And they’re off… Postcard from Enterprise 2.0 Boston

From the mood here at the Enterprise 2.0 conference, you’d never know we were in an economic recession and still lingering financial crisis.  Most folks I’ve met are upbeat and optimistic about the prospects for business in the sluggish economy.  Of course, the conference has not yet officially kicked off yet, but judging from the tenor of the well-attended workshops yesterday and the wall-to-wall social events that have dominated the experience here, I’d say this mood will probably continue all week.

There are some news items breaking this morning that I want to get out, although I don’t have time to go into a deep dive on them.  Some interesting news out of SAP and Jive includes and OEM agreement where Jive will integrate its business intelligence software into Jive’s “social business” platform offering community analytics to Jive’s customer base.  The new software will offer a means of capturing and understanding the behavoirs and content that flows through social communities in order to make intelligent decisions.  The rumor, of course, all week was that SAP was buying Jive, but that appears to be unfounded.  This new venture, however, marks a clear initiative by SAP to (finally) take social software seriously, and likewise, it provides a grownup capability for a social software platform like Jive to deliver some clear business benefit.  I’ll be taking a look at the new happy couple later in the day in the demo area.

Secondly, Socialtext has finally announced its long-promised SocialCalc which was developed by VisiCalc’s co-creator, Dan Bricklin.  Additionally, the company is offering free use of its social software platform for the first 50 users aptly called, “Socialtext Free 50.”  The move to a freemium model for Socialtext follows on the heels of Socialcast‘s similar free offering for its social software.  In my experience, once folks are exposed to working socially and encouraged to do so by their peers, social software grows virally.  The freemium model is probably a smart move to take the edge off early adopter user resistance.  I will be curious to see how this move impacts adoption for Socialtext and others experimenting with the model.

Finally, my alma mater, nGenera has made some announcements this week at the conference.  The company launched four “Collaborative Enterprise Management” solutions for Enterprise Collaboration, Collaborative Selling, Customer Experience, and Talent Management.  nGenera is hosting a small event tonight in the hotel (Hancock Room) at 5:30 and will feature well-known author and speaker Tammy Erickson.  If you’re curious about who nGenera is and how they fit into the Enterprise 2.0 landscape, I encourage you to attend the session or talk to the nGenera folks at the show.  The company is uniquely positioned in a high-end slice of the market.

Also, if you’re here at the conference, please consider attending the unconference/barcamp sessions I’ll be participating in on Wednesday afternoon with Ross Mayfield and Brian Magierski.  There has been a lot of talk recently about framing the market and establishing a universal view of the semantics that surround the space.  I have a slide I’d like to invite the community to perhaps validate and improve on that I will be presenting Wednesday afternoon.  Barcamps are fun and interactive.  The best part is if you’re bored or a session’s not interesting, you can get up and walk out at any time.

Cognizant Global Experiment in the Collaborosphere Pays Off

As many of you know, I spent the first half of my career in the IT space tracking the IT services sector. The business of large-scale systems integrators and outsourcers wasn’t always thrilling, but boy-oh-boy, did those firms rake in the big bucks. Contracts weren’t even worth mentioning if they didn’t register in the hundreds of millions. At one point in the “megadeal” market for IT outsourcing, a contract would have to be in the billions to earn that designation.

Sigh.

I often wonder how my old friends in the SI/Outsourcer space are doing, and if in fact, any are adopting 2.0 technologies or practices internally or recommending them to their large customer bases. So, it was a pleasant surprise to reconnect with an old friend, Alan Alper, who is now working for another old friend, Malcolm Frank, both now at Cognizant— a large-scale integrator/outsourcer.

It turns out Cognizant is making productive use of 2.0 technologies and practices, and has realized some identifiable business results already. The company began an initiative about two years ago called, “Cognizant 2.0.” Essentially, the Cognizant 2.0 platform is a combination knowledge management/project workflow tool that incorporates 2.0 technology to leverage the combined intelligence and skills across Cognizant’s entire 60K workforce. What’s interesting about Cognizant 2.0 is that employees use the same tools they’re used to using in the workplace: Microsoft Project, Office, SharePoint, as well as their ERP systems. The platform integrates these enterprise “native” tools into a unique view that crosses time zones and geographic boundaries to glue the company’s expertise together. Dashboards now monitor critical project tasks and provide project teams with detailed, real-time access to workflow activities, information, targets, and deliverables. Internal blogging for the company has produced some surprising results. It grew essentially organically within the company as a means of communication and sharing and now includes non-related work content such as discussing charitable causes, movies reviews, weather, photography, and affinity-based professional interests.

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Cognizant estimates the new collaborative platform improves project cycle times on average about 20%. With more than a third (37%) of the company’s application development projects running through the platform, it encompasses over 4,000 projects at what will soon span more than 600 customers. One of the greatest gains has been a 70% productivity improvement for project managers who formerly used the company’s previous project management tool. About 20% of the workforce (over 10K), including the company CEO Francisco d’Souza, are blogging internally on the platform with over 3-5 million page views a month.

Customer satisfaction numbers for Cognizant have always been high (near 90% in recent years), but the advantages of working collaboratively and socially has given Cognizant a distinctive advantage vis-a-vis its competitors in a hotly contested space. In essence, the company has moved from “labor arbitrage” to what it now refers to as “intellectual arbitrage.” The Cognizant example is an excellent one that truly demonstrates business advantage to a large enterprise. The company intends on extending the platform to include suppliers and customers in upcoming releases.

If I had to point out a deficiency for Cognizant 2.0, like its enterprise software components, it’s not sexy. It could use a trendy 2.0 UI/UX makeover to make it more appealing to users. But considering most of Cognizant’s workforce is comfortable with plain-old-vanilla enterprise software for everyday use, there is probably no urgent need to doll up the platform. Moreover, as Cognizant is a public company with nearly $3B in revenue and an $8B market cap, the company’s priorities might well be more focused on business results than design awards. I give it a thumbs up for innovation, adoption, and an impressive approach to integrating the old with the new– which is what I’d hope to see from a world-class systems integrator.

Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!* Boston is Home Base for e20 Evangelists this Month.

picture-4Well, it’s that time of year again. The Enterprise 2.0 Conference is once again gearing up for an interesting week in Boston. All e20-loving fans and friends will be coming from all parts unknown to proselytize, share war stories, and re-energize for the year ahead.

The keynotes are exceptional this year. I’m really pleased we were able attract Matthew Fraser, co-author of one of my favorite 2.0 business books this year, “Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking will Transform Your Life, Work, and World.” We also have favorites from last year include Evening in the Cloud, OpenEnterprise09, and one of the stars of last year’s event: the Lockheed-Martin case study duo.

I’m particularly interested in a few sessions. (In fact, I gave up all my speaking slots so I could attend other sessions!) One that I don’t want to miss is Lee Bryant’s “Transition Strategies for e20 Adoption.” Headshift is one of the really innovative boutique consultancies out there focusing nearly exclusively on introducing 2.0 to the enterprise. Another one I’m interested in is Amy Vicker’s “The Sharepoint Factor.” I helped Amy get this on the program, and I’m sure she won’t disappoint. If y’all don’t have a Sharepoint strategy, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening if you’re serious about large enterprise. I think Mr. tell-it-like-it-is, Peter Kim, is going to surprise with his “Does Social Media and Marketing Matter?” panel. That one will probably break Twitter. To be honest, there are so many great sessions this year, it’s difficult to narrow down my must-attend events. I asked Steve Wylie how the registration is going. Surprisingly, the conference is holding up very well against the economic downturn. Steve said the numbers of customers are consistent with last year’s attendance too.

Once again, I will be pitching in on Enterprise2Open. This is a barcamp-style event where everyone gets a chance to present or share their own experiences. Brian Magierski, my former colleague at nGenera will be there, along with Ross Mayfield of Socialtext. Both companies are sponsoring the barcamp and have serious street cred in discussing the challenges and opportunities with making 2.0 in-roads in large enterprises. Last year’s sessions were well-attended, and I think everyone got a lot out of the group discussions. If you have something you’d like to present, sign up at the Enterprise2Open wiki and promote your event.

I’m still waiting on details for the social calendar (parties, dinners, etc.). But, I saw the first tweetup today. About two dozen people have already signed up. You may want to sign up early for the social network associated with the conference at MyE2. This is also where you’ll access the back channel that was very useful last year.

*”Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!” is from the children’s game of hide and seek where the “it” player summons everyone back to base (essentially because they’ve given up, which is kinda how I feel this year…) 🙂

The S in SAP stands for Systems, not Social

sap_sapphire_2009So, once again, SAP invited me to its annual SAPPHIRE and ASUG event. I find myself wondering if SAP will get return on their investment in me once again. The answer is, probably not. I’d like to think this is not my fault. For instance, if you search the hundreds of events SAP has listed on its agenda for customers, press, and partners for the words “Enterprise 2.0,” two sessions return. One is run by @matzeller (Matthias Zeller of Adobe) and the other is @finnern (SAP’s Mark Finnern, community evangelist), both on the last day and at the same bad time slot. (Great). Both Zeller and Finnern were with me in the blogger’s corner. If you broaden the search to “Web 2.0,” three sessions return. (Sigh).

The reality is SAP and its global customer base are just not ready for the socialization of the enterprise. It’s just not a topic that commands attention at this massive event (despite my valiant efforts to bring it up in every executive briefing). The majority of conversations at SAPPHIRE revolve around common themes such as decision-making, analysis, data, spreadsheets, databases, reports, statistics, and business processes. In other words, the real work that goes on in real businesses. Is that surprising? No. SAPPHIRE is to SAP what Disney World is to young families. (The Orlando location only reinforces my impression). With the pressure on to decrease costs and make smarter, faster decisions based on easily accessible real-time data, SAP customers and its ecosystem of suppliers and partners were buzzing with excitement and possibilities here. Extending the metaphor, Enterprise 2.0 might be considered the Pleasure Island nightclub of the enterprise (which Disney closed last summer, btw). Just an aside– whenever I was face to face with a “real” customer and it happened several times as I did some reporting-by-walking-around, I would ask the simple question: “Have you ever heard of Enterprise 2.0?” The answer was unanimous: “No.”

So, what can we deduct from this experience? SAPPHIRE may just be the best harbinger of the Enterprise 2.0 market’s maturity. Last year, if I searched on Enterprise 2.0, I’m fairly certain I would have found zero returns for scheduled sessions. That there are two this year is, indeed, progress. Further, the soft language of 2.0 has seeped into SAP’s strategic speak and hopefully, strategic consciousness. Leo Apotheker, SAP’s co-CEO and reigning commander in chief name-dropped a smattering of prevailing social buzzwords in his opening address i.e., transparency, collaboration, trust, and social communities. So, a big high-five from me to the speech writer for positioning SAP as a “we get it.” And, in reality, they do get it. They just haven’t incorporated deep social-collaborative functionality into their product suites (yet). This is about where the majority of large customers are. They “get it.” Some may be even experimenting with it (even if they’re not calling it Enterprise 2.0), but it’s not yet core to their business.

We spent some time with Marge Breya, EVP and GM for Business Objects who assured us in the next 6 – 12 months we’d see major social software additions to SAP’s traditional software, but was reluctant to say anything further. I encountered that reaction many times from even my fellow bloggers/analysts who were sworn to secrecy on SAP’s 2.0 plans. Some of the innovation may come from SAP’s innovation labs where the petri dish is hopping already with social trials. For me, the best demonstration at SAPPHIRE was by Timo Elliott, Senior Director of Strategic Markets, BusinessObjects Innovation Center. Elliott showed us Timo Elliott, SAP Business Objects labs various efforts that they’re testing in the labs including a social network analysis tool, but he too was very careful to make it clear that none of the existing experimental work was officially sanctioned as a product offering or improvement. Elliott also pointed us to a rogue, yet informative, web 2.0 site he manages where he is tracking how SAP uses 2.0 with its customers and partners, as well as explains various 2.0 projects underway within SAP.

Once again, I’m reminding that we’re still super early in our evangelism. I sensed some of the SAP employees I spoke to also felt some of that frustration and dare I say, disappointment, that the needle is moving so slowly in the enterprise. Next month, of course, I will be attending the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. I’m sure I’ll be re-energized there, although I remember good ole’ Tom Davenport who debated Andrew McAfee at the first conference in 2007 where he pooh-poohed Enterprise 2.0 in general. Davenport was right then, and he continues to be. I understand more now what he meant when he said, “I feel like an atheist at a Baptist convention” on the day of the debate. At SAPPHIRE, I was feeling a little like a Baptist at an atheist convention. SAP may one day stand for Social Applications and Programs, but it’s not clear to me when that day will arrive. (Or– why it should, frankly. Which is a blog post for another day.)

Putting 2.0 to Work: Spigit

Here is another great product in the “Recession-Ready 2.0 Stimulus Package” series on products that can help jump start the economy. Hutch Carpenter, whom I’ve come to admire and respect deeply for his insight into 2.0 adoption, recently gave me a heads up he was joining Spigit. Of course, I checked out Spigit’s site and had an immediate reaction:

picture-2Somehow in my canvassing of the e2.0 universe, I missed this really cool company. I had a chance to see a demo last week with CEO, Paul Pluschkell and ask him some questions about the product and their journey.

Spigit is a beautifully designed “idea-based” social network for any size enterprise. What’s uniquely interesting about Spigit is it is action-oriented: its sole purpose in the enterprise or within its external ecosystem of customers and suppliers is to generate good ideas that lead to better products, better usability, revenue-producing initiatives and/or cost savings recommendations. In fact, anything can be a good idea and you can virtually find it anywhere– inside the company or out. With Spigit, now you have a way to get support for a good idea and refine it further.

The company offers two basic platforms: one for internal idea generation, InnovationSpigit, and one that faces externally, IdeaSpigit, to reap good ideas from its external community of suppliers/partners/customers/fans, etc. Judging from the live demo I saw, the user interface on this product is gorgeous and has an addicting “game-like” quality to it that encourages adoption. For management, there are over one million different variables for tracking metrics and user behavior. Additionally, this is the first Enterprise 2.0 product platform I’ve seen that incorporates prediction markets technology, PredictionSpigit, (which Andrew McAfee is so fond of).

The good news on Spigit is a single great idea can deliver a mind-numbing ROI. The somewhat bad news is it’s a little pricey. Enterprise licenses range from $25K for less than 1,000 people to $300K for over 100,000 people annually in a standard SaaS-based monthly pricing contract. If you want to host Spigit behind the firewall, that’s also an option. But, it’s probably the most expensive option, as you must buy the license in perpetuity. With each license, Spigit bundles in a dedicated community manager, a kickoff and training program, and a variety of helpful services that encourage adoption and promote meaningful results. Spigit received very favorable reviews from Bearing Point’s Nate Nash who alerted me to this post.

Innovations on the horizon with Spigit include an iPhone app in the works and customizable widgets that can house the entire product which has already been sold to one large customer. Once customers “get it,” the Spigit choice is easy. Companies prone to innovate and tout the people power of their workforce are eager to get into a relationship with Spigit. Marquee customers include IBM, Sun, Intel, Southwest Airlines, AAA, and Wal-Mart.  Additionally, Spigit has a major initiative underway to layer the product on top of SharePoint.

So think Digg, Dell’s IdeaStorm, Innocentive, mashed and wrapped up in a customized, user-addicting collaborative social network (that also has reporting, analytics, and prediction markets) and you have Spigit, the wonder platform.

Kick me before I miss a product like this again.

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ITSinsider is mashing up with RWW

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I am pleased to announce that I am joining the ReadWriteWeb team effective today. I’ve been in conversations with Bernard Lunn about how opportune a time it is for ReadWriteWeb to seriously layer on enterprise coverage to the already phenomenal job ReadWriteWeb does in covering various web 2.0 startups and the industry. We concluded those conversations shortly after SXSW, and I’ve decided to accept their gracious offer to join the team. ReadWriteWeb’s Enterprise channel will focus exclusively on how the evolving Internet and its ecosystem of related products coupled with the 2.0 philosophies of openness, collaboration, transparency, and sharing are disrupting markets and revamping business processes all over the globe. We’ll cover large enterprises, medium and small businesses, vendors, and all sorts of consultants and ecosystem participants. If you’re conducting commerce and relying on Internet technology to make a buck, we’ll be watching.

Of course, because of my background, I’ll be focusing especially on Enterprise 2.0 developments which will include most of what you’ve come to find here on the ITSinsider blog. But through my affiliation with the Enterprise Irregulars and many of the consultants and gurus I’ve met on the social web who specialize in different aspects of Enterprise expertise, I’ll be broadening my reach beyond simply wikis, blogs, RSS, and mashups. I will be depending on my “friends” to help shape the relevance and meaning of new developments in the Enterprise space by going back to my roots as a journalist and seeking expert sources for commentary.

Additionally, because of the flexibility we have as a management team to experiment with business models and new channels for income generation, we will be rolling out a host of products and services that will add tremendous value to our readers and sponsors. Stay tuned for announcements there.

In the meantime, look for Richard‘s announcement later today. If you wish me well (and I hope you do!), please get me off to a good start by leaving a comment on the ReadWriteWeb site. Thanks for reading ITSinsider. I look forward to many years ahead of quality reporting and “community” service.

4/14 UPDATE: Screeeech. Stay Tuned.