Chatter: From Both Sides Now

The gala event, Dreamforce,  isn’t really my gig. The Enterprise Irregulars know “up and down and sideways” everything related to Cloud-computing. One of our EIs, Anshu Sharma, was a key architect  of Salesforce’s database.com offering announced last week.   In short, I spare everyone my uninformed opinion on most things Cloud-computing related for which I’m certain my EI pals and everyone else is grateful. But, because I’m an Enterprise Irregular blogger, I guess, I was invited to attend Dreamforce this year.  And even though I’m not really clued into Salesforce (the company), I accepted the invite because I wanted to see for myself – eyes and ears on the ground – what Chatter was all about and how it would fit into the social business landscape.

The good news on Chatter

The good news on Chatter is more about Salesforce.com than it is about Chatter the social tool. Like I said last year, having Benioff move front and center to embrace the social revolution is like a dream come true.   This sector needs a Benioff.   Grafting on JP Rangaswami to the SFDC social story was pretty slick as well. It occurred to me at Dreamforce that an item that has been conspicuously absent in the internal social-collaboration space (heretofore  called Enterprise 2.0) has been high quality marketing with great creative and real reach beyond the echo chamber we’ve been nestled in for the past four years.   So, the combination of Benioff who’s somewhat larger than life in real life and agency-designed creative is a huge plus to our sector.  Score one for professional marketing, awareness building, promotion, and tech rockstar iconoclasts. Related is the nature of Salesforce’s corporate culture. Again, I admit ignorance writing about a company I don’t know very well, but there is a detectable undercurrent of raw ambition that seems to drive the company ethos. It’s also a winner-takes-all, scrappy underdog vibe that is easy to spot from Benioff’s jabs at old skool enterprise vendors and thinking, to the high energy vibe on the floor of the Cloud Expo exhibit hall emanating from Salesforce employees and partners. Score two for raw ambition and high energy.  To make a distinction, Salesforce strikes me as the perfect blend of raw ambition without hubris. That’s tough to achieve in a competitive market, but that’s how I see it.  From a company whose primary customer is sales people, it kinda makes sense.   The remaining plus in Salesforce’s corner is its deep technology prowess and its playa status in the broader tech market due in some part to its status as a public company with revenues over $1B.  It’s unlikely to me that Chatter will face any technical obstacle it can’t solve or any partner who’ll reject its overtures. So, score three for technology wunderkind with deep pockets.

The bad news on Chatter

Even though it was announced last year at Dreamforce, Chatter is late to the party.  In the Council, we have hundreds (yes, hundreds) of the largest enterprises in the world already engaged in a social business initiative.   Granted, Dreamforce, is like a “revival” (h/t Dennis Howlett) for Salesforce customers and its ecosystem, so there was a lot of giddiness surrounding Chatter and its game-changing energy.   I found myself commenting to my blogger friends, I felt like I was surrounded in a sea of n00bs who just discovered social.  That’s actually not bad news, but it is bad news if the legions of non-converted enterprise employees flock to social via SFDC and cause a disruptive wrinkle (and endless analysis paralysis) in the strategic plan that’s already underway on another platform.  In truth, most of our members are not zealots for their platform (well, some are), but most of them simply want to deliver the best social collaboration platform for the company.  When we first started discussing the Chatter phenomenon, most of our members said something similar to this,

“I am a little worried about it “cannibalizing” some of what we are trying to do.”

Remember, the Council represents a small minority of all organizations on the planet who will eventually move to social platforms.  But, they happen to be some of the furthest along and most advanced.  One of our members summed up a good response after it was all said and done,

“I just got off the phone with Salesforce, followed by a conversation with our internal team that manages it. We will “turn it on” for current Salesforce users only. It will not be positioned for or compete with our enterprise solution. In doing so, we get data on how many Sales folks choose the “Hide Chatter” button, and if by some chance it does take off wildly, that becomes a good problem to solve later next year, and we can look at a much bigger play…”

So, net net Chatter arriving on the scene is probably a good thing for our sector.  I personally am counting on those ambitious SFDC n00bs to spread the word far and wide to the unconverted.  The faster social becomes a phenomenon in the Enterprise, the sooner we get to the promised land.

Mama Weer All Crazee-Social Now!

Indeed, a Quiet Riot is percolating in the heretofore boring ERP sector.  I spotted Josh Greenbaum‘s post on “Enterprise Relationship Planning” this afternoon.  In the Council, we have dredged up a 90s label– The Extended Enterprise— to categorize discussions about how our members are architecting their socio-collaborative initiatives to span partners in their supplier, distributor, and delivery chains.  Included here is the massive momentum around Social CRM that is touching the customer in personal ways as well and reinventing what it means to be proactive and responsive to existing and potential buyers.  One of our largest members recently  made a platform selection choice based nearly exclusively on the chosen vendor’s ability to bridge to external collaborators while retaining the ability to keep the conversation secure behind the firewall.  All of our members are somewhere in the adoption phase of evaluating these options.  The confluence of all SaaS and enterprise legacy systems and social is coming… It’s not if, it’s when.

The unique thread that links the revitalization of  all these mechanical, cumbersome, process-driven software “systems” is people.  People with intelligence, with tacit knowledge, with “exceptions” expertise.  We had a fantastic Council guru Q&A last week with Socialtext’s Ross Mayfield.  Socialtext cites a whopping statistic that turns traditional ERP on its head, “An estimated 60 to 80% of an organization’s work is ‘exception’ oriented.”  Squeezing the life (variability) out of a process is passe and will be replaced or supplementing with social data to improve its effectiveness, not detract from it.  This is a revolutionary idea.

This sentiment is expressed by one of our members, Todd Weidman,  who was discussing the rigidity of the Six Sigma process:

“In my experience in financial services, it’s used as a framework to eliminate as much process variation as possible. The processes become repeatable, follow a strict pattern, and ideally you reduce the cost of any transaction (and make it predictable, standard, and outsourcable). That’s fine if your building something to spec (manufacturing), but in any service-based industry, client needs demand many different types of solutions – think financial planning – there may be a number of different inputs for a customized solution. That, of course, requires collaboration between participants.”

Indeed, the future is about relationships.  And relationships are about people, not stuff.

Where Business Process Meets 2.0

The 2.0 Adoption Council is experimenting with a range of new market ideas that leverage the power of the social web.   The 2.0 thinking surrounding network effects, scale, voluntary collaboration, free (as a business model), and social performance/productivity improvements are just a sample of some of the drivers that have made the Council thrive.  Much of these attributes are present in a new concept described recently by John Hagel and John Seely Brown as, “The Collaboration Curve.” Specifically the authors point out, “The more participants–and interactions between those participants–you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up.”  Hagel also describes on his Edge Perspectives blog the move away from a transaction-based economy to a trust-based relationship economy.   He refers to as this as a “passionate community.”  His words:

In sharp contrast, passion holds the key to creating and shaping relationships that will help us thrive in a rapidly changing world. It motivates even the shyest of us to reach out and connect with others in ways that become catalysts for creativity and growth. Passion fosters a uniquely strong and productive bond that provides both the stability and stimulus needed to continue to grow and succeed in a constantly changing world.

What Hagel is describing is present in the Council today.  Simply look no further than the comments from the members themselves on my LinkedIn profile and our testimonials.  With this passion, comes business opportunity.  The combined intelligence of our early adopter 2.0 membership has become a no-brainer target for vendors interested in harvesting the group wisdom of these world class customers.   To that end, we are proud to announce today we have entered into an innovative co-creation research relationship with SAP.  SAP announced its 12Sprints public beta today.  It’s important to note that 12Sprints is not typical social/collaboration software, but rather a a SaaS-based, goal-oriented, collaborative decision-making tool that incorporates social features such as activity streams, presence, and profile data.  The objective for 12Sprints is to draw enterprise data into a conversation where it can be discussed, analyzed, and openly decided upon by geographically dispersed team members.

Although I’ve often been critical of SAP in the 2.0 arena, I’ve always marveled at the “engine” that drives global business on the SAP platform.  This first step toward bridging that gap between the core business processes that make the trains run on time and a front-end of 2.0 capability (including integration with various  popular 2.0 tools) is a welcome advancement in the maturation of the market.   Further, it’s particularly encouraging that SAP would choose the Council to partner on the co-development of this strategic new direction for its blue chip customer base.  It represents an unmistakable endorsement and recognition for our business model, the power of our membership, and the promise of innovative alliances to reshape how products get to market.

Below is a Skypecast I did informally last week with SAP SVP Marge Breya that discusses trends in 2.0 adoption and the nature of our relationship.

SAP’s Marge Breya discusses e20 with Susan Scrupski (aka ITSinsider) from susan scrupski on Vimeo.

The Urgency of Now

Picture 1The news about Sarah Palin broke today while I was working.  Where did I see the news?   Twitter (of course).  Seconds turned to minutes, and I found myself impatient with not knowing the inside scoop on the why behind the resignation.  What was the target of my impatience?  The Twitter community.  Seems ridiculous, but it’s just expected these days that you’ll get to the heart of a breaking story within seconds.

To that end, it reminded me I wanted to write a post about the “unbearable heaviness of not-being” current.  Way, way back around the Christmas holidays, I was flattered to be one of only three reviewers for Andrew McAfee’s book on Enterprise  2.0 by Harvard Business Press.    They asked me to review the manuscript, and I accepted (for a small stipend).  They gave me a couple weeks to review it, and I submitted my comments in mid-January.

At the back of mind, however, and something I probably should have included in the review and regret now that I didn’t was a lingering doubt.  “This book will be obsolete before it’s published for the community of folks who track this sector.”

When Andy and I caught up at the Enterprise 2.0 conference, he told me that he too is really troubled by the delay on the publishing schedule.  He had hoped the book would have been published by the conference deadline (June), but it is now pushed back until December.  December?   You’re kidding me.

The demand for Andy’s book is today, not six months from now.  I’m wondering if, as a community, we can lobby Harvard Business Press to move the publication date up as its value is inextricably tied to its timeliness– especially in this fast-moving space.  The Editorial Director in charge of the publication timeline is Jacqueline Murphy .   I urge you to contact her and express your support for moving the book up in Harvard Business Press’ publishing queue.  I also started a Facebook group with the same goal.

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.)

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.