Lotusphere 2011 theme of Social Business has me hopeful …

So having returned from Lotusphere 2011, and hearing all the great news regarding the shift in IBM strategy towards a Social Business, had me at first very excited. I mean, after all “Collaboration” had been the buzzword at past Lotuspheres, and with the advent of Enterprise 2.0, Social Networking, and Social Media over the past 2 years, to have IBM jump into the “social” discussion was very exciting and promising to hear.  Then I began to think what exactly does “Social Business” mean to IBM?  Does it mean their whole product portfolio will be awash with Social functionality, integration of various Web 2.0 widget\mashups?  Does it mean IBM will now direct more of their knowledge to promoting Social Business as cultural transformational lever?  Does it mean the old-fashioned brand of “Lotus” will be phased out as IBM looks to capitalize on the tremendous opportunity for moving away from on-premise technology consumption model? 

Surprisingly, I found the answer to all the questions was Yes, Yes, Yes!  I came away from Lotusphere 2011 with a new sense of excitement and hope about how IBM has finally “gotten” it regarding collaboration.  Collaboration is not a tool, Collaboration is not something a person does regarding documents, Collaboration is not a buzz word on a PowerPoint slide.  No…for me, Collaboration is a state of mind, a fundamental Business Process that needs to be inextricably linked with everyone in the company.  For those of us who have embraced the concepts of Enterprise 2.0, we have been preaching this type of integrated social business process, along with the brute force cultural evolution needed to provide the ecosystem necessary to bring about real change within the enterprise.  Now while I am a firm believer in Enterprise 2.0, in the seeking and linking of weak-links within the social space of an organization to strengthen a persons spectrum of knowledge and information sharing, IBM is providing the technology possible to fulfill those aspirations Enterprise 2.0 promotes.

Another surprise for me was the presentation from Dr. Andrew McAfee from MIT.  Dr. McAfee is the creator of the term Enterprise 2.0, and leads the research on digital information at MIT.  He said he did not particularly like the term Social Business, preferring Enterprise 2.0, but in reality he did not care, and is more interested in the phenomenon in emergent social interactions than the names.

Another excellent part of the Lotusphere was the IBM Social Business Industries Symposium held the first 2 days of the conference.  This was meant for executives and senior leadership to better understand what is meant by being a “Social Business”, and how to mitigate the risks while maximizing the benefits.  For me, this was the best part of the conference, as it focused on Social Business language, and not technical mumbo jumbo, which executives could not care about.

I am hopeful business leaders will begin to embrace some of the teachings that are beginning to filter into the Social Business space.  Some leaders may think Social Business is not a serious business process resulting in top-line revenue, but IBM has given me great hope that the message will be more than simply deploying some piece of technology. 

With IBM now fully behind this Social Business phenomenon, they will no doubt be pushing the quantitative business value of Social Business platforms, and that means for practioners like myself, will only provide more ammunition to push for the business-cultural transformations necessary to drive increased productivity and garner business form being “Social”.

Lotusphere links
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Is Facebook and Social Media close to “Jumping the Shark”?

Back in the 1990’s a term came about when a Television show took one (1) step past its importance, reaching absurdity, or unlikely characterizations.  The term was invented by Jon Hein, who explained the terms as

"It’s a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on…it’s all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it “Jumping the Shark”. From that moment on, the television program will simply never be the same”

Now stop to think about this term, and how it relates not just to television shows, but to all things.  I am hearing, reading, and observing IT people, Retail Marketing firms, and various Industry Analysts all talk about how Social Media is now critical for any businesses future success, how Facebook’s revenue stream will be impacted by the “socialization” of everything we buy and recommend.  I know it is true, I know it is the way everything is going, but for some reason I have a feeling that maybe the claims are too outrageous for the majority of companies, and that the “Shark” is about to be jumped. 

Performing a Google search for “Social Media Companies” returns 56,900,000 results.  Now there are not 56 million companies, but everyone is trying to cash in on the Social Media phenomenon, and perhaps the outrageous claims by so called “Social Media Experts” about millions of dollars of potential revenue, tens of thousand of new customer opportunities, and other outrageous claims, could have this topic on the verge of “Jumping the Shark”.

Now I know your saying, “Richard, your wrong.  We just started to scratch the surface of this “Social Media” thing, and we have a ways to go.  For me, a true believer that business transactions still have a “people” aspect to it, I think Social Media is very important, critical in fact to establishing your brand, and linking close customer ties.  But is does not replace the intimacy necessary with many company’s B2C (Business to Customers) and B2B (Business to Business) relationships.  B2F (Business to Facebook) or B2T (Business to Twitter) will not replace the traditional communication channels, but augment them with additional lines of marketing and sales opportunities. 

What I am saying, is given at all the hype and false statements, the real message gets lost, becomes unbelievable, and that could lead to the “Jump the Shark” point.  I hope this does not happen, and I think it has some time before the tipping point is reached, but it looks like we might be approaching the ramp….

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Why is SalesForce.com purchase of DimDim a big deal for the Enterprise?

On January 6th, 2011 SalesForce.com (SFDC) purchased the web conferencing company DimDim for $31 million dollars.  The strategy is to incorporate web conferencing within Chatter Premium Edition, SFDC’s social networking platform embedded within SFDC cloud-based CRM solution. 

Chatter is fast becoming a major player in the social business space, and SFDC is uniquely positioned to capture huge portions of this market.  In December 2010, SFDC released a “Free” version of Chatter, that does not require a full SFDC license.  In today’s enterprises, many of the senior leadership are wary of Social Networking within the firewall, and SFDC already has a cozy relationship via their CRM platform.. This existing relationship could allow SFDC to convince C-Level executives that only SFDC has the ability to safely and securely introduce the positive power of Social Networking in a controlled manner within the company without any additional investment.  Then when the employees demand more Social Capabilities, simply upgrading the free Chatter to the premium Chatter is a very natural evolution. 

Now comes the purchase of a web conferencing platform to integrate with Chatter. 

Brilliant move on their part for several reasons. 

First, it gives them a key collaborative feature not in any top enterprise social networking platform, such as JIVE, Lotus Connections, or SharePointCisco’s Quad and Novell’s Vibe have web conferencing, but they are nowhere as prevalent in Enterprises as those top three players.  This means Chatter MUST now be thought of as a top player in this space, and given serious consideration for employee-engagement Social platforms.

Second, it will be a way to co-opt existing web conferencing contracts many companies have with WebEx, Microsoft’s LiveMeeting, GoToMyPC,  by linking a key collaboration function every company leverages…web conferencing.   I imagine SFDC offering web conferencing services embedded within Chatter premium edition which would save hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars for large enterprises.

Thirdly, it provides another positive step for enterprises to look towards moving other collaboration services to the cloud, of which SFDC could provide in the future.  It begins to show how Collaboration, and Social Collaboration can be linked with a companies CRM for true “closeness” in customer engagement.  If a company decided to go with Google Apps Premier Edition, which already tightly integrates with SFDC, and can now provide vast collaboration functionality to knowledge workers via the cloud.  

Fourthly, CIO’s want to simplify their portfolios, and now they can combine the Social Networking and Web Conferencing with a trusted vendor.  Rationalization of enterprise applications has been a big effort for CIO for the past 2 years, and as I mentioned above, this move helps ease the fear of new enterprise capabilities, yet does not put another vendor into the fray, which drives up costs.

I can easily see a situation where a company can now leverage Chatter (free version) to introduce Social Networking into its customer’s environments.  Then move to the premium version of Chatter and get to leverage global web conferencing for everyone in the company, as they collaboration and leverage the social-ness of communities, profiles, and customer-engagement.

Well Done SFDC, Well Done!

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What does the LinkedIn IPO mean for this Social Business Phenomenon?

Today, a big buzz around the social business circles is the news that LinkedIn may decide to do its IPO in 2011.  LinkedIn is the premier social networking service connecting professionals and workers from many industries, companies,  and markets.  In the news today, January 6, 2011, Reuters, quoting unidentified sources, reports that LinkedIn has hired Morgan Stanley (MS), Bank of America (BAC), and JPMorgan (JPM) to handle the underwriting duties for an IPO.   News Services report than LinkedIn has a market capitalization of around $2.2 Billion dollars. 

The evolution of the Internet Company Landscape…

I see this as a important barometer for financial acceptance of  Social Businesses or Internet\Web 3.0 businesses, similar to how Google’s IPO helped propel exciting new Internet Technologies such as the Cloud Computing models, Search, and search-based Ad revenue into mainstream business models, and translate these activities into huge top-line revenues and strong per share pricing.  Originally priced at $85 each almost 8 years ago, Google’s shares soared past $600, closing at $609.50 on January 5th, 2011.  Google’s market capitalization today stands at $194.77 Billion.  Google is the king of the “new” Internet 2.0 companies, displacing old timers, Internet 1.0 stalwarts like Microsoft, Cisco, Yahoo, and Oracle.  With a successful IPO of LinkedIn, I see the potential for a  new paradigm emerging of the Internet\Web 3.0 companies.  Linking Social Capabilities with applications for both mobile devices and traditional PCs.  Facebook raised $500 million through deals with investor Goldman Sachs and Digital Sky Technologies, a Russian investment firm that has already invested about $500 million in Facebook, according to a New York Times report. The report notes the investments give Facebook a greater value than Web pioneers Yahoo and eBay.  Facebook has by many accounts over 600 million users, which puts it in a very powerful position to provide more than just pictures, videos, and status updates for those millions of users.  Facebook could wield huge influence over how people experience the Social Web, and direct billions if not trillions of dollars to retailers and assorted companies.

Three years ago, LinkedIn partnered with Huddle to broaden its platform’s functionality to include social networking, , enhanced profiles, and a recommendation engine, while positioning itself to dominate the future employment market.  I see LinkedIn partnering with one of the employment sites, like Monster or CareerBuilder to take the employment search experience to a new level.  As for the social platform at LinkedIn, I am not sure if LinkedIn still uses Huddle as its Social platform core, but clearly the move has paid off for LinkedIn, as it now is much more relevant for professionals, and has permeated the workplace in many companies.  Clearly, Social has now become the new bubble in the investment community, with companies lining up with various Venture Capitalist firms to finance their expansion and gobbling up smaller key players to shore-up their business offerings.

What does this mean for Social in companies?

I think a successful IPO for LinkedIn has direct and indirect benefits for all things Social.  Direct benefits would be the ability for many investors of privately held Social companies to have some promise of large market capitalization feeding off the frenzy IPOs from Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  Another Direct benefit would be the enterprise Social companies to gain greater traction selling social-leaning applications, opening up additional revenue generating opportunities.  Indirect benefits to successful consumer-Social IPO revolve around Enterprise 2.0 companies like Jive Engage, Yammer, SocialText, and others to become “mainstream” in discussion of senior company leaders.  The buzz around the successful IPOs for consumer social would have an effect on bringing the “Socialization”, or Enterprise 2.0 capabilities to the forefront of company’s strategic planning.

Better to stay Private?

Harvard Business Review published an article detailing why perhaps companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter may want to stay private.  Disclosing financial information and operational procedures\processes are leading reasons not to become publically traded in todays’ over regulated world.  Falling under the scrutiny of the SEC, and having to deal with all the regulatory hurdles could stall these IPOs, but looking at the IPO of Google, who did have a hugely successful IPO, could make the choice sweeter for Socially leaning companies.

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Men’s Room & The Cloud…

I have recently been asked by a President of a non-profit company about “The Cloud”.  He wanted to know what was the big deal about the “The Cloud”, and what is could mean to his company in terms of driving down costs, yet increasing opportunities for raising donations, and increasing productivity…His cloud questions came at me rapid fire….

“What is it really?” 

“How does it work?” 

“Is it secure?”

“How do we begin to look at the cloud?”

“What is this private versus public cloud?”

“How can the cloud help our company?”

“Is this cloud thing a fad?”

Ok, First I need to go to the Bathroom… 🙂

So as I recovered from his barrage of questions, I told him I would go to the men’s room first, and then come back to answer his questions.  Not that the answers would be in the men’s room, but I wanted to think about how to answer his questions in such a manner, as to avoid “techno-speak”, and allow him to understand the business benefits of the cloud opportunities, while maximizing the technical efficiencies of his IT staff.  As an IT Professional, I take it as my personal mission to discuss the exciting benefits of technology with people, and frankly was not prepared to have a consulting meeting at a holiday party.  Also, as an Architect, dealing with IT people all the time, it is important for me to remember the real audience for these solutions we architect are business people.  So it is critical for your IT folks to learn not to use “Tech-Speak” when explaining the cloud to business people.  So I excused myself, went to the men’s room to gather my thoughts…..and yes I actually had to go to the bathroom  Ha Ha!

Backwards is forwards…

So when I returned to the party, the President of this non-profit was eagerly waiting for my explanation.  Instead of diving into an ROI, TCO, Cost and Revenue opportunity discussion, I asked him a single question regarding his company’s business objectives.  “In a high level, tell me what you want to accomplish?”  He looked at me and said, “You were going to tell me about The Cloud..”  I replied, “I will but I need to know what you as a business are trying to accomplish.  What are your objectives?”  I have found when you are explaining “The Cloud” it is best to work backwards.  Backwards???..Yes, Backwards.  You have to work backwards, meaning set the vision, and then work backwards in detailing the options, possibilities, realities, to manage expectations and to provide a true architecture that can be executed upon.  So he preceded to tell me about increasing donations in this poor economy, maximizing the company’s online presence to take advantage of Social Media, reducing operating and IT costs, and maybe increasing the productivity of his staff to accomplish more.  He also said, he needed to increase his “donation-pool” of potential donors.

The Answers…

So after listening to his high level answers, I preceded to tell him about “The Cloud”, aligning each of his objectives to opportunities to move parts of his infrastructure, his donation application, his donor-management systems, and of course leveraging Social Media\Marketing to The Cloud.  His eyes opened up wide when I told him the potential cost savings, productivity, and visibility his non-profit company could enjoy by leveraging the cloud.  I also pointed out that parts of his business processes could move to The Cloud immediately with little up front investments, while other parts would require some funding to prepare for moving to The Cloud.  Some of their internal applications would need complete re-writes, costs\time constraints that make these application poor candidates to move at this time. 

In Closing…

So the point here is when discussing The Cloud; listen and speak in business terms, and when you IT Architects want to devise a plan for moving an existing business process to the cloud, remember: Work Backwards…by setting the final vision of the customer, and work backwards in seeing what parts of the business can go to the cloud, what components of the IT infrastructure and applications need investments to achieve that final vision.  I think only this way can you demonstrate all the interdependencies that aggregate for a successful cloud transition.

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Re-Kindle your Families…with Facebook…?

When I was a young boy I recall almost every Sunday we would get together with our cousins, either at their apartment or ours.  The adults would talk about business, discuss current political events, or various family matters while us kids would play.  Like most immigrant families our get togethers were centered around food and business.  This went on for many years until we moved out to the suburbs, the kids grew up into their own lives, and our families found our get-togethers more infrequent.   My parents were of that generation, and I think our society in general where Sunday was “Family-Day”, to spend time with each other and keep the family and Extended family relationships close.

So what happened over the years, is typical to many immigrant families; the kids became involved with our own lives, and we drifted apart from the cousins.  Because we lived farther away from each other, natural separation occurred between the families.  I mean, after all, as the kids (myself included) became busy with college, working, so simply engrossed in our own lives, the natural closeness our immigrant parents and grandparents had maintained since coming to America seemingly dissolved.    Even the use of our family’s native language changed as we grew up.   My dad and his family all spoke Arabic, yet few of us kids spoke Arabic once our parents and grandparents eventually passed away.  The following generations tend to lose their cultural roots, including the important weekly get-togethers that cemented the bonds between our families.  I am sure when you look at your own family, and recall hearing “since Grandpa and Grandma dies, the family does not get together as often…”  Recall the Sunday dinners at Grandpa’s house, or the holiday dinners..???  When was the last time you and your cousins got together?  It may be a gentle sad recognition that you and your extended family has grown apart.

Now this is not an critique of America, but I think more of what happens when the next levels of generations grow up more isolated then the previous.  How do you re-capture those time past, linking with cousins and other members of the extended family in keeping your family’s culture alive and vibrant for your kids and grandkids?

Enter Facebook….as possibly a savior for the family and extended family re-kindling that closeness?  So now imagine some way to stay connected to the family, re-discover each other even as our busy lives spiral onward?  Being able to stay connected with what is going on in our busy lives, and have a way to communicate and possibly schedule family reunions using Facebook.  Linking multiple generation together leveraging Facebook, while embracing the social technology that some say damage the family interactions we used to enjoy and take for granted.  Now, the level of reunions that could occur because of the linking occurring on Facebook entirely depends on the family and their desire to reconnect.  But I think within my own family, as more of us connect, it provides the opportunity to reunite on a level previously unavailable due to our geographic distances.   I look forward to the day we schedule a reunion perhaps introducing our kids and grandkids to each other.

Start small with posting on each other walls, wishing happy birthday to a family member you previously had no clue of when their birthday was, engaging in a conversation about what is going on in your lives, post pictures and videos of kids birthdays or holiday events, and you will see the relationship start to re-energize.

I have read articles that Facebook and other social technologies actually damage the family by providing an isolating mechanism to avoid the physical closeness families used to enjoy.  Social Technologies could hurt the family and extended family, if the end result is families link only thru postings on walls.  If however the family and extended family leverage the Social Technologies to reintroduce those members to each other, and perhaps rekindle those relationships, then I say “Thank You Facebook”.  I think this Holiday season could be a great way to rekindle those family relationships, so don’t wait, go to Facebook, connect with your family members you have not heard from, and hey pick up the phone, give ‘em a call, and before long, you will be reminiscing and laughing about old times when you were kids….

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Enterprise Collaboration is really, really confusing…

Recently Facebook announced it was introducing a “Social Inbox” capability meant to leap ahead of Google and its Gmail platform.  Big news for sure, especially since the “Consumerization of Technology” has been driving enterprise collaboration for several years now. Should Facebook’s Social Inbox be successful and again transform the way people communicate and collaboration in the consumer space, it will show to IT Leaders how it could be done in the enterprise.  While Enterprise 2.0 practioners have been preaching about moving out of the inbox for a few years, there was no platform or company large enough to make a public statement to justify reaction.  This changed with Facebook’s announcement.

Why are You Confused?…

So why do I claim Enterprise Collaboration is really, really confusing..?  Simply, there are so many players, so many points of view, that IT leaders are not sure whom to believe, what to believe, and know that their choices of technology will not lead them down a 1-way street to obsolescence.   This latest news from Facebook will only serve to increase the debate and make an unclear situation even more cloudy.  In the Enterprise Collaboration space you have document collaboration, instant messaging, email, voicemail, video\web\audio conferencing, microblogging, mobile collaboration, project collaboration, and the list goes on and on.  In the ever-present IT challenge to simplify operations and reduce cost, how can the IT leaders know how to craft an Enterprise Collaboration Program meant to address the business’s challenges’ and requirements, yet provide for the Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability of the corporate intellectual property (IP).  In my experience many IT departments are too focused on technology (not their fault) so they fail to talk to the business to discover the pains the business users feel each day. This is the biggest mistake and can lead to abandonment of the platform because IT failed to ask the questions and listen to the answers.

Organizational Factors…

Another aspect feeding into the confusion is the lack of many companies, is the lack of a Chief Collaboration Officer (CBO), or a Senior VP level person working alongside with a Collaboration Architect (CA) and Enterprise Architect Practices (EA) who has the authority to work with IT, Global Marketing, and the business units to focus not just on the disparate Collaboration Technology, but on the culture of how the organization collaborates internally and externally.  The key for Enterprise Collaboration being part of the organization’s DNA, is to make it a company-wide mandate.   The core philosophy of the Enterprise Collaboration Program must provide ALL employees with the ability to participate.  Knowledge Producers and Knowledge Consumers exist in all parts of the company, not simply those with a PC, and it is the duty of the Enterprise Collaboration Program to be agnostic in how information is produced and consumed within the company to foster innovation and excellence in business processes, products, and services.  Here is where the confusion typically rears its head.  Many initiatives in today’s IT departments have collaboration\social features, and it is always easy to claim to simply use this or that product because “it already has collaboration built in..” This is a trap that IT does to itself all the time, and here is where the Chief Collaboration Officer can step in to bring some sanity to the discussion.  It is critical to obtain requirements and identify pain point BEFORE selecting the technology, or as one person recently told me; “…All you have is a solution looking for a problem…”

Want some Candy….

Almost every vendor has touted its “Social” or “Collaborative” features embedded within their products or services, and this has led to what I call “Social Overload” for Enterprise Architects and IT Leaders alike in knowing whom to listen to.  Here is where analysts like Forrester’s and Gartner’s can have value.  I like to turn to other companies to see how they are doing it.  Here your Global Collaboration Architect can reach out to his\her peers at other companies to discuss strategies and technologies from actual use cases and experience.   Look for example at SalesForce.com (SFDC).  They have good collaboration functionality, and with their new platform “Chatter”, have added social and community collaboration capabilities to their powerful platform.  But the problem is SFDC is a CRM platform, and not everyone in the company is using the CRM platform for communities of practice and employee engagement.  The same with SAP can be said as SAP has good collaboration functions, so why use SAP as the cornerstone of collaboration for the entire company?  The key is, did you gather requirements around collaboration or simply pick the tool because it was convenient?  I bet the latter!! 

Clear skies ahead…

So again, some tips to removing at least some of the confusion is to:

  • Interview and survey to identify the business’s pain points.
  • Gather detailed requirements before, during, and after technical decisions have been made.
  • Identify ONE OWNER for company-wide collaboration initiatives, who has authority to stop the insanity and provide leadership to the Senior Executives.
  • Make sure everyone in the company can participate in the “Producing and Consuming” activities.
  • DO NOT be a pawn of any one vendor, trust but verify.
  • Stop chasing the next upgrade.
  • Make sure whatever technology you select as the core of the Enterprise Collaboration Program, everyone can take part.

Collaboration is not a state of being but a journey that takes time to prepare and cultivate.

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