I'm doing a lot of research on using virtual worlds for work these days and have been spending some time in Second Life. One of the characteristics I notice is that there seems to be a dearth of people (avatars) around. Does it matter? Well, it depends what your expectations are. If you think of Second Life as "sort of like the Web," where you can teleport alone (surf the Web) from island to island (Web site to Web site) then it shouldn't matter that most islands you'll visit are devoid of human presence. Think about audio and Web conferencing tools: an audio or Web conference is "vacant" until one or more of the expected parties join in, and we consider that perfectly acceptable. But if this is your expectation, it may freak you out more than a little bit if you see an avatar fly by you unexpectedly or an unknown avatar suddenly materializes next to you and addresses you via the chat window.
Why is BI TEI (Total Economic Impact) so elusive? Recently I reached out to all major BI software vendors and asked them to provide a customer reference who's willing to stand up and confirm a hard $ return on investment from BI implementation. Guess how many takers I got? None. Yes many are willing to point to expected savings and benefits, but no one's gone back and calculated the actual results. Why? It is definitely very complex. For example:
Make sure you account for both direct and indirect costs.
Direct costs are the obvious expenses and capital expenditures associated with BI software, hardware and consulting services. A good rule of thumb is to expect to pay $5-$7 dollars for system integration and management consulting for every $1 you pay for software. And don't forget to include the costs of training and on-going support.
Indirect costs are for software/hardware/services for non-BI specific components which are nevertheless necessary to achieve a successful BI implementation: data quality, master data management, metadata implementation, portals, collaboration, knowledge management and many others. The indirect costs are not as easy to quantify. For example, do you attribute the cost of implementing a data quality solution to the BI initiative? Most likely your data quality problems exist in your sources, so one might think it should be a separate effort. However, very often you identify data quality problems when you build your first BI solution, so there may be a tendency to bundle in these costs into the BI project. As a result, these indirect costs are notoriously difficult to identify and negotiate (with other stakeholders), but nevertheless they are a major component of the total cost.
Yesterday a small group of Forrester analysts and research associates held a team meeting in Second Life to try to figure out whether meeting this way is a viable alternative to the usual teleconference. Teleconferences are terrible. While we're talking and listening, there's not much to look at but our computer screens (which are constantly blinking at us with new emails and IMs and reminders of all the tasks we haven't completed yet) so inevitably we end up multi-tasking. And in teams that have been around for a while people know each others' voices but not so for new teams. So when people on the call forget to introduce themselves before they say something, the first few words are lost while listeners try to figure out who's talking, and then the next few words lost while you try to recreate the first few words.
While we had some fun yesterday trying on free T-shirts, teleporting to otherworldly locations, and taking some carnival rides, the sentiment of most of the participants was that Second Life isn't really ready for prime time team meetings. If it was tough for us it will be tough for other information workers. Here's why:
While market drivers like compliance, eDiscovery, and risk management get a lot of press (and point to great opportunity for records management), the fact is that many organizations are not ready for full-blown RM programs. Why? Mostly due to organizational immaturity — not correctly aligning roles, responsibilities, and budget ownership (for more on this, click here). But there is also the problem of mutliple repositories containing records; organizations struggle with the question of moving records to a central repository or investigating federated RM.
HP and IBM are tossing barbs at each other in the blade server space this week with dueling management tools that greatly simplify administration, whichever platform you choose. On Monday, HP announced the latest iteration of its Virtual Connect technology and today, IBM finally unveiled its competitive offering, Open Fabric Manager (although IBM’s won’t start shipping until Dec. 21). Both tools let administrators pre-assign network and storage configuration settings that fail-over and migrate with the server and virtual server images running on those blades. They both also, in these latest iterations, let you manage these profiles across multiple blade chassis (up to 100 chassis).
Compliance requirements of large enterprise customers are too complex to satisfy with organically grown role management software. As a result, it appears that the role management acquisition storm is starting. With BridgeStream acquired by Oracle and now Vaau by Sun, enterprise role maintenance is finally coming of age and will be part of Sun's Identity Management portfolio. Vauu's large number clients will continue to demand vendor agnostic solutions from RBACx, and although Sun has traditionally been one of the strongest players in the market of multi-OS vendors, it remains to be seen how Sun will handle the multiplatform challenge and keeping RBACx alive non-Sun operating systems. System integrators now have one less choice for picking an independent role magagement vendor. Eurekify, BHOLD, and Omada will likely now to receive acquisition offers from other large IAM suite vendors trying to complete their provisioning role management portfolio.
I remember my days as a PricewaterhouseCoopers consultant in the late 90's and early 2000, when the company was awash in HP acquisition rumors and then later discussions of the failed transaction. IBM beat HP and picked up a gem — PwC in these days was hard to beat in many areas, especially in business intelligence management consulting offerings. HP then went on an picked up a much smaller BI boutique Knightsbridge. Now that IBM is acquiring Cognos, will HP follow the same fate and acquire smaller Information Builders, Microstrategy or Actuate? There's also still SAS that would give HP a complete BI stack, but as we know acquiring the world's largest privately held company can be a financial and cultural fit nightmare (plus a rumored $20B or more than 10x revenues price tag is hard for anyone to swallow). That's why I thought that HP's potential acquisition of Cognos + Informatica + Teradata could've given HP best of breed components in all areas of BI stack. But just like with PwC, HP will now have to pursue smaller, more niche BI opportunities.
Back to IBM. Well, not so fast. Back to IBM and SAP. In my opinion, IBM/COGN and SAP/BOBJ deals are defensive moves since both companies have been telling us for years that they prefer to grow their BI portfolios organically, with smaller tuck-in acquisition. However, organic growth is not happening fast enough, and giving in to sideway pressures from Oracle (with two top of the line BI products from Siebel and Hyperion) and upward pressures from Microsoft (after Proclarity acquisition and with significant Performance Point market momentum), IBM and SAP had no choice but to react.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the enterprise software world were on board with your server virtualization efforts? Imagine downloading the latest version of PeopleSoft or Crystal Reports in a virtual server format that could be loaded on to VMware ESX and would just run – no installation, no configuration hassles, just instantiate and go.
Microsoft today put itself squarely into the enterprise search market by introducing Microsoft Search Server Express 2008. You can download the release candidate from its website and give it a try if you have a Windows 2003 Server with some free space on it. It's free today, and it will be free when it goes to general release in the first quarter of 2008. Don't be fooled by its cost; this is a capable product that will get the attention of anyone considering or in the midst of a search deployment. Search Server will disrupt the strategies of clients and vendors within the already confusing search landscape. It is better than 'good enough' on many fronts, including its connectivity into Documentum and FileNet content repositories — also free — and its unified administration interface. For more insights, take a look at Forrester’s view on the release.
Second Life is an anonymous virtual world — most people cannot identify themselves with avatars that use their real names. I say most people because I suppose there is a chance your name in real life could be Baklava Lacava and you could have picked this combination for your avatar. Oops, no you couldn’t – Rob Koplowitz picked that one a long time ago. Anyway, users in Second Life (called “residents”) choose a first name and a last name from a list of options ranging from realistic to fantastic. For a long time I’ve been thinking that because Second Life is an anonymous world it will be doomed to be no more than experimental grounds for use at work. But yesterday I had a phone interview followed by an in-world tour from Claus Nehmzow, a partner at PA Consulting, a 3,000-person consulting company headquartered in London. My thoughts after talking with Claus: