Archive solutions have dramatically advanced since the early days of just storing, managing and discovering basic emails or flat files. Today’s archiving solutions can also manage unstructured data, ingest multiple data types (channels) including social media, collaboration tools and even structured data. As a result, the term, archiving was ultimately classified under the broader framework of Information Governance. Add in compliance and e-Discovery workflows with a security or analytics layer on top, and it’s clear, archiving is in a new paradigm. Suddenly the archive becomes the single pane of glass and corporate memory for enterprise information.
The buying decision for any enterprise in purchasing an archive solution is a hybrid of several factors. Often, the account executive has done his/her job in identifying a need and is assisting the prospective company with choosing the right solution. The driving factor always begs the question, “does this archive solution help solve a pain point, mitigate risk, increase efficiency or, sometimes, remedy a regrettable, prior purchase?” For most organizations, the final buying decision boils down to a handful of checklist items including: core functionality, scalability, ease-of-use, price, the vendor’s reputation in the market, user-experience, product features and probability of future innovation. Make no mistake, price continues to remain one of (if not the) primary driver in product selection. Yet, the most cost-efficient archive solution is not the one that is always selected.
Is Price the only Factor?
Even today, notwithstanding price, I maintain that when the evaluating factors are nearly equal, product features tend to be the tipping point when deciding between two solutions. Why? I believe that choosing a software solution, is a very personal and somewhat subjective decision and not vastly different than say, purchasing a car. The final software choice is typically decided by multiple buyers within the organization. Each decision maker has a varied personal (almost emotional) bias typically born from their own experiences or background.
Much like car buyers, some simply opt for reliable transportation, while others buy based on brand reputation, or specific technical factors. Every car buyer is different and the same is true for software buyers. Some are very technically oriented and delve on specs, some make it about their “religion” (e.g. gas vs. hybrid vs. electric). Yet, the final conclusion, whether its deciding on which automobile to purchase or which archive solution is best, comes down to the same thing – user experience. Buyers and end users alike want to know the same thing, “can I operate this system easily and can I see myself using this thing every day?”
It is my firm belief that once the criteria for core functionality is met in an archive solution, its product features tell us a lot, not only the about archive product, but is a view into the mindshare of the developers around the future of that product and perhaps the future of the Information Governance space. It is that emotional component which sways the collective decision process towards the final outcome.
In this article, we’ll explore the difference between Core Functionality vs. Features. Once distilled, we’ll take a look into the evolution of archive product features, their position in today’s marketplace and what they may be pointing the industry towards in the future.
Let’s first distinguish between the ideas of (Core) “functionality” vs. (Product) “features”
Functionality vs. Features
What is the difference between functions and features?
At a high level, a function does something; features are characteristics or qualities of the function, or perhaps how it does what it does. Conversely, a feature is a unit of functionality of a software system that satisfies a requirement, represents a design decision, and provides a potential configuration option. Functionality is how those features actually work to provide you with a desired outcome. Simply put, features are the “tools” you use within a system to complete a set of tasks or actions.
Functionality is the base-level problem or task that the application is helping to resolve. These are the actions that can be applied by the end user that will allow each of your stakeholders to address areas of concern so that they can gain maximum value from the product. Examples of some of the functions that can be applied to address specific use cases are:
- Saving different data types using different retention periods
- Flagging possible regulatory violations based on keywords, phrases or patterns in communications
- The ability to target specific custodians and place all of their data in the archive, across multiple channels for litigation holds.
When you start to think about functionality, you’ll be able to gain a better understanding of what the system can actually do instead of what it says it can do. This will put you in a better position to decide which system will be able to provide you with the most value.
Features are the “bells and whistles” of the product. They are what makes the functionality possible and are the essence of what makes the product work. The features of the tool include all the system capabilities plus any design decisions made by the user to allow them to customize their experience and achieve their specific outcomes, as needed. Typically, they are options in support of the major functions of the system and may include:
- User customizations
- Graphical & color coded dashboards
- Indicators or icons
- Predictors in the marketplace
- Updates, service packs and enhancements in capabilities
- UI, UX, Reporting and new channels/connectors
Just a decade ago, what used to be considered an “option” withing the automotive world is now offered as a “standard” or “basic” feature. For example, 15 years ago, Bluetooth in an automobile was merely a convenience feature, a “nice to have” when using a cell phone hands free. Today, all laws in North America require hands-free cell operation on the roads and smartphone technology has significantly advanced. As a result, Bluetooth in the car is not only de rigueur, but it now integrates with GPS, Music & Video playback, and can communicate with the car’s internal app, act as a hotspot, and generate multiple data streams to each passenger and so much more!
Having been a pre-sales engineer and evangelist in the Information Archive space for many years, more times than not I was relegated to the role of “demo dolly.” Beyond just demonstrating the product capabilities and functionality, the real high point to any successful sales call typically came when showcasing innovative and time saving features that not only displayed a better, more innovative mouse trap, but pointed to the company’s commitment to developing cutting edge code that was anticipating where the market was headed.
Several key features and innovations come to mind over the past decade:
- The ability to create savesets (the data you back up from a client in one go) and subsets of those concatenated searches, in addition to having them tie to policies for surveillance, monitoring and behavioral analytics – essentially a set of search libraries than can be hot-swapped in and out. Working hand in hand with the archive’s embedded search tool, these searches can be scheduled to run automatically or will scan in stealth mode while alerting for anomalies.
- Clustered heat maps on search results or top keyword hits that contextually organize ideas, sentiments and trends within the organization. These heat maps resemble nautical maps of small islands. By clicking on any of them, the end user can see the concentration of similar-like words, phrases and sentiments being used within the search results and company–wide. These can sometimes feed add-on behavioral analytic modules, proving helpful in either early case assessment e-Discovery or monitoring employee behavior for events such as pre-merger chatter, corporate acquisition, intellectual property, internal breaches or adverse news headlines. Clustered heat maps fall into the AI or analytics layer bolted on top of the archive’s search tool.
- Swim lanes, much like clustered heat maps (above) visually resemble a Hoberman sphere. Another graphical search result in a swim lanes, each connecting line is a communication between two individuals or groups. The thickness of the line determines the volume of traffic between individuals and groups. Understandably, a line between the CEO and COO will be thicker than an employee and HR. This visual diagram is reflecting the results in either a search or policy review queue. It is a visual indicator to quickly help find the unknown entity, a needle in a haystack or to uncover a pattern or trend. This feature proves most helpful in surveillance monitoring and e-Discovery cases.
- Contextual and native views of archived information offers the ability to index and display the data object as close to its native format as possible. In addition, critical metadata, not only within context, but captures attributes unique to the data channel (Facebook @ Work, Slack, Yammer, LinkedIn, etc.). Contextual examples include: the chat capability within a collaborative app or meeting room, but metadata unique to the application such as: login/logout of the application, emoticons, file links & transfers, screen share time, embedded chat, edited documents and meeting room interaction.
- Channel hopping. An archive that can search across multiple data types, using AI and/or machine learned analytics, can anticipate and determine internal and regulatory violations for crafty bad actors who will spread out communications across email, SMS, collaboration apps and social media. Archives that can ingest many data channels can uncover bad actors through channel hopping detection. In channel hopping insider information or breaches are parsed across multiple digital media platforms and channels, as it has historically been next to impossible to “connect the dots” across so many varied platforms – often times on platforms not deemed as approved for business use.
During product demonstrations, well developed features such as dashboards, user-customizable layouts, granular permissions, rapid contextual search and filtering tools, analytics, ergonomic/streamlined workflows, custom reports, and an easy-intuitive learning curve, would always bring the house down. Much like choosing options and trim levels in a new car, flexibility and innovative accoutrements, left the most lingering effect with buyers. The ultimate goal of the demo was to leave the audience feeling “wowed” by the possibilities eliminating the threat of buyer’s regret or remorse in future.
Carefully weigh the value of features once core functionality needs are determined
Before signing off on your company’s next archive solution, carefully weigh the value of FEATURES in any archive purchase once you’ve carefully evaluated and determined your core functionality needs. View them as a barometer of the company’s commitment to the end user experience, efficiency in workflow, and the possibility for innovation going forward. Ask yourself, are they helpful to me today or could they be helpful in the future? Most of all, determine whether those features add some level of value. Or are they merely the latest futuristic option in new cars like, “touch screen air vents” and “power ashtrays”?
As every car commercial ends, I’d be remiss if I did not say “your mileage may vary.”