Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Inventory Management and the Mobile, Social Cloud

I know, I know. "Inventory management" and "the mobile, social cloud" seem about as related as chalk and cheese. But hear me out (or whatever the literal equivalent is for readers of my blog).

It turns out that how well you manage inventories of the things customers buy is often the prime determinant of how those customers perceive that business. It doesn't matter how appealing it is to do business with you if you don't have or can't find what I want in a timely fashion.

It also turns out that how well your business leverages information technology (IT) directly affects how well it manages inventory. And that if yours is like many if not most businesses, 60 to 80 percent of your IT budget is being spent just to keep what you've got working. Which doesn't leave much room for innovation. Or even improvement to critical business processes such as delivering what customers want in a timely fashion.

Meanwhile, your customers, partners, prospects, competitors and purchase influencers are all increasingly inhabitants of that mobile, social cloud. Which means your company has to be there too.

So what you and your company need is a way to free up more IT resources and to be able to channel more of these to the challenges of better infrastructure management.

Turns out cloud-based resources can help in both areas.

Cloud-based infrastructure management solutions and processes can help your company to automate and offload much of that stuff on which your company's spending most of its IT budget. This will free up dollars and human bandwidth to do other things.

And there are a growing range of premise-based, cloud-based and cloud-enabled inventory management solutions. You can find a great rundown of several of these in an article published by Inc. in May 2011. My favorite: Fishbowl Inventory. It integrates with Intuit's QuickBooks and offers options that can take a company from better inventory management to more and better sales, fulfillment and resource planning and management, as recently covered by eWeek.

Inventory management may sound boring, and often is boring when done manually or using traditional tools. But if you think about and act upon it as the business-critical performance metric it really is, and look to the cloud for help, inventory management could be the coolest challenge you take on in 2012 and beyond.

A Special Offer:
If you're interested in Fishbowl Inventory, drop a line to I've negotiated a relationship with the company that guarantees that every one of my readers who uses that e-mail address will get priority treatment and help getting started with their free trial of the software. And if you promise to share your feedback with me for possible inclusion in future blog posts or research (anonymously if you prefer), you'll get undying gratitude from me -- AND a five-percent discount from Fishbowl if you purchase Fishbowl Inventory! A win for everybody!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cloudera and SGI: Hadoop for Geeks AND Suits

Some of you may be too young to remember it, but there was a time when business technology decision makers looked askance at open source solutions such as Linux and the Apache Web server. These and others are now common components of many business technology infrastructures.

What happened? Some pioneering companies such as Red Hat and Ubuntu began wrapping packages of supporting technologies and services around Linux and related offerings. And those packages began to overcome the fears and objections of the "suits" who approved the budgets of the "geeks" already sold on the technological advantages of Linux, et al.

Fast-forward to today. Apache Hadoop is a combination of a distributed file system and nifty behind-the-scenes software. Hadoop makes it easier and faster to build and run applications that require lots of data and the shared power of multiple computers. And so far, Hadoop has followed a trajectory similar to that of Linux in its early days as a viable business computing platform. The geeks already love it or are champing at the bit to take it out for a spin, but the suits are largely unfamiliar and wary.

Enter the alliance of Cloudera and SGI, the venerable Silicon Graphics International. Cloudera is doing for Hadoop what Red Hat, Ubuntu and others did for Linux and related technologies. Its Cloudera Enterprise offering combines a suite of management software with support services to make Hadoop adoption and realization of its benefits faster and easier. SGI, meanwhile, combines the strengths of its server hardware with its strengths in markets that have proven strong for high-performance computing (HPC) and are likely to be equally enthusiastic users of Hadoop. These markets have included government, research and telecommunications segments, according to SGI.

Providers of cloud-based business applications and services will become one of these key markets very soon. Hadoop-powered computing clusters as a service, and the kinds of applications those clusters can support, should prove irresistible to users with advanced requirements, and to Cloudera, SGI and their partners.

Meanwhile, the Cloudera-SGI alliance is presenting itself as equally appealing to technical and business decision makers. For the geeks, SGI announced yesterday that it had set new Hadoop performance records by running Cloudera software on SGI servers. For the suits, the companies announced yesterday the availability of SGI Hadoop Clusters with the Cloudera Enterprise Management Suite already installed. "The relationship will also enable the two companies to jointly build, sell and deploy integrated, high performance Apache Hadoop-based commercial solutions," the announcement said. I can't imagine that the two companies will take very long to turn their collective expertise and experience into packaged solutions and services designed for the suits and the geeks in specific markets and/or facing specific challenges.

If you work at an enterprise that you think can benefit from business-enabled, purpose-built Hadoop deployments, keep an eye on Cloudera and SGI, especially as they ramp up competition with Oracle's software and its Sun hardware. And whether your company needs or wants Hadoop or not, look at the Cloudera-SGI alliance as a harbinger of more such relationships to come.

Vendors understand that users prefer solutions that let those users focus on running their businesses, not any particular technologies. Responsive vendors will increasingly deliver combinations of purpose-built, pre-configured physical, cloud-based and cloud-enhanced "appliances" that are easy to deploy, require minimal user management and deliver benefits rapidly. And for the solutions that meet those criteria, the inner workings matter far less to buyers and users than how well those workings work. Whether those buyers and users are geeks, suits or geeks wearing suits, a rapidly growing demographic segment...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cloud-Enabled Infrastructure Management: A Two-Way Need

Is the technology infrastructure upon which your business relies ready for "the cloud(s)?"

As with every meaningful one-on-one relationship, cloud-enabled infrastructure management (or "CEIM," as in "things are not always as they…") is definitely a bidirectional exercise. (Or, if you must, a "two-phase commit.")

Why? Because you've not only got to manage cloud-based business resources alongside any premise-based resources -- the computers at your facilities that are running the applications your business needs -- critical to your business. You've also got to figure out whether and how best to add cloud-based management resources to your current infrastructure management portfolio.

Whew. A step back, upwards and outwards seems appropriate here.

Your business relies upon its technology infrastructure to survive, let alone to thrive competitively. This is increasingly true given the growth of "the mobile, social cloud." Even if your business does no business online (yet!), people are influencing how your business is perceived online, likely even as you read this. Which means you need an infrastructure that enables your business to know and respond to what's being said about it online, in addition to all the other things necessary to make your business work.

Also, neither your technology budget nor your technology staff is infinite, if you even have any of either. Which means you've got to focus on solutions that maximize benefits while minimizing cost and complexity. Which means you either are looking at cloud-based solutions or will be soon. Especially if you own or work for a small or mid-sized business or "SMB." Which means you've got to be able to manage them at least as well as you're managing your current business technology tools.

And no, the tools and processes you've been using to manage premise-based resources are not adequate by themselves to manage cloud-based services too. And yes, there's a growing range of cloud-based infrastructure management services you need to consider. Especially if you're using or considering cloud-based business computing services as adjuncts to or replacements for any premise-based resources.

How to begin? Focus on what infrastructure management is supposed to help your business to do. Run better.

From that perspective, here are four things every infrastructure management solution and process must do, wherever it happens to reside.

Collect all relevant data on use and performance. (Process point: be clear on what's really "relevant.")
Refine that data into actionable information.
Optimize that information based on business-specific goals and processes.
Promulgate that information across all affected constituencies, via reports they can all understand and use.

Then, lather, rinse and repeat. Think of it as a "CROP circle" for the infrastructure that enables and empowers your business. Only less mysterious and controversial than other similarly named items.

Your business' need for an effective CEIM strategy creates a great opportunity to ensure that all of your infrastructure management efforts meet your specific CROP requirements and goals. Take full advantage of that opportunity, and make sure that Sales, Marketing, Operations, IT and all other directly affected constituencies have a seat at the table.

A Request and An Offer: If you'll spend fewer than 10 minutes answering six questions about cloud-enabled infrastructure management and including at least an e-mail address, I'll send you a complementary summary of the results and my analysis and recommendations. You can find the survey at -- please take it and tell everyone you know to do the same. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Online Experience Optimization: The Next "Big Idea" in the Cloud

Every modern business does business online. This means that every modern business decision maker needs the answers to five key questions.
  1. Do we know what customers, competitors and competitors' customers are saying about our company online?
  2. Do we know that every online interaction with our company is equally compelling, fluid, frictionless and fulfilling, regardless of the user's device or connection type?
  3. Do we know what colleagues, customers, partners and prospects really think about doing business with us online, especially compared with other companies?
  4. Do we have solid, defensible evidence for all that we know or think that we know?
  5. Can we act on what we know in ways that help our business to succeed and grow?
To be able to answer these questions with confidence, business decision makers must integrate multiple previously separate initiatives ranging from content management and social networking to analytics and infrastructure management. Here's a high-level look at just some of the elements involved in every user's online experience with a company – such as yours.
  • The user's access device – whether PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
  • The network connection – whether wireless or wired, dial-up or broadband, etc.
  • The company's Web site or sites (and the equivalent portal or portals for internal users).
  • The content displayed by the Web site and/or internal portal.
  • The tools used to create, edit, curate and manage that content.
  • The tools used to measure and analyze all aspects of the online experience, from the performance of the Web site to who's accessing which content how often – plus more.
A holistic view of these and other relevant elements is essential to achieving a critical goal of every modern business: online experience optimization (OEO), for both external and internal constituencies.

The perceptions of those "from without," including competitors, customers, influencers, partners, and prospects, directly affect multiple human factors that in turn directly affect revenues, profits and competitive positioning. The perceptions of those "from within" affect things like employee job satisfaction, loyalty, referrals of superior new employees and overall business agility and responsiveness.

OEO touches every aspect of every type and size of company that does business online or plans to do so. Business stakeholders include advertising, marketing, public relations, sales, internal and external support teams and business performance decision makers, among others.

Technologies involved range from Web site construction and management tools to content management systems, analytics tools and support for “the mobile, social cloud.” Example relevant vendors include IT stalwarts such as Adobe, IBM, Oracle and SAP, disruptive upstarts such as Consona, Medallia, Nimble and Zoho and even so-called "digital agencies" such as 311 Media and Surge.

OEO is clearly a "big idea" that demands immediate and sustained attention from business and technology decision makers – and from the vendors hoping to sell to them. And based on the initial findings of continuing OEO surveys, that attention is needed now.

When asked to rate their companies' abilities to know and respond to what's being said about those companies online, only 18.5 percent of respondents chose "Excellent." Some 44.4 percent chose "Good," while approximately one-third said their companies were "Fair" (22.2 percent) or "Unsatisfactory" (11.1 percent) at this critical OEO element.

Respondents were also asked when they believe that decision makers at their companies will start to collect and act upon what's being said about them online. Approximately one-third of respondents expect this to happen within the next six months. But a quarter of respondents don't expect it to happen within the next year, and 41.7 percent said they didn't know when it might happen.

I'll have lots more to say about OEO here and elsewhere, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, you can take those surveys I mentioned in approximately three minutes each, anonymously if you prefer, and request summary findings at and Thanks for your help – please tell everyone you know!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

SafePeak: Faster SQL Server Applications, On the Ground and In the Cloud

"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." -- legendary U.S. baseball catcher and malapropism master Yogi Berra (who also reportedly said "I really didn't say everything I said.")

What happens when a business application is a victim of its own success?
To deliver maximum business value, applications need users. But too many users, and applications can slow down or stop altogether. Which can mean anything from non-productive workers to suddenly former customers, depending on the applications.

For the millions of Microsoft Windows applications (including Web sites and SharePoint collaboration tool deployments) that rely upon Microsoft's SQL Server database software, there are a few alternative ways to speed up and scale out. One is to acquire more processing and storage capacity, but that gets expensive and difficult to manage quickly.

Another is traditional application caching -- extracting smaller, faster subset copies of the most-used data from larger, slower databases. But traditional caching methods can be difficult to implement without requiring changes to applications, databases or both. And analyzing and determining precisely where to apply caching and where not to apply it can take months. Also, some caching solutions are vulnerable to creating out-of-synch copies of critical data, especially in response to a system failure or disruption.

Another performance improvement method is called "database tuning." There are applications that purport to ease and speed this process. But there's no avoiding that it takes time to analyze current application performance, and money to engage the expertise necessary to decide precisely what to tune and how to tune it.

SafePeak ( offers an alternative with some compelling differences. First of all, it's software that runs on exactly the same types of hardware on which SQL Server and many of those database applications are running. SafePeak can even run on cloud-based virtual server instances or hosted servers. And SafePeak is designed specifically to be "plug-and-play" with all Windows and SQL Server environments, including custom-built, hosted and cloud-based applications.

Once SafePeak is installed and running, it basically "watches" and "listens to" an application for a couple of hours, and begins to learn and map the queries and dependencies that govern how that application accesses and uses data. SafePeak uses this information to cache data dynamically, in ways that speed performance significantly while avoiding inaccurate or out-of-synch copies of data.

SafePeak was also designed specifically to support business-critical applications that simply cannot fall victim to incorrect data. The solution is being used to make Web sites, SharePoint deployments and financial services, health care management and hospital knowledge management applications run faster and support more users.

The SafePeak management interface is Web-based and straightforward. In addition, the software generates considerable information about how SQL Server databases and applications perform "in real life." This information can help application and database administrators and their teams to identify and pursue additional opportunities to improve application performance, reliability and scalability.

If your company uses SQL Server databases and applications, including Web sites, SharePoint or Microsoft Dynamics, you should look closely at SafePeak. You can download a free trial of the software at the company's Web site, and begin test-driving it with your own applications. And if you're running most or all of your critical applications in the cloud or some other company's hosting facility, talk with your provider(s) about test-driving SafePeak for themselves. It won't solve all application performance challenges. But it can do a lot to improve performance of those applications reliant upon Microsoft SQL Server, rapidly, affordably and transparently -- wherever those applications may run.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cloud Extend for Salesforce: Jedi Mind Tricks for More and Better Sales

In the very first "Star Wars" movie to be commercially released (as opposed to the first episode in the saga, which was the fourth movie to be released, I think -- but I digress), the first Jedi mind trick shown was Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi getting a security droid to replace what it was planning to say with what Obi-Wan wanted the droid to say. ("These are not the droids you're looking for.") No muss, no fuss -- the security droid just followed the script the Jedi wrote for him, word for word, with no objections, and the process of escape proceeded according to Obi-Wan's plan.

Would that salespeople were as easily manipulated. Once an Obi-Wan had been identified, he or she could write the script, then distribute it to all of their colleagues, who would follow it perfectly and generate more sales faster than ever before.

If this scenario appeals to you, you should take a look at Cloud Extend for Salesforce, introduced by Active Endpoints at the Dreamforce conference/revival meeting/festival in San Francisco last week.

Here's what Cloud Extend for Salesforce let you do. And by "you," I mean "almost any sales manager or other business-savvy decision maker unafraid to perform basic editing tasks on a typical modern networked computing device. You know, like with a Web browser." You can create guides -- step-by-step recipes for specific sales-related tasks, such as lead nurturing. Active Endpoints calls these "guidance trees," and that's an apt visual description. Remember flowcharts? They look a bit like those, only sideways. They result in scripts users can be instructed to follow explicitly or to treat as suggestions, depending on the sophistication of the user being guided.

You can then easily add specific actions to specific steps in each script. You can then publish the script, which each user can access and follow from within the already-comfortable interface. Without leaving the specific task that user is doing. And the scripts capture all kinds of useful information about how well the scripts and their users perform.

Sales managers can build customized scripts that automate and help to improve key business processes. Users get scripts to follow based on proven processes and practices. The adoption and business value of increases. And little to no IT involvement is required.

If your company uses or is considering using to support sales efforts, you must look closely at Cloud Extend for Salesforce. Active Endpoints boasts that the solution can "make every sales rep your best rep." If you add Cloud Extend for Salesforce to a well-working environment and use the information produced to improve and extend your sales processes, that boast will prove true. And likely encourage you to explore opportunities for similar successes beyond sales. As I'm sure Active Endpoints is doing even as you read this…

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sococo: Real Teamwork in Real Time, in the Cloud

When Gene Roddenberry created the original "Star Trek" television series, he was adamant that the starship Enterprise be big enough to hold hundreds of people. Why? Because then it would be like a street, a large dormitory or an office. A random walk could lead to an unexpected adventure, conversation or great idea.

That's really the only remaining justification for making people come to a common workplace anymore. But it's a powerful justification -- one that's been impossible to replicate faithfully online until Sococo.

I could spend thousands more words, most of which you'd probably skim or skip, trying to explain what makes Sococo so cool, special and fraught with implications for cloud computing and collaboration. Instead, let me try to summarize just enough to get you to try it out.

With Sococo, your computer screen, and that of each of your teammates, is transformed into what looks like an overhead view of the layout of a set of offices, complete with a lobby, conference rooms and common areas, if you want. You can see everyone, know their status, arrange and hold formal meetings and engage in informal spontaneous collaborations. You can also share computer screens and put other applications from the Web, the cloud or elsewhere up on "walls" visible to everyone at your meeting. Oh, and you can communicate via voice or typed on-screen chat, public or private. All within a single interface you can learn well enough to teach others in about the time it'll likely take you to finish reading this blog post.

Neither too many more words nor even a screen shot can do Sococo justice. A poke around the company Web site will help, but only a little. What you need to do is to sign up for the free trial, download the Sococo client software and invite two, three or more colleagues to join your "team." Doesn't matter where they are as long as they have Web access. In less than 30 minutes, you'll start thinking about more and more ways you can use Sococo, in concert with and instead of almost all of the communication and collaboration tools you're using right now.

Sococo adds to online, location-independent collaboration almost everything that's good and useful about collaborating in a shared physical space in real time. Especially including opportunities for spontaneous, ad hoc collaboration, idea germination and cross-pollination. And it enables a level of social interaction among collaborators I've never seen done quite as well online. And I'll wager it looks almost nothing like any cloud-based collaboration tool you're using now. Check it out, and do let me know what you think.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Future of Cloud Computing: Extreme Personalization and VMware's Project Horizon

The future of cloud computing is not the public cloud, the private cloud or hybrid clouds. Such discussions focus too much on delivery methodologies and not enough on what users care most about: access to the resources they need to do what they want and need to do.

From that perspective, the future is one of extreme personalization. Each authorized user only wants to see what they want and need to do their jobs well and successfully, on whichever device or devices they happen to have. And each user wants this regardless of which particular part of any particular cloud happens to host each resource each user wants and needs.

No pressure. But no company can or should attempt to promise or deliver such personalization without adequate management and security. For that way lies madness, or at least some very likely corporate leadership changes.

Here's an example of how to achieve extreme personalization while avoiding potentially career-limiting decisions: VMware's Project Horizon. The goal: managed, secure access to any authorized application or resource, by any authorized user, from any supported device. The first stages: VMware's Horizon App Manager, plus the company's acquisitions of SlideRocket (cloud-based presentations), Zimbra (cloud-based, enterprise-class e-mail) and most recently, SocialCast (cloud- or premise-based, enterprise-class collaboration).

The still-evolving VMware solution set enables users to see "storefront-like" portals for access to the applications for which they are authorized, while enabling corporate IT departments to control said access at pretty granular levels, and to extend incumbent security models to embrace cloud-based resources. Users get extreme personalization, while IT gets to sleep more soundly and spend more weekends away from the office or the data center.

Other vendors, notably Google, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, are working on and/or promising and/or delivering slivers of similarly promising approaches to extreme personalization. Expect to see more and more offerings from more and more vendors, promising to combine simplified user access to cloud- and premise-based business resources with truly effective management and security. Fortunately, VMware has the pedigree and deep pockets necessary to establish a significant "first/early mover" advantage, and to give business decision makers solution elements with which they can and should start exploring extreme personalization now.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

RIM's PlayBook: Four Key Vulnerabilities

Research in Motion (RIM), creators of the popular BlackBerry family of mobile devices and services, is expected to launch formally its long-awaited PlayBook tablet computer tomorrow. Here are four reasons why I think RIM's new tablet may be hard to swallow for business users.

PlayBook Vulnerability #1: its proprietary operating system. In business servers, there are two largely dominant operating environments: Microsoft Windows and the converged Linux/UNIX ecosystem. In mobile networked devices for business users, it's largely Apple's iOS and Google's Android -- and RIM, at least in some segments. (Sorry, Symbian and Microsoft, unless Nokia's decision to replace Symbian's software with Windows Phone spurs growth for that platform.) In PCs for business, it's largely Windows and Linux, plus Mac/iOS in some segments. The point is, few if any segments demonstrate much if any need or demand for an operating system other than those that dominate the segment in question.

But the PlayBook will run a proprietary operating system. A marketing challenge at best and a support and integration non-starter at worst.

To users, value is all about available apps. And application developers have limited resources, which means many can't afford to develop and support versions for more than one or two operating systems. Which does not augur well for original apps written for RIM's operating system. While the BlackBerry faithful may be satisfied by a unique set of available apps, others will wonder if there aren't PlayBook versions of apps already popular on the dominant mobile operating systems.

This makes support for Android apps even more potentially important to the PlayBook's success. But so far, all RIM is offering in emulator software to run (at least some) Android apps. In this light, any perceived or actual performance degradations or incompatibilities could present as many opportunities for criticism and frustration as the iPad's lack of Flash support. And business technology decision makers and their teams are looking for fewer interoperability challenges, not more.

PlayBook Vulnerability #2: its form factor. RIM is touting the PlayBook's ability to run games and other multimedia, something about which even business users increasingly care. The PlayBook's 7-inch form factor, like Samsung's Galaxy Tab and other tablets, means current BlackBerry users can likely continue to type with their thumbs on the PlayBook. But the device isn't as comfortable for two-handed typists, or for gamers, movie watchers or Web surfers who prefer more visual real estate. And the riotous popularity of the iPad amply demonstrates that more visual real estate makes even a larger device worth carrying around to a lot of business users.

PlayBook Vulnerability #3: its connectivity limitations. While the PlayBook seems likely to support high-speed networks from AT&T, Verizon and others at some point, it's being shipped initially with support only for Wi-Fi. (A version for Sprint's WiMAX network is expected within, say, 60 days of the official PlayBook launch.) Which means only users of both PlayBooks and BlackBerry devices with corporate network connections can see real-time updates to their calendars, contacts or e-mail. At least until and unless RIM and/or its developer partners and/or savvy users begin to create and propagate effective tethering arrangements that support other mobile phones and carrier networks.

Also, AT&T and Verizon are increasingly dominating the mobile networking market in the U.S. and elsewhere. For the PlayBook not to support either carrier from Day One will be a deal-breaker for technology decision makers and mobile users at many companies. It's a situation likely to turn off users who don't already use BlackBerry devices as well.

PlayBook Vulnerability #4: it's too little, too late. Had RIM announced and delivered the PlayBook a few months earlier, the dynamics of the discussion would likely be different. However, with the iPad 2 and numerous Android tablets already available and more coming soon, RIM will have a difficult time reaching beyond BlackBerry loyalists with the PlayBook.

I'd love to be wrong about any or all of this, but I don't think I am. Whether or not you believe in signs or portents, it is interesting to note that published reports have said that the PlayBook was delayed in part because of the catastrophe in Japan and in part because challenged manufacturers had previous iPad 2 commitments. It's also not helpful to RIM's prospects that its CEO abruptly ended a recently attempted BBC interview when questions strayed beyond the PlayBook and into possible network security concerns. Not great pre-launch PR.

RIM could be in trouble long-term if the PlayBook isn't successful. At the very least, anything that smacks of lackluster adoption will cement perceptions of RIM as an also-ran in the evolving market for tablet computers and other mobile networked devices.

The BlackBerry ecosystem risks becoming the mainframe of mobile devices. That is to say, venerable and respected, and remaining in use long after being superseded, but relegated to the status of "coulda been a contender." Who'd have thought?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Viewfinity Beefs Up Privilege Management in the Cloud(s)

Got business-critical IT resources? Got users? Got mobile users? Got or getting Windows 7 across your enterprise?

If you answered "yes" to any or all of the above questions, here's something else you've got: a need to manage user access privileges and administrative rights. Especially if any of those users are being moved to Windows 7 and/or are mobile.

Windows 7 comes with AppLocker, a set of features designed to enhance the software restriction policies (SRPs) supported in previous Windows releases. (Windows Server 2008 R2 also supports AppLocker.) I'm not going to go into details about AppLocker and SRPs here; instead, I'll refer you to two great pieces by IT and Microsoft expert Greg Shields of Concentrated Technology. One is on AppLocker itself. The other is on a security philosophy AppLocker and related offerings can enable and support: approved execution. After all, malware can't hurt your systems if you've got blacklists and whitelists that can determine what code, malware or otherwise, actually gets to run.

Approved execution is one element of a larger set of challenges and solutions some vendors refer to collectively as "least privileges." Basically, this means giving each user the minimum amount of access privileges needed by that person to do their work, to reduce unauthorized execution of malware or access to IT resources. And moving to Windows 7 provides a great opportunity to review and improve the policies and technologies your company's using to increase security and to control access privileges more effectively. But it's unlikely that every user on your network(s) will be moved to Windows 7 at the same time, and it's very likely that AppLocker alone won't solve all of your privileges management challenges.

Some potential help: Viewfinity, a leading player in this market, just announced version 3.5 of its Privilege Management solution. There are three things I really like about Viewfinity's approach. One is that it provides granular, role-based privilege management that you don't have to be an IT or security expert to make work. Another is that interoperates with Microsoft Active Directory but does not require or rely upon it. This means greater flexibility and continuing functionality even if Active Directory fails. The other is that it's Web/cloud-based. This means it's easier to incorporate protection of authorized mobile users (and rejection of unauthorized access or execution attempts).

There is no single solution that is going to guarantee complete security for any business computing environment. However, tools such as Viewfinity Privilege Management can give you a significant leg up on the continuing "arms race" between malware developers and those attempting to defend their environments against malware. Check it out and see if it can help you to protect your environment, especially if you're facing a move to Windows 7, a growing requirement to support mobile users or both.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

ERP in the Cloud, and Beyond: Expandable Software's Bob Swedroe

Bob Swedroe is President and CEO of Expandable Software. Expandable provides solutions for enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other business functions, with three key twists.

First off, Expandable offers on-site or cloud-based implementations, depending on user preferences and business needs. Secondly, the company promises seamless integration with what Bob calls "best-of-market solutions." Third, the folks who actually get Expandable solutions up and running for customers are Expandable employees. This gives the company more direct influence over how these implementers do their jobs. This, in turn, lets Expandable offer some pretty impressive levels of support and service.

Bob's a big believer in cloud-based and software as a service (SaaS) solutions, but his perspective is refreshingly different from that of some of his industry peers. So I thought I'd ask him three pointed questions about the business software market. Please enjoy!

Q1: What is the single greatest challenge to success for software providers seeking to deliver modern business software solutions?

A1: The single greatest challenge is a level up from integration…I’d say flexibility in meeting business [requirements] while continuing to reduce the infrastructure worries. Businesses of all sizes want to focus on business rather than systems. This is driving force [behind] SaaS momentum.

Market trending is toward new business models of marketing and selling. We see this with our own business and with the [history of all] business software. We’ve come from point products to integrated business functions. ERP [solutions] by definition are single platforms that have integrated many business functions [originally performed by] point products. Now we are swinging back to point solutions as obviously there is a market for robust point solutions that bring a focused and higher level of complexity and flexibility to solve the issues at hand.

Software providers need to remain true to their core vision AND learn to integrate seamlessly (really seamlessly) with other applications such that the combined applications work together and [are] flexible enough to provide the best-of-breed solution. While the delivery method of the particular application is not important (i.e., on site or SaaS), the application must be able to integrate seamlessly and efficiently with other key applications residing in the cloud.

Again, companies don’t want to worry about the infrastructure. They just want it to work; and it will, because those that don't won't survive.

Q2: What is the single greatest challenge to success for enterprises seeking to deploy business-critical modern business software solutions?

A2: Probably the single biggest challenge is to be able to create a solid, dedicated, focused team [that] includes the company employees and the business solutions provider's employees. In addition, there needs to be complete executive-level support for the implementation to have a good chance of success – and the implementation of a review and monitoring process for the implementation.

Very often, unrealistic demands are set as employees are expected to do their normal job and also to "suck it up" and be on the deployment team. Execs need to be at least aware of the risks and consequences of taking employee’s [personal] bandwidth for granted.

One critical element that is so often overlooked is to find a software solution provider that is a true business partner. As a business partner they should be engaged and concerned about the success of your business. In essence, they become a valued extension of your internal team. The only way to know for sure how good a business partner is a software solution provider, is to perform a very thorough job of due diligence on the software provider. (Editorial Note: you can register to receive a free white paper from Expandable on checking vendor references at

Sage [an Expandable competitor] just recently created and appointed a Chief Customer Officer (CCO), but many ERP companies and business solutions companies sell, then “drop” their customers. To further add complexity to the issue, if the application is sold, delivered and implemented by a reseller, then the [purchasing] company not only has to perform proper due diligence on the software provider, but also on the reseller as well. realizes this as well and has a transfer after the sale to a Customer Success Manager that has primary focus on the customer success with the product. Expandable has a model where everyone [from the company] is/can be involved with the success of our customers.

Q3: What do you see as the next "great leap forward" for the modern business software solutions market - technological, organizational, perceptual or otherwise?

A3: The next "great leap forward" will be driven by the organizational/social changes that are coming as the "new generation" of employee comes through the ranks and the "Baby Boomers" leave. Essentially, the new ways versus old ways of how people work [and] socialize, and their comfort level with new technology will force this change – ubiquitous computing, networking, and real-time information access. The changes will happen. The question now is, how fast? The rate of change will be different for [different] applications and…functions (i.e., sales versus manufacturing.

For many modern software solutions, changes will happen faster than we think. The next generation of successful companies (and their employees) is driving this [change] hard and fast – and it will be adopted. Just 10 years ago there was a war of ATM [Asynchronous Transfer Mode] vs. IP [Internet Protocol]. The big companies drove the adoption [choice] and IP won.

Now the "war" is [between] the cloud or on-site [software deployment]. The younger generation and the now-popular new big companies on the block – Google, Amazon,, etc. are the new, exciting and upcoming. The old [guard] – Microsoft, IBM (although they are very resilient and probably will continue to be), Oracle, SAP,…etc. [will] be less of a "mover and shaker" and either move with the flow and adjust or move to the background…. This is happening in the marketplace. I believe this trend will increase as the big leap toward more cloud [computing swings us] back to centralized computing to some degree….

Bottom line: there will be ubiquitous business tools available anywhere, anytime for a world that is moving very fast toward a mobile and remote workforce. However, having said that, a key point to consider is [that] the importance of ubiquitous and mobile computing will be dependent on an employee’s role/function in the organization.

Dortch's Recommendations

The more mobile, social and collegial Web is not coming. It's here, and getting bigger, faster and more important to more businesses every day. In this brave new online world, business agility and success will be determined largely by a company's ability to adapt business processes and infrastructures as necessary to identify and meet customer needs most effectively.

Whether your company sells business software, uses business software or both, these trends are going to affect what's available to you and your business. Increasingly, where your applications are hosted will matter less, while the ability to deliver ready access to them where, when and as needed will matter more. And your chosen providers are going to have major if not primary impact on your company's ability to succeed with its chosen technological solutions.

If you haven't already, begin now to focus on due diligence, regarding both your chosen solutions and providers and with your organization's stated goals and plans. Make sure that all of the above are aligned closely and correctly with what your customers and prospects care about most, and with your company's core strengths. And if your solution providers can't provide the assistance and support your business needs to succeed, consider replacing them – based on careful due diligence, of course.