mm405: Boston, Day 1

MUDGE’s Musings

Whew!

Just finished a very long day, the first day attending the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston.

I don’t go to so many conferences. In fact, in the nearly four years of employment at the Heart of Corporate America (not its real name), as well as the three years of contractor status that it, this is only the second conference that I have attended under the HCA aegis. How ironic that it is also located in Boston, the site of the event that I attended last summer. Of all the towns in the world…

But, I do like Boston, even though, as alluded to last post, I feel stranded in the middle of a desert, located as we are in a concrete jungle of a redeveloped industrial district. Boston is a wonderful town in which to be a pedestrian — but not in this corner, not that I could pedestre very well anyway. [Looks like I may have coined another word — the ‘r’ is silent; but it does sort of look like pederast, doesn’t it. Oh, well, back to the drawing board.]

Although I title this Day 1, the event’s organizers, as is often done apparently, treated today as Day 0, Monday being the more popular business travel day than Sunday. The sessions today were lengthy tutorials. A choice of two each, morning and afternoon. 9am to 12:30pm; then 1:30pm to 4:45pm. Then a further two hour panel discussion that finally ended at 7:30pm. The real action starts tomorrow. I’m already worn out.

I do take copious notes. Now, many of my fellow attendees today, perhaps most of them, brought their laptops to the sessions. There were even power strips scattered along the floor, for the first half-dozen lucky people each who got to them.

Now, yr (justifiably) humble svt would have been happy enough to note take via laptop, but as there were no tables, just rows of chairs, and as I, uh, don’t have a lap for said laptop, just a short slippery slope as it were, that might result in a potentially lethal slide for same, I took my notes the old fashioned way, pen on notebook page, six tightly printed pages to be exact. I have a lot to show for 8-3/4 hours of conference. But it all has to be transcribed.

I wanted to keep up with this daily; perhaps even transfer some of this post into the event’s blog that I’ve heard exists although I haven’t found it. But, as I type this it’s already 10pm; had too much to eat at the hotel’s surprisingly good restaurant (surprising mainly because they have no competition for at least the half-mile radius until another hotel appears in this wasteland called the Seaport neighborhood); and I was up early. Never sleep well in anyone else’s bed except my own, and the hotel is justifiably proud of its comfortable bed. I’m just a crotchety old curmudgeon.

Anyway, there are six pages. Let’s see if I can summarize, while it’s all still fresh.

1. Social Computing Platforms: IBM and Microsoft.

This was a pair of dueling product demonstrations chaired by an analyst from the Burton Group, one of the respected observational consultancies in the IT field. The products on offer: IBM Lotus Connections vs. Microsoft Sharepoint.

This session was of particular interest to yours truly, as I have been participating as an ex officio (don’t believe I have the status for official membership) of a technical review board at HCA evaluating those two products, with the aim of adopting one of them for the enterprise.

Social media, Web 2.0, is what the world outside corporations has been using for quite some time: blogs, wikis, MySpace/Facebook and the like. Corporations, especially those with an influx of twenty-something college graduates they’re hiring in unexpectedly large numbers, considering the state of the economy, due probably to unexpectedly large numbers of Boomer retirees, find that these new employees expect Web 2.0 tools in the workplace to mirror those they use in their personal places.

As the two foremost providers of collaboration software in the enterprise space, IBM Lotus and Microsoft have responded to the demand with their competing products.

Of the two, Lotus Connections tells a better, more comprehensive, prettier story. Microsoft Sharepoint is spare to the point of a Google-like stark simplicity.

They both offer blogs, wikis, profiles (the MySpace/Facebook piece) in varying degrees of completeness. They both offer integration into the email and other collaboration products that are the two standards of the corporate communication world: Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook respectively. They both have their strengths. At this stage in their development, I would have to give the nod to Connections. I haven’t used it yet, although the plan is to start testing it shortly after my return. But I have used Sharepoint, and after today’s presentation I know I will like Connections, sight unseen, better.

2. Unified Communications Comparative Analysis.

This session was paneled by a representative from Frost & Sullivan, another respected observational consultancy. Five different vendors spent about 25 minutes each presenting their interpretation of UC, the convergence of telephonic communications, heading more and more toward VOIP, with web based collaboration tools such as instant messaging, web conferencing (my two areas of concentration at HCA), audio conferencing, video conferencing, etc.

A colleague and I will be exploring some of the elements of UC that will be available as we roll out our update to IBM Lotus Sametime mid-summer, so this session also held much interest.

The five presenters all came at the field from their own positions of strength. IBM Lotus has the software killer app in the form of Sametime, which has long sported integration with IP telephony and even with conventional wired audio conferencing, although we at HCA are only now on the cusp of getting to that rarified version. Many of the other vendors have partnered with IBM to offer their own integrations with Sametime. The idea is to be able to look at a small browser with lists of frequently accessed colleagues (the wretchedly named “buddy list”), and click to instant message, or click to place a PC to PC call, or click to place a PC to land line call, etc.

It’s good stuff, converging toward the point where it won’t matter where you are, what phone you have near you, your colleagues will find you and you them, just by selecting them from that browser. As our Frost & Sullivan analyst pointed out, the bad news is that last year’s buzzword of work – life balance now becomes this year’s trend of work – life blending. Not necessarily a welcome development for us codgers; but definitely 2.0 for the kids.

For all of the vendors, the low hanging fruit in this business is VOIP, which offers quantified return on investment (the holy ROI), and even there, my employer is only slowly getting there, mainly by mandating that all green field (i.e., new) sites use that better mousetrap for telephony. Legacy sites, such as the infrastructure including thousands and thousands of long since depreciated but to our CFO perfectly useful PBX phones, will get there only slowly. And that’s with quantifiable ROI.

Unified Communications has a problem. Its advantages are more challenging to measure. Improved productivity is hard to put a number to. But, our glinty-eyed CFO should be drooling at the concept of work – life blending. After all, he’s only going to pay us for eight hours per workday, not the 168 hours per week that we’ll be exposed to UC.

[In that vein: when I joined the group I presently work with in Corporate IT, it was a big deal to be issued a Blackberry. I was perhaps the 225th person in the organization to get one, and that only because I worked in the group that supports them, not that I was entitled by any rarefied status. The Blackberry impacted our organization from the top down; we originally got into the business because our CEO wanted to handle his email from the corporate jet.

[The VP of our group simply hated them; mainly I think because she resented people responding to their buzzing interruptions to her meetings. She’s long since retired, and there are probably close to 4,000 Blackberries in the enterprise by now. I hope no one has told her!

[Even so, one would think that even, no especially, our CFO would insist that all 70,000 of us be issued them. Same as Unified Communication: 168 hours/week availability for the cost of 40, plus a couple of grand a year for the device and its airtime each. Cheap at the price, one would have thought. That’s one reason why I’m not the CFO, I guess.]

All five vendors who presented today made good cases for their flavor of UC; all of them sounded, and their demos looked, pretty much the same. It’s not anywhere near a mature industry yet, and I expect that there will be shakeouts and combinations galore in the next few years.

3. Evening in the Cloud

This was an intriguing panel discussion, flashily produced, regarding the bleeding edge technology called cloud computing. Cloud computing is what Google Apps and Salesforce.com and Amazon Web Services (tonight’s three vendor presenters) would like all IT organizations to adopt wholesale. Let us take over your applications and data. We’re cheaper, because we offer huge economies of scale, securer, more knowledgeable than you are. It’s “Software as a Service,” one of this year’s most potent buzzwords, taken to its ultimate degree.

The four other panelists were CXO’s (fancy IT-speak for Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers — the heads of IT for their respective organizations) of organizations who are potential clients of cloud computing.

This was a fascinating couple of hours, with a lot of give and take. The cloud computing guys were absolutely at the peak of their games, VPs of marketing and the like, and made convincing cases for their products. The CXO’s had good, insightful questions and comments.

When they finally through the meeting to the floor, yours truly hustled to the microphone. As I told them, by that time, 7:00pm, I had been ingesting data and information for 10 hours straight, and in the spirit of the 2.0 theme of the conference, I felt it was incumbent on me to contribute, in the form of a couple of questions.

It wasn’t my greatest stint in front of a microphone, nor my worst. Got patient answers to my rather feisty questions.

The ramifications of cloud computing are dire for we peons in IT. Already we see the (help desk) support function heading toward the low cost providers in Manila and Bengaluru and Sofia. If they send the hardware into the Amazon-Google-Salesforce clouds, that’s another huge swath of IT personpower that goes away in favor of those denizens of said clouds.

Fellow gearheads, better be prepared to join your brothers and sisters, the displaced shoe manufacturing workers and textile weaving workers and furniture makers, and Hummer builders, in the reeducation lines.

Whew! Wrote more than I thought I could. Go figure. Might be all the iced tea and restaurant mellow coffee that will probably leave me buzzing for a few more hours. Sigh.

More (writing, not caffeine), I hope, tomorrow evening.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

MUDGE

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One Response to mm405: Boston, Day 1

  1. […] last night’s entire 2-hour presentation on cloud computing, I’m not sure why this session was necessary. In fact, not sure what place cloud computing as […]

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