A Social Baptism for the Enterprise. Hallelujah and Amen.

About this time last month, I was undergoing a crisis of faith.  Faith in what brought me to this space: the promise of what the next generation web could be and could do to change business as we know it, as well as society at large.   My faith was shaken by a few ripples in the foundation.  I posted this short blog post on our Council Jive site:

I got some great feedback from members, but remained somewhat in a state of insecurity.  Things exacerbated when later in the month, a host of conversations had cropped up in the blogosphere on the failure some individuals were experiencing regarding adoption of social technologies inside large enterprises and critics taking delight in the “I toldya so” grand opportunity.

As the summer of 2011 was coming to an end, I found myself wondering whether I was the only one pursuing some greater purpose? Had I been completely delusional?  Blindly naive?

My crisis of faith ended on the morning of August 31, 2011.  

Mark Benioff, Salesforce.com CEO, whom I’ve been heralding as the voice of the new Enterprise generation since I saw him speak last year, killed it in his opening keynote for Dreamforce 2011 with the messaging I (and many others) have been consistently preaching for the past five years.   And, considering Salesforce’s Dreamforce is now the largest technology conference in the world, the social baptism that every one of those 45,000 in attendance and many more who were tuning in around the world received was epic.

So, with grace and humility, I have been re-energized.  You kinda either get this or you don’t.  If you do get it, I hope you’re rejoicing. I know I am.  If you don’t get it, don’t worry, it will benefit you too despite your willingness to embrace it.

If you are a believer, or just socially curious, I highly recommend you watch Benioff’s keynote.

Finally, Mr. Benioff, if you’re listening, all I can say is Thank You from the bottom of my bottomless heart.

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.

Already there: 100% SaaS

I try carefully not to post too much about nGenera on this blog, as its focus is centered more generically on trends in Enterprise 2.0. It occurred to me as we’re pulling together the Office 2.0 agenda, that the nGenera story is one which hopeful SaaS enthusiasts can look to for guidance and real world benchmarking.

nGenera is 100% SaaS. The company was designed to deliver on the promise of “on demand” computing. With well over 300 employees now on three continents, we manage all our operations on a SaaS basis. The image to the left sits on our internal collaboration hub where all employees have one-click access to all the SaaS applications that run our company. Intacct, in fact, just issued a press release featuring our use of its Intacct Plus offering. We also use SaaS apps for collaboration, all our talent management (hiring, compensation, payroll, learning) and research projects.

We’ve done a good job integrating Salesforce.com, Intacct, and Open Air so our execs can make “on demand” decisions will real data. After only a year or so, with a run-rate close to $100M and profitability on the horizon*, we’re probably one of the better case studies out there for SaaS-as-a-Successstory.

So while some may declare the SaaS model bankrupt, as Lawson’s CEO recently did in this interview, we’ll continue to run our business on demand, and offer SaaS-based solutions to our customers. Our CEO is somewhat passionate on this topic and spoke recently at the AlwaysOn Summit at Stanford. You can watch the video here.

*“But nGenera has made a great deal of progress in a short period of time, has a great customer base to leverage and grow, and top notch senior management and investors to guide it. We believe that the company’s journey thus far has netted it a revenue run-rate approaching $100 million and could be cash flow positive by year end as the Talisma integration is completed.” (source: JMK Securities, July 2008.)