Sunday, May 31, 2009

Calculating ROI Of Enterprise 2.0 Is Calculating The Cost Of A Lost Opportunity

I get this asked a lot – How do I calculate ROI of Enterprise 2.0? Bruce Schneier says, “Security is not an investment that provides a return, like a new factory or a financial instrument. It's an expense that, hopefully, pays for itself in cost savings. Security is about loss prevention, not about earnings. The term just doesn't make sense in this context.”. Similarly thinking of Enterprise 2.0 as an “investment” looking for a return does not make any sense. At best it is the cost of a lost opportunity.

If you are a CIO looking for a detailed ROI metrics or a simple checklist for Enterprise 2.0 you are probably out of luck. However you could adopt a two-pronged approach. Convince the business that the organization needs Enterprise 2.0 by showing whatever resonates with them e.g. sharing files help reduce email quota, Wiki makes people productive by X percentage, giving them a copy of The Future of Management by Gary Hamel etc. Once you do get a green signal for Enterprise 2.0 deployment, please, don’t be prescriptive to frame the problem or the solution. Instead simply provide the tools at grassroots and let people run with these tools.

For any collaboration, productivity, and social networking tools there is content and there is context that significantly depends upon the individuals that use these tools. For example some people prefer to be human-centric against artifact-centric. Some start interacting and collaborating with other people before exchanging the artifacts and there are others that prefer collaboration that is primarily an artifact-driven. Most of the tools mandate that users make an upfront choice. Even worse the IT makes the decision for them when they decide to purchase a specific tool assuming how people might want to work. This is the reason I like Google Wave since it does not make any assumptions on how people may want to use it. In fact it allows people to weave across people and artifacts seamlessly.

When Google Wave was announced Google spent most of the time demonstrating what it does and spent very little time showing what problems it is designed to solve. They received quite a criticism for that. Many designers questioned Google whether they really know if people want to work this way. Some bloggers called it an act of breathtaking arrogance of blowing off potential competition and touting tech buzzwords. I believe they all are missing the point. Google Wave has broken the grid that the designers are very protective about and has empowered people to stretch their imagination to make mental connections about how this tool might meet their needs that no other tool has met so far.

Would you still ask what’s the ROI?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cloud Computing - Old Wine In A New Bottle?

A recent cloud computing report from McKinsey stirred quite a controversy. TechCrunch called the report partly cloudy. Google responded to the report with the great details on why cloud is relevant. I appreciate the efforts that McKinsey put into this report. However I believe that they took a very narrow approach in their scope and analysis. An interaction designer, Chris Horn, from MAYA Design sent me a paper, The Wrong Cloud, which argues that the cloud computing is essentially an old wine in a new bottle and the big companies are fueling the hype.
"Today’s “cloud computing” claims to be the next big thing, but in fact it’s the end of the line. Those corporate dirigibles painted to look like clouds are tied to a mooring mast at the very top of the old centralized-computing mountain that we conquered long ago."

I appreciate that there are people out there who question the validity and relevance of cloud computing. This puts an extra onus on the shoulders of the cloud computing companies and others to make their message crisper and communicate the real values that they provide. I was recently invited at the Under The Radar conference where many early stage cloud computing start-ups presented. The place was packed with the venture capitalists closely watching the companies and taking notes. It did feel like 1999 all over again! I hope that we don't fuel the hype and deliver the clear message on how cloud computing is different and what value it brings in. Here are my arguments on why cloud is not just a fad:

Utility style cheap, abundant, and purpose-agnostic computing was never accessible before: There are plenty of case studies about near zero adoption barrier for Amazon EC2 that allowed people to access the purpose-agnostic computing capabilities of the cloud computing at the scale that had never been technologically and economically feasible before. I particularly like the case study of Washington Post where they used Amazon EC2 to convert 17,481 pages of non-searchable PDF to searchable text by launching 200 instances for less than $150 in under nine hours. We did have massive parallel processing capabilities available to us such as grid computing and clusters but they were purpose-specific, expensive, and not easy to set up and access.

Peer-to-peer and cloud computing are not alternatives at the same level: The MAYA paper argues that the cloud computing is similar to P2P. I believe these two are complementing technology. The P2P solves the last mile problem of client-side computing where as the cloud computing is a collection of server-side technology and frameworks that has centralized computing characteristics. BitTorrent is a great example of effectively using P2P for distribution purposes since the distribution problem is fundamentally a decentralized one that could leverage the bandwidth and computing of the personal computers. However I do see potential in effectively combining both the approaches to design an end-to-end solution for certain kinds of problems e.g. use CDN on the cloud with P2P streaming to broadcast live events.

Virtualization and cloud computing are not the same: McKinsey's report on cloud computing recommends that organizations can get the most out of virtualizing their data centers against adopting the true cloud computing. I am a big fan of virtualization but it does not replace the cloud computing and does not yield the same benefits. Eucalyptus, an emerging cloud computing start-up, has detailed analysis on how cloud computing is different than virtualization.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Disruptive Early Stage Cloud Computing Start-ups

I was invited as a guest blogger to the Under The Radar conference organized by the Dealmaker media. This year's focus was to track early stage start-ups in cloud computing. The format was simple - each start-up gets six minutes to pitch their company and a panel listens to the pitch and provides feedback. It was a blast! The place was filled with the venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and curious bloggers. I would highly recommend to check out the conference blog, Twitter updates, and watch some of the pitches. I wish I could blog about all the companies that participated in the conference. I have picked few companies - Twilio, Boomi, Zuora, and Cloudkick - based on their potential to cause some serious disruption in the cloud computing space. At the conference, while interacting with several people, the cloud computing felt to be nascent space bursting with energy and enthusiasm. The venture capitalists were drooling for the leads. It felt 1999 all over again.

Twilio commoditizes the telephony skills and uses the cloud to allow the companies to easily build and scale the voice applications without upfront capacity planning and expensive contracts with telco. Twilio has potential to revolutionize how developers build voice applications and allow companies to add a voice channel, by leveraging cloud-as-a-utility, to enhance the customer experience.

Watch Twilio's pitch:

Twilio's presentation:

Boomi's tag line "Connect Once Integrate Everywhere" is a riff on Java's tag line "Write Once Run Anywhere". Boomi is positioning their product Atomsphere as an integration middleware for the cloud that works across SaaS and on-premise systems. Boomi chose a hub-and-spoke architecture against an ad-hoc point-to-point integration. This not only allows Boomi and the partners to continue adding integration connectors without disrupting the core product and customers' deployments but it also allows the SaaS vendors to tap into Atomsphere to connect to other SaaS and on-premise vendors. The revenue model is based on integration-as-a-service - how many systems an organization wants to connect to. This allows Boomi to extract the maximum value out of the integration efforts that can be reused and resold.

Watch Boomi's pitch:

Boomi's presentation:

Zuora wants to be the Amdocs for SaaS and they are getting there much faster than I originally thought. In addition to commoditizing the billing for SaaS they also demonstrated that the cloud is a great platform not only for the edge applications but also for core applications such as billing that the organizations never thought of putting it on the cloud. Organizations are increasingly looking for a payment system and not just a billing system. Zuora does a great job by combining their billing domain expertise with an integration with PayPal. Zuora seems to be an acquisition target for eBay. I can't help notice that the typeface for "Pay" in Zuora's marketing collateral is identical to the typeface that PayPal uses. Coincident? I don't think so.

Watch Zuora's pitch:

Zuora's presentation:

I have used many management consoles but haven't seen a holistic design approach and simplicity in a management console that Cloudkick demonstrated. Three founders built the entire company in four months with $20k investment from Y Combinator and launched it to support other 40 Y Combinator companies to help manage their EC2 instances. Instead of waiting for the cloud vendors Cloudkick solved the interoperability problem by allowing the customers to get an AMI out of Amazon and put it on other cloud provider such as Slicehost. This is certainly encouraging for the organizations who see lack of interoperability as an adoption issue. The cloud management start-ups do run into risk of getting steamrolled by Amazon, but the fast and agile approach of Cloudkick could bring in some great innovation in the cloud management and interoperability domain that we may not see from the big cloud providers in the near future.

Watch Cloudkick's pitch:

Cloudkick's presentation: