Tag Archives: service

Filtering in Social Software: Protective Bubble v. Serendipitous Awareness

Bubble Boy DavidThere was an interesting conversation on Twitter yesterday about the personalization of information via algorithm-based filters. It was started by Megan Murray, and Thomas Vander Wal, Gordon Ross, and Susan Scrupski quickly joined in with their viewpoints. Rachel Happe and I were late to the conversation, but we were able to interact with some of the original participants.

.The gist of the conversation was that some consumer social services (i.e. Facebook, Google Search, Yahoo News) have gotten rather aggressive about applying algorithms to narrow what we see in our personal activity streams. As a result, we aren’t able to see other information that might be useful or entertaining in our default view; we may only digest what the algorithm “thinks” is important or relevant to us. Or we must switch to a different view to see additional information (e.g. Live Feed v. News Feed in Facebook). Even worse, in some cases, the other information is simply not available to us, because the service doesn’t provide a way to override the algorithm that excluded it.

It was also noted in the Twitter conversation that the current crop of enterprise social software lacks sophisticated personalization facilities. In fact, it works the opposite way of consumer social services; the entire activity stream is usually exposed to an individual, who then has to narrow it by manually selecting and applying pre-defined filters. IBM, Jive, NewsGator, and others are beginning to use algorithms to include certain status events and updates in the stream, and to exclude others, but their efforts will require fine tuning after organizations have experimented with these nascent (or yet-to-be released) personalization features.

The default view of an enterprise activity stream should be highly personalized to the context in which an individual is working (e.g. role, business process, location, time, etc.) Optional views should allow individuals to override the algorithmically chosen results and see information relevant to a specific parameter (e.g. person, group, application, task, tag, etc.) Finally, an individual should be able to view the entire stream, if he or she so desires.

Why is the latter important? It introduces serendipity into the mix. Highly personalized information views can increase productivity for an individual as they do their job, but at the expense of awareness of what else is occurring around them (I wrote about this earlier this week, in this post.) This condition of overly-personalized information presentation has been called a “filter bubble”. The bubble is a virtual, protective barrier against information overload that is analogous to a plastic enclosure used in hospitals to shield highly vulnerable patients from potential infections.

Organizations must consciously balance the need to protect (and maximize the productivity of) their constituents from information overload with the desire to encourage and increase innovation (through serendipitous connection of individuals, their knowledge and ideas, and information they produce and consume.) That balance point is different for every organization and every individual who works in or with it.

Enterprise social software must be designed to accommodate the varying needs of organizations with respect to the productivity versus awareness issue. Personalization algorithms should be easily tunable, so an organization can configure an appropriate level of personalization (for example, InMagic’s core Presto technology features a “Social Volume Knob” that allows an an administrator to control what and how content is affected by social media. Different kinds of social content from certain people can carry different weight or influence.) More discrete, granular filters should be built into social software so individuals can customize their activity stream view on the fly (I made that case, just over a year ago, in this post.) A contextually personalized view should be the default, but enterprise social software must be designed so individuals can quickly and easily switch to a different (highly specific or broader) view of organizational activity.

What do you think? Should personalization be the default, or applied only when desired? What specific filters would you like to see in enterprise social software that aren’t currently available? What role does/could portal technology play in the personalization of organizational information and activity flows? What other concerns do you have about information overload, filter bubbles, and missed opportunities for serendipity and innovation? Please weigh in with a comment below.

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

Image © 2003 Texas Children’s Hospital

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.

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.

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?

Salesforce Chatter Promises to Take Enterprise 2.0 to the Next Level

Salesforce.com today announced “a new secure enterprise collaboration application and social development platform”, called Chatter. While it will not be available until an unspecified date in 2010, Chatter will likely raise the bar for Enterprise 2.0 software, because of the promised ability to embed its functionality into other enterprise applications.

Chatter includes many of the social components that are the core of existing Enterprise 2.0 software offerings: Profiles, Status Updates, Feeds, Groups (Communities), etc. What is different — and significant — about Chatter is that any of those components can be integrated inside any existing enterprise application, including Salesforce CRM and the 135,000 custom applications built on the Force.com platform. In short, Salesforce.com will not make users collaborate through the Chatter interface; they will be able to leverage Chatter’s social functionality in the context of work that they are doing inside a CRM, ERP, or other enterprise system.

The ability to deploy social functionality as a service within an existing (or new) enterprise application is a game changer. To-date, only one other E2.0 software vendor that I am aware of (MindTouch) has been able to make that claim. Salesforce.com is the first proprietary software provider with a very large set of enterprise customers and third-party developers to offer social functionality as building blocks (services) that can be consumed in other, independent applications.

The Enterprise 2.0 crowd has been focused on adoption in 2009 and has recently begun to realize that integration of social functionality into existing and new enterprise applications and platforms will be key to increasing adoption (see my previous posts on this topic: Thought of the Day: September 17, 2009 and The Impending Enterprise 2.0 Software Market Consolidation). Salesforce.com’s announcement of Chatter begins to make that vision a reality, and at scale.

Two other aspects of Chatter demand attention. First, at a time when established Enterprise 2.0 software vendors are touting their ability to integrate with Microsoft SharePoint (see my previous post, Integration of Social Software and Content Management Systems: The Big Picture), Salesforce.com has chosen to provide integration with Google Apps instead. Salesforce.com will use the Google Data APIs to enable data communication between Chatter and Google Apps. This is hardly a surprise, given that cloud computing is core to both companies.

The other striking aspect of Chatter is its embrace of popular consumer social networking applications such as Facebook and Twitter. This occurs at a time when many organizations are blocking employee access to those tools for security, privacy, and productivity reasons. Salesforce.com already features bi-directional communication between its Force.com platform and Facebook, having launched the Force.com for Facebook developer toolkit a year ago. Now Salesforce.com is providing a similar developer toolkit for Twitter.

Chatter is an announced offering, not a shipping product. As such, it is already being compared to Google Wave in the collaboration market. However, Chatter is much more likely to make a significant impact in the E2.0 space, because Salesforce.com has always been focused on enterprise customers, while Google’s offerings started as consumer products and have only recently begun to slowly gain traction within enterprises. Google may bring Wave out of beta before Salesforce.com launches Chatter, but I expect that will make little difference as to which one sees better enterprise adoption in 2010. It is very likely that more organizations will understand Chatter’s value proposition of easily integrated social functionality.

The Impending Enterprise 2.0 Software Market Consolidation

Talk about a trip down memory lane…  Another excellent blog post yesterday by my friend and fellow Babson College alum, Sameer Patel, snapped me back a few years and gave me that spine tingling sense of deja vu.

Sameer wrote about how the market for Enterprise 2.0 software may evolve much the same way the enterprise portal software market did nearly a decade ago. I remember the consolidation of the portal market very well, having actively shaped and tracked it daily as an analyst and consultant. I would be thrilled if the E2.0 software market followed a similar, but somewhat different direction that the portal market took. Allow me to explain.

When the portal market consolidated in 2002-2003, some cash-starved vendors simply went out of business. However, many others were acquired for their technology, which was then integrated into other enterprise software offerings. Portal code became the UI layer of many enterprise software applications and was also used as a data and information aggregation and personalization method in those applications.

I believe that much of the functionality we see in Enterprise 2.0 software today will eventually be integrated into other enterprise applications. In fact, I would not be surprised to see that beginning to happen in 2010, as the effects of the recession continue to gnaw at the business climate, making it more difficult for many vendors of stand-alone E2.0 software tools and applications to survive, much less grow.

I hope that the difference between the historical integration of portal technology and the coming integration of E2.0 functionality is one of method. Portal functionality was embedded directly into the code of existing enterprise applications. Enterprise 2.0 functionality should be integrated into other applications as services (see my previous post on this subject.) Service-based functionality offers the advantage of writing once and using many times.  For example, creating service-based enterprise micro-messaging functionality (e.g. Yammer, Socialcast, Socialtext Signals, etc.) would allow it to be integrated into multiple, existing enterprise applications, rather than being confined to an Enterprise 2.0 software application or suite.

The primary goals of writing and deploying social software functionality as services are: 1) to allow enterprise software users to interact with one another without leaving the context in which they are already working, and 2) to preserve the organization’s investment in existing enterprise applications. The first is important from a user productivity and satisfaction standpoint, the second because of its financial benefit.

When the Enterprise 2.0 software market does consolidate, the remaining vendors will be there because they were able to create and sell:

  • a platform that could be extended by developers creating custom solutions for large organizations,
  • a suite that provided a robust, fixed set of functionality that met the common needs of many customers, or
  • a single piece or multiple types of service-based functionality that could be integrated into either other enterprise application vendors’ offerings or deploying organizations’ existing applications and new mashups

What do you think? Will history repeat itself or will the list of Enterprise 2.0 software vendors that survived the impending, inevitable market consolidation consist primarily of those that embraced the service-based functionality model?

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.