposeful Collaboration

Some thoughts:
- Infor Ming.le is a relatively new offering, which up until now has only been available to Infor’s on-premises customers. However coming very soon, Ming.le will be available as a cloud hosted offering on the Infor Xi platform. 
- Ming.le offers similar integration of collaboration and business processes software as competitive products like SAP JAM and Oracle Social Network, while platforms like Epicor and Netsuite are currently lacking these features. 
- One area Ming.le needs to improve upon is partner ecosystem and 3rd party add-on products. For example, I’d like to see integration with unified communications (chat, web-conferecing), file sharing and task management products. Ming.le does have an API that allows for extensibility, and this week I spoke with one of Ming.le’s largest customers and they told me about integrations they have done Twitter and MailChimp. I will be covering this in more detail soon in an upcoming Case Study.
- One of my favourite meetings of the week was with Ming.le customer Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority. The are using Ming.le to improve communication by posting questions and presentations in the social network instead of emailing them, as well as modernising the repair process used by their technicians. In the past a mechanic would remove a part, take it to the supply room and wait until they were given a replacement. Now they take a picture of the part, upload it to Ming.le and by the time they get to the supply room the part is waiting for them. Why did I like this meeting so much? Because they the average age of their employees is between 45 and 60. This was a perfect proof point for the message Constellation Research has been pushing around social networking NOT being just for millennials. Companies need to focus on the Digital Proficiency (the combination of skill and comfort with technology) of their people, not what year they were born.


Create Experiences People Love

In addition to integrating collaboration into business processes, Infor has also invested heavily on improving the user interface and user experience of their products. In none geek-speak, that means they want to make them pretty and easy to use.  To do this, they created their own internal design studio in New York named Hook and Loop. This group has grown from 15 people last year to over 100, making them one of the largest design teams in NYC. Note: creating a dedicated design team in not unique to Infor as IBM, Citrix and many other enterprise software vendors have done the same thing.

Hook and Loop has in interesting design philosophy. They explained that the way people use software has evolved from command lines to graphical user interfaces and they now want to take that to the next stage with what they call natural user interfaces. A natural user interface allows people to conduct a business process in an experience that is so familiar to them that no training is required.

For example, instead of a standard screen of rows and columns of data, Hook and Loop envisions medical software that borrows from the look of the Periodic Table of Elements. In the image below staff, rooms and patients are linked together visually allowing easy access to all the data and actions that doctors and nurses need to get their jobs done.

Image:Infor is Hooked On Collaboration, Design and Data


Infor has similar ideas on how to improve the user experience across several industries. I look forward to seeing them push the boundaries of what people are accustomed to with enterprise software.  

Image:Infor is Hooked On Collaboration, Design and Data

As their slogan says, “Infor: Beautiful business software designed for your industry.”

Image:Infor is Hooked On Collaboration, Design and Data

Finally, Infor announced a new division in the company, Dynamic Science Labs. Similar to how they established Hook and Loop in NYC to focus on design, Dynamic Science Labs (based in Cambridge MA right near MIT) will focus on Analytics and Insights.  CEO Charles Phillips discussed how most of today’s Business Intelligence (BI) tools produce information that people already know. For example, a manager dashboard that shows the sales numbers over the last 4 quarters. Infor wants to deliver information that can look deeper into the patterns of why things are happening and ultimately provide predictive measures to stop negative business impacts before they occur.

Image:Infor is Hooked On Collaboration, Design and Data

This concept ties into my research into Personal or Social Analytics, where instead of just having a to-do list or project plans, employees will have tools that provide them real time guidance on what they should and should not be working on.  Imagine combining several data sources such as email, social media, CRM, supply chain, product tasks and more to produce real-time (daily, hourly or even immediate) guidance on what you should be working on and with whom.

I look forward to working with Infor as they think about the future intersections of analytics and collaboration software, and how data and machine generated insights can help people get their jobs done more effectively.



Box Hits Puberty and Starts the Journey From Product to Platform

September 8 2014 09:45:31 PM Add/Read Comments [5]
Remember those awkward teenage years when you were no longer a child but not quite an adult? That is where Box finds itself today, as it matures from a cloud based file storage and sharing company to one that is facing the expectations and challenges of adolescence. Last week at their annual BoxWorks conference, in front of 5000+ customers, partners, press and analysts Box set out to answer the life defining questions, "What do I want to be when I grow up? What do I want to do with my life?"

For Box the answers are starting to take shape, as they work to shed the image of "file sync and share” (which is a very crowded market) by focusing product development and marketing on what they call “content-centric collaboration”.  Below I’ll explain what that means, but if you don’t have to time to read any further then here’s my main take away:  
"Box is no longer simply a product, but instead a platform for building applications that leverage content at the center of their process or workflow."



What We Did Hear


1) Box + Office365:
people will be able to roundtrip edit and store documents between Box and Office365

My Point of View (MyPOV): Box began by promoting themselves as an alternative to Microsoft SharePoint. Back in the old SharePoint on premises days, Box had a very competitive “cloud-alternative” story.  Fast forward to today, and Microsoft has quite a compelling cloud portfolio in Office 365 and Microsoft One Drive. I’m glad to see that Box has realized they need to integrate with, not compete against Microsoft.

2) Box Notes:
usability and feature improvements, including the addition of tables

MyPOV: Box Notes provides a very simple online word processor which enables teams to work on a document at the same time. This is much more effective than having people update a document with their comments or revisions and then upload a new revision. At this time Box Notes is still very simple and not a competitor to Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Still, the addition of tables provides some much needed structure, enabling people to create rows and columns of data which will lead to more advanced uses of Box Notes.

3) Box Preview:
The addition of annotations, meaning you can add comments anywhere on the document, picture or slide.

MyPOV: I’d much rather it be named Box Viewer, but that’s not my call! Annotations are going to be a great addition to the collaborative functionality of Box, as in place comments are much more useful than just having a series of discussions along the side of the page with no link to what they are referring to. Note: this is not unique as products like Convo have had this for a long time. I’d love to see Box acquire a company like Convo and improve not just their annotations capabilities, but their enterprise social networking / newsfeed capabilities as well.

4) Box Workflow:
This is the bringing together of policies, rules and metadata. The simple explanation is that administrators will have the ability to define rules that perform actions when certain events occur. For example, if a file is placed in a certain folder then assign a task. Or, if a file contains a credit card number then place it in a quarantine directory for approval.

MyPOV: The was originally announced at BoxWorks 2013 and after the event I blogged about how significant this is. In this first release the actions and triggers are pretty simple. Box does plan on providing more advanced features like conditional branching in the future. Metadata, or the addition of custom fields to a form is a very significant step in defining the future of Box as a platform for building applications. I will cover this in more detail below, and in even more detail in an upcoming Constellation Research paper.

5) Box for Industries:
Box will be selling solutions tailored for specific industries; starting with Retail, Healthcare and Media and Entertainment.

MyPOV: One of Box’s strengths as a company has been hiring people in sales and product design who have deep understanding of specific industries. That means, when Box engages with customers in industries like Healthcare, Finance, or Legal they are able to understand their needs and propose appropriate solutions. The addition of specific product offerings tailored for industries mirrors the go to market strategies of software giants like IBM, SAP, Oracle and Infor.


What We Didn't Hear


I was disappointed that Box did not make any announcements in the following areas:

1) Analytics and Insight:
Given last year’s acquisition of DLoop, I had hoped to see some features from Box that provide at least the most basic look into the people and content in your network. Currently regular Box users (not admins) can not see things like Most Downloaded files, Most Active Conversations, Most Liked Content, etc.  Box also lacks and recommendation features linking similar type of documents together. For example: If you’re reading this page about bikes, you may also want to read this page. By comparison, Microsoft has put a great deal of work into their Office Graph and Delve products, which enable people to easily see the most important and relevant people and content.

2) No Improvements In the Activity Stream (social) or a Welcome Page/Dashboard:
One of my biggest complaints about the Box User Experience is that it is very hard to see what is happening in your network. For the most part, Box’s UI is just a series of folders and files. When I log onto Box (web or mobile) I’d like to be presented with a personal dashboard that shows me what my colleagues are doing, events that have taken place around my content, what new content is available, and a whole lot more. This dashboard should offer a variety of sorting, filtering and notification options. Today Box is essentially just File Manager (Window) or Finder (Mac) in the cloud. I’d like to see it be much more of a destination for getting work done.

3) No Improvement In Task Management:
Box enables people to assign to-dos to files, but the task management features pretty much end there.  They do partner with several Task Management tools such as Asana, AtTask, Azendoo, Clarizen, LiquidPlanner, Wrike and others but I’d like to see more native functionality.  At a minimum, show me a view of my tasks, with the ability to sort on date and status.  Ideally, purchase one of these vendors and offer great project management capabilities.


The Road Ahead. Platform, Not Product.


More important than any one product announcement is the larger picture of Box’s overall goal. To discuss that, let’s start with looking at what Box does:  

In the most simple form Box enables people to store files on the internet so that they are accessible at any time from a variety of devices.  

While simply storing and sharing files on the internet instead of on a local hard-drive has value, the true benefits become more apparent when those files are shared as part of a business process. Some examples includes: Sharing an RFP contract between a customer and a company; doctors discussing an X-ray; Marketing sharing product images; or Finance collaborating on invoicing data.  

But what if instead of Box being a part of a process, Box actually became the platform for building the application that handles the entire process?  That’s what Box is hoping to become. In this scenario, instead of an insurance company using an application that simply links to a claims form that is stored in Box, the insurance company would develop an web or mobile application that uses the file storage and display capabilities of Box. Similarly, instead of using medical software and then linking to a file stored in Box, imagine doctors and clinicians collaborating on medical images or videos using a web or mobile applications that leveraged Box’s security, storage, sharing and collaboration features.

That is precisely what Box Business Partner Novacoast has done with Full Resolution Health, an application that parents and clinicians can use to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of autism. Via a mobile application, parents can upload videos of their children, and then clinicians access and assess those videos on the web. At no time does either party know that they are using Box.

Image:Box Hits Puberty and Starts the Journey From Product to Platform


MyPOV: I’m glad to see Box looking at a much broader market than just storing, sharing and syncing files. Box is building a large ecosystem of business partners and independent developers, which is a good sign of a growing and popular platform, as these folks tend to go with the opportunity (i.e. money) is.

For the time being, competitors like Google Drive and Microsoft One Drive are not focusing their go to market strategies on a similar application development story. However, Box is not alone in this space. Salesforce offers a compelling platform in SalesForce1 and Salesforce Files and Amazon’s Web Services a dominant platform for developers has recently announced their own integrated file sharing service named Zocalo. Microsoft has a huge partner ecosystem that could start to take advantage of OneDrive. Box’s main startup competitor DropBox also had a large partner ecosystem, and is starting to convert some of their massive consumer following into enterprise (business) customers. Finally, IBM should not be discounted with their BlueMix development platform, SoftLayer cloud infrastructure and Connections collaboration and file sharing capabilities.

In an upcoming Constellation Research Report we’ll be taking a deeper look at Box’s workflow features including Policies and Automation, and metadata.



Connected Enterprise Innovation Summit

September 4 2014 11:49:53 AM Add/Read Comments [0]
Image:Connected Enterprise Innovation Summit

Next month, Constellation Research is holding our annual conference, Connected Enterprise, an immersive innovation summit for senior business leaders. The theme of this year’s event is Dominate Digital Disruption. Join 200+ other early adopters to learn and share how digital business can transform your company and improve the way you work.


This 3-day executive retreat includes mind expanding keynotes from visionaries, interactive best practices panels, deep 1:1 interviews with market makers, new technology demos, The Constellation SuperNova Awards Gala Dinner, a golf outing, and an immersive networking event.


Register before September 30 to take advantage of early bird pricing. Use code BBLG14 for VIP privileges throughout the event.


Register today.





   
   

42 Really Was the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life

September 2 2014 12:40:45 AM Add/Read Comments [4]
As I start my 44th revolution around the sun I reflect upon the variety of highs and lows that my 43rd trip brought me. While unfortunately there were sad events, there was also the best day of my life. I love you Samara, thank you for making my life so amazing. Ok 43, bring it on!

Image:42 Really Was the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life

Six Companies That Exemplify The Future Of Work

August 29 2014 01:57:46 PM Add/Read Comments [1]
Image:Six Companies That Exemplify The Future Of Work
The first round of voting for the Constellation SuperNova Awards is over, and the judges have narrowed down the applications to six finalists in the Future of Work category:

Aéropostale Inc 's use of Ceridian Dayforce HCM
Guitar Center's use of Saba Collaboration@Work
Intermountain Healthcare's use of AirWatch by VMware
Northeast Georgia Medical Center's use of Smartsheet  
RMH Franchise Corporation's (Applebee's) use of Bunchball Nitro
Sentinel Applied Analytics's use of Intellinote

I am thrilled to see the finalist's stories include a variety of platforms, solutions and processes spanning areas such as Social Task Management, Human Resources and gamification. Each of these stories (as well as the dozens that did not make the finals) tells a wonderful story of how businesses are improving the way their employees get work done.  I'm excited to find out who wins!  

The winner will be revealed live at Constellation Connected Enterprise on Oct 29-31.  It's not too late to register for the conference. I hope to see you there.






PeopleLinx Pivots To Social Selling

August 13 2014 12:00:00 PM Add/Read Comments [0]
Yesterday's launch of PeopleLinx version 3 represents an important evolution for the company, as they shift their platform from being LinkedIn-centric to broader platform for helping Sales Professionals do their job.

When I first met with PeopleLinx, the company was focused on helping businesses improve their employee's LinkedIn profiles. The idea was that employees are embassadors of the company they work for and therefore their LinkedIn profiles should properly represent their employer. That never resonated well with me, as in my opinion, my LinkedIn profile represents me, not the company I work for.

With V3, I'm happy to report that PeopleLinx has now evolved their vision and product to be part of the fast growing "Social Selling" market. What that means is, PeopleLinx examined the end-to-end workflow that Sales Professionals go through from lead generation to signing new customers, and is providing tools to help various steps along the way.  At the moment the company is focused on the areas of content distribution and employee training or guidance, but their roadmap includes much more.

For content distribution, PeopleLinx is providing a way for employees to share content with their connections on various social networks.  For example, say the Marketing department creates a new product brochure. They can upload that content to PeopleLinx and each Sales Professional can then share (via social media) the brochure with their prospects and customers.  PeopleLinx then tracks the sharing of that content, providing a dashboard for monitoring the combined activity.

Image:PeopleLinx Pivots To Social Selling

On the employee training side, PeopleLinx guides (and tracks) employees through a set of steps that their company has configured.  As you can see below, each step has an action for the employee to take, which they can either dismiss or mark as completed.

Image:PeopleLinx Pivots To Social Selling


MyPOV: The Challenge of Yet-Another-Tool

There are several impressive things about PeopleLinx. They have invested a lot of time with their customers to understand what they need to make their sales teams more organized, better connected, and consistent in delivery. V3 is a step in the right direction in delivering on those needs. They have also invested heavily in user experience / design. The product is simply yet powerful, clean yet highly functional.

The challenge I see is that PeopleLinx is "Yet-Another-Tool".  It is not the company intranet, email client, social network, file-sharing tool, project management platform, CRM package, social media monitor, etc. It's an additional tool that Sales Professionals will have to add to their ever expanding toolset (both on desktop and mobile) and that may not be something people are looking to do. I'd like to see PeopleLinx partner with some of the key social business vendors, enabling them to surface their content sharing and guided tasks inside the company intranet, social network or task system.  

There are several players in the Social Selling market, including vendors like Nimble, Contatta, Tellwise, RelateIQ (now owned by Salesforce.com), Crushpath, TinderBox, Clearslide and many more. The product that can offer the most seamless (integrated) experience across all the tasks that busy sales professionals have to do, while at their desk and on the road, is the one that has the best chance of winning.



What Do You Like and Dislike About Mobile Computing

August 2 2014 01:04:54 PM Add/Read Comments [10]
Love it or hate it, mobile computing is (has) dramatically changed the way we work. In my opinion, working mobile means more than just using phones and tablets, it's any time you're doing your job away from your standard office environment. Being mobile could mean using your laptop in your backyard or at a coffee shop. It could be virtual desktops shared from one machine to another, or via a kiosk. It could mean a screen in your car or in an airplane. It could be wearable technology like glasses, watches, or clothing. Dream big!

Image:What Do You Like and Dislike About Mobile Computing

So I have two questions for you:

1) What are the 3 biggest advantages mobile access provides in helping you get your job done?

2) What are the 3 biggest challenges you have getting your job done while working mobile?

Your answers could be technical, cultural, financial, or anything else.

Thank you for your replies.