In the recent Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise conference (CITE) by IDG, there were many interesting speakers. Most were from small or startup companies that preached how to use consumer-grade end devices for the enterprise business.
The enterprise notoriously demands security, scalability, reliability, and durability. Those characteristics are seldom emphasized in consumer-grade devices. Instead, consumers demand convenience and ease of use.
One company that attracted my attention was Intralinks. Unlike smaller and younger companies that participated in the conference, they are a public company, have been in business for 17 years, and develop and market enterprise-grade software collaboration and sharing products for several industry segments.
When I looked at their website, it was laid out for a nontechnical audience. Most startups emphasize their technologies rather than their markets, and it is easier to find out what their underlying technologies are. Also, the number of products is very small, and the market they serve is very easy to see. Intralinks, however, serves several market segments, and the technology discussion is buried in their website. I was fortunate enough to have a chance to talk with John Landy, CTO of Intralinks. This is a summary of what I learned from him.
I had two specific goals in this interview: the motivation for their participation in the CITE conference and their underlying technologies.
Intralinks’ history is given here. It was spun out of JP Morgan and their first area of concentration was banking. Because of the secrecy required for making deals, access control was a major component of the solution. Then they expanded their coverage into related areas, such as alternative investments and the legal segment. Initially, their customers used the Intralinks platform for publishing. Those who wanted to publish documents to their customers and other audiences deposited their documents in the Intralinks repository. From there, the documents were pulled. Over time, simple publishing expanded to collaboration among different parties. They provide their solution as software as a service (SaaS) rather than sell the software itself.
Motivation for participation
As I said, most companies that participated in CITE apply what is available on the consumer market to enterprise business. So why was a company like Intralinks there with a good-size booth? John told me that they saw that the user view and user experience in the consumerization of IT and BYOD could improve their entire business. We tend to think that the enterprise requires security and other traits before usability or ease of use. We thought that that was the way it was, and we did not focus on how easy it should be to use software tools or services. When I think about it a little more, ease really makes sense.
In my limited experience with enterprise-grade software systems, I have found them to be slow, complex, and hard to use. Sometimes finding the right menu item takes time because the menu layout is complex. If there is no alternative and you are forced to do work with the system, it is very understandable that increasing your productivity is a hard thing to do. With the injection of ease of use or usability into the products, productivity might increase. Intralinks did more than just improve products.
Over the past 18 months or so, they talked to their customers and tried to improve their offerings in the following three areas:
· How to do business with Intralinks, including changing their billing from consumption based to per-user based
· Product design (with ease of use in mind)
· Support for mobile devices
It is a good thing, and that trend will proliferate among other companies that market enterprise-grade gear to the enterprise market.
Now my second question.
Their website is laid out to introduce their products in seven industry segments: alternative investments, commercial banking, construction, energies and utilities, investment banking, legal, and life sciences. Each category has a product tailored to its specific needs. It was not apparent from the website what underlying or infrastructure technologies support them, if any.
John and I both looked at the Intralinks website on my iPad and discussed this. By the way, I could not conduct an interview in that manner only a couple of years ago. This is a consequence of BYOD and the consumerization of IT for media interviews.
Let’s review the architecture first.
Architecture of Intralinks (Source: Intralinks; handwritten diagram rendered by Kishimoto)
The architecture figure above is oversimplified and only for purposes of illustration. There are three major layers: applications, service components, and databases. Applications whose names end with gspace,h such as Dealspace and Studyspace, have their origin in Intralinks’ Virtual Data Room (VDR). In short, it is a virtual collaborative environment consisting of employees, partners, and third parties. It is imperative to have a feature that controls access to each piece of information. The major functions are integrate, access, confirm, control, and view.
Each of the seven industry segments they serve has its own application. Each is designed and implemented with what is required for that segment. Each user environment is unique, and customization is supported with a template file that specifies rules, workflow, and settings (configurations). They have dealt with many businesses in each category and have accumulated a lot of use cases. So for each category, a generic template is available. Customers can make modifications to that template for their own use. Or if you are a large company, depending on your business unit, you may have a separate template. If you work in a sizable company, your function areas may involve multiple application spaces. In that case, you may have a separate template for each of the spaces you work in.
Intralinks VIA™ is a new product that allows sharing and UNsharing. When sensitive documents are shared with many different types of parties, it may become necessary to remove access from particular participants. UNsharing is used for that purpose.
There a few more utilities and products, but the above two are the major ones. For product details, refer to the product menus on their website.
Those components are lower-level utilities used for other applications and utilities. They provide a set of functions to store, retrieve, share, and implement security, like encryption.
One of the differentiations John emphasized was their abundance of use cases. Over 17 years, they have dealt with many companies and accumulated information about the ways people share data and information in several industry segments. In a marketing class I took, I was told it was very important to understand how your potential customer works and will use your yet-to-be developed products. I am sure their real system is much more complex, but my impression of the overall architecture was that it was simple. Their strategy of sharing common service components and expanding their coverage to the segments adjacent to the segments they are already in seems to be very viable from the technology point of view.
I did not ask John this question, but my thought is as follows. If a software vendor brings the consumer view to their products, the products probably get designed and developed without extra complexity. In that case, development time may be shortened, and the resultant software will be less complex and consume fewer computing resources. When users run such software, they will find their way easier, and the time spent on the software may be shortened. All in all, I think this is a welcome trend that conserves energy.