Sramana Mitra: Definitely. Let’s talk about collaboration. What is your current collaboration configuration, let’s say, or infrastructure? What are you using? What trends are you seeing? Collaboration is one of the areas where we are seeing the most adoption of cloud computing.
Lee Congdon: We attempt to use open-source products. Our email infrastructure is Zimbra. We use that for email contacts and calendaring. We use IRC as our chat mechanism. We use Jive SBS for documents and sharing and blogging. We use Word Press for blogging. We use Drupal for our Intranet. We’re working on a new external website. We’ll be using a combination of our J Bus technology and technology from a firm called XO. Our strategy has been to pick best-of-breed products and make them available internally and selectively externally. We’ve done some pilots with, for example, Salesforce Chatter. That’s working very well for us. We did a pilot with Google Docs. That worked well for us as well. Microsoft products aren’t an option for us. So, we haven’t identified the right enterprise solution for collaboration in the cloud. It’s not something that we are scared of or are reluctant to do. Our associates, on a daily basis, are visibly representing us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. At this point, we’re continuing with our best-of-breed approach on premises until we can identify the right cloud-based platform, but it’s something we’re very interested in.
SM: There’s nobody who has a full platform for internal collaboration and enterprise collaboration. It is a bit fragmented. I’m curious, why have you picked Zimbra?
LC: Zimbra is one of the leading open-source email platforms. It’s been very stable and reliable for us, but open source is a part of our culture. It’s important to us. We would be reluctant to use Exchange, for example. Zimbra has served us well for a number of years. We’ve probably had it running for four years or so. It’s been a good solution for us on premises.
SM: I see. What about stuff like Web conferencing, video conferencing, that kind of stuff; what are you using?
LC: We are in the early stages … we’re piloting a platform today for SIP (session initiation protocol) called Open UC. It’s from a firm named Ezeus. It will give us telephony. We probably have close to 200 people using that platform today for telephony. It will also give us video conferencing and chat, XMPP or Jabber-based chat. That’s looking promising. We don’t use desktop video conferencing extensively today. We have conference rooms but not desktop. We have intentionally configured this platform to enable us to connect the conference rooms and the desktops. I will confess there are probably some rogue Skype users out there as well, although officially, we discourage that.
SM: Okay. What about analytics? What’s your strategy? What’s going on? What are you seeing?
LC: We’re a growing company, and today we largely have reporting from within the various platforms, plus a merged – if you will – operational data store and data warehouse. Over the course of the next 11 months or so, we will be explicitly defining three tiers, reporting from within the tools or the processing system or the sales automation system. [This is] an operational data store that will, essentially, be transactional information, lightly enriched, and then a data warehouse that will enable us to do time series, work off cleansed data and so on. That’s the project we’re working on now. It dovetails nicely with the ERP upgrade I mentioned [earlier].
In addition to that, we’re starting to see real opportunities in data enrichment through external tools in the cloud, and although we don’t yet have large data sets that are particularly suited to Hadoop and other tools, we believe that big data is an opportunity for us. So, we’re actively soliciting from our internal business partners. We’re looking for opportunities to integrate big data into our plans. I would fully expect that that would be a hybrid between some of the technology and some of the data we keep in-house and either externally provided or potentially that the data belongs to others and we simply connect it to our data.
SM: Are there any entrepreneurial vendors that are on your radar and doing unique and interesting things in these areas?
LC: It’s probably too early for us to identify specifics other than to point out that we’re intrigued by – as an internal IT organization – our recent Gluster acquisition. Gluster is a scale-out storage solution that we think holds great promise in our infrastructure both internally and, ultimately, as we move to clouds. We’ve had a lot of focus both on integrating that acquisition, but on also contemplating how we’re going to use the technology internally.