Tag Archives: platform

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.

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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.

Jive Software Announces Management Team Changes

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

Jive Software has just announced that Christopher Morace will become SVP of Business Development. Morace will retain product marketing oversight and responsibility, but step aside from product management duties. He will be replaced as SVP Product Management by Patrick Lin, who is leaving VMware to join Jive.

These changes to the management team are important because they suggest two things:

1. Jive is still moving quickly toward an Initial Public Offering (IPO) and, perhaps, accelerating their pace toward that goal. By creating a new position (SVP of Business Development) and assigning a proven executive team member (Morace) to the post, Jive is signaling that it is making a serious investment in building partner and reseller channels.

Most enterprise software start-ups do not work to build out their channels until they’ve scaled revenue gained through direct sales to a point necessary to successfully make a public offering. By Jive’s own estimates, the direct sales amount necessary to trigger an IPO is $100 Million. Their creation of a new management team role focused on business development is a clear sign that Jive is nearing that IPO trigger revenue target.

2. The hiring of Patrick Lin reflects the increasing importance of cloud delivery to Jive (and all enterprise social software providers) moving forward. Lin, who had been at VMware for just over 6 years, has deep knowledge of infrastructure and application virtualization technologies and practices. His leading-edge experience will help Jive optimize its social business software offerings for private cloud deployment by customers. Lin’s  virtualization management expertise will also guide Jive in any attempt to build a version of the Jive Engagement Platform that can be hosted in a public cloud (Jive already offers and hosts a SaaS version of its platform.)

Lin is a great addition to the Jive team and not only for his virtualization experience. He has served in product management roles at other companies (VERITAS, Invio) prior to his stint at VMware. In addition, has held product marketing (Invio, Intuit) and business development (Katmango, WebTV) roles, which make him a well rounded executive who can contribute to Jive’s success on many terms.

Considered together, the management changes made by Jive today are a strong indicator that the Enterprise Social Software (ESS) market has reached a new level of maturity and that Jive is pushing it forward. The market continues to expand quickly and customer requirements continue to evolve. Other ESS providers should consider initiating or increasing  investments in channel development. They should also realize that cloud deployments of enterprise software will continue to increase and make appropriate changes to virtualize and optimize their offerings.

Today’s announcement makes me wonder if Jive will be ready for an IPO in the first half of 2011, rather than the later dates previously held as conventional wisdom. What do you think?

Three Ways Documents are Related to Enterprise Collaboration

The editors of CMSWire asked me to write a piece for the series of guest posts on Enterprise 2.0 and Collaboration that they are publishing this month. I chose to explore the relationship between documents and collaboration in my post, which appeared on the CMSWire site today, August 24, 2010. Please jump over to their site, read the post, and comment there. Thanks and enjoy!

New Gilbane Beacon on Cloud Content Management

The term Cloud Content Management has begun to appear with increasing frequency in the last few months. But what does it mean? And how is it different from Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?

I have just written a Gilbane Group Beacon, titled Cloud Content Management: Facilitating Controlled Sharing of Active Content, that attempts to answer these questions. Here is how I briefly define Cloud Content Management and contrast it to ECM in the Beacon:

Cloud Content Management is an emerging set of content sharing and management practices and a supporting category of software built on an open, secure, cloud-based platform. It is rapidly deployed and easily used to manage content, in any format, that is actively shared among collaborators working both inside and across firewalls. Cloud Content Management is complementary to Enterprise Content Management, which is more focused on controlling access to static, unstructured content in TIFF, PDF, and office productivity document formats as it is electronically captured, stored, distributed, archived, and disposed.

The Gilbane Beacon explores the various facets of this definition and goes into much more detail as to how Cloud Content Management differs from, and complements, ECM. I urge you to download the Beacon (free registration required), read it, then return here to share comments. You may also leave comments at this cross post on the Gilbane Group Blog.

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?