Toby Bell

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Toby Bell
Former Research VP
8 years at Gartner
25 years IT industry

Toby Bell is a former vice president in Gartner Research, responsible for a range of document and content management technologies for the High Performance Workplace group. Some key areas of coverage include vendors and trends in the enterprise content management (ECM) marketplace… Read Full Bio

Clay Shirky

by Toby Bell  |  March 2, 2011  |  3 Comments

Later in March, I will be in Los Angeles for Gartner’s Portals, Content & Collaboration (& Social Media, & Mobile, & Context) Summit. You should be, too. As conference chair, I do a number of things to help promote the event – but haven’t mentioned it here. Given all the topics I’ve covered in posts, it stands to reason I’d avoid connecting this content to the more mature research I’ll present there on ECM or Case Management or Web Content Management. Nevertheless, I will do so… and count on being an informed participant in many discussions with attendees.

Sadly, in other areas I fall short. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview our keynote speaker Clay Shirky. The resulting podcast showcases two flattering things about Clay and two unflattering things about Toby that I couldn’t in all good conscience correct either through masterful editing or Auto-Tune.

Clay’s positive traits: expressive and insightful
Toby’s negative traits: monotonal and noncontributory

The good news: the event is nearly at-hand and thus the podcast has a limited lifespan unless otherwise syndicated. The better news: Clay’s giving the keynote address and should be masterful. Later in life I hope I forget this moment of humiliation, and thus encourage only comments that don’t do further damage to my self-respect.

Here’s the Gartner PCC Summit Link:
Here’s the Podcast URL:


Category: Cloud Somewhat Serious Strategic Planning Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , ,

CMIS 1.0 May Be 3.0 Years Too Late

by Toby Bell  |  January 13, 2011  |  11 Comments

It might be hard to determine given evidence of other interests in my blog, but my primary research coverage at Gartner is focused on enterprise content management. For those of you not interested in this (and you outnumber those that do by a nearly immeasurable factor) I will keep the technical micro-humdrummery surrounding standards to a minimum here. The details (available on warrant some attention, though, because many efforts to create and then enforce standards fail – and the one I reference in the title of this posting should stand a better chance at adoption than many. How, you may wonder, did I come to the conclusion that a new enterprise content management standard (circa 2010) might be too late to succeed? It came to me as ideas often do: while driving in blinding rain on the wrong side of the road.

Let me explain. I travel often enough to encounter all kinds of differences between people, places, and things. Yet, in many countries there are similarities even among the differences. So, for example, when traveling in the UK, Bermuda, and Australia I can expect to hop into any automobile and drive it from the right side forward seat on the left side of the road. But I’ll pay for traffic violations with different currency even if a Queen is common among them. Elsewhere, the opposite is often true: left side driver on right side of road. However, a few weeks ago I rented a car in St. John. There, I drove on the left from the left. And, it seemed to me that others were probably doing the same (though as I said, it was raining).

So, the first rule of standards might seem to be that they are not often global – whether in a geographic or even a company-wide sense. And, since Enterprise Content Management is as much a contradiction in terms as Naked Mole Rat…

not cohesive – rarely a single system for all content across enterprise not actually ‘naked’ but lacking fur (and/or our notion of modesty)
not conclusive – content means different things to different sponsors and users not a mole at all – a separate species
not controlled – management implies governance and/or lifecycle control not a rat at all – a separate species

… It stands to reason that a standard which allows information to be better managed and accessed would be a good thing. However, to this point every enterprise content architecture is unique – and typically business leadership could detail “failure measures” more often than success ones. Maybe a success measure is allowing everyone a common access protocol to a virtual repository stitched together by a standard. But I also refer back to the first rule of standards and now add more detail: not only are standards rarely global; standards can also be deadly. Am I saying that CMIS 1.0 will kill people? Aloud?

Not yet. But in Contentville there are drivers (sponsors) and there are pedestrians (users) and protections are generally better for the former. And, without repeated warning, any changes to the environment may cause sponsor/user collisions, especially if users fail to >> LOOK RIGHT >> (as clearly indicated on the footpath) prior to crossing the road. In the real world, 12,567 pedestrians from countries with opposite traffic rules die each year in the UK, Bermuda, and Australia as a consequence of the absence of global standards. Amazingly, there are also 12,567 people in those countries who annually earn a living by painting warning messages on streets which are ignored by foolhardy tourists. So, effectively it’s a wash. And I’ve made a sorry mess of the analogy, too.

More interestingly, many of those people paid by certain countries to paint reminders on sidewalks reminding tourists of standards differences also continue to rely on non-standard coinage for many day-to-day transactions.  Even as inflation limited their spending power, their governments would produce more and more varieties on the same theme. It seems incredible that even as population trends indicate a small decline in the birthrate benchmark figures of industrialized nations – thus showing consideration for our overburdened planet – their pocket money has blossomed to the extent that at the end of any given day they carry the equivalent weight of a full-term newborn in their trousers.

Some of the coins have “jingled together” in pockets long enough to have spawned a second generation of tiny coinlets which numismatists once wrongly guessed were actually the pets of the larger denominations. My theory on a related subject: it’s the weight distribution of coinage in Europe which is causing the Earth to spin crazily on its axis, further stimulating global climate change. Furthermore, we may have to put both ‘belts and braces‘ on some of the smaller countries to keep them from slipping right off into space. So, the hope of all people-kind now rests on the euro as a standards superhero.

With the advent of the euro, a common measurement of value now exists for stuff across most of Europe. This represents more of a problem for some countries than others. The euro bills and coins didn’t yet exist even as committees populated by caring representatives from all nations struggled to assign meaningful figures (for solid basis of comparison) to all goods and services.  The cost of souvenirs is a good indicator – how much should a bullfight-themed folding pocket fan from Madrid cost by comparison to one which touts the Grand Canal in Venice?  Folding Fan Fights alone have cost at least a year of factional squabbling in the souvenir subcommittee on value-based pricing. Unfair global currency valuations, bailouts, and other inequities now plague the euro and cast significant doubt on its survival. If the euro falls, I presume more fragile standards like CMIS might too.

In terms of actual usage, establishment of new universal standards tend to yield lower enthusiasm than they might have during some ‘golden age’ of the past. Especially if the standard was actually gold, as I heard it may have been at some point in history. Because now… guess what?  Enterprise content management technology is the ‘gold’ of the new information economyTM. A YouTube video used for sales training or product promotion – it’s content. A tweet related to project team meeting location – more content. An iPad application that presents ideas as text or images or full-motion media – again, content. A contract or presentation or invoice or sales order – all content. And, considering the difficulty of navigating the 4-15 different repositories most enterprises maintain for contribution and consumption of said content by people, something that allows all those repositories and users to interact more seamlessly would be of huge importance. And, perhaps as more content is contained within cloud hosts some kind of common logic about the containers and their access that creates a unifying user experience for those dependent on a hybrid content architecture (some stuff on premise/other stuff in the cloud) would prevail and be good. Such is the unique value proposition of CMIS 1.0.

Sadly, people tend to reveal differences and then revel in them. So, it’s likely that sponsors of some systems won’t want to provide access to lots of users or restructure the underlying repository or change the user experience in any way. Some vendors will use the upgrade path to CMIS-enablement as an opportunity to charge for upgrades and services. Others will embrace it as a way to keep their clunky technology relevant and forestall displacement. Moreover, It’s a developer standard in the era of SharePoint solutions and repositories out of reach like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Flickr. It’s a document management standard in an era of agile information. For CMIS to take a rightful place in the pantheon of de-discombobulating technology tools, it will have to attach itself to a high level strategy for designing content architectures for ideal user experiences as well as identify better ways of ‘relationalizing’ information of many kinds across many places. And, that might take more time than the market itself allows. Even as I write this, enterprises are adopting another approach to reconciling the content management mess. They’re adopting SharePoint, migrating content to it from network drives (and sometimes competing ECM products), and enforcing it as the universal content infrastructure. Whatever they use for governed content (the repository of record) already has a SharePoint connecter. And, now they’ll use SharePoint as the client for all their content.

So, a market standard emerges to trump any attempts by a technical one. And now, they’re waiting to use this platform as consumers do their iPhones, iPads, or Android devices – as the landing place for content apps downloaded (for dimes, dollars, euros) from an apps store. CMIS is designed to help lots of ECM applications work together as one to provision users better. But enterprises effectively started to formulate a content strategy when SharePoint 2007 emerged. CMIS allows technologists to hook up bunches of repositories that didn’t work together well or present information in the same way to users. In effect, it’s the savior for tired technology and rationalizing past bad behavior by the buyers of it. What CMIS could become instead is the governing review and certification approach for content apps – and how they play well with platforms and other information. Or maybe there’s an ever better path to success.

My Gartner colleague – Larry Cannell – suggested as much long before CMIS 1.0 was ratified: “Compliance with CMIS mandates a content system provides a fairly minimal set of capabilities, primarily support for navigating folders and opening documents. However, the optional features in CMIS could provide the basis for a significantly richer exploration of repository-based content by using metadata. For example, instead of being limited to a simple folder hierarchy, imagine content being explored by type of file, by date, or by custom fields that are meaningful to the business such as sales account, plant code, or engineering release. Content wouldn’t just be stored in one directory but could be found via multiple paths using this metadata. For example, a design specification might be found by exploring multiple paths such as product segments, regions, or suppliers. Content management vendors have been demonstrating these opportunities in CMIS for months.”

AHA! As I’ve said in earlier posts, metadata is the plastic of the semantic Web. Content applications are the gold. Combine the two and what do you get? Exactly. DITA. An XML standard for describing information across an enterprise (and even an industry). So, if we could get the CMIS folks to work together with the DITA team…. We end up with SCIMITAD: a sword that cuts content into meaningful components for human consumption.

What do you think? Are standards for content management systems and interactions more or less meaningful now for your enterprise (or platform as a vendor) than a few years ago?


Category: Somewhat Serious Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , , ,

Xmas @ Beezid

by Toby Bell  |  September 1, 2010  |  2 Comments


Grandma (as I now call her) dropped by the house yesterday. She’d lost her life savings and was distraught. I was not unmoved, but was also aware of the fact that such a loss is less significant when said savings amount to “what’s left in the social security deposit this month.” It seems she’d been taken advantage of. And, ideally, I would like to protect her from being taken advantage of – at least by anyone other than me. So I invited her inside to learn more about how others might have done it.

It turns out that maybe the computer and access to the “interweb” I’d installed as a birthday present might turn out to be a bigger problem than I’d thought. Even if it did, it could never outweigh the pleasure I still get when viewing the thank you note she’d penned with flawless handwriting into a flower-covered card that referred to her discovery of the “interweb” late in her life and the value it brought. So everyone in the family now calls it the interweb and we are all damned for being snarky for no good reason.

I blame an upbringing immersed in television. I can predict that years from now my future self will be sad, scared, or lonely (as she sometimes seems to be). I also predict I’ll still have the card in the side pocket of the tatty pilled bathrobe that she bought for me on QVC or HSN. It’s unclear whether it’ll be there to comfort me with reminders of how analogue/provincial she once was or to remind me that I could have been a better son. Could go either way.

Today, though, it never occurred to me that I’d be personally responsible for opening the door and then ushering her into to The World of Vice. Especially since I’d so carefully provided bookmarks to the only sites I believed she’d ever need. Somehow – likely due to the undeniably engaging TV ad blitz – she discovered Beezid. Now, to add to her mothering and shopping problems she’s got gambling ones.

Here’s what imprinted itself indelicately in her consciousness:  “Bid and win Penny Auctions on  Save up to 99% on brand new products like laptops, HD TVs, iPads and video game consoles. #1 penny auction site online”. Seems almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? She could sit there in her own tatty pilled bathrobe and spend happy hours bidding pennies on premium electronic goods and gift cards to surprise the kids with.

How could she shake the image of herself dressed as Mrs. Claus and heroically dispensing exactly what her grandchildren wanted for Christmas – without spending the fortune such items actually cost? How could she know that hundreds and hundreds of dollars later she’d have nothing to show but chagrin? That all those perfectly wrapped boxes under her imaginary tree could be empty? Who would do such a thing? How could the site that bills itself as the “# 1 penny auction site online” – and advertises on television, yet – not deliver incredible value? How could she not trust that the interweb is regularly policed to ensure its community doesn’t include swindlers, con artists, chiselers, scammers, and other unsavory denizens the very same way other media police themselves?

I sat down with her to answer these and any other questions she might actually ask aloud – at least until the football pre-game show started. Meanwhile, I had her enter “Cameron Diaz” into Google. This, at present, is THE WORST SEARCH TERM IN THE WORLD according to intel from McAfee (now part of Intel) and will guarantee that any link you follow from among those on the first page of results will quickly load your computer with scams, spam, trojans, keyloggers, popups, pinups, etc. All of which is served up by Google, whose motto: “don’t be evil” may not always be followed by those who pay to have their content promoted by it. “The first rule of the interweb,” I tell grandma, “is not to trust anyone.”

She watched as I followed all the links from the first results page. She was surprised at what a nice person this Cameron seemed to be and inquired about her marital status. It was becoming cozy and fun and a good learning experience for us both. But it was time to teach her the more important lesson, so I pulled the plug and battery and poured Krazy Glue onto the keyboard and into the ports and the CD slot and closed the lid and threw the whole mess into the kitchen trashcan.

“What are you doing?! Are you nuts?”

“I’m protecting you… thanks to Cameron Diaz,  your computer was at least 10% more likely to aid and abet criminals in stealing your identity, draining your bank accounts, spamming your email, or annoying you with endless popups or reduced performance. Now you are safe.”

“But I liked my computer!”

“You’re better off without, I think. Blame Beezid. If you can’t tell the difference between shopping and gambling, I have to take appropriate measures.”

“How could I have known? You haven’t always been Mr. Interweb, right? Who can I talk to about which sites I can trust?”

I thought about that for a minute, and came up with the conclusion that we’d have to start by trusting other people we know (and by extension, those they trusted). The very concept of a Web Of Trust seems to me almost laughable… but again, TV has made me snarky.  But the Web hasn’t made the condition much better in the past decades. The very existence (and lack of regulation) of sites like Beezid that will appeal to peoples’ baser instincts (shopping + gambling = shambling?) demands investigation. Or at least impotent outrage. Or, at the very least, a blog post. Piffle.

But it’s a crackpipe for Grandma. She buys $40 worth of bids and wastes them and three hours trying to win a $100 gift card from Target. Target gets advertising, she bids down to $0, Beezid keeps the money from her and the maybe 700 other people bidding to win the same card valued at $100 (all hoping to get it for $28). She thinks she can ‘play smarter’ over the course of the next several days and winds up with the requisite expensive education all gamblers – and some shoppers – earn. Thanks to Beezid, there’s no Xmas at Grandma’s this year.

It isn’t Beezid’s fault it saw a market niche and plugged it. By all evidence, it does actually deliver some products to lucky winning bidders despite losses suffered by others. It could certainly use some transparency and oversight and auditing, maybe…  but there’s nothing wrong with its business model. What’s wrong is that we don’t have a trust and reputation monitoring service tied to Google or Yahoo! or AOL or whatever  that guides vulnerables among us like my mom (and even sometimes me) to less confusing and potentially expensive places.

Enter the plucky Finns! This would be a good line even if I weren’t writing it myself.  “Enter the plucky Finns!”

They’ve put together “community powered tools that boost trust on the Web.” The primary focus is on safe surfing with a browser tool that shows which sites have been reviewed by others as trustworthy. There is, of course, a registry for businesses seeking certification from Web Of Trust: “Your site is eligible for a WOT Trust Seal if it has an excellent or good reputation in trustworthiness, vendor reliability and privacy.” But all in all I like the interface and approach. Too bad they couldn’t get rights for WOOT (Web Of Online Trust) and added an exclamation. WOOT!  Unfortunately, is already taken. Oddly, by a business that describes itself as an online store that auctions stuff cheap.

Here’s the Beezid reputation rating on WOT:

Web Of Trust

Web Of Trust

What about you – whether thinking as a business or as an individual? Do you think we’re at a point where trust and reputation scoring becomes inevitable? How do you imagine it becoming more important? Does the Web require more regulation or do we need to serve as better guides than ad-based search tools might? Are reputation and trust as much an issue in your business dealings online as they are in mine?


Category: IT Governance Somewhat Less Serious Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , , , ,

SharePoint Overwhelms Business Intelligence (repost from May 2008)

by Toby Bell  |  March 14, 2010  |  Comments Off

SharePoint overwhelms business intelligence as a top search term on, that is. On Google, the SharePoint yield back in May, 2008 was 19,600,000. Today, the number is 15,100,000 (I wonder if Google’s competitive instincts have infected its algorithm). What caused something to finally overtake BI among Gartner’s clients? A number of factors, not the least of which is relentless marketing and promotion by Microsoft. Added to the hype perhaps is client confusion about what SharePoint actually is. Further factors might include the broader prospective user population – as a portal, a collaboration tool, library services, ECM, BCS, and so on, SharePoint is relevant to many levels of technology and business interests. But the single most likely driver for the rise in popularity of SharePoint as a search subject stems from partner (and competitor) compulsion to consciously (or unconsciously) promote it to an unusual extent.

Imagine Christmas morning and an excited near three-year old unwrapping her first tricycle. Eyes bright and cheeks flushed with enthusiasm, she hops on for a ride around the family room – only to stop suddenly, and with a cute but concerned stage whisper, ask, “Daddy – did Santa make sure this tricycle will be compatible with SharePoint in the future?” For analysts, hearing about new products development or corporate strategies from technology providers is much like Christmas for kids. We love unwrapping the new stuff. And, nearly every vendor briefing across a host of portal, content, and collaboration is now likely to include a Statement Of SharePoint Compatibility even if it’s obvious to an analyst that such claims are spurious or specious. Some technologies are close matches, some are distant cousins, and some are alien species of incomprehensible lineage.

It’s not that clients don’t want to know which ones fit better together – they do. But sorting out the gaps and overlaps will take some time and practical experience. And this is typically where pioneering Type A enterprises can provide some pathfinding. But even some Type B enterprises are being stimulated by vendors or sponsors to take some big plunges without the confidence that such effort will be rewarded. I have faith that SharePoint has a place in many enterprises. But I can’t take it on faith alone that it can be all things to all enterprises. The results from a search on SharePoint will yield less raw results than on Google. But the value of the refined research is exactly what business intelligence sometimes fails to provide: actual insight.

This is a re-post from 21 May, 2008. Almost two years later, the key issue remains: is SharePoint an ECM product or is it more part of an ECM strategy? What do you think?

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Category: Somewhat Serious Uncategorized     Tags: , , ,

Dear Toyota: (Managing Reputation in Real Time)

by Toby Bell  |  February 11, 2010  |  4 Comments

Google, Scoopler, and other search tools now deliver real time results (and partly by this I mean anonymous consumer opinions) from social media utilities like Twitter and Facebook and blend them with those sourced from the Web at large. There’s no indication of the relative merit of these opinions (nor is there any scoring of the more traditional content for this). Given their new visibility on the main stage of the Web, though, it would be bad if tweet after tweet complaining about a product flaw went unchallenged or unanswered. So, it stands to reason that responses to consumer opinions should now be delivered in real time, too.

Most PR firms with big brand clients stood up a digital media services team and toolbox long ago. Listening platforms like Radian6, Scout Labs, Visible Technologies, and Nielsen’s BuzzMetrics allow them to monitor social media (blogs, Tweets, YouTube, etc.) and identify reputation trends and those with the most influence in setting them. They sometimes also provide consoles through which agencies participate in conversations on behalf of their clients that they can’t always directly control… but must try. This is because their clients often face huge reputation risk and have no in-house command center able to spin opinion as effectively. Insertion of positive messaging in the social media chaos is not easy and can sometimes spur hostile reaction.

The good news is that on any given day, it’s usually the ‘other guy’ who is facing down problems from an employee-posted YouTube video or blog post rant or news story. Or so many companies that don’t have a plan for reputation management would like to believe. In some ways, they’re right: despite the huge (and growing) numbers of opinions and conversations, most companies are ‘net neutral’ in terms of positive and negative sentiment. Even Blackwater and Wal-Mart and Dow. They have a pretty good idea of what’s being published and aren’t running away from mobs with torches and pitchforks (or lawyers with class action lawsuits). Or they deal with each of those so frequently it’s now a matter of routine.

In absence of crisis, the delicate art of building Reputation equity always involves investment. Money for everything from a great web site to allocating time and responsibility for visible participation in social media. Add to this the cost of tools like search engine optimization or Web analytics, and of monitoring Wikipedia, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to both protect the company and to help promote a positive image. Further add costs to relentlessly track those competitors, members of media, regulators, employees, and now customers who could pose risk by merit of their ability to spark a negative reputation event. The balance between resiliency (how much good will has accrued in the online world) and recovery (what resources and time are required to remediate problems there) broadly described the Internet reputation management strategy of any company any given day.

Until today. Because today reputation risk is measured in Real Time. And neither your company nor mine can hope that even the most gifted internal or outside agency resources can defend against the risks to reputation posed by the collective. Real time search is the first – still dimly perceived – threat to traditional digital PR that demands a whole new approach to engaging your customers and managing reputation in real time. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that every unfounded or anonymous complaint deserves immediate response from the CEO.

I am suggesting, however, that a mechanism needs to be in place to detect all complaints and consider appropriate responses even at a level hitherto avoided. I am also suggesting that the former 24 hour clock used to manage negative reputation event response rates be reset. The Reputation Risk Advisory System is hereby elevated to Orange. You’ve got somewhere between a New York minute and 8 hours to begin responding to the flood of sentiment related to a negative reputation event. To illustrate this point, I’ve chosen Toyota and its PR machine as my canary in the real time coal mine:

  • Because Toyota is in crisis
  • Because I own a Toyota
  • Because Toyota has enjoyed very positive reputation equity built over years
  • Because all that resiliency is being tested by challenges on all fronts
  • Because Toyota’s PR machine is generally considered top of the line.

But primarily because I suspect it of whitewashing a technical issue in the Prius that I’ve lived with for quite some time. Though I’ve never complained about this to the dealer and have always recommended the Prius to others, my 2008 model has always had a peculiar problem on washboard surfaces. I’d try to brake while on rutted roads and would find it much harder to control the car. This is an occasional irritation, but one exacerbated by two factors: 1) the only Italian restaurant with decent takeout food requires a trip down a bad road; and, 2) Toyota seems unwilling to fix the problem and contends that any accidents I suffer from loss of control are due to driver error. The 2010 Prius has effectively the same braking/computer setup and is being recalled. This, likely, to keep new models rolling out the door. Never mind those who have had a couple of years to learn how to drive all over again to offset the bizarre behavior of their paid-for car. Let them eat spumoni.

In the auto business, I believe that customer loyalty is worth any investment – particularly important is listening for their voices whenever/wherever possible. CBS has a new TV show called Undercover Boss that tries to humanize CEOs by filming them doing the regular jobs of regular employees even though we know they’re drawing irregular pay checks. The premise is that they can relate better to their employees if working in their shoes. Or something like that. I think of it as a long vanity ad in disguise – intended to polish the tarnished images of companies and bosses alike.

It’s an ‘eat your own dog food’ reality show that misses a better chance to engage audiences. By letting the CEOs be their own customers, TV magic may result. Imagine a software CEO sitting on hold for hours before finally talking to disinterested foreigners about his virus alerts. Imagine a wireless telco CEO trying to use his mobile phone to schedule a flight while stranded in a snowstorm and getting no signal. Imagine all the revenge fantasies delivered by this premise. Or the fixes to broken customer relations management interfaces that might result, too. Maybe this could be a series on YouTube instead… the Six Minute CEO. He/She lives a customer nightmare and fixes it in a tightly-edited upload. Call it mediaCRM and think how it might relate to SocialCRM.

So, I wondered how much the shiny Toyota PR machine had invested in social media monitoring and what shows up in real time. So, naturally, I used Twitter to test my theory. I imagine when a very large brand has a negative reputation event that requires a few months to manage, there’s a plan to quickly hire seasonal employees (like Reputation Reindeer) to pull the sled and deliver presents to all the good boys and girls in social media. And it is so, I surmise, as evidenced by this hugely optimistic posting that nearly collided with my own:

Toyota PR

Isn’t that good news! Well… Maybe not. Maybe this doesn’t come directly from the CEO. Maybe it is coming from the shiny PR shoe stuck in his mouth.

Was this a nearly immediate response to my tweet, you wonder? uh… No. I think it is a robot tweet auto-generated every six minutes to stay in the first page of search engine results on real time Google. Or maybe I just got incredibly lucky to see the ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner unfurled for the 2010 Prius at the moment all doubts were laid to rest. For the record, I haven’t heard back from Toyota or its PR people despite having written my 140 character complaint. I suspect the software they use to measure influence has found me to be unworthy of direct reply. Toyota is Horton, I’m a Who. But things can change quickly in Whoville….

Toby Toyota Tweet

Your comments are welcomed.


Category: Somewhat Serious Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , ,

Crowdsourcing Contract Negotiations

by Toby Bell  |  January 28, 2010  |  1 Comment

The emergence of social spending analysis has enterprise implications – even if you’re not a retailer. Blippy, the first service provider in the space, delivers a live feed of purchase data from registered users’ credit cards. It also provides segmented data for specific retailers, though not in depth. For example, as of the moment I write this sentence, 33,544 purchases were made at Apple’s iTunes store by 2,704 Blippers since it went ‘live’ in mid-January 2010. I can’t (yet) see total dollar value, geographic, or demographic specifics… though Blippy owns all that. Maybe for more fine-grained cuts of the data, I’ll need to upgrade my Blippy to Platinum. I hope it doesn’t hurt as much as a knee replacement.

Why, though, do people willingly submit their purchase information (“Blippy is a fun and easy way to see and discuss the things people are buying. Automatically share your favorite purchases from iTunes, Amazon, Groupon, Woot, Zappos, Visa, MasterCard, and more”)? It’s a logical extension of the Twitter model (which is a fun and easy way to see and discuss the things people are thinking or doing). People you follow – and who follow you – share ideas and information often in tiny increments. Blippy and Twitter might co-exist in this sample scenario:

Twitter: @tobybell: “Just pre-ordered my iPad. Delivery to be advised.”
Blippy: “TobyBell Spent $499 Pre-Auth at Apple”
Twitter: @tobybell: “Woot!! Am 4 millionth in line for Apple’s expensive Kindle alternative. Getting coffee at Starbuck’s to celebrate!”
Blippy: “TobyBell spent $0.79 on coffee at BP Gas Station”

And people can comment on all that! Fun!

So, as you might imagine, I don’t care about Blippy. Even if its name is a charming reference to radar. But I do care about the implications of technology for my clients. And, because the recent global economic woes have spurred a large number of inquiries about technology contract details, it seems possible that the emergence of Blippy foretells a more impactful event: the emergence of transparency in software and services pricing for procurement of big-ticket systems.

Today, for example, if a line of business leader in property and casualty insurance wants to revamp the claims handling process to be more dynamic, collaborative, and cost-effective, he or she is likely to start the project by evaluating the present system. And all its interfaces, custom code, support requirements, user population and acceptance, other stakeholders, software and service providers, and estimated maintenance costs.  This is the Run Rate. Unless moving away from Run Rate (which is easy to budget for as it continues the same spending year over year) moves the business closer to new, improved, and calculable values, it is hard to get sponsorship for change. So the software business is less about new licenses and more about maintenance. The services business is less about initial engagement than support and follow-on work.  I call this pairing Software Stockholm Syndrome and Services Stockholm Syndrome.

Wikipedia defines Stockholm syndrome as “a term used to describe a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express adulation and have positive feelings towards their captors that appear irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims”. So, I am suggesting enterprises are in some ways captive to vendors. Shocking, I know. But I think – after having reviewed dozens and dozens of million-dollar software and services proposals – part of the problem is a general lack of transparency about the specific cost of systems.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked for even ballpark estimates of average per-seat, per-hour, or per-server costs. Obviously, it would violate all kinds of Gartner guidelines for me to post all the bids from all the vendors sent to all the clients. Gartner delivers the technology-related insight necessary for our clients to make the right decisions every day. We don’t deliver discount price lists or negotiate lower fees.

But you can. Granted, it won’t be through Blippy – unless you use a corporate debit card to buy your next CRM or ECM suite. All it takes, perhaps, is a Facebook Group. Set one up for your industry, geography, department, or whatever. Call it “Anonymous Financial Services Procurement Pro” or “Legal Technology Spend Analyst” – just don’t use your regular Facebook name unless you don’t mind repercussions. Throw some real numbers out there: “Just signed a $475K contract for a 3-year software and services deal with (insert vendor here). 400 seats, 2 servers, 20TB of cloud-hosted storage. Did I get a good deal?” Get feedback. Invite others. Repeat. Maybe look for people with similar titles and interests on LinkedIn and connect.

The nice thing about Blippy is that it makes spending a social skill. Enterprises may not be willing to expose their technology spend to similar public scrutiny, but (somewhat) anonymous peer review is now possible and a positive first step toward transparency. Now, I completely understand why software vendors are willing to discount licenses in favor of other value propositions like maintenance, services, hardware, or references. Many similar businesses have made a successful transition toward democratized pricing information. Did the auto business suffer broadly just because average buying costs became a matter of public record? Oh… that’s right. It did.

For the record: I give Blippy six months unless a major conversion of its business model occurs. If it is re-launched as a software and professional services buyer resource on a paid subscription basis, I give it one year until competition from free providers overwhelms it. If exactly the same technology were part of Gartner’s Web site and also part of our subscription model for IT execs and business leaders, I’d give it a much better chance. Of course, it may have an effect on our relationship with vendor clients. But at least they’d know what the competition was offering. Is Blippy a signal of what could happen in enterprise software and services soon enough? Let me know what you think.

Toby Bell’s Recent Gartner Research

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Category: Somewhat Serious Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , , ,

“It’s Elementary, My Dear Watson”

by Toby Bell  |  January 11, 2010  |  1 Comment

When business leaders think of advances in computing, they might remember the images of the early Cray Supercomputers and what came next:

Early Cray


new cray

… and Now

In short, they remember a futuristic machine seemingly able to manipulate the curvature of space/time evolving into something that now more resembles a space heater. The same happened with the people working for large companies in technology roles. Once considered to possess a combination of the better attributes of Sherlock Holmes, Einstein, Steve Jobs, and MacGyver, they suffered a precipitous decline in reputation over time. They became mere mortals. Then mere mortals who worked elsewhere. As the era of empty cubes began, every technology team – comms, networking, security, apps dev, architecture, etc. – shed jobs at an alarming rate partly because business leaders weren’t always confident in the value they added. For 2010 and beyond, it is imperative that technologists deliver both ‘cool factor’ and ROI at an enterprise level rather than merely in consumer gadgetry, video games, and iPhone apps. For those who work in technology groups within large corporations, the coolest deliverable could in fact be absolute alignment to the business.

The early expectation from the large percentage of business investment in technology was to create agility at light speed. Later expectations were set more appropriately after decades of diminished enthusiasm and results. Spanning the gulf between business and technology expectations and abilities often resulted in structural problems similar to the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge: the outcome was subject to wobble. Sadly, the biggest number of victims of fallout from strategic structural collapses came from realm of technologists, who had to go further across toward the business side to try to relate better to business priorities. Thus, the decade spanning 2000 to 2009 might be remembered as Galloping Gertie. The new decade has begun with something even more twisted and sinister.

Hey! Don’t clean up that men’s room… I can make a computer out of it!

Now, several R&D teams are straining the very bounds of relatability for all technologists by suggesting that advanced calculators, processors, storage devices, and robots can be fashioned from leeches, slime mold, and E. coli bacteria.  Imagine being the technologist responsible for reviewing the advances in biological computing and relating them to business leadership in the enterprise… imagine at least the awards and accolades: “I’d like to shake the hand of the person who brought this company into the age of E. coli computing!” Of course, it was easier to imagine after Johnson & Johnson (maker of hugely-successful flagship product Purell hand sanitizer) bought IBM in 2015. Since we’re imagining and all….

Well, thankfully, Gartner is willing to do the so-called dirty work and has written on biological computing in a recent Hype Cycle for Semiconductors. In it, intrepid analyst Jim Tully refers to early research in DNA computing, where molecular properties of DNA can be used for storage and processing. Of course, DNA is ‘cleaner’ than leeches, slime mold, or E. coli. Even with that incentive, though, teams have yet to make progress suitable for commercial technology delivery and investment. Here’s an excerpt from the Gartner research:

“Commercialization will require standards — totally lacking in DNA computation — for representing and encoding data, inputting and outputting data, and so on. There are also unanswered questions about the scalability and repeatability of computations over a range of temperatures and other variables. In addition to these basic challenges, the technology would require a new hardware and software infrastructure, which is clearly a huge barrier to adoption.”

He closes the section by suggesting at least a five year horizon before significant advancement.

But, where’s my what if? What if Apple were to fund and then leverage bacterial research and get to market faster with a productized version of its own technology? Wouldn’t it be great to own the first E. coli iPod? What color could it be? Wouldn’t it sell even faster if it came pre-loaded with all the selections from the Jukebox in Hell? Isn’t that already a dated term? Does anybody know how bad ‘Honey’ by Bobby Goldsboro really was – even in its day? How about ‘Heartlight’ by Neil Diamond? Honey, by the way, is quite effective in killing E. coli, so that might pose a problem…. Hmm. What could ServiceMaster do with a slime mold robot?

The best thing about being a research analyst is considering the implications of technology. The worst thing about being a research analyst (sometimes) is having too many interests and not enough time. In the case of leeches, slime mold, and E. coli (oh, my) it is more a matter of making a choice between three unappetizing options and doing a deeper dive. Think ‘trendspotting’ and not ‘Trainspotting’, please. Come to think of it, I’d better go with leeches.


Leech Computing

The fog future comes creeps in on little cat feet um….

My apologies <again> to Carl Sandburg. Had I studied the work of any other poets, I might have stolen concepts from more than just the one. Sadly, the numbers of modern students of literature have dwindled in direct proportion to those who have since overwhelming chosen studies of law, languages, or even leeches. Oh, well. Onward. Luckily, I’ve already interviewed a leech team and can share the few parts of the interview not covered by nondisclosure. The first few years of the new millennium proved to be the ‘go go’ years of Leech Computing, and I seem to recall taking a trip down south to interview one of the leading leech labs in 2000 or so. Thank goodness it wasn’t Georgia Tech, as they took things very seriously at the turn of the millennium.


Here’s the article from the 4th of June 1999 that prompted my interest in the subject:

“BBC News reports that scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a computer device made from leech neurons. Presently this biological computer can only calculate the sum of numbers, but scientists are working to enable it to make intelligent decisions. Traditional silicon-based computers require full information to compute, but the GIT scientists contend that the biological computers will be able to form their own connections from one neuron to another. The scientists speculate that the biological computers will eventually think for themselves, achieving “the correct [calculations] based on partial information, by filling in the gaps….” It will be several years before this level of success will be achieved.”

My initial reaction: haven’t these GIT guys seen any movies at all? Don’t they have an Odeon or Multiplex in Atlanta?  And, why didn’t the BBC figure out it’s called Georgia Tech?  For answers to these and other pressing questions, I ignored Georgia Tech and interviewed some other researchers I met elsewhere. Here’s a sample of my notes from the day:

Biological Computing Hobbyist (Me): “Didn’t it occur to y’all that if we develop computers that think for themselves, they’re certain to turn on us? The best minds of our generation to this point have all concluded (in movies like I, Robot, WestWorld, 2001, Alien, The Terminator, The Matrix, and, uh Event Horizon) that such machines inevitably go haywire. And, as if the haywire people population wasn’t dangerous enough — The Darwin Awards come to mind — you’ve decided to tempt fate further with Leech Computers?”

Dr. Wan Visage, Director (Dizzy):  “This is serious research, generously funded and certified by both the government and by the private sector. Anyway, they’re more like Leech Calculators at this point.  Our preliminary findings indicate that the potential for disaster is quite small. Not even considering the fact that we teach them the Prime Directive first.”

Me: “Prime Directive? You mean the same one used for Robots?  “You can’t throttle the scientist who tightens the last bolt or even works for the same company as him/her’?”

“The very same. Moreover, the incidence of even slightly aggressive behavior is fairly low.  Leeches seem to have a high degree of predictability when it comes to behavior.”

Me: “So… you’re saying that they pretty much limit themselves to bloodsucking and solving simple mathematical equations.  Isn’t that what mortgage brokers do?”

“Precisely. That’s one of the first and most obvious implications of our research.  We can imagine that within a couple of years certain segments of the human population can be repurposed as a consequence of exciting advances in Leech technologies.”

Me: “Interesting perspective, Dizzy.  May I call you that?”

Dizzy: “Of course.  Everyone does. Do you mind if I sit down?  I’m feeling a little faint….”

The interview was interrupted at this point by the intervention of several members of Dizzy’s lab team, who rushed to his side after he swooned, the fall only partially cushioned by the many leeches attached to his arms, legs, and back.

After the mandatory orange juice break, I continued the questioning with another research fellow intimately familiar with the ongoing leech trials:

Me: “Has it occurred to anyone that maybe the leeches are to blame for Dizzy’s condition?  Isn’t there another species of animal you could have studied? Aren’t any of those lipstick monkeys from the cosmetics labs still available – given this seems to be a more humane line of research?”

Dr. Casper Whiteman (Slim): “Well, you’re right.  We maybe could have gotten another sample.  But once you go down the leech road, it’s hard to turn back… I like to call it a slippery slope <laughs>. Our corporate sponsors seemed keen to keep them, too. Besides… you’ve got to catch a cheetah to harvest its neurons. That’s a pretty popular saying around here.”

Me: “Funny. Do you mind if we ask which companies are funding the study?  And, why?”

Slim: “I guess it isn’t a secret.  Hormel is looking for an easier way to get the Spam cans opened, and it appears that ‘from the inside’ has been an overlooked option.  And, the Bandaid people think there may be some product tie-ins, too.”

Me: “What might this study and its results mean to any enterprise client in terms of applicable technologies?”

“Well, do they manufacture any canned goods?”

Me: “Uh… mostly, no.”

“Do they have large numbers of users who log onto a network and have to remember a username and password for authentication purposes?  And, do these same users face numerous challenges for key cards and passwords based on multiple secure doorways, outside e-mail, and internet site accounts?”

Me: “Uh… yes.”

Slim: “Okay. This is good. How many people are in your typical client organization?”

“At last count around 77,000.”

Slim: “Great.  Now, what if we deployed a primary and a backup leech for each of their people?  That’s what… 123,000 or something?  See what I’m getting at?”

Me: “Uh… no.”

Slim: “It’s biometrics, baby!  The leech stays affixed to the end user’s thumb, permanently identifying them for purposes of security.  We could have a little leech interface card called ‘SmartLeech’ that can fit into a single USB slot. We can even run a keyless entry system if we can get the leech to punch numbers on a teeny Bluetooth pad. Just the single sign-on possibilities alone are endless.”

Me: “Any particular reason people call you Slim and not Dizzy?”

Slim: “Well, there’s already a Dizzy on this floor, and there’s another Slim and another Dizzy in room eight.  Kind of a coincidence, I guess.”

Me: “Thanks for your time and trouble.  It was very interesting.  Thanks.  Bye, now.”

… and Now

Only 6 years later, leech computing was on the skids. I revisited the lab and found that by comparison, today’s small leech team was listless. Why? Well, I believe the investigative method failed partly owing to poor hypotheses and a lack of hands-on funding sponsors. Several members defected to larger labs in the public sector. And, venture capitalists had moved on and were now putting their fingers more into slime mold and E. coli research.

Happily, the team’s Hypothesis Wiki (HypoWiki) chronicles the few successes (and many failures) of the team and now includes as a bonus a virtual comprendium of leech humor apparently born out of later lower morale – two samples: “Why did the leech cross the road? Because this side of town sucks” and “What’s the difference between Leeches and Lawyers? Leeches stop sucking you dry after you die.” Plus the inevitable recipes A-M and N-Z, including Black Bean Ragout with Leeches, JambaLeechLaya, and my favorite: Puff Pastry with Leech, Lime, and Brussels sprouts.


Potential uses for Leech Technology at the enterprise level: none seen at present.  But I would be interested in building a better Jukebox in Hell on the E. coli iPod. Feel free to comment on the posting or just submit some songs. Odious seasonal selections – including Dogs barking Jingle Bells – are welcomed, too.

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Category: Somewhat Less Serious Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , , , ,

Idiocracy: We Have Been Warned

by Toby Bell  |  August 24, 2009  |  4 Comments

“The true course of every human journey that is set by money instead of by stars or better counsel is to meander inevitably toward misery.”

This might be a real quote, albeit by a relatively wordy poor person. It’s more likely that it is a logline – perhaps one from a Greek tragedy written centuries ago. Maybe I’d be more willing to spend my drachmas as a theatergoer if the description weren’t so complex… thus the emergence of pithy taglines: “Hero finds gold – pays with death.” And, thus too the emergence of today’s theme: “The clearer the information, the better the outcome.” Hmmm…. Must work on pithy.

Idiocracy, by the way, is a 2006 movie about a future imagined by our present focus on celebrities as culture and money as our only motivating force. Here’s its logline: “Private Joe Bauers, the definition of “average American”, is selected by the Pentagon to be the guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation program. Forgotten, he awakes 500 years in the future. He discovers a society so incredibly dumbed-down that he’s easily the most intelligent person alive.” Here are its taglines: “The Future is a No Brainer;” and, “In the Future, Intelligence is Extinct.” Really, the concept was more political: a future government of the idiots, by the idiots, for the idiots (see Gettysburg Address) emerged with a suspiciously southern drawl. Or maybe Texan. Maybe the movie had too much fodder for too few cows. The movie wasn’t a huge hit, though it does speak to some urgent issues demanding enterprise attention. I’ll note one or more here, I promise.

So, prompting this whole new outburst was a cursory inspection of what little remains of my daily newspaper. You remember newspapers, don’t you? They were the sometimes inspired result of a marriage of rhetoric, politics, and advertising that meandered toward misery over centuries. And, to my doorstep yesterday, bringing in it a section optimistically entitled “TV Listings.” This relic from a distant past haunts me now because I see how it could make even my future less meaningful. Here’s how… <insert sounds of static and tuning-in here> … oh, wait. I can actually insert that here.

Again… here’s how: having recently been bothered by the movie industry’s use of box office receipts to hype their product – thus “The Hangover” is now touted as having surpassed “Beverly Hills Cop” to become the “Most Successful R-Rated Comedy in History” – by measure of Money. By Accountants. Of the Studio. With an interest in Selling the Movies.  So, in the future I will no longer remember Beverly Hills Cop (BHC) as having two fine actors at the peak of their careers – one of whom went on to become my favorite Halloween costume of 2002. I will remember instead that it was not as popular as The Hangover (TH) and therefore will tend to prefer the more recently hyped movie. This despite the fact that BHC actually delivered more money in real (1984) dollars as well as a higher overall score from reviewers. (Rotten Tomatoes, by the way, routinely delivers value with a reputation scoring system worthy of 100 on the Tomatometer itself… and of being studied by every other Web community seeking a standard that works as well as RT in its media milieu).

So that’s what I’d remember If my memory serves – which it won’t. So, I’ll have to follow hyperlinks. Which are the trail marks of agile, instructive minds trying to develop a meaningful bridge from a discordant, Dewey decimal’d, paper-bound past to an elegant, persistently-connected idea-rich future where if one link fails, reliable redundancy among certified sources will sustain information’s value by bridging any gaps. The truth as we will come to know it retains currency and gathers even more over time. Memory becomes positively institutionalized unless wretched commerce intervenes in utopia.

So, scanning for movies in the TV listings in the newspaper I realized it wasn’t intended to benefit future civilizations. Or at least the one I want to occupy – where one version of the truth gets built from reliable sources. Entertainment Weekly has already embedded a video player in the print versions of its magazine in certain markets. This means something. Mostly it means that longer-form video (and less often film) will get snippetized and become source material for delivery to people with short spans of attention across a huge span of modalities. Like ringtones from songs got monetized without the need to expend any further creative effort. It also means that the relative cost and quality of the source (and its measurable popularity) will become the first pass criteria for its selection and insertion in whatever content it is I consume. Thus, I am more likely to see “Neil Patrick Harris” and less likely to see “Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio”. More “Dancing with the Stars” and less “Dances With Wolves”.

In sum, more is less. Setting the stage for this media-rich void are the present descriptions and ratings assigned as part of the source databases for movies shown on television. If you were surprised to hear that NASA had lost the original video footage from the live TV broadcast of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface, you’d be flabbergasted by what else will fail to traverse the void from film or TV to Internet. Let’s broadly call it “metadata”. The stuff we partly use to describe content containers. Hence the taglines and stars associated with critical reviews constitute – along with titles and dates – common descriptors in these listings. The problem? It’s bad and getting worse. We don’t know the source of either the original review or the taglines. We can’t help but suspect, though, that linkage to either Rotten Tomatoes or IMDb is missing… and a cheaper source is mined. The “Faux-lex” of such data. Looks like the real thing but is constructed poorly and will not last. Maybe the next billionaire in tech will be a broker of cheap media context.

Here’s the listing for “My Cousin Vinny” – no year listed, no stars, tagline is “Brooklyn Lawyer.” (I’m sold…) “Saving Silverman” – (2001), two stars, tagline is “Wrong Woman.” (Wait… now I’m torn). “Sixteen Candles” – (1984), two and a half stars, tagline is “Girl’s 16th Birthday Gets Overlooked.” “Scream” – no date, three stars, tagline is “Teens Murdered.” And so on…. insufficient, incomplete, incompetent. By the time Gasblechistan gets cable, their program guides will be polluted by such mediocre metadata. By linking out from paper to reliable sources – as I’ve done in this posting – we set more reasonable expectations about what these movies are. And what they’re worth.

Enterprises should consider this example, too. Open any file and review the Properties to see all the missed opportunities to better describe content for present – and future – reuse. Though I have failed to follow my own prescription (see example below), I advise Gartner’s clients to do better. As content begins to traverse enterprise repositories and then migrates in whole or part to Cloud-based hosts or mobile devices and otherwise reconstitutes itself for various users and means, you’ll want to keep this in mind: The farther your content will ultimately have to travel, the more ways you’ll want to have to recommend it, protect it, and call it home.

All the Money is in Metadata. It’s the Plastics of the semantic Web.

Your comments as always are welcomed.

Actual Properties

Actual Properties


Category: Somewhat Serious     Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Win ‘Em, Wring ‘Em, and Wean ‘Em

by Toby Bell  |  May 7, 2009  |  4 Comments

No – it’s not the name of a law firm. It’s a business model. The concept behind this is that seatholders represent the lasting value toward enterprise software vendor stability – that gathering and then holding onto as many of those end-users as possible will keep one vendor afloat on a stable sea of maintenance while others in the same market flounder and drown. And, it works given no other changes to the environment. So, in the enterprise content management market (ECM) for example, we’ve seen growth, consolidation, and maturity… but no decline as of yet. At least for many vendors. But there are exceptions. Like Vignette.

With yesterday’s announcement of its intention to acquire Vignette, Open Text has reminded us that standards and practices in typical software M&A don’t always have to apply. You don’t have to intend to leverage the actual technology or brand or channel or partner ecosystem. You just need to leverage seatholders. Fact is that Open Text’s acquisition algorithm is fairly successful. Another fact is that many of the assets under management within OTEX’s portfolio haven’t gone completely away, they’ve been layered under a brand management hierarchy that positions those assets toward new buyers and markets. The only question for which no fact has yet emerged: “After maintenance from product inventory shrinks to a specific level, can it upsell or cross-sell effectively?” In other words, can it farm as well as it hunts?

Generating loyalty in enterprise software markets can be tricky. Generating ‘sticky’ is not quite as hard. Vignette’s products are often tied to long-running processes for mission-critical applications – whether Web channel or imaging-based. Open Text seems to have wisely waited until the falloff of potentially more fickle customers and prospects had been completed. The business core thus revealed, it swooped in with the right offer at the right time. VIGN’s value to Open Text is not the technology, it’s the seats. The very plushy ones of large enterprises with global potential to look at one of its own (now) incumbent suppliers to provision other user needs. And, Open Text has options for those enterprises in spades.

Now it remains to be seen if – having won and wrung value from many other vendors’ customers – it can wean them off last year’s (or even last decade’s) models and move them toward an interesting ECM future. Open Text has been playing its cards right if revenue growth and seat share are the only measures of success. But I think it’s betting on other hands we can’t yet see. With combinations of Portal, Content, Collaboration, Process, Social Software, and Digital Asset Management technology, it isn’t hard to imagine that Open Text has all the table stakes necessary to buy into the big game with other new media titans as much as hold ‘em in the $4B ECM world.

Am I seeing the same things you are? Comments are welcomed… As are attendees at the Gartner Portals, Content, and Collaboration Summits in Orlando, 8-10 June and in London, 16-17 September. We’ll discuss the turmoil in ECM during a Magic Quadrant Megasession in both locations.


Category: Somewhat Serious Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , ,

“Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a bricklayer!”

by Toby Bell  |  April 6, 2009  |  3 Comments

Doctors don’t want to be rated by users of Angie’s List and I
don’t blame them. Hear me out, as I’m sure it appears at first
blush that I’m much more sympathetic to doctors than I really am.
Of course, maybe it’s because I still have lingering pain in the
backs of my knees and I may need a specialist someday. I’m
generally fearful of inviting retribution. Maybe generally,
therefore, blogging isn’t such a good idea. Too late to stop now, I
suppose. I digress.

Scoring mechanisms for Internet reputation management are in
their infancy. In an earlier post, I suggested that typical “5
Star” systems fail to cast effective light on quality of goods,
services, companies, or even people. Sharp readers contacted me
indirectly and called out Gartner’s Magic Quadrants, Marketscopes,
and Vendor Ratings as examples where scoring is fundamental to the
overall reputation of technology providers. “Why,” they wondered,
“do you think average people can’t effectively rate technology as
well as analysts do?” And, perhaps adopting the same tone of voice
as any doctor, I might reply “because we’re experts in our field”,
or better still, “because I said so.”

Actually, scoring for our branded documents like Magic Quadrants
is transparent, comprehensive, dynamic, appropriately triangulated,
and effective. The merits of the vendors and products are compared
and then clearly articulated. It’s a beautiful thing. Especially
when conducted by me personally at events like Gartner Portals,
Content & Collaboration Summit
June 8 – 10 2009 in Orlando,
FL at JW Marriott Grande Lakes. But we have yet to invite public
participation in Magic Quadrant scoring – though that day may come
soon enough.

This is because Reality TV and the Internet have stimulated
belief that just about anything could soon be turned into a talent
contest. Rather than hearing “This is… American (or Bolivian or
Armenian) Idol!”, expect someday to hear instead the annoying
introduction of yet another episode of “Crazy Brain Surgeons” or
“The Fastest Colonoscopy in Canada” or “Hand Surgery on Roller
Coasters”. The key point being that comparisons make the most sense
when they’re apples-to-apples rather than… um… apples to
orifices. Sorry for that.

So, Angie’s List is the first major Web player to effectively
pit plumbers against heart surgeons with public judging of
reputation on a single scale. Is an ‘A’ for one the same as an ‘A’
for the other?

Uh… no. Out of a scoring alphabet of 26 letters, Angie’s List
has chosen only three to represent the spectrum of difference
between every professional (and every layperson): Price, Quality,
Responsiveness, Punctuality, and Professionalism. Fact is, the only
things that doctors and plumbers have in common is that they get
dirty, fix leaky things, take pride in their technical competency,
and have an apprentice program that involves a serious investment
of time. They don’t like to have to explain every detail of what
they’re doing. They routinely deliver bad news. They respond in
emergencies. But doctors and plumbers (and technology industry
analysts on occasion) might all agree that Price or Punctuality may
not be the best basis for comparison.

Ideally, there would be a scoring mechanism unique to each
profession that fairly provides evidence of qualifications and
experience and references without bias. Sure, doctors could still
score doctors, but so could the medical media, membership
organizations, patients, and even ex-spouses. Oh. That’s the point
I was searching for: the Internet isn’t meaningful as pieces/parts,
but more as a collective with various scores tied to roles, rules,
and identity. But as a professional, it is unfair to opt-out just
as the world begins to tune in.

Some physicians are asking their patients to sign waivers
indicating they won’t provide their feedback on sites like Angie’s
List. Think about it: when was the last time you were asked to fill
out a survey about your experience – at any point – while a patient
in the US healthcare system? According to doctors I interviewed,
the only people qualified to evaluate any doctor are other doctors.
I wonder what basis they would use to score each other? I seriously
doubt they’d emphasize “bedside manner” and “relating to family
members in the waiting room with sincere empathy”. I suspect it
would have something to do with accurate diagnoses, high recovery
rates, teaching, advanced education, etc. I should have asked the
doctors these and other questions but I didn’t have “interview
insurance” and they were called away on “emergencies”. But what
would you expect to see after searching on Angie’s List for a heart

Okay… I figure I could save a little by using a doctor with
mostly ‘B’s. Maybe a Chevy instead of a Mercedes cardiac surgeon.
And, maybe since most doctors I know seem to have common goals in
dealing with patients generally, these attributes could be the
basis for a new approach to scoring:

I don’t want to appear to be overly critical considering I am
very likely to get sick in the future and wouldn’t want to be
tended to by my plumber. But the simple fact is that scoring
everything on the Internet depends on simple rules: 1) the sum of
the business or individual reputation should include more than one
source; 2) the less anonymity in scoring mechanisms the better -
with visibility comes responsibility; and 3) scoring mechanisms
have to evolve to more fairly reflect qualified perspectives of
both the supply and demand sides of any goods or services.
Understanding how doctors would score themselves – as colleagues of
each other as much as in the role of patients – could serve us
better in dealing with them.

I also think I might finally give my personal physician an ‘A’
for trying hard to keep me from needing to score a more urgent care
provider. Maybe one factor is how well a doctor focuses us on
resiliency rather than recovery – terms already familiar to many of
my colleagues in technology. So, it’s clear the way we score may
have to take into account bias, experience, ability, and other
factors that qualify us to qualify others. I don’t propose to
certify doctors – but I would certainly be more interested in the
opinions of those qualified to do so. There are dozens of such
scoring mechanisms already in place for medical practitioners.
Learning to use all the resources to effectively judge reputation
is at present more art than science. And, can be a very interesting
topic for further research. Watch for more here. Or add some as


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