Google launches compose actions to streamline access to SaaS apps in Gmail

Lately, Google has been all about shaving time off your everyday activities when sending emails. First they came out with smart responses that let you choose among several (sometimes) logical responses to the email. Next was type ahead, which guesses what you might want to type with remarkable accuracy. Today the company announced the general […]

Lately, Google has been all about shaving time off your everyday activities when sending emails. First they came out with smart responses that let you choose among several (sometimes) logical responses to the email. Next was type ahead, which guesses what you might want to type with remarkable accuracy. Today the company announced the general availability of compose actions, another way to save you a little time.

These connectors, which are part of the company’s G Suite business offering, link to your favorite SaaS applications like Box, Dropbox, Egnyte and Atlassian Jira and let you work on these service in the context of the email. Software companies have been stressing ways to keep you in the flow of your work without switching focus and that’s precisely what compose actions have been designed to do.

“Compose actions make it easy for you to add attachments, reference records, or liven up your messages with content from your favorite third-party apps right as you draft your message in Gmail,” Aakash Sahney, Google’s product manager for Gmail and Chat wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature.

You start by connecting your service of choice in G Suite using the Gmail Add-on tool. Google created Gmail Add-ons to make it simpler to integrate these third-party tools into the Gmail workflow. Once you authorize the tool, it will now appear as an option in your compose window, giving you direct access to the content without leaving Gmail. G Suite admins can create a list of authorized apps if they wish to limit the integrations to sanctioned services.

If you want to incorporate a file or folder from Box, Dropbox or Egnyte, authorize the app and then you can click the compose action that appears in the email compose window to access the service and pull in a file.

Gif: Google

With the Atlassian integration, you can insert a project file directly in the email.

Gif: Google

This may not seem like much, but it’s all in the service of reducing keystrokes and actions that tend to add up in terms of time spent over the course of a day. Instead of opening your content provider’s service, navigating or searching to the content, copying it and then pasting into the email, you can simply click the compose action and access the service directly from Gmail.

Compose actions were first announced at the Google Cloud Next conference in July. They are available for G Suite subscribers starting today.

Seva snares $2.4M seed investment to find info across cloud services

Seva, a New York City startup, that wants to help customers find content wherever it lives across SaaS products, announced a $2.4 million seed round today. Avalon Ventures led the round with participation from Studio VC and Datadog founder and CEO Olivier Pomel. Company founder and CEO Sanjay Jain says that he started this company […]

Seva, a New York City startup, that wants to help customers find content wherever it lives across SaaS products, announced a $2.4 million seed round today. Avalon Ventures led the round with participation from Studio VC and Datadog founder and CEO Olivier Pomel.

Company founder and CEO Sanjay Jain says that he started this company because he felt the frustration personally of having to hunt across different cloud services to find the information he was looking for. When he began researching the idea for the company, he found others who also complained about this fragmentation.

“Our fundamental vision is to change the way that knowledge workers acquire the information they need to do their jobs from one where they have to spend a ton of time actually seeking it out to one where the Seva platform can prescribe the right information at the right time when and where the knowledge worker actually needs it, regardless of where it lives.”

Seva, which is currently in Beta, certainly isn’t the first company to try and solve this issue. Jain believes that with a modern application of AI and machine learning and single sign-on, Seva can provide a much more user-centric approach than past solutions simply because the technology wasn’t there yet.

The way they do this is by looking across the different information types. Today they support a range of products including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive,, Box, Dropbox, Slack and JIRA, Confluence. Jain says they will be adding additional services over time.

Screenshot: Seva

Customers can link Seva to these products by simply selecting one and entering the user credentials. Seva inherits all of the security and permissioning applied to each of the services, so when it begins pulling information from different sources, it doesn’t violate any internal permissioning in the process.

Jain says once connected to these services, Seva can then start making logical connections between information wherever it lives. A salesperson might have an appointment with a customer in his or her calendar, information about the customer in a CRM and a training video related to the customer visit. It can deliver all of this information as a package, which users can share with one another within the platform, giving it a collaborative element.

Seva currently has 6 employees, but with the new funding is looking to hire a couple of more engineers to add to the team. Jain hopes the money will be a bridge to a Series A round at the end of next year by which time the product will be generally available.

PwC staves off disruption with immersive emerging tech training

The big accounting firms are under pressure from digital disruption just like every industry these days, but PwC is trying a proactive approach with a digital accelerator program designed to train employees for the next generation of jobs. To do this, PwC is not just providing some additional training resources and calling it a day. […]

The big accounting firms are under pressure from digital disruption just like every industry these days, but PwC is trying a proactive approach with a digital accelerator program designed to train employees for the next generation of jobs.

To do this, PwC is not just providing some additional training resources and calling it a day. They are allowing employees to take 18 months to two years to completely immerse themselves in learning about a new area. This involves spending half their time on training for their new skill development and half putting that new knowledge to work with clients.

PwC’s Sarah McEneaney, digital talent leader at PwC was put in charge of the program. She said that as a consulting organization, it was important to really focus on the providing a new set of skills for the entire group of employees. That would take a serious commitment, concentrating on a set of emerging technologies. They decided to focus on data and analytics, automation and robotics and AI and machine learning.

Ray Wang, who is founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says this is part of a broader trend around preparing employees inside large organizations for future skills. “Almost every organization around the world is worried about the growing skills gap inside their organizations. Reskilling, continuous learning and hand-on training are back in vogue with the improved economy and war for talent,” he said.

PwC program takes shape

About a year ago the company began designing the program and decided to open it up to everyone in the company from the consulting staff to the support staff with goal of eventually providing a new set of skills across the entire organization of 50,000 employees. As you would expect with a large organization, that started with baby steps.

Graphic: Duncan_Andison/Getty Images

The company designed the new program as a self-nomination process, rather than having management picked candidates. They wanted self starters, and about 3500 applied. McEneaney considered this a good number, especially since PwC tends to be a risk-averse culture and this was asking employees to leave the normal growth track and take a chance with this new program. Out of the 3500 who applied, they did an initial pilot with 1000 people.

She estimates if a majority of the company’s employees eventually opt in to this retraining regimen, it could cost some serious cash, around $100 million. That’s not an insignificant sum, even for a large company like PwC, but McEneaney believes it should pay for itself fairly quickly. As she put it, customers will respect the fact that the company is modernizing and looking at more efficient ways to do the work they are doing today.

Making it happen

Daniel Krogen, a risk assurance associate at PwC decided to go on the data and analytics track. While he welcomed getting new skills from his company, he admits he was nervous going this route at first because of the typical way his industry has worked in the past. “In the accounting industry you come in and have a track and everyone follows the track. I was worried doing something unique could hinder me if I wasn’t following track,” he said.

Graphic: Feodora Chiosea/Getty Images

He says those fears were alleviated by senior management encouraging people to join this program and giving participants assurances that they would not be penalized. “The firm is dedicated to pushing this and having how we differentiate this against the industry, and we want to invest in all of our staff and push everyone through this,” Krogen said.

McEneaney says she’s a partner at the firm, but it took a change management sell to the executive team and really getting them to look at it as a long-term investment in the future of the business. “I would say a critical factor in the early success of the program has been having buy-in from our senior partner, our CEO and all of his team from the very start,” She reports directly to this team and sees their support and backing as critical to the early success of the program.

Getting real

Members of the program are given a 3-day orientation. After that they follow a self-directed course work. They are encouraged to work together with other people in the program, and this is especially important since people will bring a range of skills to the subject matter from absolute beginners to those with more advanced understanding. People can meet in an office if they are in the same area or a coffee shop or in an online meeting as they prefer.

Each member of the program participates in a Udacity nano-degree program, learning a new set of skills related to whatever technology speciality they have chosen. “We have a pretty flexible culture here…and we trust our people to work in ways that work for them and work together in ways that work for them,” McEneaney explained.

The initial program was presented as a 12-18 month digital accelerator tour of duty, Krogen said. “In those 12-18 months, we are dedicated to this program. We could choose another stint or go back to client work and bring those skills to client services that we previously provided.”

While this program is really just getting off the ground, it’s a step toward acknowledging the changing face of business and technology. Companies like PwC need to be proactive in terms of preparing their own employees for the next generation of jobs, and that’s something every organization should be considering.

Epsagon emerges from stealth with serverless monitoring tool

Epsagon, an Israeli startup, launched today with a new serverless tool that helps customers monitor infrastructure, even when they don’t know where or what that is. That’s the nature of serverless of course. It involves ephemeral resources. Developers build a series of event triggers and the cloud vendor spins up the necessary resources as needed. […]

Epsagon, an Israeli startup, launched today with a new serverless tool that helps customers monitor infrastructure, even when they don’t know where or what that is.

That’s the nature of serverless of course. It involves ephemeral resources. Developers build a series of event triggers and the cloud vendor spins up the necessary resources as needed. The beauty of that approach is programmers just codes without worrying about infrastructure, but the downside is that operations doesn’t have any way of controlling or understanding that infrastructure.

Epsagon is trying to solve that problem by giving visibility into serverless architecture. “What the company does, essentially is distributed tracing, observability and cost monitoring for serverless. We’ve been laying low for awhile, and now is actually the official launch of the company,” CEO and co-founder Nitzan Shapira told TechCrunch.

With serverless you can’t use an agent because you don’t know where to put it. There is no fixed server to attach it to. This makes using traditional logging tools inappropriate. Epsagon gets around this problem with an agentless approach using libraries. Shapria says the company will be open sourcing these libraries to make them more attractive to developers.

For starters, the company is supporting AWS Lambda, but plans to expand to other cloud platforms next year. First you sign up for Epsagon, enter your AWS credentials and it immediately begins providing some information about performance in the Epsagon dashboard. But Shapira says the real value comes from the libraries. “We have this library that is essentially the instrumentation, which acts in the same way an agent does,” he explained.

Screenshot: Epsagon

The product does more than simply provide traditional monitoring data though. It also allows customers to understand what they are spending. With serverless, the cloud company provides you resources as required, which is convenient, but could also spiral out of control quickly from a cost perspective. Epsagon lets you see exactly what you’re paying.

The company is still playing with pricing, but they are using a self-service approach for starters. You go and sign up on their website and there are a variety of pricing options starting with a free tier. All of the tiers have a free two-week trial.

Epsagon, which is based in Tel Aviv, currently has 11 employees. They are in the process of opening a US office where they will establish sales, marketing and support operations. They raised $4 million led by Lightspeed Venture Partners in January.

Epsagon emerges from stealth with serverless monitoring tool

Epsagon, an Israeli startup, launched today with a new serverless tool that helps customers monitor infrastructure, even when they don’t know where or what that is. That’s the nature of serverless of course. It involves ephemeral resources. Developers build a series of event triggers and the cloud vendor spins up the necessary resources as needed. […]

Epsagon, an Israeli startup, launched today with a new serverless tool that helps customers monitor infrastructure, even when they don’t know where or what that is.

That’s the nature of serverless of course. It involves ephemeral resources. Developers build a series of event triggers and the cloud vendor spins up the necessary resources as needed. The beauty of that approach is programmers just codes without worrying about infrastructure, but the downside is that operations doesn’t have any way of controlling or understanding that infrastructure.

Epsagon is trying to solve that problem by giving visibility into serverless architecture. “What the company does, essentially is distributed tracing, observability and cost monitoring for serverless. We’ve been laying low for awhile, and now is actually the official launch of the company,” CEO and co-founder Nitzan Shapira told TechCrunch.

With serverless you can’t use an agent because you don’t know where to put it. There is no fixed server to attach it to. This makes using traditional logging tools inappropriate. Epsagon gets around this problem with an agentless approach using libraries. Shapria says the company will be open sourcing these libraries to make them more attractive to developers.

For starters, the company is supporting AWS Lambda, but plans to expand to other cloud platforms next year. First you sign up for Epsagon, enter your AWS credentials and it immediately begins providing some information about performance in the Epsagon dashboard. But Shapira says the real value comes from the libraries. “We have this library that is essentially the instrumentation, which acts in the same way an agent does,” he explained.

Screenshot: Epsagon

The product does more than simply provide traditional monitoring data though. It also allows customers to understand what they are spending. With serverless, the cloud company provides you resources as required, which is convenient, but could also spiral out of control quickly from a cost perspective. Epsagon lets you see exactly what you’re paying.

The company is still playing with pricing, but they are using a self-service approach for starters. You go and sign up on their website and there are a variety of pricing options starting with a free tier. All of the tiers have a free two-week trial.

Epsagon, which is based in Tel Aviv, currently has 11 employees. They are in the process of opening a US office where they will establish sales, marketing and support operations. They raised $4 million led by Lightspeed Venture Partners in January.

Paperspace scores $13M investment for AI-fueled application development platform

Paperspace wants to help developers build artificial intelligence and machine learning applications with a software/hardware development platform powered by GPUs and other powerful chips. Today, the Winter 2015 Y Combinator grads announced a $13 million Series A. Battery Ventures led the round with participation from SineWave Ventures, Intel Capital and Sorenson Ventures. Existing investor Initialized […]

Paperspace wants to help developers build artificial intelligence and machine learning applications with a software/hardware development platform powered by GPUs and other powerful chips. Today, the Winter 2015 Y Combinator grads announced a $13 million Series A.

Battery Ventures led the round with participation from SineWave Ventures, Intel Capital and Sorenson Ventures. Existing investor Initialized Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total amount to $19 million raised.

Dharmesh Thakker, a general partner with Battery Ventures sees Paperspace as being in the right place at the time. As AI and machine learning take off, developers need a set of tools and GPU-fueled hardware to process it all. “Major silicon, systems and Web-scale computing providers need a cloud-based solution and software ‘glue’ to make deep learning truly consumable by data-driven organizations, and Paperspace is helping to provide that,” Thakker said in a statement.

Paperspace provides its own GPU-powered servers to help in this regard, but co-founder and CEO Dillon Erb says they aren’t trying to compete with the big cloud vendors. They offer more than a hardware solution to customers. Last spring, the company released Gradient, a serverless tool to make it easier to deploy and manage AI and machine learning workloads.

By making Gradient a serverless management tool, customers don’t have to think about the underlying infrastructure. Instead, Paperspace handles all of that for them providing the resources as needed. “We do a lot of GPU compute, but the big focus right now and really where the investors are buying into with this fundraise, is the idea that we are in a really unique position to build out a software layer and abstract a lot of that infrastructure away [for our customers],” Erb told TechCrunch.

He says that building some of the infrastructure was an important early step, but they aren’t trying to compete with the cloud vendors. They are trying to provide a set of tools to help developers build complex AI and machine learning/deep learning applications, whether it’s on their own infrastructure or on the mainstream cloud providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

What’s more, they have moved beyond GPUs to support a range of powerful chips being developed to support AI and machine learning workloads. It’s probably one of the reasons that Intel joined as an investor in this round.

He says the funding is definitely a validation of something they set out to work on when they first started this in 2014 and launched out of Y Combinator in 2015. Back then he had to explain what a GPU was in his pitch decks. He doesn’t have to do that anymore, but there is still plenty of room to grow in this space.

“It’s really a greenfield opportunity, and we want to be the go-to platform that you can start building out into the intelligent applications without thinking about infrastructure.” With $13 million in hand, it’s safe to say that they are on their way.

Jeff Bezos is just fine taking the Pentagon’s $10B JEDI cloud contract

Some tech companies might have a problem taking money from the Department of Defense, but Amazon isn’t one of them, as CEO Jeff Bezos made clear today at the Wired25 conference. Just last week, Google pulled out of the running for the Pentagon’s $10 billion, 10-year JEDI cloud contract, but Bezos suggested that he was happy […]

Some tech companies might have a problem taking money from the Department of Defense, but Amazon isn’t one of them, as CEO Jeff Bezos made clear today at the Wired25 conference. Just last week, Google pulled out of the running for the Pentagon’s $10 billion, 10-year JEDI cloud contract, but Bezos suggested that he was happy to take the government’s money.

Bezos has been surprisingly quiet about the contract up until now, but his company has certainly attracted plenty of attention from the companies competing for the JEDI deal. Just last week IBM filed a formal protest with the Government Accountability Office claiming that the contract was stacked in favor one vendor. And while it didn’t name it directly, the clear implication was that company was the one owned by Bezos.

Last summer Oracle also filed a protest and also complained that they believed the government had set up the contract to favor Amazon, a charge spokesperson Heather Babb denied. “The JEDI Cloud final RFP reflects the unique and critical needs of DOD, employing the best practices of competitive pricing and security. No vendors have been pre-selected,” she said last month.

While competitors are clearly worried about Amazon, which has a substantial lead in the cloud infrastructure market, the company itself has kept quiet on the deal until now. Bezos set his company’s support in patriotic terms and one of leadership.

“Sometimes one of the jobs of the senior leadership team is to make the right decision, even when it’s unpopular. And if if big tech companies are going to turn their back on the US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” he said.

“I know everyone is conflicted about the current politics in this country, but this country is a gem,” he added.

While Google tried to frame its decision as taking a principled stand against misuse of technology by the government, Bezos chose another tack, stating that all technology can be used for good or ill. “Technologies are always two-sided. You know there are ways they can be misused as well as used, and this isn’t new,” Bezos told Wired25.

He’s not wrong of course, but it’s hard not to look at the size of the contract and see it as purely a business decision on his part. Amazon is as hot for that $10 billion contract as any of its competitors. What’s different in this talk is that Bezos made it sound like a purely patriotic decision, rather than economic one.

The Pentagon’s JEDI contract could have a value of up to $10 billion with a maximum length of 10 years. The contract is framed as a two year deal with two three-year options and a final one for two years. The DOD can opt out before exercising any of the options.

Bidding for the contract closed last Friday. The DOD is expected to choose the winning vendor next April.

Celonis brings intelligent process automation software to cloud

Celonis has been helping companies analyze and improve their internal processes using machine learning. Today the company announced it was providing that same solution as a cloud service with a few nifty improvements you won’t find on prem. The new approach, called Celonis Intelligent Business Cloud, allows customers to analyze a workflow, find inefficiencies and […]

Celonis has been helping companies analyze and improve their internal processes using machine learning. Today the company announced it was providing that same solution as a cloud service with a few nifty improvements you won’t find on prem.

The new approach, called Celonis Intelligent Business Cloud, allows customers to analyze a workflow, find inefficiencies and offer improvements very quickly. Companies typically follow a workflow that has developed over time and very rarely think about why it developed the way it did, or how to fix it. If they do, it usually involves bringing in consultants to help. Celonis puts software and machine learning to bear on the problem.

Co-founder and CEO Alexander Rinke says that his company deals with massive volumes of data and moving all of that to the cloud makes sense. “With Intelligent Business Cloud, we will unlock that [on prem data], bring it to the cloud in a very efficient infrastructure and provide much more value on top of it,” he told TechCrunch.

The idea is to speed up the whole ingestion process, allowing a company to see the inefficiencies in their business processes very quickly. Rinke says it starts with ingesting data from sources such as Salesforce or SAP and then creating a visual view of the process flow. There may be hundreds of variants from the main process workflow, but you can see which ones would give you the most value to change, based on the number of times the variation occurs.

Screenshot: Celonis

By packaging the Celonis tools as a cloud service, they are reducing the complexity of running and managing it. They are also introducing an app store with over 300 pre-packaged options for popular products like Salesforce and ServiceNow and popular process like order to cash. This should also help get customers up and running much more quickly.

New Celonis App Store. Screenshot: Celonis

The cloud service also includes an Action Engine, which Rinke describes as a big step toward moving Celonis from being purely analytical to operational. “Action Engine focuses on changing and improving processes. It gives workers concrete info on what to do next. For example in process analysis, it would notice on time delivery isn’t great because order to cash is to slow. It helps accelerate changes in system configuration,” he explained.

Celonis Action Engine. Screenshot: Celonis

The new cloud service is available today. Celonis was founded in 2011. It has raised over $77 million. The most recent round was a $50 million Series B on a valuation over $1 billion.

Celonis brings intelligent process automation software to cloud

Celonis has been helping companies analyze and improve their internal processes using machine learning. Today the company announced it was providing that same solution as a cloud service with a few nifty improvements you won’t find on prem. The new approach, called Celonis Intelligent Business Cloud, allows customers to analyze a workflow, find inefficiencies and […]

Celonis has been helping companies analyze and improve their internal processes using machine learning. Today the company announced it was providing that same solution as a cloud service with a few nifty improvements you won’t find on prem.

The new approach, called Celonis Intelligent Business Cloud, allows customers to analyze a workflow, find inefficiencies and offer improvements very quickly. Companies typically follow a workflow that has developed over time and very rarely think about why it developed the way it did, or how to fix it. If they do, it usually involves bringing in consultants to help. Celonis puts software and machine learning to bear on the problem.

Co-founder and CEO Alexander Rinke says that his company deals with massive volumes of data and moving all of that to the cloud makes sense. “With Intelligent Business Cloud, we will unlock that [on prem data], bring it to the cloud in a very efficient infrastructure and provide much more value on top of it,” he told TechCrunch.

The idea is to speed up the whole ingestion process, allowing a company to see the inefficiencies in their business processes very quickly. Rinke says it starts with ingesting data from sources such as Salesforce or SAP and then creating a visual view of the process flow. There may be hundreds of variants from the main process workflow, but you can see which ones would give you the most value to change, based on the number of times the variation occurs.

Screenshot: Celonis

By packaging the Celonis tools as a cloud service, they are reducing the complexity of running and managing it. They are also introducing an app store with over 300 pre-packaged options for popular products like Salesforce and ServiceNow and popular process like order to cash. This should also help get customers up and running much more quickly.

New Celonis App Store. Screenshot: Celonis

The cloud service also includes an Action Engine, which Rinke describes as a big step toward moving Celonis from being purely analytical to operational. “Action Engine focuses on changing and improving processes. It gives workers concrete info on what to do next. For example in process analysis, it would notice on time delivery isn’t great because order to cash is to slow. It helps accelerate changes in system configuration,” he explained.

Celonis Action Engine. Screenshot: Celonis

The new cloud service is available today. Celonis was founded in 2011. It has raised over $77 million. The most recent round was a $50 million Series B on a valuation over $1 billion.

Anaplan hits the ground running with strong stock market debut up over 42 percent

You might think that Anaplan CEO, Frank Calderoni would have had a few sleepless nights this week. His company picked a bad week to go public as market instability rocked tech stocks. Still he wasn’t worried, and today the company had by any measure a successful debut with the stock soaring up over 42 percent. […]

You might think that Anaplan CEO, Frank Calderoni would have had a few sleepless nights this week. His company picked a bad week to go public as market instability rocked tech stocks. Still he wasn’t worried, and today the company had by any measure a successful debut with the stock soaring up over 42 percent. As of 4 pm ET, it hit $24.18, up from the IPO price of $17. Not a bad way to launch your company.

Stock Chart: Yahoo Finance

“I feel good because it really shows the quality of the company, the business model that we have and how we’ve been able to build a growing successful business, and I think it provides us with a tremendous amount of opportunity going forward,” Calderoni told TechCrunch.

Calderoni joined the company a couple of years ago, and seemed to emerge from Silicon Valley central casting as former CFO at Red Hat and Cisco along with stints at IBM and SanDisk. He said he has often wished that there were a tool around like Anaplan when he was in charge of a several thousand person planning operation at Cisco. He indicated that while they were successful, it could have been even more so with a tool like Anaplan.

“The planning phase has not had much change in in several decades. I’ve been part of it and I’ve dealt with a lot of the pain. And so having something like Anaplan, I see it’s really being a disrupter in the planning space because of the breadth of the platform that we have. And then it goes across organizations to sales, supply chain, HR and finance, and as we say, really connects the data, the people and the plan to make for better decision making as a result of all that,” he said.

Calderoni describes Anaplan as a planning and data analysis tool. In his previous jobs he says that he spent a ton of time just gathering data and making sure they had the right data, but precious little time on analysis. In his view Anaplan, lets companies concentrate more on the crucial analysis phase.

“Anaplan allows customers to really spend their time on what I call forward planning where they can start to run different scenarios and be much more predictive, and hopefully be able to, as we’ve seen a lot of our customers do, forecast more accurately,” he said.

Anaplan was founded in 2006 and raised almost $300 million along the way. It achieved a lofty valuation of $1.5 billion in its last round, which was $60 million in 2017. The company has just under 1000 customers including Del Monte, VMware, Box and United.

Calderoni says although the company has 40 percent of its business outside the US, there are plenty of markets left to conquer and they hope to use today’s cash infusion in part to continue to expand into a worldwide company.