Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Conversational Computing

We (at my organization) recently hosted a technology meet-up at my organization. The meet-up was focused on the topic- "Build Multi-platform Conversational Bots & Using Google API.AI". 

The topic of this meet-up took me back to the memory-lane and here is the synopsis of some points that i shared at the start-

During the early days of my career, I remember one of the conversations I had with an expert of different kind. Those days our perspectives around jobs was not as broad as it is now. We used to think of jobs in major categories- “Dev”, “Test” and “Management”. So when I came across this person who was an expert at “Human Computer Interaction”, I was intrigued. I gathered all the courage to approach him during his India visit and spoke at length about what he did. It was an educational conversation (obvious as I remember it till date) that gave me newer perspective around how (then) offbeat professions add value to the overall process of building software. Human–computer interaction (commonly referred to as HCI) researches the design and use of computer technology, focused on the interfaces between users and computers. At the time of this conversation, the primary interface for users to interact with computers was a screen.

Fast forward this conversation to a couple of  years back wherein I was speaking to a visionary leader of product and engineering. My organization was incubating in technology with a vision of automating some of the complex enterprise scenarios by leveraging IoT. And related technologies. A lot of interesting and futuristic work had gone into building compelling use cases, one of which was smart conference rooms. These meeting rooms were enhanced with iBeacons, smart motion sensors which enabled the channels between the what was happening room with one’s laptops, mobile devices, smart watches etc. This tech, in nutshell, helped to automate various common use cases. What I learned from this gentleman was that there was a fundamental shift that was happening in the way modern user interfaces were perceived and thought about. The Human-Computer Interface paradigm that earlier consisted of designing the interfaces by simply considering interaction elements such as a screen, keyboard and a mouse are now far evolved. We are apparently at fourth generation of the evolution of computer interfaces (summarized below, but explained in more depth here).

The first generation was in 50’s when computing was really considered as playground of a select few. When computers were bulky and the primary mode of interacting them included punch cards and checking outputs via printers.

The second generation, which is still familiar with senior folks in current working generation is the CLI- command line interface. Unix became popular as this stage.

The third generation, in 80’s, really had a far reaching impact. This generation’s user interfaces, pioneered by research done at Xerox and adapted by Apple and Microsoft, really revolutionized the reach of computers. The birth of graphical user interfaces (GUI) enabled an average user to embrace computing by hiding the complexities behind well designed UI. This was an era when computing really caught mainstream attention and people realized the enormity of what was possible with the machine.

The fourth generation really can be split into various forms. I would think it started with Apple’s iPhone launch in 2007 that further simplified the way users integrated with smart phones with swipe of fingers. This ease of use prompted users to offload many tasks they originally needed laptops for to their phones. This generation is further extended with the recent advances around IoT (spaces talking to computers), AR/VR tech (combining physical world with digital). Conversational computing further makes computing even more natural, as simple as talking to a few individual. The advent of Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Home, Microsoft Cortana has clearly demonstrated that the user interfaces of the future are going to be more seamless, making access to computing more effortless.

Computing is well on the path of becoming more ambient and ubiquitous. I will finally leave you with this thought- Artificial intelligence is one of the foundational technologies of the conversational computing but what would make a good conversational computing system great is appropriately mixing Artificial intelligence with Emotional intelligence. For Conversational bots to be successful, they need to be a personality, they need to context aware, they need to be as much empathetic as they can be.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

41 Points on How to Moderate a Panel Discussion

I recently had my Julius Yego moment. In case you aren’t aware Julius Yego is a Kenyan track and field athlete who competes in the javelin throw. At the 2015 World Championships he won the gold medal with a throw of 92.72m, becoming the first Kenyan to win a World Championships gold medal in a field event. He won silver at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

It’s a real big deal winning a gold at worlds and silver at Olympics, more so if you are first one from your country (known for champion long-distance running athletes). But Yego’s claim to fame isn’t just that. He is also nick-named as “Mr. YouTube” because he learned how to throw by watching YouTube videos.

Wait, can one really become a world champion by simply self-training using new learning methods? Apparently, yes as is evident from Julius Yego’s success.

Now, why did I start with this story?

In the past, I have been invited as a panellist quite a few times for a panel discussions. Apart from the fun and honour associated with being a part of the panel, what I like about being a part of these events is the act of preparation.

Recently, for an industry conference, (Topic: Resolving Technology Transfer Conflicts, will write more about it in a separate blog) I was asked to moderate the panel. To simplify the terminology in the panel discussion parlance, there are 2 type of players in a panel discussion. One are the panellists who are the experts in the panel discussion topic and brings in skillful point of views. Second player is the moderator whose main role is to lead the conversation. Moderator is the one who asks questions and extracts the best out panellists (of course, there is more to the role as we will see later in this blog).

I thought of it as a great opportunity but there was only one problem- I hadn’t moderated a panel talk ever before.

There wasn’t enough time for me to buy and read books (if at all such books existed) on moderating panel talk so I went ahead to explore other modes of learning and defaulted to searching YouTube.
Searching through the public panel discussions Incidentally, I got some interesting videos to watch. While watching the videos, I sat with pen and paper and started noting the points that I found relevant to my upcoming panel discussion. One of the views that I always kept in my sight while learning was that of visualizing my panel talk and tried to envision the start, how I conduct myself, how I ask a question, how I inject the humor, how is audience reacting, visualizing almost every key thing about the discussion.

As I have experienced from my running exploits, visualization is a key skill to master especially when you are trying to learn something you have never done before. I hold a strong belief that whatever eventually happens, happens 2 times. One in the mind (prior to the event) and one in reality. This holds good for both possible outcomes- successes and failures. What I trying to allude to is that if we create positive images at the outset, it may not guarantee 100% success but it will certainly increase the chances of the endeavor being successful.

So here I am with the list that I came up with and followed while moderating the panel talk.

About Panel talks and the role of the moderator:

1. Fundamentally, Panel talks are a conversation.

2. Like with any conversation, discourse are as necessary as agreements.

3. Role of a moderator is to help audience get their needs met.

4. It's all about the audience.

5. Moderator should be good at multi-taking.

6. Moderator is a champion for audience.

7. If you (moderator) thinks that the audience needs are not being met, step-in.

8. Moderator also plays the role of a facilitator.

9. Moderator's role is not about making one-self look brilliant but to put the entire focus on panelists.

10. Moderator's role is to keep time, to ensure that the talk starts and ends on time.

11. Moderator's role is also that of an Instigator. He/she makes sure that there is a difference in point of view at the beginning.

12. Moderator ensures content curation.

13. Moderator's role is also that of an energizer. He/she should strive to add doses of humour wherever appropriate.

14. Moderator should ensure that there are a lot of takeaways for the audience.

15. Moderator also plays a role of logistician. He/She knows the right contacts who handle the AV and other logistical aspects to ensure comfort and less ambiguity for panellists.

16. Moderator need to be neutral and objective.

17.  Moderator needs to ensure that the panel is active all the time.

18. Moderator, no matter how-so-ever knowledgeable he/she is in the topic under discussion, should not feel obliged to contribute contents.

19. Moderator should ask for audience profile and study the kind of people and align the questions accordingly.

During the panel talk:

20. It ensures for a better connection with the audience to start with a personal story around the topic under discussion. Stories often acts as a hook and gives a feeling that it’s going to be different.

21. Give the instructions to the audience around twitter posting and any instructions around minimizing distractions such as mobile phone usage.

22. Focus intensely on the person you are speaking to.

23. Moderator should maintain a positive body language and should exhibit the sense of being in control of the situation. Choose to smile wisely, appropriately.

24. One way to deal with the conversation during the panel talk is “Ping-pong style”. In Ping pong style, moderator asks a question to first panellist. After the response, in a ping-pong style, the ball (next question) again goes to next panellist and comes back o moderator. This is a good way to initiate the conversation but adopting ping-pong style throughout the session will make it monotonous and boring.

25. Ensure that panellists starts talking to each other as soon as possible. i.e. without moderator necessarily having to ask a question always. Panelists talking to each other makes the conversation sound more natural.

26. Ensure that there is a balance of airtime between panellists and one or two panellists do no dominate the conversation.

27. Be flexible. It is not necessary to follow the pre-planned sequence. Moderator has to be very mindful of conversation happening, should have heightened levels of awareness during the talk. Using these skills, should drive the conversations.

28. In addition to being aware, moderator should be thinking 2-3 steps ahead and drive the discussion towards the knowledge that the audience is seeking.

29. Moderator should ask probing questions.

30. Moderator should acknowledge the type of audience and ask question on their behalf.

31. Moderator should have synthesizing capabilities i.e. he/she should be able to adequately summarize what one panellist says and also build bridges between what one panellist says vs others. The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons.

32. Moderator should do prior research about the panellists’ interests and try and talk about a shared passion with the speaker. Personalizing the talk experience helps retain the audience interest.

33. Moderator should ensure that the conversation between the panellists is not very agreeable, some disagreeability/controversial questions should be designed in the talk. The disagreements should be respectful.

34. Moderator should ask the questions that addresses the elephant in the room.

35. Moderator should touch the future while questioning. Ask for views.

36. Moderator should leave enough time for audience Q&A.

37. While handling Q&A, request the people to introduce themselves in a way that’s relevant to discussion.

38. If less questions are coming from the audience, moderator should use the phrases and the body language that encourages people to participate.

39. In interest of time, it’s best to ask people not to give a lengthy context while asking questions and to keep questions crisper.

40. Towards the end, effectively summarize entire discussion for the benefit of the audience.

41. Closing: Thank audience for the participation and attendance. Have the audience applause the panelists.

Hope you found this list useful. If you did, please comment/and or share.

I would like to thank my YouTube teachers, whose names along with the body of work as as below. I learned from them and admire their efforts and skills immensely.

Kirsten Arnold on her 7 vidoes on how to moderate a panel talk

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Three things that I liked about (first 85 pages of) the book “Hit Refresh”

It’s not often that a continuing CEO writes a book about his or her experiences. Memoirs are usually written after the end of one’s tenure and are more often as a reflection of what has gone by. Well, Satya Nadella, like he has done in his career, chose to do the unconventional. At the outset, it is fair to say that Nadella’s “Hit Refresh” is not a memoir. While some portions of the book talk about his evolution, but this book (atleast till the point I have read) seem more about an ongoing story of transformation, it is about Nadella’s passion to put empathy at the center of everything he considers meaningful.

While I am not yet done reading the book, the writer in me just couldn’t stop but sharing some reflections I had from the book so far. And here they go.

#1 Honesty of endeavor:

If there is one thing that stands out for me so far in this book is the honestly and frankness with which Satya has shared his experiences. He goes beyond his comfort zone and responsibly touches even some of the controversial topics. The fact that he chose to show his vulnerable side makes this book even more trustworthy.

The pre-Nadella era of Microsoft was notorious for some things. One of which was the constant in-fighting between the business units. One of the cartoonists reflected the infighting at Microsoft in this popular cartoon. Nadella didn’t shy from acknowledging this aspect in his book and made a mention about this-

“As a twenty-four-year veteran of Microsoft, a consummate insider, the caricature really bothered me. But what upset me more was that our own people just accepted it.”

At one point in the book he discussed Microsoft’s decision to acquire Nokia. He was a part of Steve Ballmer’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and when Ballmer asked his team to vote openly about the decision to acquire Nokia- Nadella had said No and was against the acquisition. The reason he says was that he couldn’t understand why the world would need a third ecosystem in phones when Apple and Google were already so dominant.

#2 The Guy next door impersonating as a CEO:

Ever since Satya Nadella was elevated as a Microsoft’s CEO, one of the things that was most striking (for me) was the sheer simplicity of the man. And I don’t mean simplicity of appearance but more about him coming across as just an approachable neighbour who grew up with you, had similar education and background and suddenly you discover him to be doing wonders in life.
He narrates his aspirations while growing up and these were no different than the average Indian guy-

1. He wanted to be a Cricket player, even played at school level.
2. He wanted to attend a small college, work for a bank.
3. He had a mom who just wanted him to be content and happy while father was ambitious.
4. He appeared for IIT exam and flunked.
5. He so wanted to pursue full time MBA but Microsoft offer really made him change his mind and he pursued it part-time.
6. While at University of Wisconsin, he admitted that he was not a proficient coder.

Just check out some of these quotes-
“By twelfth grade if you had asked me about my dream it was to attend a small college, play cricket for Hyderabad, and eventually work for a bank. That was it. Being an engineer and going to the West never occurred to me. My mom was happy with those plans. But my dad really forced the issue.

“I flunked the Indian institute of technology (IIT) entrance exam, the holy grail of all things academic for middle class kids growing up in India at that time. My father, who never met an entrance test he did not pass, was more amused than annoyed.

“I’d written a little bit of code but I was not a proficient coder by any stretch.” [While at University of Wisconsin]

“What I really wanted to do was go to business school. I knew that management would complement my engineering training, and I had been thinking about a switch to investment banking.”

He probably went through each of the dilemmas an average student or a professional goes through but despite that his ascent has been mind-boggling. To be only the third CEO in the history of Microsoft is an extraordinary feat.
One can attribute a lot of factors like hard-work, luck, sincerity, determination etc. to his rise but to me he is an epitome of what Carol Dweck calls as “Growth mindset”. In her ground breaking book- Mindset, she distinguishes between a fixed mindset and growth mindset as follows-
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

In the book, Satya Nadella has often referred to his quest for learning and Intellectual curiosity as something that drives him and in the end I believe, that is the key factor that differentiates him with the ones he would have grown up with.

#3 Permanence is a myth and Impermanence is the reality:

One concept he shared that resonated deeply with me was that of impermanence. One of his quests of learning made Nadella read about Gautama Buddha and through some of his teachings he writes-

“I learned that only through living life’s ups and downs can you develop empathy; that in order to not suffer, or at least not to suffer so much, one must become comfortable with impermanence.”

I call the concept of impermanence profound because in today’s fast changing world, I have seen a lot
of professionals seek the comfort of permanence i.e. they don’t want the professional situations to change much. And when they do change, you see the anxiety levels rising and with it the mistakes. I personally starting believing in impermanence (though honestly, I didn’t have this word in my vocabulary till now) after the sad demise of my mother few years back. And it was moving for me to see it being called out in the book.

As Nadella further says
“If you understand impermanence deeply, you would develop more equanimity. You would not get too excited about either the ups or downs of life.”

And this fact was reflected in below quote that refers to his mindset when he was being considered for the role of a CEO. Having detached himself from the eventual outcome (which was impermanent), he set himself him for any possibility with a legendary poise.

“My attitude was that the board would select the best person. It would be great if it were me. But I would also be equally happy working for someone the board had confidence in. In fact, as part of the interview process one of the board members suggested that if I wanted to be CEO, I needed to be clear that I was hungry for the job. I thought about this and even talked to Steve. He laughed and simply said, “Its too late to be different.” It just wouldn’t be me to display that kind of personal ambition.”

Watch out for more reflections from #HitRefresh in the coming days.

Images source:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Three reasons why Google acquihired a part of HTC

Google recently entered a cooperation agreement with HTC according to which it is buying a team of HTC (working primarily on Pixel phones) for $1.1 billion. There are a few points that should be understood before we delve into the reasons of this agreement.

Firstly, it is a cooperation agreement and not an acquisition. This means that HTC will continue to function and retain its brand sans the division (called as “Powered by HTC”) and people that will move to Google.

Secondly, as a part of this agreement, Google also retains non-exclusive rights for some of HTC’s Intellectual property. To make it clearer, a Non-Exclusive Licence grants to the licensee the right to use the Intellectual Property (IP), but on a non-exclusive basis. That means that HTC can still exploit the same IP and it can also allow other licensees to exploit the same IP.

Thirdly, the meaning of term ‘acquihired’. As per Wikipedia, Acqui-hiring or Acq-hiring or a talent acquisition, is the process of acquiring a company to recruit its employees, without necessarily showing an interest in its current products and services—or their continued operation.

Lets look at some of the reasons now-
Reason#1: Google’s hardware ambitions:
Google wants to be increasingly seen as a hardware company. In Oct 2016 at the “Made by Google’ event, it announced various products including its Pixel smartphones, Google Home, Google Wifi etc. 
Google has traditionally (if I can be allowed to use the word “traditional” for company as trendy as Google is perceived to be) built a humongous software services business. Sundar Pichai,at the Google I/O event earlier this year, shared that Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome, Gmail, Search, Google Play each has 1 billion plus users and Android device almost twice that scale.
But it brings us to a moot question- why does Google wants to foray into hardware after having built insanely successful empire of software services?
At the outset, I would like to answer this question by putting forward another question. What factors have made Apple as successful as it is now? Of course, it would be naive to just pinpoint one factor for Apple being close to Trillion dollar valuation. But for the sake of argument and the context of this post, that one factor potentially is- “hardware/software synergy.” Apple tightly controls the entire iOS ecosystem and by building hardware of its own it really doesn’t need to deal with complexities that Google has embraced by being a true open system.
Of course, this open-ness (on Google’s part) has got its great deal of benefits including the ones that led rapid proliferation of Android devices (remember 2 billion Android devices as against 700-800 million iOS ones) but in a long run Google apparently has realized the importance of owning the entire ecosystem.
This aspect is well summarized in a Verge article that says-

If Google were to leave the battle to forever be between the iPhone and Android, between an integrated piece of modern tech and a mere operating system, Apple’s device would always win. Apple’s not-so-secret advantage is in having tight control over every aspect of the iPhone user experience. Google can’t be out there filing down the sharp edges of the USB-C port on its hardware partners’ devices. But it can design its own, premium-tier device that can go right up against the iPhone. The HTC deal today makes sure of that.

If we connect the dots from 2016 till now- Google hired Rick Osterloh (former head of Motorola), now leading Google hardware division, introduced slew of hardware products and now the agreement with HTC- it clearly indicates Google’s ambitious plans to make it big in hardware space.
Reason#2:  Google owning entire mobile User Experience
By building its own hardware, Google is really taking its destiny in its own hands. Of course, its not doing bad at all by forging partnerships with the players such as Samsung, Mi etc. but such “broken” approach to dealing with entire ecosystem, doesn’t hold well for Google’s future. The reason for this can be summarized in one word- “User experience”. This narrative from Wired article sums it up well-

Tighter control over manufacturing affects more than just the bottom line. "Bringing that design capability in-house would likely allow Google to design exactly the phones it wants to, giving it both more freedom and a greater ability to optimize designs to get exactly what it wants and needs from the hardware," says Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. New technologies like augmented reality and virtual assistants, especially, require massive power and optimization. Apple's ARKit works so well in part because of Apple's new A11 Bionic processor, and its dedicated GPU and neural-processing chips. If Google wants Google Assistant and ARCore to work seamlessly, it needs to make sure the underlying hardware can support them. And even if its traditional Android hardware partners churn out workhorse devices, Google risks that Samsung and others (but mostly Samsung) will eventually want push everyone to Bixby and the Gear VR instead.

Reason# 3: People and IP
The third reason isn’t too difficult to understand. Even though Google paid in excess of $1 billion for this agreement, it probably is no big deal for Google. Given its lofty hardware ambitions and cut-throat competition, time is of utmost essence. If Google doesn’t do this agreement, it will take more than many years to build the experience and IP and will cause it to lose crucial ground in the market.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sketch-note: Citrix's Q2 2017 Financial Results

I do believe that note-taking is an underrated skill and doesn't get as much importance as it deserves. In context of most work related situations, we are bombarded with sea of information and are often left to try and make sense of it. Embracing efficient ways to take notes helps us deal with the information overload in many ways-
1. It helps us visually represent information.
2. When the information is available in front of us visually, it adds to the overall clarity of thoughts.
3. In absence of notes, the information floats around in mind leading to less overall recall when needed.

Of late I have been experimenting with the alternate approaches to note-taking. One of the approaches that i found useful and creative was the sketch-notes. The beautiful thing about sketch-notes is that it goes beyond just words and adds a lot of visual elements that helps to simplify the process of comprehending notes.
I went through a bit of learning process around getting comfortable with sketch-noting. I don't think i am an expert yet, far from it actually but would really want to share a few of my attempts in the upcoming blogs.
Here's is the first one below that represents that Q2 2017 financial results of Citrix.

Did you find it useful ? Watch out for more in the near future.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Talk on the topic: Security 2.0-Safeguarding the Digital Frontier

I was recently at Zinnov Confluence 2017 and got to present an opening note on the topic- Security 2.0- Safeguarding the Digital Frontier. For the benefits of the readers, I am trying to recreate my speech as much as I can in the below here. Will be sharing the slide-deck shortly.

The Inevitable Future:
Not so long ago, I was reading this intriguing book by the name- The Inevitable. Written ably by a futurist named- Kevin Kelly, this book gives glorious insights into technological forces that will shape our future.
We are approaching an interesting world. The reason I call it interesting is because as much as AI powered automation (also known as automation on steroids) is going to impact a myriad of jobs as we know them, there are lot of new, unthinkable jobs that would emerge. Being a Futurist is one such job that I am fascinated with. I do believe all of us have a hidden futurist in us that in our own ways helps us makes sense of how upcoming events of the future would impact us. If we wear that futurist hat for a moment, I don’t think it will take long for us to come to a conclusion that the world- for both consumers and enterprises alike- is headed towards a massive digital disruption.
Technology was, is and has always been and will be humanity’s accelerant, a driving force that has been instrumental in taking the humanity from one level to the next.  Kevin Kelly says in his book- “We are moving away from the world of fixed nouns and towards a world of fluid verbs. In the next 30 years we will continue to take solid things- an automobile for instance and turn them into intangible verbs. Products will become services and processes. Embedded with high doses of technology, an automobile becomes a transportation service.”

Cloud Powers the World:
When you think of broad range of technologies that came to power the world in the last 10-15 years,
one that has emerged as absolute no. 1 enabler- without a doubt is cloud. Think about mobility, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, internet of things- none of them could have attained the kind of maturity they had now, had it not been for the cloud. The cloud from being just the tool to cut cost became an amazing enabler for everything else that’s happening in the world of technology, in the world of work around us.

The World is Under Severe Attack:
While the world is amazingly being powered by cloud and the up-and-coming technologies, we should also remember that there is always a flip side to any technological advancement. And one of the threats that I bring forward here is that the world is also under severe virtual attack.

If you’re familiar with any of these terms, then congratulations — and welcome to the new normal of cybersecurity.

If I request you to put your futurist hat for one more time and ask you to predict the future of cyber-security, it is actually not as hard as some of you are thinking it to be. The future of cyber-security is that- there will be a next attack soon. There is a hacker waiting to exploit the vulnerabilities in your systems, trying to steal the data, trying to attack our systems.
There are several considerations that go into designing the security models for the future than only dealing with the innovativeness of the security attacks being unleashed. I would like to talk about a couple of aspects-

The Weakest link in the Chain:
Citrix recently did a study with the Ponemon Institute and there were some interesting findings from the survey.  One part of study suggested that today’s workforce really comprises of three different generations. Nearly 50% of people participating in the world economy are the Digital natives i.e. the people who were born with technology, the people who doesn’t know how the world looked like without technology. The rest of workforce comprises of Gen-Xers (born 1965-1980) and Baby Boomers (both 1946-1964).
But why is the discussion of generational differences important in the context of Cyber-Security ? As our study suggested, it turns out, it is quite important. As Christian Reilly says here-

Any technology-based solution is only as strong as its weakest link; it’s last line of defense, and, in case after case, we learn that the source of the introduction of malware and ransomware has been as a result of the intervention of one or more end-users. Perhaps they clicked a malicious link in an email. Perhaps they opened a malicious attachment.

Each generation of workforce has different views on information sharing, collaboration, technology, and the role security plays in each. The global study shows that each generation is also susceptible to different kinds of security vulnerabilities:
55% of security and business respondents said that Millennials, born 1981-1997, pose the greatest risk of circumventing IT security policies and using unapproved apps in the workplace.
33% said Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964, are most susceptible to phishing and social engineering scams.
32% said Gen-Xers, born 1965-1980, were most likely to circumvent security policies and use unapproved apps and devices in the workplace.
The security models of the future would be successful only if among other considerations they also take into account the generational differences at workforce.

Tightening Regulations:
Another aspect that I wanted to briefly touch upon was the effect current regulations are bringing forward.  By this time next year, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), would have come into effect for all the companies dealing with data of EU customers. In the past, many of privacy regulations were toothless – and for many companies it was easier to pay tens of thousands in fines, rather than investing millions to fix the problem. That’s not the case with GDPR. The fine can be up to EUR €20 million OR 4% of the worldwide (!) revenue (not profit!) of the company. As Martin Zugec said here-
We are used to saying that IT solutions can be cheap, developed fast or designed to be secure – and you can choose any two of those. With GDPR, secure is a mandatory requirement for any IT solution that contains data about individuals. Security is no longer an ad hoc process, it needs to become our new lifestyle.

Old Security Perimeters Doesn't Help The New World of Work:
How do Enterprises deal with such diversity of users, tightened regulations and the ever-increasing innovativeness of the attacks.

In the Enterprise context, We are an intersection of users and applications.
The current context of work has changed a lot. People are no longer using only the IT managed apps but are bringing any web-based, cloud-based, mobility app. Not only that, people are not  just working  within the organization boundaries but are working at any place of their choice, roaming, on any device, using OS of their choice. As we often say in Citrix-

“Work is not a place. Work is an activity you do at a place you find inspiration.”

Older IT enterprise architectures were designed more keeping in the principles of Inaccessibility and Invisibility i.e. any intruder outside the boundaries of the organization cannot access the details of network infrastructure, not could it access any data and applications. This physical perimeter built by the traditional IT worked reasonably worked in the world of past where application and employee location were a constant. But in today’s world when the application, location and work context is no longer static, the perimeter of past is longer sufficient. Current enterprises need a better, strong, secure and flexible perimeter. So, what’s the solution ?

Citrix Secure Digital Workspace:
This is where Citrix comes in, really helping the organizations tame that complexity and pulling it together in a way by creating this new software defined perimeter but also enabling this easy access for people wherever they are around the world, whatever device they come in, to give them contextual access to technology whether it is the cloud technology coming from one of many clouds, whether it is traditional on-prem technology or whether it is a mobile technology, they need to access it all in a simple contextual way and that is precisely what we do and on the IT side really need to manage all these devices, they really need to control the policy for access.

Very recently we introduced, Citrix Secure DigitalWorkspace- effectively taking up this amazing foundation that we laid down with Xen family of products, with Netscaler, with Sharefile and enabling this future of work- powered by Citrix Cloud driven by Artificial Intelligence.

Welcome to the Future of Work, Powered by Citrix! 

Credits and Inspiration:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Would Slack be able to overcome Microsoft Teams threat?

Microsoft recently launched Microsoft Teams to compete with Slack as the workplace communication and collaboration software. While this launch from Microsoft was much talked about already but Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield's open letter to Microsoft added an unexpected flavor to the duel.

What really is Slack ? As per Wikipedia- Slack is a cloud-based team collaboration tool. The name is actually an acronym, which means, "Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge". Slack was launched in August 2013.

...And What is Microsoft Teams? Microsoft prefers to call Microsoft Teams as a new chat-based workspace in Office 365. As it defines, Microsoft Teams is an entirely new experience that brings together people, conversations and content—along with the tools that teams need—so they can easily collaborate to achieve more.

Given the fair share of success that Slack has had so far, it can be credited for being a creator of this new product category and Microsoft a competitor. What could be potential factors against which we can size up the competition between the two?

A battle of a Product and a Feature:
Though it is touted as a battle among the equals, there is a fundamental difference between Slack and Team. Slack is a product. Microsoft Teams is a feature. Teams is a part of comprehensive Office 365 suite. Office 365 does many things but Slack is laser focused on being a office messaging app.

Microsoft Teams- almost at feature parity with Slack:
Microsoft is looking at Teams more as a software that unifies many of their existing applications. As Satya Nadella said recently
"Just like Outlook brought together email, contacts and calendar into one magical user experience scaffolding that changed how we worked, Teams will bring together chat, meetings, notes, Office, Planner, Power BI... and other extensions and applications to help users get work done,"

Beyond Unification of existing office apps, Microsoft Teams already mirrors quite a few features of Slack as is evident in this comprehensive feature analysis between the two.

Strategy to Gain users:
Building a software product for sure is hard, but not many realize the complexity of ensuring a successful go-to-market of software products. The strategy to gain users often becomes a key differentiator between the competing products.

Microsoft Teams doesn't plan to go freemium in attempt to gain users. Freemium model is when the offering has some "free" features (to attract the users) and some "premium" features (to lure users to pay for more beneficial features). The fact that Teams is an Office 365 feature is its biggest strength. Through this association, Teams gains an access to enormous number of Office 365 customers. 
On the contrary, Slack runs on Freemium model. One of the better ways to introduce new product to users is through this model. This has ensured initial usage of slack and helped in building the much-needed credibility. According to an recent user estimate, Slack has over 1.25 million users worldwide and 33000 paid teams using it. 

Market Segments:
Microsoft Teams has a unique advantage of leveraging the large enterprise customers that Office 365 might already have. Whereas Slack, being a start-up won’t have that luxury. Slack at the moment has been gaining a good traction in both smaller and larger enterprises.

External Collaboration:
Slack allows for an easy participation of team members outside the organization. Since Microsoft Teams is bound with Office 365 subscription, it doesn't have an easy (or rather any) way to allow external audience from participating in the communication. Given the complex nature of collaboration in today's world when partners beyond existing employees often help with the decision making, not having this feature could prove to be a deterrent. This feature is said to be on the roadmap of the Teams software.

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence:
There are a still a few years before AI becomes a routine feature. Atleast for now, AI is one of the key differentiator among the software products. Both Slack and Microsoft Teams have leveraged AI by introducing task specific bots that help team collaboration. As an example, Microsoft Teams has a bot called T-Bot that is available to answer questions during the conversation, then there is a WhoBot who helps to answer questions about the team members. Meanwhile Slack seem to be overrun with many bots that users already seem to have gotten a good taste of.

Open Platform vs Closed Ecosystem:
As Slack CEO says in his open letter to Microsoft-
an open platform is essential. Communication is just one part of what humans do on the job. The modern knowledge worker relies on dozens of different products for their daily work, and that number is constantly expanding. These critical business processes and workflows demand the best tools, regardless of vendor.
That’s why we work so hard to find elegant and creative ways to weave third-party software workflows right into Slack. And that’s why there are 750 apps in the Slack App Directory for everything from marketing automation, customer support, and analytics, to project management, CRM, and developer tools. Together with the thousands of applications developed by customers, more than six million apps have been installed on Slack teams so far.

This is an area where slack probably scores over Microsoft. Microsoft has a reputation of being a closed platform, or atleast not as open as modern platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Google. It does warrant a mention that Microsoft, under Satya Nadela is working towards fixing this aspect of the business by embracing Linux, building software for Mac etc.

In product management, there are different strategies that either help first-mover (Slack) consolidate an early advantage or there are strategies that help fast-follower (Microsoft) learn from the mistakes of first-mover and emerge stronger. Microsoft has been a dominant force in the Enterprise Office software category. Given its openness, Slack is touted by many a analysts to replace email and other office communication software. The positioning of Slack in the Unicorn category and its ever-increasing popularity has certainly made Microsoft a bit nervous. On the other hand, Microsoft has a huge muscle power built by the enormous piles of cash and a strong network of partners which won't let it reach Obsolescence any time sooner. 

It’s hard to predict who wins this battle eventually but it is certain that this new category of software enabling Office communication is here to stay and there would be room for many a players to seize the initiative. Microsoft's entry in this space only validates the need of this product category. So far Slack seems ahead and Microsoft seems well positioned to play the catch-up game for next few quarters atleast.

What do you think ?