Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Author: Matthew Sekol (page 2 of 5)

Why Microsoft Should Really Buy Blackberry

In all honesty, this is a hard sell. I’ve been supporting Blackberry in various capacities since they were little pager devices (collective Aww…). I’ve reveled in their downfall though, ultimately believing that ActiveSync was a much better solution than the old BES servers. Regardless, Blackberry is in its final throes, right? Well, maybe. Rumors about Microsoft purchasing them abound. The Motley Fool wrote 3 Reasons Why Microsoft Should Buy Blackberry, but I think they are widely missing the mark. At least I hope so.

Why the Fool is Wrong
Reason 1: Keyboard phones targets business users
Had I been drinking when I read this, my monitor would’ve been splattered with water. iPhones, which are keyboardless, have a massive hold on the Enterprise. As Baby Boomers retire and Millenials come in, only Gen X-ers, like myself, might want keyboards on our phone. Frankly, I don’t know anyone who would. This argument seems counter-intuitive to Microsoft’s mobile first mantra and the capabilities you get with their Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) solution.

Microsoft believes the user is mobile. Long gone are the days of having 2 devices (work and personal) for the same person. Side note – if you have 2 devices, I’m sad for you, stop being paranoid already! What Microsoft is really driving is a consumer and business experience across one device with Enterprise level protection and segregation with EMS.

The last point here is around porting Blackberry’s key features and apps into Microsoft’s app store. Microsoft could do this, but why bother? Clearly, Android and Apple have the largest market share. Blackberry itself seems to have given up its own app store and can borrow from Android and Amazon.

Reason 2: Windows Phone Distribution Channels are In Place
Blackberry had a great distribution channel for years! They aren’t having a problem getting their phones out there, the issue is that no one wants them! Would Microsoft purchase Blackberry, convert their phones off Blackberry OS to Windows OS and then distribute, possibly. Seriously though, I’m sure Blackberry knows how to distribute phones, they just don’t seem to be able to sell any.

Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia was at a turning point for Nokia. They had dropped out of the world’s top 5 phone manufacturers, but had started turning things around with the Lumia line. With Nokia’s integration taking a long time, would Microsoft bother rescuing a failing Blackberry to do the same. Man, I hope not.

Reason 3: BlackBerry Messenger could be a signature app
With the leak of Microsoft Flow and the rebranding of Lync to Skype for Business, and the consumer Skype, Microsoft is already sporting 3 chat platforms (arguably 2, but I listed 3, so there you go). Skype does support chat still and, in the Enterprise, Skype for Business underpins all Office collaboration. Would Microsoft buy Blackberry just for Blackberry Messenger? No. Would Microsoft integrate Blackberry Messenger into Windows 10? No. Would Microsoft integrate the features from Blackberry Messenger into Skype, Skype for Business, and possibly Outlook? This one I could believe.

What’s Matt Take on This?
I’m glad you asked. Admittedly, there could be some hardware benefits in Reason 2, but there’s something else that caught my eye recently. Amid the layoffs, Blackberry is ensuring Blackberry Messenger and their Enterprise Security Solutions remain in tact. This protects Blackberry’s most valuable asset – their IP. Imagine if Microsoft integrated Blackberry’s IP into their existing EMS solution and Office 365. They could potentially shift the Enterprise market back to them.

I’ve long believed any player has an opportunity to recapture share in the mobile phone market because of the refresh cycle of the devices. I’m hopeful that Continuum, Windows 10, and their recently released application development toolsets will help them grow their app store and recapture market. Layering Blackberry’s security and encryption IP could make for a powerful play in the Enterprise.

Microsoft does have a problem though if this is their purchase strategy. Blackberry is larger than their IP at the moment and hard decisions will have to be made. The offer from Microsoft shouldn’t be large enough to cover everything Blackberry is doing currently, but where they are heading – to a niche mobile security player. If this happens, Microsoft will get the true value of Blackberry.

How Microsoft Flow Could Be The Future of Chat

It seems like every tech company is tackling the problem of email volume. I think Microsoft’s Office 365 handles appropriate content management in a way to truly reduce email volume. Instant Messaging with Skype for Business is a great way to help.

There are other players emerging too, like Slack, which seem to be finding real ways to reduce email pains. Others, like Google, just throw more space at the problem and hope search will be your salvation.

This week though, tech blogs lit up with a leaked offering from Microsoft, courtesy of Twitter user h0x0d.

Neowin even has screenshots of the app, although they are highly blurred.

From the tweet, we learned 3 things:
1. Flow is email based, so you can chat with anyone if you know their email address.
2. While Flow is email based, it works more like chat because you can just start immediately with text and no subject.
3. Your chats stay within Flow, without the cumbersome view of your entire mailbox appearing in the app.

From these 3 things, we can speculate on quite a bit!

The Enterprise Play
Obviously, Skype for Business has been a great way to reduce email load through quick answers in chat, keeping short emails out of your Inbox.

Flow would seem to have the same play, but there is one more obvious overlap with Flow, at least from an Enterprise perspective. Since Flow and Skype for Business chats are both held in your Exchange mailbox, both are discoverable via eDiscovery tools.

From this perspective, compliance officers should love Flow. Imagine getting all your employees’ text messages under control again via something that works like a text message and is on the device where you already are texting from.

Text Messaging, You Say?
Yes, this is very much like text messaging. What makes me curious is the cut off screenshot from Neowin, that states:

Flow: Keep conversations alive and engaging
by know when others are typing in a conversation

The term when is key and shows how like text messaging this app is. If Microsoft has a way (assuming via the app) to track responses within the app back to the sender, Flow becomes exactly like text messaging.

I’d like to review a part of the recently released study of email – Evolution of Conversations in the Age of Email Overload. Particularly, I would like to call out 2 points:

..there is a considerable fraction of threads that last longer than a day (22%)

…Most of the replies are very fast: more than 90% happen within a day
of receiving the message, and the most likely reply time is just 2 minutes..

This also addresses the two points from the email report – communication is quick and transient.

Bypassing the Downside to Lync Online
Skype for Business Online has long had one glaring omission that its on-premise counterpart has had since it was Lync, which is cross-platform chat capability. A lot of chat clients have this problem.

Flow would seem to be a way to take the standards and ubiquity of email and turn it into an instant messaging platform. No more worrying if your external partners have Skype for Business, Jabber or Google Hangouts, just use Flow backed by whatever email you have.

My assumption here is that instead of adding complexity to Skype for Business for different chat services, customers can use Flow, backed by their email, to basically just chat with anyone!

Is This The One Chat to Rule Them All?
Way back in 2013, Michael Ingram wrote that we would never get to one chat client. From his perspective, all chat clients are in competition and proprietary. Of course, he is correct.

Microsoft’s move here could be brilliant. You take something everyone has, an email address, and turn it into something everyone needs –
true, cross platform instant messaging.

I’m assuming here that Flow will work with any email platform, and I think I’m right to do so. Google’s attempt at this was Hangouts, which hasn’t been successful because it is simply just another proprietary format. Microsoft would be remiss to have this work only with Exchange and I doubt that’s the case.

Flow also differs from texting because people aren’t as open with their phone numbers as they are with their email address. The reason, of course, is that email is something you deal with on your terms vs. a phone ringing, which is frankly, an instant and immediate assault.

So, where would this play ultimately with Skype for Business? Well, each will have their place likely, but there looks to be some overlap. Flow doesn’t seem to be making the exact same plays around collaboration that Skype for Business does (ie. video, audio, desktop sharing, etc.).

If my assumptions are right though, chat will likely be taking a new and interesting direction soon!

4 Things to Know at 22

In this series, professionals share what they’d do differently — and keep the same. Follow the stories here and write your own (please use #IfIWere22 in your post).

Back when I was 22, it was an interesting time for me and the internet. It was 1998 and I was just graduating from Penn State with an English degree and studying Microsoft’s Networking Essentials. The internet was still largely in its infancy but, like me, it had a lot of potential. I just wasn’t so sure how the two would work together. So, let’s jump right in there!

Thing to Know #1: Having a Career Unrelated to Your Degree Can be a Good Thing
In 1997, it became clear to me that technology would be more lucrative than most things my English degree could offer (Law School aside). I had a knack for building web sites and troubleshooting computers and could see what was coming down the road. This realization came too late for me to switch majors though, so I graduated with my English degree.

This worked out to be one of the best decisions of my life. As I progressed in my career, my English degree supplemented my technical skillset. It took me about 5 years to realize what was happening. Of all the skills I had in my arsenal, excellent communication and empathy proved to be the most important. I quickly moved up in IT in my first Enterprise role, moving from desktop support to lead architect in just 5 years.

Embrace all the passions in your life, there’s likely not only one! If you’re lucky, you can find a job that covers them all!

Thing to Know #2: Work is Not Life
Your career is not your life, no matter how much time you spend on it. I have made countless ridiculous decisions around thinking I was impressing someone when my life was sacrificed.

For example, when my wife and I had our first child, there was a lot going on at the office. The day after my daughter was born, there was an all hands with the new CIO just after our company was acquired. I thought it would be good for my career to make a showing. I left the hospital, went home, got cleaned up and went into work.

What a waste! While I made it through the acquisition and flourished at that company, it wasn’t due to my appearance at some meeting. It was due to my work ethic and the other skills I had gained over the years. My wife will always remember that I did that. Meanwhile, that company has been gobbled up and systematically taken apart.

Remember this, as you get older, your job may change, your peers come and go, but your family is forever. Spend time on finding the balance, it will be well worth it.

Thing to Know #3: Complacency is Bad
Look around at any Enterprise and you will find a small group of people working that have been doing the same thing for a long time with little career movement. Sometimes, these people just have found what they do and are really good at it. Other times though, they are just plain stuck.

Your career requires a balance in this area. You don’t need to job hop like crazy or even ever leave the company you work for to find new opportunities. Keep an eye out for market trends and make sure not to become complacent. Sometimes, this means changing jobs, other times it means changing companies or locations. What I’ve learned, especially in IT, is that today’s skills are tomorrow’s layoff fodder.

Life is change, but pace your career intelligently and look for opportunities to grow. They are out there!

Thing to Know #4: Be Confident and Have Fun
When I was in college, I used to be a chauffeur of a sort. I was a rare breed who owned a car at college. I had the privilege of driving some girls from my home town back home on the weekends. One of them gave me advice that was so simple, I couldn’t believe I had missed it.

One of the girls asked me why I always walked around campus with my head down. I wasn’t sure what she meant really, I just thought I was walking. Her perception though was that I lacked confidence. She also gave me some advice – walk with your head held up.

I tried this and noticed an immediate difference. People will engage you if you’re confident and conversations naturally just start.

I supplemented this new confidence with humor, which is something I’ve had for years and then grew again with my English degree. Once again, I found balance. Humor was more difficult to master than confidence though in a professional setting. It needs to be used lightly and cannot be overbearing or offensive.

Both humor and confidence can build trust and move you forward.

One Last Thing: Short Term Pain is Sometimes Worth It
These 4 things have served me well. Not ever career decision I made worked out though. I once worked for a company that was going bankrupt. The timing worked out in that my wife and I were looking to move closer to family to start our own. I made a huge mistake though. The company offered severance packages and I thought I would be hard pressed to find a job where near family, so I took the first well paying job I could find. I left the drowning company and lost the severance.

About a year later, a lot of my co-workers had made out quite well as the severance packages materialized. I learned this lesson, but didn’t think I would have time to reapply it.

Last year though, the company I was working for was purchased. Severance was offered once again. I bid my time until the my end date and got my severance. Rather than just wait in misery, I took the opportunity to learn as much as I could about how the new company operated. This led me to learning a lot about a competing technology, ultimately helping me in my current role.

Make the most out of a bad situation and ride out the storm. Sometimes that package is worth it!

Chromebooks – Threat or Google’s Next Passing Thing?

I love reading an article I completely disagree with! Alastair Knowles wrote an excellent article about how Microsoft should be on the lookout for Chromebooks. This is absolutely a real concern for Microsoft. Gartner reported Chromebook sales will likely triple by 2017.  With the ongoing fight between Bing and Google Search, Office 365 and Google Apps, etc., this is an interesting comparison to call out because it does bleed into other areas.

Before we start, my career has been built on supporting and now selling Microsoft solutions, so I’m a bit biased. Still, I was one of the first to get a GMail beta invite back in the day and it was from Microsoft and Bungie’s ARG (Alternate Reality Game) for Halo 2! My wife is a pretty big fan of GMail, but I’ve gotten tired of them forcing me to keep all my mail (just swipe right on your ActiveSync device for GMail – Archive, not Delete appears! Ugh! Side note: Microsoft fixed this issue with the Outlook app).

Personal preferences slightly aside, let’s break it down from the Microsoft position with much respect to the original author, leaving just a little bit for Google.

There are so many ways to break these arguments down, but I think combining ROI, Academia and Hardware Revolution together is a good place to start.

Not everything comes down to cost. Chromebooks are popular and cheap, but conversely Apple products are massively popular and expensive. Microsoft is floating somewhere in the middle. With Windows 10, they will be (and have been since August) pursuing the sub-$200 PC market and tablets more aggresively while maintaining their higher end performance PCs through a consistent OS. This is a direct affront to the Chromebook (cue dramatic music).

Beyond that, Microsoft is bridging the gap with mobile and PC with the One Windows experience that allows any app on any device through Adaptive UX. Ubiquity and consistent experiences are the name of the game. Both Google and Apple are missing this point (Android/Chrome OS and Mac /iOS).

Google seems to be shoehorning Android apps into Chrome OS and even is potentially making a massive mistake in trying to interject itself into the web app process in general for the sake of additional revenue with something as innocuous as app notifications. Yikes!

The too-little-too-late argument defeats itself. Just like Google has a chance to compete, Microsoft absolutely does as well and Windows 10 is right around the corner! Consider Blackberry, the pinnacle of mobile information in its time. Apple and Google have both squashed them. As long as there is any refresh cycle on hardware or OS, a contender has a chance to change the game. Microsoft should be relying on this cycle to shore up their numbers from the Nokia purchase. Think about how many smartphones you’ve had in the past 10 years. Any of those refreshes is an opportunity for someone to come grab market share. The market itself is an agent of change! (Note: This is how Chromebooks likely got a toe-hold!)

With the Hardware Revolution, Google started out with a Acer and Samsung as their OEMs and has now grown across multiple OEMs, including themselves. For years now, Microsoft has partnered with OEMs to make PC hardware. They made a huge shift and started making their own hardware with the Surface. Initially this change was admittedly confusing with the RT and Pro versions. RT was likely an early attempt at a Chromebook competitor, but clearly Microsoft missed the mark. Microsoft has dropped the Rt, streamlined it after the Surface Pro 3’s release and has now really hit their stride. The story seems to be shifting upwards, especially in their education play.

Speaking of which, not only has the Chromebook made waves in education, but Google in general has been a choice for start-ups. I’ve seen them compete in this space, but I still maintain that once your startup grows up, you will need the Enterprise features akin to Office 365 and not Google Apps. We’ll get into that more a bit though.

In regards to education, the tide may be turning with the Surface. Like this article states though, you have to go beyond the hardware to the real collaboration features of Microsoft. Even Apple has been having issues maintaining their stanglehold on education lately.

Having said that, let’s lump the following together and see what we get: Productivity, User Friendliness and Innovation.

I’ve long been a proponent of Microsoft Productivity stack. There is a reason why Office is the number 1 productivity suite in the world, having crushed other contenders over the years. I’m not going to get into the all the reasons, but it comes down to usage, not features. You can check out my arguments here for How to Use 15% of Office or How to Use Google Apps.

I will say this though – I used Google Apps in an Enterprise for a year. We switched everyone from Office 365 when my company was acquired. One of our divisions was sold to another company and the first question was – will we get Exchange back? The answer ‘yes’ was met with resounding applause (true story).

From a user friendliness perspective, this is actually where Microsoft shines and the OEMs fail. The OEMs are the reason for bloatware, not Microsoft. Just wait, those same OEMs will hit up Chromebooks with bloatware if they haven’t already. Samsung started the trend with the Chromebook 2 and “premium apps.” Try a Surface Pro 3 or buy from the Microsoft Store – no bloatware in sight via their Signature Series!

To be fair, some people look at Windows and Office as complex and unweidly. In truth, Microsoft has made robust solutions for OS and business productivity so that anyone can use them. From my 5 year old kid to my grandmother, we all use Windows 8.1! Note: I’m not sure how battery life comes into play here as my Surface Pro 3 and Acer S7-192 last pretty much all day performing power user workloads. This has gotten much better in the past 2 years.

When it comes to innovation, Google is all over the place. They do continually innovate, if you consider innovation to be an ADHD like attitude towards bringing up new services and removing them (insert lament for Gtalk, Froogle, Google Buzz, Orkut, etc.). The fact remains though, their core services remain largely unchanged and unimproved from an end user perspective. Search has had some controversial changes lately, but the search UI and the UI for GMail look largely identical to how they looked in 2004 (insert further lament for Google X, which was one attempt at a UI change).

I could (and have) written articles just on Google’s lack of innovation, but let’s talk about patching. Microsoft has an extensive program to test for security issues and get them patched. Over time, less of their patches require reboots, but typically, they still do. Security patches are clearly overwhelming, but they do serve their purpose. I don’t think a monthly reboot is too much to ask, but I get it. Still, 1 in 5 Android apps have recently been announced to be malicious! This is the largest mobile OS on the planet. The point is – the bigger you are, the more complex these patches become.

Surprisingly, you don’t have to look to far to see recent examples of excitement around Microsoft patching. Windows 8.1 was well received. Also, it was free, like Windows 10 will be. Speaking of which, the patches for the tech preview of Windows 10 are going exceedingly well.

Where Google is really failing when it comes to user friendliness and innovation though is limiting their offline features to Chrome only! Microsoft’s version of that is any device, any platform. Look at that, I addressed Dependence on Internet Access (not!) also!

You might have heard about Google Fi, which seems revolutionary. But, it is only supporting Google Nexus 6 at launch. Google is going the wrong direction by forcing a certain subset of their users into their playground. Innovation requires real risk, not just capital.

I think Alastair is right when Addressing Limitations. You can’t be everything to everyone and I doubt even the low end Microsoft platforms and regular Chromebooks could handle heavier workloads. Whether or not Google wants to compete in this space though remains to be seen. Google’s modus operadi seems to be ‘good enough’ solutions.

I don’t say that lightly either, the failure of Google+ and the fact that it underpins all of Google’s authentication is a bit concerning. My hope is that they remove or downplay the social aspect more and just make it an authentication platform like Microsoft Live.

Certainly, Chromebooks have their niche, for now. They’re not in nearly as many countries as Windows and depending on how the Office 365 vs. Google Apps fight plays out, the Chromebook could ultimately go the way of the Blackberry or be folded into an Android OS platform for PCs, aligning Chrome OS with Android. Still, Google has a proven history of killing products that it can’t get it’s core business into. For Enterprise adoption, this is scary. For BYOD, not so much.

I do agree with the last point – Microsoft has a lot of fallbacks if their latest OS coupled with the latest hardware doesn’t sway consumers, but I think the Surface Pro 4 is going to be hugely successful. Perhaps Project Spartan will eventually become an OS itself, similar to how Chrome OS started. I can’t see it playing out this way though. Microsoft is a company in transition and the old stodgy ways are gone. For some reason, Google seems to have taken that burden up.

Bimodal IT: Creating Rifts or Opportunities?

As a result of consumer driven conveniences via applications ‘that just work’, employees are expecting more flexibility, capability and speed of delivery from their IT group than ever before. Enterprise IT can address these requirements with the cloud and the efficiencies it can bring to a business if they standardize and streamline processes. Never before has IT had a bigger chance to make an impact. With this new opportunity though, comes a lot of change.

IT needs to align with the business in a way they haven’t before and develop processes designed to enable agility and speed. This is evident from a recent CIO article called “What Gartner’s Bimodal IT Means to Enterprise CIOs,” which theorizes on what Gartner’s vision of the future of IT is. Supplement that with Kathleen Wilson’s “Enabling Azure Operations” session at Microsoft Ignite, and the story really starts to make an impact.

What is Bimodal IT?
Bimodal IT is a way to address the increased speed of solution delivery in an Enterprise brought on by the cloud. It posits that IT needs to be broken down into 2 groups to facilitate this, but also eliminates a 3rd IT group:

1. A traditional IT that deals with rack and stack installations and on-premises troubleshooting.
2. A new modern IT in which everyone is a generalist and they can quickly organize to deliver solutions that drive the business.
3. This has the benefit of eliminating (or lowering) shadow IT because now IT is equipped with the tools to move as quickly as someone with a credit card.

Traditional IT knows what the business needs from an IT strategy perspective (example: We need more storage for our designers), but modern IT understands the business strategy (example: If we had a more robust design environment, we could deliver designs 10 times faster to our customers, resulting in a quicker R&D return).

Is This the Death of Traditional IT?
Bimodal IT builds on the practices that some Enterprises have already been doing for years since the advent of virtualization and subsequently automation. The difference is that now, with the cloud, everything is sped up and even more immediate. Lydia Leong at Gartner wrote a great blog post that shows how the similarities between virtualization and public cloud aren’t close enough though, even through the software defined data center. Despite this assertion, Enterprise IT should already be on the way to towards a modern IT.

This phrase though is particularly troubling for traditional IT staff and shows that a mindset change is needed is staff are to survive.

The IT-centric individual who is a cautious guardian and enjoys meticulously following well-defined processes is unlikely going to turn into a business-centric individual who is a risk-taking innovator and enjoys improvising in an uncertain environment.

I’m not sure I agree completely as this does sound like a death knell for traditional IT. The software designed data center and Devops play a critical role in both and skills and processes likely can transfer. What I take from this quote is that communication between IT and the business units needs to be more immediate, but I don’t agree that you introduce risk by allowing the speed to delivery get in the way of due diligence and long-term planning. Doubt me? Check your data center for those legacy, yet critical applications still hosted on Windows 2003. We can’t let that type of development work continue without some amount of planning, certainly there must be a balance.

I’m hopeful that CIOs always understand the business needs, but historically, those needs haven’t been communicated to the IT managers and engineers. In an Enterprise where IT is split into traditional IT and modern IT, the issue can be exacerbated as both factions are fighting for power. Gartner seems to be suggesting that this model should be immediately implemented even if the CIO isn’t ready! Yikes! (check the Gartner agenda here).

Is that really what they are saying though? Well, likely there is little IT organizational movement now with still small IT budgets, so some IT departments are likely stuck with a structure put in place a decade ago. Certainly Gartner’s suggestion would be less than optimal because of the natural rift that it causes, unless they are building on the efficiencies that Enterprise IT groups might already have in place – infrastructure and business applications teams that work well together, taking the best of both worlds to move into the bimodal model. Traditional IT can offer standards and best practices while modern IT has the agility to deliver quickly.

For traditional IT, this doesn’t represent a death knell, but an opportunity to move into a more agile way of working.

The CIO Needs to Change Too!
Effective Enterprises should be on their way to solving this problem with tight communication between both traditional IT, modern IT and the business. The CIO (or some leader) needs to facilitate this relationship.

With the speed at which cloud moves, the CIO can no longer afford to sit back and be a funnel of business information any more to only one group, ie. the business applications teams. They need to facilitate that deep understanding between IT and the business to enable agile movement and not maintain ‘at arms length’ traditional IT projects. For those businesses that remain with fragmented communication levels, they’ll likely find competitors with an efficient edge squeezing them out over time.

There are hints that this is what Gartner is saying, but it also seems like they are just encouraging 2 nearly separate ITs just to deal with innovation. I don’t believe that the cloud is so transformative that existing processes and standards knowledge can’t be built upon to deal with this new agility. Certainly, communication can help bridge the gap.

A Surprising Way to Get There
If you are in an Enterprise and can spare staff to move into modern IT, you will likely want to pull from those with the broadest skillsets so that they can understand the complexities of a cloud based solution. Generalists that can understand an entire application’s stack are better than someone troubleshooting just one component.

If you don’t have the staff or if your IT group remains highly fragmented without effective communication with the business and you don’t know how to address it, an IT Partner can often help bridge the gap. Think about it, a good IT Partner has experience in talking to different levels of the organization and getting to the real requirements and the results. Their job depends on this skill!

CIOs should not fear bringing an IT Partner into business conversations. Partners have the added advantage of seeing industry trends specific to your vertical and can perhaps facilitate external references for large initiatives. Traditional IT should also embrace a partner as they can have two effective means to get your IT group where it needs to be:

1. A Partner can focus on traditional IT, allowing existing IT staff to start develop processes and skillsets around modern IT practices.
2. A Partner can be the modern IT practice, interacting with the business while existing staff deal with traditional IT issues.

Not all businesses are Enterprise class, and a Partner can also help smaller businesses understand and make this transition as well. Not everything is about the big players, there are cloud efficiencies for everyone!

Regardless of how you get there though, shadow IT can still come into play if you’re not careful, proving that communication is the key to this transition. Peter Sondergaard, VP and Global Head of Research for Gartner, wrote a great blog article about bimodal IT and mentions that companies ignoring this trend risk shadow IT, but I think he misses how shadow IT might crop up when applying the Gartner model.

If traditional IT is kept out of the business conversation, shadow IT moves from the end users into modern IT and the solutions implemented will ultimately become unsupportable and fragmented themselves (harken back to the Windows 2003 example). Just because the cloud makes it easy doesn’t mean you move at a breakneck speed towards it. This balance is the value traditional IT can bring. The CIO, on the other hand, must ensure communication is tight throughout the business and keep the bleeding edge reigned in just enough to be secure, while being agile.

The cloud journey is very complex and getting it started right is key if IT is going to shift from cost center to enabler of business agility. IT staff need to embrace the change too. From the engineer up to the CIO, each level now has new roles that can be exciting, but you have to embrace the change!

Why Cloud?

Before we start, here is a quick refresher on the 3 types of cloud solutions, just in case you need it!

Someone asked me the other day why any company would move their IT infrastructure to the cloud. They could see the benefit of SaaS platforms, like Office 365 and ServiceNow since those solutions remove the OS and software management layer nearly completely and are just extremely easy to setup and use. They couldn’t wrap their head around moving other workloads to the cloud, especially IaaS. For example, why would you move some proprietary internal software or Windows file shares to a cloud solution when you’ve built up your datacenter kingdom? Over the years, companies have invested a lot of money in on-premises infrastructure, why change?  Let’s dive right in there!

Heavy Capital Investments
Depending on the size of your company and the workloads that you run, your IT infrastructure could be massive. Networking, server and storage companies have done a fantastic job of optimizing workloads on-premises, but at a cost.

Let’s look at a robust virtualization environment.

Your company has experienced sustained growth for several years and has had an initiative to get over 80% virtualized. It is now several years later and you’ve reduced the amount of physical servers, thanks to blades, tiered storage, and advanced networking across datacenters that allows you to do some amazing things with DR. The environment is huge, but runs well with the latest automation tools.

Phew. That’s a lot of capital you have invested in. Accounting is less than thrilled because they are still depreciating all those assets, but you have saved money in consolidating physical servers. Your CIO has no idea that your current utilization is only 70% because you over-purchased, but at least you have capacity. Plus, there are 4 environments for every critical production workload – dev, QA, support, sandbox. Most of these servers sit online and idle for 80% of the time. If they were offline, your utilization numbers would be closer to 40%.

Every year, you look at these numbers, talk to business application owners and try to predict new capacity, but new unexpected projects always come up. You always try to plan 20% more just in case to handle the additional phantom workloads.

A Better Way
Here’s where the cloud comes in. Instead of all that infrastructure, capacity issues and depreciation, you could utilize a cloud solution for some of those workloads. While capital expenses are difficult to predict and more difficult to assign to business units across a shared infrastructure, operating expenses are extremely easy. With a cloud service, you have the flexibility to only pay for what you use and scale up or down depending on your needs.

Here’s a great example.

Let’s assume you work for a national company and your resources are accessed only 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. If you had on-premises infrastructure, it is likely online for 24 hours a day in a data center with constant power and cooling. That is 720 hours of work per month (not including all that other stuff). If you really only needed 12 hours of capacity per workday though, that works out to be around 264 hours, That’s 50% savings, plus potentially hundred of thousands of dollars in savings from hardware costs and depreciation. Lastly, all those non-production servers can also be moved up and only turned on when they are needed, saving you even more money!

The cloud gives you this easy scalability.

When is a Good Time to Start Your Journey?
There’s two ways to look at this. If you are considering a massive all in cloud solution, which to me sounds awfully scary, a good time to look is during your network, storage and server refresh cycles. I would imagine that this is very hard to plan around though. Is your company regimented enough that you swap your entire datacenter out every 3-5 years and gain immediate savings? Probably not.

There are other ways to start on your cloud journey. SaaS based applications are probably easiest and most often the entry point without IT possibly even realizing they are in play. For example, do you use ADP for your paychecks? That’s really SaaS payroll right there!

When we are talking PaaS or IaaS though, all those non-development workloads are a great place to start. Think about what you do when provisioning a development VM for someone. Typically, you give them a lower spec machine that just sits there on all the time. You can get these workloads easily moved into a cloud service, like Azure, allocate the full specs to match your production environment and have your devs hit it. There are two benefits here. First, you are freeing up on-premises capacity for production workloads and second, you can now spin up and down the VMs and only pay for the usage (down to the minute in Azure)!

Scalability is Key
When cloud solutions first came to light, there were a number of cost saving measures offered. Among those were lower staffing considerations, which is always a tough topic. Staffing savings might be there, but it is more likely that your existing IT staff will still exist, but need a different skillset.

There are other features that the cloud can offer for your workloads. The cloud can easily provide backups and recovery. Another way is how cloud providers have worked with ISPs to provide direct connections into their services. Now, this does come as a cost, but it does have a lot of advantages for performance.

Security is another consideration. All I will say is this. Consider what you can do internally and then compare it to a company whose business interest is in protecting your data because their revenue stream depends on it. Microsoft has even gone so far as to fight the US government over it.

Putting all this aside though, PaaS and IaaS cloud really helps IT organization plan and chargeback to business units much easier than it’s ever been done before. This centers around scalability, but also capability. Imagine being able to move and adjust quickly as your business demands it. That’s what the cloud offers.

What’s the Catch?
As easy as all this sounds, a sound automation and operation model should surround the non-SaaS cloud in order to take advantage of all the cost savings. It does require a strong partner likely to get you there. This is key to a successful cloud implementation, but should be a part of any successful on-premises implementation as well.

This is why Microsoft’s hybrid cloud solution is so compelling. It focuses on getting the pieces to automate and manage all workloads first and then leveraging the cloud for what you can using those same tools and principals. There’s no need to rip out expensive infrastructure and go all into the cloud, but it can help you save money as you refresh environments.

The cloud can be a gradual journey that allows you to streamline existing operations before you move any workloads. Develop processes around what IT does well – enable business success through technology and then determine if they cloud is right for your workloads.

Identity Theft –
Through the Glass, Darkly

I read a lot, or at least I try to. My favorite author is Philip K. Dick. While a lot of Dick’s books deal with multiple level of identities (and puts them through the blender), I think even he would be hard pressed to imagine the world we’ve built around our identities and how freely we and others pass them around.

Dick wrote “A Scanner Darkly,” which is a fantastic novel, and one of Dick’s most insightful about identities. The story centers around a drug addict who is also the police agent that unknowingly is spying on himself. He looks at the himself through a glass, darkly (ie. a mirror). This dual self-identity without knowledge of ‘the other’ is almost as complicated as what happens everyday when we sign in online.

When we’re hacked, we feel personally violated at the electronic breach of something that isn’t us. Sometimes when we’re hacked, it’s only one account out of a multitude. Regardless, that piece of us, that identity for that account, has been compromised.

There’s something more sinister going on besides this identity crisis though. Your identities are being extended and stretched out of your control.

You Don’t Own Your Online Identity
Anthem was hacked. I still have received no notice that my account was hacked, but my son did. He is 5 years old and was a customer through me. I’m not sure how only he was hacked, but he has 2 years identity theft protection, so ‘Woohoo,’ I guess.

When I mentioned this to someone else, they said that they had received a notice as well. Surprised, I asked which of their employers had Anthem. He said he never had Anthem as his insurance, but somehow he was in their systems and his data was compromised.

Anthem is a fantastic example of how you are not in control of your identity. Even if you think that you are careful with multiple levels of authentication or a minimum amount of online presence, it doesn’t matter. There are always back room deals for your identity and data. While it might not be usernames and passwords, it is you, in your digital form, being traded back and forth.

The thing that scares me most about the Anthem hack is not the hack itself. Instead the fact that Anthem had non-customer data! How revealing a thing that is about our identities in this modern age.

What happened in the Anthem hack was that other non-customers in the independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) insurers that may have been serviced by Anthem at some point in the past were also hacked. I had no idea that if I was in an area covered by another BCBS company, your data could be shared with another provider. Yikes!

When you signed up with your company’s health insurance or direct deposit, you gave critical and vital information to another party (your company) and yet another party (the health care provider or payroll company) without a second thought. Who wants to prolong the onboarding process after all? But, now we’ve learned our identities are passed around to facilitate bureaucracy.

Why aren’t we more concerned about this?

Surely, my son was not at fault here, nor was my friend. In order to get essential services and get paid, I have to provide this information and to service me, companies need to share data.

Where does this leave us?
Well, people absolutely HATE government oversight, but at this point I’m not sure what else would do. Maybe an option would be a technology standard around social securities and /or identities – someone get to it!

Anthem and the BCBS network needs to be held accountable. Not so much that they were hacked, but because they don’t have a better process. Both are frankly, easily fixed with good IT solutions.

Online identity is a strange thing. Your electronic presence is something that you not only need to take care of, but something that is completely out of your control. For some reason, everyone is focused on the former and not the latter. The scariest thing to me is how my identity is being traded around without my knowledge.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

At the risk of being possibly the only LinkedIn article with a Bible passage – When we look at our online identities, are we and those we’ve entrusted seeing them clearly or through the monitor, darkly?

How to Use 15% of Office or How to Use Google Apps

For a couple of years now, people have been comparing Google Apps for Business and Office 365. One of the common perceptions from the pro-Google side has been that most people on use 15% of the functionality within the Office software. They expand the conversation to state that the most commonly used spreadsheet features are in Google sheets, and as of late, that is possibly true. A lot of people just use the same 15% of features over and over.

Some businesses can probably get by with most of what Google Apps for Business offers. This selling premise bothers me though and raises a few questions. Is your business only operating at 15% of what it could do by going with Google Apps and, better yet, if you have Office, are people taking advantage of more than 15%?

Cost
As much as I’d like to stray this conversation away from cost, this is foremost on people’s mind. Here’s what we can talk about – the hard costs. It is most fair to compare the base Google plan to the base Microsoft plan. Guess what? Both are $5/user/month! In my experience though, companies who choose Office 365 don’t go with this plan. People who choose Office want the Office desktop software, not just web based productivity tools.

The price for the popular Office 365 E3 plan is $20/user/month compared to Google Apps for Business with unlimited storage and Vault at $10/user/month. The big difference here is the Office software itself of course. For $20/user/month, you can run Office on up to 5 PCs or Macs and have up to 5 mobile and tablet versions anywhere (not including Office Web Apps which works via any browser).

So, is Office worth an extra $10/user/month? Well, Google supporters would have you believe that it is not. After all, that 15% usage creeps in. If Google has only focused on these features though, why isn’t the price for the base Google Apps 15% of the Office 365 E3 plan?

Let’s look at some ways Microsoft makes up for this price difference and how the usage matters. Full Disclosure – I have used both Google Apps for Business and Office 365 in a professional setting.

Email
This is where Google Apps for Business was born and where Microsoft has dominated over the last 20 years. Google Mail has been around since 2004. The other non-mail Google services have been stacked on over the years. Heck, even Microsoft used GMail in an augmented reality game for Halo 2 (that’s how I scored an invite).

Here’s one thing Google understood early on. People get a TON of email. In order to deal with it, they need a LOT of mailbox storage. I remember watching the GB counter every day with much email storage I could get with my free GMail account and comparing it to my 100MB corporate account.

Google’s solution: Search your email, don’t worry about organization or filing.

On the flip side, Microsoft understood something else. People get a TON of email. Email is content. Not all content should be consumed via email and there are different ways to foster collaboration. This is what I see when I look at Office 365 today. Different solutions for different content.

Microsoft’s solution: Put content in the right location and collaborate more effectively. Besides that, organize and prioritize your email. Microsoft knows though that not every corporate culture is savvy in dealing with email content, which is why there are tools to help you, as the recipient, prioritize and clean-up your mailbox (see Clutter, Junk, Ignore Conversations, and Filter Email).

Google actually contributes to the problem of email volume under a horrible guise – search and recall. The assumption of Google is that email is just another mass repository to dump everything and, when you need it, just search for it.

Ugh.

Let’s look at the Google and Microsoft productivity suites and see what else we can do.

Instant Collaboration
Both Google and Microsoft have instant messaging solutions, but they are vastly different. Even with their differences, both work for instant and impromptu communication, determining someone’s availability, file sharing and storing conversation history in their respective mailboxes.

Microsoft’s solution: Use instant messaging as a backbone for quick collaboration, but extend the functionality into meetings, audio and video sharing. Also, make it available throughout Office. As a result, Microsoft Lync is much more than chat, Lync is everywhere across the Office platform. Within the client or within other Office software, you can instantly collaborate with someone over chat, audio, video or with desktop sharing.

Google’s Solution: Just chat, well mostly. Google Talk, which had been wildly popular, was integrated with Google Mail as Lync is with Outlook, but the enhanced features of Lync, like video conferencing and desktop sharing have spawned another application, Hangouts. One thing of note though, Hangouts is not as ubiquitous throughout the Google suite and still it’s own application. Google might be driving towards a Lync-like solution, but they aren’t there yet.

File Storage
Microsoft’s solution: Let people collaborate in teams or spawn collaboration from the individual. SharePoint/OneDrive has come a long way in reducing emails and even file sharing content. This software has been massively popular due to the intuitive interface backed by real time collaboration of documents, spreadsheets and presentations. SharePoint does so much more than document management though and is great at other content management (Discussion Boards, Polls, Shared Calendars, Lists, etc.). OneDrive is more like your personal home drive, built on SharePoint Online and allows for easy sharing of documents.

Google’s solution: Individual file storage and sharing via Google Docs and Drive. The organization is geared towards the individual, not team or project based. Google Docs is really more like DropBox – a simple file repository. Google also has Sites for more team based collaboration, but the end user setup is confusing, requiring more web authoring skills than SharePoint, not to mention, the samples are extremely lame and look about 15 years old.

Enterprise Social
Businesses are starting to leverage social connections within the organization to distribute data and collaborate. This adoption can drive email message volume down and provide a way to easily collaborate with familiar tools from their personal life.

Microsoft’s solution: Familiar is good, natively adopt the best features of personal social media networks and develop an Enterprise class solution. Yammer is for real collaboration and simple broadcasts that are best kept out of email. Sick of ‘Congratulations’ emails? Just look to Yammer’s Praise feature. Yammer is a great place to disseminate static information and the best part is that the recipient is responsible for finding the content. This flips the email scenario on its head!

Yammer could stand some improvements though and better integration with Lync, instead of its own chat client. There’s also an overlap here with SharePoint that folks are expecting will get fleshed out soon.

Google’s solution: Well, no one really knows because everyone avoids it like the plague. With Google, we’re back to Hangouts and Google+, which, again, is just a disaster. Google seems to have a problem discerning consumer solutions from enterprise solutions. There’s a great post about Google+ from a former Googler (watch out for the language). You can see the emphasis on the consumer side throughout his article, but the enterprise conversation (and lack of direction for Google+ in general) is missing.

Good Enough
So, with all the Office functionality, looking at content in a new way and clear cohesiveness throughout the suite, is working at 15% with Google Apps going to work for your company? Office is really worth the money, but you have to make it work for you. Don’t be content to let your end users use only 15% of the suite. Set up some governance and controls to make the most out of your investment. You will find that your users will figure out how best to use the features and they will do some amazing things. I’ve seen it happen!

If there’s still any question about what’s possible, go watch the latest Sykpe for Business video from Microsoft and then go re-visit Google’s intranet Site sample.

How Providers and Distributors
are Dooming the Future of
Content

It seems like the content providers just can’t figure out content distribution. Piracy is rampant, yet the options to get content are more confusing and siloed than ever before. Consumers are being driven away from the traditional cable/satellite subscription model and towards a solution rife with disparity. This isn’t a problem limited to just television, movie content seems to be annoyingly unavailable when and where you want it. Can anyone get this right?

HBO – what have you done?
There’s no denying HBO is a juggernaut content provider. It sits atop the premium cable channels as king with “Game of Thrones” leading the charge. Despite this great content, they have a massive distribution problem. At $15-$18 a month for the channel, they are finding a lot of people want the content and don’t want to pay for it. As evidence, “Game of Thrones” was the top most torrented show of 2014.

HBO’s latest announcement though is that it will simulcast “Game of Thrones” across several countries, which is a page ripped from the record industry’s latest move. There is a big assumption here that people just want to see it immediately and, if they can’t, they will pirate the show. More likely, people are just looking for it immediately because they are worried it will get pulled. The more savvy pirates have schedulers that just constantly check for content on torrent sites or UseNet groups.

This quote from HBO’s CEO Richard Plepler reveals a common content delivery misperception that compounds the issue:
“We see a big opportunity for a stand-alone HBO product around the world,”

This shows a massive lack of understanding regarding HBO’s place as a content provider vs. a distributor, like DirecTV, Netflix or Amazon. Instead of moving towards a model where a consumer can pick from a range of distributors and still get to content, consumers are now forced to choose a content provider on a specific platform, but still at the same rate.

HBO-Now

This brings us to HBO Now and Apple TV. HBO had a massive opportunity to not only embrace ‘cord-cutting’ consumers who have dropped their cable/satellite subscription, but establish itself as a ubiquitous and portable solution across platforms. Unfortunately, it has done the opposite. With this announcement, it has out-priced itself by offering HBO Now at $15/month and offered the solution to only Apple users, isolating everyone else. They could have built an application across platforms (including Google Chromecast, Xbox, PlayStation, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku, etc.). This move will not stop piracy.

What HBO should have done was offer the subscription at a lower rate than its cable/satellite providers and offered it on more platforms. Leading the charge for content ubiquity over their own provider network would’ve opened up other premium cable channel providers (Cinemax, Showtime) to do the same. Even AMC, another juggernaut content provider of late, could’ve gotten into the game. This could have ultimately forced satellite and cable providers to start lowering their subscription costs as well. When more people have more options to get content, the cost is driven down at the distribution level, but raised at the content provider level. When that happens, content distributors subscriptions might go up due to the lower cost and variety of options.

At the far end, we could have all started managing our own content subscriptions. What a wasted chance!

Powers at PlayStation
I finally feel like I got on the boat early! I’ve been reading the “Powers” comic book since the first issue. I was extremely excited to see that it was being developed into a TV show, but there’s just one problem. I have an Xbox One, and “Powers” is only airing on the PlayStation network. So now my only legal choice is to wait and see if/when it comes out in another format. I certainly am not dropping hundred of dollars on a PS4 when I’ve made my console choice and I’m not the only one!

16109699740_9e6cdbaabc

I could choose to subscribe to PlayStationPlus for $50/year and watch “Powers,” but that just doesn’t make economical sense and that isn’t the point of it anyway. PlayStation (like Xbox) wants the additional content as incentive for you to subscribe. A consumer not only receives video content, but also can take advantage of the free games and other online benefits.

PlayStation has definitely guaranteed that “Powers” will be pirated by distributing it on their own network only. That, and they’ve likely doomed it to failure since it won’t reach a lot of consumers.

This is another example of a missed opportunity to drive consumers to choice and their own content subscriptions. They could have easily added Amazon Prime and Netflix as content distributors to this.

Going the Other Way
On the flip side, distributors are getting into the content provider game, which perpetuates this mess. Both Amazon and Netflix have started offering content as part of their subscriptions and both have unique hooks into their other services. Personally, I like Amazon Prime for the free shipping. The content is really just a side benefit. Even renting movies on Amazon and their free (and sparse) Prime video content isn’t worth the subscription alone. I will say though, I am really looking forward to “The Man in the High Castle.”

man_castle

It makes a huge amount of sense for Netflix to offer original programming since their base consumers are looking for video streaming already, but they can’t seem to hold on to studios very well. Every month, there seems to be another article that outlines which movies and TV shows are disappearing. Amazon has this problem too, although it was very self-inflicting. Surely, Amazon and Netflix wouldn’t allow their content to be distributed via another provider!

As a result, every content provider wants to be their own distributor and every distributor wants content exclusivity and will get it via their own content. Frankly, this is killing profits and just contributing to piracy.

Let’s hop in our time machine to 1999 and find out what how we used to consume video content.

You have arrived safely in 1999 and want a movie. You have two choices, buy or rent. Regardless of the choice you make, you can visit a store any find any movie you want(depending on stock). You can even find the same movies on VHS or DVD, depending on your player. These are industry standards and consumers follow them.

Now, let’s go to an alternate timeline run by content providers and distributors.

After a rocky trip, you arrive in 1999 and want a movie. Everyone is intimately familiar with content distribution channels and know which stores carry which movies. They have to because of the complexity! You want to purchase “Back to the Future”, but you can’t find a K-Mart, which is the sole provider of Universal Pictures content sold on HD VHS. There is a Blockbuster nearby, but they only have Orion Pictures content on Laserdisc and you only have a DVD player, so it looks like you won’t be watching “Terminator” either. It looks like you’ll have to find a Suncoast Video. They sell Paramount Pictures’ DVD format. Maybe “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” can do the trick.

This is basically where we are heading with unique solutions for every content provider and distributor. Seriously – this is bananas! Consumers are being forced into specific platforms and options only available in certain locations. You have to stand on your head and chant 3 times to watch one movie and shake your leg in the air to watch another. For crying out loud, I can’t even purchase Big Hero 6 in 3D in the US, but I can rent it! Disney, just take my money, will you?

The Solution
As simplistic as it may sound, it apparently needs stating. All content distribution providers should have all the content they can from other content providers. This is the value they bring for now. Only then can they compete and offer unique services to enhance the content consumption piece. In the future, additional content that could be tailored via a paid experience through a content distributor could set them apart and reduce piracy (for example, HoloLens content).

The problem is, whoever manages this content kingdom will rule everything and everyone wants a piece of it. This is likely why Verizon is even taking another crack at it. So right now, consumers are stuck with too many expensive options because everyone believes their content is best and worth the money. The fact remains though that there is not one solution to rule them all, which means multiple subscriptions for customers from multiple content providers that have become distributors themselves. All the while, the entertainment industry is wondering why people pirate content.

The Most Intriguing Ways Lego
Could Leverage the HoloLens

As I’ve previously stated, the most interesting thing about Microsoft’s Windows 10 announcement was the HoloLens reveal. It jumpstarted me into thinking about real world applications for the product. Harvard Business Review has an article on why businesses should stand up and pay attention to the HoloLens and I couldn’t agree more! As a Lego and Microsoft fan, I keep coming back to ideas that use both Lego bricks and the HoloLens.

The HoloLens is the next platform Lego should develop for, similar to what they’ve done with their Fusion line and iOS devices. There are two benefits for developing on the HoloLens platform. Building a Lego application on the HoloLens keeps the investment lower than if Lego were to develop their own hardware solution. Also, when you are dealing with digital content, it is much easier to scale up or down quickly and adjust to market trends.

Much of this article is inspired by “How Lego Became the Apple of Toys”, my own experience with Lego and working in IT, and watching my kids play with the toys and the video games.

DSC02839My son at LEGOLAND Florida

In an effort to start a conversation between Microsoft and Lego, let’s jump right into it!

Lego Sets – Enhancing Play
There is so much you can do with a Lego set combined with a HoloLens. The hardware has an advantage over Fusion, eliminating the need to switch to a device in the middle of play since it  can be worn throughout the play process. An entire eco-system can be built around the consumer’s lifecycle from opening the box to destroying the set and re-purposing the bricks into new creations.

Lego Account: Everything outlined in this section is works with a household and/or individual Lego accounts. Each account has content tied to it that is accessible via a Lego HoloLens application. The application can be published in the HoloLens marketplace (which I can only imagine Microsoft is building).

The account is optional for those who want HoloLens content. Keeping it optional won’t disrupt consumers that just want to purchase the sets and enjoy them in the traditional way. This also gives them an easy entry point into the program later should they change their mind.

There are revenue streams that could be explored with a subscription model however there are a myriad of considerations before going down this path.

Let’s imagine that there is a builder who has just registered an account and purchased a new set. Let’s go through the consumer lifecycle leveraging the HoloLens.

Lifecycle Stage 1: Opening the box
This is where the fun starts. Lego has been including mini-comic books with the Superhero sets. Instead of a comic book, a short holographic video could play when the builder scans the box with their HoloLens. This video is automatically saved to their account’s library, for replay later, and information regarding the purchase of the set is stored to their account.

There could be more holographic content around starting the set or building the first minifigures.

Not only will this enhance the builder’s experience, but this data can be matched to a licensing property for future relevant content.

Lifecycle Stage 2: Building the set
While the set comes with a paper instructions, the HoloLens has optional holographic instructions that are automatically accessible in the cloud. The builder can see a virtual model of each step in their workspace that stays in step as they proceed through the instructions.

If the builder is stuck on a step, they can manipulate the hologram and view it in 360 degrees. The next bricks to be placed will show placement in an animation.

As the set is built, the included minifigures could appear as holograms and perform different activities, such as examine the progress or possibly attempt to help find pieces.

Lego could monitor the time on the particular build from the application and gather stats on difficulty. These numbers could also be used for social media postings and allow the builder to try to beat a friend’s time on the same set.

With a second HoloLens, people in the same location (a parent and child, for example) can sit and work on the same set together.

Lifecycle Stage 3: Completing the build
The builder has now completed the set and takes a picture of it. The software recognizes it as complete and logs it complete on the account. Three things happen:

1. As when they opened the box, holographic content (a video or puzzle) plays celebrating the completion of the set. This content can be specific to the licensing property associated with the set.

2. Along with the intense pride they are feeling, the builder receives an achievement tied to their Lego account (or Xbox or PS4). They can also post the information, along with custom reviews or comments on social media sites.

3. The builder also gains digital rights to the completed set, which is a holographic representation. This can either be used for general play and interaction, but also enhanced play with additional content.

The holographic set can be exploded and reassembled via the HoloLens interface, similar to the way it happens inside the Lego Digital Designer. For a licensing property like Star Wars or Elves, this content could involve magical gestures for reassembly.

Lifecycle Stage 4: Destroying the build
Since the digital rights have been added to their account, the set is now available as a hologram at any time. The builder can now destroy the set and use the bricks elsewhere knowing that their digital copy is preserved. They can now play with the hologram at any point if they wish.

Lifecycle Stage 5: Other builds
Many Lego sets come with additional builds on the back of the box. The instructions for these builds are not included with the set upon purchase. After completion of the set however, there could be downloadable holographic instructions for the secondary builds on the box or even other sets that can be built.

Did you know that many of these alternate building instructions are available online? Go check it out!

Lifecycle Stage 6: New Content
To incentivize customers further to enroll in a Lego account, additional content can be added to completed sets. This could be episodic content delivered via the HoloLens or maybe new content relevant to the same licensing property. For example, when the builder purchases the Lego Avengers Helicarrier set and completes it, they see new content available around upcoming Marvel sets or even a puzzle that leverages a component of the set.

A good example could be found in the recent Batman Be-Leagured special and the 76013 set, Batman: The Joker Steam Roller, which appears in the special. If the builder has the set and is watching the special, additional content could play or the entire special could be distributed with the set and their Lego account.

Consumer Lifecycle
This scenario results in a fully cyclical consumer Lego lifecycle, resulting in more sales (and more opening of boxes) from intelligent content placement at each stage in the consumer’s lifecycle.

While this creates a natural lifecycle, it doesn’t need to be followed exactly. For example,
– “Completing the build” can move right into “New Content” if the builder is a collector and only wants the set in tact (like President Business).
– “Destroying the build” can follow any stage after it.
– “Building the set” can be completed at any point after “Destroying the build”

LegoLifecycle

Lego Free Play and New Ways to Collaborate
Lego has a massive community of fans and they embrace them. Utilizing this community along with a Lego Digital Designer and Fusion-type software built for the HoloLens, Lego could find additional revenue streams just new sales.

Scenario: As a builder constructs a set in Free Play (ie. not a designed Lego set), the HoloLens can record the actions. When complete, the HoloLens can save the design, along with the steps into the accounts library. The build can be named and then shared on social media sites and within a curated Lego community.

Since the build is recorded and stored to the builder’s account, the builder can play with it anytime by calling up with hologram. It can be also be shared via the application to other Lego fans or on social media sites.

Scenario: Group collaboration could be particularly interesting. The Lego Digital Designer could be expanded to allow collaborative play using the HoloLens. Builders from all around the world can collaborate with anyone, anywhere in realtime, share their ideas, and post their instructions.

Lego Video Games and Movies
Lego video games are already very popular. In looking at VGChartz’s report (and taking out PC, iOS and Android sales), they has been 115 million units sold globally. Traveller’s Tales Games and Lego have taken licensed properties to new levels through entirely new virtual worlds. As you can see in this chart, which contains the Lego video games selling over 1 million units, games from the licensed properties are the highest selling.

LegoVGChart

It is important to note that Lego Battles and Lego City Undercover, which are not tied to external licensed properties were only released to limited platforms. This could have contributed to their lower numbers. Regardless, the HoloLens could be an opportunity for Lego to bring customers to characters built around their own intellectual property, like City and Friends.

For many years, Lego had generic minifigures. In 2010 though, Lego released their first mystery minifigure wave. Since then, even the set minifigures have become more interesting and expressive. Lego has suddenly greatly expanded their own universe into its own intellectual property and has a chance to make set minifigures recognizable via new holographic content.

Traveller’s Tales and the folks who worked on the Lego Movie have taken great care to ensure that the models in the games and movies can be built in real life. When the games and movies are sold, there could be additional digital content. This content gives the consumer digital rights to the sets and/or minifigures that appear in the games and movies. Of particular note, since the minifigures are virtual, you can interact with them and they can also interact with each other.

A consumer purchases a HoloLens ready version of the next Lego City game. They also get digital rights to the minifigures along with all the vehicles that appear in the game. If there was a concern about physical set sales, Lego could limit it to sets in the game that do not have corresponding real sets.

HoloLens really could become the next immersive entertainment experience. Lego could start by dipping their toes in holographic videos content and move into games next. This experience would allow players to interact with the holographic content, moving lifesize bricks to drive the story along.

Lego Mindstorms
Lego Mindstorms really deserves its own development application for the HoloLens. Some amazing things could be achieved if always on connectivity exists between the HoloLens, the Mindstorms EV3 Brick, and different engine components.

Based on the HoloLens video demo, it appears that it will have the capabilities to understand modular environments. With the right development toolset, a builder could use gesture based programming to create tasks around any environment without the need for any code. Depending on camera advancements, the builder can become immersed in the environment, using gestures to control actions. These actions are interpreted to software that builds the code on the fly through image recognition of engines and capabilities, but also specific objects.

The gestures can be mapped to real EV3 code, which can be graphically displayed via the HoloLens. This allows for easy manipulation of the EV3 project without the need for a computer.

Big Data Enables Everything
Lego’s online consumer experience is incredible. Their supply chain management and licensing capabilities are truly amazing! Clearly, there is a lot of big data behind the scenes. A builder can find Lego instructions and purchase bricks to complete a set or augment their inventory. Data is key to making this work.

Lego sets, while often complex, can be broken down into datasets. For example, each Lego instruction page has the set in a stage of assembly, so that dataset is known. Another dataset is the inventory for each set. If you are missing a piece, which has actually happened to me, you can login to their website, look up your set and order the replacement piece from a catalog of bricks specific to that set.

There are 3 ways to make this data work for Lego with a HoloLens application:
1. Augment Lego’s Fusion and Digital Designer technology with Microsoft’s recent advances with image recognition software and machine learning to further enhance brick/minifigure/set recognition through a second phase of digitizing Lego bricks from the on-premises SGI computers at Lego into Microsoft Azure.
2. Build HoloLens applications with APIs back to Lego’s big data systems, globally dispersed within Azure for redundancy and consumer performance.
3. Carve out cloud based storage to save the data for each customer’s account information in order to improve performance and give the user a better experience.

HoloLensExp

Microsoft should be very incentivized to get these types of solutions deployed. Even with the built in capabilities of the HoloLens, a strong cloud back end is required. Microsoft has been using Azure to back Xbox for some time now. Lego and HoloLens will drive Azure consumption. This consumption along with a partnership with Lego, the world’s most popular brand, should drive Microsoft to help Lego deliver this solution to consumers.

Considerations for the HoloLens
Even though this information is actionable, there are still unknown challenges around the HoloLens that may need to be overcome.

The HoloLens appears to be geared towards adults and an adult sized head is larger than a child’s head. Lego needs to be sure that Microsoft is building this technology so that can be accessible by both adults and children.

There may be challenges to overcome with Microsoft around making the HoloLens appear as a toy vs. a productivity tool. In order to appeal to both adults and children, the Lego application should appear as an entertainment platform layered on top of the physical toy experience.

Another consideration is the image recognition of the sets. The Microsoft demo has shown complex 3d holograms interacting with simple, flat surfaces. It still remains unclear as to whether the HoloLens can take advantage of interactions with real 3d objects and correlate the information to 3d holograms.

The Time to Start is Now!
There are a few assumptions in this article and obviously I don’t have access to internal Lego sales data to perform any kind of deep analysis. The ideas in this article simply try to push Lego’s “One Reality” idea forward using Microsoft’s HoloLens.

With the HoloLens just being announced and content being offered at Microsoft’s Build conference, the time for Lego to start thinking about this is now. There would likely be significant infrastructure, cloud based applications to build, and big datasets to gather.

Just thinking about the possibilities gets me excited as a Lego consumer. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Older posts Newer posts

© 2017 Matthew Sekol

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑