Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why socializing at work doesn't mean Twitter and Facebook

There's been a good amount of buzz about how social media technologies such as Twitter and Facebook are paving the way for business collaboration.

Take this recent story on Mashable by Kraig Swensrud. He writes about how the benefits of social media can be brought inside the firewall, allowing us to communicate and collaborate in real time.

I agree with Kraig when he says, "With new enterprise social tools, we can harness the power of real-time social networking to rebuild the workplace and create a collaborative forum where we can be inspired by real-time engagement, real-time innovation, and the strengthening of our workplace communities."

I'll add, however, that this does not mean we can just literally use Twitter and Facebook at work. I submitted my thoughts in the comments, so flip over Kraig's article and scroll down to my feedback to catch them.

UPDATE: A good follow-up story to read is this Forbes article by Bruno Aziza. He writes, "As it turns out, social media has the potential to resolve issues other than collaboration or communication. It has helped many solve what has plagued boardrooms for decades, a problem that just 1 company in 10 can effectively solve: strategy execution."

Bruno goes on to explain how poor execution of social media strategies within an organization often leads to communication and engagement failures between employees. The question then, is, who should be responsible for driving social media strategy inside an organization?

What do you think? Give his argument a read, and feel free to leave your feedback here, or on his article.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Join us for our ProtoSphere 1.5 open beta!

Customer feedback has always been the bread and butter of our development efforts. We've gotten many great suggestions and ideas from those of you using our current version of ProtoSphere, and have been busy working them into our latest and greatest version of the platform.

Today we're ready to pull the covers off and acquaint you with ProtoSphere 1.5 beta. I invite you to download it now, and be among the first to take part in our beta period to experience what's new.

We've upped the ante with eight major features and enhancements, some of which we've shown you on the blog already. Perhaps our biggest one is our ProtoSphere portable app version, which makes ProtoSphere a plug 'n play app for the first time ever. It lets you put ProtoSphere on any USB flash drive, plug it into any PC, and run the app without having to install it.

You can get a refresher on other new features by hitting our "New Features in ProtoSphere 1.5" link. But better yet, download ProtoSphere 1.5 beta now, test it out, and as always, let us know what you think in the comments or by shooting us an e-mail. We'll be continuing to incorporate your feedback into our general release of ProtoSphere 1.5, so don't be shy! Hope to hear from you soon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Annual cost of virtual- vs. real-world travel

One of the biggest questions we get from customers is, how much money can I save by holding meetings and other events in ProtoSphere, rather than traveling to some distant location? We thought an easy way to explain the answer would be to create a chart that compares the cost of licensing ProtoSphere to the cost of traveling. (You can click it to enlarge.)

The chart shows the cost of one user with a single ProtoSphere license, at $900. Next to that, it shows the cost of the user traveling one, five, and 10 times annually, both domestically and internationally.

You can see how the cost of meeting in ProtoSphere remains constant for the year, while other travel costs rise. The travel costs are based on average costs per trip, including air, land, and hotel, according to the American Express Global Business Travel Forecast 2010.

Give the chart a look-see, mull it over, and let us know if you have any questions or feedback. As always, we'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Training Industry's latest issue features learning in virtual worlds

The latest issue of Training Industry Quarterly features the work of Drs. Karl Kapp and Tony O'Driscoll, who penned the cover story about learning in virtual worlds. It's a great read that examines why and how Ernst and Young used a virtual environment for new-recruit onboarding. You can read it now for free online.

The good doctors wrote this article based on the research they did for their new book, "Learning in 3D." So if their Training Industry article has you hooked, also check out their book for more case studies of organizations using virtual environments for training and learning.

ProtoSphere 1.5 Feature Peek: Portable app and proxy support let you work in ProtoSphere anywhere

Our customers have been asking us for a way to run ProtoSphere without having to download and install it, and without having to deal with any firewall configuration.

With ProtoSphere 1.5, we've added two new features that make it a plug 'n play app. First, we added proxy support for single-port firewall traversal. This keeps the effort of configuring your firewall rules to a minimum and entirely removes the need to configure an existing proxy server.

Secondly, we also developed a portable app version of ProtoSphere. You can now put ProtoSphere on any USB flash drive; plug the flash drive into any desktop PC, laptop, netbook, or tablet; and ProtoSphere runs, just like it would if you downloaded and installed it to your local machine. All of ProtoSphere's functionality and content is available to you in seconds.

These features let you begin working in ProtoSphere anytime, anywhere. For instance, they're especially useful if you're at a client site or trade show using a shared PC.

I put together a video to show you how the portable app works. After you watch the video, let us know what you think in the comments.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Microsoft clarifies the cloud at WPC 2010

I stopped by the Azure booth at WPC 2010 while Microsoft was talking shop about cloud computing and the company's cloud services. Here's what I caught on camera.

Inside an Azure data center model at WPC 2010

Ever wonder what the cloud really looks like? Well you came to the right spot, because yesterday at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), I stepped inside an Azure data center model on the show floor. Have a look-see below.

CIO perspectives on UC and other recent industry findings

I've been continuing to follow research and developments in the unified communications (UC) space, and I've come across a few things I thought would be of interest to our blog readers.

First, this InterCall study. Researchers polled 2,500 Americans who use technology in their everyday work on whether they felt UC increases productivity, or on the other hand, increases stress.

Among the findings, 72 percent said that advanced technology, such as collaboration and conferencing tools, helps them do their job better and faster. They also reported that job morale improves when their employers provide them with supporting technology.

David R. Butcher analyzed this and other findings from the study in an article on ThomasNet News, which I'd encourage you to read. Also scroll down to the bottom to catch my feedback on the findings.

A recent Aberdeen Group study, "The CIO's Perspective on Unified Communications," took a more qualitative look at UC. You can download the full report online, or, for the distilled takeaways, hit this article on TechNewsWorld where Aberdeen's researchers summarize their findings and analysis.

One line that caught my eye was, "The decentralization and extended nature of business has also pushed the need for improved and converged communications." I can attest to that. As I wrote in my comment on the article, although there are numerous tools available that aid communication and collaboration efforts, integrating them into one platform is the key to achieving unified productivity. More on that in my comment.

And lastly, rounding out my UC reading is this Windows IT Pro article by B.K. Winstead. He takes a skeptical position on UC, writing, "When it comes to unified communications (UC), I’m not entirely sure everyone is exactly on the bandwagon yet -- at least not wholeheartedly."

He points out, among other things, that while more companies are adopting UC, not all of them are taking advantage of its full potential. I'm with him. From where I sit, there's a disconnect between focusing on communications technology as a means unto itself, as opposed to helping businesses improve collaboration within and between teams -- which is the real requirement I see businesses wanting to achieve. That's what unified communication and collaboration (UCC) is all about.

What are your thoughts on these studies and findings? What do you think they say about the future of UC?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It's not cloud computing; it's cloud commuting

Microsoft, Google, IBM, Amazon, RackSpace, and other tech giants are betting big on cloud computing. You need only enter one of those brands into Google with the word "cloud" to get a picture of just how heavily technology vendors are evangelizing and investing in this new architecture. In fact, IBM recently made an acquisition in this space.

It's generating buzz for all of the reasons any new computing model does: Cloud computing promises to shave costs with a centralized browser-based deployment model, and improve productivity with anywhere, anytime access to apps.

Analysts are hyperbolic over it, calling it the next big thing among all next big things. But most of all, cloud computing is big because users are making it big. They're flocking to cloud-based apps in droves, just as they flocked to the PC two decades ago and displaced mainframe computing with the desktop microcomputer. And where the users go, the IT industry follows.

Microsoft in particular is making a big stir as of late. CEO Steve Ballmer underscored the company's commitment to cloud computing during his keynote address Monday at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC).

Ballmer also introduced Microsoft's new Windows Azure Platform Appliance, which includes Windows Azure; SQL Azure; and a Microsoft-specified configuration of network, storage, and server hardware. A record 3,000 employees and 9,500 partners were in attendance, including me.

As I spend the week at the WPC, I'm thinking about the people who criticize the cloud computing model, and say it's too early for prime time. Security and privacy are significant concerns. But aren't they always? And despite these concerns, it's clear to me that IT leaders in the main have strong interest, and in some cases, are under pressure to move some or all of their data center to the cloud.

I am putting a stake in the ground, and predicting that the cloud will achieve critical mass in 2011, largely due to Microsoft's development efforts. This might come as a surprise to those who have watched some of Microsoft's competitors, notably Amazon and Google, emerge in this space. Microsoft certainly isn't first to market.

But in my view, it is "best to market." The company got it right with Windows Azure. It fundamentally understands how to make building apps for the cloud easier, faster, and less costly. It fundamentally understands how to seamlessly integrate cloud computing services into existing apps, as well as the new stuff. It fundamentally understands the developer, the enterprise dev team, and the independent software vendor (ISV).

Adoption of Azure is growing at a rapid clip, with over 10,000 customers now using the platform. They range from ISVs (including ProtonMedia) to the largest enterprise shops. This rush to adoption got me thinking about what will be the cloud's killer app? I've coined a phrase for what I think is the answer for life sciences. Instead of thinking cloud computing, think cloud commuting.

The life sciences enterprise is changing from siloed research and development to collaborative research and development. Companies need to consult with academia. They need to work with smaller startups. They need to cooperate with other life sciences companies, large and small, because the breakthrough developments for new compounds and drugs are not going to happen if we don't leverage the power of collaboration.

Cloud commuting means going beyond simply hosting existing applications and business models in the cloud. Changing the platform doesn't change the business outcome. It lowers costs, it improves productivity, and it makes apps more managable. But it doesn't make teams more effective, speed decisions, and reduce time to market.

And those are the non-IT business drivers that the cloud must also address. To get there, we need to look at how virtual environments can provide the socialized, secure, collaborative interface to the cloud, and increase the business value from cloud computing -- which largely benefits IT -- to cloud commuting, which benefits the entire organization.

We already see how "pass-the-baton"-based 2-D meetings with "flat" tools like WebEx and GoToMeeting are not robust enough for the complex learning and collaboration demands of distributed work groups in global organizations. While they are adequate for appointment-based meetings and presentations, they fail miserably when tasked to support the joint product development and marketing imperative that will drive life sciences in 2011 and beyond.

It's great that IT departments will soon be able to make the case that they can save their organizations money by shifting infrastructure to cloud computing. But the real value for business line leaders in these large enterprises (VPs of R&D, VPs of sales, and VPs of marketing) will come when they can increase revenue or speed product development through cloud commuting.

Integrating virtual environments, like ProtoSphere, with the cloud is the way to achieve this. This would create an ecosystem of partners and customers who can work together anytime, anywhere, without the need for local or proprietary corporate infrastructure. Think of a virtual science park; a collaborative space between otherwise competing organizations where business processes across the product lifecycle become more time- and cost-efficient.

The output of such collaboration, which might be sensitive intellectual property, needs to reside in a secure place, as opposed to being a temporary screen in an online meeting. It needs to persist in a virtual lab, virtual office, or other virtual space where teams work on it together and iterate its development.

Lastly, using virtual workplaces as a human interface to the cloud will help address many pressing issues that vex complex, cross-disciplinary and cross-company collaborations, such as security, intellectual property rights, compliance, learning, always-on persistence of information, and 3-D data visualization.

In a nutshell, cloud commuting transforms the dialogue from an esoteric, cost-cutting technology measure to a virtual place where people and organizations do business. It supports society's march toward a more collaborative, more mobile workflow.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

John Underkoffler on the future of UI, in case you missed it

Remember in "Minority Report" when Tom Cruise put on his data glove and zipped through future crime video clips? Well, that point-and-touch UI technology, called g-speak, isn't being left behind in Hollywood.

If you're a computer nerd like me, you're probably up on g-speak. John Underkoffler, inventor of g-speak and the film's science adviser, is working to move the technology into our everyday lives. His company, Oblong Industries, has a vision to put g-speak on computers, TVs, and more. So instead of a keyboard or mouse, users will be able to control their computer with simple gestures.

John presented g-speak at the TED2010 conference earlier this year. If you haven't seen his presentation yet, it's worth watching. John gives a great demo of g-speak, and talks about the history of UI and why its future might be headed in this direction.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Microsoft's Keith Karagan's take on our Life Sciences Innovation Award

Microsoft Technical Architect and blogger Keith Karagan featured us recently on the Microsoft Technology Centers blog for winning the company's Life Sciences Innovation Award with Merck. Thought you might like to take a gander at his post for his reaction. Thanks for featuring us Keith!

Why unified communications has modest movement

Back in April, InformationWeek conducted a survey of business technology professionals about their unified communications (UC) plans. Researchers found that despite all the hype surrounding UC, adoption remains slow.

Take a look as these numbers, which compare InformationWeek's findings from its 2010 survey with those from its 2008 survey studying the same topic:

* 39 percent of respondents said they have no plans to deploy UC.
* 30 percent have UC in place.

* 34 of the respondents said they had no plans to deploy UC.
* 12 percent had UC in place.

I was reading over Jeremy Littlejohn's analysis of the findings recently in InformationWeek. He presents some great insight into why companies are facing challenges with UC systems, and I encourage you to click over to read it in more detail.

One of his points that struck me was, "... enterprise-wide UC programs that have a truly transformative impact on business processes are all too rare."

I agree. And I think it's because many executives have misguided notions of what it is, what it can and should accomplish, and who should be driving it.

My solution? I wrote about it in the comment I left on the article. So after you read Jeremy's analysis, be sure to scroll down to the bottom and get my feedback as well. What are your thoughts on UC? Do you think InformationWeek's survey is reflective of your own experience?

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