Personal Cloud was the unusual subject of Frank Gillett’s talk at Forrester Forum this week. Traditional IT: prepare for something deeply disturbing, yet inevitable. It is important to understand this to see where Adaptive Case Management(ACM) will be going in the future. Look for a few related posts to come out soon.
The key concept is easy: there are many cloud services now that help people manage their own files and information. You know them: Box.net, DropBox, OxygenCloud, SugarSync, FilesAnywhere, BrainLoop, many more, as well as a large number of collaboration services in the cloud that also allow for file storage. It is not just files, but many other things, like email archives, password and key databases, address books, contact lists, access to online services, etc.
These are popping up everywhere because there is a strong need; the world is getting more complex: workers used to have one personal computer, now the typical worker has multiple gadgets: tablets, smart phones, laptops, etc. Online services have multiplied. Productivity applications are not just word and excel anymore, but many file formats. The amount of data that a person keeps has become huge. Work and personal information is all mixed up. Data life is now an issue since paper is not the final form for information, and file formats can become unreadable if not maintained.
20% of people polled said they would prefer to have only one computer for both work and personal. Another poll showed in 2008 that 47% of people have two or more personal phones, and this number is growing.
Frank tells us that a new model of personal computing is emerging: A set of personal devices and federated online services configured and controlled by individuals that:
- organizes and preserves personal or work information, document, media, and communications. By preserving we mean that it updates the storage format to keep up to date.
- orchestrates integration of personal information across digital devices and online services
- delivers that information to any device or service.
There will not appear a single uber-service that everyone uses, but instead there will be many vendors. Once a person has picked a service, they are likely to use it for a long time. They will want one place for all the information they use on a daily basis, and the end result is that everyone will bring their own service to the workplace. One poll estimates that 46% of workers are already doing this today. Another estimated that 68 million people are using these services today.
What is the problem? Companies want to, and need to, control company information. Employees (especially knowledge workers) need access to company archives, documents, and knowledge bases in order to do the job. When the person leaves a company for any reason, the company would like to be able to reach out, and wipe the company information from all the devices that were being used by that person. How to accomplish this?
Consider the worker trying to find a piece of information. There are a variety of services that can help. Consider Greplin as an example that backs up and indexes your content on Facebook, Evernote, local drives, etc. Then, it can offer you a single search for all your stuff in all these separate locations. The clear advantage is having a single place to search, instead of having to go to each place and search separately, but this causes all that information to be mixed in together. Backupify does a similar thing for Google Docs. Most useful are those that both back up, and search all your personal cloud information.
Consider the case of Gist which offers a different problem: it pulls information from the header of your emails and makes a network view of all relationships. Who own this network? How would you separate out the parts owned by different entities. Again, the information is all mixed together.
Many of the smart phone and personal information devices in the workplace are purchased by the individuals themselves. Why? Because individuals like being more productive. The same will be true with the personal clouds: they really will help people keep a handle on all the information resources, automatically distributing them to the devices that the person is using, and assuring that the right information is there when needed. People will see the personal cloud as an extension of themselves, as they train the cloud to have special features and extensions that support their style of work. Workers really will be more effective handling their information through these systems.
What it means? Corporations are not going to like it, but this is stark reality of the situation:
- corporate servers become one node of a federated information environment, no longer a central hub for file storage.
- excellent personal cloud user experience is a threat to sharepoint and other corporate knowledge management products
- there will be a new generation of mobile apps on such personal cloud platforms
- device makers will align products with a core personal cloud service. That is, people will select the service they want to use first, and then the device that works with it second.
- vendors and IT must build in better security rather than retrofitting it. This is an uncomfortable period we are in.
IT wont like it, but must somehow learn to:
- plug into and support personal cloud service without hampering productivity of the workers.
- explore dual use agreements
- information workers will pay for subscriptions rather than purchase a licensed seat for workers of an organization
- employers will work to integrate document repositories.
- the personal cloud will be used to link information across employees career lifecycle. When they join an organization, they will bring this space with them.
My Take on Personal Clouds
This is a concrete manifestation of what I have been calling the “Personal Internet”. There is a shift away from thinking of services as big generic services to the masses, and toward personalized services that represent specific people. You see the beginning of this with Facebook. At one level you access Facebook, but that really just is the provider to access a particular user’s pages. The Facebook page becomes a representation of the person on the internet, and you link directly to their page, and not simply to Facebook. Other personalized services offer the same. Flickr, Yahoo.
To solve the problem with data retention, one approach would be to have strict separations between information pools: company information one place, and person information in another. Then, the company information can be wiped when necessary. There are some problems:
- This is complicated and tedious. It requires diligence to make sure that everything is always placed in the right place, which is one of the problems that the technology is intended to solve in the first place.
- Consultants have a more challenging problem in that they may work for many clients in a short span of time. Two pools is probably not enough for many people, so we are really talking about N pools, increasing the complexity.
- Searching is complicated since we either need to go to separate places to search, or you need to mix the index together breaking the segregation. I certainly don’t want to have to go to N different pools of information and search separately.
- It is simplistic that information fits purely in one pool or the other. What about the salesman who leverages personal contacts to close business for the company? Or the executive that accesses his alumni organization to find contacts at key companies. Or the writer that references previous articles when creating a new article promoting the company products. Who owns the information from a professional organization that the product designer individually joins? What about the course work at a school that was sponsored by the company?
- Our desire is to keep a single email address, and that one inbox has all this information mixed together. The exact line between what is personal and not is going to get increasingly fuzzy as people work in a more distributed / mobile way.
So this is a real quandary. But I have a solution, and it involves ACM, and I have only to ask you to wait for my next post, so I can explain it fully.