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Lotusphere 2011: IBM at a Crossroads

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

I was fortunate to attend Lotusphere 2011 (#ls11) last week in its entirety, quite by accident. I was scheduled to leave after the official program for analysts ended at Noon on Wednesday, but Mother Nature buried Massachusetts in about 18 inches of snow that day. My flight home was canceled, and I was rebooked on another one leaving Friday night. As a result, I was able to have some additional meetings with IBM executives and other attendees, and to soak in more conference sessions.

Attending the entire conference enriched me with perspective on several areas of both Lotus’ and IBM’s larger business strategy and offerings. I will summarize what I learned in this post, with the goal of perhaps exploring some of the individual topics further in subsequent posts.

IBM and Social Business

To the surprise of many in attendance, a strong, vocal embrace of the concept of social business came not only from all the Lotus Vice Presidents, but from a senior corporate-level IBM executive as well. SVP of Marketing Jon Iwata spoke at a keynote session entitled “Becoming a Social Business”. While he eloquently  and passionately spoke about how IBM is rapidly becoming a social business itself, he also told a story that revealed a strong, and nearly unanimous, level of initial resistance from the company’s senior leadership team.

Another conflicting signal was the marketing strategy revelation that the Social Business positioning (and budget) is buried inside of IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative, which will potentially minimize the impact of the social business message to IBM customers and the broader market. The nested positioning suggests to me that there are still those among IBM’s leadership that are not ready bet the company on social business.

Lotus Software Portfolio Integration

The Lotus division has executed very well to make parts of the Project Vulcan vision introduced last year at Lotusphere real and available to customers. The general session presentations made it clear that Lotus Notes is intended to be the primary interface through which IBM’s integrated collaboration and social functionality will be exposed. However, IBM also articulated and demonstrated that its “Social Everywhere” strategy, which was presented at Lotusphere 2010, is very much alive and well. That was done by talking about and showing the following integrated solutions.

Exceptional Web Experience

The Exceptional Web Experience solution is made tangible in software through the Customer Experience Suite (CES), which was launched in November 2010. The CES combines portal, content management, commerce, forms, analytics, and other software assets from multiple IBM brands into an offering that enables the rapid design, monitoring, and customization of customer-facing websites.

At Lotusphere, IBM demonstrated momentum for this young initiative by featuring customer testimonials as a key piece of a general session entitled “Client Panel – Exceptional Web Experience”, as well as in individual breakout sessions. These customer presentations communicated specific business performance and ROI results attributable to CES use. This data was great to see, and it made a compelling argument for the CES. It also left me wishing that we had comparable data regarding the use of IBM social software inside of organizations.

Exceptional Work Experience

IBM does have a parallel initiative to the Exceptional Web Experience in the works, but has not yet announced a solution bundle for it. The Exceptional Work Experience initiative will focus on enabling social collaboration within organizations. It most likely will feature software assets from various IBM brands, including Lotus (Connections and Quickr) Enterprise Content Management (Content Manager and FileNet), Websphere (Portal), SPSS, Cognos, and Coremetrics.

At Lotusphere 2011, IBM used the term “Exceptional Work Experience” in session labels and in content presented during sessions, but never defined an offering. As a result, some customers that I spoke with were confused about IBM’s strategy for supporting social business within organizations. IBM will need to quickly clarify that strategy and announce a holistic, enabling solution along the lines of the Customer Experience Suite to better support its customers’ efforts to transform internal operations in line with social business principles.

Social Content Management

IBM sowed confusion in another area as well at Lotusphere 2011. In a breakout session given by IBM employees, entitled “Extending Social Collaboration with Enterprise Content”, IBM introduced a new positioning for its combined enterprise social and content management capabilities – “Social Content Management”. This is a market positioning statement, not a branded solution, that features integration between Lotus social/collaboration applications and technologies from IBM’s Enterprise Content Management group. The presenters defined Social Content Management as seamless content creation and collaboration, in social & ECM environments, supported by open standards.

In reality, there was little new other than the category label, as both the vision and specific technology integrations presented were a rehash of Lotusphere 2010 content. The session presenters articulated and demonstrated how organizations can manage content created in social software (Lotus Quickr and Connections) with the same IBM technologies currently used to manage documents (IBM Content Manager and FileNet).

The one new piece of information in this session was a bit of a shocker – IBM does not believe that CMIS is usable in its current state. The session presenters said that the CMIS standard is not mature enough yet for them to use it to provide the depth of integration they can with proprietary connectors. Therefore, for now, IBM will continue to integrate its social and content management technologies via proprietary code, rather than using the open standard (CMIS) that the company’s own definition of Social Content Management prescribes. This is especially surprising because IBM is one of the founding members of the OASIS CMIS Technical Committee, along with EMC and Microsoft.

Enhancements to Individual Lotus Collaboration Offerings

IBM’s strategy is to create multiple points of integration between its social, collaboration, and content management offerings (among others), but it will continue to sell individual products alongside the solution bundles it is creating. The company announced a number of upcoming functional enhancements to its products at Lotusphere 2011.

Lotus Connections

Lotus Connections 3.0 was released in on November 24, 2010, bringing enhancements in the areas of social analytics, Communities, stand-along Forums, mobility, and cloud delivery. IBM executed well on this release, bringing to market everything it had announced at Lotusphere 2010.

The next release of Connections, due in Q2, will introduce Communities and Forum moderation capabilities, a photo and video gallery with sharing features, idea blogs, and the integration of Communities with ECM repositories. Additional functionality, including an Event Aggregator that brings events from other enterprise applications into Lotus applications’ activity streams, shared walls and calendars in Communities, in-context viewing of documents on the Home page, and improved adoption tracking metrics and reporting, will be released later in 2011 (most likely during Q4.)

The most important announcement concerning Lotus Connections made at Lotusphere was not about home-grown functionality. IBM announced a partnership with Actiance (formerly FaceTime) that will immediately make available to IBM customers the Actiance Compliance Module for IBM Lotus Connections. This module will enable organizations in regulated industries to define and apply social media policies, as well as monitor social content in real-time for compliance with those policies. It was important for IBM to fill this gap in Connections functionality, because Big Blue has many customers in the financial services sector, and other  regulated industries, that have taken a very cautious approach to adopting social software. The Actiance partnership should help increase IBM’s sales of Lotus Connections to marquee customers.

Lotus Quickr

There was relatively little news regarding Lotus Quickr at Lotusphere 2011. It was most often mentioned as an integration point with Lotus Connections, IBM Content Manager, and FileNet. There was a breakout session on “What’s New in Lotus Quickr Domino 8.5″, but it merely rehashed the new features that were made available six months ago (on September 13, 2010.)

No new functional updates were announced for the J2EE version of Quickr either, nor was a product roadmap presented for either Quickr flavor. This heightens my suspicion that Quickr will be rolled into Lotus Connections in the next year or two. I believe IBM would do so sooner, but cannot because too many of it’s current Quickr customers have not yet purchased or deployed Connections.

LotusLive

IBM’s cloud-based collaboration service, LotusLive, gained new functionality in 2010, including iNotes email, the Communities module from Lotus Connections, and integrated third-party applications from Skype, UPS, Tungle, Silanis, and Bricsys. The LotusLive team also created new functional bundles as distinctly-priced offerings.

There were several new announcements regarding LotusLive made at Lotusphere 2011. IBM will be delivering its Symphony suite of office productivity tools as a service in LotusLive. This will enable users to collaboratively create, read, and edit word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation documents across organizational firewalls. Symphony is currently available as a Tech Preview inside of LotusLive Labs and will be made generally available later this year.

There were also several partnerships with third-party vendors announced at Lotusphere that will enable LotusLive users to execute important business processes in the cloud. The most prominent is a partnership with SugarCRM, which will make its sales tracking functionality available via LotusLive by Q2 of this year. A similar partnership with Ariba will allow LotusLive customers to procure and sell goods to other businesses. Finally, a partnership with Expresso immediately enables users to edit both Symphony and Microsoft Office documents within LotusLive, rather than the file’s native application.

The LotusLive team has executed well, delivering functionality promised at Lotusphere 2010. However, adoption of the offering has not reached the scale that IBM had anticipated it would by now. Listening to LotusLive customers speak on two different occasions revealed that smaller enterprises are using the offering to run mission-critical parts of their businesses, while larger enterprises are very cautiously  experimenting at the moment, if they are embracing the offering at all. 2011 will be a make-or-break year for LotusLive in terms of customer adoption.

Conclusion

I left Lotusphere 2011 with mixed feelings. The IBM Corporation has embraced social business, but is still hedging its bet. The Lotus division has executed well on previously announced strategy in the last year, but the impact of its more integrated offerings will be minimal unless other IBM divisions – Global Business Services in particular – step up to help customers become more collaborative, social businesses. The functional build-out of most of the individual Lotus products has continued at a good pace, but the development paths of some those offerings are less than clear to customers.

2011 could be a watershed year in IBM’s century-long history. However, we may ultimately look back and say that it was a year of missed opportunity. The outcome will depend on IBM’s success or failure in becoming a social business itself and aligning its resources to help customers transform as well.

TIBCO Launches tibbr and Demonstrates the Difference Between Social Business and Enterprise 2.0

There has been a debate raging for a couple of months now on whether there is a difference between “Enterprise 2.0″ and “Social Business” and, if so, what it is. The debate began concurrently with the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, held in Santa Clara, in November 2010. I weighed in then with my take in this post. Since then, the debate has moved over to Quora, where someone asked, “What are the distinctions between Social Business and Enterprise 2.0″.

In spite of all this discussion, it was not until today that the difference between Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business truly became clear to me. The event that triggered my new-found understanding of these terms was the launch of tibbr, TIBCO’s “social computing tool”.

As TIBCO Chairman and CEO Vivek Ranadivé explained during the launch event, tibbr was built to deliver the right information, to the right people, in the right context. A noble goal indeed. tibbr takes advantage of TIBCO’s well-honed expertise in the management of real-time messaging at scale, their extensive library of enterprise system adapters, and a real-time rules engine that creates context for content.

Note the discrepancy between Ranadivé’s statement and the actual focus of the tool. tibbr is all about systems integration and message delivery; people are incidental objects in the system. This is intentional, as stated in TIBCO’s press release on tibbr:

“tibbr breaks business users free from one-dimensional social tools that focus on people…”

Ram Menon, EVP Worldwide Marketing at TIBCO further underscored the notion that tibbr is not about people relationships in two remarks. In the first instance, Menon described tibbr in terms of “process, subjects, applications, and people”, literally in that order. Later, Menon said that within tibbr, one “can follow people, but most importantly [textual emphasis mine, but reflects his vocal inflection]…can follow applications, can follow data.”

Do you see it? tibbr is the poster child for Enterprise 2.0, as it was originally defined by Professor Andrew McAfee. tibbr is literally about applying Web 2.0 technology design principles to enterprise systems. Social Business, on the other hand, puts people first – before applications, processes, and subject entries in the corporate taxonomy. The difference could not be clearer.

Yes, one can follow another individual in tibbr. However, as Jon Scarpelli, VP of CIBER’s Outsourcing Practice recounted during the launch event, his company switched from Yammer to tibbr because CIBER employees were “more interested in following subjects”.

My point? Social Business is about people first. Enterprise 2.0 is primarily about technology that enables business processes (or, more accurately, barely repeatable processes and process exceptions) via human interaction. Both are valid and valuable approaches to structuring and running an organization, but it is critical to know which one your company values most. Does it want to be a social business that emphasizes and connects people, or an entity that uses Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals when rigid, transactional systems can’t help? Answer that question first, then choose your technology solution.

Have Software Suppliers Become Too Customer-Focused?

Remember the old dictum that says “the customer is always right”? Guess what, they aren’t.

Many times during my career as a management consultant, I have heard clients articulate their business needs and wants in the form of technical solution requirements. Besides completely ignoring the important intermediary step of stating those needs and wants as business requirements, the technical requirements voiced too often reflect only what the client knows to be possible; they do not imagine new and alternative technical solutions to business challenges. In other words, customers are not always a great source for innovative ideas on software functionality, much less on entirely new products.

I mention this because, lately, I have been hearing so many software vendors saying how focused they are on use cases and requirements voiced by their customers. Platform module and individual application development seems to be highly driven by customer feedback these days. Perhaps too highly.

Please do not misunderstand; software suppliers should consult frequently with customers, absorb their feedback, and develop against their use cases and requirements. However, vendors must also proactively imagine and build new functionality that will help customers overcome real and critical business challenges in ways that that they did not realize were possible.

A few software suppliers are mindful of this need. I recently saw a position opening announcement for a Senior Product Manager at a software provider that listed the following as one of the key qualifications for a successful candidate:

A demonstrated ability to get past what customers say they want and deliver what they really need

WOW! How powerful is that? It would be difficult to say it in a more simple, clear fashion.

The point of this post is to encourage software providers to think beyond stated customer technical requirements. Those are an important part of product planning, but cannot be the sole basis on which current product development and long-term roadmap decisions are made. Think and act like a management consultant; help your customers envision previously unimagined possibilities. That is a sustainable source of product innovation and competitive advantage.

More on Microblogging: Evolution of the Enterprise Market

Following my post last week on the need for additional filters in enterprise microblogging tools and activity streams, I participated in an interesting Twitter conversation on the subject of microblogging and complexity. The spontaneous conversation began when Greg Lowe, a well-respected Enterprise 2.0 evangelist at Alcatel-Lucent, asked:

“Can stand alone micro-blogging solutions survive when platform plays introduce the feature?”

I immediately replied:

“Yes, if they innovate faster”

Greg shot back:

“is microblogging autonomy about innovation, or simple elegance? More features usually leads to lower usability?”

And, later, he asked a complementary question:

“is there a risk of Microblogging becoming “too complicated”?”

Is Greg on to something here? Do more features usually lead to lower usability? Will functional innovation be the downfall of stand-alone microblogging solutions, or will it help them stay ahead of platform vendors as they incorporate microblogging into their offerings?

One of the commonly heard complaints about software in general, and enterprise software in particular, is that it is too complicated. There are too many features and functions, and how to make use of them is not intuitive. On the other hand, usability is a hallmark of Web 2.0 software, and, if we make it too complex, it is likely that some people will abandon it in favor of simpler tools, whatever those may be.

But that dichotomy does not tell the entire story. Based on anecdotal evidence (there is no published quantitative research available), early adopters of Web 2.0 software in the enterprise appear to value simplicity in software they use. However, as a colleague, Thomas Vander Wal, pointed out to me yesterday, that may not be true for later, mainstream adopters. Ease-of-use may be desirable in microblogging (or any other) software, but having adequate features to enable effective, efficient usage is also necessary to achieve significant adoption. Later adopters need to see that a tool can help them in a significant way before they will begin to use it; marginal utility does not sway them, even if the tool is highly usable.

Simple may not be sustainable. As I wrote last week in this post, as enterprise use of microblogging and activity streams has increased and matured, so has the need for filters. Individuals, workgroups, and communities want to direct micro-messages to specific recipients, and they need to filter their activity streams to increase their ability to make sense out of the raging river of incoming information. Those needs will only increase as more workers microblog and more information sources are integrated into activity streams.

In the public microblogging sphere, Twitter provides a solid example of the need to add functionality to a simple service as adoption grows in terms of registered users and use cases. As more individuals used Twitter, in ways that were never envisioned by its creators, the service responded by adding functionality such as search, re-tweeting, and lists. Each of these features added some degree of complexity to the service, but also improved its usability and value.

In the evolution of any software, there is a trade-off between simplicity and functionality that must be carefully managed. How does one do that? One way is to continuously solicit and accept user feedback. That allows the software provider and organizations deploying it to sense when they are nearing the point where functionality begins to overwhelm ease of use in a harmful manner. Another technique is to roll out new features in small doses at reasonable intervals. Some even advocate slipping new features in unannounced and letting users discover them for themselves. Hosted deployment of software (whether on-premise or off-site) makes this easier to do, since new features are automatically switched on for people using the software.

So back to the original question; can stand-alone microblogging solutions fend off the collaboration suite and platform vendors as they incorporate microblogging and activity streams in their offerings? My definitive answer is “yes”, because there is still room for functionality to be added to microblogging before it becomes over-complicated.

Based on the historical evolution of other software types and categories, it is likely that the smaller vendors, who are  intensely focused on microblogging, will be the innovators, rather than the platform players. As long as vendors of stand-alone microblogging offerings continue to innovate quickly without confusing their customers, they will thrive. That said, a platform vendor could drive microblogging feature innovation if they so desired; think about what IBM has done with its Sametime instant messaging platform. However, I see no evidence of that happening in the microblogging sphere at this time.

The most plausible scenario is that at some point, small, focused vendors driving microblogging innovation (e.g. Socialcast, Yammer) will be acquired by larger vendors, who will integrate the acquired features into their collaboration suite or platform. My sense is that we are still 2-3 years away from that happening, because there is still room for value-producing innovation in microblogging.

What do you think?

Why I Am Ignoring Google Buzz

Note: This post is purely personal opinion based on my preferences and work style. If your are looking for an analysis of Google Buzz based on methodical primary research, abort now.

I have heard many people say that their email inbox is the mother of all social networks. For me, however, email is  the antithesis of a well-built, functioning social network, because it is a communication channel, not a collaboration enabler.

I value my social networks because I can work with members of those communities to get things done. When I worked at IBM, a very large company, my email inbox was more of a proxy for the organizational hierarchy than an instantiation of my social graph. Too much of my email activity was about low value (or value-less) communications and interactions imposed by command and control culture and systems. When I needed to communicate something up or down IBM’s or a project’s chain of command, I used email. When I needed to get something done, I contacted collaborators on Sametime (IBM’s instant messaging product), the phone, or BlueTwit (IBM’s internal-only, experimental microblogging system). In short, the contacts in my large corporation email address book were more reflective of the organizational structure than of my collaborative networks.

That is precisely why Google Buzz is a non-starter for me. The Google Contact list on which it is based does not represent my collaborative network, on which I rely to get work done. Very few of the people with whom I collaborate are represented, because I don’t interact with them via email. At least not often. A quick analysis of my Google Contacts list shows that Google Voice usage contributes more actionable, valuable additions to the list than does Gmail. My Gmail inbox is filled with communications, not action items, and most of them are low-value messages from application and service vendors whose tools I have downloaded or use online.

Google’s design of Buzz demonstrates ignorance of (or disregard for?) the reality that many social interactions happen outside of email. Had I wanted to use my Google Contacts list as a social network, I would have imported it into FriendFeed months ago. Strike One.

I just mentioned FriendFeed, which was my primary social network aggregator for several months. One of the reasons I backed away from heavy usage of FriendFeed was because it became little more than another interface to the Twitter stream. Yes, it is easy to inject updates from other sources into the FriendFeed flow, but, in reality, the vast majority of updates cam from Twitter (and still do.)

I see the same thing happening with Buzz. Too many people have linked their Twitter accounts, so that everything they tweet is duplicated in Buzz. And Buzz doesn’t allow for integration of the vast number of information resources that FriendFeed does. Talk about low-value. Strike Two.

I have not taken enough swings at Google Buzz yet to have recorded Strike Three. So, for now, I have not turned Buzz off. However, I am ignoring it and will not experiment again until Google provides integration with more external social networks.

In the meanwhile, I am still looking for a social tool that blends contacts and information streams from many sources, but lets me filter the flow by one or more sources, as desired. That would allow me to work both formal organizational and informal social networks from the same tool. Gist is promising in that regard, but needs to be able to capture information from more sources with corresponding filters. Hopefully, someone will read this post and either point me to an existing solution or build it. Until then, I will have to continue using multiple tools to communicate and collaborate.