Business Process 21C: The Jackhammer Tales

suitOver the past few months I’ve begun to reflect upon how I arrived here at the intersection of process and innovation in the Enterprise.  It occurred to me that everything I learned as a researcher, a writer, and an industry observer in the services provider space  (my pre-Internet career) now had great bearing on what I was seeing in the Enterprise as a result of the pace of disruptive technologies impacting the market.  The question that kept re-emerging for me was: how are rigidly defined business processes that were hammered out in the 90s reconfiguring to adapt to better, faster, more efficient ways of meeting customer needs?  Even more puzzling is, if my friend Josh’s old joke is correct, “SAP is like pouring concrete into a company,” how are large enterprises dismantling foundational ERP systems to include disruptive technologies?  After all, no 21st Century business can stand to stay frozen in the past.  Even SAP itself is retooling to provide greater flexibility and real-time actions and insights with its HANA in-memory database and its JAM social platform.

This big question has been vexing me for a while, so I asked my friend and fellow Enterprise Irregular, Phil Fersht at HfS Research, if he’d be interested in an exploratory study to see how BPO providers and consultants are responding to new advances in mobile, social, the Internet of things– all new capabilities that were not present when the majority of institutional business processes were “cemented” into the Enterprise. I’ve seen evidence of several companies who’ve been introducing social, in particular, to provide greater value to customers.  Of course, some of the best examples are coming from platform vendors themselves such as this post, “Enterprise Social is about Business Process Redesign”  by CEO  at Socialtext.  But, I’ve seen other examples such as Deloitte’s work in this area explained in this post, “Social Reengineering by Design,” and even examples about how large consulting firms are changing their own internal processes as a result of new ways of working, as evidenced by this post, “Spark – taking Collaboration and Corporate Social Networking to a new Level at PwC.”   Luckily, Phil agreed this is an area definitely worth pursuing, so we’ve kicked the study off this week.  We’re compiling data and hope to publish results in the early May timeframe.

I’m really happy to be working in this area that combines my long history of covering the traditional outsourcing sector with my area of interest for this current iteration of my career in next generation technologies.  Phil has done an amazing job with HfS Research, too, so I’m proud to be contributing to their strong brand in the market.  HfS was recently named one of the leading analyst firms in a formidable field of competitors.  Last week, I paid a visit to my longtime business advisor Mort Meyersen, who is an icon in the outsourcing field having helped build EDS and then Perot Systems.  It feels good to be back among old friends, mashing up what I’ve been learning from new friends.

I will be working hard on this study for the next few months, but also working on the startup we announced a few weeks ago, Change Agents Worldwide.  So, busy, busy, but really having fun.  Hope to see some of you at SXSW, but I will be hunkered down and only getting out to a few of the evening events.  Please keep up with me on Foursquare if you’d like to connect while you’re here in Austin.

Pinch me. SAP is Dreaming up Social for the Enterprise.

This was my 5th year attending SAP‘s gala SAPPHIRE event.   You can see from my previous blog posts, a recurring theme in all of them is SAP’s cold shoulder toward all things social.

2008What I-know-I-don’t-know about E2.0 and SAP from Sapphire ’08

 “Enterprise 2.0 is just not a burning issue on the minds of top SAP execs… SAP execs mirror the same sentiment as our executive clients: they have serious businesses to run– not a lot of time for the giddy consumery stuff. SAP software fuels the nitty gritty of hard-core business processes for most of the largest enterprises in the world. Where blogging (for example) fits into getting a raw material through the factory floor to a finished product, booked in inventory and ready to move through a supply chain is just not obvious to me right now. So the likelihood of an Enterprise 2.0 bolt-on to SAP is just as slim as it is naive.”
“So, 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…  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.”
“For me, SAPPHIRE presents a unique opportunity to re-calibrate and diffuse the hype chamber that self-perpetuates around the 2.0 phenomenon.   SAPPHIRE is the 2.0 Rehab that I voluntarily commit myself to every year for one week. Only at SAPPHIRE do I get an opportunity to see the world the way my Council members do– that the 2.0/social business hoopla is enjoyed and shared by a small minority of corporate professionals.  Through the eyes of SAP customers and the SAP eco-system, I gain unique insight into the tremendous task ahead which involves a host of issues, not the least of which is tying 2.0 transformation to the enterprise business processes that run the world’s most successful businesses.”

This year, in 2012, it looks like things might be taking a new turn.  At least the lip service is on message.  Readers of this blog should know SAP recently hired the #e20 community’s good friend Sameer Patel to assume the position of Social Czar at SAP.  Patel has his work cut out  for him, however.  The two social platforms that qualify as social at SAP are StreamWork and SuccessFactor’s Jam (formerly CubeTree).  Two platforms that, frankly, don’t see much social traction in large enterprise. Neither one ever comes up in a landscape conversation of social collaboration software, and turning up examples of hard core users has been pretty slim among those of us who keep an eye on this category.  CubeTree, in fact, was never a player.  With Patel’s new position, SAP recently moved “social”  into its cloud group where it will support all SAP suites and concentrations (CRM, for example) in a new social platform that will be structured to support the business horizontally and seamlessly across on-premise and cloud offerings.  The group is building what they’re calling, “Project Robus.” (Latin for resolve or purpose.)

What’s probably most significant about Project Robus is that all development is being led by SuccessFactor’s co-founder and  technical cloud guru, Aaron Au. Au  is the lead architect and will run engineering for the project.  The operating vision behind the socialization of SAP’s massive ENSW footprint hinges squarely on integrating social with business process.  As Patel describes it, “This is core infrastructure.  It’s like application servers and middleware.”  The orientation is on business activities first, and social features second.  In other words, use cases will drive how and when social interacts with a business process.  All social presentations within the SAP product suite will touch the Robus platform.  My blogger colleague Alan Lepofsky describes it as “social plumbing.”

The pressure to deliver social is on SuccessFactors CEO Lars Dalgaard who is the Board executive advocate for social. Dalgaard is breathing new life and new ideas into the software behemoth.  He appears to have much support from co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Snabe, as most cloud and social questions asked at the scheduled media/analyst interview were turned over to Dalgaard.   There is evidence in the market that SAP has finally embraced the principles of a more collaborative, social business world (see Jim Snabe’s opinion piece in the Financial Times, “Social Networking and the Future of Business“).

I want to believe SAP will pull this off, but there is a small part of me that wants to scream, “You’re doing it wrong!”  It’s as if SAP is looking for a software solution to a human opportunity.  Focusing on the unstructured data and time spent between workflows is anathema to SAP’s heritage and corporate culture.  And even if the executive and management ranks see the opportunity, the rank and file are going to be puzzled.  We were sitting at dinner with a number of SAP mentors and I asked if any of them were using StreamWork.  All heads shook no.  One mentor said he wouldn’t even bother logging on.  My enterprise blogger friends roll their eyes when I talk about how social is about reinventing the way we work.  But they’re not seeing the changes I’m seeing in large organizations that are successful with social reinvention.  Luckily, I’m not the only one talking about this.  The enterprise is ready for a different way to work.

But, like Kermit, it’s the lovers, the dreamers, and me.  Those of us who are under Social Business’ spell are true believers.  I hope Lars Dalgaard and the SAP executive team can execute on the human potential of social, but I’m still a bit skeptical.

See Dalgaard’s “dream” app.  Here’s to hoping they pull it off.

Jive: Keepin’ it Real

Flickr by chrissuderman

Flickr by chrissuderman

You know that feeling when you have to take a random trip to the mall and when you get there, the entire mall and every retail establishment has been magically transformed for the holiday shopping season?  Wow.  It’s not even close to Thanksgiving, you think… But sure enough, you find yourself a little excited, a little sentimental, a little anxious about the fact that the holidays are upon us.  It’s an emotional, a psychological reaction that launches a number of triggers that will ultimately lead to the consumer behavior the retailers are banking on.

That’s how I felt the first day at SAP Tech Ed, SAP’s annual education extravaganza.  I had never been to an SAP Tech Ed before, and wasn’t sure what to expect.  In the first twenty minutes after I arrived at the newly renovated, cavernous Phoenix Convention Center, I started hearing the words collaboration, transparency, and social.  And it wasn’t from the blogger’s corner, I was hearing these words from SAP executives and customers.  The event was suddenly, surprisingly relevant to me in a way that I did not anticipate, nor that I was prepared for.  It was magical.

And similar to my experience visiting the mall and being greeted by a re-themed holiday shopping bonanza, the event launched a numbers of triggers for me.  The first trigger was excitement.  SAP gets it! I beamed to myself.  For so long, it appeared SAP corporate was just not interested in the Enterprise 2.0 agenda.  As recently as last SAPPHIRE (April), SAP’s massive annual customer and partner event, I was grousing about the fact that 2.0 was all but completely absent on the agenda or the trade show floor.

The second trigger was anxiety.  At the same time as SAP TechEd, Oracle was holding its famed Oracle OpenWorld. Keeping a CPA eye on the tweet stream, it occurred to me that Oracle was “getting it” too.  As I write this, Microsoft is amassing its fan-adulating entourage in Las Vegas where it will announce the long-awaited SharePoint 2010 which has been predicted to be the e20 startup killer.  And, lastly IBM got this a long time ago which completes the MISO (Microsoft, IBM, SAP, and Oracle) four horsemen of the 2.0 apocalypse.  The combined market strength of the enterprise vendors to persuade and advance their particular offering signals an unmistakable step change in the heretofore teensy Enterprise 2.0 sector evolution.  The big boys are moving in with their big marketing budgets and massive sales organizations.  Not to be discounted either is Google whom unless you’ve been trapped floating above the earth in a homemade helium balloon, or hiding in an attic closet, you know has recently launched Google Wave: its impressive collaborative, real-time sharing platform.  The other one I suppose I shouldn’t leave out is Cisco who’ve been re-tooling their go-to-market messaging around a fluid collaboration theme for months now.

Why does this tacit endorsement of e20 by the large enterprise vendors prompt my anxiety?  Because I’m concerned they’ll dominate the discussion; maybe suppress innovation, dilute the passion that has historically fueled interest in e20.  It’s hard to predict what the effects of mainstream promotion will be for e20, but one thing is for sure, e20 is about to bust out of the echo-chamber.

I started this post on the plane ride home from SAP’s TechEd (USA) two weeks ago now.  Yesterday I was pre-briefed on Jive’s new announcements coming with its SBS 4.0 platform.  Whatever real anxiety I felt about the big boys moving into the space has now been dissipated.

It takes a startup like Jive to inject innovation, creativity, passion, and excitement to this sector.  Jive is releasing a ground-breaking set of features that will set a new high bar for excellence in the category.  I’m certain the tech bloggers will cover the announcements in depth, but in brief, Jive is announcing an iPhone app (plus an email-driven enriched BlackBerry experience), very slick MS Office integration, and a bridging capability that will unite internal and external communities.  All this in addition to the series of announcements Jive made previously that include social media monitoring and a SharePoint connector.

What’s significant about the Jive announcements is the company’s commitment to releasing timely, innovative new capabilities in response to customer feedback and requests.  I’m here at JiveWorld, the company’s first customer event.  From the energy circulating in the crowd here, it’s obvious to me Jive is customer-driven and loyalty from Jive’s customers handily delivers repeat revenue as well as product improvements.

Jive’s ability to manage the books, pay careful attention to its user base, invest in educating its partners and employees, rationally identify its target market, as well as manage its growth effectively squarely positions the company uniquely from other startup competitors in the space.  Further, it accentuates the advantage startups have over the large enterprise vendors where releases are timed in years, not months.

So, as the e20 market twists and turns to accommodate innovation, advancement, and welcome step changes in attitude and strategic direction, one thing is guaranteed—all of this progress benefits customers.  Customers have a hard enough time getting this job done, so thank goodness, vendors like Jive are making it easy to accelerate adoption and experimentation with 2.0 tools and philosophies.

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.

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.)