Curated for content, computing, and digital experience professionals

Author: Larry Hawes (Page 2 of 3)

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.

Integration of Social Software and Content Management Systems: The Big Picture

Jive Software’s announcement last week of the Jive SharePoint Connector was met with a “so what” reaction by many people. They criticized Jive for not waiting to make the announcement until the SharePoint Connector is actually available later this quarter (even though pre-announcing product is now a fairly common practice in the industry.) Many also viewed this as a late effort by Jive to match existing SharePoint content connectivity found in competitor’s offerings, most notably those of NewsGator, Telligent, Tomoye, Atlassian, Socialtext, and Connectbeam.

Those critics missed the historical context of Jive’s announcement and, therefore, failed to understand its ramifications. Jive’s SharePoint integration announcement is very important because it:

  • underscores the dominance of SharePoint in the marketplace, in terms of deployments as a central content store, forcing all competitors to acknowledge that fact and play nice (provide integration)
  • reinforces the commonly-held opinion that SharePoint’s current social and collaboration tools are too difficult and expensive to deploy, causing organizations to layer third-party solution on top of existing SharePoint deployments
  • is the first of several planned connections from Jive Social Business Software (SBS) to third-party content management systems, meaning that SBS users will eventually be able to find and interact with enterprise content without regard for where it is stored
  • signals Jive’s desire to become the de facto user interface for all knowledge workers in organizations using SBS

The last point is the most important. Jive’s ambition is bigger than just out-selling other social software vendors. The company intends to compete with other enterprise software vendors, particularly with platform players (e.g. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP), to be the primary productivity system choice of large organizations. Jive wants to position SBS as the knowledge workers’ desktop, and their ability to integrate bi-directionally with third-party enterprise applications will be key to attaining that goal.

Jive’s corporate strategy was revealed in March, when they decreed a new category of enterprise software — Social Business Software. Last week’s announcement of an ECM connector strategy reaffirms that Jive will not be satisfied by merely increasing its Social Media or Enterprise 2.0 software market share. Instead, Jive will seek to dominate its own category that bleeds customers from other enterprise software market spaces.

Google Wave Protocols: Clearing the Confusion

Today is the long-awaited day when 100,000 lucky individuals receive access to an early, but working, version of Google Wave. I hope I am in those ranks! Like many people, I have been reading about Wave, but have not been able to experience it hands-on

Wave has been a hot topic since it was first shown outside of Google last May. Yet it continues to be quite misunderstood, most likely because it is such an early stage effort and most interested people have not been able to lay hands on the technology. For that very reason, Gilbane Group is presenting a panel entitled Google Wave: Collaboration Revolution or Confusion? at the Gilbane Boston conference, on December 3rd.

The confusion surrounding Wave was highlighted for me yesterday in a Twitter exchange on the topic. It all started innocently enough, when Andy McAfee asked:

Andy1

To which I replied:

Larry1

That statement elicited the following comment from Jevon MacDonald of the Dachis Group:

Jevon1

I am not a technologist. I seek to understand technology well enough that I can explain it in layman’s terms to business people, so they understand how technology can help them achieve their business goals. So I generally avoid getting into deep technical discussions. This time, however, I was pretty sure that I was on solid ground, so the conversation between me and Jevon continued:

Larry2

Larry3

Jevon2

Now, here we are, at the promised blog post. But, how can Jevon and I both be correct? Simple. Google Wave encompasses not one, but several protocols for communication between system components, as illustrated in the figure below.

wave_protocols

Figure 1: Google Wave Protocols (Source: J. Aaron Farr,

The most discussed of these is the Google Wave Federation protocol, which is an extension of the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP). However, Wave also requires protocols for client-server and robot server- (Web service) Wave server communication. It is also possible, but probably not desirable, for Wave to utilize a client-client protocol.

Jevon was absolutely correct about the XMPP protocol enabling server-server communication in the Google Wave Federation Protocol. The Draft Protocol Specification for the Google Wave Federation Protocol lays out the technical details, which I will not explore here. XMPP provides a reliable mechanism for server-server communication and is a logical choice for that function in Google Wave, because XMPP was originally designed to transmit instant message and presence data.

It turns out that the Google Wave team has not defined a specific protocol to be used in client-server communication. A Google whitepaper entitled Google Wave Data Model and Client-Server Protocol does not mention a specific protocol. The absence of a required or recommended protocol is also confirmed by this blog post. While the Google implementation of Wave does employ HTTP as the client-server protocol, as Jevon stated, it is possible to use XMPP as the basis for client-server communication, as I maintained. ProcessOne demonstrates this use of XMPP in this blog post and demo.

Finally, there is no technical reason that XMPP could not be used to route communications directly from one client to another. However, it would not be desirable to communicate between more than two clients via XMPP. Without a server somewhere in the implementation, Wave would be unable to coordinate message state between multiple clients. In plain English, the Wave clients most likely would not be synchronized, so each would display a different point in the conversation encapsulated in the Wave.

To summarize, Google Wave employs the following protocols:

  • XMPP for server-server communication
  • HTTP for client-server communication in the current Google implementation; XMPP is possible, as demonstrated by ProcessOne
  • HTTP (JSON RPC) for robot server-Wave server communication in the current Google implementation
  • Client-client protocol is not defined, as this mode of communication is most likely not usable in a Wave

I hope this post clarifies the protocols used in the current architecture of Google Wave for you. More importantly, I hope that it highlights just how much additional architectural definition needs to take place before Wave is ready for use by the masses. If I had a second chance to address Andy McAfee’s question, I would unequivocally state that Google Wave is a “concept car” at this point in time.

Postscript: The heretofore mentioned possibilities around XMPP as a client-client protocol are truly revolutionary.
The use of XMPP as the primary communication protocol for the Internet, instead of the currently used HTTP protocol, would create a next generation Internet in which centralized servers would no longer serve as intermediaries between users. Web application architectures, even business models, would be changed. See this post for a more detailed explanation of this vision, which requires each user to run a personal server on their computing device.

Enterprise 2.0 is Neither a Crock Nor the Entire Solution

Dennis Howlett has once again started a useful and important debate, this time with his Irregular Enterprise blog post entitled Enterprise 2.0: what a crock. While I am sympathetic to some of the thinking he expressed, I felt the need to address one point Dennis raised and a question he asked.

I very much agree with this statement by Dennis:

“Like it or not, large enterprises – the big name brands – have to work in structures and hierarchies…”

However, I strongly disagree with his related contention (“the Big Lie” as he terms it) that:

“Enterprise 2.0 pre-supposes that you can upend hierarchies for the benefit of all.

Dennis also posed a question that probably echoes what many business leaders are asking:

“In the meantime, can someone explain to me the problem Enterprise 2.0 is trying to solve?

Below is the comment that I left on Dennis’ blog. It begins to answer the final question he asked and address my disagreement with his contention that Enterprise 2.0 advocates seek to create anarchy. Is my vision for the co-existence of structured and recombinant organizational and work models clear and understandable? Reasonable and viable? If not, I will expand my thoughts in a future post. Please let me know what you think.

Enterprise 2.0 is trying to solve a couple levels of problems.

From a technology standpoint, E2.0 is addressing the failure of existing enterprise systems to provide users with a way to work through exceptions in defined business processes during their execution. E2.0 technology does this by helping the user identify and communicate with those who can help deal with the issue; it also creates a discoverable record of the solution for someone facing a similar issue in the future.

From a organizational and cultural perspective, E2.0 is defining a way of operating for companies that reflects the way work is actually accomplished — by peer-to-peer interaction, not through command and control hierarchy. Contrary to your view, E2.0 does not pre-suppose the destruction of hierarchy. Correctly implemented (philosophy and technology), E2.0 provides management a view of the company that is complementary to the organization chart.

Addendum: See this previous post for more of my perspective on the relationship of structured and ad hoc methods of working.

The Nexus of Defined Business Process and Ad Hoc Collaboration

My friend Sameer Patel wrote and published a very good blog post last week that examined the relationship of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and enterprise social software. His analysis was astute (as usual) and noted that there was a role for both types of software, because they offer different value propositions. ECM enables controlled, repeatable content publication processes, whereas social software empowers rapid, collaborative creation and sharing of content. There is a place for both in large enterprises. Sameer’s suggestion was that social software be used for authoring, sharing, and collecting feedback on draft documents or content chunks before they are formally published and widely distributed. ECM systems may then be used to publish the final, vetted content and manage it throughout the content lifecycle.

The relationship between ECM and enterprise social software is just one example of an important, higher level interconnection — the nexus of defined business processes and ad hoc collaboration. This is the sweet spot at which organizations will balance employees’ requirements for speed and flexibility with the corporation’s need for control. The following (hypothetical, but typical) scenario in a large company demonstrates this intersection.

A customer account manager receives a phone call from a client asking why an issue with their service has not been resolved and when it will be. The account manager can query a workflow-supported issue management system and learn that the issue has been assigned to a specific employee and that it has been assigned an "in-progress" status. However, that system does not tell the account manager what she really needs to know! She must turn to a communication system to ask the other employee what is the hold up and the current estimate of time to issue resolution. She emails, IM’s, phones, or maybe even tweets the employee to whom the issue has been assigned to get an answer she can give the customer.

The employee to whom the issue was assigned most likely cannot use the issue management system to actually resolve the problem either. He uses a collaboration system to find documented information and individuals possessing knowledge that can help him deal with the issue. Once the problem is solved, the employee submits the solution to the issue management system, which feeds it to a someone who can make the necessary changes for the customer and inform the customer account manager that the issue is resolved. Case closed.

The above scenario illustrates the need for both process and people-centric systems. Without the cludgy, structured issue management system, the customer account manager would not have known to whom the issue had been assigned and, thus, been unable to contact a specific individual to get better information about its status. Furthermore, middle managers would not have been able to assign the case in a systematic way or see the big picture of all cases being worked on for customers without the workflow and reporting capabilities of the issue management system. On the other hand, ad hoc communication and collaboration systems were the tools that drove actual results. The account manager and the employee to whom the issue was assigned would not have been able to do their work if the issue management system was their only support tool. They needed less structured tools that allowed them to communicate and collaborate quickly to actually resolve the issue.

We should not expect that organizations striving to become more people-centric will abandon their ECM, ERP, or other systems that guide or enforce key business processes. There is a need for both legacy management and Enterprise 2.0 philosophies and systems in large enterprises operating in matrixed organizational structures. Each approach can provide value; one quantifiable in hard currency and the other in terms of softer, but important, business metrics (more on this in a future post.) The enterprises that identify, and operate at, the intersection of structured process and ad hoc communication/collaboration will gain short-term competitive advantage.

Go With the (Enterprise 2.0 Adoption) Flow

People may be generally characterized as one of the following: optimists, realists, or pessimists. We all know the standard scenario used to illustrate these stereotypes.

Optimists look at the glass and say that it is partially full. Pessimists remark that the glass is mostly empty. Realists note that there is liquid in the glass and make no value judgment about the level.

The global Enterprise 2.0 community features the same types of individuals. I hear them speak and read their prose daily, noticing the differences in the way that they characterize the current state of the E2.0 movement. E2.0 evangelists (optimists) trumpet that the movement is revolutionary. Doubters proclaim that E2.0 will ultimately fail for many of the same reasons that earlier attempts to improve organizational collaboration did. Realists observe events within the E2.0 movement, but don’t predict its success or demise.

All opinions should be heard and considered, to be sure. In some ways, the position of the realist is ideal, but it lacks the spark needed to create forward, positive momentum for E2.0 adoption or to kill it. A different perspective is what is missing in the current debate regarding the health of the E2.0 movement.

Consider again the picture of the glass of liquid and the stereotypical reactions people have to it. Note that none of those reactions considers flow. Is the level of liquid in the glass rising or falling?

Now apply the flow question to the E2.0 movement. Is it gaining believers or is it losing followers? Isn’t that net adoption metric the one that really matters, as opposed to individual opinions, based on static views of the market, about the success or failure of the E2.0 movement to-date?

The E2.0 community needs to gather more quantitative data regarding E2.0 adoption in order to properly access the health of the movement. Until that happens, the current, meaningless debate over the state of E2.0 will continue. The effect of that wrangling will be neither positive or negative — net adoption will show little gain —  as more conservative adopters continue to sit on the sideline, waiting for the debate to end.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that E2.0 adoption is increasing, albeit slowly. The surest way to accelerate E2.0 adoption is to go with the flow — to measure and publicize increases in the number of organizations using social software to address tangible business problems. Published E2.0 case studies are great, but until more of those are available, simply citing the increase in the number of organizations deploying E2.0 software should suffice to move laggards off the sideline and on to the playing field.

Assessment of My Enterprise 2.0 Conference Predictions

The Enterprise 2.0 Conference was held last week, in Boston. Prior to the event, I made some predictions as to expected learnings and outcomes from the conference. Today, I will revisit those prognostications to determine their accuracy.

Here is the original list of things that I anticipated encountering at the E2.0 Conference this year. Each prediction is followed by an assessment of the statement’s validity and some explanatory comments:

A few more case studies from end user organizations, but not enough to indicate that we’ve reached a tipping point in the E2.0 market: TRUE The number of case studies presented this year seemed to be roughly the same as last year. That is to say very few. The best one that I heard was a presentation by Lockheed Martin employees, which was an update to their case study presented last year at E2.0 Conference. It was great to hear the progress they had made and the issues with which they have dealt in the last year. However, I was genuinely disappointed by the absence of fresh case studies. Indeed, the lack of new case studies was the number one conference content complaint heard during the event wrap-up session (indeed, throughout the show.)

An acknowledgement that there are still not enough data and case studies to allow us to identify best practices in social software usage:
TRUE This turned out to be a huge understatement. There are not even enough publicly available data points and stories to allow us to form a sense of where the Enterprise 2.0 market is in terms of adoption, much less of best practices or common success factors. At this rate, it will be another 12-18 months before we can begin to understand which companies have deployed social software and at what scale, as well as what works and what doesn’t when implementing an E2.0 project.

That entrenched organizational culture remains the single largest obstacle to businesses trying to deploy social software:
TRUE The “C” word popped up in every session I attended and usually was heard multiple times per session. The question debated at the conference was a chicken and egg one; must culture change to support adoption of E2.0 practices and tools, or is E2.0 a transformational force capable of reshaping an organization’s culture and behaviors? That question remains unanswered, in part because of the lack of E2.0 case studies. However, historical data and observations on enterprise adoption of previous generations of collaboration technologies tell us that leadership must be willing to change the fundamental values, attitudes, and behaviors of the organization in order to improve collaboration. Grassroots evangelism for, and usage of, collaboration tools is not powerful enough to drive lasting cultural change in the face of resistance from leadership.

A nascent understanding that E2.0 projects must touch specific, cross-organizational business processes in order to drive transformation and provide benefit: TRUE I was very pleased to hear users, vendors, and analysts/consultants singing from the same page in this regard. Everyone I heard at E2.0 Conference understood that it would be difficult to realize and demonstrate benefits from E2.0 initiatives that did not address specific business processes spanning organizational boundaries. The E2.0 movement seems to have moved from speaking about benefits in general, soft terms to groping for how to demonstrate process-based ROI (more on this below.)

A growing realization that the E2.0 adoption will not accelerate meaningfully until more conservative organizations hear and see how other companies have achieved specific business results and return on investment: TRUE Conference attendees were confounded by two related issues; the lack of demonstrative case studies and the absence of a clear, currency-based business case for E2.0 initiatives. More conservative organizations won’t move ahead with E2.0 initiatives until they can see at least one of those things and some will demand both. People from end user organizations attending the conference admitted as much both publicly and privately.

A new awareness that social software and its implementations must include user, process, and tool analytics if we are ever to build a ROI case that is stated in terms of currency, not anecdotes:
TRUE Interestingly, the E2.0 software vendors are leading this charge, not their customers. A surprising number of vendors were talking about analytics in meetings and briefings I had at the conference, and many were announcing the current or future addition of those capabilities to their offerings at the show. E2.0 software is increasingly enabling organizations to measure the kinds of metrics that will allow them to build a currency-based business case following a pilot implementation. Even better, some vendors are mining their products’ new analytics capabilities to recommend relevant people and content to system users!

That more software vendors that have entered the E2.0 market, attracted by the size of the business opportunity around social software:
TRUE I haven’t counted and compared the number of vendors in Gartner’s E2.0 Magic Quadrant from last year and this year, but I can definitely tell you that the number of vendors in this market has increased. This could be the subject of another blog post, and I won’t go into great detail here. There are a few new entrants that are offering E2.0 suites or platforms (most notably Open Text). Additionally, the entrenchment of SharePoint 2007 in the market has spawned many small startup vendors adding social capabilities on top of SharePoint. The proliferation of these vendors underscores the current state of dissatisfaction with SharePoint 2007 as an E2.0 platform. It also foreshadows a large market shakeout that will likely occur when Microsoft releases SharePoint 2010.

A poor opinion of, and potentially some backlash against, Microsoft SharePoint as the foundation of an E2.0 solution; this will be tempered, however, by a belief that SharePoint 2010 will be a game changer and upset the current dynamics of the social software market:
TRUE Yes, there are many SharePoint critics out there and they tend to be more vocal than those who are satisfied with their SharePoint deployment. The anti-SharePoint t-shirts given away by Box.net at the conference sum up the attitude very well. Yet most critics seem to realize that the next release of SharePoint will address many of their current complaints. I heard more than one E2.0 conference attendee speculate on the ability of the startup vendors in the SharePoint ecosystem to survive when Microsoft releases SharePoint 2010.

An absence of understanding that social interactions are content-centric and, therefore, that user generated content must be managed in much the same manner as more formal documents:
FALSE Happily, I was wrong on this one. There was much discussion about user generated content at the conference, as well as talk about potential compliance issues surrounding E2.0 software. It seems that awareness of the importance of content in social systems is quite high among vendors and early adopters. The next step will be to translate that awareness into content management features and processes. That work has begun and should accelerate, judging by what I heard and
saw at the conference.

So there are the results. I batted .888! If you attended the conference, I’d appreciate your comments on my perceptions of the event. Did you hear and see the same things, or did the intense after hours drinking and major sleep deficit of last week cause me to hallucinate? I’d appreciate your comments even if you weren’t able to be at E2.0 Conference, but have been following the market with some regularity.

I hope this post has given you a decent sense of the current state of the Enterprise 2.0 market. More importantly, I believe that this information can help us focus our efforts to drive the E2.0 movement forward in the coming year. We can and should work together to best these challenges and make the most of these opportunities.

Enterprise 2.0 Conference Predictions

The Enterprise 2.0 Conference begins this evening in Boston. Conference organizers indicate that there are approximately 1,500 people registered for the event, which has become the largest one for those interested in the use of Web 2.0 technologies inside business organizations.

The most valuable part of last year’s conference was the case studies on Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) from early adopter organizations like Lockheed Martin and the Central Intelligence Agency. They presented an early argument for how and why Web 2.0 could be used by businesses.

Here are some things that I anticipate encountering at the E2.0 Conference this year:

  • a few more case studies from end user organizations, but not enough to indicate that we’ve reached a tipping point in the E2.0 market
  • an acknowledgement that there are still not enough data and case studies to allow us to identify best practices in social software usage
  • that entrenched organizational culture remains the single largest obstacle to businesses trying to deploy social software
  • a nascent understanding that E2.0 projects must touch specific, cross-organizational business processes in order to drive transformation and provide benefit
  • a growing realization that the E2.0 adoption will not accelerate meaningfully until more conservative organizations hear and see how other companies have achieved specific business results and return on investment
  • a new awareness that social software and its implementations must include user, process, and tool analytics if we are ever to build a ROI case that is stated in terms of currency, not anecdotes
  • that more software vendors that have entered the E2.0 market, attracted by the size of the business opportunity around social software
  • a poor opinion of, and potentially some backlash against, Microsoft SharePoint as the foundation of an E2.0 solution; this will be tempered, however, by a belief that SharePoint 2010 will be a game changer and upset the current dynamics of the social software market
  • an absence of understanding that social interactions are content-centric and, therefore, that user generated content must be managed in much the same manner as more formal documents

So there are some of my predictions for take-aways from this year’s E2.0 conference. I will publish a post-conference list of what I actually did hear and learn. That should make for some interesting comparison with today’s post; we will learn if my sense of the state of the market was accurate or just plain off.

In the meanwhile, I will be live-tweeting some of the sessions I attend so you can get a sense of what is being discussed at the E2.0 Conference on the fly. You can see my live tweets by following my event feed on Twitter.

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