Ness was a Gold Sponsor of the recent Alfresco Day London event where Alfresco leadership, its customers, partners and members of its eco-system got together to talk about the future of content in a digital world.
There were over 200 delegates from over 20 countries, and it seemed to dovetail nicely with announcements from the Amazon re:Invent jamboree in Las Vegas the previous week. Amazon featured prominently at this Alfresco event that was both insightful and hopeful: new business models, integrations and partnerships seemed to hold sway throughout.
Ness was represented by Amit Gupta, Pete Rogers, Mark Lister and Daniel Isepciuc, our Alfresco Delivery Manager, and we enjoyed meeting a diverse range of attendees and discussing their need to embed ‘design thinking’ and ‘open thinking’ within their intelligent platforms. These Alfresco themes and terminology underline how both Ness and Alfresco describe the digital market drivers in similar terms.
I presented a session in the afternoon that focused on those intelligent platforms as the common currency within Ness’s engagements with its customers, and how the pursuit of “extreme personalization” – delivering super-useful experiences to users – has become ubiquitous.
Chris Wiborg, VP of Product Marketing for Alfresco, delivered the opening keynote and talked up the opportunities to be found in companies now delivering on the promise of digital transformation. I particularly liked his example of how Pitney Bowes has moved from being a product company selling hardware in the shipping and mailing sectors to one where a set of useful business APIs have formed connections into a much wider world and been the catalyst for the new service-based company emerging in the 21st century. Pitney Bowes has reinvented itself and used technology to radically improve its appeal, reach and performance.
Ness is the proud engineering partner for the Alfresco Digital Business Platform, and this is the core offering that Alfresco wanted its audience to learn about and play with – especially as the latest version of the Application Development Framework is up and running. Chris was particularly excited about the integrations now in place with Outlook emails and calendars, Google Docs and Salesforce.
Amazon (in the form of Alexa) made its first appearance as a demo in which a driver booked a service for his car by voice. The voice command was turned into text using Twillio to complete the booking. He subsequently left a voicemail that he was not entirely happy once he had picked the car up, and Decooda was used to derive sentiment analysis for the customer service agent to understand his mood before calling the driver back. The demo highlighted some interesting trends. Alexa for Business hints at real change in the traditional operations of the office environment. Look out for a Ness Alexa demo exploring these themes in the next few weeks from the Ness Connected Labs.
Next on stage was Ian Massingham, the Worldwide Lead Evangelist for AWS. Quite a title. He talked about Amazon’s Alfresco partnership on the cloud. A little historical perspective on AWS showed that an inflexion happened in 2012 when they changed from being the “cloud of choice for start-ups” to being the “cloud of choice for the enterprise,” as worries about security were set aside by Amazon’s efforts to win over big customers for whom security is critical to their brand. Goldman Sachs made this point in its presentation in Las Vegas. Ian’s point was that enterprise customers need an aggressive cloud strategy to stay competitive and innovative with ‘fast-to-value’ from new features. Carrying a legacy of expensive, inflexible hardware and infrastructure is being junked in favour of the scalable costs of the cloud where efficiency in meeting demand is a core part of the appeal. The Amazon Cloud also continues to provide start-ups with the one ingredient they most need to prove themselves – time. That’s because efficient scaling strategies give them a better way to spend their funding before it runs out.
Ian summarised some of the many new services tumbling out of Amazon, including SageMaker, its environment for building and deploying Machine Learning models.
Elsewhere in the day, we heard from Akash Khurana, CIO of McDermott Oil and Gas. In an industry where the safety of workers is of paramount importance, being able to diagnose issues early, remotely and accurately is pushing his team in the direction of constant improvement to their predictive maintenance capabilities. Akash talked about improved, granular digital knowledge as the key for achieving operational cost optimization whilst maximising quality and safety standards.
This is a movement we at Ness are very excited about, as it plays to our core strengths on interpreting huge data sets to find and visualise insights and next best actions. We’re involved in some ground-breaking examples of this with Solar Turbines and see the constant pursuit of savings from greater energy optimization as a real, feel-good benefit of technology which appeals to both our business and environmental instincts.
The rest of the day took in stories as wide ranging as how Liberty Mutual Insurance in the U.S. has gone paperless with Alfresco and how Alfresco is improving integrations with the likes of Box, Salesforce and SAP through its “connectors”.
Finally, founder and CTO, John Newton took to the stage to share his views on where the world is headed. In a tale of two halves, the first half extolled the virtues of the design, open and platform thinking approach that Alfresco champions in which the foundational Digital Business Platform is cloud-smart, with a microservices architecture and a secure API gateway on which to build useful applications, new APIs and explore new business models and partnerships.
The second half focused on the hottest two letters in tech at present – AI. The biggest growth in platform innovation is coming from an open-source attitude to the fundamentals required today: a focus on UX, an ability to scale in the cloud, an extreme (and personalized) attitude towards data analytics, for microservices and containers to be nimble as new trends emerge, and an appreciation for imminent leaps forward in Blockchain and AI.
Value is being created and delivered by companies who use data intelligently. We don’t want to fill forms online which are just digital facsimiles of paper forms. We want them personalized and pre-filled and condensed because of analysis performed by the platform. And, the speed of that analysis is increasing, so decisions and experiences can be ever faster, efficient and useful.
John is a big believer in Open AI (https://openai.com/) and told the story of Emory University’s R&D project using Natural Language Processing which you can read more about here: https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/ai/aws-collaborates-with-emory-university-to-develop-cloud-based-nlp-research-platform-using-apache-mxnet/
I liked the concept of crowdsourcing humans (using Mechanical Turk) to provide mark-up to train the data, which will ultimately be used to save lives through medical advances.
It was a fascinating, informative day, and we met the Alfresco leadership and some interesting prospective clients. It also became very clear that there are several growth opportunities for Ness in taking increasing ownership of more connectors and generic platform components which surround the core Alfresco platform. Amit and Daniel are driving these discussions with Alfresco Engineering management, and the event underlined how our strong relationship offers both companies huge potential in forming new partnerships in 2018 as digital content strategies mature around the world.