About George Goodall

George Goodall is an Senior Research Analyst at Info-Tech Research Group.

Cloud computing conceptIT leaders are quickly getting up to speed with the ABCs of cloud computing. It’s not the ABCs, however, that are causing grief; it’s the ERPs.

Cloud-based ERP is rapidly becoming an area of key interest for IT leaders and other decision makers. The challenge is that the term “cloud ERP” is a better marketing term than IT strategy term. There are really four different types of ERP:

  • On-Premise where a particular enterprise owns and maintains the ERP instance and the associated databases and servers.
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) options where all users share a single instance.
  • Proprietary cloud models where a particular ERP vendor maintains an instance of the ERP system in its own data center. This model is similar to traditional managed services arrangements but the vendor may offer subscription licensing terms instead of up-front-plus-maintenance terms.
  • White label cloud options are particularly challenging. In this scenario, an ERP provider – typically a VAR or reseller – offers to host the ERP system in a third-party hosting center.

Each of these models varies widely in terms of benefits, costs, and risks. In many cases, on-premise software may offer a wide range of potential benefits but have high up-front licensing costs. Conversely, a SaaS solution may offer attractive up-front licensing but present inappropriate risks. These assumptions are not, however, universal. The cost of SaaS can be shockingly high over the entire lifespan of a solution. Similarly, on-premise solutions aren’t necessarily low risk if the IT department lacks the sophistication and maturity to effectively manage it.

The solution to the cloud ERP dilemma is to use Risk-Adjusted Cost Benefit (RACB) to assess different ERP options. Every deployment scenario has a different RACB. Consider the existing solution and compare it to different hosted and on-premise options. RACB provides a way of comparing apples with oranges.

For more information, see Info-Tech’s solution set, Determine if Cloud ERP Lies in the Future.

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The longest day of the year did not bring the end of the world. It did, however, bring an exciting announcement from that consistent purveyor of acquisition news: Oracle.

Oracle is acquiring Eloqua for $871-million in cash.The move marks Oracle’s commitment to two emerging areas of its application portfolio. The first is marketing automation. Eloqua’s core tools assist marketing departments create and manage campaigns. This functionality will augment Oracle’s existing Customer Experience solutions like the Oracle Sales Cloud, the Oracle Commerce Cloud, and the Oracle Service Cloud. The Eloqua functionality provides one book end to Oracle’s existing customer functionality. The other bookend is built from the tools it acquired from FatWire in 2011.

The other emerging area is — no surprise — cloud. Oracle has made a strong commitment to cloud-based tools with the introduction of Fusion Applications and two other key acquisitions: Taleo for human resource management and RightNow Technologies for customer support.

The acquisition calls to mind a number of concerns. The first, of course, is execution. Oracle is no stranger to integrating new tools and employees and it has developed considerable experience in maintaining cloud-based applications. The Eloqua portfolio does, however, represent considerable overlap with existing Sales Cloud and Service Cloud functionality.

The other concern is how the rest of the applications market will respond. SAP has also invested heavily in cloud applications with SuccessFactors but hasn’t made recent moves into the sales or service market. The other Oracle competitor that will take careful notice is Salesforce.com. It has well-developed sales and service products but may feel the need to acquire a specialist to bolster its client list. Vendors like Silverpop and Marketo may be the beneficiaries.

It’s tempting to say that we will see no more acquisitions this holiday season. Keep in mind, however, that the holiday season doesn’t traditionally end until Twelfth Night on January 5th. As Shakespeare himself noted, Twelfth Night is also a time when things are turned upside down and the low are made kings (at least for a night). Silverpop, Marketo, Salesforce.com, or SAP might just find a role in this emerging drama.

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Web Content Management (WCM) was the darling technology of the late 1990s. It was positioned as a tool to help IT overcome the complexities of hand-coding web pages and publishing them to the web. The use case for WCM has changed. It is now a marketing tool.

WCM enables marketers to effectively create content and push it to the web. More importantly, WCM solutions allows marketers to create and test content and to monitor how users interact with a web presence. This interaction is key for enabling things like prospect conversion and upsell. In some cases, the website can be customized on-the-fly to appeal to particular customer/prospect desires or expectations.

Of course, with increased complexity comes increased maintenance. IT and marketing professionals must work closely to ensure that the WCM solution is delivering to expectations. The key challenges with WCM typically aren’t related to traditional IT issues. Info-Tech data indicates that enterprises have a good handle on concerns like the usability or the adequacy of various tools. The real concerns include working with marketing to actually discovery up-sell opportunities and convert prospects. These are traditionally marketing issues but they go right to the heart of WCM success.

Recent changes in web user behavior is also forcing people to rethink their WCM and web marketing strategies. Social and mobile are particularly thorny issues. Social content, for example, can give marketers unique tells about a user’s preferences and interests. Mobile, meanwhile, presents challenges for both content delivery and user profiling since a mobile device can provide insights on user location and preferences.

These emerging issues speak to the need for integration. WCM is no longer a completely stand-alone system. IT professionals must consider integration with different tools for customer management, lead management, and social media management.

For more information on WCM, see Info-Tech’s recently published Develop a Web Content Management Strategy. Info-Tech also offers two Vendor Landscapes on the topic: VL: Web Content Management and VL: Web Experience Management.

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I was recently discussing email management with a member of the Info-Tech community. She asked: “Well, what do you do about email?” It’s always dangerous to ask an analyst an open question!

Email dependence is a bad thing. We are all conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to respond to the “ping” of the inbound message. Academic literature indicates that lessening our reliance on email generally improves productivity due to a decrease in task switching. Removing email also decreases the stress hormone cortisol. Increased cortisol is strongly linked with pretty much every poor health outcome you can imagine. The decrease in cortisol might be due to the removal of the stimulus – the email “ping” – or it could due to increased movement. Without email, people just move more. More steps and less sitting is generally a good thing.

But there’s a problem. We can’t just get rid of email since it is crucial to getting things done in knowledge-centric environments like Info-Tech. Other enterprises have had some success in diverting task management from email towards other tools like collaboration suites, document repositories, and activity streams. The less structured our tasks, however, the more we rely on very fluid communication media. For the most part, however, we depend on email.

Email is like red wine: a little bit is tasty and healthy but swilling rot gut will kill you.

So, what should we do about email? It’s not the technology; it’s our reaction to it. In general, email pain comes from two distinct vectors: distraction, and maintenance. Adopt tactics to deal with each of these vectors.

A. Distraction. Email disrupts our ongoing ability to get things done. It diverts us from the tasks we need to accomplish and effectively breaks our day up into vanishingly small segments. Knowledge workers generally require relatively large block of time to complete research, review, and writing tasks.

  1. Eliminate the distraction. Turn off alerts and pop-ups. Don’t be a slave to email. Time-sensitive messages will find their way to you via synchronous communication like phone and IM.
  2. Make time(s) for email. Set specific windows for checking and responding to email. In general, 30-minute windows first thing in the morning, immediately after lunch, and before the end of the day are appropriate.
  3. Use a Pomodoro if you’re jonesin’. The Pomodoro technique is a time management technique involving a timer that breaks the day into 25-minute intervals followed by a 5-minute break. Set a timer – I like www.timer-tab.com – and get to work. When the timer is up, check your email.

B. Maintenance. The ever-increasing inbox is an additional source of stress. Individuals are generally either filers with byzantine collections of folders or pilers with one large inbox. Filers must devote more energy into maintaining their organization system than pilers but get better retrieval… except they don’t (at least for paper-based systems). Generally, elaborate folder systems don’t facilitate information recall or retrieval except for very tightly defined project or process requirements. Most ad-hoc or personal classification systems represent an individual’s efforts to make sense of disparate information. Unfortunately, that sense is fluid and changes with the individual’s experience thereby undermining the significance of the classification system!

  1. Do your spring cleaning. Adopt a zero-email inbox… at least some of the time. Empty your inbox on a regular basis. Some people maintain empty on a constant basis, others do it on Fridays, or at the end of the month. Collecting too much junk foils search tools (or, in information-retrieval speak, lessens precision).
  2. Keep things flat. Filers see no advantages. Process email into the only two folders that you really need:
  3. @Action. If something needs to be done with a message put it into the @Action folder. Endeavour to keep this folder empty. Dedicate a Pomodoro or two to getting it cleared out.
  4. @Reference. If you don’t know if you will need something or not, put it into the @Reference folder. Knowledge workers are generally information-hoarders and collect far more than they really need. Don’t agonize about where messages should go. Just dump them into @Reference and use search to access them on the very odd chance that you need to access them.
  5. An aside: Why “@Action” instead of just “Action”? Appending the @ symbol will float these folders to the top of your list of folders. Keep the old folders or just move them into @Reference.

Experiment with productivity tools where appropriate. Instead of the @Action folder you could turn messages into Tasks or create different Task entries. Email management isn’t a replacement for task management but your email management strategy has to integrate with task management! Read Getting Things Done by David Allen for more guidance on this topic.

Build a tabernacle for blessed email. The @Reference folder works well for messages of dubious value. Some email, however, has very definite value. Move these messages into a stable repository that deals with documents of all kinds including PDF documents, images, recordings, web pages, etc. This repository could be a OneNote, Evernote, or even a file share (but friends don’t let friends use file shares).

That said, I’ve just mentioned a few tactics for dealing with email. Our roles change constantly and we need to be fluid in how we manage information. Add these tactics to the toolbox but don’t treat them as finished projects or SOPs!

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Zoos and Radio Control CollarsIt all began six years ago. I wrote a note about the pain of managing content and commented that there were two distinct approaches. The first way is to build a highly structured and controlled repository with SharePoint or from a vendor like EMC|Documentum, Open Text, or IBM|FileNet. I called this repository approach a “zoo”. The other strategy is to let all of those wild documents run rampant in the file shares but to apply some control practices by indexing and classifying them. There were a number of vendors that delivered what I called “radio control collars”.

And then the radio control vendors mostly disappeared. Where did they go?

Microsoft killed them.

More specifically, Microsoft continued to develop a little-known feature in Windows Server called the File Classification Infrastructure (FCI). It enables IT administrators to build rules to classify documents on NTFS file systems. The resulting meta-data is stored in the Alternative Data Stream of NTFS so it will move with the document (as long as the target is also NTFS). These properties can also be applied as document descriptors to Microsoft Office documents and can be inherited by SharePoint.

FCI is a great tool for IT administrators that need to manage collections of existing documents on a variety of different hosts. It is valuable for detailed reporting on the contents of the stores, and to automate management tasks like file transfers and expiration.

Additional features are included in Windows Server 2012. Previously, classifications could only be applied to folders and documents automatically via configured rules. Windows Server 2012 gives users and administrators the ability to manually set these values. FCI now also integrates with Rights Management Services to limit access to documents based on particular classification settings.

The challenge with this type of tool, however, is how to actually apply classifications. Any SharePoint administrator will tell you that creating metadata is tough! In this case, Microsoft has partners that will help automate the process of applying meta-data via machine learning algorithms (notably, DataGlobal).

Not all of the vendors have completely disappeared:

  • Arkivio was acquired by Rocket Software;
  • NextPage is part of Proofpoint;
  • Orchestria was acquired by CA;
  • EMC continues to offer the solutions from Kazeon and RSA;
  • Two early stalwarts — StoredIQ and Index Engines — continue to do business independently.

All of these solutions have value but IT leaders should determine why they can’t use Microsoft’s File Classification Infrastructure before looking to something else.

For more information on FCI, see:

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