The question of measuring ROI of social computing is hot because it's so much a part of enterprise software acquisition. As information and knowledge management professionals move to get ahead of this emerging technology curve, they find a very consistent pattern:
People are using this stuff! Blogs and wikis in particular are popping up everywhere. Why not? They are easy to access, often free, and they are dead simple to use. It's one of those permission / forgiveness things. We've all done it.
If people are using these things that IT doesn't know about, there is no way of ensuring security, privacy, availability, governance, compliance, risk mitigation and all of those good things that keep the organization running and employees out of trouble (maybe even jail!).
Most really don't want to shut it down because in many instances these are more efficient solutions than those provided by the organization. These tools are often just easier and better for generating and publishing content.
The natural inclination in this situation would be to bring in the tradtional software vendors and see if they can support these new technology directions. Not surprisingly, a number of big vendors are ready and willing to help, including BEA, IBM/Lotus, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.
Sounds great. Lots of reasons to go with one of the big vendors (see bullet 2).
How much will it cost? How much will it give back? In other words, can the acquisition be justified with a strong return on investment analysis?
This September 25-26 at the Forrester Technology Leadership Forum in Carlsbad California, Matt Brown and I will be presenting a session on Social Computing coming to the enterprise. As we began the process of creating an agenda for the session we were immediately struck by the thought that this session should not be driven by the two of us (as charming and articulate as we may be) but by the community that is interested in the topic. In other words, you all should be setting the agenda for a session on social computing, not us. If social computing has the ability to change how work is done, let's put it to work. We always want feedback after a session, but here's a chance to get way ahead of the game and tell us what want before the event.
To that end, we have set up a Wiki to allow the community to drive the process. Matt and I will build the session agenda directly from the input into the Wiki, so if you have areas you'd like to see highlighted, stories to share, words of caution or encouragement please let us know. Willing to help? Access the Wiki here and let's get started!
We'll provide updates on how it's going (both the good and the bad) right here.
A while back I was invited to a very interesting presentation of some research going on in Sun Microsystems' labs. They were showing off a project called MPK 20. The name of the project is aligned with the naming of the buildings on their Menlo Park campus, MPK 1 - 19. MPK 20, the next building, will be completely virtual. Think of MPK 20 as a private, behind the firewall, version of Linden's Second Life. The idea is for Sun to provide a very rich area for remote workers to come together and collaborate. Their early vision is very much a virtual version of their physical workspace world. The question that occurred to me is, do we need to pursue this path of virtual workspaces?
Let's start with an assumption. The paradigm of bringing workers to a physical office is beginning to break down and it's only going to get worse. A few driving factors:
Carbon footprint. Organizations will be increasingly held accountable for the overall effect they have on the world. Asking workers to drive or fly to a physical location in order to do work that can be done virtually is undoubtedly the biggest contributing factor to overall carbon footprint for most organizations.
Competition for workers. If you require workers to come to an office every day, your hiring is constrained by the talent pool that is located within commute distance of your office. Would you rather have the best worker available in the world or the best worker within 30 miles of your office? Additionally, workers that commute from long distances are far more likely to become frustrated and leave.
One of the great joys I have in working for Forrester is the opportunity to collaborate with my colleague Oliver Young on the future of Web 2.0. Oliver and I bring very different perspectives to the table and the final product is better as a result. Part of the reason for our difference in perspective is generational. I am a baby boomer (born between 1946 and 1964). Oliver is what Forrester calls a millennial (born between 1980 and 2000). Oddly enough we share a passion for Converse All-Stars. Mine was the result of seeing them worn by the late great Wilt Chamberlain. Oliver, no doubt, was influenced by some highly pierced and tattooed musician.
I’ve already blogged here about how much I enjoy using Office 2007. Today I wanted to blog about wikis and blogs. I opened up Word 2007 since I generally like to create things locally and then push them up to the network when I’m ready. I opened Word and clicked on “New” and found two choices; “Blank document” and “New blog post”. Well, that’s kind of cool. Microsoft has already integrated Word and blogging. Might even be able to use Office Live for that...
This brings me to a question that I’ve been hearing a lot from clients lately: Is Microsoft serious about wikis, blogs and other emerging aspects of social computing? The answer is a resounding YES. Wikis and blog are tools for creating content and collaborating. These are markets that Microsoft takes very seriously.
If you haven’t had a chance to familiarize yourself with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 yet, take a look at the social computing functionality. SharePoint now has the ability to generate wikis and blogs as template types. While SharePoint’s implementation may not be as elegant and full featured as some of the new pure-plays, it is completely and seamlessly integrated into their flagship collaboration product. (Apologies to the folks in Exchange, but let’s face it, you’re email, SharePoint is collaboration) What does this mean? Well here are just a few examples:
Every blog and wiki can be real-time enabled with presence, IM etc. if you are running Office Communication Server
Wiki and blog templates can be augmented through the addition of web parts
Templates can be customized and extended through the use of SharePoint development tools
Not long ago I was spending a sunny Saturday afternoon watching my son play soccer. Among the group of soccer parents gathered on the sidelines that day was Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day rooting for his son who was playing for the opposing team. Billy Joe was wearing Levi jeans, a t-shirt and black Converse All-Stars. Since I was dressed the same, I asked my daughter Sarah if I was hip like Billy Joe. She explained that just because my 30 year old fashion sense had come back into style it did not make me hip. She also pointed out that use of the word “hip” was very un-hip.Well, I used to be hip.
This brings me to the exciting new phenomenon of social computing in the enterprise, which like Billy Joe is undeniably cool. However, like Levis and Converse All-Stars, we’ve seen this before. The roots of the internet are in helping geographically and organizationally dispersed teams come together to network, solve problems, generate ideas, etc.When ARPANET (the precursor to today’s internet) was a mere four node network connecting computers at UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, the University of Utah and the Stanford Research Institute the initial benefit was that these organizations could use the network to work together on building and expanding the network.
Even the “social” part of social computing is nothing new. Let’s face it, long before wikis and blogs were used to satiate our unquenchable thirst for all things Britney Spears, The Well served the same need for The Grateful Dead.
I have a confession to make. I really can’t tell the difference between Office 2000, Office XP and Office 2003. I have had all three installed on various computers in my home and they all look the same to me.
Now, I can tell the difference between all of the above and Office 2007. When I joined Forrester I left my Office 2007 beta behind and was presented with a brand spanking new laptop with Office 2003 pre-installed. To quote Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, “DISAPPOINTED”. Luckily, Microsoft came to the rescue and shipped me out a copy of Office 2007.
Against this backdrop I find myself on a call with Google who is briefing me on their upcoming move into the world of business productivity applications. That evening I sat down with my focus group of one, my son Jake who is a sixth grader with writing goals surprising similar to my own. I pulled up Google Docs and Word 2007 and asked Jake to make a comparison. After a few minutes he gave me his expert analysis. “They’re the same.” I was incredulous. I alt-tabbed between the lush, multi-hued garden of Office and the spiny houseplant of Google and asked how they could be the same? Jake patiently pointed out, feature by feature, that Google had everything he needed. All of the advanced features of Word were invisible to him.