Significant workplace inroads for Enterprise 2.0?

November 1, 2007

By Dion Hinchcliffe

According to a random poll I recently conducted on Facebook, just over a quarter of 300 respondents — 27% of them in all — answered in the affirmative that they are provided with an easy way at work to post on a blog or put information on a wiki. I often ask this same question to gatherings of people whenever I get the chance these days and have been getting roughly the same answer for the last few months. Businesses are apparently starting to take Web 2.0 for a more serious spin.

A year ago, accessibility to blogs and wikis in the workplace was less than half this number in my informal sampling. The growth trend seems clear and appears to be increasing. So while this data might be fairly unscientific, I suspect the number is pretty accurate, and social media, aka Enterprise 2.0, is finally making some measurable inroads in the workplace despite a few open concerns about these mediums.

Facebook as a measure of social media in the general workplace?

Of course, Facebook users in general are probably more digitally literate than the average population, will look for blogs and wikis on the local Intranet to use, and thus some say they may be more likely to gravitate to workplaces and jobs that would provide an environment with familiar tools. However, one odd breakdown in the demographics of the poll is that the youngest group, 18-24 year-olds, reported the least access to social media. Perhaps it’s because this group also includes a great deal of students or that entry level workers don’t have as much computer access as workers farther up in the hierarchy.

Poll respondents were also pretty sure when they weren’t being provided with these tools with only 21% reporting that they didn’t know if they were being offered them. A whopping 52%, just over half, said that they had no social media tools offered to them in a way they could access.

The poll question was also carefully posed to uncover if tools were being “brought in the back door” by workers using the hundreds of free social media platforms out in the Web with their browser at work, or if the workplace itself was providing enterprise blogs and wikis. In my opinion, this makes the 27% “yes” number almost surprisingly high. But, while some respondents may not have parsed the question clearly, the trend is strong enough to stand on it’s own:

Blogs and wikis may finally be seeing fairly widespread “business approved” adoption in the workplace.

Getting good business outcomes from social media while managing downside

While blogs and wikis continue to show the potential to greatly improve collaboration, create higher levels of knowledge retention, and generate more reusable business information over time, it’s also probable that in attempts to access the benefits of Enterprise 2.0 platforms, these new platforms will incur some issues that IT departments and the business will have to deal with, particularly if these platforms are exposed outside the organization.

What are the business benefits and issues of social media? The diagram above depicts the world of traditional software and native PC applications with expanding access to the “2.0″ generation of new software models and platforms. Here’s a more detailed run down of the pros and cons that will have to be balanced in most organizations when deciding on providing access to these types of social media tools to their workers.

Notes: Social media is just one important aspect of Enterprise 2.0, but the one most likely to see near-term, widespread adoption. Also, the diagram above clearly shows the social media is a new aspect to the enterprise and will more likely to enhance existing IT systems over time rather than replace them outrighte with the possible exception of enterprise content management.

Reported social media in the workplace benefits:

  • More ad hoc collaboration between employees who can find each other’s work and team together.
  • More globally persistent, discoverable business information is made available over time.
  • Social media tends to capture more institutional knowledge that’s reusable.
  • A deep hyperlink infrastructure begins to form, built by continuously by workers using social media. tools to forge links, making business information more discoverable.
  • Tagging and other emergent organization methods allow business information to be organized and cross-referenced from every point of view.
  • More efficient access to information as more business information becomes available internally and externally via syndication.
  • Potentially higher levels of innovation and productivity as more previously unavailable enterprise thinking is available to be accessed, repurposed, and built on top of.
  • Increased efficiency in conversations: social media scales up to mostly resource and time friendly conversations among thousands of asynchronous participants, yet excludes those uninterested in them, unlike e-mail distribution lists and conference calls.

Reported social media in the workplace issues:

  • Productivity: Users employing social media tools for non-productive purposes such as socializing.
  • Security: Information that should be under tight control appearing on publicly via social media, either accidentally or intentionally.
  • Control: The level of control over what appears on an organization’s Intranet will decrease with the rise in use of social media, for better or worse. Also note that unlike e-mail, control of social media can be more successfully retroactive.
  • Outcomes: Ensuring that social media tools are generated pre-defined, specific goals is difficult when the the extremely freeform platforms of social media can be used for everything from managing projects to tracking a department’s fantasy football game.
  • Another silo: Right now social media is primarily a consumer-side invention, like many aspects of Web 2.0. Consequently, most enterprise blogs and wikis don’t have good access to feeds of enterprise data and this can encourage cut-and-paste publishing of information from traditional enterprise IT systems into social media, creating another silo of data.
  • Trust: How can the usefulness of the content in social media platforms be trusted. The Web has partially solved this with techniques such as inbound link counting, but reputation and voting systems are starting to appear, often as plug-ins such as the highly capable new comment and reputation add-on release from Intense Debate, for social media tools. Despite this, until the tools become mature, trust will likely continue to be an issue for many uses of social media in the workplace.
  • Not-enterprise ready. I’ve talked plenty about the enterprise context for blogs and wikis last year. The good news, many of these issues are starting to be addressed in the latest crop of Enterprise 2.0/social media offerings.

I’ll continue to run this poll on a periodic basis going forward and see what we can learn about the adoption of social media in the workplace. In the meantime, please share your stories about blogs and wikis at work in Talkbalk below.

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OpenSocial: Developers speak out

November 1, 2007

by Dan Farber

With Google’s OpenSocial plans out of the bag, I checked out how some of the chosen few–Slide, NewsGator, Ning and salesforce.com–think about the new APIs and how they plan to apply them.

Slide is the leading Facebook developer, claiming 63 million applications (SuperPoke, Top Friends, Slideshows, Guestbooks, SkinFlix and FunPix) installed. “So far we have ported several of our most popular applications from Facebook and MySpace,” Max Levchin, founder and CEO of Slide told me. However, consumers won’t get to play with those applications until December or January.

“OpenSocial is great. The user benefit is a shorter cycle before they see cool new apps and ways to spend more time on social networks independent of the network they are on,” Levchin explained. “The most powerful implication is for developers. They’ll have less worry about in terms of complexity and back end integration.”

On the technical side, Levchin said the OpenSocial APIs are well designed, with sophisticated distributed computing happening in the browser, serving applications from multiple sources, such as services passing through Google and Slide in a hi5-hosted container. “In essence, it’s pretty impressive,” Levchin said.

While Facebook is the only container for its applications, the Google approach is more open and generic. Will Facebook adopt OpenSocial APIs?

“I cannot predict what Facebook will do,” Levchin said. “They are in an enviable position. Facebook pioneered this and is the cause of a lot of application development. For a long time MySpace, through luck and serendipity, decided that embedding Flash widgets is ok. Facebook looked at that and said it’s great and entertaining but it doesn’t leverage the fact that there is more than one user, and exposed the social graph, an improvement over pure embedding of APIs.”

“Slide is a large developer. We can afford to do both [Facebook and OpenSocial apps] and we owe a lot of our success to Facebook. In general, our mission and stance is that as long as platforms are growing and vibrant and users are coming back and interested, we will put effort into it, independent of the standards they chose.”

Of course, the 15th ranking social network is not going get that treatment and smaller developer don’t have the resources, so using OpenSocial is the way to go for them, he said.

Levchin predicted that the OpenSocial APIs will provide a core set of functions, but that each social network will have extensions that expose unique features of their platforms. “Not every social network has the notion of different levels of friending and newsfeeds,” he said.

Will OpenSocial applications find the viral growth that characterizes many Facebook applications? “One litmus test is the standard Facebook set for how fast things grow–just add water and you have 100,000 users in a few weeks,” Levchin said. “How well this plays out remains to be seen. It will be a frenzy initially and then the platforms will fine tune the controls so as not to piss off users….that’s what could cause the APIs to change.”

For Levchin, the standards are less of an issue than monetization schemes. “Developers are not going to abandon Facebook. The not-so-subtle competition will come among platforms offering monetization for developers,” he said. “Whoever has the user base will attract developers.

Over time, the social networking space will resemble the operating system battles of past decades, with just a few large players vying for developers.

NewsGator created Didjahear!?, a social content application using OpenSocial APIs that grabs a selection of video, audio and graphic material from among 7 million stories that go through its back end feed processor. It is hosted in an Orkut container, which gets recommended content filtered by category and then can push it out to friends, who can add and share comments.

Brian Kellner, vice president of product management at NewsGator, compared the Facebook and OpenSocial development platforms. “It’s pretty hard to do Facebook development, and it’s intertwined with their platfrom. You have to use the markup language and services. For example, Facebook recently changed the invites works, so you have to change your application.”

“Google’s OpenSocial is more flexible and lighter weight, with HTML and Javascript in the container,” Kellner added. “At the moment, the Google APIs have less data–it will be trickier to get viral growth since there is no prompt to push an application to other friends because it doesn’t know who your friends are who don’t have it.”

Kellner said the APIs could become more functional if the demand exists. “OpenSocial will be able to answer other questions, such as what kind of activities have been done on a platform or it may know about calendar events and be able to pass on that intelligence,” he said.

In a blog post, Ning co-founder and Chairman Marc Andreessen said that Ning will aggressively support Open Social APIs in the following ways:

Being an outstanding container. Open Social apps will be able to run easily and reliably inside Ning social networks — all 113,000+ of them. Ning Network Creators will be able to quickly and easily add Open Social apps to their networks, and Ning users will be able to quickly and easily add Open Social apps to their profile pages.

Being an app publisher. Ning already automatically produces Facebook apps for every Ning network — specifically, video, photo, and music players — using the Facebook proprietary platform approach. We will do the exact same thing for Open Social — we will automatically produce Open Social apps for every Ning network.

At the launch event tomorrow, Salesforce.com will demo its use of the OpenSocial APIs in the “business” Web. The company is using a combination of its VisualForce and Apex code to create the container that allows OpenSocial widgets to run on the platform.

“If you are on Orkut and you see a great [SocialOpen] widget that shows who are your closest friends, we could use the same widget and drop it on an opportunity page [on salesforce.com] and see the same presentation but instead of friends it would be people most active on this sales deal,” said Adam Gross, vice president of developer marketing at salesforce.com. “The data is coming from salesforce, or whoever provides the container.”

“A developer can define what a friend means–you could say who are all the friends related to this opportunity. The sales rep could see the opportunity and the strength of relationships among the influencers associated with the given opportunity,” he added.

Dave Winer, who pioneered technologies such as RSS and SOAP, offered his perspective in a recent post.

Standards devised by one tech company whose main purpose is to undermine another tech company, usually don’t work.

In this case it’s Google trying to undermine Facebook.

And I don’t think it’s going to work.

What would be exciting and uplifting, a real game-changer — Internet companies giving users full control of their data.

When Google makes their announcement on Thursday, the question they should be asked by everyone is — How much of my data are you letting me control today? That’s pretty much all that matters to anyone, imho

In some ways Google is undermining Facebook by introducing open APIs that enables write once, play almost anywhere social network application development. It will unleash far more activity among developers and benefit users, but it’s not a zero sum game.

Facebook has tremendous momentum, as Levchin pointed out, and is creating ways to share the wealth with developers. Users haven’t abandoned Apple because it’s a closed box governed by Steve Jobs and Facebook users won’t run for Orkut, Plaxo or Ning unless they have a far more compelling proposition.

OpenSocial won’t give users control of their data, but it’s a step in the right direction. And, given that Brad Fitzpatrick, who co-authored the seminal “Thoughts on the Social Graph” now works at Google, there is a small ray of hope for liberation.

Update: LinkedIn will an OpenSocial mashup, Conference Calendar, which grabs the industry information from a LinkedIn profile, associates releveant conferences and lists people from other social networks who will attend.

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Microsoft Models ‘Oslo’

October 31, 2007

By Darryl K. Taft

Considered late to the service-oriented architecture game, Microsoft is making its plans, if not its presence, known in a big way.

The company plans to make SOA more accessible and useful to customers by no less than changing the very premise of business application modeling, it said during its fifth annual SOA and business process conference here.

Microsoft said that it will begin offering enhanced SOA features and capabilities by extending current Microsoft products in five key areas: server, services, framework, tools and repository.

But much of the core technology that will make up its SOA strategy, code-named “Oslo,” has not been released yet, and some critics assert that Microsoft’s proprietary approach introduces inherent limitations to how far customers can extend their use of SOA.

SOA allows software developers to reuse existing code to create new applications, thus saving companies time and money. Microsoft wants to extend those benefits across the enterprise, and even beyond a company’s firewall, by building on the model-driven and service-enabled principles of Microsoft Dynamic IT.

According to Steven Martin, director of product management, connected systems division, Oslo also aims to change modeling from a paradigm wherein models describe the application to a paradigm where models are the application.

“Models have to become the applications,” he said. “We think that the premise of modeling tools is just fundamentally flawed,” he said.

So Microsoft is unifying its model-driven development tools, WCF (Windows Communication Foundation) and WF (Windows Workflow Foundation) to “try to unify the approach to modeling,” he said.

Martin said the approach will both democratize the use of modeling and facilitate Microsoft’s software-plus-services strategy.

“We’re not going to be satisfied until any two people in any company can collaborate on a solution and deploy it to the cloud,” Martin said.

Innovations from Oslo should also further Microsoft’s software-plus-services efforts by providing extensions to the application platform to help developers bridge the gap between on-premise and off-premise projects.

In a meeting with eWEEK, Microsoft architect John Shewchuck demonstrated “the world’s first federated access control system” to show how Web services can be used to allow applications to interoperate across their companies’ respective firewalls. “Everything is policy driven,” he said.

The company also plans to release advances in model-driven development from WCF and WF with its .Net Framework 4 release. Tools support will come through new technology planned for Visual Studio 10 intended to make strides in end-to-end application lifecycle management through new tools for model-driven design of distributed applications. The company also intends to make investments in aligning the metadata repositories across the Server and Tools product sets.

The company also demonstrated an upcoming community technology preview of Microsoft BizTalk Services, featuring additional support for interoperability, Web 2.0 services, identity standards and workflow in the cloud.

Microsoft BizTalk Server 6 will continue to provide a core foundation for distributed and highly scalable SOA and BPM solutions, and deliver the capability to develop, manage and deploy composite applications.

Microsoft System Center 5, Visual Studio 10 and BizTalk Server 6 will utilize a repository technology for managing, versioning and deploying models.

Microsoft is not providing exact time frames for when technologies such as .Net Framework 4 and Visual Studio 10 will ship. But the .Net Framework 3.5 has yet to ship.

Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, said Microsoft is on the right track with Oslo’s model-driven approach to application creation. By unifying the application creation approach across different products following a model-driven approach, they are taking advantage of some key SOA best practices, he said.

But he lambasted the company’s proprietary approach as being inappropriate for enterprise customers. “The Oslo story is fundamentally not standards-based—the modeling format and repository interfaces are all proprietary,” Bloomberg said. “So while Microsoft is heading in the right direction, Oslo is fundamentally not appropriate for enterprise SOA efforts. Instead, they have chosen to focus on the value proposition to their core Microsoft customer base, while leaving the much greater enterprise opportunity on the table.”

Source:eWeek.com


RightNow, Demandware Mash Up CRM, E-Commerce

October 30, 2007

RightNow and Demandware have developed a new mash-up that integrates the former’s CRM and customer service offerings with the latter’s e-commerce suite.

The result is an application that incorporates product content management and promotion with such interaction functionality as click-to-chat, while marrying order-tracking and management functions to the agent desktop.

Specifically, the new application connects RightNow’s service, marketing and sales applications with Demandware’s Web platform and e-commerce services.

RightNow’s contributions to the mash-up are its inbound and outbound sales and service desktop, multichannel customer service, marketing communications and customer feedback capabilities.

Demandware is providing its online storefront, site search, guided navigation, product catalog and promotions, Web development environment, user profiles and online content.

Suite Approach

On one hand, this mash-up can be viewed as a shortcut to bringing a suite application to market, as it eliminates much of the work involved in developing one from the ground up.

However, it is a mistake to assume that RightNow or Demandware have joined forces in such a manner strictly for competitive reasons, Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone told CRM Buyer — specifically with a vendor like NetSuite, the top online suite provider offering deep CRM functionality.

“RightNow rarely goes up against NetSuite in deals,” Kingstone said. “Also, RightNow’s target audience is larger than NetSuite’s.”

Rather, the larger point behind the mash-up is that it is emblematic of RightNow’s MO of automating integration around the customer experience.

The territory that Demandware owns — namely the order management process — is a critical integration point that RightNow has thus far not touched.

“Unfortunately, it is only offering this integration for the Demandware customer base,” Kingstone said.

Integrating the Online Channel

Later this year, the two companies plan to cross-sell and upsell the joint application to their respective installed bases, Scott Todaro, director of product and industry marketing at Demandware, told CRM Buyer. There is little overlap among the two firms’ clients.

There are no concrete plans, however, to embed the joint functionality in future releases of the respective applications. It may be, though, that the mash-up is enough to satisfy users’ needs — at least in the immediate term.

The driver behind the joint application is the growing necessity of integrating the online channel into back-office functions, explained David Hayden, director of product strategy for RightNow. That’s especially relevant as more companies rip out their legacy systems and replace them with SOA (service-oriented architecture)-based applications.

Vendors and their customers alike, Hayden told CRM Buyer, “are really looking to connect the various business units around solid, go-to-market strategies.”

Kingstone echoed that prediction — at least in terms of the mash-up service providing a faster time-to-market vehicle.

“The future of software will focus on mash-ups like these,” she said. “At bottom, they are all about breaking down the barrier posed by integration.”

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