I'm not going to comment on the $8.5B purchase price, though I'm sure Marc Andreesen's investment company is happy with their return. And I'm not going to comment on the impact on Xbox, Hotmail, and Live.com. And I don't think this has anything to do with Windows Mobile.
But I am going to comment on the impact of the deal on the enterprise, and specifically on content and collaboration professionals responsible for workforce productivity and collaboration. When you strip it down to its essence -- Skype operating as a separate business unit reporting to Steve Ballmer -- here's what you need to know about the Skype deal:
First, Microsoft gets an important consumerization brand. Skype is a powerful consumer brand with a reported 600+ million subscribers. But it's also a "consumerization brand," meaning that it's a valuable brand for people who use Skype to get their jobs done. Consumerization of IT is just people using familiar consumer tools to get work done. It's a force of technology-based innovation as we wrote about in our book, Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business. Google and Apple and Skype have dominant consumerization brands. Microsoft does not. Until now. And as a bonus, Google doesn't get to buy Skype. And more importantly, neither does Cisco.
Last night I had the pleasure of attending a customer case study session hosted by Cisco. Representatives from two clients -- SmithAmundsen (a law firm) and Republic Services (a waste management company) -- discussed how they were deploying Cisco unified communication and collaboration technology within their businesses. While the two speakers presented compelling stories about the need for collaboration within business, what caught my attention was where their companies received value. The constant refrain was these technologies saved money on travel, office space and IT expenditures. This isn't a new story: last year at Cisco's Collaboration Summit, Vid Byanna of Accenture mentioned that travel cost reduction was a big driver for his firm adopting desktop video technology for its remote workforce. Nor is this a Cisco-specific story: I recently published a report that shows the majority of content and collaboration professionals say travel reductions is the #1 benefit of collaboration software. But does it teach us the right lesson about the value of collaboration software?
In general, when we think about finding ways to let employees come together in groups to do work, we assume some type of business benefit: faster problem resolution, more innovative ideas and quicker time to market are a few examples. So why, in a business world where 42% of the workforce is mobile, do just 19% and 9% of content and collaboration professionals see improved innovation and faster time to market, respectively, as outcomes of using collaboration software? I have a couple of ideas that I'll be testing in my research going forward. I think this disconnect springs from one of three places:
Social networking is hot, and it’s smart to think about how your organization might use it to generate benefit equal to the market hype. As you develop your social technology strategy, it’s particularly important to steer clear of a fallacy of thought that often creeps into technology strategies for enterprise communication and collaboration.
Oftentimes, an enterprise social strategy, like enterprise collaboration strategies before them, will have among its goals a phrase suggesting that the technology should “change the way people communicate.” Superficially, this phrase may accurately describe part of the effect, but at a more fundamental level, it violates a very important change management principle. To make my point, I’ll back up and start with a little history.
I used to communicate via paper memos and phone calls, but it was cumbersome and time-consuming. Email has come to replace much of that. So, the “way I communicate” has changed, right? On the face of it, yes, but, looking more closely, not really, at least not at first. Compared to my “before email” days, I still communicate the same types of things with the same kinds of people — only email made these communications easier (for the most part). I started using email because (1) it could improve the existing way I communicated and (2) it fit my work and life context — it was just a new program to use on my handy desktop PC. Once email became part of my context, I realized that I could use it for communications that were too costly before. At this point, it did, to a degree, change the way I communicate.
It's important sometimes to step back from the obvious trends and look at things that lie just beyond the light. So in addition to the clear trends in play: mobilizing the entire collaboration toolkit, moving collaboration services to the cloud (often in support of mobile work); and consolidating collaboration workloads onto a full-featured collaboration platform, here are six counterintuitive trends for 2011 (for more detail and an analysis of what content & collaboration professionals should do, please read the full report available to Forrester clients or by credit card):
Consumerization gets board-level approval. Consumerization is inevitable; your response is not. In 2011, tackle this head on. (And read our book, Empowered, while you're at it -- it has a recipe for business success in the empowered era, a world in which customers and employees have power.)
The email inbox gets even more important. I know the established wisdom is for email to get less relevant as Gen Y tweets their way to business collaboration. But come on, look at all the drivers of email: feeds from social media, universal, pervasive on any device. Email's here to stay. But it's time to reinvent the inbox. IBM and Google are leading this charge.
The cloud cements its role as the place for collaboration innovation. The cloud is better for mobile, telework, and distributed organizations. And cloud collaboration services will get better faster than on-premise alternatives. Full stop. The math isn't hard to do. A quarterly product release cycle beats four-year upgrade cycles and every time.
I've always liked the approach Dimdim took in offering web conferencing services. The pillars of the business model, which I profiled last year, were lean operations, smart viral marketing and technology partnerships with larger companies like Novell and Nortel CVAS. The technology they built emphasized ease of use, providing an audio/video/web conferencing experience through the browser, allowing information workers access to a web meeting regardless of the device or operating system they were using. So it was not surprising when software vendors looking for conferencing capabilities started sniffing around Dimdim as an acquisition target. It was even less surprising when Salesforce.com picked up the company for $31 million yesterday.
For Salesforce, this was a straight technology acquisition, as evidenced by the seemingly near total shutdown of Dimdim's website: Monthly accounts cease on March 15 and annual accounts will be allowed to complete their term but will not be able to renew. While the rapid sunsetting of the Dimdim brand probably won't make Salesforce any friends in the Dimdim user base -- reportedly north of 5 million -- it should provide some interesting new services for Salesforce CRM and Force.com customers. Why? Dimdim's real-time communications technology fleshes out the collaboration story Salesforce began with its social offering, Chatter, last year. This blending of tools will boost the collaborative power of some key Chatter features:
No need to revisit the success of iPad. The millions of units sold since April speaks for itself. While most of these have been purchased at retail, many buyers use their tablets for work, often sponsored or supported by an enlightened IT organization. 2011 will be a big year for iPad in the enterprise.
But what about the countless number of tablets from other manufacturers? These anything-but-iPad (ABi) tablets promise enticing characteristics that Content & Collaboration professionals cherish, things like Flash media support, enterprise app stores, and sometimes greatly enhanced security (as RIM’s Playbook will have) or deep links to the unified communications infrastructure (as Cisco’s Cius will have) or full Microsoft Office support (as HP’s Slate will have).
How will these ABi tablets fare in the enterprise in 2011? Fair to partly cloudy, I fear. Three gating factors will slow enterprise adoption:
Many ABI tablets and particularly those from RIM and Cisco and HP will be sold primarily to companies. So in a world of smartphone and tablet consumerization where employees bring personal devices to work, the leading ABi business tablets are being sold through the enterprise door. This will slow down adoption as IT buyers find the budget and evaluate the alternatives. In contrast, iPad is available to consumers as well as directly to businesses. So IT can at least temporarily sidestep the issues of funding and data plan provisioning while developing a tablet strategy. It’s an easier business case to make in 2011. Of course, other Android tablets are available to consumers and will come in through the employee door.
First, let me wish you a Happy New Year. If you're like me, a new year inevitably brings about reflection on the previous year: things accomplished, things left to accomplish, and things that caught our attention. In that latter category, the thing that really caught my attention in 2010 was the emergence of WikiLeaks. As an analyst who covers enterprise collaboration topics -- including enterprise use of social software -- it's a fascinating subject: On one hand you have a platform for disseminating government and private-sector information to the public, and on the other, you have a forum that advertises itself as publishing information organizations would prefer stay behind their firewalls. For the Content & Collaboration (C&C) professionals I serve, that second point is troubling. Allowing information to flow freely within the organization is the mantra of many C&C pros looking to make their businesses more efficient and competitive in this 21st century global business environment. But this is a difficult sell in a WikiLeaks world where, as demonstrated with the disclosures made last year, a low-level employee with access to connected systems can provide sensitive information to a third party. In 2011, Julian Assange's outfit is promising a new round of document publication, this time from a major American bank (rumored to be Bank of America), which makes the question of information freedom more acute for C&C pros: Is collaborative information sharing really possible?
For a number of years now, Forrester has used the following definition for Web 2.0:
A set of technologies and applications that enable efficient interaction among people, content and data in support of collectively fostering new businesses, technology offerings, and social structures.
For many Content and Collaboration Professionals (C&C Pros), the first half of this definition looks very familiar. Providing knowledge worker with better access to information and co-workers along with communication tools has been the primary goal since collaboration tools began to seriously penetrate the enterprise 20 years ago.
Now the second half of the definition "in support of collectively fostering new businesses, technology offerings and social structures" is a bit different. This maps to some potentially broad and strategic organizational goals. This is at the core Enterprise Social Media. And Enterprise Social is here. Smart C&C Pros have already begun to take a leadership position in guiding their organization down this path that could be game changer, albeit one that is fraught with challenges.
Here's the challenge: As collaboration moves from being document-centric to more people-centric, the rules change. "Need to know" becomes "need to share". This can be scary, particularly for folks in HR that are concerned with privacy, legal folks that are thinking of intellectual capital, compliance, and the list goes on. Let's not even bring up the word WikiLeaks for heaven's sake. You get the picture.
Customers already use social technologies to wrest power away from large corporations. Now employees are adapting social technologies in pursuit of innovations to support these empowered customers; Forrester calls these employees HEROes (highly empowered and resourceful operatives). By designing social technologies as part of their Innovation Networks, CIOs and their IT teams help establish new Social Innovation Networks — innovation ecosystems employing social technologies to enhance HEROes' innovations. These Social Innovation Networks help drive faster, more effective innovation across the enterprise. And CIOs must rise to the challenge of nurturing and developing these networks while structuring their IT teams to fully support them.
Today, Microsoft begins life as a real competitor in the enterprise voice space. It has slain dragons (like enabling call access control and E911), faced mighty jousters (Miercom has called Lync a resilient, feature-rich, scalable UC system in their review), and emerged triumphant to compete for enterprise accounts looking for unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) solutions. Microsoft has amassed an impressive list of early adaptors — of both Office Communications Service Release 2 (OCS R2) and Lync — that includes large and small deployments with varied features/capabilities enabled.
Lync required Lighthouse accounts to use a wide array of services at significant scale, so I expect to see big accounts like Marquette University and the Dominican Republic Ministry of Education join current OCS enterprise voice users like Shell, Intel, AT Kearney, and Sprint on Microsoft’s “Customer Success Stories” page. In talking to many early adopters, I heard very few complaints about voice quality or reliability of the solutions, and:
Almost every firm using Lync is connecting employees together using Lync AND other Microsoft products.
Improved voice quality and reliability drives customer satisfaction and makes Microsoft’s story more credible in delivering UC&C solutions.