The end of ‘social’: Is the digital enterprise leaving you behind?

 

Summary: We’re leaving the era of standalone social networks and moving to a far more interconnected world. The digital enterprise approach combines vestigial point solutions and legacy applications into cohesive next generation systems of engagement.

Social technologies are like the wiring in a device – your toaster, car or head phones won’t work without this connective plumbing. But “standalone social” as a point solution is as meaningless as buying wire for your toaster – it’s already designed around it. 

Your world is now dominated by increasingly sophisticated smart devices that are always with you, whether you are working or on your own time.

grim reaper

Intelligent personal assistants are becoming ubiquitous on mobile devices of all stripes – the battle between Google Now and Apple’s Siri and the rest of the pack are at an important maturity point, to some degree already superseding search with in-the-moment contextual information based on your existing preferences.

The management concepts that have evolved as social media has transformed global communication are now resulting in meaningful changes in the enterprise.

This algorithm-driven new world is a given for those who have grown up always living with smart devices, most of whom now live in a post Facebook and Twitter world of text messages and shared images, Snap Chat and other “instant” and ephemeral communication.

The increasingly stodgy world of Facebook’s content heavy and calendared recording of life events approach is reminiscent of AOL’s last days as the internet outgrew that old social interactions silo. Twitter has arguably collapsed under its own weight, failing to scale and missing filtering mechanisms to eliminate duplication and to help users surface important information. Most critically for the old social silo generation: They are now awash with click bait, marketing pitches and agendas.

Speed is the enemy of legacy technologies – slow, ploddy last century screen-by-screen-by-screen click through computer software struggles for relevance against the new world of instant gratification through touch screen controlled apps of all screen sizes.

The big last century enterprise software titans, point-of-sale retail online buying decisions, customer service phone calls and chat sessions – all are judged by ease and speed of use which is today’s competitive business battlefield and are causing major legacy IT refit problems for forward-looking companies. This is the goal of overarching Digital Enterprise Transformation efforts which seek to create coherence of collaboration and interactions across companies.

Crossing the chasm to get to a true integrated digital state at scale is the key challenge for the majority of businesses today

All of the above is easy to posture about and critique, but strategizing to be effective in this rapidly evolving new world is far more challenging. With the barriers to publishing of opinions and suggestions now nonexistent and with the web awash with armchair experts, sorting out the hidden sales agendas, red herrings and amateur theorists from identifying relevant strategic value is extremely challenging for business decision makers.

With the ‘consumer’ focused tech bubble now deflating fast, we are entering a new period of realism, particularly around the popular concept of the digital omni-channel, customer-focused business. Fewer people working and earning disposable incomes equals less opportunities for targeted and interactive marketing: The available pool of people to market to seems to be getting smaller…a big challenge for the the profitability of the publicly listed digital places where the partially employed and unemployed hang out online (such as Twitter and Facebook) to entertain and communicate with each other.

These social networking silos – and arguably some of last decade’s enterprise collaboration silo software – are being outgrown by internet evolution. Intelligent personal assistants and analytical tools are slowly infiltrating and learning about our proclivities, but the sheer volume of social ephemera makes it harder and harder to filter and surface value.

For business, planning for this evolution comes at a time when many are disillusioned with marketing campaign point solutions to tap into aspects of the old social world. The typical Chief Marketing Officer moves on after around 18 months and many of the cloud and mobile app campaigns their teams spin up have similar shelf lives, leaving lots of lightweight software behind after short duration tactical activities have concluded.

Enterprise-scale planning is much longer duration and arguably has the opposite problem – long-term IT planning and purchase of platforms and suites that can’t keep pace with the flexibility and agility required to be fit for purpose as the digital world evolves.

These two realities have been a profitable collision area for consultants for the last few years – myself included – but the strategic realities of the business world shifted fast in the last 18 months as we leave the limited scope of the old ‘social business’ thinking.

My old line of businesses digitizing but not transforming is now in wide use in marketing software as we slowly enter the post digital document/postage/filing era. The digital slide carousel is used to educate prospects on our digital future but to quote Steve Jobs at his height, you really do have to ‘Think Different’ about the Digital Enterprise…

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Mastering Change

I’m trying to understand why, over the years, there is constant repetitive ‘discovery’ of the same collaboration techniques and opportunities over and over again, which then all too often fail to stick in organizations. What follows are then generations of ‘what went wrong’ discussions.

The 1993 American comedy film “Groundhog Day” about a TV weatherman covering the annual Groundhog Day event who finds himself in a time loop, repeating the same day again and again epitomizes how many feel in the business. There’s a strong sense of deja vu even amongst people who are on the edges of problem solving to get people to share intelligence and work together.

Yahoo’s attempt to rally their troops for their Hail Mary save-the-company pass by bringing them all back on premise has triggered the latest tsunami of thoughts, with seemingly endless recountings of individuals work experiences in the past, what has worked for them and what hasn’t.

A fundamental is that getting people to work together collectively is a very different proposition to anecdotes about  personal experiences, and the more available technologies shift and evolve, the more the core issues stick out like a sore thumb.

A frequent issue inside companies is the part time ‘not my main job’ focus on collaboration and social computing products – all too often an individual or small team is tasked to explore options as an (often small) portion of their job. They are wary of biting off more than they can handle – especially when they encounter the vast terrain and fiefdoms they are expected to solve problems for. Social software vendor hype looks increasingly attractive as more urgent ‘day job’ tasks pile up, so they arrange a pilot project and engage in a tire kicking exercise.

The result is the predictable ‘ready, fire, aim’ syndrome.

Inadequate planning, interaction and communication with the people expected to live a new more collaborate life was suspect, and there is now an underused piece of expensive software to to be explained at budget time.

You’ve probably had the ‘Groundhog Day’ experience by now as the technology waves have matured.

I’ve worked on strategy projects with very short engagement periods which have been extremely challenging to pull off – a far better approach is an iterative, cumulative process that evolves over time and becomes part of the culture of a company. The superficial understanding of collaboration benefits and possibilities is often because it’s ‘soft’ – there are few metrics in place to measure and compare to begin with, and time is not invested to create them.

Back in 2009 McKinsey put out a paper by Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken titled ‘The Inconvenient Truth about Change Management – Why it isn’t working and what to do about it’, which like the film ‘Groundhog Day’ is a bit of an evergreen.

When we talk about collaboration strategy we are typically primarily talking about change management to achieve well defined goals – the collaborative tools must be  fit for those purposes. It seems elementary but the reality today is that too many companies waste a lot of money on rushing software into service without thinking through supporting enduring use models. The McKinsey paper generalizes about what successful change management looks like and scratches the surface of how to get to success – I’m bringing it up here because these are the sort of building blocks needed to accelerate collective business performance …not simply buying the latest software versions…

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Clash of the titans

January 2013: The future direction of technology needs rests more and more with clients and their ad agencies of record. A showdown is looming between the giant hi tech and and advertising industries…

‘The next big thing is already here’ Samsung spot by 72 and sunny

The tectonic shifts in the way companies do business are rooted in technology and connectivity, but the actual technology is rarely part of new innovation. This may seem counter intuitive, but the reality is that most technologies are designed to serve subsets of companies – accounting, marketing or HR being obvious examples.

 

‘The suite always wins’ has been the mantra of MISO vendors (msft, ibm, sap, oracle) for decades, with ERP (enterprise resource planning) forming the backbone of large companies since the late seventies, typically augmented by complimentary components that feed into other parts of the business. Historically human resources tech has been like widget supply chain until recently  - keeping tabs on the human components of the firm, making sure there are the right number and that they are performing to produce the work pieces they are installed for.

We’re leaving an era where the old guard MISO technology vendors, with a combined worth of a trillion US dollars, are fighting to retain their recurring ‘maintenance model’ revenue suite models, which fund next generation research and development in the face of increasingly modular, agile and powerful digital transformation options enabled by cloud, software as a service month by month seat licenses and of course mobile.

ERP transformed global commerce last century, and the next generation of this complex and costly but invaluable technology, goes MISO’s logic, are real time, in-memory analytical tools that will immediately tell you what your customer and prospects are thinking, their propensities, buying patterns, thoughts about relevant contextual topics. and connect to supply chain and social channels for end to end transactions, to lapse into jargon speak.

What’s wrong with this picture is that ERP was and is all about automation, weaving finance/accounting, manufacturing, sales and service customer relationship management into a river of transactional data that participants worked on at various points, like people putting together cars on Henry Ford’s production lines under one roof. The cost of doing business factors in maintenance of the production line, tools, humans (now robots) and raw materials.

Into this world came the (now ancient) Web 2.0 read/write web, mobile, open source collaborative code and large scale human interaction digital networking. Simplistically the MISO giants are betting their farms on being able to parse all the data this brave new world creates, and feed the ERP beast of their clients with it to enhance production.

Today the half billion spending world of global advertising is colliding with the trillion dollar MISO cash cow, and there is going to be significant fall out.

Looking at the way firms do business from a different angle, western society brands are large defined by highly sophisticated collaboration with AOR (Agencies of Record) – advertising agencies that play a fundamental role in motivating the consumption of well researched products by prospects and customers. This relationship is growing far more important in our fragile economy: global firms like Apple, Burberry and Nike demonstrate the immense power of brand positioning and perceptions, while the revolution in BTL (below the line) and particularly TTL (through the line) enabled by digital possibilities is slowly transforming the advertising industry. TTL is what most interested marketing people understand the concept of the social enterprise/business to be – greater agility from greater connectivity and context but on a platform, not a software suite.

The old guard MISO heavy iron has co existed with the fast paced world of marketing strategy and tactics to provide the correct numbers of projected widgets that can be sold for decades. Today the half billion spending world of global advertising is colliding with the trillion dollar MISO cash cow, and there is going to be significant fall out.

TV still dominates the delivery of eyeballs to advertising agencies and their brand name clients, but our digital connections are increasingly important: advertising titan Google’s profitability demonstrates this reality. We’re leaving the tech world’s social hype era – and as Larry Dignan, Dennis Howlett along with Brian Profitt over on ReadWrite among others have written, technology companies modeling an entire social enterprise/business haven’t worked well.

Valley VC’s have been licking their chops over a ‘Multi-Hundred-Billion-Dollar Destruction Of Wealth’ for the last twelve months as the MISO old guard yield to a newer generation of SaaS saving money for clients, with the VC backed startups pocketing next generation profits, as this piece last fall on Seeking Alpha by ‘modernist’  ’Enterprise Titanic Approaching Iceberg: SAP‘ luridly proposes.

Software companies can help their customers identify paths to innovation – usually with much peppy behavior – but it is historically Ad Agencies which have helped firms find their mojo, and then hit the right tone with their customers. The automation of CRM (customer relationship management) typically means phone trees, long waits with terrible music and script reading, lowest cost employees somewhere on the planet who don’t have answers to your questions. That’s a tech human process interface at its worse – contrast that miserable experience with advertising at it’s best: AdAge agency of the year 72 and Sunny (who are based in Amsterdam and LA) brilliantly undermining Apple’s mobile fan boy audience with TV spots and digital follow through for Samsung.

Finding the right tone and messaging is more and more important in our fast moving times – digital documents and filing cabinets, creaky enterprise user interfaces and unhappy legacy enterprise vendor relationship financial memories are common place in the tech world, and they just don’t cut it in comparison to an Ad agency hitting sales out of the park. Now those ad agencies are getting into the technology business to create the tools they need, and work with vendors on their terms or make their own. Publicis owned Razorfish, also an AdAge top ten firm, create a lot of software these days…

There has been much clueless posturing around the word ‘social’ over the last three years, starting with the catch all ‘social media’ followed by various vertical definitions with Social slapped on as a prefix. Tech has a dubious history around ‘the next big thing’ – remember when SOA (Service Oriented Architecture, not Sons of Anarchy!) was the future and you had the get on the bandwagon quick? There are a whole set of other issues around big marketing and advertising company shortcomings, but from where I’m sitting (and somewhat colored by a previous career as a brand advertising creative) it is marketing innovation and agility that is eating the world, to paraphrase Andreesen, and the software industry is going to be increasingly downstream from that.

 

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Maintenance is the battleground, innovation the prize

January 2013: Rimini Street’s 3rd-Party Software Maintenance & Support model could be the catalyst that completely changes the face of future enterprise software

In essence the internal world in large enterprises is split between accountants and their colleagues with process oriented tasks, and the ‘line of business’ folks who are tasked with making something new happen. The former group are typically the long term users of enterprise software, while the latter often experiment with – and utilize if effective – the latest and greatest cloud/mobile Software-as-a-Service tools in order to gain competitive edge.

SAP, as noted by Larry Dignan earlier, are raising their maintenance fees a percentage point this summer for those customers not on alternative agreements. Last week I spoke with Rimini Street, who provide alternative maintenance services for less money for SAP & Oracle customers, and that conversation took on greater significance today.

For the long term dependents on Oracle and SAP’s business management software and databases running their internal operations, maintenance fees have been a major irritant: SAP attempted a price hike to 22% in 2008 but backed down after customer outcry. Simplistically, maintenance is the ongoing tuning and refinement of the utility-like products that keep the IT plumbing working and the lights on, the patch Tuesday coding and a primary source of funding for research and development.

For the bean counters and process focused this is all a cost of doing business, but for those attempting to innovate there is more and more frustration that IT is soaking up vast amounts of cash to pay off what they see as relatively generic utility like equipment, instead of focusing those funds on breaking molds and thinking differently.

 Alexia Tsotsis interviewed Marc Andreesen for a Tech Crunch article (now that she no long finds enterprise software so boring she cries about it in coffee shops), during which Andreesen came out with this zinger

…The joke about SAP has always been it’s making 50s German manufacturing methodology, implemented in 1960s software technology, delivered to 1970-style manufacturing organizations.

In the last eighteen months there have been plenty of VC events where they wax eloquent about the coming collapse of the olde enterprise world and lick their chops over the coming feast they will enjoy with their nimble, new wave hipster firms that make the enterprise fun ‘n’ easy again. Keynote stage suits have given way to skinny jeaned jokers poking fun at the old wave, who have anxiously spent billions buying up new companies to look hip and happening. (Microsoft arguably spent a billion on six months of positive PR buying Yammer, and previously SAP bought cloud HR firm Successfactors and put their mercurial ceo Lars Dalgaard in charge of cloud).

The schizophrenic culture of many large firms, with fault lines between the bean counter/process people and the innovation/marketing axis can put immense pressure on IT decision making. The first generation of social networking is collapsing under its own weight as failures around filtering and distrust of the digital inn keepers motives take their toll – what happens next may or may not be funded by maintenance contract revenue within large companies. Microsoft spend an incredible $9.6 billion on R&D in 2011 alone according to this article by Matt Smith at PCworld, yet the new version of Office shows little signs of anything new, as Peter Bright at Ars Techica noted.
(‘
Office 2013 is an incremental update when Microsoft needed a revolution‘)

The big four MISO (MSFT, IBM,SAP, ORCL) players are in a very delicate position: they have to maintain their lucrative legacy recurring revenue cash cows while being seen to keep up with the times with modern offerings. This is where Rimini Street’s Third-Party Software Maintenance & Support is so problematic. Talking with SVP David Rowe last week about their recently released quarterly numbers for 2012 and fourth quarter it is apparent their business is accelerating. Cut and paste of their claims:

  • Largest new sales quarter in Company history with 40 new client transactions closed in Q4
  • $26.6. million in total Q4 invoicing, a growth of 61-percent over a year ago quarter
  • $558.5 million in sales bookings backlog, an increase of nearly 42 percent y-o-y
  • $43+ million in annual revenues for fiscal 2012, an increase of more than 30 percent y-o-y
  • Expanded global capabilities and workforce in Europe, India and Brazil

Although a rounding error compared to SAP’s, their numbers going forward are looking strong, and their pitch is compelling…MISO are no longer adding incremental value, they’re just adding modules to their elderly core offerings…Enterprise support models are 20+ years old with little innovation needed on utility style products, so why not use savings on this via Rimini Street to fund innovation around the edges…

It’s a pretty compelling argument, and certainly one I’m interested in because it’s a contextual source of funding for development of modern collaborative practices which seeks to problem solve and join the warring elements within enterprises.

The high noon court date between Oracle and Rimini Street (Oracle claim theft of their IP and an illegal business model) will occur at some point later this year and will likely be a pivotal moment in software history if Rimini Street win, because that will see last century process based enterprise software ring fenced and far less profitable.

Larry Ellison says the suite always wins, with Oracle converting best-of-breed outliers into features of Oracle’s business management software and database conglomerations. If the suite is no longer viable financially as the cornerstone of vast enterprise software vendors, it will free up and accelerate the pace of change for business software dramatically and we may see far more innovation from all players, which would be great for end users and overworked IT staff.

Whether any of the current players, new or old, would survive this upheaval is open for debate…

* update: Mike Prosceno of SAP was in touch to say about maintenance ”we deliver much more, e.g. continuous flow of innovation through Enhancement Packs, and in case of Enterprise Support Proactively, e2e solution operations etc. We are well beyond the place you describe (as are most of our customers.) “

 

~ image from Shorpy

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Mobile is eating the world

December 2012: Mary Meeker’s slide vividly depicts the relentless march of mobile OS into the heart of desktop QWERTY keyboard land

 

 

I downloaded the latest Mary Meeker slide deck earlier today, and the image above – a composite of information from Asymco, public filings, Morgan Stanley Research and Gartner – jumped out at me as I flipped through her fresh insights.

Wintel is the blue background color, and the image vividly depicts the changing operating system landscape. After the brief Commodore Amiga/AtariST/Apple renaissance in 1991, the market has been dominated by Microsoft until the new hockey stick of Apple and Android hit its stride in 2008…ironically just as the global banking credit and fraud crisis choked commercial activity.

It’s a hell of an image to burn into your synapses: Mary’s deck is titled ‘internet trends’ and of course the unseen in this image underpinnings of the new hockey stick are mobile and cloud infrastructure, with a return to a variation of the thin client/beefy servers that were dominant prior to the PC’s triumphant ascent from the 80′s to 1999, the height of the Microsoft Explorer browser dominated dot com boom.

Today the vast majority of employees are provisioned with PCs and Windows. Walk into a major hospital or other large complex enterprise and you’re likely to see a lot of screensavers with the Windows XP logo drifting around on them while they are locked. The plasticy PC’s and dorky look and feel of old versions of Windows is as ubiquitous as the locks on the doors and keycard systems…and they won’t be going away any time soon.

While modern mobile device evolution matures people will watch closely but not take action until they see firm foundations, which is what Microsoft have provided for many past lifetimes in technology dog years.

The world today is focusing on the software that increasingly powers everything thanks to ubiquitous broadband and mobile connectivity, and the barriers to creating applications that leverage the connection to the billions strong digital population of the planet have never been lower.

We’ve gone from the Web 2.0 ‘beta’ Google and down web applications (‘fail early and often’) of five years ago, where you enticed your prospects to help alpha and beta test your concepts, to the currently febrile and ephemeral ‘apps’ era.

Large, rigid business entities are going to take years to move to newer technologies, but the bigger question is how many large, rigid entities will be left by then? A hospital is a text book example of an enterprise anyone can understand: medical records, literal life and death, tight and volatile regulatory control, lots of moving parts and legal complexity.

The form factor of the enterprise application access physical device may well change over time, evolving from mouse and keyboard to slates for those constantly on their feet and with light input needs, but that’s akin to the CSS layer of code – the display layer. These types of transactional business entities are not bound to Windows as the operating system/display layer as cloud becomes the dominant connectivity via browsers and apps.

If PC sales dry up that cuts off a big part of Microsoft’s operating system revenue, as Zack Whitacker has already discussed here on ZDNet. The reality is that many businesses are composed of multiple smaller business entities, often with their own P&L, HR and IT. Take these plus small and medium sized firms and you really begin to see the shift to the post PC, mobile world where documents and email are less dominant as contractual and communication devices, and where mobile context is king.

Microsoft of course recognize this and are now wide awake and bombarding the planet with advertising for their new efforts. However “Windows: the smartphone reinvented around you” may not compute in a world used to Windows meaning cathode ray tubes, plastic QWERTY keyboards and mice….and Seinfeld and Gate’s cosy comedic timing around the future of computers being ‘moist and chewy like cakes so we can just eat them while we’re working’.

The chart above tells the story, and the major societal seismic shifts in the way we relate, communicate and collaborate with each other individually, in defined groups and en masse is breaking molds faster than new ones can be created. I saw the (well worth seeing) film ‘Chasing Ice‘ this weekend –  ’the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of climate change‘  - Meeker’s slide reminds me of the temperature change claims and epic footage of elemental destruction of gigantic ice plains in that film.

 

 

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The battle to transform your ‘front office’ heats up…put your goals & strategy first!

The battlefront between software vendors for automating your ‘front office‘ which are the parts of business that come into contact with clients, and in an ideal selling world engage in long term relationship conversations with them. In the current era there is an appetite to explore all areas that could attract and drive these customer relationships, with research and development, innovation and brand and product messaging tied into the huge streams of data that expensive technologies feed back about prospect and customer digital activities.

Enterprise software companies marketing the heck out of now widely understood ideas

For this fall’s IT fashion season, the big enterprise software vendors are rolling out their big marketing guns and hammering home messaging about the transformations they could provide for your business. Accommodating the pace of change invoked by our rapidly evolving personal choices of digital technologies and uses has proven a pretty big headache for enterprise software companies, and there’s now an element of Chutzpah about some of their catch up messaging.

The San Francisco Bay Area is currently peppered with 48 sheet billboard advertising for social software products and events, and books on our formerly emergent world seem to be published at a rate of several a day by all sorts of characters from qualified and opportunist. Public Relations professionals have been very vocal in wrapping product marketing messaging as business ‘social movement’ strategy for their employers and clients.

On the buy side of all this messaging, many have already had a few previous below par experiences after being impressed by the sizzle only to be disappointed by the actual steak when buying software, that turned out to be both unfit for purpose and sometimes unclear what the purpose for it was alongside pre existing ways of working. The resulting shelfware has also been the nemesis of a few careers.

The My Space lesson

Venerable My Space, whose odd journey from former fashion darling of the digital social set to ‘previous relationship’  status for most people is a sobering lesson, are attempting a major relaunch. The video above shows the old world of blinky animated gifs transformed into a hip place with a lovely use interface that ties in nicely with Microsoft’s   current look and feel demos and advertising.

The big old guard MISO vendors (Microsoft, IBM, SAP, Oracle) are striving mightily to avoid being relegated to ‘back office’ status, where more modern applications extracting relevant data from past generation technologies to display in agile, contextual flows of information limit their influence.

The MISO quartet, along with all the other big public market software vendor players, must continue to demonstrate virile growth to the financial markets on a quarterly basis. Their challenge is all the greater in avoiding cannibalizing their existing lucrative business lines with new fangled cloud solutions. The newer generation cloud vendors see  growth into these older players markets as we all know.

Much of the marketing hoopla and conference rhetoric we are now experiencing is similar to the My Space video above. Looks great, being asked to think differently about a familiar brand name we may feel jaded about (substitute software seat license audits and maintenance contract pain for digital social life ‘been there done that’ sensations), future looks bright, etc etc.

Solving the ‘Collaboration Silos’ problem

Where we have been and where we are going next – particularly collectively – are two very different things, and strategizing around what will work based on the actual needs of your business has never been more important. Putting the software cart before the strategic needs horse is all too common when we are dazzled by vendor offerings being presented as ‘The Future of Work’.

As Drucker timelessly said ”It’s easier for companies to come up with new ideas than let go of old ones” and overlaying new layers of technology fits that thought also. A popular evergreen post on my ZDNet blog ‘Small, medium or large collaboration headache?‘ is where some of the work with clients I’ve been doing recently lies. Solving the fragmentation and information filtering issues that are plaguing efficiency in many larger firms across multiple ‘collaboration silos’, each served by different technologies and user bases.

Before making any big bets on the future it is money well spent to get our objective, technology agnostic opinion on what will be most fit for purpose to serve your company well in the future..

 

 

 

 

 

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Over the social hype hump and back to practicality

 

 

Sensible voices are starting to be heard again above the noise as the new social enterprise realities mature
Cross posted on my ‘ZDNet Collaboration 2.0‘, whose profit center is display advertising…

There’s a sense of deja vu about some current funded digital entrepreneur and public technology company business models. I started writing this post last Friday after reading a piece in USA Today from 2001 titled ‘Dot-coms look beyond ‘stickiness’ and ‘eyeballs’ while doing some research for a project.

That Reuters piece happened to have been published on the same date as last Friday eleven years ago and starts ‘The Internet industry has quickly learned that “stickiness” and a lot of “eyeballs” do not add up to profits…‘.

Sound familiar to the cold shower reality check many of the more absurd social business ideas have encountered recently? The last fifteen months has also been accompanied by a blizzard of dubious ‘research’ statistics, colorful infographics full of mostly unqualified percentage figures, all made worse by the low barrier to self publishing by self proclaimed experts our digitally transformed world has enabled.

I’ve been preached to by VC’s and regaled with PR messaging masquerading as strategy by some technology companies, who claim to have invented unique new work and marketing methods in ways that have been all to reminiscent of the height of the dot com era.

To quote George SantayanaThose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” -but fortunately there are a large number of grounded, sensible people who are not only all to aware of the dot com era’s lessons, but also have a good feel for what actually works in the digital strategy world. These voices are starting to be heard above the noise again.

It’s never the same twice of course and today’s fundamentals are very different to the Wall Street pump and dump and tax write off dot bomb era. Just as the web went on to fundamentally change the way we live and connect after the dotcom/infosuperhighway/cyberspace etc etc hype calmed down, so our new socially networked era has hit mainstream and continues to invoke colossal change …even as past funding logic foundations poster children such as Facebook stumble.

Quoting tech investor writer John Shinal’s ‘What the Facebook skeptics know‘ on Marketwatch

Every quarter, a greater percentage of Facebook’s most active users are accessing its site via mobile devices, rather than desktop PCs. And the ad revenues in mobile advertising are so far just a fraction of those for traditional Web-based ads.

This is a significant individual end use pattern shift which the mass advertising business is not currently geared up for from a Wall Street revenues perspective, and they are also understandably fearful of cannibalizing revenue from traditional display advertising sources. This is true for Facebook or any other new digital medium, web or mobile, but now that we are arguably getting over the hype hump these issues are being addressed in a far more pragmatic, grounded way…by some at least.

Regarding those traditional display advertising sources Mathew Ingram on GigaOM wrote in ‘What happens to advertising in a world of streams?

…The cruel reality is that traditional advertising, with its banners and popups and site takeovers and other eye-grabbing tricks, is fundamentally irritating — and it becomes even more so when it interrupts a conversation or a social activity. As even advertising giant Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP has pointed out in comments about Facebook, the more socially oriented a service is, the more difficult it is to make advertising work in the way it did with more traditional forms of content and older platforms. Then, the reader was held captive to a certain extent, but in a world of digital streams that’s no longer the case.

This is the same conundrum as the dot com era, when display advertising was deemed to have months to live. It’s an intractable problem that isn’t going to go away this time around either; everyone loves an entertaining Super Bowl spot branding spot but no-one admits to buying a product from an infomercial or clicking on a banner.

Autodesk, the 3D modeling software company, purchased Socialcam for $60 million US dollars last month in a move reminiscent of dodgy end dot com era roll ups. (“The products do not make a lot of money, but they attract a lot of people” Quentin Hardy NYT)  Socialcam is a Facebook click through parasite and will have the longevity of the very similar Washington Post reader application, whose user figures fell off a cliff after it dawned on people to avoid it. This is clearly not an alternative to traditional display advertising, and I believe Autodesk massively overpaid for an application with very little value. Like the dot com boom era this was a move by Autodesk to get into an area which is way outside their core competency, seduced by todays siren song equivalents of ‘stickiness’ and ‘eyeballs’.

I pay a lot of money every month to Comcast Xfinity for cable television and business class internet, two divisions of the same company. I was unable to watch the NBC Olympic video coverage online because those two divisions are two separate business entities, a classic Customer Relationship Management fiasco. This to me is the perfect example of how a typical ‘consumer’, expects a company like Comcast to be cohesive internally in a perfect seamless loop around the service they provide around my customer needs, like Roger Berry’s ‘Perspectives’ infinity loop sculpture in the picture above..

What I got was customer service telephone hell talking to people with no answers to my issue in their script. I didn’t have much time to waste on this so I gave up and didn’t watch any live Olympics online. I whined on Twitter but no one at Comcast responded. Subsequent marketing by Comcast to me has resonated in a very negative way. In an ideal world Comcast would provide seamless content service across devices, with any support issues speedily resolved and marketing communication that reinforced a pleasurable experience.

Apple has set the bar on this approach and arguably as a direct result just overtook Microsoft’s dot com era figures as the most valuable company in the world ever, surpassing the Bill Gates high point 1999 market value record of $620.58bn. (IBM were probably worth more in 1967 at their zenith if you account for inflation, but that spoils my dot com era comparisons!). Customer satisfaction is fundamentally what drives this kind of performance at scale, and conversely is why cable TV companies are so unpopular with their captive customers.

Advertising, word of mouth, conversations and support are all icing on the cake of a well organized company, and that culture has to be at the organizational core. For a successful company there is typically more of everything: more internal transparency, more display advertising that dovetails with social network interactions, more attentive customer support and so on.

Many of the business people I have talked to and worked with over the past eighteen months are far to busy to wade through endless discussions and propositions about social possibilities: they are very focused on specific goals. Context is king, and so are measurable results.

The end to end vision of the connected, social enterprise will define future competitive effectiveness, but boil the ocean propositions to the types of people who are constrained within business silos are usually a challenge to scale, even when there is aspiration and enthusiasm to create more network connections. What typically happens here is a social network for their silo, or a collaboration silo as I was calling this a couple of years ago. Multiples of these can have unintended consequences.

Despite the signal to noise ratio, there is a distinct shift happening right now, as success stories and ideas and competitive threats are absorbed by companies, with information streams and engagement ideas highly visible as key attributes.

Information streams and engagement models are manifestations of deeper planning – the tools put in place to get to specific goals – and we are seeing more serious engagement to get those foundational planning elements in place in our maturing digital world.

~

picture: Roger Berry sculpture ‘Perspectives’ commissioned by Cupertino civic art
located at intersection of Stevens Creek Blvd and De Anza Blvd in Cupertino, California USA

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What I do

I was offered the opportunity to write the ZDNet Collaboration blog on the strength of my writing here in the period after I left Sony PlayStation three years ago, which has has taken up all my available writing bandwidth until now, but this year I’ve decided to resume discussing my work and ideas here.

My work

The vast majority of my work is inside companies helping find ways to simplify and make them run more efficiently. I do some consulting work with software vendors, mostly to provide some perspective on what their prospects actually want (there’s a whole other blog post on the fashion driven group think that goes on between vendors, analyst and futurists…) . I’m proud of my reputation for being vendor agnostic: I have a pretty good rolodex of contacts in the software business and deep knowledge of enterprise software and the culture around it, but I’m not in business bed with anyone and am dedicated to looking out for the best results for my clients.

Most of the work I perform is relatively sensitive in nature and typically under strict non disclosure – the more strategic the work the tighter the NDA – but I do think it’s important to convey some of the realities of the ‘real’ work going on around collaboration strategy, partly to oppose the tremendous volume of vendor/analyst noise and opportunists/ theorists in the space who endlessly discuss the ways people might work together in the future.

Cutting through all the froth and hyperbole we are subjected to, essentially the business world’s needs and actions are currently

•  The tactically urgent needs needs of business units of varying sizes at various hierarchical levels (often markedly different problems at different pay scales), which are more and more frequently solved with ‘shadow IT’ problems, sometimes temporary, sometimes with a rooted permanence. 

• The more formal and legally regulated area of Information Technology provisioning, aligned with centralized IT budgeting and strategic thinking

• The opportunities and challenges created by the fast evolving world of mobile technologies and the incursion of individuals smart phones/computers into the workplace, in an ever more interconnected world, and the relationship with existing unified communications infrastructure internally and marketing interactions to the customer and prospect base

• Alignments with existing enterprise technology commitments and bottlenecks, and of course office politics at all levels of the organization

These are the simplistic big buckets we’re all dealing with; variances of project and business scale have a significant impact on how we view challenges and solutions, and interoperability and collaborative interrelationships may or may not be of value.

Within the four bullet points above typically sit immense complexity, with time consuming and often deeply ingrained work processes of varying ages sapping the efficiency of the modern company. Document creation and email are easy targets when discussing the causes of what’s clogging up a modern firm’s arteries, but the reality is that it is always people and the way they work that should be the focus, and not the tools they use. I’ve seen lots of ‘cart before the horse’ thinking (people buying software as a solution and panacea to problems only to see it gathering dust unused, whether a lightweight applications or honking great enterprise systems.)

Much of my work has been around simplifying ‘information plumbing’ as I call it, in order to achieve greater efficiencies. While communication technologies of all types are evolving at a remarkable speed, so too is increased complexity, duplication and multiple branching of information. I’m sure you’ve heard the wonders of modern ‘social tools’ from software salespeople, but in my experience the reality in your company is that they are only as good as the clarity around how you want people to use them, and with everyone understanding their usage routes and end goals.

The ways in which people choose to communicate and collaborate together over time always transcends enabling technologies.

For this reason there has never been a more important time to create consistent  places artifacts are located and can be found along with consistent use patterns. Individual publishing, whether to the public internet or inside your company, is now push button simple, although whether anyone actually sees the published information of course can be a major problem…

Individuals and groups of people have familiar survival activities they rely on when they get very busy, which are typically based on a lowest common denominator of effort. No amount of shiny new technology will change this unless there are clear use paths and clear benefits to the end user and the collective company. What has been happening during the era since Web 2.0 technologies started to be incorporated into the Enterprise, either as stand alone modern applications or more recently as component features of mature technology suites has been mostly modular, contextual uptake to solve different specific business problems.

 

This has led to what I have called ‘collaboration silos’ – user name and password protected fiefdoms for areas of businesses who may be competing for power and budget with others. All too often these are the unintended results of fragmented uptake – formal or otherwise – after deploying technologies.

It’s not unusual to have multiple collaboration environments and ecosystems even in quite small companies, resulting in multiple streams of information and repositories. These issues are sometimes not visible to senior executives since they are in part of the nuts and bolts and minutiae of processes but are often adding to inefficiencies and complexity despite solving specific parochial problems for specific groups of people.

 

 

 

 

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