Tag Archives: Business

New capabilities added to Alfresco Governance Services

Alfresco Software introduced new information governance capabilities this week to its Digital Business Platform through updates to Alfresco Governance Services.

The updates include new desktop synchronization, federation services and AI-assisted legal holds features.

“In the coming year, we expect many organizations to be hit with large fines as a result of not meeting regulatory standards for data privacy, e.g., the European GDPR and California’s CCPA. We introduced these capabilities to help our customers guarantee their content security and circumvent those fines,” said Tara Combs, information governance specialist at Alfresco.

Federation Services enables cross-databases search

Federation Services is a new addition to Alfresco Governance Services. Users can search, view and manage content from Alfresco and other repositories, such as network file shares, OpenText, Documentum, Microsoft SharePoint, Dropbox.

Users can also search across different databases with the application without having to migrate content. Federation Services provides one user interface for users to manage all the information resources in an organization, according to the company.

Organizations can also store content in locations outside of Alfresco platform.

Legal holds feature provides AI-assisted search for legal teams

The legal holds feature provides document search and management capabilities that help legal teams identify relevant content for litigation purposes. Alfresco’s tool now uses AI to discover relevant content and metadata, according to the company.

“AI is offered in some legal discovery software systems, and over time all these specialized vendors will leverage AI and machine learning,” said Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at Deep Analysis. He added that the AI-powered feature of Alfresco Governance Services is one of the first such offerings from a more general information management vendor.

“It is positioned to augment the specialized vendors’ work, essentially curating and capturing relevant bodies of information for deeper analysis.”

Desktop synchronization maintains record management policies

Another new feature added to Alfresco Governance Services synchronizes content between a repository and a desktop, along with the records management policies associated with that content, according to the company.

With the desktop synchronization feature, users can expect to have the same record management policies when they access a document on their desktop computer or viewing it from the source repository, according to the company.

When evaluating a product like this in the market, Pelz-Sharpe said the most important feature a buyer should look for is usability. “AI is very powerful, but less than useless in the wrong hands. Many AI tools expect too much of the customer — usability and recognizable, preconfigured features that the customer can use with little to no training are essential.”

The new updates are available as of Dec. 3. There is no price difference between the updated version of Alfresco Governance Services and the previous version. Customers who already had a subscription can upgrade as part of their subscription, according to the company.

According to Pelz-Sharpe, Alfresco has traditionally competed against enterprise content management and business process management vendors. It has pivoted during recent years to compete more directly with PaaS competitors, offering a content- and process-centric platform upon which its customer can build their own applications. In the future, the company is likely to compete against the likes of Oracle and IBM, he said.

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3 networking startups rearchitect routing

Startups played a pivotal role in disrupting the business of network switching. Today, they’re on track to do the same to routing.

Software under development by upstarts Arrcus, DriveNets and Volta Networks represents a new routing architecture, industry analysts agreed. Cloud service providers, SaaS providers, telcos and the largest financial institutions are the most likely candidates for deploying the networking startups’ technology in the data center and at the edge.

The vendors’ software could also be useful for peering among internet service providers and for data center interconnects (DCIs). Colocation companies like Equinix, Digital Realty Trust and Global Switch use DCIs to connect their facilities to customer data centers.

Market research firm IDC recently named the three companies 2019 innovators for their work in decoupling routing software from its underlying hardware. Separating management, control and data planes from the device make it possible to run the software on commodity products powered by merchant silicon from companies like Broadcom and Intel.

Severing software from hardware and running it on commodity gear — a process called disaggregation — reduces operational expenses. Companies can lower labor costs by managing multiple routers at once, instead of each one separately. The architecture also adds flexibility by making it possible to distribute and manage physical and virtual routers across data centers or at the network edge.

“Effectively, you’ve got a Lego that you can mix and match based on your requirements,” said Brad Casemore, an analyst at IDC. “It leads to a standardized environment where you can run the same software across all of it.”

Disaggregation from switching to routing

Disaggregation in network switching, a nearly 10-year trend, forced incumbents Cisco and Juniper Networks to acquire startups that had developed software capable of providing centralized network management. The transition led to an overhaul in the way the companies’ products manage switching fabrics.

New technologies developed by Arrcus, DriveNets and Volta show that there’s “an evolution in disaggregation to the routing layer,” Casemore said. Each of the vendors is initially targeting their products at communication and cloud service providers.

“It’s really compelling technology,” Casemore said.

Here is a brief description of each of the networking startups, including the key differentiators and market challenges listed in the 2019 IDC Innovators report on disaggregated routing platforms:

— Arrcus built a network operating system, called ArcOS, with extensive routing protocol support. This year, for example, the vendor incorporated the Link State Vector Routing (LSVR) protocol into ArcOS for organizations running hyperscale data centers and large cloud environments.

Arrcus has built its data plane adaptation layer to separate ArcOS from the underlying hardware. ArcOS is also the first independent NOS to support devices powered by Broadcom’s Trident 3, Tomahawk 3, Jericho+ or Jericho2 network silicon. The Jericho2 platform is for 100 Gb and 400 Gb routing.

Despite its innovative technology, Arrcus still has to prove it can deliver significant cost savings and ROI. The company also has to show a simple process for buying and supporting the underlying hardware.

Arrcus, based in San Jose, Calif., has more than 60 employees and has raised $45 million in funding.

— DriveNets developed a container-based router control plane for merchant silicon-based white boxes. Hardware manufacturers bundle the software with their products and sell it under a license that is free from capacity constraints.

The architecture provides carriers with a routing model that uses a cluster of low-cost white boxes capable of scaling to any size. DriveNets based the model on the one used in hyperscale data centers.

DriveNets’ hurdles include convincing communication service providers to change how they procure, deploy and manage router infrastructure. “The adoption of the DriveNets architecture might be slowed by the need for communication service providers to redesign internal processes and management systems,” IDC said.

DriveNets, based in Ra’anana, Israel, has more than 200 employees and has raised $117 million in funding.

— Volta built a cloud-native, cloud-hosted control plane that can spin up and manage as many as 255 instances of virtual routers on a single, on-premises commodity switch. The use of switching gear provides a “significant cost advantage,” while also making Volta technology useful for provider edge routing. Volta’s technology could be helpful to carriers overhauling cell sites to support next-generation 5G wireless technology.

Volta’s technology and its subscription model that covers support, maintenance and hardware warranty could provide significantly lower capital and operational expenses. However, as a startup, in a competitive industry, it faces a “significant challenge” in winning deals over better-known competitors with more money.

Volta, based in Cambridge, Mass., has 51 employees and has raised $3.3 million in funding.

Moving toward software-based routing

Companies with hyperscale data centers, like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, have favored disaggregated networking software on standardized hardware for years. Today, major service providers and financial institutions use the same white box switches. Users include AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, JPMorgan Chase and Fidelity Investments.

As a result, in 2018, the share of the global Ethernet data center switching market held by Cisco and Juniper fell, while that of bare-metal switching manufacturers increased, according to IDC.

Analysts believe the same dynamics will likely play out in routing. “People are now noticing and realizing that white box approaches can work. They’re mature,” said Roy Chua, a principal analyst at AvidThink.

Potentially, these companies become M&A targets if they have traction in some high-value accounts.
Brad CasemoreAnalyst, IDC

Analysts expect carriers to seriously consider white box routers as they build out their network edge to deliver 5G services.

“They’re actually trying to move away from [physical] routers and toward software-based routing,” said Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research. “None of this has been hugely deployed yet. But I think we’re going to see significant deployments in 2020 and 2021 in the 5G market.”

Routing sales for Cisco and Juniper have been declining. However, the decrease is primarily due to carriers cutting back on spending after they found they couldn’t wring any more revenue from consumers, Casemore said.

But with 5G deployments on the horizon, incumbents like Cisco and Juniper are probably watching networking startups closely to see which ones are winning deals for routing technology.

“Potentially, these companies become M&A targets if they have traction in some high-value accounts,” Casemore said.

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Microsoft’s new approach to hybrid: Azure services when and where customers need them | Innovation Stories

As business computing needs have grown more complex and sophisticated, many enterprises have discovered they need multiple systems to meet various requirements – a mix of technology environments in multiple locations, known as hybrid IT or hybrid cloud.

Technology vendors have responded with an array of services and platforms – public clouds, private clouds and the growing edge computing model – but there hasn’t necessarily been a cohesive strategy to get them to work together.

We got here in an ad hoc fashion,” said Erik Vogel, global vice president for customer experience for HPE GreenLake at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Customers didn’t have a strategic model to work from.

Instead, he said, various business owners in the same company may have bought different software as a service (SaaS) applications, or developers may have independently started leveraging Amazon Web Services, Azure or Google Cloud Platform to develop a set of applications.

At its Ignite conference this week in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft announced its solution to such cloud sprawl. The company has launched a preview of Azure Arc, which offers Azure services and management to customers on other clouds or infrastructure, including those offered by Amazon and Google.

John JG Chirapurath, general manager for Azure data, blockchain and artificial intelligence at Microsoft, said the new service is both an acknowledgement of, and a response to, the reality that many companies face today. They are running various parts of their businesses on different cloud platforms, and they also have a lot of data stored on their own new or legacy systems.

In all those cases, he said, these customers are telling Microsoft they could use the benefits of Azure cloud innovation whether or not their data is stored in the cloud, and they could benefit from having the same Azure capabilities – including security safeguards – available to them across their entire portfolio.

We are offering our customers the ability to take their services, untethered from Azure, and run them inside their own datacenter or in another cloud,” Chirapurath said.

Microsoft says Azure Arc builds on years of work the company has done to serve hybrid cloud needs. For example, Azure Resource Manager, released in 2014, was created with the vision that it would manage resources outside of Azure, including in companies’ internal servers and on other clouds.

That flexibility can help customers operate their services on a mix of clouds more efficiently, without purchasing new hardware or switching among cloud providers. Companies can use a public cloud to obtain computing power and data storage from an outside vendor, but they can also house critical applications and sensitive data on their own premises in a private cloud or server.

Then there’s edge computing, which stores data where the user is, in between the company and the public cloud for example, on their customers’ mobile devices or on sensors in smart buildings like hospitals and factories.

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That’s compelling for companies that need to run AI models on systems that aren’t reliably connected to the cloud, or to make computations more quickly than if they had to send large amounts of data to and from the cloud. But it also must work with companies’ cloud-based, internet-connected systems.

“A customer at the edge doesn’t want to use different app models for different environments,” said Mark Russinovich, Azure chief technology officer. “They need apps that span cloud and edge, leveraging the same code and same management constructs.”

Streamlining and standardizing a customer’s IT structure gives developers more time to build applications that produce value for the business instead of managing multiple operating models. And enabling Azure to integrate administrative and compliance needs across the enterprise – automating system updates and security enhancements brings additional savings in time and money.

“You begin to free up people to go work on other projects, which means faster development time, faster time to market,” said HPE’s Vogel. HPE is working with Microsoft on offerings that will complement Azure Arc.

Arpan Shah, general manager of Azure infrastructure, said Azure Arc allows companies to use Azure’s governance tools for their virtual machines, Kubernetes clusters and data across different locations, helping ensure companywide compliance on things like regulations, security, spending policies and auditing tools.

Azure Arc is underpinned in part by Microsoft’s commitment to technologies that customers are using today, including virtual machines, containers and Kubernetes, an open source system for organizing and managing containers. That makes clusters of applications easily portable across a hybrid IT environment – to the cloud, the edge or an internal server.

“It’s easy for a customer to put that container anywhere,” Chirapurath said. “Today, you can keep it here. Tomorrow, you can move it somewhere else.”

Microsoft says these latest Azure updates reflect an ongoing effort to better understand the complex needs of customers trying to manage their Linux and Windows servers, Kubernetes clusters and data across environments.

“This is just the latest wave of this sort of innovation,” Chirapurath said. “We’re really thinking much more expansively about customer needs and meeting them according to how they’d like to run their applications and services.”

Top image: Erik Vogel, global vice president for customer experience for HPE GreenLake at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, with a prototype of memory-driven computing. HPE is working with Microsoft on offerings that will complement Azure Arc. Photo by John Brecher for Microsoft.

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Vonage Meetings rounds out vendor’s cloud portfolio

Vonage plans to add a homegrown video conferencing app to its cloud-based business communications portfolio in December. The move is the latest example of a UC vendor combining calling, messaging and meetings.

Vonage Meetings, currently in beta, is scheduled to launch in December for businesses subscribed to Vonage’s cloud UC product. The vendor said it would not make the meetings platform available as a stand-alone offering.

Vonage currently provides video conferencing capabilities to customers through a partnership with Amazon Web Services, which makes the meetings app Amazon Chime. Vonage built the new platform using technology inherited through its acquisition of TokBox in 2018.

The release of Vonage Meetings follows moves by competitors, including 8×8, which launched a revamped meetings product in September. Market leaders Microsoft and Cisco have also built out all-in-one communications suites that include video over the last couple of years.

Vonage has a strategy of building a technology stack that doesn’t rely on third parties, said Raúl Castañón-Martinez, analyst at 451 Research. “This is a bold move but will allow them more flexibility in terms of defining their roadmap.”

Vonage Meetings will be fully integrated with the vendor’s voice platform to let users quickly move between voice and video calls. Guests will be able to join meetings using a web browser without installing a client or plug-in.

Vonage said it would provide customers with a log of past meetings, including a record of in-meeting chats.

Vonage now has a single cloud platform from which it can deliver voice and video services, said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. “I think that will work as a very good competitive advantage for them moving forward.”

In the future, Vonage will need to integrate Vonage Meetings with conference room equipment and software, Kerravala said. Also, the vendor should focus on improving its relatively basic messaging app.

Vonage announced the meetings platform this week at Vonage Campus 2019, a user conference in San Francisco. The company also released a new logo as it continues to pivot away from the consumer market.

Founded in 2001, Vonage was among the first vendors to offer internet-based phone service to consumers, but, more recently, has transformed into a business-to-business company.

“I think the Vonage that we knew as the consumer-first company is quickly winding down,” Kerravala said.

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AI at the core of next-generation BI

Next-generation BI is upon us, and has been for a few years now.

The first generation of business intelligence, beginning in the 1980s and extending through the turn of the 21st century, relied entirely on information technology experts. It was about business reporting, and was inaccessible to all but a very few with specialized skills.

The second introduced self-service analytics, and lasted until just a few years ago. The technology was accessible to data analysts, and defined by data visualization, data preparation and data discovery.

Next-generation BI — the third generation — is characterized by augmented intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing. It’s open everyday business users, and trust and transparency are important aspects. It’s also changing the direction data looks, becoming more predictive.

In September, Constellation Research released “Augmented Analytics: How Smart Features Are Changing Business Intelligence.The report, authored by analyst Doug Henschen, took a deep look at next-generation BI.

Henschen reflected on some of his findings about the third generation of business analytics for a two-part Q&A.

In Part I, Henschen addressed what marked the beginning of this new era and who stands to benefit most from augmented BI capabilities. In Part II, he looked at which vendors are positioned to succeed and where next-generation business intelligence is headed next.

In your report you peg 2015 as the beginning of next generation BI — what features were you seeing in analytics platforms at that time that signaled a new era?

Doug HenschenDoug Henschen

Doug Henschen: There was a lot percolating at the time, but I don’t think that it’s about a specific technology coming out in 2015. That’s an approximation of when augmented analytics really became something that was ensconced as a buying criteria. That’s I think approximately when we shifted — the previous decade was really when self-service became really important and the majority of deployments were driving toward it, and I pegged 2015 as the approximate time at which augmented started getting on everyone’s radar.

Beyond the technology itself, what were some things that happened in the market around the time of 2015 that showed things were changing?

Henschen: There were lots of technology things that led up to that — Watson playing Jeopardy was in 2011, SAP acquired KXEN in 2013, IBM introduced Watson Analytics in 2014. Some startups like ThoughtSpot and BeyondCore came in during the middle of the decade, Salesforce introduced Einstein in 2016 and ended up acquiring BeyondCore in 2016. A lot of stuff was percolating in the decade, and 2015 is about when it became about, ‘OK, we want augmented analytics on our list. We want to see these features coming up on roadmaps.’

What are you seeing now that has advanced next-generation BI beyond what was available in 2015?

Anything that is proactive, that provides recommendations, that helps automate work that was tedious, that surfaces insights that humans would have a tough time recognizing but that machines can recognize — that’s helpful to everybody.
Doug HenschenAnalyst, Constellation Research

Henschen: In the report I dive into four areas — data preparation, data discovery and analysis, natural language interfaces and interaction, and forecasting and prediction — and in every category you’ve seen certain capabilities become commonplace, while other capabilities have been emerging and are on the bleeding edge. In data prep, everyone can pretty much do auto data profiling, but recommended or suggested data sources and joins are a little bit less common. Guided approaches that walk you through how to cleanse this, how to format this, where and how to join — that’s a little bit more advanced and not everybody does it.

Similarly, in the other categories, recommended data visualization is pretty common in discover and analysis, but intent-driven recommendations that track what individuals are doing and make recommendations based on patterns among people are more on the bleeding edge. It applies in every category. There’s stuff that is now widely done by most products, and stuff that is more bleeding edge where some companies are innovating and leading.

Who benefits from next-generation BI that didn’t benefit in previous generations — what types of users?

Henschen: I think these features will benefit all. Anything that is proactive, that provides recommendations, that helps automate work that was tedious, that surfaces insights that humans would have a tough time recognizing but that machines can recognize — that’s helpful to everybody. It has long been an ambition in BI and analytics to spread this capability to the many, to the business users, as well as the analysts who have long served the business users, and this extends the trend of self-service to more users, but it also saves time and supports even the more sophisticated users.

Obviously, larger companies have teams of data analysts and data engineers and have more people of that sort — they have data scientists. Midsize companies don’t have as many of those assets, so I think [augmented capabilities] stand to be more beneficial to midsize companies. Things like recommended visualizations and starting points for data exploration, those are very helpful when you don’t have an expert on hand and a team at your disposal to develop a dashboard to address a problem or look at the impact of something on sales. I think [augmented capabilities] are going to benefit all, but midsize companies and those with fewer people and resources stand to benefit more.  

You referred to medium-sized businesses, but what about small businesses?

Henschen: In the BI and analytics world there are products that are geared to reporting and helping companies at scale. The desktop products are more popular with small companies — Tableau, Microsoft Power BI, Tibco Spotfire are some that have desktop options, and small companies are turning also to SaaS options. We focus on enterprise analytics — midsize companies and up — and I think enterprise software vendors are focused that way, but there are definitely cloud services, SaaS vendors and desktop options. Salesforce has some good small business options. Augmented capabilities are coming into those tools as well.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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Extending the power of Azure AI to business users

Today, Alysa Taylor, Corporate Vice President of Business Applications and Industry, announced several new AI-driven insights applications for Microsoft Dynamics 365.

Powered by Azure AI, these tightly integrated AI capabilities will empower every employee in an organization to make AI real for their business today. Millions of developers and data scientists around the world are already using Azure AI to build innovative applications and machine learning models for their organizations. Now business users will also be able to directly harness the power of Azure AI in their line of business applications.

What is Azure AI?

Azure AI is a set of AI services built on Microsoft’s breakthrough innovation from decades of world-class research in vision, speech, language processing, and custom machine learning. What I find particularly exciting is that Azure AI provides our customers with access to the same proven AI capabilities that power Xbox, HoloLens, Bing, and Office 365.

Azure AI helps organizations:

  • Develop machine learning models that can help with scenarios such as demand forecasting, recommendations, or fraud detection using Azure Machine Learning.
  • Incorporate vision, speech, and language understanding capabilities into AI applications and bots, with Azure Cognitive Services and Azure Bot Service.
  • Build knowledge-mining solutions to make better use of untapped information in their content and documents using Azure Search.

Bringing the power of AI to Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform

The release of the new Dynamics 365 insights apps, powered by Azure AI, will enable Dynamics 365 users to apply AI in their line of business workflows. Specifically, they benefit from the following built-in Azure AI services:

  • Azure Machine Learning which powers personalized customer recommendations in Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, analyzes product telemetry in Dynamics 365 Product Insights, and predicts potential failures in business-critical equipment in Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management.
  • Azure Cognitive Services and Azure Bot Service that enable natural interactions with customers across multiple touchpoints with Dynamics 365 Virtual Agent for Customer Service.
  • Azure Search which allows users to quickly find critical information in records such as accounts, contacts, and even in documents and attachments such as invoices and faxes in all Dynamics 365 insights apps.

Furthermore, since Dynamics 365 insights apps are built on top of Azure AI, business users can now work with their development teams using Azure AI to add custom AI capabilities to their Dynamics 365 apps.

The Power Platform, comprised of three services – Power BI, PowerApps, and Microsoft Flow, also benefits from Azure AI innovations. While each of these services is best-of-breed individually, their combination as the Power Platform is a game-changer for our customers.

Azure AI enables Power Platform users to uncover insights, develop AI applications, and automate workflows through low-code, point-and-click experiences. Azure Cognitive Services and Azure Machine Learning empower Power Platform users to:

  • Extract key phrases in documents, detect sentiment in content such as customer reviews, and build custom machine learning models in Power BI.
  • Build custom AI applications that can predict customer churn, automatically route customer requests, and simplify inventory management through advanced image processing with PowerApps.
  • Automate tedious tasks such as invoice processing with Microsoft Flow.

The tight integration between Azure AI, Dynamics 365, and the Power Platform will enable business users to collaborate effortlessly with data scientists and developers on a common AI platform that not only has industry leading AI capabilities but is also built on a strong foundation of trust. Microsoft is the only company that is truly democratizing AI for businesses today.

And we’re just getting started. You can expect even deeper integration and more great apps and experiences that are built on Azure AI as we continue this journey.

We’re excited to bring those to market and eager to tell you all about them!

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Author: Microsoft News Center

SAP HANA database pivotal to SAP’s past — and future

Twenty years ago, enterprises may have turned to SAP for back-office business enterprise software. But these days, SAP wants to be much more than that.

A big part of SAP’s strategy has to do with SAP HANA, an in-memory database the company initially released in 2010. It is now the gateway to what SAP calls the intelligent enterprise, where data is used to improve business processes and develop new business models.

The first part of this two-part series looks at how SAP, which has been around for 47 years, has transitioned from a company that focused primarily on back-office business enterprise software to one that endeavors to transform organizations into intelligent enterprises.

Broadening the scope

SAP’s story in the last 20 years has been one of continually broadening scope, according to Lloyd Adams, managing director of the East Region at SAP America Inc. He joined the company in 1998.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, “we were known more as an ERP company — perhaps back office only,” Adams said. “But through the years, both through organic development and a combination of development and acquisition, we’ve positioned ourselves to bring the back office to the front office to help provide the intelligent enterprise.”

Anchored by SAP R/3, its pioneering client-server ERP platform, SAP entered a period of dramatic growth in the late 1990s. It rode the wave of Y2K fears, as businesses scrambled to consolidate IT on back-office ERP systems.

Joshua Greenbaum, principle, Enterprise Applications ConsultingJoshua Greenbaum

“The upgrade fever that Y2K created was really enormous and a lot of folks were pushing to use Y2K as a way to rationalize IT spending,” said Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting. “Also the Euro changeover was coming, and there was a lot of interest in looking at SAP because of how it could help manage European currency changes. So those two phenomena were really operative in the late 1990s, and SAP was right at the forefront of it.”

At the same time that SAP’s ERP business was growing, however, it faced threats from the rise of internet-based business systems and on-premises best-of-breed applications like Siebel Systems, which created a popular CRM product that Oracle acquired in 2005, and Ariba, which sold a procurement product that SAP eventually acquired in 2012, according to Jon Reed, co-founder of the ERP news and analysis firm Diginomica.com.

“SAP was able to weather those storms while expanding their ERP footprint by building out a serviceable CRM module, as well as an HR module with a globalized payroll function that has stood the test of time,” Reed said. “Their core manufacturing base remained loyal and … preferred SAP’s ‘one throat to choke’ approach and extensive consulting partners.”

Not all of SAP’s efforts succeeded. Its SAP NetWeaver integration platform fell short, and the company failed to see Salesforce — or anything SaaS — coming, Reed said.

One of the main keys to SAP’s success was to encourage its customers to undergo IT and business process reengineering in the 1990s, even if it was extremely complex, according to analyst Dana Gardner, president of Interarbor Solutions LLC in Gilford, N.H.

“Such IT-instigated business change was — and is — not easy, and the stumbles by many companies to catch up to the client-server world and implement ERP were legendary,” he said. “But imagine if those companies had not made the shift to being digital businesses in the 1990s? When the web and internet hit, manual processes and nonintegrated business functions had to adapt to a connected world, so IT went from being for the business to being the whole business.”

The idea that applications and the supporting IT infrastructure work collectively using distributed yet common data and pervasive networking to provide the best information and processes is a given these days, but SAP made this possible first, Gardner said.

Milestones in SAP's 20-year journey from R/3 to the intelligent enterprise.

The SAP HANA big bang

But by the end of the 2000s, the radical new in-memory database SAP HANA was about to change SAP’s direction again.

The release of the SAP HANA database in 2010 was the critical development that allowed SAP to conceive and begin to sell the concept of the intelligent enterprise, according to Adams. If there was no HANA, there would not have been an intelligent enterprise.

Lloyd Adams, managing director, East Region at SAP America IncLloyd Adams

“It truly revolutionized the company, the industry and our ability to transcend conversations from a back-office perspective, but then be able to sit down with our customers and try and understand what were the main opportunities that they were looking to exploit or problems they were looking to solve,” he said.

The development of SAP HANA was driven in large part by the rivalry between SAP and Oracle, according to Greenbaum. The SAP ERP applications ran mostly on Oracle databases, and in the 2000s Oracle began to aggressively encroach on SAP’s territory in the enterprise software space with moves like the bitter acquisition of ERP vendor PeopleSoft.

“For SAP this was a real wake up call, because of the dependency that they had on the Oracle database,” Greenbaum said. “That realization that they needed to get out from under Oracle, along with some research that had already been going on with in-memory databases inside SAP, began the hunt for an alternative, and that’s where the HANA project started to bear fruit.”

It has been a long, slow process for SAP to move its customers off of Oracle, which is still something of a problem today, Greenbaum said. But he believes HANA is now firmly established as the database of choice for customers.

Missteps with the SAP HANA database?

However, the emphasis on the SAP HANA database might have also been a distraction that took the company away from innovating on the applications that form SAP’s core user base, according to analyst Vinnie Mirchandani, founder of Deal Architect.

Vinnie Mirchandani, analyst and founder, Deal ArchitectVinnie Mirchandani

“Every few years, SAP gets enamored with platforms and tools,” Mirchandani said. “NetWeaver and HANA, in particular, distracted the company from an application focus, without generating much revenue or market share in those segments.”

SAP was fundamentally correct that in-memory technology and real-time ERP were the ways of the future, but its push into databases with HANA is still a questionable strategy, according to Reed.

“Whether SAP should have entered the database business themselves is still open to second-guessing,” he said. “You can argue this move has distracted SAP from focusing on their homegrown and acquired cloud applications. For example, would SAP be much further ahead on SuccessFactors functionality if they hadn’t spent so much time putting SuccessFactors onto HANA?”

Buying into the cloud

SAP was slow to react to the rise of enterprise cloud computing and SaaS application like Salesforce, but it course corrected by going on a cloud application buying spree, acquiring SuccessFactors in 2011, Ariba in 2012, Hybris in 2013, Fieldglass and Concur in 2014.

Combining these cloud applications with SAP HANA “completely changed the game” for the company, Adams said.

“We eventually began to put those cloud line of business solutions on the HANA platform,” he said. “That’s given us the ability to tell a full intelligent enterprise story in ways that we weren’t fully poised to do [before HANA].”

SAP’s strategy of buying its way into the cloud has been largely successful, although efforts to move core legacy applications to the cloud have been mixed, Greenbaum said.

“SAP can claim to be one of the absolute leaders in the cloud enterprise software space,” he said. “It’s a legacy that is tempered by the fact that they’re still pulling the core legacy R/3 and ECC customers into the cloud, which has not worked out as well as SAP would like, but in terms of overall revenue and influence in the area, they’ve made their mark.”

Although SAP has proved to be adaptable to changing technologies and business trends, the future is in question. Part two of this series, will look at the release of SAP S/4HANA (the rewriting of SAP’s signature Business Suite on HANA), the emergence of the SAP intelligent enterprise, and SAP’s focus on customer experience.

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Microsoft 365 Business update targets nonprofits

Microsoft is rolling out some updates to its productivity offerings, hoping to capture the business of nonprofits looking for a path to digital transformation.

Digital transformation tools can help organizations improve the security, cost-effectiveness and efficiency of their processes. Small nonprofits often can’t afford these systems. Recognizing this, Microsoft is offering 10 free Microsoft 365 Business licenses for nonprofits, a productivity suite that includes access to Word, Excel, Outlook, OneDrive, Teams, SharePoint and more. Each additional license will cost $5 per month.

These free licenses do not give access to the Dynamics 365 CRM system and its Nonprofit Accelerator, but Microsoft does provide discounts to nonprofits looking to adopt its CRM.

The Microsoft Digital Skills Center for Nonprofits is another digital transformation resource that is already available, launched in partnership with learning platform TechSoup. This service provides free product training for nonprofits on how to use Microsoft 365 Business, among other services.

On Oct. 1, Microsoft plans to launch the Nonprofit Operations Toolkit. Built on Power Platform, this system integrates PowerApps, Flow, cloud storage and Excel to help nonprofits manage projects and awards management systems, such as tracking donor transactions. This system will include extra security features to ensure donor privacy, said Justin Spelhaug, general manager of technology for social impact at Microsoft.

Microsoft 365 has numerous security features, even at the individual level. If an employee accidentally tries to send sensitive information, the system can stop it. And if an employee leaves a mobile device on a bus, the nonprofit can wipe information from the phone.

“Nonprofits have some incredibly important info in IT systems about beneficiaries,” Spelhaug said. “Maintaining trust with donors and with beneficiaries is the lifeblood of organizations, and part of maintaining trust is having appropriate security backstops.”

Combined with Microsoft’s other tools, these systems can form the basis of a digital transformation strategy.

How can companies use these systems?

Meals on Wheels of Greenville County in South Carolina uses Microsoft 365 Business to optimize the delivery of meals to homebound and senior citizens.

One of the best things a nonprofit can do, but often doesn’t do, is to operate like a business.
Catriona CarlisleExecutive director of Meals on Wheels of Greenville

The biggest challenge Meals on Wheels had in crafting its own digital transformation strategy was training volunteers to use new technology, said Catriona Carlisle, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Greenville. The initial 15 courses offered through the Digital Skills Center will help them more easily train volunteers in the future, she said.

“The majority of our volunteers have smartphones,” Carlisle said. “They know tech, so it was a natural transition. But we have some volunteers with us almost 50 years who struggled with the change.”

By removing manual data entry, adding mobile management capabilities and automating volunteer scheduling, the nonprofit was able to expand, Carlisle said. Microsoft 365 Business saved the nonprofit time and money, giving them the chance to initiate a partnership with two local agencies that added 400 to 500 meals a day to their food supply, which had been serving 1,500 meals a day. They were also able to source the food from locals, rather than distant organizations, and began to send extra meals to a local school for children with specials needs and disabilities.

Meals on Wheels looks forward to the new changes, Carlisle said.

“One of the best things a nonprofit can do, but often doesn’t do, is to operate like a business,” she said. “We need to make business decisions to make sure we’re around for the future, looking not only at making investments here and now, but also for the future.”

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CIO presentation to the board of directors: Candid tips from CIOs

Making a presentation to the board of directors can be a minefield for CIOs. Navigate it successfully, and you emerge as a business leader — and as a potential candidate for another company’s board. Get tripped up, and your reputation as a business pacesetter can take a hit. But, in today’s technology-centric business climate, the days are long gone when presenting to the board upped the odds of a CIO’s getting fired.

“Ten years ago, that might have been possible,” said Wayne Sadin, chief digital officer and CTO of Affinitas Life, a senior living company based in New York. “Today, just telling the story of IT can only help; telling it well can help more.”

Sadin currently serves as an advisory board member for two IT services companies, and he has been a National Association of Corporate Directors fellow since 2012. In his experience, many boards of directors today are “scared to death” by technology. They know it is critical to the business, but are confused by it.

Wayne Sadin, chief digital officer and CTO, AffinitasWayne Sadin

“These are folks who grew up as managers 30 years ago,” he said. They know finance and operations, but “they never dealt with technology” — or with IT leaders.

Sadin noted that, 30 years ago, he wore a white coat and walked on a raised floor in a room with tiny windows — the better to see the mainframe screens.

“That’s what a lot of board members think when they think of technology. Now, we’re telling them we’ve got to manage digital interaction, IoT, have AI that is smart enough to run your factories or cars — and they don’t have a clue,” Sadin said. CIOs should view a presentation to the board of directors as an opportunity to translate “what technology can do for the business.”

Jay Ferro, CIO, Quikrete Companies Jay Ferro

Jay Ferro, CIO of Quikrete Companies, a large manufacturer of packaged concrete based in Atlanta, is a board director for two startups and two not-for-profits. He said he is finding more boards are demanding that CIOs be present at meetings.

“All companies are, to a certain extent, tech companies, so there is really no reason for any board not to be interested in the technology strategy of an organization,” he said.

Sadin and Ferro were among the experts who offered advice on maximizing an appearance before the board at a recent event for IT leaders held at Boston College and moderated by Ginny Hamilton, community manager for The Enterprisers Project at Red Hat, based in Raleigh, N.C.

Here is a rundown of the panel’s expert advice, including which  IT topics are of most interest to boards, how CIOs get their foot in the door, tips on demeanor and speaking style, and the importance of not upstaging or undermining your CEO.

Cybersecurity: Board of directors’ top concern

“Cybersecurity, cybersecurity, cybersecurity, cybersecurity and anything that puts the company at risk,” Sadin said in answer to an audience question about the IT topics of chief concern to boards of directors.

Calibrating and mitigating a company’s risk are among the top fiduciary responsibilities of board members — and getting it wrong can put them in jail.

The panelists agreed, however, that while cybersecurity is “what gets you in the door,” as Sadin put it, CIOs should view the security conversation as the steppingstone to a broader discussion about two other current topics of high interest to boards: growth and innovation.

“Once the board realizes you have command of the business beyond its risk — which is the No. 1 thing they are interested in — you can land and expand,” Ferro said.

Tim Crawford, CIO strategic adviser, AVOA Tim Crawford

Tim Crawford, the CIO strategic adviser at AVOA and host of the podcast “CIO In the Know,” said he’s been privy to a number of CIO presentations on cybersecurity to the board.

“They are all over the map, from CIOs who have had no interaction with the board” to old hands who “try to scare the bejesus out of them just to open up the purse strings and get money, which they ultimately may use for other purposes,” Crawford said.

Asked if that gambit was a legitimate strategy, Crawford said, “It works for them, but it is not something I would recommend.”

Indeed, transparency and never lying to the board — especially when presenting bad news — were cited as givens by the panel.

An audience question from Isaac Sacolick, president of StarCIO and a former CIO at McGraw-Hill Construction and Businessweek, added another subtlety to the discussion around board interest in cybersecurity.

Isaac Sacolick, president, StarCIOIsaac Sacolick

“Let’s say you have an interest [in investing more] in cyber, and your CEO and C-suite want to invest in growth and innovation. Can you use the board to influence management decisions?” Sacolick asked.

“The CIO is not in the position to use that leverage. My guidance would be to never go down that path,” Crawford advised.

Sadin said those situations are rare in his experience. “Boards don’t manage; they govern,” so it is unlikely that boards will be debating with the CIO about strategy anyway, he said.

Unless there is fraud, in which case the CIO should raise that with the audit committee and not before the whole board, CIOs should think long and hard about doing an end run around their CEOs when presenting to the board, the panel argued.

CEO role in CIO presentations to the board of directors

That’s because, in almost every case, CEOs are the ones who bring CIOs to the dance, the panel said.

Establishing a “relationship of trust” with the CEO is a prerequisite for presenting to the board of directors, said Ferro, who recounted an experience that mirrored the exact scenario raised by Sacolick.

As a CIO at a large enterprise, Ferro said he was approached by the chair of the company’s audit committee and told that, if he needed more money for cybersecurity, he should let that person know. Ferro and his CEO had agreed cybersecurity could use more money, but it was not the top priority for the CEO.

“Now, imagine that conversation. I have a CEO who won’t give me everything I want. Do I ask [the audit chair] to put some pressure on [the CEO] to get me those dollars?” Ferro said. The answer was and should always be no, according to Ferro.

“I danced around it. I said, ‘We were making significant investments. We’re making terrific progress. And if something comes up, I will reach out to you.’ Then, I went back to the CEO and said, ‘By the way, this is what [so-and-so] just said, and I said we are making terrific progress,'” Ferro recounted. “The CEO rolled his eyes and said, ‘Thank you for sharing that with me.'”

He added that CIOs should not lie in situations like this. If necessary, they can say, “I’ll get back to you.” But going around the CEO is a “ticking time bomb. Remember who pays you.”

The panel agreed it is important to respect the chain of command in interactions with the board. In situations where CIOs, with the CEO’s blessing, are presenting to a board member tête-à-tête, “just make sure that whatever you say is the same as what you would say if the CEO were in the room,” Crawford added.

Board rules for effective CIO presentations

Keys to effective board communication

When presenting to the board of directors, CIOs must remember that the job is not to talk about technology, but about the opportunities technology offers the business, including being a vehicle for business model transformation.

Communicating effectively requires knowing your audience. The panelists agreed it is important to do your homework about the board members to understand what motivates them and what their interests are — and peg your talk to their experience.

It is important to remember that board members will also do their homework before meetings, reviewing notes from previous meetings to remind them what was said and what was promised. They are looking at the long-term narrative.

“If you are presenting points in time, and you’re not showing improvement, you’re going to lose them,” Ferro said.

Board members are typically compensated for their time. The panel cautioned the CIO audience to beware the boardroom newbie, eager to show his or her worth. “They will dive in and ask a million questions, and you need to be prepared for that,” Ferro said.

Act like you belong

Finally, keep your cool.

“Some CIOs, when they get their chance [to present], they think it is their one shot and get diarrhea of the mouth: ‘Oh, I’m at a board meeting. I can’t believe it, and I’m going to show them how smart I am.’ For God’s sake, do your homework and don’t look around starry-eyed,” Ferro said. “Act like you’ve been there before.”

Acting like you’ve been there before will not only raise your profile, Ferro said, but also redound to the company’s benefit.

“I’ve had CEOs come to me and say, ‘You made us all look really good. Thank you.’ And it wasn’t because I was amazing; it was because I showed the board that there is a senior executive at the wheel for IT.”

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Zoho adds new Zoho One features, management application

Zoho has released its latest version of Zoho One, an operating system designed to run all aspects of a business within one platform. This generation has three new services, one new application and updates to several existing features.

Updates to Zoho One features include adding Zoho’s telephony platform to Zoho One as well as single sign-on services, extending app management and provisioning capabilities. Businesses workflow management application Orchestly is another addition, as are improved Zoho Sign features and more support for users.

New application

Orchestly is the newest application added to Zoho One. It has a drag-and-drop interface in an effort to enable managers with no coding skills to define processes. Orchestly lets managers and admins automate and run their regular workflow, including cross-departmental tasks such as purchase approvals, content publishing, asset managing and onboarding.

According to Zoho One, the idea behind Orchestly is to create workflows and automation when processes involve more than one department.

New services

PhoneBridge: Zoho has added its telephony platform PhoneBridge to the operating system, which integrates more than 50 telephony vendors on one side, and several Zoho applications on the other side. PhoneBridge enables telephony in Zoho apps like CRM and Recruit. It also provides contextual information for all incoming calls and lets customers make calls from Zoho apps.

Single sign-on: Single sign-on was also added to Zoho One, which enables customers to integrate any third-party applications onto their Zoho account. It also supports about 50 third-party applications and is scalable for midsize to large businesses. Additionally, Zoho One admins can enforce YubiKey authentication as an added factor for security.

App management and provisioning: Zoho has extended provisioning to custom apps created through Zoho Creator, as well as to external apps available through Zoho Marketplace. They can be provisioned individually to users or as groups with custom criteria. There is also a new Admin Panel with dashboards and reports to enable admins to monitor user activity and app usage. Admins also get reports on user management, sign-in activity, app usage and account security.

The analytics dashboard shows eight full charts of statistics for topics such as sales and receivables, customer analytics, closed revenue and sales overview.
The analytics dashboard shows a variety of data for users.

Service updates

Other improved Zoho One features include an additional level of verification in Zoho Sign by adopting blockchain-based timestamping through Ethereum. When documents are signed using Zoho Sign, an Ethereum transaction will happen in the background, and the hash of the signed document will be added to the transaction note, providing an additional digital signature.

Additional updates includes free concierge service, in which potential customers can speak with the Zoho team to see how the service could potentially benefit their business.

Zoho also added Jumpstart for Zoho One to help customers through their initial implementation. All customers are given support, but now enterprise customers can request premium support.

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