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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Google Ends Wave: What Lessons Collaboration Tech Product Managers And Marketers Can Learn

Yesterday (August 5), Google announced that it was ceasing attempts to make Google Wave a viable standalone product. Considering the fanfare that the product received in the run-up to its general release (announced at Google I/O in May), it was no surprise the story burned across the blogosphere and the press. In following some of the Twitter traffic, what I found interesting was some of the low-level chuckling I saw from some competing vendors in the collaboration software space. Why? Well, before I get into that, let me make a couple of stipulations:

  1. Google has a history of less-than-stellar product launches. In tossing Google Wave on the scrap heap (and parceling out some of its components as open-source software), the brainchild of Lars and Jens Rasmussen joins a growing number of failed products. Some of this can be attributed to mistakes that Google has made time and again in marketing and product design (my colleague Tom Grant pointed out some of this with Google Buzz). But you also have to factor in that because Google has such a high profile, every time a product under performs it draws a lot of attention, making each failure seem large. But this does not seem to slow the search engine giant's innovation engine, which brings me to my second point.
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Social technologies: Standalone Applications Or Features?

During CScape at Cisco Live, one of the more interesting conversations I had started with a simple question: Is social software (and collaboration software in general) a set of standalone applications or features of other business applications? This sprang from a discussion on the future of the collaboration technology business and really speaks to a couple of important developments in the market:

 

1) Collaboration platform vendors incorporating social features into their offerings. Anyone who's followed my research and my blog posts knows this story: Cisco, IBM, Microsoft and Novell (amongst others) have released collaboration tools that include robust Web 2.0 technologies such as social networks, tag clouds and blogs. This has led to a maturing of the messaging of pure-play vendors - going from "we have the best social software" to "this is how we solve a specific business problem."

2) Business applications that power business processes are becoming social. Another recurring theme in my research is corporate interest in (and fear of not having) enterprise 2.0 technology has led business application vendors to jump into the market. As these vendors do so, they are seeking out tools to help them make their applications social. The inclusion of business application vendors, though, has put more pressure on the pure-play vendors to find a niche that will allow them to compete with vendors that have sure footholds in businesses.

 

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How Do You Demonstrate The Real Value Of Collaboration (Software)?

As I cruised the pavilion at Cisco Live in Las Vegas last week, the display that held my attention the longest was the Collaboration ROI booth. There, the network infrastructure provider making waves in the collaboration software market was demonstrating calculations it had done on how its various solutions were improving efficiency and productivity for specific jobs in verticals like retail banking. In the example I reviewed, banks using virtual loan officers were able to obtain more small business customers because the bank was able to have someone "there" to answer the prospective customer's questions. Now, with all the activity going on around me, why was this so fascinating? Put simply, it relates to a fundamental issue for all vendors hoping to compete in the collaboration software space: How do you differentiate in this crowded market?

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Thoughts On The Enterprise 2.0 Conference

In the wake of the Celtics' fourth-quarter collapse that gave Kobe Bryant his fifth ring, I am endeavoring to find positive things to focus on instead of post-game analysis, which brings me to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference. This was my second year attending the event (which is conveniently located 10 minutes from my house), and I must say that my takeaway this year is more positive than my impressions after last year's show. I appreciated the optimism exhibitors and attendees have about the market and the passion they show for the topic - which led to some lively debates. But during my three days at the event, the things that really caught my attention were:

 

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Help Us Benchmark “Social Maturity”

We recently embarked on a Forrester-wide research project to benchmark the use of social technologies across enterprise organizations. Why is this important? Well, as you may know, we cover social technologies from a wide range of perspectives – from roles in marketing to IT to technology professionals. We find that each of these roles differ in their general “social maturity” and that most companies are experiencing pockets of success, but few, if any, are successfully implementing it across the board. In fact, full maturity in this space could take years, but there are clear differences in how some ahead-of-the-curve companies are using social technologies for business results. In fact, at this point it has been clearly established by many people (including us many times over) that social technologies are transformative tools that are changing the way companies do business. So we’re not talking as much about the opportunity social presents, but rather we are trying to determine the current reality of practitioners. It’s also clear that many companies have made tremendous strides in planning and organizing for the use of social technologies. However, the one question we consistently get is: “Where is my organization compared to others in the use of social media?”  We want to benchmark these companies to see if we can answer questions like:

 

  • How do you define “social maturity,” and why is it important to get there?
  • Which companies are ahead of the curve in implementing social technologies for both external use (i.e., for customers/consumers) and/or internal use (i.e., for employees/partners)?
  • What have been the biggest drivers of success?
  • What are the biggest challenges?
  • What steps do most organizations need to take, and why?
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Do All Business Applications Need To Be Social?

Next week, vendors from across the social computing landscape will converge on Boston for TechWeb’s Enterprise 2.0, a business Web 2.0 conference and trade show. In advance of this event – which I will be attending – I thought I’d discuss a topic that has started to emerge in my research of social software: the proliferation of social components in business applications. More specifically, I want to address a question a client recently raised: is having a social layer going to be necessary for businesses to adopt business applications going forward?

Over the last few years, we have seen software vendors position social tools as part of software suites such as collaboration platforms (e.g. SharePoint 2010, Lotus Connections), project management packages (e.g. ThoughtWorks Mingle),  BPM tools (e.g. ARISalign) and CRM systems (e.g. Salesforce Chatter). This is the natural reaction to what seems to be heavy business interest in these technologies: 65% of firms deploy at least one Web 2.0 tool. However, the marketing and selling of these tools is predicated on two myths:

  • Myth #1: Information workers are clamoring for these social tools. I have sat in on many vendor briefings where a company representative tells me employees demand Facebook-like or Twitter-like tools to do their jobs. Not true. When we ask information workers about their use of social networks, wikis, discussion forums, blogs, and microblogs for work, only a small group actually uses them; social networking tools, the best-adopted technology, is used by only 12% of information workers. When we ask non-users their desire in using each of these tools, small portions express interest; the most sought-after technology, discussion forums, only piques the interest of 15% of information workers.
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