Tag Archives: customer

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.

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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.

Social Business Transformation: Focus on Small, Not Sweeping, Change

“…transformation happens less by arguing cogently for something new than by generating active, ongoing practices that shift a culture’s experience of the basis for reality.” — Roz and Ben Zander, The Art of Possibility

The recent debates, at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference and in the blogosphere, about E2.0 and Social Business have made one thing clear to me. Too many of us dwell on the transformative aspects of social business. Myself included.

This is likely so because most organizations value other things more highly than their people and act accordingly. Their behaviors cry out for transformation to those who envision a better way of doing business.

However, achieving sweeping transformation of the way that people are considered and treated is the wrong goal for most organizations.

It is important to remember that not all companies wish to transform themselves into social businesses, much less anything else. In fact, most begrudgingly embrace transformation only when they are forced to do so by changes occurring around them.

Instead of concentrating on “big bang” transformation, we should seek to make a series of small changes to a business’s people practices and systems. In other words, leave the organization alone. Do not focus social change efforts directly on organizational structure or culture.

It is more effective to address specific policy, process, and technology problems at the individual or role level. Let those snowflakes of change add up on top of each other to create a snowball that, when put in motion, will continue to grow until it becomes an unstoppable force. Measure impact in the same additive manner instead of seeking the big, single instance of benefit favored by traditional ROI analysis.

Wondering where to start introducing social practices and technologies in your organization? Look around. What specific challenges are customers, employees, and partners turning to each other to overcome? How are they finding someone who can help, and how are they interacting once they have identified that person? How is what they have learned shared with others?

Now imagine and investigate ways that your organization can help all of its constituents work together to solve those problems faster and less expensively. Be sure to consider technology that enables this, but do not forget to examine policy and process changes that could help too.

That is the way to improve your organization while recognizing and supporting its existing, inherent social nature. Forget about large-scale transformation. Focus instead on using people power to solve specific problems and challenges that, while small by themselves, add up to a significant gain for the business when addressed and overcome.

Enterprise Social Software and Portals: A Brief Comparison of Deployment Patterns

In my last post, I examined whether or not Enterprise Social Software (ESS) is the functional equivalent of enterprise portal applications as they existed ten years ago. My conclusion was:

From a functional perspective, ESS is quite similar to enterprise portal software in the way that it presents information, but that does not tell the whole story. ESS lacks critical personalization capabilities, but provides better collaboration, process, publication and distribution, categorization, and integration functionality than portals. In my judgment, ESS is somewhat similar to portal software, but mainly in appearance. It makes more functionality available than portals did, but needs to add a key missing piece – personalization.

In this post, I will focus on the observation that ESS resembles enterprise portals in another regard – how and why it is deployed.

Enterprise v. Smaller Deployments

Portals were initially marketed as a tool for enterprise-wide communication and interaction, with each internal or external user role having its own personalized set of resources available in the user interface. While there were some early enterprise-wide deployments, portal software was deployed far more often at the functional level to support specific business processes (e.g. sales, procurement, and research portals) or at the departmental level to support operations.

Enterprise social software has also been touted as most valuable when deployed across an organization. However, like portal software, ESS has most often been deployed at the functional level in support of activities such as marketing, customer service, and competitive intelligence. As a result, the promised network effects of enterprise-wide deployments have not been realized to-date, just as they were not with most portal deployments.

Internal- v. External-Facing Deployments

Most early portal deployments were internally-focused, as shown in this InformationWeek summary of market research conducted in 2001. Not only was there a smaller number of externally-focused deployments, mixed-audience deployments did not begin to appear until the portal market was extremely mature. ESS deployments have followed this same pattern, and we are just now seeing early efforts to blend inward- and outward-facing business activity in common ESS environments.

Internal Use Cases

Portal software was often deployed in response to a specific business need. Among the most common were:

  • intranet replacement/updgrade
  • self-service HR
  • application aggregation
  • document/content management
  • expertise location
  • knowledge sharing
  • executive dashboards

ESS has been deployed for many of the same reasons, especially intranet replacement, application aggregation, expertise location, and knowledge sharing.

External Use Cases

Portal software was deployed externally to provide self-service access to corporate information. In some cases, access to selected application functionality was also provided to key business partners. Retail and B2B portals enabled customers to purchase goods and services online. Process acceleration, revenue growth, and cost reduction were the key business drivers behind nearly all external portal uses.

ESS doesn’t seem to have the same goals. I have seen some, but little, evidence that external communities are being leveraged to accelerate business processes or reduce costs. Peer support communities are a good example of cost reduction via ESS. The goal of most outward-facing ESS deployments seems to be customer engagement that translates (eventually) into increased innovation and revenue for the deploying organization.

Conclusions

ESS deployments today strongly resemble portal projects that were undertaken ten years ago. Few, if any, ESS deployments have been enterprise-wide. Instead, ESS is deployed to many of the same department and functional groups, to support the same business processes, and to drive many of the same business results as portals were a decade ago (and still are.)

What does this commonality with early portal deployments mean for ESS? I will examine that in my next post. Until then, I would love to hear your reaction to what I have presented here.

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.

Box.net Offers Proof of Its New Enterprise Strategy

box_logoBox.net announced today that it has integrated its cloud-based document storage and sharing solution with Salesforce.com. Current Box.net customers that want to integrate with Salesforce CRM can contact Box.net directly to activate the service. Salesforce.com customers may now download Box.net from the Salesforce.com AppExchange.

Box.net services will now be available in the Lead, Account, Contact, and Opportunity tabs of Salesforce CRM. In addition, the Box.net native interface and full range of services will be accessible via a dedicted tab on the Salesforce CRM interface. Users can upload new files to Box.net, edit existing files, digitally sign electronic documents, and e-mail or e-fax files. Large enterprise users will be given unlimited Box.net storage. The Box.net video embedded below briefly demonstrates the new Salesforce CRM integration.

While Box.net started as a consumer focused business, today’s announcement marks the first tangible manifestation of its emerging enterprise strategy. Box.net intends to be a cloud-based  document repository that can be accessed through a broad range of enterprise applications.

The content-as-a-service model envisioned by Box.net will gain traction in the coming months. I believe that a centralized content repository, located on-premise or in the cloud, is a key piece of any enterprise’s infrastructure. Moreover, content services — functionality that enables users to create, store, edit, and share content — should be accessible from any enterprise application, including composite applications such as portals or mashups created for specific roles (e.g. sales and/or marketing employees, channel partners, customers). Users should not be required to interact with content only through dedicated tools such as office productivity suites and Content Management Systems (CMS).

Other content authoring and CMS software vendors are beginning to consider, understand, and (in some cases) embrace this deployment model. Box.net is one of the first proprietary software vendors to instantiate it. Adoption statistics of their new Salesforce CRM integration should eventually provide a good reading as to whether or not enterprise customers are also ready to embrace the content-as-a-service model.