Category Archives: Social software

Buying Software in this Economy


In spite of the delayed affect this economy seems to be having on technology, investors have no doubt, hence the market reaction. What does this mean for customers? What should one do differently when buying software? Part of my focus here is on Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0 software, but the advice generally applies.

Here are 5 tips for those buying during a weak economy…

1. Be a Cheap Bastard

Regardless of the economy, I come to the table biased: Software is generally way too expensive. Now, any bias doesn’t matter. Customers, who have budgets, will have greater buying power.

This is a story that repeats itself: Eighteen months ago the CEO of a new search technology start-up demoed his product to me. When I asked how much he would charge, he responded, “As much as possible.” This is a behavior that is commonplace; it is rooted in hiring expensive sales people and meeting unrealistic investor expectations. Today, this fellow would not get funding. Today, his VC would tell him to lower his prices and try a new marketing strategy.

Ingrained behaviors in enterprise software companies don’t die easily, so look for software where the value is compelling. This software may be all your CFO supports in the next year.

2. Focus on Project Teams and Content

(This is where I piss off the social media and Web 2.0 crowd)
. In the Enterprise 2.0 software space, a lot is made of social networking. Andrew McAfee‘s definition of Enterprise 2.0 includes the word “social”. Yet when times get tough, the core work is all we’ll care about because we’ll have fewer people to do the work. The core work is not my social network, it is my project, and the content we build every day. By core, I mean: what I need 90% of the day that leads to a real outcome.

Ned Lerner of Sony Playstation said something interesting at Enterprise 2.0 in Boston last June, he said, “We don’t worry about getting the next person motivated to join the large corporate social network, we worry about great tools for our project teams.” He focuses on how to make his projects productive.

When the chips are down and budgets are low, this type of practical thinking will dominate, because all CIOs and CFOs will care about is whether or not a tool really increases productivity, and helps the next high priority project.

It’s not that the social aspects of this new software are useless. Quite the contrary. It’s that the Doubting Eyes of Skeptics in your company will glaze over if you trumpet the personal pages and social connections in this wonderful new software. Your ability to search on who uses certain tags won’t get people jumping up and down.

As an example, you instead should be demonstrating how project teams can produce documentation for customers on the web site without any expensive software, and (if you like) customers will be able comment on it, or (if you like) edit and improve it. The difference is the focus on content.

3. Focus on Killer Apps – Obviously Useful Tools.

Email and Word processing are considered killer apps because their benefit is obvious and they spread rapidly. Obviously Useful Tools don’t need a Return on Investment (ROI) analysis. They don’t need a seminar on adoption. A $100K piece of traditional enterprise software rarely is a killer app because adoption invariably requires considerable work: convincing users, training, roll-out projects, and the Famous Dreaded ROI Study.

Blogs have been so popular, they are a killer app. I would classify blogging as a Tier Two Killer App simply because they are nowhere near as pervasive as say, office apps. Nonetheless, blogging has proved an extremely useful communication vehicle.

Wikis also earn this distinction. Thousands of people in companies are now using wikis, without training courses, management edicts, and ROI studies. The value wikis play in communities, collaboration, and knowledge capture is clear.

A practical test: ask how concrete or vague is the description of the software. I still don’t know what a Collaboration Platform really is, let alone a Scalable Enterprise one. If a vendor concentrates on the concrete usefulness at a tool level, then you have a) a better chance of understanding it, and b) eliminated a blizzard of marketing bullshit.

If one takes as a given that securing a new budget for a large software purchase will be hard for many CFOs to swallow in this economy, then concentrating on inexpensive, highly useful tools is the way to go.

4. Ask the Vendor a lot of Hard Questions

Although Oracle’s financial strength won’t be doubted, half or more of Silicon Valley should be. VCs take enormous risks, but is your CFO interested in this type of risk right now?

I am not advocating shutting out small companies. Instead, if you focus on truly useful tools (Tip #3) and you are a Cheap Bastard (Tip #1), then you are most of the way home here. How much can you lose on a $1,000 or 3,000 system?

Still, ask hard questions about the company’s performance and about their approach to doing business. How transparent are they? Transparency removes doubt about with whom you’re dealing. The honest, open small vendor with a useful, inexpensive tool might serve you better than the (seemingly) safe, expensive, traditional, Cloaked-in-Confidential-Price-Lists traditional vendor.

5. Did I say: Be a Cheap Bastard?

Oh yeah, in case I forgot. Now’s a good time to be a World-Class Tightwad. I spend time regularly in Sydney and Amsterdam, homes of the Dutch and Australians, both world renowned for seeking value (I am being polite). Right now, make a practical Dutchman your role model when you belly up to the Software Bar. Cheers.

Is Agile Development Only for Nerds?

Eskander Matta

Eskander Matta

This man says, “No.” So what? He may look a little nerdy but he is a Senior Vice President at Wells Fargo Bank and using agile development techniques, he has dramatically reduced the time to develop new products for Wells Fargo’s online business.

 
What’s the big deal? Eskander Matta is not a software developer, and he is not in the IT department. Eskander is a banking executive, with a Harvard MBA, who thinks traditional development methodologies are impediments to building new online products faster and better. Eskander believes, “There is so much innovation in Financial Services that speed to market is critical. A lengthy linear process inhibits one’s ability to compete.”

Eighteen months ago, Eskander got a group of bank employees together to take a meat cleaver to a development cycle that had 26 artifacts (think: pieces of documentation). His goal was to remove all artifacts that had no downstream consumer. “If no one is going to read it, then get rid of it”, he asked the team. The team whacked the process down to 5 artifacts. Then equally important, all this was enabled with a wiki.

As is most often the case, Eskander, the business guy, asked the IT dept what wiki to use. The IT guys told him to use Confluence.

By underpinning everything with the wiki, communication and interaction between people was enabled. “If the wiki was a static word document, it wouldn’t have worked”, Eskander points out. The wiki enabled collaboration in a more formal sense.

What’s so interesting is…

  • A business executive took the leadership to streamline development using Agile Development concepts.
  • The outcome was fantastic: 26 development artifacts reduced to 5.
  • The result ended up on one collaborative work space on a wiki.
  • All this was in service of a major bank producing new online products faster.

Granted, Financial Services is largely an information business, this sector is the biggest spender on IT, and in this instance, the product was the Internet. Yet, this story is compelling evidence that there are other executives out there who understand what technology can do, who seek best practices like Agile Development, and who seek out the newest collaborative technologies.

Why Go to an Atlassian User Group?

This Thursday I’ll be at Atlassian’s Boston User Group, and speaking at Enterprise 2.0. Why User groups? Lessons and tips youu can learn. Here’s one, almost fantastic, example of what I learned from our German customers in Frankfurt a week ago. Vodafone’s CEO using our enterprise wiki, Confluence was cool, but well… you decide.

This is the knowledge management team at Deutsche Bahn (DB), the 240,000 employee German railway.

Pretty intense looking bunch. They focus on spreading collaboration across Deutsche Bahn. Although they look a little intimidating — “I’m gonna kick your collaboration ass” flashes through my brain — they do it with a lot of humor, internal marketing, and — is there such a thing? — wacky German good fun.

Marvin the robot from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is their mascot. Why? Because he has a brain the size of a planet, and he rarely get to use it. They made him as real as possible. He has an email address, a phone number, a blog, and yes, a C.V.

To motivate employees to contribute, every year the team has the 42nd Marvin Awards for great contributions to knowledge. Why 42? You really shouldn’t ask; it’s the answer to everything in the Hitchhiker’s Guide.

And they give out Golden Marvins. Of course.

The team also has a clear metric and goal: of the 240,000 employees, 80,000 are online, and they figure getting 40,000 using the wiki, Confluence, is success. Currently the count is 15,000. Particularly interesting, the users include many non-IT people, including engineering and maintenance. Given the reputation of the German railway, this was my favorite bit.

Hope to see you at the next user group.

My New Venture

I have decided to go into magazine publishing, I am excited to announce the inaugural issue of Wiki People. I am also excited to announce this is a joint venture with the popular People magazine. Here’s a pre-release copy of the fantastic first issue cover, destined to become a collector’s edition.

wikimagaz.jpg

The Benchmark for Corporate Wikis?

Sun Microsystems may set the benchmark for large corporations using blogging. Now Sun is trying to do the same with wikis.sun.com which makes it fast and simple for all employees to get up and running collaborating on a wiki. Excuse me, on Atlassian Confluence, I should say. Which is an honor given Sun’s wonderful ambition.

Linda Skrocki posted this Sun video today and aside from being long at six minutes [it would kill at three minutes!], it’s an awesome example of how one company is evolving communication.

I dig the 80’s music. The Aussies will think it’s contemporary. :-)

Enterprise 2.0 ROI

Enterprise 2.0 ROI? Wrong question. I am hearing ROI debated here at Enterprise 2.0, and it’s not particularly useful. Shouldn’t all software be subjected to this rigor? Well, no actually.

At dinner last night with the Enterprise Irregulars, Andrew McAfee said he asked fellow Harvard professor Robert Kaplan, an innovative researcher on linking cost and performance, and recently elected to the Accounting Hall of Fame [yes, there is one!], can we measure ROI with these new social tools. Kaplan said it cannot be done.

Why?

  • The productivity and improvements are micro-tasks. It’s akin to doing operations research studies with a stop watch on the benefits to using email. Did anyone get fired because Microsoft Office was released? I highly doubt it. Wikis shift work from email and documents to wiki pages and a more facile method of collaboration. Measure it? Spend your time in more fruitful endeavors.
  • Management consultants who are actually trained to do these types of studies generally avoid micro operations improvements because they walk in the Land of Serious Business Cases. They have to; their fees are so high. They know that if you cannot measure productivity with a yard stick, then forget it.
  • If you’re spending $4,000 on a wiki, how much time should you spend on an intense ROI analysis? You are much better served experimenting with these tools, finding out how others are making them work, giving them to the pioneers in your organization, and learning.
  • When software companies give you ROI analyses, leave the room. As fast as you can. This is true for any type of software. The fixation on ROI during the economic downturn — which was because salesforces were shrinking and they desperately needed something to justify themselves — was largely patent BS. I have not seen an Enterprise 2.0 ROI study, but I will be as excited to see one as to stick needles in my eyes. Beware.

Of course we want to derive benefits and understand them. ROI studies are not the way.

LinkedIn: New School vs. Old School Networking

Talking about adoption issues with new social tools eventually touches on age differences. Are younger people more inclined to use Web 2.0 technology? Are managers less inclined? Whether you believe so or not, do we encourage this problem? It’s one thing when traditional industries struggle with this, and it’s another thing when technology or internet companies perpetuate this hurdle to 2.0 networking possibilities.

With business people now using Facebook for networking, I was struck by noticing on Susan Scrupski’s Facebook profile that she is a member of a network called “Dump LinkedIn and other networks in favour of Facebook”. Is LinkedIn old school networking? Some people must think so.

LinkedIn runs the risk of alienating an exploding market of 2.0 advocates if it doesn’t address this type of challenge. I am not surprised LinkedIn is allowing this to happen.

Sharing a panel with a LinkedIn exec, I asked him if LinkedIn had ever considered creating a collaboration space on a wiki platform such as what SAP does with its SAP Developer Network. Perhaps LinkedIn could offer a more exciting collaboration space to complement its network. LinkedIn’s question-answer feature is rather old school. Now I can be accused of promoting wikis, but his response said a lot about LinkedIn’s view of the 2.0 world. He said LinkedIn targets senior professionals and senior people are too busy to edit wiki pages and that senior people have little time to write, let alone handle email.

LinkedIn I will assume is commercially minded and has concrete business reasons for taking this tack. But why perpetuate this hurdle when you have such a huge valuable network? Whether it’s a wiki or not, I would like to see LinkedIn get more new school-minded and make the experience on their site a lot more interesting.

Twitter Twatter

Okay, I give up. There’s a twitter wiki. Including 13 mashups, 33 scripts and libraries, 4 browser plugins, 5 mobile apps, 10 Mac apps, 10 Windows apps, and Oh… forget it. Some of the spine-tingling highlights:

  • Sounds like something I want in my band… Twapper: WAP browser for Twitter so you can keep up with Twitter on your mobile without the barrage of SMS interruptions. Something I perhaps (?) should worry about.
  • Try saying this fast 3 times… Twit Twoo: plugin that allows you to update your Twitter status right from your WordPress blog. Well, I like WordPress.
  • The deftly named… Spaz: multiplatform Twitter client for Windows, Linux and OS X
  • And for those with too much time on their hands… MyChores: keep track of your household chores and send automatic Twitter posts whenever you complete a task. Why? Please…

A Twitter in Training

twitter1.pngI’m not sure I get it. This Twitter Thing. I’m trying because the sheer weirdness of it demands some attention. I have Twitter Searched, Twitter Vision-ed, and Twitterriffic-(k?)ed. I am a Tweeter in Training I am afraid. This much is clear:

There is no end to social networking. If you tried to explain Twitter to most people in the world, they would think you were daft. Yet it is incredible to look at Twitter Vision and watch the tweets popping up all over the world real-time (there is some latency I discovered if you want to watch your own Tweet). What has come to us? Are we just desperate for another form of communication?

Twitter is a feature set in Social Software Land. It’s really a feature, but Twitter Search and Twitter Vision give it dimension, I guess. If I ever saw something that Google or News Corp. will acquire, boy, does this smell like it. Advertising is the logical next move, but someone else will be much better positioned to monetize this insanity.

Twitter is an interesting way to watch the Silicon Valley Bloggers talk to each other. Scoble, Arrington, Winer, and crew tweet away. Of course I could just wait and read the blog. But the color commentary is amazing. No surprise, but Scoble’s tweets can be interesting. Arrington is more of a self promoter, but hey, I don’t blame him.

Although I have succumbed to listening for Tweets, I don’t really get it yet. So far I see limited value:

  • You might cross paths with someone. I almost ran into Stowe Boyd when we were both in Palo Alto. Schedules did not allow but Twitter made it possible.
  • You can stay in touch with people who rarely see without any real commitment. It’s passive. I listen to probably the best tech industry analyst, James Governor of Red Monk, who also bought me a Guinness once and is a great guy, but Way the Hell away in London.
  • If you want to ask a bunch of people for advice, it’s one way. Scoble told me he likes it for that. He of course has around 2,100 followers so someone has dismantled a nuclear bomb or built a TwitBox. Yes, there is a TwitBox but nevermind… We are into self-fulfilling prophecies here in Silicon Valley.

Other than that, I still don’t get it. I remain faithfully a Twitter in Training.

Is Mediawiki an Enterprise Wiki?

If you want an excellent description of what is entailed in making Mediawiki into an enterprise wiki, David Strom reports useful, practical information for anyone evaluating enterprise wikis. Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee’s orignial blog on Avenue A/Razorfish’s wiki was an interesting case study, but it didn’t reveal these important points that Dave Strom surfaced:

  1. Razorfish has one full-time intern and two part-time developers that maintain their code.
  2. Razorfish put in place some code that pulls information from their Active Directory servers (that) enables single sign-on.
  3. Security matters a lot.
  4. Part of the custom code they wrote was to enable search across all wiki and blog content.

It strikes me that if Razorfish invested all this effort and money, then the question needs to be asked: Is Mediawiki an enterprise wiki? Certainly not out of the box.

One full-time intern and two part-time developers is at least $50-100K for one year! Probably the latter number. Mediawiki in this instance became an enterprise wiki but only after considerable work.

Although this case study exemplifies how companies can fulfill the promise of open source, this is not fulfilling the promise of Enterprise 2.0 software which should be: lightweight software suitable for enterprises for dramatically less money.

This case study points out about as well as I can imagine the difference between the open source option for wikis and the commercially sold enterprise wiki such as Socialtext, Brainkeeper, or our Atlassian Confluence.