For those of you who have followed my research of the collaboration software space, you'll find that I have argued that the real whitespace for vendors is in facilitating interactions between different companies (see examples here and here). This advice, though, has always been given in the spirit of helping vendors enter the market and tell a differentiated story; my goal is always to get product marketers away from spinning tales of travel savings (which everyone does). Recently, I finished a report that explored why intercompany collaboration is important to the actual running of a tech industry business. Like any good story, it's a three-part narrative:
The definition of a B2B tech customer is changing. There was a time when a tech vendor selling to businesses only had to deal with the IT department. As such, the product design and messaging revolved around fulfilling the requirements of a techie audience: speeds and feeds, interoperability and security. Now? Business leaders are involved in technology decisions, shifting the design points of technology and its marketing to ease of use and ability to solve business problems. Further muddling this view, individual information workers are increasingly able to provision their own hardware and software, thanks to Web-based technologies and consumer technologies -- like Apple laptops and iPhones -- that IT departments are grudgingly accepting. The pull of these many groups on tech vendors has complicated the job of tech product managers and marketers: They now have to develop their product for and market it to a wider range of people with different interests.
Earlier this year I told you the story of a business executive who told us how critical is that business — not IT — drive process improvement initiatives. Here is another interesting case my colleague VP and Principal Analyst John Rymer and I have just witnessed.
It is the story of a business organization that developed an IT strategy based on three best practices:
The core business processes would be implemented on a single modern, flexible platform.
The platform would be service-oriented to ensure clear accountabilities and flexibility for future needs.
The platform development and operations would be outsourced to a shared services provider.
We reviewed the strategy 10 years after it was conceived to find out that it has not yet achieved its top strategic goal. More disturbing:
The development investment has been far greater than expected at the outset.
The annual cost of IT operations doubled versus the base line.
The reliability of the processes converted to the new environment went down.
Like thousands of Oracle clients and a dozen or so Forrester analysts, I was at Oracle OpenWorld last week. One of the big news items was the announcement of the availability of Fusion Applications. The creation of these new applications has been a massive effort, involving many of Oracle’s top software designers and developers working for over five years. My preliminary opinion, along with my colleagues, is that Fusion apps do have some useful new features and a better user interface than prior Oracle products, as well as providing a more credible SaaS option than Oracle's prior On Demand offerings.
However, there seems to me to be a lack of clarity as to how Fusion apps fit in the evolution of the Oracle family of apps. To its credit, Oracle has stated that it is going to be responsive to clients, not forcing them to convert to Fusion nor make staying on existing apps unattractive by not supporting and enhancing those apps. Instead, it wants to make Fusion apps so attractive that clients will want to adopt them, either (rarely) as a whole suite or (more likely) as step-by-step replacement or additions to existing app products. Still, that leaves unclear what Oracle sees as the endgame for Fusion vs. its other app products.
As I see it, there are four scenarios for how Fusion apps will relate over time to the existing portfolio of apps that Oracle has acquired and continues to support through its Applications Unlimited position:
Fusion apps take over and replace the other applications over time.
Fusion apps become yet another app product line, which co-exists with the other apps.
Fusion app features and functions percolate into and are absorbed into the other apps, which persist indefinitely.
Fusion apps provide new categories of applications, which get brought into the other app families as add-ons.
With today’s announcement of the PlayBook tablet PC, BlackBerry is launching a huge bid to try to retain any customers who have not yet fled to the iPhone and iPad.
Due to be released in early 2011, there is a lot for CIOs to like about the new PlayBook. BlackBerry is hoping that by making the PlayBook easy to integrate into the enterprise, and leveraging its much touted encryption security so much in the news lately, CIOs will back the PlayBook over the iPad.
The PlayBook will be compatible with BlackBerry Enterprise Server and, when paired through Bluetooth to an existing BlackBerry Smartphone, will use the phone as a data transport, only temporarily caching content on the PlayBook.
Some features of the new PlayBook make it very desirable when compared to today’s iPad, such as support for Adobe Flash, Mobile AIR and HTML5; symmetric multiprocessing; built-in HD cameras front and back (think HD video-conferencing); microUSB connection and HDMI output. To control all of this the PlayBook will use a new operating system based on the QNX Neutrino microkernel architecture. What we don’t know: how long the battery will last (a big selling feature for iPads is its long battery life); and what price the PlayBook will sell for. Without seeing a PlayBook up close, it’s hard to say how these features compare to an iPad. After all, one of the most elegant things about an iPad is how it feels - you feel an almost instant connection to the device.
Last Friday (September 17), I published a case study of Microsoft's Windows and Office Communicator (now Microsoft Lync) teams' use of "productivity games." What are productivity games? Put simply, they are a series of games produced by a small group of defect testers to encourage rank-and-file Microsoft employees to put software through its paces before it is released to the public. As many technology product managers can attest, getting employees of your company to take time away from their tasks to run a program in development and report any problems can be a Sisyphean effort: Bug checking doesn't have the allure of being an exciting, sexy job -- but it happens to be necessary. It will come as a surprise, but since 2006, Microsoft has used five games to look for errors in Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Office Communicator; a sixth game -- Communicate Hope -- is currently in the field to test Microsoft Lync. Why so many games, you ask? Well, they work.
The most successful game Microsoft has launched to date is called the Language Quality Game. It was designed to get employees who could read languages other than English to check that the thousands of user interface translations Microsoft had made in Windows 7 were accurate. The game produced positive results on two dimensions: 4,500 Microsoft employees played the game, and this group had a total of 500,000 viewings of translated Windows 7 UI translations. Because the game went over so well, iterations of it have been used in Office Communicator and Exchange. And others at Microsoft are looking to use games to do other tasks: e.g., a group at Microsoft Office Labs has created a game called Ribbon Hero to encourage people to explore the functionality of the Office 2007 productivity suite.
Everyone’s using the term “sustainability.” And, I’ll admit I’m a little jaded. But, given that it’s around to stay for a while, let’s take a look at the term. What are the primary objectives of “sustainability” initiatives? Are they “green” – with an eye toward protecting the environment by reducing the effects of climate change? Are they economic – cost cutting, increasing efficiency? “Sustain” seems static, maintain the current state. But some are thinking about “sustainability” as a means of generating growth. A few weeks ago, I started an interesting discussion about “operational sustainability” with Rich Lechner, IBM Vice President for Energy and Environment. (I say started because it actually continued this week, and will likely continue further.)
“Sustain to grow” may seem like an oxymoron, but it’s not. First let’s think about efficiency. What does it mean to be more efficient? Efficiency to me is the goal to “do more with less” – improving the ratio of output to input. So you cut and improve productivity ratios that way. But what if you’ve cut as much as you can, and you still want to do more, to improve those ratios? How can you grow within the limits of the resources you have? Sustain resources, increase productivity or capacity – in whatever terms or measures of capacity you use. This translates into the objective behind “operational sustainability.” How do you improve operations or processes in order to improve outcomes, within the limits of available resources?
I attended the Taleo customer conference last week in Chicago where CEO Michael Gregoire in his opening session speech boasted about Taleo’s recent acquisition of Learn.com, a $26 million private learning company that Taleo had just bought for $125 million. (Wow!) He admitted he had never been pro learning management systems but that Taleo’s customers’ expressed learning needs had made him a convert to the importance of having an LMS.
Throughout the first day of the conference, many Taleo executives talked about how the acquisition made Taleo a complete talent management company with strong recruiting, which is their heritage along with performance, compensation, and now learning to round out their offerings. This is exactly what I recommend in my research, "The Four Pillars Of Talent Management".
If we are going to have organizations that put a premium on skilled, knowledgeable, and happy employees, there must be a seamless integration among these essential components. Recruiting and onboarding become a process of hiring the right people, ramping them up quickly to full productivity while integrating them into the company culture and putting new hires into an employee performance management plan linked to appropriate learning activities. By linking performance to compensation and non-monetary rewards, employees are more likely to feel that they are valued members of the company team.
I will be joining Forrester's Tweet Jam on Cloud Computing today to add some commentary on the differences we're seeing in attitudes toward "cloud" as a delivery model and in adoption across countries. Interest and adoption differs significantly across countries. While in most countries the primary drivers of both Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) are around speed and flexibility, in others the primary drivers are cost. Interestingly, in India and Russia, the No. 1 driver for IaaS is "improving disaster recovery and business continuity." IT decision-makers in those markets prefer to rely on those focused on delivering infrastructure than on their own datacenter, for certain projects.
As for inhibitors, the main concerns are pretty common across countries: security and privacy issues, integration with existing infrastructure and applications, and uncertainty around to total cost of ownership. While many are driven by the desire to move from fixed cost to rotating costs (capex to opex), they remain concerned about the total costs in the long-run.
Just when you were getting your mind around Social Computing, Forrester has concluded that Social Computing is a steppingstone along the path to the empowered era. At least that’s one of the findings you’ll discover in the new book Empowered, co-authored by Groundswellauthor Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, published today by Harvard Business Review Press.
There were certainly some compelling arguments made in favor of this approach — not the least being that it's a highly cost-effective way to provide improved services to taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill for government IT efforts. As an investor in government IT (I pay taxes), I'm fully supportive of anything that improves services and reduces costs!
One of the most memorable quotes came early on from Carl Malamoud when, in his opening keynote, he suggested, "If we can put a man on the moon, surely we can launch the Library of Congress into cyberspace." (See his keynote below).