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Posts Tagged ‘prediction’

When, not if, the EFSS market dies

Wrong WayUnless you have spent the last couple of years under a rock, you will have come across EFSS as the latest and greatest fad to hit the ECM and collaboration market. Discussions on EFSS abound, amongst the ECM and Social Collaboration blogs.

Analysts legitimised EFSS as a separate technology marketspace: Forrester published its The Forrester Wave™: File Sync And Share Platforms at the end of 2013, followed by Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise File Synchronisation and Sharing (EFSS) in July 2014. They define EFSS as products that allow secure file Synchronisation, Access and Sharing across diverse devices, and positions with vendors like Box, Citrix, EMC, IBM and Accellion as leaders, adding Microsoft, Dropbox, Google, Apple and others as challengers.

The EFSS market is already a dying market

Alas! All is not well in the state of Denmark: The EFSS market is not going to be with us for long, as a separate market segment. Don’t get me wrong, EFSS functionality has been around for years and will continue to be around for many more years to come. But its product transition from niche, to mainstream, to commodity will be very fast.

Secure sharing of files, small and large, has been around for ages in the form of the mature MFT (Managed File Transfer) market, which is used extensively by large financial organisations, Engineering firms, etc. On the flip side, on-line/off-line synchronisation of files across devices has also been around for a long time, used in both ECM and Collaboration platforms. What has changed, which brought EFSS to the fore, is that (a) SaaS and cloud have added an additional layer of accessibility and (b) companies like Box and Dropbox stepped in to fill a gap in the market by providing easily consumable, standalone products that consumers can buy without involving IT. Adopting a Freemium licensing model helped too.

Move forward a couple of years to today and numerous major vendors, across multiple technology sectors, offer EFSS products: IBM ECM, OpenText, VMware, Oracle, Microsoft, Salesforce.com, etc.  IBM alone, markets at least four different EFSS products, that I’m aware of:

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are even more, disguised and embedded into other platforms such as Asset Management.

And therein lies the problem. If all of these vendors, from different disciplines, are offering either embedded or explicit EFSS capabilities within their core product licensing, it means that the EFSS market is already commoditised. Enterprises will not invest in dedicated EFSS products or licenses, when they can have comparable functionality for free within their existing investments.

Interestingly Gartner’s own Hype Cycle for Digital Workplace Software, which was published in the same month as their MQ paper, positions EFSS already in the “Trough of Disillusionment” which creates an interesting contradiction. IDC in their Worldwide File Synchronization and Sharing 2014–2018 Forecast and 2013 Vendor Shares report also agree that EFSS is a rapidly commoditising market, although they predict that the market will continue to grow in revenue.

There’s another, perhaps even more important, reason why EFSS is not a sustainable market: As BYOD and platform-agnostic applications develop, the core principle behind EFSS – the need to share and move content transparently and securely – becomes too core and too essential to many different business functions. Companies cannot afford to have multiple and conflicting EFSS tools. EFSS does not lend itself to multiplicity – sooner or later CIOs will need to converge on a single common EFSS platform shared by all employees, otherwise it serves very little purpose, the relative cost of ownership becomes extravagant, and the security risk unmanageable. And that means that unified standards and common protocols for EFSS will prevail. I don’t know yet whose standards – that battle is yet to be fought – but a fearsome battle it will be.

Where next for EFSS?

My prediction is that within 2-3 years, the EFSS market will be completely subsumed into one or more other technology segments. If I was a gambling man (I’m not), my money would be on the Collaboration (aka Digital Workplace) platform becoming the natural “home” for EFSS functionality. At the end of the day, EFSS is primarily a catalyst for exchanging information within the organisation and with third parties. In other words, collaborating.

In an ideal world however, I personally would like to see EFSS become (together with most other collaboration platform features) a native feature of the Operating System’s file system, unified across different O/S platforms. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking!

What does that mean for independent EFSS vendors? They have a very short window of opportunity in which they will have to either transform into a bigger platform (e.g. become ECM or Collaboration vendors), get acquired and assimilated (into a bigger platform vendor, perhaps CRM) or get out (i.e. change technology focus). EFSS vendors without a 3-year exit strategy will just disappear. Today, pure play EFSS vendors enjoy an undeniably large marketshare. That’s because the product marketing teams of established B2B Enterprise Software vendors have been asleep and missed the consumer calling. These vendors are now paying attention, and the time is ticking. Watch this space…

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2020 and beyond… The mother of all Information Management predictions

January 30, 2014 6 comments

crystal ballI’ve been wanting to write this article for a while, but I thought it would be best to wait for the deluge of 2014 New Year predictions to settle down, before I try and look a little bit further in the horizon.

The six predictions I discuss here are personal, do not have a specific timescale, and are certainly not based on any scientific method. What they are based on, is a strong gut feel and thirty years of observing change in the Information Management industry.

Some of these predictions are more fundamental than others. Some will have immediate impact (1-3 years), some will have longer term repercussions (10+ years). In the past, I have been very good at predicting what is going to happen, but really bad at estimating when it’s going to happen. I tend to overestimate the speed at which our market moves. So here goes…

Behaviour is the new currency

Forget what you’ve heard about “information being the new currency”, that is old hat. We have been trading in information, in its raw form, for years. Extracting meaningful value however from this information has always been hard, repetitive, expensive and most often a hit-or-miss operation. I predict that with the advance of analytics capabilities (see Watson Cognitive), raw information will have little trading value. Information will be traded already analysed, and nowhere more so than in the area of customer behaviour. Understanding of lifestyle-models, spending-patterns and decision-making behaviour, will become the new currency exchanged between suppliers. Not the basic high-level, over-simplified, demographic segmentation that we use today, but a deep behavioural understanding of individual consumers that will allow real-time, predictive and personal targeting. Most of the information is already being captured today, so it’s a question of refining the psychological, sociological and commercial models around it. Think of it this way: How come Google and Amazon know (instantly!) more about my on-line interactions with a particular retailer, than the retailer’s own customer service call centre? Does the frequency of logging into online banking indicate that I am very diligent in managing my finances, or that I am in financial trouble? Does my facebook status reflect my frustration with my job, or my euphoric pride in my daughter’s achievement? How will that determine if I decide to buy that other lens I have been looking at for my camera, or not? Scary as the prospect may be, from a personal privacy perspective, most of that information is in the public domain already. What is the digested form of that information, worth to a retailer?

Security models will turn inside out

Today most security systems, algorithms and analysis, are focused on the device and its environments. Be it the network, the laptop, the smartphone or the ECM system, security models are there to protect the container, not the content. This has not only become a cat-and-mouse game between fraudsters and security vendors, but it is also becoming virtually impossible to enforce at enterprise IT level. With BYOD, a proliferation of passwords and authentication systems, cloud file-sharing, and social media, users are opening up security holes faster than the IT department can close. Information leakage is an inevitable consequence. I can foresee the whole information security model turning on its head: If the appropriate security becomes deeply embedded inside the information (down to the file, paragraph or even individual word level), we will start seeing self-describing and self-protecting granular information that will only be accessible to an authenticated individual, regardless if that information is in a repository, on a file-system, on the cloud, at rest or in transit. Security protection will become device-agnostic and infrastructure-agnostic. It will become a negotiating handshake between the information itself and the individual accessing that information, at a particular point in time.

Oh, and while we are assigning security at this granular self-contained level, we might as well transfer retention and classification to the same level as well.

The File is dead

In a way, this prediction follows on from the previous one and it’s also a prerequisite for it. It is also a topic I have discussed before [Is it a record, who cares?]. Information Management, and in particular Content Management, has long been constrained by the notion of the digital file. The file has always been the singular granular entity, at which security, classification, version control, transportation, retention and all other governance stops. Even relational databases ultimately live in files, because that’s what Operating Systems have to manage. However, information granularity does not stop at the file level. There is structure within files, and a lot of information that lives outside the realm of files (particularly in social media and streams). If Information Management is a living organism (and I believe it is), then files are its organs. But each organ has cells, each cell has molecules, and there are atoms within those molecules. I believe that innovation in Information Management will grow exponentially the moment that we stop looking at managing files and start looking at elementary information entities or segments at a much more granular level. That will allow security to be embedded at a logical information level; value to grow exponentially through intelligent re-use; storage costs to be reduced dramatically through entity-level de-duplication; and analytics to explode through much faster and more intelligent classification. File is an arbitrary container that creates bottlenecks, unnecessary restrictions and a very coarse level of granularity. Death to the file!

BYOD is just a temporary aberration

BYOD is just a transitional phase we’re going through today. The notion of bringing ANY device to work is already becoming outdated. “Bring Work to Your Device” would have been a more appropriate phrase, but then BWYD is a really terrible acronym. Today, I can access most of the information I need for my work, through mobile apps and web browsers. That means I can potentially use smart phones, tablets, the browser on my smart television, or the Wii console at home, or my son’s PSP game device to access work information. As soon as I buy a new camera with Android on it, I will also be able to access work on my camera. Or my car’s GPS screen. Or my fridge. Are IT organisations going to provide BYOD policies for all these devices where I will have to commit, for example, that “if I am using that device for work I shall not allow any other person, including family members, to access that device”? I don’t think so. The notion of BYOD is already becoming irrelevant. It is time to accept that work is no longer tied to ANY device and that work could potentially be accessed on EVERY device. And that is another reason, why information security and governance should be applied to the information, not to the device. The form of the device is irrelevant, and there will never be a 1:1 relationship between work and devices again.

It’s not your cloud, it’s everyone’s cloud

Cloud storage is a reality, but sharing cloud-level resources is yet to come. All we have achieved is to move the information storage outside the data centre. Think of this very simple example: Let’s say I subscribe to Gartner, or AIIM and I have just downloaded a new report or white paper to read. I find it interesting and I share it with some colleagues, and (if I have the right to) with some customers through email. There is every probability that I have created a dozen instances of that report, most of which will end up being stored or backed up in a cloud service somewhere. Quite likely on the same infrastructure where I downloaded the original paper from. And so will do many others that have downloaded the same paper. This is madness! Yes, it’s true that I should have been sending out the link to that paper to everyone else, but frankly that would force everyone to have to create accounts, etc. etc. and it’s so much easier to attach it to an email, and I’m too busy. Now, turn this scenario on its head: What if the cloud infrastructure itself could recognise that the original of that white paper is already available on the cloud, and transparently maintain the referential integrity, security, and audit trail, of a link to the original? This is effectively cloud-level, internet-wide de-duplication. Resource sharing. Combine this with the information granularity mentioned above, and you have massive storage reduction, cloud capacity increase, simpler big-data analytics and an enormous amount of statistical audit-trail material available, to analyse user behaviour and information value.

The IT organisation becomes irrelevant

The IT organisation as we know it today, is arguably the most critical function and the single largest investment drain in most organisations. You don’t have to go far to see examples of the criticality of the IT function and the dependency of an organisation to IT service levels. Just look at the recent impact that simple IT malfunctions have had to banking operations in the UK [Lloyds Group apologies for IT glitch].  My prediction however, is that this mega-critical organisation called IT, will collapse in the next few years. A large IT group – as a function, whether it’s oursourced or not – is becoming an irrelevant anachronism, and here’s why: 1) IT no longer controls the end-user infrastructure, that battle is already lost to BYOD. The procurement, deployment and disposition of user assets is no longer an IT function, it has moved to the individual users who have become a lot more tech-savy and self-reliant than they were 10 or 20 years ago. 2) IT no longer controls the server infrastructure: With the move to cloud and SaaS (or its many variants: IaaS, PaaS, etc.), keeping the lights on, the servers cool, the backups running and the cables networked will soon cease to be a function of the IT organisation too. 3) IT no longer controls the application infrastructure: Business functions are buying capabilities directly at the solution level, often as apps, and these departments are maintaining their own relationships with IT vendors. CMOs, CHROs, CSOs, etc. are the new IT buyers. So, what’s left for the traditional IT organisation to do? Very little else. I can foresee that IT will become an ancillary coordinating function and a governance body. Its role will be to advise the business and define policy, and maybe manage some of the vendor relationships. Very much like the role that the Compliance department, or Procurement has today, and certainly not wielding the power and the budget that it currently holds. That, is actually good news for Information Management! Not because IT is an inhibitor today, but because the responsibility for Information Management will finally move to the business, where it always belonged. That move, in turn, will fuel new IT innovation that is driven directly by business need, without the interim “filter” that IT groups inevitably create today. It will also have a significant impact to the operational side of the business, since groups will have a more immediate and agile access to new IT capabilities that will enable them to service new business models much faster than they can today.

Personally, I would like all of these predictions to come true today. I don’t have a magic wand, and therefore they won’t. But I do believe that some, if not all, of these are inevitable and it’s only a question of time and priority before the landscape of Information Management, as we know today, is fundamentally transformed. And I believe that this inevitable transformation will help to accelerate both innovation and value.

I’m curious to know your views on this. Do you think these predictions are reasonable, or not? Or, perhaps they are a lot of wishful thinking. If you agree with me, how soon do you think they can become a reality? What would stop them? And, what other fundamental changes could be triggered, as a result of these?

I’m looking forward to the debate!

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