Tag 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.

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.


  • 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.

Is Microsoft’s Sharepoint Wiki Good Enough?

GartnerWe did a briefing for Gartner today. A lot of the focus was on Confluence because next year Gartner is targeting collaboration, and technologies like wikis, to be one of the top two or three trends they will concentrate on. In addition to the primary purpose of these briefings — let Gartner learn about our products, these briefings give you an opportunity to ask the experts what they think. We asked Gartner what they thought about Sharepoint’s wiki.

Gartner said customers who decide to use Sharepoint’s wiki will not be asking “Is it the best?’, but instead will ask “Is it good enough?”. They added that the real wiki-minded people out there will not be happy with Sharepoint for a wiki. They also pointed out that big customers like Banks who want some degree of diversity in their technology will not want more from Microsoft. Customers who ask “is it good enough?” are the ones Microsoft will pick off.

I think Gartner is right on. Their point about some big customers wanting less dependence on Microsoft is interesting. You might think the pervailing principle is always to reduce vendors. Although this is a common objective with enterprise customers, there is a point at which too much is too much from one company. Now we’ll just wait and see if the Sharepoint wiki is even ‘good enough’.

Fear of Flying

oic.gifThe Online Information 2006 conference in London attracted hundreds of people working in content management and knowledge management from traditional sectors, yet the most popular track was Social Software. Old meets new. The interesting part is: old wants new.

Despite this social stuff being popular, there was a distinct concern about it working in traditional organizations. “Most of what people put on a wiki isn’t inaccurate, you know.”, “How do we police these blogs?”, “You are glossing over the problems of these technologies.” … were a few of the reactions.

When Ben Edwards who runs IBM’s New Media Communications group in Armonk, New York headquarters said, during his panel discussion, that most employees use common sense, nothing was more credible. Afterall, IBM has over 300K employees. Ben continually referred to IBM’s legacy and bureaucracy, but also vividly painted a picture of a company that stands for giving employees freedom and assuming employees are intelligent until proven otherwise. Huzzah. If you don’t know the historical values of IBM, this should come as no surprise. There is a principled heart inside the Giant.

On an Atlassian note, Ben stated that IBM has over 50,000 users on their intranet using our Confluence enterprise wiki. Again, nothing was more credible.

This traditional school ‘fear of flying’ was rather pervasive with many conference attendees. On one hand some of these worries like “the inaccuracy of wikipedia” are scary and a bit ignorant. Let’s remember that wikis in companies are private things and about doing work. When an employee creates a page on a wiki that documents some solution she has devised, why are we worrying about accuracy? She is doing the same work she might do in an email, or in a presentation to her boss, or in a phone call to a customer. The wiki has nothing to do with accuracy. It’s a tool for letting others collaborate with her and better the solution.

On the other hand, these fears are real and unless we really grasp them, we will fail in spreading the power of social software. Linda Stoddart from the United Nations told me you cold not bring any of this stuff to the Secretary General and be credible. Yet the next day, Linda presented and said the wiki word. Huzzah. I must email Linda and let her know the United Nations is already using Confluence. ☺

Social Software in London

Here in London speaking at the Online Information 2006 conference for a few days. I am stunned at the strength of the social software intelligensia here. It is truly remarkable. Our friend Lee Bryant at Headshift has been thinking creatively and as long as anyone I know about how to really use wikis, blogs, social tagging, social bookmarking, podcasting, and RSS woven together properly. His work for the influential New Labour think tank Demos is one great example. Lee will be speaking at the upcoming Atlassian user group meeting in London December 12.

At the conference, there has been no shortage of local experts passionate about making a difference with social tools, and the audience which is a fairly traditional industry, academic, and government crowd is keenly interested. Adriana Cronin-Lukas from the Big Blog Company is a refreshingly blunt consultant not afraid to tell it like it is and who has moderated the best session at the conference.

Robert Scoble of PodTech and the ScobleShow has been great for this crowd to hear. Robert did an interview with Mike Cannon-Brookes recently if you missed it. Much of the crowd at the conference seem to enjoy listening to Silicon Valley guys like Robert or me, but they also think we gloss over some of the challenges big companies face with using these technologies. I think they are partially right. Also the European market just does accept new technology as readily as we Yanks.