Tag Archives: networking

Lotusphere 2012: IBM Demonstrates the Power of the Platform, Simplified

This entry was cross-posted from Meanders: The Dow Brook Blog.

Software analysts and buyers have historically favored platforms over application suites and stand-alone applications. Why? Because platforms offer both a rich set of pre-integrated functionality and the ability to add or build new features and applications, some of which may be extensively customized for an organization.

IBM has long been considered a platform provider of enterprise software, particularly in the infrastructure and middleware categories. More recently, IBM has evolved from being a vendor of a collaboration suite (Quickr) to a provider of multiple integrated, extensible offerings for enterprise collaboration, social networking, messaging, content sharing and management, and customer- and employee-facing web experience management. IBM’s vision for for this confederation of offerings, codenamed ‘Project Vulcan’, was first articulated at Lotusphere 2010. Last year’s Lotusphere presented initial, limited evidence that the vision was becoming reality.

Lotusphere 2012, held last week, showcased IBM’s latest efforts at unifying its interaction platform. IBM previewed the upcoming releases of its Connections, Notes/Domino, and Customer and Intranet Web Experience offerings. As one would expect from a platform software provider, each of these products works with the others out of the box. However, IBM, has gone beyond merely providing integration between the separate offerings by embedding functionality from each into the others. For example, IBM customers who have licensed both Connections and Notes will soon be able to send and receive email from within Connections, and, conversely, consumers will be able to view and interact with the Connections activity stream from within Notes.

The increasing power of the IBM interaction platform was further underscored by demonstrations of related, integrated and embedded functional services from its Quickr collaboration, Content Manager and FileNet enterprise content management, and Cognos analytics offerings. This extended scope of the Project Vulcan vision is what sets IBM apart from other platform software vendors, and it was good to see IBM articulating and demonstrating that differentiation at Lotusphere.

Death of a Tradeoff

We, as an industry, have assumed the existence of a tradeoff between rich functionality and simple, intuitive user experiences. Conventional wisdom says that as more features are added, the resulting complexity degrades the user experience, forcing software architects and designers to find an optimal balance between functionality and usability. The tradeoff has traditionally been managed in one of two ways: 1) by creating simple, single-purpose applications that are not overloaded with functionality, or 2) by partitioning functionality into multiple, related applications in a suite. Platforms have largely not attempted to manage this tradeoff at all for developers/designers, administrators, or consumers. Not only is the platform’s complexity on full display; it is generally promoted as a benefit.

IBM’s implementation of its Project Vulcan vision has, for perhaps the first time, obviated the long-held tradeoff between functionality and ease-of-use at the platform level. The versions of Connections, Notes/Domino, and the Web Experience offerings that where announced and demonstrated at Lotusphere 2012 (and will be released over the course of this year) are both feature-rich and highly usable. Each offering has had its user interface redesigned, yielding a cleaner look that is more consistent across the interaction platform. Additionally, the new user interface designs are simpler than their predecessors and, in effect, minimize the complexity created by IBM’s extended integration and embedding of functionality from related software offerings.

This harmonious co-existence of broad, advanced functionality and a consumer-friendly computing experience is what makes IBM’s interaction platform really different and powerful. The first public glimpse of this next-generation enterprise software came during the Lotusphere 2012 Opening General Session, when Connections Next was demonstrated by its Lead Project Manager, Suzanne Livingston. My reaction, a tweet that was later displayed before the beginning of the Closing General Session, sums up the impact of IBM’s work on its interaction platform over the last year:

Dow Brook’s Point-Of-View

While there is more work to be done, IBM should be proud of the next-generation interaction platform it is bringing to market. Lotusphere 2012 demonstrated that IBM is in good position to be a provider of choice for social business software. The work that they’ve done over the last year strongly differentiates their interaction platform and should positively affect its adoption by customers. IBM’s refusal to acknowledge the old, limiting tradeoff between platform complexity and user experience should accelerate the consolidation of the Enterprise Social Software market in the second half of 2012. It may also more firmly establish IBM as a leader in the Web Experience software category and spark renewed interest in its Notes/Domino messaging and Sametime unified communications offerings.

Disclosure: IBM is a client of Dow Brook’s Insight OnDemand subscription advisory service and paid the author’s registration and hotel expenses related to Lotusphere 2012 attendance.

Telligent Gains Leverage on Its Cloud and Mobile Roadmaps

Telligent Systems, Inc. announced on Monday that it had acquired Leverage Software, a competing provider of enterprise social capabilities used to support communities and customer relationship management efforts (see press release). The deal closed at around 10:00am CST, after about two months of discussions and paperwork, according to Telligent’s Founder and CTO, Rob Howard, and Wendy Gibson, Telligent’s CMO. Leverage’s brand and people will be integrated into Telligent starting immediately, and technology integration will occur some time in 2012.

At first glance, this seemed like a straight-forward acquisition with a clear purpose. That initial impression was validated upon speaking with Howard and Gibson shortly after the news broke. Telligent gains several strategic pieces that will strengthen its offerings through the acquisition of Leverage, including cloud, mobile, and analytics technology; people with .NET and iOS development skills; and some marquee customers.

The single largest impact of the acquisition will be an accelerated delivery of Telligent’s cloud offerings roadmap. Telligent Community is available today in a hosted, single-tenant version only. Leverage Software’s platform was built on a multi-tenant SaaS architecture in 2003, so they have extensive experience in the cloud. Both vendor’s products and services are built on .NET and other Microsoft technologies, which should ease the transformation of Telligent Community (and, most likely, Enterprise) to a multi-tenant architecture. Additionally, the rich API set of Telligent’s Evolution platform should speed the integration of the vendors’ offerings in the near term. When asked, Howard noted that Telligent will continue its existing, early-stage efforts to build and deliver functionality on Microsoft’s Azure infrastructure.

Telligent’s mobile capabilities will also receive a boost from the Leverage Software acquisition. Leverage has developed an iOS-native version of Leverage Community, which is sold through Apple’s iTunes Store. Earlier this year, Telligent introduced tools in its Evolution platform that extend Telligent Community and Telligent Enterprise to Apple’s iPhone, as well as Blackberry and Android devices. However, Telligent does not offer device-specific versions of its products. With their experience, Leverage’s developers should be able to change that fairly quickly, at least for iPhone and iPad. Telligent has previously discussed plans to build HTML5-compliant versions of its community applications as well.

Leverage Software claims to support 250 communities, with 15% of the Fortune 100 as customers. Well-known brands such as The Home Depot, Pearson, and Wells Fargo have demonstrated the scalability and effectiveness of Leverage’s technology. Telligent’s Gibson remarked that they are very pleased to be adding Leverage’s customers to their portfolio and that they would begin on-boarding them soon after the brands have been united.

Unlike some of its more marketing driven competitors, Telligent has grown its business the old-fashioned way, by quietly delivering a platform and applications that have helped customers meet well-defined, community-centric business objectives. The company has a loyal and highly enthusiastic customer base. Now, with the acquired assets of Leverage Software, Telligent is poised to accelerate its growth, as well as the success of its customers and their internal and external communities.

One other thing has been accelerated as a result of this acquisition – the consolidation of the Enterprise Social Software market. It will be interesting to watch Telligent in 2012, as it will likely make other acquisitions in order to offer additional functionality on its platform. Telligent would also be an attractive acquisition for a larger vendor seeking an extensible, Microsoft-centric enterprise social software platform. Either way, next year will be an interesting one for Telligent and its customers.

This entry was cross-posted from Meanders: The Dow Brook Blog. Telligent Systems, Inc. is a Dow Brook Advisory Services client.

Fifth Annual Enterprise 2.0 Conference Illuminates Current State of Social in Organizations

Milestone birthdays customarily spark reflection on the past and future of the celebrant. The Enterprise 2.0 Conference celebrated its 5th birthday last week with a solid program of pre-conference workshops, keynote speeches, and breakout sessions. The event, as always, provided attendees with a good feel for both the current state, as well as the future, of enterprise social software, networking, and business. This post will focus on insights, gleaned from the conference, about the here and now of social in the enterprise. A subsequent post will address the implications for its future.

Practice: A Bias Toward “How”

An early observation from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference was that several of the most visible “doers” of enterprise social were not participating this year. Dion Hinchcliffe, Gia Lyons, and David Armano (among others) were too busy helping customers plan and deliver enterprise social initiatives to attend. Their absence is, of course, a positive indicator of the current interest in, and embrace of, social activity in organizations.

Those who were at the conference also voiced a bias toward action. One of the most commonly heard pieces of feedback on the event was that the content focused too much on selling and justifying the concepts of E2.0 and social business. Attendees were looking for more information and knowledge about how to use social to successfully achieve business objectives. To paraphrase one attendee’s tweet, we get why, but thirst for how.

One tell-tale sign of this sentiment was the prevalence of the topic of adoption in informal conversations, despite it’s (intentional?) exclusion from the official E2.0 Conference program. Perhaps the early adopters who have attended multiple iterations of the conference have largely moved beyond adoption concerns, but the fresh faces at the event have not and asked for more of the kind of guidance provided in the pre-conference Practitioner’s Black Belt workshop.

Another indication of the need to understand how, as opposed to why, was the enthusiastically positive reactions to the conference sessions that dealt with topics such as organizational design and behavior, leadership, and performance management. Past E2.0 Conferences have conveniently put forth organizational culture as a bogey man standing in the way of adopting social behaviors and tools, without offering ways to affect cultural transformation. Several of this year’s sessions addressed concrete aspects of organizational change management. Most notable were the remarks delivered by Cisco’s Jim Grubb, Sara Roberts of Roberts Golden, Electronic Arts’ Bert Sandie, Deb Lavoy from OpenText, Amy Wilson of Wilson Insight, and Altimeter Group Fellow Marcia Connor.

Technology: Focus on Integration

It was clear before the conference even began that the topic of integration of newer social technologies with well-established enterprise systems would be front and center this year. While that topic was in the spotlight, the current lack of meaningful integration stood out against the talk of plans to integrate enterprise social software with other applications, systems, and business processes. The harsh truth is that the current crop of enterprise social software is dominated by stand-alone applications and suites – collaboration destinations that are not in the flow of work for most and that have created new silos of information and knowledge in organizations.

Enterprise social software vendors have begun to build and offer integrations between their systems of engagement and established systems of record (to use Geoffrey Moore’s crystal-clear terms) such as Enterprise Resource Planning, Customer Relationship Management, and Enterprise Content Management. However, most of these integrations assume that the social application/suite will be the place where people do the majority of their work. Data and information from other enterprise systems are brought into the social layer, where it can be commented upon and shared (socialized) with others. This flies in the face of reality, as evidenced by the limited success of enterprise portals deployments intended to create a personalized aggregation layer sitting on top of existing enterprise systems. People want to communicate and collaborate with others in the original context of specific business tasks. Accordingly, social technology should be embedded (or, at least, exposed) in the systems of record where decisions are made and business process activities are completed, not the other way around.

It was interesting to observe that the need to integrate with systems of record was primarily voiced by enterprise social software vendors exhibiting at the E2.0 Conference. Those vendors claimed that their customers are demanding these integrations, but the topic did not prominently appear in customer-led sessions or conversations. Only one system of record was universally identified as a critical integration point – Microsoft SharePoint. This observation seems to underscore deploying organizations’ preference to communicate and collaborate directly in systems of record.

There was also much discussion of the need to integrate social into business processes themselves. A prominent theme from the E2.0 Conference was that enterprise social software can, and should, support specific business processes to make them more transparent and efficient. Presentations and vendor demos at the event revealed that the current generation of enterprise social software can effectively speed resolution of process exceptions through expertise location and engagement features. However, integration with normal business process activity is essentially non-existent in most enterprise social software offerings, and the vision of social process support remains unfulfilled.

Summary

The 2011 Enterprise 2.0 Conference Boston was a very well run event that provided attendees with a fairly clear picture of the current state of enterprise social practices and technologies. It is clear that practitioners are past experimenting with social concepts and technologies and have moved on to applying them in their organizations. However, it also clear that practitioners need more information on how to organize for, lead, and incent social business practices. Social technology adoption remains a key concern for the second wave of adopters.

Over the last 5 years, enterprise social software has matured and added functionality needed to build comprehensive, enterprise-ready systems of engagement. However, integration of that functionality into the flow of work – within traditional enterprise systems of record and business processes – has yet to be achieved. It will be interesting to see if that marriage of social and transactional systems can be accomplished. If it can, we will have created next-generation technology that supports a new, better way of working.

This entry was cross-posted from Meanders: The Dow Brook Blog