Saturday, August 9, 2014

Software Quality beyond Application Boundaries

The retail security crisis continues…

A recent Wall Street Journal article exposed potential issues with Bitcoin’s transaction network. This left Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange and Gavin Andresen, Chief Scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation, pointing fingers at each other.

So far the retail industry has felt the pain of sophisticated hackers stealing sensitive information:

  • Target Corp. – The latest news suggests that the breach started with a malware-laced email phishing attack sent to employees at an HVAC firm that did business with the nationwide retailer
  • Nieman Marcus – 1.1 million debit and credit cards used at its stores may have been compromised
  • Michaels – investigating a possible security breach on its payment card network

According to a Business Insider article, smaller breaches on at least three other well-known U.S. retailers also took place during the U.S. holiday shopping season last year and were conducted using similar techniques as the one on Target. Those breaches have yet to come to light in the mainstream media.

Memory-scraping software, a danger exposed as early as five years ago, is becoming a common tool for these breaches. When a customer swipes a payment card at the checkout, the POS grabs data from the magnetic strip and transfers it to the retailer’s payment processing provider. While the data is encrypted during the process (as required by PII regulation), scrapers harvest the information from the POS RAM, where it briefly appears in plain text. In some cases, the encrypted data along with its keys are stolen and then decrypted outside the victim’s infrastructure. Cyber criminals have been adding features to make it more difficult for victims to detect the malicious software on their networks.

Thoroughly testing the quality of software has long been known to be an imperfect practice. We make up representative test cases and create fake data to ensure the release of software on time. Or, we outsource this development to organizations where our application becomes one of others in focus. But the long tail of problems is becoming so prevalent now that it is time to leverage up-to-date technology and automation to dramatically increase the scope of our testing.

We also need to extend the notion of software quality beyond a particular application or process. As soon as that application or process has to share information with an outside process or system, a window is exposed for an attack. The measurement of quality must extend to the very system or business process within which it runs. For example, efforts need to be stepped up to ensure the right patches and guards are deployed frequently. Traffic channels must be monitored at high speed. Hardware issues must be corrected. And all of this must happen not just at the server level but at any and all connected endpoints. The Internet of Things, a phenomenon whereby “things” as diverse as smartphones, cars and household appliances are all online and connected to the internet, is becoming a reminder that the entry point for an attack can come from almost any device.

In order to ensure the quality and stability of software, we must learn to think and act like hackers. We must extend the monitoring and measurement of software quality to include the processes and systems within which software plays a role. We must harness the capabilities of available technology and automation to ensure deeper testing coverage. All of this is necessary to reduce the cost and risk associated with the types of breaches we are now starting to see. The integrity of the software application depends on it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Data-Driven Techniques Transform Marketing into an Analytics-Ready Organization

Marketing Relevance Rises with Business Intelligence and Big Data

There once was a time when the typical marketing strategy was “if you throw enough against the wall, eventually something will stick.” Marketing budgets were huge, and the volume and size of campaigns were even larger. Not all of them were successful at generating qualified leads and ultimately deals; however, when you’re not tracking those metrics, you’re not observant of failure. But marketing budgets are not limitless anymore and marketing teams must make every dollar count.
Today, there are lots of tools to increase visibility into marketing strategies and their effectiveness. CRM software can capture lead sources and track them through to opportunities and wins/losses. Website visits and downloads can be tracked by the millions, allowing companies to see the exact paths visitors take online. Customer sentiments are also traceable—including where they voice them and what they say, whether positive or negative. Marketers have more powerful methods to segment their target audience and focus specific content and programs towards that audience.
Tracking Web Visits
Marketing Automation Tool with Website Tracking
Despite these capabilities, marketing departments typically do not have the application development or business intelligence (BI) skills necessary to take advantage of all this data. As a result, failed marketing efforts become more apparent without the ability to clearly identify why they failed. But it does not have to be this way. By leveraging the expertise and offerings from big data and analytics services providers, you can put in place a process to systematically monitor, measure, and react to big data insights. This will allow you to gain critical visibility into your prospects and customers, offer them targeted marketing programs, and help drive revenue.
For example, some of Chateaux Software's senior consultants are currently working on a project for a large printing and imaging company to help them gain better visibility into sales and marketing data from a variety of legacy and online data sources. Their goal is to increase the speed of data analysis and identification of new opportunities. In addition to deploying customized BI solutions and providing BI expertise, we are also helping them build a roadmap for an Analytics Ready Organization. This includes understanding the dynamics of the organization and current BI skillsets, identifying critical BI roles and responsibilities, and building an actionable plan that will enable BI usage to evolve and grow.
Investing in the right BI tools, Big Data, and organizational readiness will enable your marketing teams to have a more measurable impact on your business and will keep you ahead of global competitors.
NOTE: I originally wrote this for Chateaux Software's blog, where I am consulting on several projects:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Customer Engagement - The Ultimate Measure of Product Success

Customer Engagement
If a customer is not really using your product, are they really a customer?

I've seen this a countless number of times, where an organization purchases a product only for it to sit on their IT shelf after only a handful of usage. Every now and again it is dusted off to do something, but then is placed right back on that shelf.

I don't believe you can call someone with this pattern your customer. Unless that minimal use is extremely important for the customer, you either have the wrong product or sales has sold them this product for a quick buck (which does of course happen, but will ultimately hurt your brand). Sticky products translate into higher long term value (LTV) and harvest true champions for your business.

What could be missing? Perhaps your product is too complicated to understand. How about some self-help videos? Is your documentation up-to-snuff? If you don't have an MVP (minimally viable product) yet and there are necessary capabilities which are not there, have you established workarounds? Does the customer have other products installed which provide similar capabilities? These should all be danger signs that you must be visible to, and have plans in place to correct. Check-in on a regular basis with your customers and have open conversations, much like special advisers do in large organizations for their highest-profile customers. In this day and age where customer service is an important differentiator among a sea of competition, it's very important to connect often to show that you are a partner in your customer's success.

Without a sound platform for measurement, you will never help yourself uncover the customers that require assistance. Today there are many SaaS solutions that can help measure customer engagement:

  • Marketing Automation: Track and nurture the online behavior of leads and customers (among other automation capabilities). Solution providers include HubSpot, Marketo, and Pardot.
  • Gamification: The use of game theory within your SaaS apps to increase engagement. Solution providers include Badgeville, BigDoor Media, and iActionable.
  • Customer Engagement Management: Track SaaS application usage down to particular features. Solution providers include Totango and Apptegic.
  • Don't forget your CRM system. It should be used to provide one unified view of your customers, from visit logs to payment patterns and purchase history.

This technology can be used to help you analyze millions of data points and come up with real-time ways to optimize and increase product use (can you smell Big Data?). In addition, content marketing is not only effective prior to the sale but also after the sale to ensure your customer always has the right information at the right time during their use of your products.

If you want to retain your customers and convert them into champions for your product and company, you need to raise their usage. That means regularly connecting with them to understand their pain points and usage patterns, and providing them solutions that adapt to their natural tendencies. The ultimate goal is to produce products that matter most to customers and the market. If your target "customer" is not getting consistent value from that product, then you really don't understand your target customer or market.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Who's Managing Your PaaS Apps?

Sam Charrington recently posted a nice article called The Disintegration of PaaS. In it, he describes how early PaaS providers (PaaS 1.0) locked developers into their stacks and essentially prevented the movement of these apps onto other PaaS platforms. Sam also describes the coming of “PaaS 2.0,” a more open platform that allows different development stack modules for databases, application servers, etc. to be included within your application stack. PaaS 2.0 providers will also cultivate the community of tools that can be used within a deployment stack. The hope is that PaaS 2.0 will level the playing field and focus these providers on what matters most – service quality and customer service.

That takes me to the part that no one is really talking about when it comes to PaaS – the management aspect. Up to this point, we have more often talked about the development side (pre-production). But, PaaS then hosts the application created. How will organizations dictate the SLAs to be in place when the application is live for others to consume (i.e. scale-up, scale-down, etc.)? How will they relay their DR requirements, or moreover how will PaaS providers allow for different RTO/RPO strategies?

In order for PaaS to live up to its hype of becoming mainstream and making it ever easier for consumers to use the cloud, providers need a mechanism for capturing an application’s service level requirements. Building an app and placing it in the cloud is one thing, but if we actually want to allow IT to leverage the cloud there are best practices and specific business policies that need to be communicated in some way. Without this capability, PaaS will only be used for non-mission-critical workloads.

This is where cloud management solutions come in. For IaaS, we have talked about how cloud management solutions have helped to deploy and manage applications and workloads in the clouds. I think without these tools, PaaS players will not be able to provide the second part of their offering. PaaS providers need to leverage these mainstream tools and provide some interface to them.

As I write about this, I am also thinking about how we are further validating the need for an application-centric approach.  As PaaS adoption continues it will become more apparent that it is not about provisioning and managing servers or groups of servers in the cloud (infrastructure-centric), but rather the application or service. We need context! Your customers care about consuming your applications and services, and expect a certain level of service; they don’t care about servers. The notion of PaaS is to further hide the IaaS complexity behind the main goal: build and deploy apps. Now I think is the time for this approach to take center stage.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Kickoff

It is interesting to see the continued rapid climb of social media platforms and usage, and the influence it is having on the definition of the professional. It's not enough to have a polished resume and a lengthy career. You have to SHOW people that you are alive. And by alive, I mean educate the industry, be visible, and be viral. You have to be able to influence the masses and be digitally social. This is probably ironic for the classic introvert that goes into IT in the first place. While I have created many blog entries and articles before, I wanted to create a launching pad for sharing my own professional experience and thoughts (not to mention what's on my mind every once in a while).

Here's just a little about me: My name is Sam Somashekar, and I have spent the past 18+ years in IT software. My functional experience spans enterprise software development, product management, marketing, market research and strategy, and business development, as both a leader and an individual contributor. My industry experience includes cloud computing, data center automation, service management/automation, database management, and green IT. Currently I lead global marketing and business development efforts at Kaavo, a cloud management company. My past experience includes 15+ years at Computer Associates/CA/CA Technologies, and 7+ years in a supermarket chain.

I have always been passionate on creating solutions that matter most to customers and the market. I believe that an organization must fully understand its customers and the market, and have the ability to adjust to changing needs and forecasted potential. These are essential for building and sustaining a strong and successful business.

I chose the title "The Stairway to the Clouds" to show that the leap to cloud computing is not a leap at all. As we grapple with all that the cloud has to offer, we must realize that to get there is a series of iterative steps, especially for existing IT departments. Even for IT that starts in the cloud, one needs to practice a measurable closed-loop approach to truly harness its power. When used correctly, the cloud allows a business to go-to-market faster, scale up/down on-demand, optimize costs, and increase service quality and availability.

I hope that I can show that the steps toward the cloud will not stop there, but continue on and evolve towards human computing methods - a world where technology is simply used to satisfy our personal needs and wants in a way that naturally encompasses human usability. Technology needs to work for us; we should not have to work for technology. And to create effective solutions, it is important to understand the psychology behind the buyers and users as well as their patterns of usage and influence. Some of my inspiration comes from the book Leonardo's Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies by Ben Schneiderman.

So sit back and enjoy the ride. I hope that you'll come back every now and again to see me express my thoughts, concerns, and experience, as we take the Stairway to the Clouds and towards human computing.