Category Archives: Cloud

Product Management efficiencies to drive Digital Transformation

I am currently reading the book “Slow down to Speed up” by Liz Bywater and understand the importance of leading, succeeding and thriving in the fast pacing 24/7 world of Product Management. Sharing my thoughts to help Product Managers on how you can drive business to achieve complete digital transformation around product development and innovation.

I have been in the software industry as a product manager for the last 15+ years. It’s interesting to see how Product Management and Product development is continuously evolving. Now with Cloud computing and SaaS being the main business drivers for software efficiencies, companies need to pay attention to the details around the digital transformation efforts around strategy, decision making and execution to stay innovative. Understanding the current gaps in their product development process and addressing them at the earliest is critical.

I will cover some of the areas that a Product Manager or a Product Owner can make a difference.

Digital Transformation mindset to explore business problems

Everyone is talking about digital transformation on how it is important for every organization. But there is a specific structure that every company needs to follow if they want to be successful. There are a few variables that each company needs to put in place since Product strategy is a continuous process.

  1. Executives and senior level management need a new mindset that is flexible and open to exploring a business strategy that is a continuous journey.  The strategy will have to be based on various different factors that are continuously monitored and fine-tuned.
  2. Product Managers and Product owners will need to do the following to have help defining a strategy and get buy-in from the executives on a regular basis.
    • Gain knowledge about the macro and micro trends in the industry around their business. Understand the pros, and cons and how that would have an effect on the business needs.
    • Maintain a continuous and ongoing dialogue and transparency with the customers to understand their pain points, their business needs and the changes that drive their success.
    • Monitor the competitive landscape to understand the gaps and the innovation practices.
    • Build partnerships that would add value to the business and can help address gaps.
    • Design thinking to define and understand the market problems and brainstorming various ideas driven by outcomes on how the market problems could be addressed.
    • Drive continuous experimentation on each idea to gather data on the business outcomes.

Decision-Making to build the right things

Decision-making is both an art and science. There are various frameworks that are available to help Product managers and Product owners in the decision-making process https://blog.usejournal.com/top-11-frameworks-every-product-manager-should-know-aad46dd37b62.

Irrespective of the framework that a company adopts, a data-driven decision-making process makes the decisions error proof and provides insights and learning to innovate. Remember data gathering is a continuous process just like strategy. Data helps you to make better decisions that are low risk but high business value.

Here are a few ideas on how to gather data

  1. Continuous data gathering through experimentation on ideas. Helps to identify the right market fit and defining business outcomes. Thereby helps to add value to your customers.
  2. Continuous data gathering through customer engagement with your product to enhance customer experience.
  3. Continuous data gathering from customer interactions and feedback captured as the voice of the customer.
  4. Continuous data gathering from sales around win/loss analysis.
  5. Continuous data gathering from customer success on product issues and improvements.
  6. Continuous data gathering from marketing around product promotions.
  7. Continuous data gathering from finance around product pricing

Execution to build and launch things right

Once the decision is made to build an idea into a product, the path to execution starts. The steps that are involved to trigger execution is to break down the idea into smaller and lean set of requirements that can be launched and continuously gather data and insights to improve the building process more efficiently.  This is a collaborative effort that a Product Owner drives with engineering. Agile is the popular methodology that is quite common across all companies these days when it comes to how software is built.

This would mean that you take time to do the following steps

  1. Planning: As a product owner, break down the idea into a smaller subset of requirements and define the acceptance criteria that fit into an agile sprint and add that into to the sprint backlog.
  2. Prioritization: Leverage the data that you have continuously gathered earlier to prioritize the backlog on what to build next sprint and launch.
  3. Build: As a product owner, work with engineering to make sure the implementation addresses the requirements, meets the acceptance criteria around functionality, performance baselines and data is captured around specific KPIs.
  4. Launch: As a product owner, work with marketing, sales, and support to get the market positioning and the sales and support enablement right.
  5. Analyze Data: As a product owner, analyze the data to gain insights after every launch, fine-tune the KPIs to improve the qualitative data that you capture in each build. Based on insights that you have gathered from the data, go back to Step 2 to re-prioritize the backlog

Execution now is a continuous journey where you rinse and repeat to innovate!

Conclusion

Product Management is a continuous journey of the product you manage. Hence you need to “Slow down to Speed up” to stay current and relevant in the digital transformation age.

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Security and Privacy in the Cloud

Hortonworks announced their plan to acquire XA Secure and open source it. XA Secure claims it is a comprehensive approach to Hadoop security. This made me think of the the various aspects of security in the cloud.

Security in the cloud spans across multiple layers that involve people, compute, network and storage. Security in the cloud  requires an integrated strategy of process and tools, to allow end users be able to complete their work in an environment that enforces compliance without getting in their way.images1

Here is how I think of the top 5 areas of focus for security in the cloud.

Focus Area 1:  APPLICATION SECURITY

Application security mainly deals with protecting the application resources. This includes a multi-pronged approach to cover the following:

  • Enforcing strong authentication and authorization
  • Date encryption on the wire: End-to-end encryption using SSL for all connections, both browser and APIs
  • Data encryption for data at rest
  • Data encryption for data in memory
  • Application white listing
  • Role based access to application resources
  • Session tracking
  • Controls for privileged or elevated access
  • Enforce context awareness and notifications

Focus Area 2:  DATA SECURITY

According to Forrester’s TechRadar report () on Data security, security is the second largest portion of the IT budget. In 2014, the investment is expected to rise by 45%. Data security is no more an IT issue. It is an important business driver since data is now closely tied to the the financial cost of companies and  the business damage that it can cause as a result of data breaches.

Data masking and Data Loss Prevention(DLP) offerings are best suited for addressing data security. To enforce security on the data you would want to know:

  • Where the data exists (both structured and unstructured) to secure it
  • Continuously monitoring access to the data
  • Protecting both production and non-production data
  • Regular audits for maintaining compliance

Focus Area 3: NETWORK AND STORAGE

Explosive growth in data and digital assets in the cloud , drives the need for high performance reliable network and storage. This calls for sensitive information flowing through the network and storage to be encrypted both in-motion and at rest.

With customers requiring the need to continue to productively use their prior investments on software, the hybrid cloud is pushing needs for cloud security to operate in a hybrid model. In such hybrid environments there is need to support secure links and encryption across on-premise networks and storage units.

Some of the important features to pay attention around Network and Storage Security are

  • Authentication
  • Confidentiality and Data level protection
  • Certifications  for compliance with legislative and regulatory mandates
  • Privileged user access and separation of duties
  • Centralized key management
  • Realtime monitoring of traffic across network

Focus Area 4:  DATA PRIVACY

In this digital age especially in the cloud where we end up capturing personal identifiable information or other sensitive information is collected and stored, privacy concerns are highly prominent. The challenge of data privacy is to share data while protecting personally identifiable information. Data privacy has become of a very high priority in certain markets like Healthcare, Criminal Justice, Financial, Life Sciences and more. These days the laws for the protection of privacy have been adopted worldwide , but their definitions and objectives vary from one country to another.

It is important that the cloud vendors make sure that their cloud offerings gets certified under EU, US and other Safe Harbor Programs.

Focus Area 5: DATA CENTERS

Primarily due to cost effectiveness, customers are adopting cloud and hybrid services as their business model in various stages of their business cycle. This is driving data centers to adopt  virtualization technologies to rapidly expanding their data center infrastructures reliably and effectively into the cloud.

Some of the common challenges around security in the data center are:

1. Multi-Tenancy  

The resources belonging to multiple customers reside on the same physical platforms. Proper security measures must be adopted such that customer data cannot be breached or spilled over, even if the multiple customers are leveraging the same resources and platform in the virtual environment.

2. Compliance and Privacy Restrictions

Even though the infrastructure and resources of the data centers are managed by the cloud vendor, they should be prevented from monitoring and auditing any components or data. This includes preventing them from inspecting the network through which customer data will be passing because of compliance and privacy restrictions. The cloud vendors should think through these privacy and compliance challenges so you can clearly isolate these tasks and provide ownership to the customers to manage, monitor and audit on their own. Providers may need to comply with the ISO17799 based policies and procedures and be regularly reviewed as part of the SAS70 Type II audit process.

In summary, security enforcement in data centers involves

  • Data Protection at the application, network and storage through access control and encryption
  • Protecting systems through hardening, intrusion detection and prevention
  • Monitoring and Auditing through certifications to meet compliance regulations, change control around upgrades and patches, proper role and privileged access management.

What is Application Platform as a Service (aPaaS)?.


For those who have worked and dealt with Middleware software in the past which provided services to software applications beyond the  operating system, the term aPaaS should not be a hard to understand concept.

An aPaaS as per Gartner’s definition is as a PaaS (app middleware + cloud characteristics) designed to enable runtime deployment, management and maintenance of cloud business application services. It supports requirements for business application and application projects and is delivered as-a-service..

Middleware has been the commonly used term for on premise software that enabled communication and management of data in distributed applications. Middleware gained popularity in the 1980s as a solution to the problem of how to link newer applications to older legacy systems. The vendors who built and offered Middleware had a strategy of building a complete and integrated suite of middleware to allow our customers to develop, deploy, and manage applications. For customers the middleware software not only offered off the self features around building and hosting application but also the ease around the integration burdens which facilitated the ability to link applications together and provide more consistent access to information.

You can now relate the same middleware software capabilities to an aPaaS in the cloud that offers the following services

  • Platform services
  • Identity Services
  • Integration services
  • Business Process Management Services
  • Development Tools
  • Deployment Tools
  • Management Tools

Why would anyone need an aPaaS?

These days cloud services is picking up lot of traction when it comes to SaaS, PaaS or IaaS. Refer to my earlier blog post ” Why Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model matters for both customers as well as vendors” as to the reasons why oth customers and vendors are investing in the rapidly evolving application platform.

Gartner recently published their first Magic Quadrant (MQ) for aPaaS with their  focuses on public cloud enterprise aPaaS offerings. – See more at: https://www.gartner.com/doc/2645317?pcp=itg. It’s interesting to see how quickly the aPaaS market has evolved in a period of  less than 9 months, now that Gartner now has a MQ for this space. Quite a few Platform as a Service (PaaS) vendors whose primary focus in 2013 was providing Platform Services are now posiioing and evolving their services to address the aPaaS space. This is a clear indication that PaaS market has matured and the revenue opportunities are shrinking. The PaaS vendors clearly see that the growth opportunity is to move into the application space and they need to innovate quickly to become market leaders.

An aPaaS infrastructure is a self contained environment that will offer the following
1. Build applications
The application platform provides you with all the tools you need to iterate quickly, and adopt the right technologies for your project
2. Deploy apps in minutes, with tools you love. 
Reduces development and deployment time. They offer a way to rollout new application features into production has never been easier. Set up staging and test environments that match production so you can deliver functionality without fear, and continuously make improvements.
3. Scale the application to millions of users.
Tools and features that will help to scale your application at the same time ability to upgrade your database software in a few simple steps.The growth could happen over a year or overnight,  but aPaaS will facilitate you to grow on demand to capture opportunity.
4. Integrate with various other applications
Provides additional software services like operating system, database, security and vulnerability management, API and integration  infrastructure and more

Stay tuned, in my next log topic that I would like to explore is “What’s next after aPaaS for both vendors and customers?.”

Why Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model matters for both customers as well as vendors

When times are hard, winning a business or selling smart is important for both customers and vendors who are competing head-to-head which can be cut throat especially when markets are flat or growing slowly.

These days the idea of IT  installing and maintaining software onPremise at customer sites is completely winding down. Customers are looking to transition more to make their IT as a service. Meanwhile, software vendors are  offering  increasing amount of software via direct download or as a cloud hosted service known as Software as a Service (SaaS). The SaaS model is growing popular for personal, business and mobile applications and the market is only expected to get bigger in the coming years. This is why the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) matters as a very scalable and an economical model for both a software vendor as well as for the customer, who are looking for a easy and a cost effective way to address their immediate software needs.

Take a look at how a SaaS model can address the functional areas for both a vendor and a customer:

Functional Areas

SaaS Vendor

SaaS 

Customer

Market Problems The vendor understands the market problems and has a close working relationship with its existing customers and knows what the future potential customers wants. This helps vendors to bring in rapid innovations to market thereby mapping a solid innovation strategy to creating a new market space for their products and solutions Customers look for a solution with minimal initial investment but with a greater return and value that is easy to onboard, solves their problem and can be accessed from anywhere.
Technology Vendors provides, maintains and manages the hardware and software components of their product and/or solution. The vendor has more control over which hardware/software configurations to support.Vendors need to address scalability and multi tenancy requirements at the software level to allow multiple customers to share hardware and software services.On a long term this becomes a very cost-effective model to support infinite scalability. Customers don’t care much about the back-end system as long as it works when they want it, fast, securely, and reliably.Each customer will have specific requirements around performance, scalability, and security requirements that vendors to meet  so their personal data and information is secure and do not get breached at any point in time.
Product/Solution Support Quality issues might impact everyone in customer base at same time. Hence greater attention will have to be taken by the vendor to provide and maintain controlled quality of serviceNew releases of the product or solution, application of patches and service packs can be released more timely and quickly to the customers, but requires more rigorous quality control. Customer have a greater need for the Service level agreements(SLAs) to be met by the Vendor specifically around production requirements for system performance and capacity for multiple tenants will have to be addressed.Customers often have higher usability expectations as well.Customers experience a painless software upgrades.
Initial & Operational Cost The initial cost to set up the service (hardware and services) are incurred by the vendor. Also, all the ongoing operational costs of running the service are incurred by the vendor, not the customer. Customers have overall reduced operations costs and Zero infrastructure cost.
Product Performance Customers will have to monitor and analyze how well the product is performing including product profitability, actual to planned revenue, customer satisfaction, and market share.Areas to focus to monitor performance are:

  • internal measurements to determine the product value to the customers.
  • impact of product profitability which includes product lifecycle, quality, technical support, marketing programs, and sales support.
Customers as buyers want proof of uptime and performance level.Customers want predictability and efficiency with more automation of services.
Revenue & Pricing Revenue is recurring for the vendor but is recognized as the service is rendered, not in a lump sum up front like on-premise product/solution. Pricing for the customer is typically subscription-based with a  “pay as you go” model based on the value received for the vendor’s services. This provides better cash flow for the customer.Up-front implementation services cost might be charged to the customer.
Sales Process Sales cycles are typically shorter. Customers will have greater flexibility to shift to competitive product if they do not see value with an existing vendor offering and services.
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