The DEMO Innovations CIOs Really Should Care About

Most coverage of last week’s DEMO conference in Palm Desert, Calif., focused on the snazzy, flashy product announcements. And naturally, quite a few of those undeniably cool products and services are primarily consumer-related. However, among the 68 presenters at DEMO were quite a few enterprise products that will make any CIO’s or IT manager’s eyes light up like a 3-year-old at Christmastime. In this article, I’ll give you a short introduction to the announcements that deserve your corporate attention. (Play with the cool new consumer tools, such as eJamming and video ringtones, on your own time.)

For our online coverage of nearly all of the DEMO announcements, see the Information Collective blog.

Software Developer Tools

Every CIO wishes she could judge developer productivity accurately and use the combined project data to determine whether a development team was on track. One tool that may help is 6th Sense, which lets you find out what your software developers are really up to by automatically collecting software development data. That is, it captures keystrokes and other information from each programmer on the fly, to track how much time is spent debugging, reading documentation, coding and so on; then 6th Sense collates the data into useful reports. The software, which probably supports all the development tools your company uses (from Visual Studio and Eclipse to Emacs and vi), adds a thin integration layer that collects data from the developers’ use of the environment and delivers it back to a hosted server. It shows the active time spent in the development process—both activity and the artifacts worked upon.

Naturally, there’s more power when you drill down on the team to discover such things as flowtime (at least 20 uninterrupted minutes, when people are most efficient) and to compare against averages. (Perhaps Mondays are more productive than Thursdays.) You can learn whether IM is inhibiting or encouraging productivity and compare teams (China vs India): Are they working on what you think they should be working on? This can be a key tool for any application development manager who wants to examine his investment in systems, types of activities that developers are working on, or project lifecycles. As a professional cynic (who knows that developers distrust management), I also contemplate the ways in which programmers may resent this—but overall I’m totally impressed.

As a longtime developer groupie and QA professional, I was personally thrilled to encounter SOASTA’s SOASTA Concerto, which aims to enhance software testing for Web applications—particularly for SOA and Web services apps. Web services and the apps built on top of them usually are made up of thousands of messages with lots of protocols (SOAP, REST, a whole soup bowl full of acronyms), and this tool creates a brilliant interface for creating and running all sorts of tests. It uses a browser-based approach, which is nothing special, but the "Aha!" comes from its mixing board interface; it’ll appear very familiar if you’ve even glanced at Apple’s Garageband. Testers can create unit tests and play them on a time line to control the sequence and timing of tests; they can also navigate test results in a flip-through view. And man, it works, which is a big deal for those of us who don’t visualize the juggling balls of processes very well. If your shop does any amount of Web services apps (and I’m sure you do), you might get as excited as I did. It’s currently in beta, expected to ship in March, and will start at $250 per month for a base package of messages.

I don’t have much to say about the next product yet because Adobe Systems’ Apollo is so new that the company doesn’t even have a press kit for it yet, but this cross-OS runtime could be big news for your development projects. In a way, it seems to add a Web 2.0 interface to applications, using Flex, Flash and HTML, which can operate both offline and online. The only demo so far is an eBay example, but it was enough to show that Adobe has a full API to sync data when a user has been offline and then reconnects. Developers can also right click and "view source" to check the generated code. Adobe will ship a developer version in the "next few months," and you probably want to tell your development staff to pay attention.

Infrastructure and Info Structure

Serendipity Technologies’ WorkLight is a server-based product designed to consumerize the corporate computing experience. That is, it lets users experience enterprise data through a Web interface; they can subscribe to corporate data streams as a kind of secure RSS feed (because you just know that those fresh-out-of-school users won’t figure out SAP or traditional corporate data management tools). The user sees the same data he could reach by navigating into ERP and CRM apps, but the UI is much more accessible, with tags and bookmarks. It can live securely on your Google homepage, and people see only the data they’re authorized to see. The company says it scales to service thousands of employees.

New software from Triumfant provides enterprise-class automated resolution management to identify software problems and network anomolies before they affect the end user. Triumfant Resolution Manager collects 200,000 of system attributes from each networked computer per day and compares every computer to every other computer to learn what’s normal for your particular IT environment. Then Triumfant’s software can proactively find malware, discover if files were deleted that an application needs, or test for changed application settings (what did that user do to Outlook?!). Unlike some competitors, it doesn’t use backups or images and thus fill your disk with things you might need someday. I was impressed by its user interface, too.

Another important technology for you to watch is Symantec’s Symantec Identity Initiative, which will be released soon as the Norton Identity Client to "make sure consumers have confidence in a connected world," according to the company speaker. There are two key components to deal with: identity and reputation. The product promises to enable a user to securely share his personal info online and make intelligent decisions about when it’s safe to share that data. The Identity Initiative works with all the various industry credentials such as Microsoft’s CardSpace. What makes this particularly viable is that it’s from Symantec, which has a 24/7 response center to analyze sites, identify keylogging applications about which it can warn users away, and can interact with reports with the Better Business Bureau. As DEMO organizer Chris Shipley commented, they may have the gravitas to pull this off. I’m oversummarizing here, but I expect that our sister site, CSO Online, will report more than a six-minute brain dump about the product from RSA next week.

Another worthy demonstrator was Integrien showing its Integrien Alive application, which intends to simplify the identification of IT problems in the enterprise. Better yet, the software can recognize a problem scenario that it’s seen previously and alert the IT staff that a disaster is brewing. For example, if it knows that database cache files grow alarmingly right before the SQL Server goes "Boom!" Integrien’s software can (and, I gather, automatically will, without human encouragement) watch those cache files and issue a technology "Uh-Oh" before your worry-o-meter tips into the red zone. Using predictive analytics and an interdependent chain of components, the company says Integrien Alive learns what’s normal for the company and recognizes when the situation goes out of whack. Once it sees a pattern of abnormal events that leads to a problem building, it will send an alert telling the IT department that, for instance, there’s a 72 percent chance of database failure in the next 15 minutes. I spent some time with the vendor at the booth afterward, and if the technology works the way it did in the demo, it could save your company a pile of cash (and the remaining hair on your head).

This isn’t about the way your IT department operates, per se, but it’s sure about an annoying, expensive problem that’s often dumped in IT’s lap. SailPoint Technologies showed its software to manage regulatory compliance, which the company’s speaker claimed in his presentation costs U.S. companies $27 billion. Today, most companies rely on spreadsheets, stacks of paper and expensive consultants to prove to auditors that they’re not another Enron. Instead, SailPoint says, a risk scorecard assembles data that IT people need to examine employee risk, calculated by dozens of attributes. When you click on an item on the scorecard, you drill into the data. It appears to be very cool and extremely useful for enterprises for both compliance and security purposes. For example, you can examine individual risk profiles to determine who has access to key company databases. You can activate mitigating controls to, say, monitor the user’s behavior and summarize access approvals for managerial overview.

Speaking of managerial overview: if you’re concerned about losing company laptops or—even scarier—the data stored on them, you may want to ask for more information from Alcatel-Lucent Ventures. Its Project Evros is a 3G-based mobile security and management tool designed to let enterprises gain control over laptops, which, as you well know, are hard to update, control and manage. The company’s solution is a PC card, which contains a 3G modem, Linux computer and a battery, all in one device, along with GPS and encryption services. The PC Card essentially becomes the laptop’s ignition key; the system won’t work without the card. With the card in the computer, the software can continue to apply patches, back up the data and even deliver e-mail. If the system is lost, the network administrator can issue a remote kill command even if the PC is turned off. The next time the system is started, it will require a special one-time password that the user can get only by calling the IT department. The company expects to ship Project Evros by the end of 2007.

In the video-and-VoIP department, the main product of interest to CIOs is Nuvoiz’s Nuvoiz SoftPhone, which it positions as "Skype for the enterprise." SoftPhone integrates with company IP PBX systems, and has a high-fidelity sound engine. (In fact, some of the demo was done over the VoIP connection; it was pretty good considering a rather overloaded network.) You can record the conversation, transfer to other SIP devices, and do other Skype-like things (some of which I missed). It also has a provisioning server for IT managers to control the software’s use; settings are downloaded to cell phones with XML.

Esther Schindler

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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