Tag Archives: usability

Yammer Bangs On oneDrum

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

Yammer logoYammer announced on Wednesday that it has acquired oneDrum, a UK-based provider of file sharing and collaborative editing tools for Microsoft Office users. Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed. oneDrum’s technology and people will be integrated into Yammer.

In a briefing on the acquisition, Yammer CTO and Co-Founder, Adam Pisoni, stated that the deal was done to quickly accelerate movement toward Yammer’s primary strategic objective – to be the social layer, spanning key enterprise applications, in which its customers (and their extended business networks) get work done.

Yammer’s action is consistent with its strategy to release usable, but not ideal, functionality and then improve upon it as quickly as possible. Yammer introduced the homegrown Files component into its suite late last year. With oneDrum’s technology, Yammer will be able to improve its Files component by enabling syncing of files to desktop folders and mobile devices, as well as automatic sharing of new and updated files with other members of Yammer groups. As usual, Yammer seeks to occupy the middle ground, offering file sharing functionality that has some of the necessary enterprise-grade security and manageability that consumer Web services lack, while retaining as much ease-of-use as possible. Yammer’s ability to balance complexity and usability is what differentiates it from the majority of the other enterprise social software offerings in the market.

The current file creation and editing capabilities available in the Pages component of Yammer will be nicely complemented by the introduction of oneDrum’s ability to co-create and co-edit Office files (Excel and PowerPoint now, Word in development) with others. Many may interpret the addition of this capability, together with the added file sync and sharing functionality, as an indirect attack on Microsoft SharePoint by Yammer. Pisoni clearly stated that Yammer will continue to offer customers integrations with SharePoint, as well as with Box, Dropbox and other content repositories. He did, however, acknowledge that while Yammer is not intentionally targeting SharePoint, many of its customers see their Yammer networks negating existing SharePoint use cases.

Yammer’s real target appears to be email, which offers a single place where people may communicate, share content and get work done. Pisoni spoke about the symbiotic relationship between content and conversation in social networks, as well as the blurring line between content and communication. The former is clearly demonstrated by the frequency in which enterprise (and consumer) social interactions are anchored around a specific piece of content, whether that be a traditional document, blog post, wiki entry, status update, audio snippet, photo or video. The latter is evidenced by the growing enterprise use of blog posts, wiki entries and, especially, status updates to share content (and explicit knowledge) in small chunks, rather than waiting to gather it in a document that is distributed by email.

Pisoni’s assertion that the distinction between content and communication is blurring is interesting, but less persuasive. Much of the asynchronous communication within organizations is still only secondary to the content that is contained in attached (or linked) files. Corporate email use as a transmission mechanism for documents is a clear, common example. Yammer’s vision for decreasing email volume appears to involve using oneDrum’s support for real-time chat between individuals working together in an Office document (Excel and PowerPoint only at present) as a means to blend content and communication to help people get work done faster. It will be interesting to see if Yammer network members adopt this envisioned way of working as an alternative to entrenched communication and content sharing norms.

oneDrum was not well known in the U.S., as it was a very small vendor with a beta status offering. However, it appears that Yammer has made a good acquisition that will help the company, and its customers, address the changing nature of business organizations and work. The devil, of course, is in the details, so we will have to watch and see how well Yammer assimilates its first acquired company.

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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.

The AIIM Community: Status Quo Prevails, but Change is Happening

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

I attended the AIIM Info360 Conference and Expo last week, in Washington, DC. It was my first AIIM event in 9 years. I had stayed away intentionally, because AIIM and the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) community had stagnated. Business and technology were changing, but the AIIM community remained fixated on things like document capture, storage, output, and archival. Sharing of, and collaborating on, active content was largely ignored.

Lately, I’ve been signs of renewal from AIIM’s leadership and staff, including an active, purposeful embrace of collaboration and social computing as important components of information management. (For example, AIIM published a paper on Systems of Engagement, authored by Geoffrey Moore, in January and a Social Business Roadmap in conjunction with last week’s conference.) So I thought it would be good to attend the event after my long absence, to learn first-hand whether or not change really was occurring in the AIIM community. The verdict:

Parts of the AIIM community remain deeply rooted in the past. The members who are trying to become more current and relevant are so busy talking about business and technology trends that they’ve lost focus on solving specific business problems.

First a word about the part of the community stuck in the past. Wandering the conference show floor made it crystal clear that the majority of the software and hardware vendors present were there to sell to the legacy AIIM crowd. I saw booth after booth touting imaging and other capture hardware and software, management solutions for electronic (and paper!) documents, and industrial-strength printing machines and software. Enough said.

The show floor did include a few vendors addressing the minority of the AIIM community interested in moving toward more lightweight, collaborative content management practices. Included in that group of vendors were Box.net, EMC/Documentum, Microsoft SharePoint, and NewsGator.

One other thought about the show floor: the Web Content Management vendors were noticeably absent. It seems that they’ve moved on from the AIIM community, probably for a variety of reasons. I hope they will come back soon and try again to push the conceptual boundaries of content management in both large organizations and small-to-medium businesses.

The keynote speeches and the few breakout sessions I attended were more visionary than the majority of the exhibits. Keynoters reported on high level trends affecting how businesses create, consume, share and generally manage content. The vendors who had bought keynote spots also presented visions of content management that made their respective, revised market strategies seem irrefutable.

Similarly, most of the breakout sessions I went to presented fairly high level pictures of how content technologies are evolving and where they are (or should be) headed. There were some exceptions, including a session that I co-presented with Dan Levin, COO of Box.net, on current, real-life use cases for mobile content sharing. However, sessions that focused on how the emerging breed of content management practices and supporting technologies can help solve newer (as well as old) business problems were rare.

In short, there were two conferences taking place simultaneously at AIIM/Info360. The first can best be described as representing the status quo. The second can be summed up as follows:

SOCIAL, blah, blah, blah, COLLABORATION, blah, blah, blah, COMMUNITY, blah, blah, blah, ENGAGEMENT, blah, blah, blah, MOBILE, blah, blah, blah, CLOUD, blah, blah, blah, USABILITY, blah, blah, blah…

I applaud the changes that AIIM’s leadership and some forward-thinking members of the community are attempting to make. They have to start by finally acknowledging the macro trends that are occurring, then crafting and articulating a visionary response. This year’s conference did a very good job of that. I hope that by next year, presenters (speakers and exhibitors) at the AIIM show will move beyond the high level messages and discuss how managed sharing of active content can help solve specific business problems and enable organizations to take advantage of tangible opportunities.

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.

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?