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neudesiclogo.jpgIf you are in the market for an enterprise social networking tool and haven't yet considered Yammer or Jive or Socialtext or the dozens of other competitors out there, there is a new version 3.0 of Neudesic Pulse that might be worthy for you. It will be announced next week at the Microsoft Convergence conference, and the reason is clear: they offer the best integration with a variety of Microsoft services to their social streams. (We noted that Yammer had SharePoint integration for more than two years here.)

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pulse teamsite integration.jpgHere is an example of how they work with TeamSite, so you can see notifications of your documents in your stream and still use the native TeamSite controls and menu ribbon too.

The idea is to establish an enterprise-wide social fabric that connects workers and enhances their ability to work together efficiently by sharing whatever tool each user is most comfortable with, at least in theory. Besides TeamSite, there are integrators with SharePoint and Dynamics CRM services too, so you can place activity streams inside their interfaces. There is also integration with Microsoft Lync, so you can send IMs from within Pulse. Pulse also has native apps on all three mobile platforms:
Android, Blackberry, and iOS.

What is intriguing about the product is that you can follow all sorts of things besides people in your activity stream, such as groups that are setup around specific topics, or even documents in your SharePoint repository. A few other social networking services have begun offering this flexibility, such as Yammer Files for example.

Pulse comes in both on-premises (with typical prices ranging from $8-$10,000 for a one time license with annual maintenance extra) and cloud versions. The private cloud version is $12 per user per month. One nicety is that there are no add-on costs for the various integration services.

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Reality Check on Ubuntu's Enterprise Claims

canonical-logo-150.jpgUbuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth has found some encouraging statistics on Ubuntu adoption for public-facing Web sites powered by Ubuntu. Unfortunately, Shuttleworth has taken a single data point and tried to suggest that it's an indicator that companies are choosing Ubuntu over Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) for "enterprise computing." In reality, the stats from W3Techs about Web site usage are not a particularly useful tool for divining what companies are using for "large-scale enterprise workloads."

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It's tempting to cut corners when trying to figure out how companies are using Linux, and how much. It's damn difficult to figure out how many servers are running Linux and which versions of Linux are in use. That's because most of the Linux usage, Web servers excepted, is behind the firewall. Couple that with the fact that companies deploy a lot of Linux without having to tell anybody about it, and it's a real puzzler.

You can get some idea by looking at paid Linux usage. Red Hat, SUSE and Canonical can point to the number of paid subscriptions in use, though even that is only a rough estimate of how many organizations are using their enterprise distributions. As Red Hat's Lars Herrmann noted when I asked him about the topic, many enterprise customers have systems running RHEL without subscriptions.

When it comes to unpaid Linux, it's really anybody's guess. Looking at Web servers gives some indication of distribution adoption, but it doesn't necessarily reflect what goes on behind the corporate firewall.

On W3techs Statistics

Looking specifically at the stats cited by Shuttleworth, we see that Ubuntu now represents 18.4% of the domains surveyed by W3techs, whereas Red Hat has 12.2%. This is out of the top 1 million Web sites according to Alexa. Note that this is sites and not servers. We don't rightly know whether the domains in question have one server or 1,000 serving the Web site. We also can assume that the top million sites queried include a lot of non-enterprise sites.

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So this is a faulty picture to begin with, even if one was to assume that Web servers were representative of enterprise workloads.

How many servers are in use for each domain? How many of the domains are being hosted on the same infrastructure by a hosting company, while the organization in question has a completely or partially separate infrastructure? We have no idea.

But it gets worse, because Shuttleworth omits all other distributions in his original post. CentOS, which (like Ubuntu) is freely distributed, has 29.9% of the sites surveyed. Debian, which Ubuntu is based on, has 30%. Shuttleworth, in the comments, has the chutzpah to claim Debian as part of the "Ubuntu ecosystem" which seems to be ignoring the way the Ubuntu/Debian relationship actually works.

But, it's not at all surprising that Ubuntu has surpassed RHEL for Web site hosting. Many companies choose Ubuntu Long Term Support (LTS) releases for hosting because it has a reasonable and predictable support lifecycle and doesn't cost anything to deploy. Herrmann acknowledged that a lot of hosting companies prefer other distributions over RHEL for Web hosting because the RHEL subscription price model makes RHEL less attractive for Web hosting. Most of the time, customers don't need or want to pay for support to run a Web site on Linux.

But Shuttleworth's claim that companies have "started adopting Ubuntu over RHEL for large-scale enterprise workloads, in droves" seems an overly optimistic reading of a single data point that does not actually represent what most would consider "large scale enterprise workloads."

But for actual enterprise workloads, it's a different story. What we see is that Red Hat is consistently growing its subscription revenues. In the last quarter, Red Hat had $246.5 million in subscription revenues, up 24% year-over-year. That gives some picture into real adoption of RHEL, but Ubuntu? Well, they don't report their results and consistently decline to give any real details about their success (or lack thereof) in gaining subscribers.

But we can reasonably conclude that Ubuntu is not the distribution of choice for enterprise workloads, simply because so little enterprise software is certified to run on Ubuntu.

Popular Workloads for Ubuntu

You don't have to take my word for it when I say that Ubuntu is not the distribution of choice for traditional enterprise workloads. All you have to do is read through Canonical's own server edition survey (PDF), which collected 5,500 responses from Ubuntu users.

Ubuntu shines as a Web server, file server, mail server, etc. But these are not what you'd call enterprise workloads. Not exclusively, at least – enterprises may well be using Ubuntu for Web hosting, file serving, etc., but as the survey says on page 4, "when it comes to application usage, the lower scores regarding CRM and ERP reflect the patchy support for Ubuntu among the big vendors in these fields...these figures confirm that Ubuntu remains a bigger player in the infrastructure realm than it is in applications."

When it comes to application and hardware certifications that enterprises care about, Canonical is far behind RHEL and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

It seems entirely likely that Ubuntu is seeing increased adoption in the enterprise. Given that Ubuntu has now been around long enough for at least some enterprise IT departments to start taking it seriously, and that its numbers in the enterprise have been historically minuscule. To put it another way, Ubuntu has nowhere to go but up in the enterprise.

Stephen O'Grady, of RedMonk, said that while they have no good quantitative data to judge enterprise OS adoption on. However, he did say that there's reason to believe Ubuntu is making some progress. "I think there are reasons to believe that Ubuntu has made real progress from an enterprise adoption perspective. HP's inclusion of Ubuntu in its enterprise focused public cloud efforts, for example, would have been unthinkable a few years ago."

But Shuttleworth's claim that companies have "started adopting Ubuntu over RHEL for large-scale enterprise workloads, in droves" seems an overly optimistic reading of a single data point that does not actually represent what most would consider "large scale enterprise workloads."

Maybe Ubuntu will surpass RHEL at some point, but the evidence so far suggests that Canonical is still in third place behind SUSE and RHEL when it comes to real enterprise workloads.

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Today’s customers are used to interacting with service organizations via several channels; in fact, they insist on it. In addition to being able to speak to a human, they expect to have access to a friendly and useful Web site. They also want to be able to receive important notifications (such as the technician’s pending arrival time) no matter where they are, via their mobile phone by automated voice mail or text message.

Want to really manage customer relationships?

Try showing up on time for their next service call. (Part 3)

These technology developments enable the creation of new service management processes – and therefore new and better ways of using your CRM system to collaborate with customers. To better understand how technology can transform customer interactions around appointment bookings, consider the following example.

Imagine that one of your customers books an appointment – either by talking to an agent at the call center or using a self-service channel (for example, a Web site). You mutually agree on an appointment window that fits your service organization’s existing policies: between 8 a.m. and noon. You agree to send the customer an alert 30 minutes before your service representative’s actual arrival. The customer will also receive an e-mail repeating the terms of the agreed upon service – what is to be done and when, and the costs and terms. The e-mail also lists all the different notification methods available to get more information about the appointment or ask for changes. The customer now has at least partial flexibility during the appointment slot and is free for other activities until receiving the alert.

Using field service management erp software, your company automates and optimizes the service scheduling, handling new events in real time and continuously maintaining the most up-to-date plan for when each service will be performed. Once the start of service is estimated to be within 30 minutes, the software sends an alert to the customer and “locks” the plan for that customer. At this point, only unforeseen events will move the execution time.

At 8 a.m., the customer discovers that her son has missed the school bus and she must drive him to class. Instead of gambling that this might be OK, she uses the Web link you provided via e-mail to alert the service desk that she will be available only after 9 a.m. The software will check whether anything needs to be changed in the plan and, if so, whether the change is possible. Even if the change is not possible, the customer can immediately set a new appointment, saving all parties time and hassle.

More likely, the software will find a way to accommodate the customer’s request – which means your service organization avoids a “not-at-home” trip while earning favor with the customer for exceptional responsiveness and flexibility. Even in the worst case, when the service just can’t be performed during the promised appointment time, the software will detect this as soon as possible and notify the customer. She won’t be happy, but she will at least appreciate the effort to avoid wasting her time, and she’ll have the opportunity to reschedule at the earliest mutually agreeable time.

Sounds like it’s time to get in touch with your CRM vendor to determine just how much appointment scheduling functionality is already in your software, and how much can be added, ASAP.

Effective collaboration between service organizations and customers is more likely to lead to successful navigation of uncontrolled, outside forces and events, such as traffic jams that delay a customer – or a service technician. To some extent, these types of events can be forecast by your CRM system using historical data and analytics – insights that give you time to take appropriate actions to minimize negative impacts for both parties.

Want to really manage customer relationships?

Try showing up on time for their next service call. (Part 2)

But in other cases, these events can’t be predicted. Customers and service providers need a way to collaborate via real-time communication to keep everyone in sync. That’s when you need to rely on a more sophisticated CRM system with robust appointment scheduling capability.

Today, you can augment your CRM system with affordable, high quality erp solutions that have been proven in day-to-day, high-volume service settings at many organizations across the world. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Field service management systems. Field service management solutions bring together all the required information and business rules needed to provide higher levels of service delivery and increased customer satisfaction. For example, the system can identify the parts needed for each service task and the skills the field service technicians must have.  It can determine when the right service technicians are available – and, if contractors are also available, identify when to choose them for a job over an internal resource. It can flag commitments the service organization must obey, such as those defined in service-level agreements, employment contracts and union rules, and regulatory papers.

Scheduling optimization systems. Proven service optimization software is now available that can govern the entire process, from appointment booking to scheduling to dispatching and tracking. Such ERP software also provides analytics, forecasting, and planning functionality to help schedulers continuously learn and improve. Rather than having to deal with minute-by-minute schedule juggling, they can leverage their broader understanding of the business and eliminate guesswork and inefficiency in service delivery operations.

These systems optimize capacity planning, so that you can have a workforce with the right size and skill mix of in each location and time frame. That encompasses tactical resource planning, knowing who will be available (not in training or on vacation) to do the work when it arrives, and maintaining the ideal allocation of resources to shifts to best meet the anticipated workload.  Automated scheduling optimally allocates resources to work while considering skills, parts, service-level commitments, location, and customer preferences and manages responses, in real time, to events in the field, such as traffic delays, cancellations, and emergency calls.

Mobil technologies.  Mobile communications are being used by service workforces to communicate, often in real time, the status of each job and the location of each worker. As a result, companies can have highly accurate estimates regarding the time each service task will start, as well as learn about events that could jeopardize the timely arrival of a service technician. If they learn about events early enough, they can take action to mitigate customer impacts (for example, by reassigning a task to a different engineer already in the area).

Continued in Part 3

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