Bill Pray

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Bill Pray
Research Director
2 years at Gartner
16 years IT industry

Bill Pray is an analyst in the Collaboration and Content Strategies ITP team. He covers communications and collaboration solutions — e-mail, calendars, instant messaging, and web conferencing…Read Full Bio

Catalyst Conference Report: SaaS and Optimization

by Bill Pray  |  August 4, 2011  |  1 Comment

Catalyst Conference in San Diego last week hit high water marks for attendance and participation. I kept busy: 2 workshops, 2 presentations, 3 panels, a roundtable and the MC for the Unified Communications track. Add to that numerous great conversations with a lot of very smart people.

Overall, two topics rose to the surface very quickly during conversations: SaaS communications/collaboration and optimizing the current email environment for lower costs.

The SaaS conversations had a different flavor from last year. At last year’s Catalyst, much of the conversation about SaaS email and collaboration centered around viability. Could SaaS offerings meet enterprise requirements? Are they worth considering? This year, the conversation was about where can SaaS communications and collaboration be used within the enterprise? How can it work in a hybrid delivery model (some users and technology on-premise and some in the cloud)? Is there such a thing as SaaS unified communications?

The optimization conversations centered heavily on storage and virtualization for email. Many enterprises are in their upgrade planning and execution for email. The demand for larger mailboxes from users (who are enjoying their large consumer mailboxes) has IT email architects and admins concerned about storage, performance, and high availability.

For those of you that I had the chance to speak with during the course of events last week, thank you for your time and insights. Also, a “shout out” to Karen Hobert, from Gartner Consulting. Thank you for all the great help and insight you provided during the email roundtable and workshop. Karen shared some of her experiences helping several enterprises with their email strategy over the last year.

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Category: Cloud unified communications     Tags: , , , , ,

Calendaring is Broke

by Bill Pray  |  March 21, 2011  |  Comments Off

I have asserted that calendaring is broke in previous blogs:

Separating Calendar from E-mail

A Novel Idea from Dilbert

Calendars: A Personal Tool in an Enterprise World

Time is Money

Email is tightly integrated with calendar. However, the calendar functionality in email is based on the old paradigm of the paper planner – a paradigm that breaks down in today’s environment.

I am not the only one who thinks calendaring is broke. In research for email systems management, some of the statements about calendaring were:

The half-assed way things are implemented in calendars is irritating customers.”

The calendar functionality (as part of migration to a central location) has delayed upgrades.”

Calendaring has caused us problems with people using Macs, mobile devices, or external…”

“Admins really suffer the pain. They have to use two different interfaces – one to manage executives calendars, one to manage email.”

“They give me the rope and then they yank it away (referring to calendaring standards and vendor solutions).”

“More than anything else, calendar is a total vendor lock-in.”

Integration problems (with two different e-mail solutions) caused problems with calendar free/busy and delegation”.”

A Call for Action

E-mail solution vendors need to fix calendaring. The vendors need to fully embrace calendaring standards. Calendaring standards need to be extended to facilitate integration and consumption within other application environments. Vendors need to provide interoperability between calendaring solutions. And, perhaps the most important, vendors need to revisit their calendaring design paradigm and provide new calendaring functionality where the calendar becomes an intelligent filtering tool that aids users to more effectively live and work.

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Category: Communication     Tags: , ,

Exiting a Market

by Bill Pray  |  March 7, 2011  |  Comments Off

Exiting a market can be tricky for a vendor. Some vendors are good at it, some are not. Nearly every major vendor makes a mistake and enters markets that it can’t be profitable in or the market is no longer strategic to the vendor. Most vendors would prefer to fade into the woodwork when they fail in a market. Some, however, are forced to say something publicly because of the marketing they put into the offering, such as Cisco’s announcement recently about exiting the e-mail market. Be sure to read Matt Cain’s analysis of Cisco’s exit: The Perils of Cloud E-Mail: Cisco Exits the Market.

As a product manager, I was involved in several market exits with products and product lines. Unfortunately, at one point in the my career, I had been involved in a enough of them that when I was assigned to a new team there was concern that I was assigned to the team because a decision had been made to kill the product. A “grim reaper” reputation is not fun to have.

There are numerous warning signs that can lead up to an announcement by a vendor that they have failed with a product in a particular market. I blogged previously about some of those signs to help you know when the relationship might be coming to an end:

How to Tell When Your Vendor is Just Not That Into You

Once the vendor has announced they are exiting the market, there are some things you should consider about how the vendor exits. This is particularly important if the vendor is considered a strategic vendor for your organization and future plans and decisions rely on the vendor’s solutions. Here are four warning signs to look for:

  • The Blame Game – If the vendor starts blaming someone or something for their exit, things may be worse than the vendor is publicly stating. Like anyone, if the vendor seeks and finds someone or something to blame for their failure other than themselves, then it usually means that people are trying to keep their jobs and the environment is not healthy. It is especially bad if the vendor blames the customer – “The customers told us they wanted this product, but…” All that means is that those responsible never really understood what their customers wanted from them, or if they did, they were unable to deliver but are trying to transfer the blame to someone that won’t get them fired (they hope). Most PR hacks will tell you the best route is to admit the mistake and move on.
  • No Options – A good exit, if there is one, includes the vendor giving you viable options to replace their solution – even if that means that they work with a competitor. It should include migration help, maybe price breaks, extended support and a detailed explanation of what this means for vendor’s market and solution story. If there are no options offered, your vendor is not in good shape because they are not taking care of their customers.
  • Legal Defensiveness – Sometimes when a vendor exits a market, the announcement can read a bit like a legal statement that attempts to avoid any kind of responsibility or liability. In these litigious times, vendors messages about exiting a market and killing a product are often reviewed by their legal teams to attempt avoid problems. Unfortunately, viewing the situation only from legally defensible perspective is not a healthy approach and often escalates. I have seen circumstances where this view has escalated to the level of the customer demanding source code to the soon-to-be defunct product. The vendor is caught in a no-win situation between a very unhappy customer and giving up intellectual property.
  • The Rest of the Story – Usually, the vendor has incorporated the product or products that are going to be killed into a story about vendor’s overall suite of products. What does the exit and killing of the product do to the vendor’s story and what does that mean to the customer? If the vendor isn’t answering these questions to your satisfaction, then you have a reason to be suspicious of the vendor’s health or ability to execute in the future.
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Category: Strategic Planning     Tags: , ,

Lotusphere 2011

by Bill Pray  |  February 4, 2011  |  1 Comment

IBM’s theme for Lotusphere 2011 was “Get Social. Do Business.” A few of my observations:

  • The audience had a very international flavor – more so than in years past, it seemed. It was not unusual to stand in the crowd and hear numerous languages. Not knowing the numbers for comparison, one can only speculate. Is the diversity due to declining presence in North America, or increasing international presence for Lotus?
  • IBM, as part of the social message, is doing more to embrace higher education. This was attested to by the 500 university students attending the first day of Lotusphere. It will be interesting to see if IBM continues to expand its efforts with Lotus in the higher education arena. Some argue that higher education is the doorway to enterprise adoption as next generation workers bring their higher education technologies and experiences with them into the work place.
  • The innovations lab, usually a highlight of the show for me, was a little “meh” this year. I did find interesting the several applications of analytics that IBM is experimenting with, particularly with e-mail and calendaring.
  • Unified communications as a solution and in name was virtually invisible this year, which seemed a little odd given the significant presence the Sametime products have had in previous years, with devoted keynote sessions and a heavy messaging presence. This year there was no keynote for Sametime, although the technologies were demoed in the other keynotes.
  • If you can grade a conference on the quality of the food, then there seems to be have been a decline from previous years. I know, it is not technically relevant – but it does illustrate that eating conference food is not always that great.
  • There seemed to be fewer partners in the partner area (again no numbers to compare, just a perception, so please take it as such), but the ones I spoke with were very positive on Lotus. LotusLive is attracting a lot of partner interest. Past significant partners like Cisco and SAP were noticeably absent.
  • The social messaging for business makes sense and resonates, but can IBM execute in the face of stiff competition?

Overall, I think IBM’s efforts around social business are interesting – potentially compelling, but unproven, by any vendor as of yet. Nothing really “wow”ed me. The event was as it has been in the past – the annual gathering of the Lotus faithful.

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Category: Communication unified communications     Tags: , , , , , , ,

Search Warrants for E-mail

by Bill Pray  |  January 27, 2011  |  Comments Off

The roiled waters of legal precedence for e-mail were stirred again with the Sixth Court of Appeals recently ruling that police must obtain a search warrant before accessing e-mail stored by an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Below are some interesting quotes from the opinion issued by the court (http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/10a0377p-06.pdf):

“Warshak enjoyed a reasonable expectation of privacy in his emails vis-a-vis NuVox, his Internet Service Provider. See Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967). Thus, government agents violated his Fourth Amendment rights by compelling NuVox to turn over the emails without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause.”

This is the heart of the issue – the Sixth Court of Appeals ruled that the Fourth Amendment applies to e-mail, even if it is stored at a third party’s service.

“Email is the technological scion of tangible mail, and it plays an indispensable part in the Information Age. Over the last decade, email has become “so pervasive that some persons may consider [it] to be [an] essential means or necessary instrument[] for self-expression, even self-identification.” Quon, 130 S. Ct. at 2630. It follows that email requires strong protection under the Fourth Amendment; otherwise, the Fourth Amendment would prove an ineffective guardian of private communication, an essential purpose it has long been recognized to serve. See U.S. Dist. Court, 407 U.S. at 313; United States v. Waller, 581 F.2d 585, 587 (6th Cir. 1978) (noting the Fourth Amendment’s role in protecting “private communications”). As some forms of communication begin to diminish, the Fourth Amendment must recognize and protect nascent ones that arise. See Warshak I, 490 F.3d at 473 (“It goes without saying that like the telephone earlier in our history, e-mail is an ever-increasing mode of private communication, and protecting shared communications through this medium is as important to Fourth Amendment principles today as protecting telephone conversations has been in the past.”).”

I love the first line. This is why I find the purported death of e-mail to be greatly exaggerated. Sure, e-mail will continue to evolve and, hopefully, return to its proper use as asynchronous text messaging, but death is not imminent. The pervasiveness of e-mail guarantees its life and just as snail mail lives on, it will continue to be an important part of business communications.

“If we accept that an email is analogous to a letter or a phone call, it is manifest that agents of the government cannot compel a commercial ISP to turn over the contents of an email without triggering the Fourth Amendment. An ISP is the intermediary thatmakes email communication possible. Emails must pass through an ISP’s servers to reach their intended recipient. Thus, the ISP is the functional equivalent of a post office or a telephone company. As we have discussed above, the police may not storm the post office and intercept a letter, and they are likewise forbidden from using the phone system to make a clandestine recording of a telephone call—unless they get a warrant, that is. See Jacobsen, 466 U.S. at 114; Katz, 389 U.S. at 353. It only stands to reason that, if government agents compel an ISP to surrender the contents of a subscriber’s emails, those agents have thereby conducted a Fourth Amendment search, which necessitates compliance with the warrant requirement absent some exception.”

This section equates the ISP to the post office or the telephony company – an important distinction in terms of legal precedent and the Fourth Amendment.

Interesting reading, but don’t bank on this decision clarifying the legal questions around e-mail. I am not an attorney, so the best advice I can give as an analyst is to involve your enterprise’s legal counsel in any decision regarding the outsourcing of e-mail. The interviews I have conducted over the past several months have revealed that organizations that involve their legal counsel in decisions regarding the outsourcing, storage, retention, and deletion of e-mail go through a valuable risk assessment process that helps IT to partner with the business in providing the best solution that meets the risk tolerance of the enterprise.

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Category: Cloud Communication e-mail     Tags: , , ,

Disconnected For a Week

by Bill Pray  |  January 12, 2011  |  1 Comment

I was fortunate enough to spend the last week on vacation. As part of my vacation, I tried something I haven’t managed to do ever since I became involved in IT more than 15 years ago: I disconnected for an entire week – 7 entire days without internet, e-mail, text messaging, and telephone.

The experience wasn’t the respite that I had hoped for – rather, it was a bit discombobulating. I mentally prepared myself for being away from e-mail. I dutifully crafted and applied my vacation notices. And when I returned, because of my vacation notices, nothing in my e-mail cried out for immediate attention or action. My e-mail rules had pre-sorted many of the messages and I was able to – after a few hours – wade through the messages I needed to read and send the needed responses. The time of year also helped, in that many people were also on vacation or just getting back into their workflows from the holiday slowdowns, so my e-mail volume was down a bit. Not having telephone was a similar experience, as I just waded through the voicemail upon my return, knowing that callers were informed that I would be unreachable for the week.

In fact, I employed attention management tools and techniques to manage my in-boxes. Craig Roth recently explained attention management in his blog:

Attention Management: The Common Thread

However, what discombobulated me was not being able to see my feeds – news, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Without internet access, I didn’t have my finger on pulse of my world and what I consider important. For a week, I didn’t know what was happening.

So, a week disconnected turned out not to be about respite from overload and a mountain of messages awaiting my return. Rather, it was loss the of the pulse or heartbeat of what is important to me. As Craig would put it (I think), it was about the loss of keeping in touch with the things that warrant my attention.

Would I do it again? Maybe, but I think that keeping your finger on the pulse is important to your sense of well-being – even when you are on vacation.

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Category: Communication     Tags: ,

After Two Years, Cisco Disappoints

by Bill Pray  |  December 14, 2010  |  2 Comments

It has been a little over two years since the acquisition of PostPath and Jabber by Cisco, with not much to show. When Cisco acquired PostPath, I blogged about how it will not be easy for Cisco and that they have to answer the questions of why and how for enterprises:

Another 800 LB Gorilla Jumps In – Cisco Acquiring PostPath

A little over a year later, Cisco had started articulating its vision for e-mail. The vision is a good one, as I blogged about in:

The Evolution of the Inbox

And now, after two years, Cisco’s efforts in the e-mail and instant messaging (IM) space seem a bit stalled. Cisco recently changed the name of Cisco WebEx Mail to Cisco Mail, but it is still in “limited availability” – meaning only in North America. I interpret “limited availability” as another way of saying “beta.” Cisco hasn’t rolled out Cisco Mail internally either. There is no eating their own dog food or drinking their own champagne yet.

On the IM front, there has been more progress as the Jabber technologies have been integrated into Cisco Unified Presence, Cisco Unified Personal Communicator, and Cisco WebEx Connect IM. However, there is no market buzz around Cisco’s efforts. The integration of the Jabber technologies has been lost in the confusing noise of Cisco’s collaboration solutions message.

I believe that if Cisco does not execute on its text-based messaging products, it will struggle to be successful in the rest of its collaboration solution story. Cisco doesn’t have to be #1 in text-based messaging to be successful. Cisco just has to offer viable enterprise-grade solutions that get them on the short list and provide enterprises with alternatives and choice.

Competition is good for markets and customers. It spurs innovation and better costs. I would applaud Cisco stepping it up and competing with Google, IBM, and Microsoft in text-based communications. The markets for text-based communications are huge, with room for numerous players and plenty of green field opportunities.

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Category: e-mail     Tags: , , , ,

E-mail Systems Management Field Research

by Bill Pray  |  November 9, 2010  |  Comments Off

The interviews are complete and the data is consolidated. As part of my research endeavors, over the last couple of months I have been interviewing organizations about how they are handling their e-mail systems management. The results have been interesting and now the work of creating the research reports begins.

I would like to thank everyone who participated in the interviews – 39 IT professionals, architects, and executives that were gracious enough to spend some time talking with me.

In all, the interviews generated approximately 2,000 affinity statements. Five analysts then categorized, discussed, and created insights over a period of 4 days – fueled by Chicago deep dish pizza and copious amounts of caffeine.

IMG_4103

The resulting research documents will be published as part of the Collaboration and Content Strategies research in the IT Practitioner’s group within Gartner.

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Category: e-mail     Tags:

Separating Calendar from E-mail

by Bill Pray  |  October 12, 2010  |  3 Comments

While interviewing a senior IT architect at a large firm a few weeks ago for my research project on e-mail systems management, I gleaned an interesting insight into how they have been successful in using an alternative e-mail solution (other than on-premises IBM Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange). They disconnected calendaring from e-mail culturally, socially, in processes, and even sometimes technically.

It is an interesting idea. For some, this may seem like a step backward.

The calendar has changed. What is in today’s e-mail clients is a technology derivative of the old paper planners. As such, it does not work well in the mobile device world where calendars are more dynamic and represent a filter for a person’s time and effort that spans their work and personal lives.

I have since spoken with a couple more organizations that have done the same – separated calendaring from e-mail. For each, it appears to have given the organization more flexibility in its choice of e-mail solution and made the possibility of changing that solution a less expensive migration situation.

However, there are issues with this approach. It usually requires users to interact with multiple interfaces. Interoperability between solutions can be a challenge. And, it is generally administrative users (who are usually the calendar power users) who will feel the most pain as they are the ones that manage multiple calendars for groups and executives.

Calendaring is something that has been neglected by the major e-mail vendors and numb point for enterprises – meaning that while calendaring functionality often doesn’t meet the needs, the pain of the work arounds hasn’t been enough for enterprises to seek or develop other solutions.

There are some attempts to fix calendaring. CalConnect, the Calendaring & Scheduling Consortium, is working to promote calendaring and scheduling interoperability and enhancement. There are calendaring and scheduling web service start-ups that are trying to address the numb points and get the attention of users and the enterprise (e.g. Doodle, TimeBridge, and Tungle).

However, until the enterprise recognizes the pain of the current calendaring and scheduling solutions available in e-mail and pushes for change, it will continue to be a numb point. Meetings will be missed. Admins will spend time on the telephone calling to coordinate schedules. Time zone snafus will disconnect participants. And users will be frustrated that their mobile calendar doesn’t provide the filter on their life that they need.

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Category: e-mail     Tags: , , , , ,

Marrying E-mail, IM, and Web Conferencing

by Bill Pray  |  September 17, 2010  |  1 Comment

When evaluating or discussing unified communications (UC), one of the first marriages of communications and collaboration technology that resonates with IT and users alike is that of e-mail, instant messaging (IM), and web conferencing. However, there are issues that an enterprise needs to consider when choosing to implement this integration. So, I thought I would have a little fun with some quotes about marriage and the technologies:

“A first-rate marriage is like a first-rate hotel:  expensive, but worth it.  ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966”

The integration of e-mail, instant messaging, and web conferencing generally means an expensive communications and collaboration platform purchase from one of the major vendors (e.g. IBM, Microsoft) for the best working relationship. Web conferencing and IM vendors often provide connectors into the e-mail client environment, but these do add complexity for upgrades and support.

The bonds of matrimony are like any other bonds – they mature slowly.  ~Peter De Vries

The integrations for e-mail, IM, and web conferencing have been around for years – but getting users to take advantage of the integrations within their normal workflow and making it easy for them has taken time. The current integrations have matured slowly, but are getting solid and sophisticated in their ability to deliver.

Marriage means commitment.  Of course, so does insanity.  ~Author Unknown.

Once enterprise users embrace the integration of these three technologies and incorporate them into their workflows, then it becomes very difficult for the enterprise to change any of the technologies and the supporting platform. The enterprise becomes committed to the solution set, which can lead to some insanity in future decision making for IT. Lock-in is something nearly every IT shop tries to avoid, but invariably encounters at some point in their delivery of services.

The difficulty with marriage is that we fall in love with a personality, but must live with a character.  ~Peter Devries

The commitment means that the enterprise has to live with the product and vendor choice, potentially for a very long time. Agility, particularly when it comes to e-mail solutions, is not easy. On the other end of the spectrum, other than user training, it is really easy to change SaaS web conferencing solutions. Selection of each of the three technologies is often done because of the perceived benefits and functionality. However, once you learn the true character of the solutions and you decide you want change, it may be very difficult if they are integrated.

Marriage halves our griefs, doubles our joys, and quadruples our expenses.  ~English Proverb

While users may embrace the integration and find it makes their work life easier, quantifying that value in a business case that justifies the expenses of implementing and integrating the solutions can be very difficult. These technologies have numerous “soft” benefits when integrated that are difficult to assign monetary value. However, it is generally not difficult for the executives to see how expensive it is to provide these technologies.

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Category: unified communications     Tags: , , ,