Microsoft's Office 365 Allows Flexibility In Enterprise Collaboration Technology Strategies

Yesterday morning (June 28), I , along with a small group of Microsoft customers, partners, and members of the technology and business press, sat in a SoHo, NY, gallery to listen to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announce the release of Office 365, the long-awaited successor to Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS). In his remarks, Ballmer positioned the product set as a way for businesses of any size to facilitate communication and collaboration. What he and all of the multimedia presentations in the gallery stressed was how Office 365 addressed the productivity and collaboration needs of IT-constrained small and medium-sized businesses. While smart business (it helps Microsoft tell a compelling story against Google, which is doing well in that part of the market), the natural question I heard from people in the room was, "What about the enterprise?"

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"Anywhere, Anytime" Work Means IT Must Provide The Right Technology, To The Right Person, At The Right Time

Giving workers flexibility in when, where, and how they work is a hot topic right now. The US federal government has passed legislation to make telecommuting easier and multinational firms, like State Street, are instituting programs to let employees choose when and where they work. Why are organizations emphasizing this so much? Mobile and remote employees have more control over their work/life balance and won't have to stop working if circumstance prevents them from coming to the office. Furthermore, they can easily be collocated with clients and allow the company to reduce its real estate and carbon footprint. However, as this chart from my new report, Demystifying The Mobile Workforce, shows, information workers may be moving more quickly to this flexible way of working than their companies currently acknowledge: 66% of the North American and European workforce work outside the office at some point during a month.

If business leaders and their counterparts in IT are to get in front of this trend, they have to understand their mobile and remote workforce. For example, who is shifting work between the office and home? What technology are they using to do so? Do they believe that the company is doing a good job of providing them the policies and technology to work in this way? If business and IT leaders can't answer these questions, they will be hard pressed to accurately:

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Are Businesses Missing The Benefits Of Collaboration Technology?

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:

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SlideShare Brings Another Collaboration Tool To The Consumerization Of IT Party

Today, the popular online content-sharing site SlideShare released an audio/video/web conferencing solution called Zipcast. At face value, this is yet another entry into an already crowded web conferencing market. What makes this different is SlideShare is home to the sales and marketing presentations of 45 million users. This makes Zipcast a natural extension of that content store, allowing SlideShare clients to hold inexpensive webinars for prospects. SlideShare's offering is compelling:

  • It has a good set of features. Zipcast provides many of the presentation tools sales and marketing pros expect when hosting a webinar. There's streaming audio and streaming video of the presenter. Slides can be pushed to the attendees and -- in a nice twist that stays true to their roots -- said attendees can advance slides independent of the presenter.
  • It's inexpensively priced.  Zipcast is available to SlideShare Basic (free) and SlideShare Pro customers at no extra cost. Pro customers get added benefits, such as an option to host password-protected meetings and use an audio bridge from FreeConferenceCall.com. Considering Pro licenses start at $19/month, this severely undercuts WebEx and GoToMeeting pricing.
  • It's optimized for the Splinternet. If you've been following the work of my colleague Josh Bernoff, you know that when we refer to the "Splinternet," we're talking about the Internet's fragmentation thanks to mobile devices, social networks and password protection. To deal with this, Zipcast is an HTML5 application that also runs as Flash for browsers not currently supporting that standard. And to allow for quick access to meetings, people can enter through a SlideShare profile or with Facebook Connect.
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With The Acquisition Of Dimdim, Salesforce.com Shows They Want To Be Your Collaboration-Enabled Apps Provider

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:

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What Does WikiLeaks World Mean For Open Information Sharing?

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? 

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How Is Desktop Videoconferencing Being Used In Your Business?

For those of us who following the collaboration software space, video in business has been a hot topic: We have seen year-over-year growth in videoconferencing implementations, a majority of businesses are interested in or implementing video streaming technology, and the emergence of vendors offering "YouTube for the enterprise" services that allow information workers to create and share business-related videos. What's driving all of this interest in video? From a business leader perspective, you could argue that video enables more efficient and effective communication and collaboration for increasingly distributed workforces. For rank-and-file information workers, exposure to consumer services like Skype, Facetime (the video chat capability on Apple's iPhone) and YouTube have made them comfortable with the idea of video communications, which brings me to the subject of this blog post: how is desktop videoconferencing -- communications via a video unit on the desk like a Webcam -- being adopted by businesspeople?  

In our most recent survey of information workers (those who use a computer to do their job), we find that while 29% of workers use videoconferencing technology, only 15% have access to desktop video technology. The bulk of those using this tool are not the rank-and-file, but the managers and executives who have historically been the users of videoconferencing services. Considering the increasing acceptance of this more personal form of video in the consumer realm, these light adoption numbers raise the question about how this technology can spread throughout businesses. I'm currently working on a report on this very topic and I'm interested in hearing from you. Has desktop videoconferencing found its way into your business? If so, who led the charge and what was the rationale? If not, what is hindering implementation and adoption?

Let's have a conversation about this.

The Intercompany Collaboration Imperative: Why It's Important And Why Vendors Need To Support It

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:

  1. 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.
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Product Managers Take Note: Microsoft Is Using Serious Games To Product Test (And You Can Too)

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.

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For Small SaaS Vendors, The Benefit Of A Free Tier Is To Attract Partners

Recently, I published a report about a small software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendor, Dimdim, which is having success in the crowded Web conferencing market. Like many small vendors, Dimdim provides a free service tier, generously allowing up to 20 participants into the free meeting, to help drum up business. The report, though, did not simply highlight the number of users that Dimdim has captured in four short years of existence -- over 5 million -- but also its success in attracting partners like Intuit, Novell and Nortel CVAS. Why? For new vendors entering crowded markets, attracting partners is vital for two reasons:

  1. Partners open doors to new markets. In crowded markets, incumbent vendors and new entrants jostle to serve customer needs. For the new entrants, the customers that can be wrangled through media hype and analyst buzz is minimal. Mass appeal comes from firms with strong working relationships with a range of buyers in a number of markets -- e.g., oil & gas, healthcare, government -- embracing a small vendor's offering and introducing it to their clients.
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