Tuesday, October 02, 2012

On Company Transformations, Rubber Boots and Perspective

Every company that wants to survive in a competitive market eventually needs to adapt to changing environments. Examples abound – Nokia, which went from rubber boots maker to global mobile phone giant may seem an extreme example, but a good indicator of how drastic such changes can be. Other examples include Berkshire Hathaway or even IBM, which narrowly survived more than once only due to drastic course changes.

Nokia Rubber Boots
Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/27836510@N07/

Now Magnolia is far from being an aging multinational behemoth. But nonetheless adapt we must, and have done so successfully in the past, usually in a very conscious way. For instance we decided in 2006 that we shed our project business to focus on building the best CMS on the market. It was no easy decision, because projects directly translate into revenue, which is why most of our competitors love to do projects.

But this was to the benefit of our partners, who provide these services without us competing against them, and to our customers, who get software that is no longer driven by project features ending up in a product. Shedding our project business has allowed Magnolia to work on Magnolia 5 with vision, rigor and bravery, something we could not have done would we not have transformed Magnolia from a service company to a product vendor.

So here we are, transforming our company once more, this time in a subtle way, but one that is all the way more powerful. Until summer 2011, we were basically adding features to a product. The main discussions from a product manager perspective focussed on which feature to add next in order to stay relevant in a very agile, demanding and complex environment. Should we add Facebook support? Become more social? Do we need to offer a SAAS version? Should we rather integrate Salesforce or Hybris? Is personalization or multi-variate testing the more relevant feature for our existing or future customers?
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of many of the things we haven't done as the things we have done– Steve Jobs in Fortune, Mar. 7, 2008 
Every product company has to make such decisions. At Magnolia, we successfully ignored many trends to focus on building an enterprise CMS with technical sophistication and an intuitive user interface. So in summer 2011 we decided that Magnolia 5 should be built for the "generation mobile". We dumped all previous user interface design work and started over, this time from a mobile perspective. How would interaction work if a CMS would be as simple to use as a smart phone? The outcome is spectacular.

What is even more spectacular, is how changing our perspective has transformed us from a feature-focussed company to a vendor with its own vision and impact on the market. The way we think about content management today is different from a year ago. Yes we still need to implement features in order for our software to do anything useful. But features have become somewhat of an afterthought. It is not the features that make Magnolia 5 an outstanding product. It is the overall product experience that makes the difference.

Much like the first iPhone, some people will find that some features are lacking compared to the competition in the first release of Magnolia five. But if you focus on features, you miss the bigger picture, the long term perspective, the big waves that alter history. Much like Nokia, who certainly had more features in their smart phones in 2007 than the iPhone. Or Microsoft. Or Blackberry.

So here we are, the new Magnolia, a company that re-envisions content management for a world that is mobile first and where organizations extend their virtual presence on multiple channels to interact with their customers, members and citizens. This is a magnificent transformation and I am totally thrilled by its implications and possibilities.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Disruptive Innovation: how mobile alters the cab business

I was in Manhattan back in 2007 to build up Magnolia Americas. One of the first things I did when I got there was to buy the new iPhone (even before I had an apartment or an office). I met a lot of cool people and had to move around in taxies quite a bit, and naturally some day in Brooklyn (there are generally no cabs in Brooklyn) I thought about an App to order a cab or limousine. I am used to toying around new ideas and take them apart, build business plans around them etc, so I took it as a nice intellectual challenge but not more.

Fast forward to 2012, and these kind of Apps have arrived big time. We have recently switched to a new taxi company in Basel, and with it came an app that allows me to order a taxi and see where it is and how long it takes to get to wherever I am – the kind of app I imagined back in 2007. Naturally I started to ask the cab drivers how the business model around their enterprise works and how these apps change their life.

So let me step back a bit. About a year ago I did a workshop with the CMS Experts Europe Group of Janus Boye about Disruptive Innovation. It has become a bit of a hobby of mine to look for disruptive technologies. So naturally I was interested in the disruptive nature of the taxi app.

First, taxis usually work in two modes – you either hitch one driving by, or you order one to pick you up. In New York or London demand for taxis is high, so if you are a cab driver, it suffices to drive around a block and you will have a new guest. There is little incentive for them to go through a call center to be dispatched to a client. In London for instance, most cab drivers will not be connected to a call center (one friendly cabby estimated that  20% of London cabbies are enrolled in such a scheme there).

A call center however is useful in smaller places. Cities like Basel. A cab driver pays a monthly fee for the call center, and the call center dispatches taxies to clients. In Germany a cab driver pays e.g. 450 € (580 USD) per month to the call center in order to get a supply of clients. In Basel, the fee is nearly twice s much at 1000 CHF (1070 USD). The taxi drivers have little alternatives to the call center services to get business here.

Now enter the app. The app connects the client (me) with the cab driver circumventing intermediaries like the call center. I haven't researched their fee structures in detail, but from what I hear, for instance in Germany the cab driver pays about 1$ in fees per ride initiated through the app to the app provider. While this might not seem like a big money saver, its main value for the taxi drivers is that the fee is per ride.

In Germany, if you take a three week holiday, you still pay the monthly 580USD for the call center. If you only work part time, same thing. The call center, in other words, doesn't care if you work or not. The app however does.

And the taxi drivers seem to love the new way of doing business. First, if they just stop on the road and pick up a passenger, they will not have to pay anybody anything. Same for all sick times, vacations or other times they don't work. However, if they need to rely on a third party to get a guest, they just wait until the next request on their mobile comes in and pay 1$ for it. This is a great value proposition for them, and naturally in Germany, cab drivers are using the app pretty much everywhere. The call centers don't like it, but what can they do?

Well, in Switzerland, they simply forbid the use of the app independent of the call center. In other words, the app I use goes to the call center, they notify the taxi driver and dispatch her to me.

Is this the right approach? Will it save the taxi call centers long term? What should they do? Is there anything they actually can do?

The mobile and the taxi app are disruptive to the business of the call center. The "disruptive" part  means that it change the nature of how things get done. Unless you change as well, you will not survive. I understand that the Swiss taxi center tries to use their dominance to stem the tide, but I believe resistance is futile. Their dispatch service simply is no longer needed.

Let me end with a little story on Kodak and Fujifilm. Both companies at their heyday were quite comparable, one quintessential American, one Japanese film maker. Kodak actually invented the digital camera! Today, Kodak is dead (what a shame), Fujifilm is striving. Why?

They both new at about the same time that change was inevitable. The digital camera would be disruptive for their film business. Surprisingly, Kodak failed to act decisively and forcefully, whereas Fujifilm did. Let's skip an analysis of what Kodak did wrong (lot's of things for sure) in their demise. What did Fujifilm do? They basically said: film as we know it is dead. How can we apply our considerable knowledge, processes, relationships and intellectual property elsewhere? And they did come up with two interesting business ideas that they followed through with – one in cosmetics (turns out the human skin and film have similar needs and characteristics) and one in flat panel displays, where Fujifilm has developed a film that increases the viewing angle of the display which is market leading.

My advice to call centers: assume dispatching taxis to clients is a dead business proposition. What can you provide that will still be useful? Then act fast and decisively.

These days when I need a cab I simply download an app and press a button. Life has become much easier for this weary traveller. Where did you recently see the disruptive nature of mobile at work?

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Magnolia 5 is mobile first

At the Magnolia Conference 2012 we presented the first look at Magnolia five and stated that Magnolia  5 was developed with a mobile first approach. There were two drivers for this approach:
  1. We want to bring the ease-of-use of a smartphone to the desktop. If you compare today's bloated interfaces of enterprise software with the fun-to-use, task-oriented apps on your iPhone you will immediately realize the attraction of the latter. 
  2. But there is a second attraction to developing enterprise software from a mobile perspective: the fact that you can actually use the software on a mobile device! 
So our goal was not only to make Magnolia easier to use on the desktop, but also to fully enable the same experience on your tablet computer. There has been ample research into the subject matter in recent years, and here are some quotes I presented at the keynote that highlight where the journey is taking us.
Mobile knowledge workers currently account for more than 60% of the total workforce in Brazil, Germany, India and Japan and more than 70% of the total workforce in the United States – Infotrends Jan 2011
These numbers are already more than a year old, which in terms of the mobile revolution is like a decade in desktop computing. Even if the Europeans by and large work from desktop computers, the same is not true for the rest of the world, and in any case, it is changing rapidly, everywhere, because the advance of mobile also changes the nature of business, as the next quote highlights:
Mobile applications will drive major transformation in the way businesses operate by delivering … relevant information to employees and customers – Gartner: “Effects of Mobility on Information Management”
Now these have been two good quotes why we want Magnolia 5 to run on mobile. Here is one that fits our other motivation, ease-of-use:
(Apple's iPad is) changing user expectations for how they interact with their content management systems – Gartner: “Tablets and Smartphones Are Changing How Content Is Created, Consumed and Delivered”
As you probably realize by now, what we do is what needs to be done. The future of content management (and enterprise software in general) will not look like your desktop software from the 90s, and I think we can all agree that is a good thing.

I spoke to a close friend recently, who told me that their company's Asian workforce is now exclusively equipped with iPads. They are no longer equipped with laptops. Probably the foremost reason is the lower total cost of ownership. Whatever their exact motivation, the fact remains that there is a workforce of an estimated 4000 staff being equipped with iPads instead of laptops. This is the trend that we see. And that is why Magnolia five is built mobile first.

PS: I'll be in London the next few days at the Gartner Portals, Content & Collaboration summit. Feel free to touch base with me there.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Magnolia 5 – CMS as mobile apps platform

In the keynote (slides) at last week's Magnolia Conference Pascal and I spoke about Magnolia 5 and how we believe our CMS is an excellent starting point to develop mobile apps. For those that didn't make it to the conference (you missed a great event) let me quickly try to lay down my thoughts about the topic in this blog post.

So, Magnolia 5 aims to be the first CMS on the market that is "mobile first". That means that we have rethought and rewritten how content management should work in our mobile age. One aspect of it is that interaction patterns have been inspired by iOS, i.e. the iPhone and iPad. Another aspect is that the full CMS functionality will be available on the iPad and other tablets. With regard to interaction, our approach to reduce the complexity typically found in enterprise software, and to improve usability, is to use Apps as the building blocks of the CMS.

For a start, we provide an Apps Screen that allows you to launch the Apps you have access to. Additional apps can be added via Magnolia's module mechanism. Now, the big questions is why you should use Magnolia to write Apps.

Magnolia really is a UI on a broad set of services – we call them core services. For instance: 
  • repository storage
  • publishing / STK
  • scalability
  • security
  • data import
  • caching
  • observation
  • workflow / BPM
... and many more. If you think about it, many of these core services would be really useful when writing Apps for your mobile workforce (we call them Mobile Professionals or MoPros). Certainly the fact that Magnolia solves the provisioning issue is helpful (simply access Magnolia through the web browser of your device, log in, and you have access to all Apps you are allowed to use).

The security aspect is also interesting: Magnolia has user management that integrates with your organization through standards (JAAS) and has field level access controls in place.

Further, if as a MoPro you need to capture data (e.g. you are selling insurance policies), that data certainly should go back into some central form of storage – and we have that, using a standardized repository. If you then wish to publish, enrich or aggregate said data, Magnolia again is your friend.

Now, building these Apps is straightforward. We have defined a specific "content app" class that you can use as the basis for, well, content Apps. Content Apps basically allow you to manage any form of data or content through a standardized UI. All you need to do to create such an App is to define the data type. The UI will be rendered fully automatically.

On a lesser abstraction level, you have full control over your Apps (which means more work for you) but for straightforward Content Apps, Magnolia 5 indeed brings a lot to the table.

Apps can also use workflow (we will use jBPM in Magnolia 5), or use observation to react on any changes to any content.

So once you put all of this together, you probably agree that using a CMS like Magnolia provides excellent benefits to your organization if you want to provide access to corporate data for your mobile professionals. In any case, we fully embrace the mobile age and are excited that we are entering the Mobile App platform space with Magnolia 5.

You can download a developer preview of Magnolia 5, watch the fantastic teaser videos or read the docs on how to write a Magnolia 5 App. We plan to release a Magnolia 5 beta in November, so stay tuned for more.

And let me know what you think about the Apps platform idea.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Virtual Presence Management vs. Web Experience Management

I have introduced Virtual Presence Management (VPM) in two previous blog posts (The VPM Turing Test and the VPM maturity scale) and we published a technology brief about virtual presence management on the Magnolia CMS site. It is even part of Magnolia's brand promise.

With our focus so strongly on Virtual Presence, you might wonder where that leaves us on Web Experience Management. We actively participate in the Web Experience Management Interoperability standardization effort,  which we co-sponsor through our OASIS membership. But this blog post is not about our involvement there, it is about the differences between Web Experience Management and Virtual Presence Management.

WEM is all about personalization – bringing the right content to the right person at the right time. Its driver is the organizations wish to optimize (usually in terms of revenue) each interaction with their customers.

LeShop allows you to buy exactly the same articles that you get in the local supermarket. A great example of Virtual Presence by the Migros retail group.
VPM on the other hand provides people the opportunity to interact with an organizations through virtual channels like the web or mobile instead of a physical interaction. It supports the drive of today's organizations to "virtualize" their presence, i.e. to reduce their dependency on physical resources like brick & mortar stores or call centers. It also helps people to do "business" on their own terms – where, when and how they want to interact with a company. This is paramount in a world that is increasingly mobile, and increasingly global.

Where WEM tries to provide an experience that is tailored to the visitor, Virtual Presence Management looks at the world from the organization's perspective.  How can an organization generate more value for their clients/members/citizens? I believe it can do so by opening up more of their services and processes to "virtual" channels, e.g. the web, mobile web, apps or any other form of "virtual" interaction. Recent Open Data and E-Government initiatives are examples of opening up and providing  access to data and processes for the good of citizens. This clearly is not about web experience. It is about adding value using existing data and processes by bringing them to the web and mobile.
Long lines could be a thing of the past if the DMV would have a Virtual Presence.
Image http://morefunthanblackboard.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/waiting-in-line-at-the-dmv/

For instance, if you are an expat, say from the UK, working in the US, you might be interested to watch the BBC news after you come home from work. If BBC only provides their news show through broadcast TV, you typically have no chance to watch them (since they are in a different time zone). A Virtual Presence activity for BBC would be to make the news available through the web or mobile on demand. This is in fact also a good example of VPM's focus on opening up an organization's data and processes. The news have already been produced, it is already available in digital form at BBC, so why not open it up to the virtual channels and in this way provide benefit to or widen your audience?

This is exactly what Magnolia's customers have been doing for a while now. When we were analyzing why our customers chose Magnolia over alternatives, we realized that they were typically working on  virtual presence. Magnolia's open attitude and our technological toolchain are the foundation for a solid virtual presence strategy.
Screenshot of Navy Reserve Drill Pay Calculator

Take navy.com, or navyreserve.com. These sites provide deep back-end integration, they go way beyond a traditional brochure ware site. For instance, you can take the Navy Life-Ops personality profile test, or use calculators to determine pay. Another example would be ticket.se, an online store that allows you to book tickets. Recently, the City of Lausanne has launched a new public administration site based on Magnolia, which offers all sorts of citizen services online. Their expectations for its use have been exceeded within 2 month by 25%.

So back to WEM. Web experience management is like thinking about the choice of drinks you wish to serve a passenger on a flight. Yes, a passenger might be happy to have her favorite drink when she gets on the plane. But she might be even happier not to have to hop on the plane in the first place.

So think about the trip, not the drink.

BTW, next week at the Magnolia Conference, Virtual Presence will be part of the keynote, where we will add a new dimension to virtual presence management (stay tuned). We'll also have an experts panel discussing VPM. So see you there!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Enjoy the Party with Magnolia CMS, Skip the BYOD Hangover (part 2)

In my last blog post, I discussed the BYOD challenges being faced by many enterprises, together with the needs of mobile professionals to be able to interact with content swiftly and in an error-free manner. While the typical solution to these problems is to build and deploy native apps, this is not a perfect solution. Key issues include the cost of supporting multiple platforms, the difficulties of ensuring that apps are correctly provisioned, and providing a seamless interaction experience across multiple apps and devices.

With Magnolia 5, we hope to offer a better solution to these issues.

Magnolia 5 Apps

Magnolia provides answers where others leave a trail of failed silo app implementations. In an industry first, Magnolia 5 introduces a revolutionary new interaction concept for enterprise software, based on the simplicity of Apps. All of Magnolia’s functionality is neatly divided into task-based Apps. Apps reduce complexity and allow a highly personalized user experience. They are also an excellent mechanism to customize Magnolia while maintaining the upgrade path. Such custom Apps provide a seamless user experience and can be directly integrated into your business processes. This will reduce the learning curve and the cost of operations.

Apps in Magnolia are written in HTML5 using Vaadin, “a Java framework for building modern web applications that look great, perform well and make you and your users happy”. Since HTML5 is a standard, Apps in Magnolia work across all modern devices and browsers. As a widely adopted industry standard, it is future-proof. In stark contrast to proprietary solutions, standards ensure that talent is either readily available or learning these technologies is seen as an asset to any employee’s career.

Security and Open Standards

Apps are provisioned through Magnolia. Mobile professionals simply log into Magnolia through their web browser (or, if preferred, a “native app wrapper” of Magnolia installed on their device) and are presented with the Apps they may access. If a new App is added to the Magnolia server, it will automatically show up under the user’s Apps if access is granted. No additional device specific installation is required. It is easy to control access not only to Apps but all data since Magnolia has highly granular access control.

With all the above benefits, here is one that tops them all: The core services of Magnolia CMS, e.g. content management, asset management, messaging, versioning, observation, security, caching, workflow, publishing etc. are a unique value proposition to build custom, content-centric Apps for your organization. Where existing frameworks address the problem of building and provisioning Apps, possibly across multiple devices, Magnolia allows you to build Apps that are standards-compliant HTML5, make it very easy to provide specific functionality to specific groups, ensure that updates are instant, user interaction is unified and seamless and Mobile Professionals can work on the same data that office workers access.

The journalist reporting a story can simply launch an article app, take a snapshot and add a couple of lines of text, and push the news through the internal approval workflow to publish it on your news site. Notes taken by a doctor on his or her iPad are no longer separate from the patient data but part of their record. And regrettably, the parking ticket might be in your inbox the moment a police officer registers a parking violation.

In short, if you're a CIO worried about the morning-after hangover of the BYOD party, don't be. The party's just beginning for mobile users, and Magnolia’s exciting cocktail of open, mobile-friendly technologies is just what you need to enjoy it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Enjoy the Party with Magnolia CMS, Skip the BYOD Hangover

Do you have a smartphone or tablet? Do you use it to buy movie tickets or groceries, catch up with news and read your email? Have you ever used it to jot down quick meeting notes, update your Facebook stream or upload a photo to your Web site?

Chances are, you answered yes to at least one of those questions. And if you did, you're not alone. A 2011 study by InfoTrends found that "mobile knowledge workers currently account for more than 60% of the total workforce in Brazil, Germany, India and Japan and more than 70% of the total workforce in the United States. Forecast projections show these regions are expected to show continued growth and penetration through the 2014 period."

Who Are These Mobile Users, Anyway?

It might tempting to discount this as a passing trend, but look around you - in the bus, the train, the workplace, the restaurant - and you'll realize the pervasiveness of mobile. And if you look a little closer, you'll realize that these "mobile workers" can actually be classified into two broad segments:
  • “Mobile Consumers” are those who use mobile access for non-work purposes. Examples include making mobile payments for groceries, getting driving directions and maps, reading the tablet version of the New Yorker while commuting, and so on. These users like mobile-friendly Websites that have intuitive design and workflows and are designed for small(er) screens.
  • “Mobile Professionals” are those who treat their mobile device as an extension of their workplace, using it to receive and send business-related information. Examples include journalists recording interviews on their mobile phones, doctors reviewing patient data and taking notes, and police officers registering parking violations. For these users, it's important that interaction is intuitive and simple so that errors can be avoided. Also, access needs to be scalable, secure and tightly integrated with back-office systems.
How does this trend relate to content management? Well, most Mobile Professionals are using their mobile devices to create or interact with content. Think of patient records being updated at bed side, insurance brokers jotting down client details, or journalists writing a short article right where the action takes place. These are activities that should integrate seamlessly with value-generating business processes to provide the biggest benefit and fastest time to market at the lowest cost.

Granted, there are many providers today that try to solve these issues through app-building frameworks. However, at Magnolia, we believe the problem is not building apps, but providing the content management infrastructure to manage content creation, access and publishing processes.

The BYOD Challenge

CIOs face distinct challenges from the growing trend of mobile usage, both amongst company customers and Mobile Professionals. Most CIOs are already aware of the need to make the enterprise's customer-facing Website mobile-friendly, to ensure that both prospective and actual customers can access the information they need without hindrance. Magnolia has provided support for mobile sites, in addition to existing sites and channels, from a single source of content for a while.

However, faced with the new trend of BYOD, CIOs now also need to ensure that internal resources, such as the company intranet, are accessible and usable through employee-owned mobile devices and that interaction with their back-end systems can be provided on the go.

One option to do so is to build native apps. While this is certainly a valid approach, it introduces a host of issues, such as the cost of supporting multiple platforms, ensuring that the right groups of people have access to the right apps (this is called “provisioning”), and providing a seamless interaction experience across multiple apps and devices to lower the learning curve and reduce data entry errors.

With Magnolia 5, we’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about these problems, and we think we’ve cracked them. More in my next post.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Virtual Presence Maturity Scale

The Web is not what it used to be. It is no longer enough to build static brochureware websites. Businesses today need deep back-end integration to provide a unique, valuable experience to customers. Have you seen how Amazon replaces bookstore chains, Craigslist replaces newspaper classifieds and online travel sites replace travel agencies? Common to these examples is the integration of business logic processes into online channels, making them directly accessible to site visitors.

At Magnolia we call this virtual presence management (VPM). We think VPM is very important. Businesses should understand how to get better at it.

In order to know where you should go, you need to first understand where you stand. Last week, I published a blog post about a Turing Test for Virtual Presence as a first introduction. Extending this, I propose a model for measuring virtual presence. It is a 5-level scale modeled after the Capability Maturity Model, a popular tool for measuring how well an organization can execute a process.

There are several levels, ranging from a simple brochureware website to a born-digital company. Let’s look at some examples.
  1. The first level is a static brochureware website. Typically the only thing a customer can do on such as a website is gather basic information about the business. There is no e-commerce or interaction. Example: Snyder & Brandt, P.A. attorneys provides just a phone number and a description of their services.
  2. At level 2 businesses are aware of VPM and are experimenting with it. But they have not fully incorporated all their business processes to the Web. The website might have interactive features but does not allow you to complete transactions. For example, Morrisons Supermarket chain in the U.K. has a versatile website but you cannot buy any products online.
  3. At level three are companies that already have a deep virtual presence but some decisive parts are still missing. The last part of the transaction such as picking up a ticket cannot be done online. Example: Optimus Primavera Festival allows you to buy a concert ticket online but you have to pick it up from a box office.
  4. Level four is very close to full virtual presence. In fact, here you find businesses that are deliberately physical in some respect of their service offering. For example, when Axa Winterthur sells life insurance the company prefers to complete the process face-to-face with the client even though they could complete the transaction through the web.
  5. Businesses at level 5 are totally virtualized and often don't even have a physical presence. If they have a concrete shop, you can buy the same things as in the online shop. The reach of virtual presence at this level makes the two realms indistinguishable. Example: Amazon
We think that the maturity scale model has some key advantages:
  • It makes the concept of virtual presence easier to understand.
  • It shows that VPM is a gradual process, not an ON/OFF decision.
  • It can help businesses evaluate their current level of VPM.
However, the model also has drawbacks. First of all, it is quite simplistic. There are companies that fit on more than one level. The highest level is not always the goal either: a company may reach optimal virtual presence at level 4.

What do you think about the model? Which level is your company on? Read the whole Virtual Presence Management Tech Brief and leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hello, Professor Turing (a virtual presence test)

In 1950, Alan Turing, a British and computer scientist, proposed a test for artificial intelligence which has come to be known as the Turing test. This test, which is well-known in the field of artificial intelligence, has a human judge engage in conversations with a machine and another human. If the judge is unable to distinguish, only on the basis of responses to his or her questions, which respondent is human and which is not, the machine may be argued to "have intelligence".

Fast-forward half a century, and it's now also possible to apply the basic idea of the Turing test to the nascent field of virtual presence management - that is, managing a company's presence across the online and offline worlds. In this scenario, a customer would engage in a transaction with a company through two channels. If he or she is unable to differentiate between the channels in terms of the transaction outcome, then the company may be argued to "have seamless virtual presence".

Understanding Virtual Presence

A few examples should make this clearer:
  • Purchasing a movie ticket on a cinema's website versus purchasing it at the box office. 
  • Making a hotel reservation on a hotel's website versus making it over the telephone with the hotel's reservations desk. 
  • Booking a city tour online with a tour company versus turning up at the appointed hour at the meeting point. 
  • Transferring money electronically through a bank's website versus filling in a form at the local branch. 
Now, think about the scenarios above and apply them to your own experiences. When you purchase a movie ticket, reserve a hotel room or send money to someone, are there noticeable differences or advantages between the online and the offline channel? If there are, your cinema/hotel/bank has yet to master virtual presence management.

Applying The Turing Test

If you apply our version of the Turing test to well-known online brands, you'll notice that with a few notable exceptions, most of them seem to fail the test. For example, at the time of writing:
  • IKEA is a well-known retailer of goods for the home. Although the IKEA website is professionally designed and offers a wealth of product information, it does not offer online shopping for all of its products. For many products, it is necessary for customers to visit an IKEA store and make physical purchases. 
  • Cinemark is a chain of movie theatres in the USA. The Cinemark website allows online bookings and gives customers an online order confirmation number. Customers are required to collect their tickets from the box office using this online order confirmation number before entering the theatre. 
  • Easyjet is a well-known low-cost airline in the UK and Europe. The Easyjet website allows users to book tickets and check in for their flights online. However, entry to the airplane is still dependent on a physical boarding pass, which must be printed at home or collected from a check-in desk. 
While these companies seem to "fail" the Turing test, in its strictest sense, would it be fair to say that they have "no virtual presence"? Obviously not. IKEA, Cinemark and Easyjet are all well-known brands and their websites are widely used by millions of users every day to obtain product information and execute business transactions.

A Better Test: The VPM Maturity Scale

Where does this leave us? The Turing test is a Boolean test: a company either succeeds entirely or fails entirely. However, virtual presence is not a Boolean concept. Companies may have different "degrees" of virtual presence, ranging from the very basic (static websites) to the very advanced (tightly-integrated ERP systems). To evaluate a company's virtual presence, there is a need for a graduated scale, one which lets a company identify both where it is today and where it intends to be in the future.

We call this scale the VPM Maturity Scale, and it's one of the key tools used by our customers and our partners when deploying Magnolia CMS. I'll discuss it in more detail in my next blog post, but if you can't wait until then, download the Magnolia VPM Tech Brief and see how your company ranks in its virtual presence.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Announcing the Magnolia Maintenance Release Policy

Today, we have published the Magnolia Maintenance Policy. The Policy clarifies what a maintenance release is and states that CE users will have access to maintenance release of the current major version, whereas Magnolia Enterprise Edition customers have access to maintenance release of their deployed version. With that we are following in the footsteps of other commercial open source companies like Springsource, who have had similar policies for years, probably for similar reasons.

Our desired effect of this policy is that

  • the Magnolia community focuses more of its work on the latest release
  • the general Magnolia install base is more recent (you wouldn't believe how many 2.1 Magnolia installations still exist somewhere out there!)
  • organizations that need previous release maintenance either upgrade to the latest major version (good) or get an Enterprise Edition subscription (even better ;-))
so that in the long run we can minimize (or possibly even eliminate!) feature differences between the Community Edition and the Enterprise Edition. A first step in that direction was done with the Magnolia CMS 4.5 release which has added many features to the Community Edition which were previously only available in the Enterprise Edition.

We hope that the new maintenance policy clarifies who we will proceed with maintenance releases starting immediately. For discussions, feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

WEMI - Web Experience Management Interoperability: notes on the first f2f meeting in copenhagen

Last week I spend some time in Copenhagen, where Sitecore was nice enough to host the first get-together of the WEMI technical committee. WEMI stands for "Web Experience Management Interoperability", a proposed new standard being developed through OASIS, and promises higher interoperability between systems that manage content.

This was the first face-to-face meeting of the standard's sponsors, so do not expect anything that you read here or elsewhere to be more than an indication of where things might be going. Nevertheless I think it is worth sharing some notes about the event.

Let me start by saying that I had a great time in Copenhagen. It is a lovely city, the hotel recommendation (Hotel Guldsmeden Axel) was excellent. Philipp and I arrived on Monday and after checking in started with a healthy meal of Danish specialities including varieties of Herring, which were excellent. Thusly refreshed, we explored a bit of the city until we met up with the other early arrivers for drinks and dinner.

Meeting my peers from companies like Acquia, SDL, Typo3, TerminalFour, Enonic, Liferay, DotNetNuke, Adobe, GX Software, Jahia, Hippo, and Sitecore resulted in highly enjoyable discussions. It is rare to get so many of us into one room – we counted more than 20 – and we half-jokingly pondered upon the chance of a major disaster wiping out half or our industry.

On  Tuesday morning Cédric Hüsler (Adobe) opened the discussion of what WEMI could become. As initial goals/use cases he proposed:
  1. display and mashup content
  2. index content and meta data
  3. export all content
As out-of-scope he suggested:
  • entitlement, access control
  • versioning, records management
  • data ingestion, write operations
Many discussions centered around what problem we really wish/need to solve and how WEMI differs from existing standards (or indeed if such standards exist). It is clear that more work will be needed to sharpen our focus of what WEMI can provide that does not already exist. All of the suggested use cases seem to have at least partial solutions already, so we have to be very clear where WEMI can add value.

For example, Jay (Acquia) suggested to add a query mechanism to WEMI, an idea I really like. This would be especially useful for mashup's. A look at Open Data revealed that much work in that realm has been done and we could benefit from it. Where could WEMI add value?

We agreed that the standard should be minimal in scope and as simple as possible. And we want to provide an implementation that can easily be adopted by non-CMS's as well. The logic behind this is that we see a big benefit in solving the use case of mashing up information from products that are not a CMS, e.g. a PIM. In other words, what WEMI aims to solve is not so much the mashup between compliant CMS's but rather to get others to be compliant to the CMS world. This way, WEMI-compliant CMS's can easily integrate third-party system's output. This plays right into Magnolia's understanding of virtual presence management, so investing into WEMI from Magnolia's perspective makes sense.

There is potential of WEMI becoming really useful, even sexy. I believe that a good first step will be to flesh out the use cases and write user stories to see what could become of WEMI once defined and implemented. This would make it easier to get others on board, especially "third-party systems".

For example imagine a product that would take an inventory of all images that are used on all the websites of a company. This could be useful to enforce branding guidelines. To achieve this (and given that all systems understand WEMI), WEMI would need to provide a way to ask for specific item types.

This means we need to discuss the level of semantics WEMI understands. One one end WEMI could be quite abstract using nodes and data elements. However, my feeling is that we should indeed define things we might be interested in, e.g. folders, images, videos or even articles (as in  "newspaper article"). This idea was broadly supported by Thomas (Enonic).

My final thoughts on this first meeting are that we need to define inspiring use cases that show what could be achieved with WEMI that is costly or hard to do with todays means. This would allow us to get more people excited and to increase the chances of a rapid adoption of the standard once defined.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

10 best kept secrets of Magnolia CMS 4.5

This week we have released Magnolia CMS 4.5. It has been 14 month in the making, and it has been quite an interesting time for Magnolia. From a product management perspective, Magnolia 4.5 was needed to ensure we have all the core technology in place before we tackle the big V – where we will provide a new user experience and more which is beyond this article. So while we worked on 4.5 we also added a few niceties like mobile preview and multi channel management. And amongst all the big features in 4.5, some goodies might have skipped your attention, even though they might rightly be your favorite new aspect of Magnolia 4.5 So here we go with 10 things you might have missed about Magnolia 4.5.

STK now shipped with CE
A big one. Our Standard Templating Kit has been a huge success for our partners and customers, as it significantly speeds up project development, reduces project risk, standardizes the way how a Magnolia site is constructed and maintained, and provides a ton of out-of-the-box templates as well as a static prototype to allow projects to separate and parallelize project development. In short, it is a magic box of wonders that is unique to Magnolia. Due to license restrictions, CE users had to download STK manually and were obliged to display a banner and link back to Magnolia. This is no longer the case, we have updated the STK license to be aligned with the rest of Magnolia CE. This way we now ship the community edition with the standard templating kit and hope you will start using it with your next project. You will never look back.

Secure Activation
Magnolia's unique architecture of having one author system and a number of public systems for security, flexibility and performance reasons means that content needs to be pushed from an author instance to public instances. In the past that meant any user who should be allows to activate content (i.e. publish) needed to be present on the public servers.

Needless to say that this could be a potential security concern. If a user/password gets compromised, content can be changed on public servers unless they are otherwise protected. Since Magnolia 4.5 we use a new secure activation mechanism that uses public-key cryptography to communicate between servers and allows us to store hashes of passwords instead of encrypted passwords. Now, activation no longer authenticates content activation using user credentials, which means you don't need to store such credentials on the public instances. So even if a public (or author) server would get compromised, passwords would not be found.

Imaging Module now available for Community Edition
When we originally released the imaging module, it was for Enterprise customers only. The imaging module allows for automatic resizing and cropping as well as other manipulations and is a huge time saver as all image variations are created from a single source image on the fly. With 4.5, you no longer have to manually create image variations as a community edition user.  

Categorization Module now available for Community Edition
Similar to the imaging module, the Categorization Module was EE only until now. Categorization is a really useful and powerful way to structure content and can be used e.g. for facetted navigation. Now available for all!

Commenting Module now available for Community Edition
When we introduced commenting, CE was shipped only with the ability to connect to a public commenting service. Enterprise Customers had the option to use Magnolia  directly for the comments, and in this way ensure that they have the rights to user-generated content (something the public services would not grant you). Now everybody can use Magnolia directly to store comments.

Blossom 2.0
Blossom, the world's best Spring-CMS integration framework has been rewritten to reflect all the things we learned in the last four years working with it, and now supports the newest templating concepts like areas directly via annotations in Spring. If you prefer coding to configuration have a look at how simple it is to add custom dialogs, page components, areas, templates and business logic to Magnolia CMS using Blossom.

Inversion of Control
For those inclined to add custom functionality or replace parts of Magnolia, we have introduced IoC with the Guice framework. If you know what that means, you must be happy now. If you think of the International Olympic Committee when reading IoC, safely ignore this new feature.

HTML 5 Forms support
Amongst other HTML 5 goodies like native video support, we now also have native forms support. See it in action on our demo site. HTML 5 form support has a host of benefits,  including CSS3 styling, browser-based validation, and semantics.

Support for ARIA landmarks
ARIA landmarks are used in HTML5 to markup regions of a page to support the navigation of content with assistive devices. Since we already have areas as part of our templating concepts in Magnolia, making them ARIA-conform was a small step for us, but a huge benefit for accessibility. There is nothing you have to do extra. Just use STK to build your projects. But you already knew that STK is your friend, right?

Keyboard Support for Preview
Last but not least, one of my favorite new features: Use the ESC key to toggle between preview and edit mode in the new page editor. Since 4.5 you can in many cases no longer navigate in editing mode, so the switch to preview mode is all the more important. Using the ESC key to toggle makes it easy to use your mouse for navigation and your left hand to toggle. (Sorry for the lefties out there, though).

So this concludes my list of the 10 best kept secrets of Magnolia 4.5 for now. What are your favorites that I did not mention?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Magnolia CMS in 2011 – another amazing year

2011 has been another incredible year for Magnolia. From 4 people in 2006 we grew to 28 employees (plus a handful of externals) at the end of 2011. Read on for some insight into what has happened in 2011.

A lot has been achieved last year even though for the first time in our history we did not release a new version of Magnolia. This is surprising on one hand; on the other it shows just how far we have come. Quite a number of maintenance releases have been published. Version 4.4.5 probably set a new record at Magnolia, with fixing nearly 100 issues. And we do have Magnolia 4.5 in the making, which will be released at the end of February 2012 and all things considered is possibly the biggest effort we have ever put into a single release.

Two years ago we set out to change one aspect about Magnolia in particular: its documentation. Our documentation team has grown to three persons. Documentation has been a full blown success. Where 2 years ago we would get bad comments about our lack of documentation, today we get positive feedback up to the level that decisions for Magnolia are made because of the quality of documentation. The statistics do reflect this: in the last 12 months we had a stunning 70% growth in unique visitors to our documentation site. During the same time, our corporate site traffic has grown by 17.5%.

Business has reflected our strong position. Worldwide, the number of license subscriptions has grown by 32% last year. Our expansion efforts in the USA resulted in an astounding 60% growth in license subscriptions for Magnolia Americas, which now holds 20% of our subscriptions worldwide.

Notable Client wins in 2011:
  • Atlassian, USA
  • Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF), France
  • Basler Versicherungen, Schweiz
  • Bundesrechenzentrum GmbH (BRZ GmbH), Austria
  • Editora Meio & Mensagem Ltda., Brazil
  • FOXTEL Channels Group, Australia
  • Leroy Merlin España S.L.U., Spain
  • Lufthansa Systems Network Services GmbH, Germany
  • MBC, Middle East (Dubai)
  • Michelin Brazil, Brazil
  • Scientific Learning, USA
  • Sheffield City Council, UK
  • Zumba Fitness, USA
(Links added where sites are already live and/or publicly visible). We now hold an astonishing 7% of the worlds global 100 enterprises as our customers, and fully expect this number to grow much higher in the coming years.

Furthermore, in 2011 we have added the following new partners:
  • Cross Agency
  • Fast Forward
  • Priocept
  • Serviceplan
  • T8y
  • Tribal DDB
  • Ventiv
  • VML
In terms of Facebook Likes, we have seen 57% growth and have 830 fans today. Our Linkedin group has 241 members, with nearly 70% growth last year.

We held our first two webinars in 2011, wrote 8 new case studies, won a Red Herring Top 100 Europe Award, are a sponsor of the Web Experience Management Interoperability (WEMI) standard at OASIS and added an arabic landing page (www.magnolia-cms.ae). A whopping 64 (prev: 40) blogs entries have been written by Magnolians this year to help spread the word and our support team has solved 554 issues, 62% more than in 2010.

Our biggest goal for 2012 is the release of Magnolia 5. For 3.5 years we have designed and redesigned Magnolia's next UI. Last year we have seen a new phenomenon: iPads take the enterprise by storm. Apple recently stated that 93% of Fortune 500 companies either test or already deploy the iPad. This has made us change our plans for Magnolia's future UI in mid 2011, and by the end of 2011 we finally had the breakthrough in interaction design we have all been waiting for. Magnolia 5 will be the first CMS on the market that has been designed for touch. This is tremendously exciting and will be a watershed event for us.

All our efforts will be focused on not only delivering the product but also to be ready for the opportunities that Magnolia 5 will create for our business. Obviously we will need to grow, and our growth will bring changes. We will ensure that these changes will not happen by accident, and that our growth remains manageable.

Luckily our financial position is excellent. Magnolia has no external obligations. We are independent in every aspect, where most competitors are either part of larger corporation (e.g. Fatwire (Oracle), Day (Adobe)) or have financial dependencies (e.g. venture capital). Others depend on services to finance their product development and in this way compete against their partners. Magnolia on the other hand has a sustainable license model that ensures a steady cash flow without competing against our partners.

We have great plans for 2012, which will be a really busy year for all of us. As you can see from this review, we are in pole position to make 2012 a year to remember. I am looking forward to it.

PS: Join us. You will like it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Webinar how Elekta choose their new CMS and why Magnolia

In our series of industry webinars, we put our spotlight on Elekta, a global pioneer in clinical solutions for treating cancer and brain disorders.

The Webinar will focus on how Elekta transitioned from its previously proprietary CMS solution to Magnolia: the steps they took to evaluate various alternatives, the need analysis they performed to match requirements to key CMS capabilities, and the key decision factors behind their choice of Magnolia. Needless to say, this should be very interesting, especially for Website owners and content managers who are considering, or are in the process of evaluating new Web CMS solutions, as it gives in-depth insight into the type of analysis one should perform when choosing a Web CMS.

We have a big lineup on Jan 24 2012: Andrew Rodgers, Manager of Global Web and Multimedia at Elekta, together with Webmasters Tobias Müller and Chris Owen, and will be moderated by Greg Gillespie, Editor-in-Chief at Health Data Management Magazine. You’ll find more information and a registration form for the Webinar on the Magnolia website.

And of course, if you would be interested in presenting a Webinar on how you successfully used Magnolia CMS in a project, we’d be happy to host your Webinar as well - just contact us!