Usability & User Experience

Creating the Global User Experience

I was gratified to have the opportunity to do a presentation on the Global User Experience at the Gilbane Conference, as well as moderating several sessions in the technology track. For those that missed my presentation, I’ve posted a short recap here and a further exploration of the topic on the Bluebill Advisor’s site.

A common theme throughout the conference sessions was digital experiences and the role of mobile, web, content management, and other technologies in providing superior experiences to customers. That’s to be expected as creating superior customer experiences is a strategic imperative for most organizations, and also the current focus of most content software solutions in the marketplace, including content management systems. What is often overlooked (and the subject of my presentation) is that the CMS doesn’t just support delivery of the customer experience—it also has to support the behind the scenes players that create the customer experience.

Providing a compelling digital user experience is a complex undertaking no matter what the nature of the business or enterprise. It requires a range of talents including authoring, curation, story telling, design, and development, testing and deployment—and the tools to effectively support those diverse skill sets.

The heart of that experience is a modern CMS; in fact, delivering compelling digital user experiences is virtually impossible without one. But selecting the right CMS is challenging—after all, there are many to choose from and it can be difficult to differentiate products—most promise to deliver superior digital user experiences.

But one thing that is often overlooked is that creating great customer experiences requires an orchestrated approach by the “other users” of the CMS: editors and developers. It also requires the integration of tools and content that may reside outside of the CMS. In other words, the quality of the customer experience is directly related to the quality of the experience that a CMS provides to content creators, developers, and integrators.

Digging a bit deeper, content creators are actually a diverse collection of roles and skill sets, not just authors and editors. What’s common across those roles is that many are not full time professional content authors, which makes the quality of the content creator experience vitally important. Content creators want to use tools that are easy and familiar with a short learning curve. Most of all, they want to be able to focus on telling stories and creating great content, not mastering complex tools.

Developers, like content creators, also value ease of use and familiarity. They want to use tools, languages, and frameworks that they are familiar with and that work well in the technology environment in which they live. Most importantly, they want and need to be involved in the process of selecting a CMS—failure to include IT will lead to increased time to operation, and a risk that the chosen solution won’t work well in the enterprise’s IT environment.

The integrator experience involves the developers, partners, and vendors that have to integrate the CMS with enterprise systems and applications (the installed base), but also with solutions from other vendors that help provide the customer experience. If integration is difficult, it will take more time or, worse yet, not be done. Poorly done integration drains energy, productivity, and innovation leading to later, less desirable results.

The solution to providing the global user experience is a well-architected CMS that provides comfortable and easy-to-use core functionality while easily integrating with enterprise and third party tools and applications. The selection of that CMS requires a concerted and cooperative effort on the part of all stakeholders that will ultimately use the content management system. Selection of a CMS is not a technology decision, it’s a strategic business decision that warrants the time, effort, and participation of all business and technology stakeholders in order to render the best decision.

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LinkedIn Signal Demonstrates The Power of Role-Based Activity Stream Filters

LinkedIn today announced Signal, a new feature (currently in beta) that lets members see an activity stream that combines LinkedIn status updates and Twitter posts from other members who have opted-in to the feature. LinkedIn has licensed the Twitter firehose to incorporate all of its members’ tweets into the site, not just tweets with the #in hashtag embedded, as is current practice.

While it is hard to imagine anyone other than corporate and independent talent recruiters will make LinkedIn their primary Twitter client, Signal does have an element that is worthy of emulation by other social networks and enterprise social software providers that incorporate an activity stream (and which of those does not these days!) That feature is role-specific filters.

I wrote previously in this post about the importance of providing filters with which individuals can narrow their activity stream. I also noted that the key is to understand which filters are needed by which roles in an organization. LinkedIn apparently gets this, judging by the screenshot pictured below.

LinkedIn Signal screenshot courtesty of TechCrunch

Notice the left-hand column, labeled "Filter by". LinkedIn has most likely researched a sample of its members to determine which filters would be most useful to them. Given that recruiters are the most frequent users of LinkedIn, the set of filters displayed in the screenshot makes sense. They allow recruiters to see tweets and LinkedIn status updates pertaining to LinkedIn members in specific industries, companies, and geographic regions. Additionally, the Signal stream can be filtered by strength of connection in the LinkedIn network and by post date.

The activity stream of every enterprise social software suite (ESS) should offer such role-based filters, instead of the generic ones they currently employ. Typical ESS filtering parameters include individuals, groups or communities, and workspaces. Some vendors offer the ability to filter by status as a collaborator on an object, such as a specific document or sales opportunity. A few ESS providers allow individuals to create custom filters for their activity stream. While all of these filters are helpful, they do not go far enough in helping individuals narrow the activity stream to view updates needed in a specific work context.

The next logical step will be to create standard sets of role-based filters that can be further customized by the individuals using them. Just as LinkedIn has created a filter set that is useful to recruiters, ESS providers and deploying organizations must work together to create valuable filter sets for employees performing specific jobs and tasks. Doing so will result in increased productivity from, and effectiveness of, any organization’s greatest asset – it’s people.

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Guest Post: A Marketer’s Takeaways from Gilbane San Francisco

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Gilbane SF. The conference brought together some of the top content management people from the U.S. and internationally. Overall, one of the things I really enjoyed about the conference was the mix of people on each of the panels — you had analysts, developers and content creators responsible for developing content and building web sites.

I focused on my time on the Customers and Engagement Track and also went to a few sessions in the Content Technology Track. As expected, there was a lot of talk of Web 2.0 and how to implement social into your content management strategy. There were also several sessions examining return on investment (ROI) for implementation.

Keynotes:

Jeremiah Owyang from the Altimeter Group kicked off the two day conference with a presentation titled “Your Corporate Website Can be Relevant Again”. His slides and video of his keynote are now available online. Jeremiah laid out an 8-step plan on how corporate websites can evolve into social websites that integrate the social experience into their web site. The best part of his presentation, which you can see on the slides is the real-world examples of sites along each step of the integration process.

Jeremiah was followed by Daniel Rasmus who spoke on The Future of Collaboration. My notes from his session are available. My key takeway from Daniel’s presentation was the importance of building a collaborative process within your organization. Everyday policies, such as how workplaces are designed, are all an important part of the social culture of an organization. In simple things, like meeting planning and design, everyone should have a voice. He also spoke a bit about millenials and how to create a work environment that is both supportive of millenials, but also encourages them to knowledge share about things that they know about. [Audience Engagement Frameworks Case StudiesGert-Jan Schikker from Voetbal International presented on how a leading sports magazine in Holland has incorporated social into its online presence and seen a large increase in traffic and engagement. They’ve not only added social, but they also created mobile platforms, added video and worked with their advertisers and online storefront to create custom experiences based on user data.Michael Fisher from Alterian and Steven Alessi of American Greetings Interactive gave a joint presentation about work they did around the Super Bowl. Alterian used its platform to create a campaign to show 46 different brands the value of monitoring customer sentiment. American Greetings talked about the work they have done to make the online card giving experience more interactive and allow brands to connect to consumers in a positive way. As Michael put it, the key is measurement. If you’re not measuring, there’s no way to know if you’re being successful. 

How to Mold the Customer Experience: My favorite panel of the entire two days was moderated by Ian Truscott and had Melissa Casburn (ISITE Design) and Randy Woods (non-linear creations) speaking about creating a customer experience on your web site. The thing that made this presentation great was that Melissa and Randy had obviously worked together to build the presentation and incorporate examples from both of their work. The presentation was all about how to research your customers and build personas based on customer research and then use those personas to shape the experience on your web site. The approach to building personas is a great idea as it allows you to use aggregate data. Melissa and Randy also provided some useful information on how to get started with a limited budget and use crowdsourcing to help with the process.

WCM as the Digital Marketing Hub: Ian Truscott and Robert Rose gave the final panel of the two days. Being the final panel is not an enviable position as people have been sitting around for two days, but Ian and Robert brought a lot of energy and humor that kept things interesting. Ian set things up by talking about the opportunity of working with customers on your web site. They are coming to your web site because they are looking for information. You have a chance to engage with them, but it’s a brief opportunity and you need to make the most of it. Ian shared an awesome anecdote about a small town men’s suit shop business owner and how he knows how to ask the right questions to provide a custom experience for each person that walks in the door.

Robert followed Ian and gave some great real-world examples about how web content management relates to online marketing. Back in the early days of web development, the process was owned by the IT / Tech departments, but your corporate website is really a marketing tool. Marketers need to have the ability to be creative and be able to try things (either A/B testing or multivariate testing) without having to go through a long and involved process. Robert gave a list of things that people could start doing immediately to help separate the marketing process from the technology process.

More detailed notes from these sessions and the others I attended can be found on my blog.

My thanks to Gilbane San Francisco and Robert Rose, who gave me one of his speaker passes to the conference. I’m already looking forward to attending Gilbane Boston later this year.

Sue Anne Reed
http://www.sueannereed.com

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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)?

Gilbane Group answers these questions in our latest Beacon, which it titled Cloud Content Management: Facilitating Controlled Sharing of Active Content. Here is how we briefly define Cloud Content Management and contrast it to ECM:

"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. We urge you to download the Beacon (free registration required), read it, then return here to share comments.

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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?

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Filtering Microblogging and Activity Streams

The use of microblogging and activity streams is maturing in the enterprise. This was demonstrated by recent announcements of enhancements to those components in two well-regarded enterprise social software suites.

On February 18th, NewsGator announced a point release to its flagship Enterprise 2.0 offering, Social Sites 3.1. According to NewsGator, this release introduces the ability for individuals using Social Sites to direct specific microblogging posts and status updates to individuals, groups, and communities. Previously, all such messages were distributed to all followers of the individual poster and to the general activity stream of the organization. Social Sites 3.1 also introduced the ability for individuals to filter their activity streams using "standard and custom filters".

Yesterday (March 3rd), Socialtext announced a major new version of its enterprise social software suite, Socialtext 4.0. Both the microblogging component of Socialtext’s suite and its stand-along microblogging appliance now allow individuals to broadcast short messages to one or more groups (as well as to the entire organization and self-selected followers.) Socialtext 4.0 also let individuals filter their incoming activity stream to see posts from groups to which they belong (in addition to filtering the flow with the people and event filters that were present in earlier versions of the offering.)

The incorporation of these filters for outbound and incoming micro-messages are an important addition to the offerings of NewsGator and Socialtext, but they are long overdue. Socialcast has offered similar functionality for nearly two years and Yammer has included these capabilities for some time as well (and extended them to community members outside of an organization’s firewall, as announced on February 25th.) Of course, both Socialcast and Yammer will need to rapidly add additional filters and features to stay one step ahead of NewsGator and Socialtext, but that represents normal market dynamics and is not the real issue. The important question is this:

What other filters do individuals within organizations need to better direct microblogging posts and status updates to others, and to mine their activity streams?

I can easily imagine use cases for location, time/date, and job title/role filters. What other filters would be useful to you in either targeting the dissemination of a micro-message or winnowing a rushing activity stream?

One other important question that arises as the number of potential micro-messaging filters increases is what should be the default setting for views of outgoing and incoming messages? Should short bits of information be sent to everyone and activity streams show all organizational activity by default, so as to increase ambient awareness? Perhaps a job title/role filter should be the default, in order to maximize the focus and productivity of individuals?

There is no single answer other than "it depends", because each organization is different. What matters is that the decision is taken (and not overlooked) with specific corporate objectives in mind and that individuals are given the means to easily and intuitively change the default target of their social communications and the pre-set lens through which they view those of others.

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Observations from Gilbane Boston 2009

The 2009 version of the Gilbane Boston conference was held last week. It was the second one I have attended and my first as a track coordinator (I designed the Collaboration and Social Software track and made it happen.) The event was well attended (c. 1100 people) and the number of sponsors and exhibitors was up significantly from last year’s Boston conference. Many of the sessions I attended offered valuable insights from speakers and audience members. All in all, I would label the conference a success.

The Collaboration and Social Software track sessions were designed to minimize formal presentation time and encourage open discussion between panelists and audience members instead. Each session focused on either a common collaboration challenge (collaborative content authoring, content sharing, fostering discussions, managing innovation) or on a specific technology offering (Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and Google Wave.) The sessions that dealt with specific technologies produced more active discussion than those that probed general collaboration issues. I am not sure why that was the case, but the SharePoint and Wave sessions spawned the level of interactivity that I had hoped for in all the panels. The audience seemed a bit reticent to join in the others. Perhaps it took them a while to warm up (the SharePoint and Wave sessions were at the end of the track.)

Here are some other, high level observations from the entire Gilbane Boston 2009 conference:

Twitter: Last year (and at Gilbane San Francisco in June 2009) attendees were buzzing about Twitter, wondering what it was and how it could be used in a corporate setting. This year the word “Twitter” was hardly uttered at all, by presenters or attendees. Most audience members seemed to be fixated on their laptop or smartphone during the conference sessions, but the related tweet stream flow was light compared to other events I’ve attended this quarter. The online participation level of folks interested in content management seems to mirror their carbon form patterns. Most are content to listen and watch, while only a few ask questions or make comments. That is true across all audiences, of course, but it seemed especially pronounced at Gilbane Boston.

SharePoint 2010: This topic replaced Twitter as the ubiquitous term at Gilbane Boston. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “SharePoint” at the conference, I would be able to buy a significant stake in Microsoft! Every company I consulted with during the event was seeking to make SharePoint either their primary content management and collaboration platform, or a more important element in their technology mix. Expectations for what will be possible with SharePoint 2010 are very high. If Microsoft can deliver on their vision, they will gain tremendous share in the market; if not, SharePoint may well have seen its zenith. Everything that I have heard and seen suggests the former will occur.

Google Wave: This fledgling technology also generated substantial buzz at Gilbane Boston. The session on Wave was very well attended, especially considering that it was the next-to-last breakout of the conference. An informal poll of the session audience indicated that nearly half have established a Wave account. However, when asked if they used Wave regularly, only about 20% of the registered users responded affirmatively;. Actual participation in the Wave that I created for attendees to take notes and discuss the Collaboration track online underscored the poll results. Most session attendees said they see the potential to collaborate differently, and more effectively and efficiently, in Wave, but cited many obstacles that were preventing them from doing so at this time. Audience members agree that the Wave user experience has a long way to go; functionality is missing and the user interface and features that are there are not easy to use. Most attendees thought Wave’s current shortcomings would be improved or eliminated entirely as they product matures. However, many also noted that collaboration norms within their organization would have to change before Wave is heavily adopted.

Open Source: This was the hot topic of the conference. Everyone was discussing open source content management and collaboration software. An informal poll of the audience at the opening keynote panel suggested that about 40% were using open source content management software. Many of the other attendees wanted to learn more about open source alternatives to the proprietary software they have been using. Clients that I met with asked questions about feature availability, ease of use, cost benefits, and financial viability of providers of open source content management and collaboration software. It was clear that open source is now considered a viable, and perhaps desirable, option by most organizations purchasing enterprise software.

My big take-away from Gilbane Boston 2009 is that we are experiencing an inflection point in the markets for enterprise content management and collaboration software. Monolithic, rigid, proprietary solutions are falling out of favor and interest in more lightweight, flexible, social, open source offerings is rapidly growing. I expect that this trend will continue to manifest itself at Gilbane San Francisco in June 2010, and beyond.

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The Customer-Vendor Conversation: A key to success in WCM

 

Having gotten my feet [soaking] wet with briefings from Web Content Management vendors, I’ve come to a realization: the Customer-Vendor feedback loop is one of the strongest keys to long-term success for all parties. A blinding flash of the obvious? I don’t think so.  Let me explain…

I have seen, and written, a lot of RFPs seeking “the perfect” WCM product. The natural tendency in these “quests for the holy grail” is for the tool-seeker to list as many WCM features as one might possibly use [...maybe...at some point in the future... if only...] and for the vendors to respond, in turn, by listing all of their capabilities and feature sets. As one might imagine, this scenario typically results in responses which provide the decision-maker minimal product differentiation information.  Why? Because like it or not, most WCM products offer similar feature sets, and if they don’t offer a particular feature today, one can be sure it’s “on the roadmap”.  [I'll spend more time in a future post describing how one can craft an RFP to elicit valuable responses which actually help one decide which product(s) align most closely with needs of the author.] But today’s capabilities are tomorrow’s old news, so how can one be sure they’re selecting a vendor whose product will meet tomorrow’s needs? Take a look at the vendor’s track record and approach to collaborating with customers to expand and hone its offering.

As I delve into some of the top-rated [by users] WCM vendors, I see a consistent “customer-is-key” theme being played out in the form of both formal and informal feedback channels.  These “conversations” with customers can be either synchronous or asynchronous, direct or indirect, two-way or multi-way…or all of the above.  The point is that successful vendors [pro]actively engage their customers, and then respond in a meaningful manner to enhance their offering in a way that ensures that the product’s “roadmap” is *always* aligned with the needs of both current and future customers.

In a recent briefing with a vendor [who I feel has a great approach to managing this feedback loop], the last slide in their presentation listed four of their key differentiators…but all of them were technology-related and failed to mention my aforementioned favorite. Why not?  Is it because they aren’t proud of this factor? Absolutely not…they are very proud of it and have worked hard to create such a valuable dialog with their customers. My sense is they left it out because this subject is not yet a key criteria in the minds of decision-makers.

We are failing to ask the right questions.  Why wouldn’t customer service and engagement be the key in such a huge purchase decision? It should.  Innovation is essential, but I believe it is critical that we, the customers, ensure we have a place at the table to refine the direction of such innovation. After all, innovation without purpose or utility is useless.

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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. 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?

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Box.net Offers Proof of Its New Enterprise Strategy

box_logo.gifBox.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.

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