Category Archives: Web 2.0

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.

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Highlights of Web 2.0 Summit

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* actually I must admit I didn’t, but Mike Cannon-Brookes did and I was terribly jealous.

David Kisses Goliath: Confluence Connects to Microsoft SharePoint

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  • We’ve integrated Confluence with Microsoft SharePoint. We found Microsoft incredibly like-minded in solving a huge customer problem.

    Last June when meeting with customers and analysts, SharePoint came up in every meeting. “We have growing groups who love the wiki, and long standing users of Microsoft and now SharePoint. Help!”, customers asked, including Geoff Corb, IT Director at Johns Hopkins University.

    When Microsoft approached us to ask us to integrate, it made perfect sense. Then the hard part started: we had to put some engineering muscle behind it. We found Microsoft wanting to solve the same problem: remove friction between our technologies. And we found Microsoft easy to work with. Their product managers and engineers and ours even got Accenture on the phone to test out the requirements. Accenture is a partner of both our companies, and a large user of Confluence, so their feedback was important.

    Why did we do choose to do this? Foremost, to bridge groups of workers who prefer to work in different ways with different technology. Customers have multiple domains of work: wikis, office document/email, document management, blogs, IM, and more, yet want to use the best technologies.

    As a software company, Atlassian also did this because Microsoft was motivated, and we expect other partnerships like this in the future, so Confluence is more open. Although Confluence has an open architecture and now rather large plugin library, we have not focused, until now on larger partnerships.

    Today, we release the SharePoint Connector for Confluence which is by far the deepest integration of any wiki with SharePoint, and is a testament to the connectivity of the .Net and Java platforms. The Connector is available today with:

    • Search: Users can search SharePoint and Confluence content together from one place.
    • Content sharing: From within SharePoint, users can embed Confluence page contents allowing users to blend content.
    • Linking: Within Confluence, users can access SharePoint document facilities. By including SharePoint lists and content within Confluence, users, in a single click, can edit Microsoft Office documents.
    • Single Sign-On and Security: With one login, users can access both systems while seeing only what they have permission to view.

    It didn’t escape us that Microsoft asked us with our Java product to integrate with SharePoint. I can only take that as a complement, and a recognition of our customer base.

    Updates and Further Reading

    • Robert Scoble visited to video Mike and me, and blogged it, ” Why do that? After all, Sharepoint has its own wiki service? Cause Atlassian’s is better and Microsoft’s customers were asking it to support Atlassian’s.”
    • Richard McManus covered the partnerships with Atlassian and NewsGator.
    • Dan Farber and Dennis Howlett gave it ZDnet coverage with Dennis having his often interesting edge.
    • Mike wrote the most insightful post about the risks and tensions inherent in deciding to do this partnership.
    • And the feature tour is here, and the sufficiently reviewed 🙂 press release.
  • Microsoft Response to Google Gets an A

    The most interesting aspect of the Google Apps and Cap Gemini announcement was not the announcement. It was Microsoft’s response. Regardless of your opinion of Microsoft’s products, this was world-class competitive positioning. Whoever wrote this deserves a raise:

    • Google touts having enterprise level customers but how many “USERS” of their applications truly exist within the enterprise?
    • Google’s primary focus is on ad funded search. Their enterprise focus and now apps exist on the very fringe…
    • Google’s apps only work if an enterprise has no power users…
    • Google’s tech support is open M-F 1AM-6PM PST – are these the new hours of global business?…
    • Google says that enterprise customers use only 10% of the features in today’s productivity applications which implies that EVERYONE needs the SAME 10%…

    Now here’s what surprised me. It was not an official response. This was an internal response that was leaked. What a shame. I would like to think Microsoft is proud to produce this quality of a response to Google. I’m still impressed.

    The Goggle announcement itself is terribly Ho-Hum. As fellow Enterprise Irregular Dennis Howlett pointed out on ZDnet, Cap Gemini is not a top 10 systems integrator in the US, where Google Apps have to be successful, if they ever will be. Also the desktop outsourcing business, which is what this announcement is about, is a bottom-feeder business with low margins. Why do you think Accenture concentrates on applications?

    I would like to expect more from Google, but it’s not an enterprise software company, as Microsoft relishes in pointing out. Nevertheless, I would not underestimate what Google plans next.