Category Archives: Tech News

OpenStack in transition

Posted by on 24 May, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

OpenStack is one of the most important and complex open-source projects you’ve never heard of. It’s a set of tools that allows large enterprises ranging from Comcast and PayPal to stock exchanges and telecom providers to run their own AWS-like cloud services inside their data centers. Only a few years ago, there was a lot of hype around OpenStack as the project went through the usual hype cycle. Now, we’re talking about a stable project that many of the most valuable companies on earth rely on. But this also means the ecosystem around it — and the foundation that shepherds it — is now trying to transition to this next phase.

The OpenStack project was founded by Rackspace and NASA in 2010. Two years later, the growing project moved into the OpenStack Foundation, a nonprofit group that set out to promote the project and help manage the community. When it was founded, OpenStack still had a few competitors, like CloudStack and Eucalyptus. OpenStack, thanks to the backing of major companies and its fast-growing community, quickly became the only game in town, though. With that, community events like the OpenStack Summit started to draw thousands of developers, and with each of its semi-annual releases, the number of contributors to the project has increased.

Now, that growth in contributors has slowed and, as evidenced by the attendance at this week’s Summit in Vancouver.

In the early days, there were also plenty of startups in the ecosystem — and the VC money followed them, together with some of the most lavish conference parties (or “bullshit,” as Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth called it) that I have experienced. The OpenStack market didn’t materialize quite as fast as many had hoped, though, so some of the early players went out of business, some shut down their OpenStack units and others sold to the remaining players. Today, only a few of the early players remain standing, and the top players are now the likes of Red Hat, Canonical and Rackspace.

And to complicate matters, all of this is happening in the shadow of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) and the Kubernetes project it manages being in the early stages of the hype cycle.

Meanwhile, the OpenStack Foundation itself is in the middle of its own transition as it looks to bring on other open-source infrastructure projects that are complementary to its overall mission of making open-source infrastructure easier to build and consume.

Unsurprisingly, all of this clouded the mood at the OpenStack Summit this week, but I’m actually not part of the doom and gloom contingent. In my view, what we are seeing here is a mature open-source project that has gone through its ups and downs and now, with all of the froth skimmed off, it’s a tool that provides a critical piece of infrastructure for businesses. Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth, who created his own bit of drama during his keynote by directly attacking his competitors like Red Hat, told me that low attendance at the conference may not be a bad thing, for example, since the people who are actually in attendance are now just trying to figure out what OpenStack is all about and are all potential customers.

Others echoed a similar sentiment. “I think some of it goes with, to some extent, what’s been building over the last couple of Summits,” Bryan Thompson, Rackspace’s senior director and general manager for OpenStack, said as he summed up what I heard from a number of other vendors at the event. “That is: Is open stack dead? Is this going away? Or is everything just leapfrogging and going straight to Kubernetes on bare metal. And I don’t want to phrase it as ‘it’s a good thing,’ because I think it’s a challenge for the foundation and for the community. But I think it’s actually a positive thing because the core OpenStack services — the core projects — have just matured. We’re not in the early science experiment days of trying to push ahead and scale and grow the core projects, they were actually achieved and people are actually using it.”

That current state produces fewer flashy headlines, but every survey, both from the Foundation itself and third-party analysts, show that the number of users — and their OpenStack clouds — continues to grow. Meanwhile, the Foundation is looking to bring up attendance at its events, too, by adding container and CI/CD tracks, for example.

The company that maybe best exemplifies the ups and downs of OpenStack is Mirantis, a well-funded startup that has weathered the storm by reinventing itself multiple times. Mirantis started as one of the first OpenStack distributions and contributors to the project. During those early days, it raised one of the largest funding rounds in the OpenStack world with a $100 million Series B round, which was quickly followed by another $100 million round in 2015. But by early 2017, Mirantis had pivoted from being a distribution and toward offering managed services for open-source platforms. It also made an early bet on Kubernetes and offered services for that, too. And then this year, it added yet another twist to its corporate story by refocusing its efforts on the Netflix-incubated Spinnaker open-source tool and helping companies build their CI/CD pipelines based on that. In the process, the company shrunk from almost 1,000 employees to 450 today, but as Mirantis CEO and co-founder Boris Renski told me, it’s now cash-flow positive.

So just as the OpenStack Foundation is moving toward CI/CD with its Zuul tool, Mirantis is betting on Spinnaker, which solves some of the same issues, but with an emphasis on integrating multiple code repositories. Renski, it’s worth noting, actually advocated for bringing Spinnaker into the OpenStack foundation (it’s currently managed on a more ad hoc basis by Netflix and Google).

“We need some governance, we need some process,” Renski said. “The [OpenStack] Foundation is known for actually being very good and effectively seeding this kind of formalized, automated and documented governance in open source and the two should work together much closer. I think that Spinnaker should become part of the Foundation. That’s the opportunity and I think it should focus 150 percent of their energy on that before it builds its own thing and before [Spinnaker] goes off to the CNCF as yet another project.”

So what does the Foundation think about all of this? In talking to OpenStack CTO Mark Collier and Executive Director Jonathan Bryce over the last few months, it’s clear that the Foundation knows that change is needed. That process started with opening up the Foundation to other projects, making it more akin to the Linux Foundation, where Linux remains in the name as its flagship project, but where a lot of the energy now comes from projects it helps manage, including the likes of the CNCF and Cloud Foundry. At the Sydney Summit last year, the team told me that part of the mission now is to retask the large OpenStack community to work on these new topics around open infrastructure. This week, that message became clearer.

“Our mission is all about making it easier for people to build and operate open infrastructure,” Bryce told me this week. “And open infrastructure is about operating functioning services based off of open source tool. So open source is not enough. And we’ve been, you know, I think, very, very oriented around a set of open source projects. But in the seven years since we launched, what we’ve seen is people have taken those projects, they’ve turned it into services that are running and then they piled a bunch of other stuff on top of it — and that becomes really difficult to maintain and manage over the long term.” So now, going forward, that part about maintaining these clouds is becoming increasingly important for the project.

“Open source is not enough,” is an interesting phrase here, because that’s really at the core of the issue at hand. “The best thing about open source is that there’s more of it than ever,” said Bryce. “And it’s also the worst thing. Because the way that most open source communities work is that it’s almost like having silos of developers inside of a company — and then not having them talk to each other, not having them test together, and then expecting to have a coherent, easy to use product come out at the end of the day.”

And Bryce also stressed that projects like OpenStack can’t be only about code. Moving to a cloud-native development model, whether that’s with Kubernetes on top of OpenStack or some other model, is about more than just changing how you release software. It’s also about culture.

“We realized that this was an aspect of the foundation that we were under-prioritizing,” said Bryce. “We focused a lot on the OpenStack projects and the upstream work and all those kinds of things. And we also built an operator community, but I think that thinking about it in broader terms lead us to a realization that we had last year. It’s not just about OpenStack. The things that we have done to make OpenStack more usable apply broadly to these businesses [that use it], because there isn’t a single one that’s only running OpenStack. There’s not a single one of them.”

More and more, the other thing they run, besides their legacy VMware stacks, is containers and specifically containers managed with Kubernetes, of course, and while the OpenStack community first saw containers as a bit of a threat, the Foundation is now looking at more ways to bring those communities together, too.

What about the flagging attendance at the OpenStack events? Bryce and Collier echoed what many of the vendors also noted. “In the past, we had something like 7,000 developers — something insane — but the bulk of the code comes down to about 200 or 300 developers,” said Bryce. Even the somewhat diminished commercial ecosystem doesn’t strike Bryce and Collier as too much of an issue, in part because the Foundation’s finances are closely tied to its membership. And while IBM dropped out as a project sponsor, Tencent took its place.

“There’s the ecosystem side in terms of who’s making a product and selling it to people,” Collier acknowledged. “But for whom is this so critical to their business results that they are going to invest in it. So there’s two sides to that, but in terms of who’s investing in OpenStack and the Foundation and making all the software better, I feel like we’re in a really good place.” He also noted that the Foundation is seeing lots of investment in China right now, so while other regions may be slowing down, others are picking up the slack.

So here is an open-source project in transition — one that has passed through the trough of disillusionment and hit the plateau of productivity, but that is now looking for its next mission. Bryce and Collier admit that they don’t have all the answers, but if there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that both the OpenStack project and foundation are far from dead.

InVision design tool Studio gets an app store, asset store

Posted by on 24 May, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

InVision, the startup that wants to be the operating system for designers, today introduced its app store and asset store within InVision Studio. In short, InVision Studio users now have access to some of their most-used apps and services from right within the Studio design tool. Plus, those same users will be able to shop for icons, UX/UI components, typefaces and more from within Studio.

While Studio is still in its early days, InVision has compiled a solid list of initial app store partners, including Google, Salesforce, Slack, Getty, Atlassian, and more.

InVision first launched as a collaboration tool for designers, letting designers upload prototypes into the cloud so that other members of the organization could leave feedback before engineers set the design in stone. Since that launch in 2011, InVision has grown to 4 million users, capturing 80 percent of the Fortune 100, raising a total of $235 million in funding.

While collaboration is the bread and butter of InVision’s business, and the only revenue stream for the company, CEO and founder Clark Valberg feels that it isn’t enough to be complementary to the current design tool ecosystem. Which is why InVision launched Studio in late 2017, hoping to take on Adobe and Sketch head-on with its own design tool.

Studio differentiates itself by focusing on the designer’s real-life workflow, which often involves mocking up designs in one app, pulling assets from another, working on animations and transitions in another, and then stitching the whole thing together to share for collaboration across InVision Cloud. Studio aims to bring all those various services into a single product, and a critical piece of that mission is building out an app store and asset store with the services too sticky for InVision to rebuild from Scratch, such as Slack or Atlassian.

With the InVision app store, Studio users can search Getty from within their design and preview various Getty images without ever leaving the app. They can then share that design via Slack or send it off to engineers within Atlassian, or push it straight to UserTesting.com to get real-time feedback from real people.

InVision Studio launched with the ability to upload an organization’s design system (type faces, icons, logos, and hex codes) directly into Studio, ensuring that designers have easy access to all the assets they need. Now InVision is taking that a step further with the launch of the asset store, letting designers sell their own assets to the greater designer ecosystem.

“Our next big move is to truly become the operating system for product design,” said Valberg. “We want to be to designers what Atlassian is for engineers, what Salesforce is to sales. We’ve worked to become a full-stack company, and now that we’re managing that entire stack it has liberated us from being complementary products to our competitors. We are now a standalone product in that respect.”

Since launching Studio, the service has grown to more than 250,000 users. The company says that Studio is still in Early Access, though it’s available to everyone here.

Box expands Zones to manage content in multiple regions

Posted by on 24 May, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

When Box announced Zones a couple of years ago, it was providing a way for customers to store data outside the U.S., but there were some limits. Each customer could choose the U.S. and one additional zone. Customers wanted more flexibility, and today the company announced it was allowing them to choose to multiple zones.

The new feature gives a company the ability to store content across any of the 7 zones (plus the U.S) that Box currently supports across the world. A zone is essentially a Box co-location datacenter partner in various locations. The customer can now choose a default zone and then manage multiple zones from a single customer ID in the Box admin console, according to Jeetu Patel, chief product officer at Box.

Current Box Zones. Photo: Box

Content will go to a defined default zone unless the admin creates rules specifying another location. In terms of data sovereignty, the file will always live in the country of record, even if an employee outside that country has access to it. From an end user perspective, they won’t know where the content lives if the administrators allow access to it.

This may not seem like a huge deal on its face, but from a content management standpoint, it presented some challenges. Patel says the company designed the product with this ability in mind from the start, but it took some development time to get there.

“When we launched Zones we knew we would [eventually require] multi-zone capability, and we had to make sure the architecture could handle that,” Patel explained. They did this by abstracting the architecture to separate the storage and business logic tiers. Creating this modular approach allowed them to increase the capabilities as they built out Zones.

It doesn’t hurt that this feature is being made available just days before the EU’s GDPR data privacy rules are going into effect. “Zones is not just for GDPR, but it does help customers meet their GDPR obligations,” Patel said.

Overall, Zones is part of Box’s strategy to provide content management services in the cloud and give customers, even regulated industries, the ability to control how that content is used. This expansion is one more step on that journey.

Square brings its Stand for iPad tablets to the UK

Posted by on 23 May, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Square, the company that provides payments and other business services to merchants, is today taking another step in its gradual expansion outside of the U.S. Stand — one of Square’s key pieces of hardware, turning an iPad into a point of sale system — is launching in the U.K.

It will sell for £64 (+VAT) and will be sold alongside existing products that Square offers in the U.K. — Square Reader, its Point of Sale app, Instant Deposit, Virtual Terminal and Cash app. (Square Register, the company’s all-in-one product for larger businesses that sells for $999, is not yet available outside the U.S.)

The move comes just over a year after Square launched in the U.K., its first market in Europe, and also on the heels of a big move from two of its biggest competitors: last week, PayPal said it would acquire iZettle, sometimes referred to as “the Square of Europe,” for $2.2 billion.

Those two developments underscore both the challenges and opportunities ahead for Square.

On the one hand, the company is tapping into a big market opportunity by creating services that cater to the often-overlooked small and medium business sector — and the Stand, which extends a tablet into a more interactive payment terminal, plays into that.

On the other hand, the consolidation underway between iZettle and PayPal points to how stronger competitors — PayPal’s market cap is nearly four times that of Square — going after the same business as Square, will put pressure on the company. (As a point of comparison, iZettle’s tablet stands range in price from £49 to £99.)

Square may be smaller, but it has picked up a lot of loyalty for its services and innovations. Square says that today the company has two million business customers using its products globally. It doesn’t break out numbers by geography or product. But given how many merchants use more than just a phone to take payments and run other sales software (a phone being the basic building block of Square’s original card payment processor), it was a much-requested feature.

“Square Stand was built to provide sellers with a unique and beautiful solution that makes taking in-person payments simple, elegant and fast,” said Jesse Dorogusker, Square’s hardware lead and designer of the Stand. “Sellers in the U.K. have been asking for a full countertop solution for their businesses since we first introduced Square.”

Despite its popularity and how it seemed to appear and take off amid a surge of smartphone and tablet adoption and use in the U.S., Square has taken a very deliberate route when it’s come to growing outside its home country, where payment methods, regulations and languages might all be different. Today, the company has operations in the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and the U.K. It also has an office in Ireland but not active payments or other business.

Asked about where Square might like to go next, the company has remained mum.

“Nothing to share on that front,” a spokesperson said. “We are just getting started here in the U.K. and iterating fast to bring new services to market. Since we entered the U.K. market in 2017 we have continued to bring our U.K. sellers important products at a steady pace.”

Okta introduces ‘Sign in with Okta’ service

Posted by on 23 May, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Consider that there are millions of Okta users out there using the service to sign into their company applications with a single set of credentials. Yet getting customers to work together using Okta authentication was an enormous task for developers. Okta wanted to simplify it, so they created a service they are calling it ‘Sign in with Okta.’

The new API allows developers to add a few lines code and give Okta customers the ability to sign into one another’s websites in a similar way that OAuth allows you to use your Google or Facebook credentials to sign onto consumer sites.

Frederic Kerrest, COO and co-founder at Okta, says the ‘Sign in with Okta’ uses an extension of OAuth called OpenID Connect, which his company has been supporting since 2016. He says the new service gives customers the ability to expand the use of their Okta credentials beyond their own set of internal applications to sign into customer and partner sites. This extends the Okta functionality and brand and helps to make it a kind of standard way of logging in (or that’s the hope).

When developers add this functionality, the user sees a “Sign in with Okta” button on the website or service they are accessing. They can then use their Okta login to get into these sites under whatever rules the site owner has defined.

Site with ‘Sign in with Okta’ button. Photo: Okta

While Okta has provided APIs for developers prior to today, they didn’t provide a package like this that simplifies the process. This forced developers to use the SAML standard to make it work. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach, it can be time-consuming and put a lot of burden on developers to write software and connectors, while updating and maintaining them, Kerrest explained. This removes all of that complexity from the process.

This means that when two businesses are on Okta, they can trust one another because they do business together, and instead of setting up the SAML connection, a process that could take days, they can do it an hour with the Okta API tool, according to Kerrest.

“[Sign in with Okta] is a much easier way for customers or partners to seamlessly integrate into our environment. They could do it before, but we are ‘widgetizing’ it now,” he said.

Meet the speakers at The Europas, and get your ticket free (July 3, London)

Posted by on 23 May, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Excited to announce that this year’s The Europas Unconference & Awards is shaping up! Our half day Unconference kicks off on 3 July, 2018 at The Brewery in the heart of London’s “Tech City” area, followed by our startup awards dinner and fantastic party and celebration of European startups!

The event is run in partnership with TechCrunch, the official media partner. Attendees, nominees and winners will get deep discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.
The Europas Awards are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to the daytime is all the speakers and invited guests. There’s no “off-limits speaker room” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs and speakers.

What exactly is an Unconference? We’re dispensing with the lectures and going straight to the deep-dives, where you’ll get a front row seat with Europe’s leading investors, founders and thought leaders to discuss and debate the most urgent issues, challenges and opportunities. Up close and personal! And, crucially, a few feet away from handing over a business card. The Unconference is focused into zones including AI, Fintech, Mobility, Startups, Society, and Enterprise and Crypto / Blockchain.

We’ve confirmed 10 new speakers including:

Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital


Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp


Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures


Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures


Nancy Fechnay, Blockchain Technologist + Angel


George McDonaugh, KR1


Candice Lo, Blossom Capital


Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners


Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel


Tina Baker, Jag Shaw Baker

How To Get Your Ticket For FREE

We’d love for you to ask your friends to join us at The Europas – and we’ve got a special way to thank you for sharing.

Your friend will enjoy a 15% discount off the price of their ticket with your code, and you’ll get 15% off the price of YOUR ticket.

That’s right, we will refund you 15% off the cost of your ticket automatically when your friend purchases a Europas ticket.

So you can grab tickets here.

Vote for your Favourite Startups

Public Voting is still humming along. Please remember to vote for your favourite startups!

Awards by category:

Hottest Media/Entertainment Startup

Hottest E-commerce/Retail Startup

Hottest Education Startup

Hottest Startup Accelerator

Hottest Marketing/AdTech Startup

Hottest Games Startup

Hottest Mobile Startup

Hottest FinTech Startup

Hottest Enterprise, SaaS or B2B Startup

Hottest Hardware Startup

Hottest Platform Economy / Marketplace

Hottest Health Startup

Hottest Cyber Security Startup

Hottest Travel Startup

Hottest Internet of Things Startup

Hottest Technology Innovation

Hottest FashionTech Startup

Hottest Tech For Good

Hottest A.I. Startup

Fastest Rising Startup Of The Year

Hottest GreenTech Startup of The Year

Hottest Startup Founders

Hottest CEO of the Year

Best Angel/Seed Investor of the Year

Hottest VC Investor of the Year

Hottest Blockchain/Crypto Startup Founder(s)

Hottest Blockchain Protocol Project

Hottest Blockchain DApp

Hottest Corporate Blockchain Project

Hottest Blockchain Investor

Hottest Blockchain ICO (Europe)

Hottest Financial Crypto Project

Hottest Blockchain for Good Project

Hottest Blockchain Identity Project

Hall Of Fame Award – Awarded to a long-term player in Europe

The Europas Grand Prix Award (to be decided from winners)

The Awards celebrates the most forward thinking and innovative tech & blockchain startups across over some 30+ categories.

Startups can apply for an award or be nominated by anyone, including our judges. It is free to enter or be nominated.

What is The Europas?

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with 1,000 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers

• Key Founders and investors speaking; featured attendees invited to just network

• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A directly from the main stage

• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics

• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

• A parallel Founders-only track geared towards fund-raising and hyper-networking

• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene

• All on one day to maximise your time in London. And it’s PROBABLY sunny!

europas8

That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come…

europas13

Interested in sponsoring the Europas or hosting a table at the awards? Or purchasing a table for 10 or 12 guest or a half table for 5 guests? Get in touch with:
Petra Johansson
Petra@theeuropas.com
Phone: +44 (0) 20 3239 9325

Slack introduces Actions to make it easier to create and finish tasks without leaving

Posted by on 22 May, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

As Slack tries to graduate beyond a Silicon Valley darling to the go-to communications platform within a company, it’s had to find ways to increasingly pitch itself as an intelligent Swiss Army knife for companies — and not just a simple chat app — and it is trying to continue that today once again with a new feature called Actions.

Companies can now bake in a user experience of their own directly into the Slack application that isn’t yet another chatbot that’s tied into their services. Developers can essentially create a customized prompt for any kind of action, like submitting a support ticket, within the Slack core chat experience through a drop-down window called an Action. While Slackbots may have been an early incarnation of this, Slack’s platform has grown to include more than 200,000 developers, and there’s still constant need for robust tools internally. This offers partners and developers a little more flexibility when it comes to figuring out what experience makes the most sense for people that sit in Slack all day, but have to keep porting information to and from their own tools.

“There’s such a demand for specialized software, and for great tools that are easy to use and interoperable with all applications you use,” Slack chief product officer April Underwood said. “We think this is good, and we think more tools means customers have more choice. Ultimately there’s more competition in the marketplace, that means the best tools, the ones that truly help companies do their best work, rise to the top. But your work experience becomes increasingly siloed. Slack needs to be highly configurable, but in doing so we believe Slack is the collaboration hub that brings all this together.”

Each company that wants to build in an integration — like Asana for task management or Zendesk for ticket management — works to create a new flow within the core Slack experience, which includes a new dropdown inside a message and a prompt to bake something into the chat flow. Once that happens, all that information is then ported over to the integration and created in the same way an employee would create it within that environment. If someone creates a Zendesk ticket through an action in Slack, Zendesk automatically generates the ticket on their side.

Slack has sprawled out over time, and especially as companies using it get larger and larger, the company has to figure out a way to show that it can remain a dead-simple app without turning into a bloated window filled with thousands of instant messages. Actions is one potential approach to that, where users can know from the get-go where to coordinate certain activities like equipment procurement or managing some customer information — and not have to go anywhere else.

The other advantage here is that it makes the destination for completing a task not necessarily a “what,” but also a “who.” Slack is leaning on its machine learning tool to make it easier and easier to find the right people with the right answers, whether those questions are already answered somewhere or they know who can get you the information right away. Actions is another extension here, as well, as users can get accustomed to going to certain coworkers with the intent of completing tasks — such as their IT head in their office that they walk by every morning on the way to grabbing coffee.

The company says it’s also working on what it’s calling the Block Kit, which integrates those tasks and other elements directly into the Slack chat flow in a way that looks a little more user friendly from a kind of visual sense. The idea here is, again, to create an intuitive flow for people that goes beyond just a simple chat app, but also offers some additional way of interactivity that turns Slack into a more sensible feed rather than just a window with people talking to each other. Actions are available from Jira, Bitbucket, Asana, Zendesk, HubSpot, and several others.

Actions is a tool that Slack is unveiling at its own developer conference, Spec, this morning. That in of itself is yet another example of Slack looking to graduate beyond just a simpler information feed that works well with smaller companies. Developers are often the ones that figure out the best niche use cases for any platform, as it means Slack can focus on trying to figure out how all these integrations fit into its design ethos. The company has to figure out how to convince larger companies that they need a tool like this and it won’t get out of hand, and also ensure that smaller companies don’t graduate into something a little more flexible that can serve those niche cases as they get larger.

To be sure, Slack is growing. The company said it hit 8 million daily active users with 3 million paid users earlier this month. That’s helped it quickly jump to a $5.1 billion valuation (as of its most recent funding round), and the company has been carefully rolling out tools that might make communication within larger companies a little easier — including the long-awaited launch of threads a little more than a year ago.

But Slack also faces increasing competition as time goes on, not only from the traditional companies looking to build more robust but simpler tools, but also from companies that have spent a lot of time working on collaboration tools and are now exploring communication. Atlassian’s opened up its communications platform Stride to developers in February this year. Microsoft, too continues to update its Teams product. Slack was able to expose pent-up demand for this kind of an approach, but it also has to defend that approach — and making it a little more flexible without feature-creeping is going to be its biggest challenge going forward.

Dropbox beefs up mobile collaboration in latest release

Posted by on 22 May, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Dropbox announced several enhancements today designed to beef up its mobile offering and help employees on the go keep up with changes to files stored in Dropbox .

In a typical team scenario, a Dropbox user shared a file with a team member for review or approval. If they wanted to check the progress of this process, the only way to do it up until now was to send an email or text message explicitly asking if the person looked at it yet — not a terribly efficient workflow.

Dropbox recognized this and has built in a fix in the latest mobile release. Now users can can simply see who has looked at or taken action on a file directly from the mobile application without having to leave the application.

In addition, those being asked to review files can see those notifications right at the top of the Home screen in the mobile app, making the whole feedback cycle much more organized.

Photo: Dropbox

Joey Loi, product manager at Dropbox says this is a much more streamlined way to understand activity inside of Dropbox. “With this feature, we think about the closing loop on collaboration. At its heart, collaboration is feedback flows. When I change something on a file, there are a few steps before [my co-worker] knows I’ve changed it,” Loi explained. With this feature that feedback loop can close much faster.

The company also changed the way it organizes and displays files putting the files that you opened most recently at the top of the Home screen, which is somewhat like Recents in Google Drive. It also provides a way to favorite a file and puts those files that are most important at the top of the list, making it easier to find the files that are likely most important to you more quickly when you access the mobile app.

Finally you can now drag and drop a file from an email into a Dropbox folder in a mobile context.

While none of these individual updates are earth shattering changes by any means, they do make it easier for users to access, share and work with files in Dropbox on a mobile device. “All the features are to help teams collaborate and be efficient on mobile,” Loi said.

Parabola raises $2.2 million to simplify programming for employees stuck in Excel all day

Posted by on 22 May, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

While knowledge workers are handling increasingly difficult tasks — ones that may be much easier to handle with just a Python script — Alex Yaseen thinks that in the future not everyone will actually need to learn how to code.

Instead, he hopes that tools like the one he’s building, called Parabola, will bridge that gap between the complex technical problems and otherwise nontechnical employees. Instead of running through massive excel spreadsheets, Parabola is designed to make it easier for employees that might not be highly technical to piece together the kinds of processes that will help automate mundane tasks that run through each action. The company said it has raised a new $2.2 million financing round led by Matrix Partners.

“The logical version of the future doesn’t look like everyone coding by running Python or whatever language,” Yaseen said. “It’s a very valid opinion, but we talked a lot with various investors about that perspective of the future where all knowledge workers have to increasingly be more productive to compete. We thought about how we could bridge that gap by giving nontechnical people these tools to work like an engineering without being an engineer.”

At its core, Parabola is a more visually-oriented way of designing a workflow where users can piece together a complex work problem in a kind of flowchart, piece by piece. These are all functions that you might find built into Excel or other spreadsheet tools, like Google Sheets, but Parabola is a tool that is designed to make it easier to automate all those updates into new fields, as well as make the model pretty flexible and easy to manipulate.

Parabola is designed to take those account executives or salespeople that run through hundred-plus step processes in order to do their jobs through dozens of excel tabs. Users can figure out how to describe those steps in Parabola and then begin executing them without having to constantly tweak formulas and ensure that everything is operating properly. At the same time, Parabola is designed to ensure that the whole experience feels like a spreadsheet, where making small changes causes the whole data set to update — something that nontechnical users actually gravitate toward, Yaseen said.

“The reason people love using spreadsheets even though they’re not the right tool for most of these experiences, is that they can make a change and see things immediately,” Yaseen said. “Nontechnical people don’t adapt to [an engineering] mindset, they value the process of making a change and everything updating. That’s one of our hypotheses, and other tools don’t give you those options, and therefore are not really geared to a true nontechnical user.”

Still, the whole idea of trying to simplify programming down to something that’s more palatable for a nontechnical user is both a significant challenge and a very crowded market. There are many approaches to the problem, though Yaseen says they target different niches or use cases, like Airtable or Zapier — many of which have raised large sums of money. But some companies have different demands and users may gravitate toward different options, so those aren’t the direct competition. Instead, the competition is larger firms hiring engineers to handle all these processes in the back-end, as well as users just sitting in Excel all day.

Okera raises $12M to simplify data governance within companies

Posted by on 22 May, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

As companies start to gather more and more data on their users and customers, including a firehose of information from a nigh-endless flow of tests, managing and maintaining that data isn’t the only place companies are hitting a wall — and figuring out who can actually access it is becoming just as big of a problem.

That was the experience Amandeep Khurana had throughout his career and as he kept talking to more and more larger companies. So he and his co-founder decided to start Okera, which is looking to make it easier for stewards of various sets of data to ensure the right people have the right access. With data coming in from a myriad of sources — and hopefully ending up in the same database — it can be increasingly complex to track who has access to what, and the hope is that Okera can reduce that problem to flipping a few switches.

Okera is coming out of stealth mode and said it has raised a new $12 million financing round led by Bessemer Venture Partners, with existing investors Felicis Ventures and Capital One Growth Ventures participating. Bessemer’s Ethan Kurzweil and Felicis’ Wesley Chan are joining the company’s board of directors, and Okera has raised $14.6 million to date.

“I was very underwhelmed by what other vendors were offering, there was pretty much nothing happening,” co-founder Khurana said. “There were not a lot of good solutions, and no vendor was incentivized to solve the problem. What we’d hear is, [employees] were spending so much time in data management and plumbing. We saw a trend — as more and more enterprises are moving into the cloud, so they can be agile, these problems amplified. There is a lot of friction around data management, and people spent a lot of time and resources and money making one-off solutions.”

Part of the problem stems from larger companies looking to move their operations into the cloud. Those companies can run into the problem of data coming in from various discrete locations, where everyone is handling something differently, and everyone has varying levels of access to that data. For example, an analyst might be trying to dig into some customer usage data in order to tweak a product, but they only have access to half of the records they need. To fix that, they would need to hunt down the people who are in control of the rest of the information they need and get the right copies or permissions to access it. All of this includes a robust audit trail for those handling security within the company.

it is going to be an increasingly crowded space just by virtue of the problem, especially as companies collect more and more data while they look to better train various machine learning models. There are startups like Collibra also looking to improve the data governance experience for companies, and Collibra raised an additional $58 million in January this year.

But streamlining all this, in theory, reduces the overhead of just how much time it takes for those employees to hunt down the right people, and also make sure it’s easier to access everything and get to work faster. For modern systems, it’s an all-or-nothing approach, Khurana said, and the goal is to try to make it easier for the right people to get access to the right data when they need it. That isn’t necessarily limited to analysts, as employees in sales, marketing, and other various roles might also need access to certain databases in their day-to-day jobs.

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