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.
There’s been lots going on with what Forrester calls the “interaction-centric customer service vendors”. These are the vendors that manage the high-volume, transaction-oriented relationships — those often encountered in B2C environments, over the multiple communication channels (email, chat, social, phone etc) that exist today.
RightNow announced its RightNow’s CX for Facebook app, to be released in November. This app creates a “Support” tab on a company’s wall and allows users to interact via social and traditional channels right from Facebook. Users can find answers from community content or from the corporate knowledgebase, ask the community questions, follow, participate in, and track discussions, propose an idea, ask an agent (either in a public or a private conversation), and more. It’s a nicely designed app, and something that RightNow needed to release, given the availability of similar ones from eGain, Genesys, Parature, etc.
eGain also solidifies its social footprint by announcing its Social Experience Suite — a customer interaction hub that manages both traditional and social interactions. The new version includes a social-blended agent desktop, a single-sourced knowledgebase across all channels (traditional + social again), and a unified customer record. The version also includes forums and adapters to monitor social networks through integrations with Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo search.
Forrester has long advocated adoption of a “business technology” approach to replace traditional IT. “BT” recognizes the fundamental role information technology plays in all aspects of business – and the need for business decision-makers to be deeply involved in setting technology strategy, priorities, and even delivering solutions. But how does this tight coupling of business and technology decision-making actually work?
My colleague Alexander Peters and I have just witnessed a situation that illustrates that having the right organizational structure and technology-savvy businesspeople is crucial to a BT transition.
The organization developed an IT strategy 10 years ago based on three best practices:
Major business processes would be implemented on a single, modern, flexible platform.
The platform would employ SOA to ensure that it could adapt to unforeseen needs.
The platform would run in the consolidated, scalable, and efficient data center of a service provider.
Today, the organization has not yet achieved its top goal of a single platform for all of its major processes. It has a new SOA/Java environment, but it processes a little more than half of the required workload. Older systems do the rest. Most disturbing:
The development investment has been many times greater than expected at the outset.
The annual cost of IT operations doubled versus the baseline.
System reliability went down with the new environment.
Technology innovation and business disruption are changing the software market today. Cloud computing is blurring the line between applications and services, and smart solutions are combining hardware with software into new, purpose-engineered solutions. We are happy to announce that we have launched our Forrester Forrsights Software Survey, Q4 2010, to predict and quantify the future of the software market and help IT vendors to tap into the insights from approximately 2,500 IT decision-makers across North America and Western Europe.
The survey will provide insights on the strategic direction and spending plans of enterprises from very small businesses to global enterprises, segmented by industry and country. In comparison with last year’s survey, we significantly boosted the sample size this year for the energy (oil and gas, utilities, and mining) and healthcare industries; we’ll be able to provide an in-depth analysis for these industries along with retail, financial services, high tech, and other industries.
Key themes for this year’s software survey include the following topics:
Cloud computing. Besides a 360-degree overview on current and future adoption rates of software-as-a-service (SaaS) for different software applications, we are going much deeper this year and have asked IT decision-makers about their cloud strategy for application replacement as well as for different data and transaction types.
Integrated information technology. Purpose-engineered solutions combining hardware with software are promising higher performance and faster implementation times. But do IT users really buy into single-vendor strategies?
As Forrester’s EA tools analyst specialist, I am regularly receiving inquiries from EA teams that are encountering trouble choosing the "single repository of truth" for the entire enterprise. Generally, they are oscillating between two products after a long decision process, hesitating in many cases because no one product is able to satisfy all the architects: the EAs, the solution architects, and sometimes the business architects. One product satisfies some architects and not the others, and vice versa; in the end, choosing one single product would not satisfy anyone because for each option that will satisfy a few, some will not use it (generally, for good reason), and it will not give others the information they require to do their job. Therefore, for these EA teams, the dream of getting a "single repository of truth" is becoming a nightmare. I encounter this sort of dilemma in half of the inquiries I receive about EA tools and particularly within the largest companies.
My answers are sometimes difficult for these EA teams to hear:
First: Do all team members agree on EA objectives for the next two to three years? Do all architects know and share the same IT objectives and priorities? If EA and IT objectives/priorities are not clear, it is not surprising that they want different tools, because a universal EA tool does not really exist at this time. The recent document I published about the EA management suite as a third generation of EA tools explains how the most recent two generations complement each other.
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.
A funny thing happened while we in IT were focused on ITIL, data center consolidation and standardization. The business went shopping for better technology solutions. We’ve been their go-to department for technology since the mainframe days and have been doing what they asked. When they wanted higher SLAs we invested in high availability solutions. When they asked for greater flexibility we empowered them with client-server, application servers and now virtual machines. All the while they have relentlessly badgered us for lower costs and greater efficiencies. And we’ve given it to them. And until recently, they seemed satisfied. Or so we thought.
Sure, we’ve tolerated the occasional SaaS application here and there. We’ve let them bring in Macs (just not too many of them) and we’ve even supported their pesky smart phones. But each time they came running to us for assistance when the technical support need grew too great.
I was listening to a briefing the other day and got swept up in a Western melodrama, set against the backdrop of Calamity Jane’s saloon in Deadwood Gulch, South Dakota, revolving around three major characters: helpless heroine (the customer); valiant hero (vendor A, riding a standards-based white horse); and the scoundrel villain (a competitor, riding the proprietary black stallion) (insert boo and hiss). Vendor A tries to evoke sympathy at his plight of not offering the latest features because he doesn’t have the same powers as the villain and has chosen to follow the morally correct path, which is filled with prolonged and undeserved suffering supporting standards-based functions. What poppycock! There is no such thing as good and evil in networking. If the vendors were reversed in positions, vendor A would be doing the same thing as its competitors. Every vendor has some type of special sauce to differentiate themselves. Anyway, it’s business, plain and simple; networking fundamentally needs proprietary and standards-based features. However, there’s a time and place for both.
With that in mind, I want to let you know that I’m a big proponent of standards-based networking. The use of open standards improves the choices that help you reduce risk, implement durable solutions, obtain flexibility, and benefit from quality. Ninety-plus percent of networking should be leveraging standard protocols, but to get to that point features need to go through three stages:
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.