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Latest Gartner Magic Quadrant report on Social Software for Business


When you hear the term Social Software, many of us think of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and other similar consumer-oriented websites.  But social software is becoming more broadly adopted in the workplace as well. Gartner recently published a report assessing 17 different vendors of social software solutions for business.  Some of these I had never even heard of before reading this report.  Gartner ranked them in their magic quadrant graph as well as identified what Gartner sees as their strengths and cautions.  I have not yet explored all of them, in depth but I am certainly familiar with three of the more popular ones: Google, IBM, and Microsoft and I think Gartner is spot-on with their assessments of these.  But I would add more detail…

Google: Google has a great experience for the individual user.  But because Google Apps for Work is based on their consumer-grade offering, it lacks some of the basic requirements and central control that businesses often need.  Given that Google is and will likely remain a consumer product-driven company, that will always be their challenge. That also explains why they rank so low on the execution scale and miss the magic quadrant.  On the other hand, they seem to have replaced Microsoft as the new golden child to consumers (think Android vs. Windows Mobile or gmail vs. hotmail) which gives them momentum in the workplace driven by end users who want to use the same software at work as they use at home.  The risk to businesses is that consumers are as fickle about software as they are about women’s fashions and consumers don’t concern themselves so much about things like user support, security, high availability, and privacy.  Google’s roadmap.

IBM: Of these 3 most popular players, IBM is the only one focused exclusively on Business needs, some would say to a fault. The benefit here is their solutions start with the specific needs of business and build up from there and avoid the fickle consumer-driven market. Of course, that can also be their bane.  As a result, sometimes their user experience has lacked the fine tuning that the consumer-focused companies have. On the other hand, their solutions offer functionality for the knowledge worker that is totally absent in the consumer-first solutions.  I am anxiously looking forward to how this is influenced by their recent partnership with Apple. Given IBM is all about business process and data center while Apple is all about user experience and personal devices, this could prove a great marriage.

I completely agree with Gartner’s assessment on IBM’s need to market to developers and third parties to contribute.  The reference to customers’ perception of it as a complex solution would be valid if they were comparing on-site-based solutions.  But they aren’t.  In fact IBM and Microsoft are the only two of all 17 to even offer their solutions as both cloud-based and on-site.  If we limit the comparison to cloud-based versions, this is not a factor. It has also been impressive how IBM has demonstrated its commitment to their cloud solutions by adopting a cloud-first strategy.  Functionality is being added on a monthly basis to their cloud solution with those features being released in the software edition afterwards.  I know they have a busy roadmap. I just wish it were published.  Rumor and blind faith is not a business strategy.

Microsoft: While also primarily a consumer-product-oriented company, Microsoft has solid footing in the business software solution market. Microsoft is more of a latecomer to the social game, but is doing a good job catching up with their acquisition of Yammer. Yammer is good at what it does and even before its acquisition by Microsoft, it was adopted by many organizations starting with pockets of rogue employees, forcing I.T. departments to catch up. This is proof that I.T. leaders should be actively pursuing a social software solution or risk having the employees do it without them. Microsoft has a published roadmap of upcoming features.

When you read Gartner’s article, I recommend starting with the criteria definitions on the right, where they explain what they were basing their evaluations on.  Without understanding their criteria, the assessment can be misleading.

I think the report avoids two very important criteria that concern businesses:

1. Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity:  Nowhere in the report does it mention the infrastructure supporting these solutions. From the end users’ perspective it is irrelevant… Until something goes wrong.  A hurricane, gas explosion, terrorist or hacker attack. “In the cloud” does not mean out of harm’s way.  One of the strongest arguments favoring a cloud-based solution is the assumed resilience to such events. Cloud solutions can reduce the need for businesses to invest in redundant data centers, etc. provided they themselves have executed their own plan adequately. Given the high failure rate of companies that encounter a catastrophic data center event without a DR-BC plan (as published by FEMA), a CIO should be very interested in this criteria.  I am very familiar with how IBM and Microsoft address this and am comfortable with both of them. I don’t know enough about Google’s infrastructure for the Google Apps for Work. Regardless of your provider, you should know their DR-BC strategy and implementation.

2.  Customer Support and Responsiveness to Customer Requests: Yes, there is some mention of customer support in the Customer Experience criteria. That may have been reflected in the rankings, but it was glossed over in the report narratives. Of these three solution providers, Google seems to apply much of the same support philosophy as they have for free gmail accounts. Microsoft, on the other hand, has a good support center of well trained staff and a good escalation process. (I may be bias. I have friends on that team.)  IBM is also strong here. Many of the first level support team has 10+ years of experience and the support structure is such that the same technicians tend to take your calls, so they can build an understanding of your environment and have better continuity from one call to the next. (This is mportant in a cloud environment, as they do much of your administration, so you will make more calls.)

All three of these providers have various discussion forums.  IBM has Greenhouse, where you can also see new features before they go into production and can share product enhancement ideas that the community can promote.  Several product managers are active participants in the discussion forums and persistent, live chat sessions, engaging the customers.  When it comes to Social Business, IBM clearly practices what they preach. I expect part of that comes from IBM having a virtual office philosophy while Microsoft and Google are more campus oriented.  I have yet to discover that level of public accessibility with Microsoft and Google.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and if you know of it, please share it in the comments.

Probably the biggest factor that will trump all others is where you are starting from. Mail migrations are expensive, so if you don’t pick a vendor that already provides your email system, their solution either needs to integrate well with what you have or you need to be prepared to go through an expensive and disruptive migration.

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Computer gaming companies are choosing IBM over Amazon


A few weeks ago I mentioned on the first day of IBM Connect conference that it is clear now beyond any doubt that computing power is becoming the next utility like electricity, phone, water, and cable TV.  I predict that there will come a day in the very near future when few companies will still have their own physical data center.

This article at thestreet.com is more proof of that as the gaming industry is the first to make this move.  But even more interesting is that IBM, not Amazon, Google or Microsoft, is leading this trend.  This adds even more credibility to IBM SmartCloud for Social Business and why I see it eclipsing Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps in the coming years as businesses of all sizes seek more business-directed solutions than what those consumer-focused, consumer-driven businesses (Amazon, Google, and Microsoft) can provide.

BlackBerry Business Cloud Services: The truth behind the story from one who knows


There is a lot of talk going around about BlackBerry Business Cloud Services  on various blogs:  Paul Farris’ Blog   Volker Weber’s blog
First, let me say, unless you work(ed) for Microsoft or RIM, this is totally irrelevant and transparent.  BlackBerry support has been available with Office365 for years.  The big deal here is that RIM finally finished their cloud solution which was code-named “Contrail”.  This has been long in the making.  It’s not insider news, it’s just that few people noticed it when n4bb.com published it back in March 2011.

All it means is that instead of those BES servers sitting in Microsoft’s data centers, they will be sitting in RIM’s data centers.  So what’s the big deal?  It’s all in the cloud, so you don’t care where the servers sit.  What’s more, this doesn’t really apply to all of Office365, only the standard edition for smaller customers.  The bigger customers are hosted in dedicated environments and they won’t be moving their BES services for awhile.  But it doesn’t matter.  You won’t notice any difference and the transition is completely invisible to the customer, save that as it is RIM’s product, they will probably be more responsive to upgrades to the latest version and more savvy in troubleshooting issues.  This is really more a positive press opportunity than anything for a company overdue for some good news.

If there were anything even mildly interesting in this story it would be that Domino isn’t mentioned.  But I expect that’s just around the corner and they probably don’t want to confuse the message.  If your company uses Exchange, you don’t care about Domino. (By the way, LotusLive AKA Smart Cloud also supports BES deployments)  This will also give RIM a second press release of glory when they make a similar announcement for Domino.

My Project Working at Microsoft is Complete: An update to the Lotus community


In my May 30, 2011 post I explained that I had started a project at Microsoft where I would be working with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) team in Office365 to improve the process for building the BES servers, streamlining the process, reducing the bugs, and clarifying the instructions for the build team.  Well that project has come to completion and the results were fantastic.  We accomplished everything we set out to do and I made some great new friends in the process.

It is rewarding to know my skills can easily port to a different platform and that I could be so successful regardless of the brand of software.  (Let that be a lesson to all techies.)  Technical writing, process improvement, troubleshooting, teamwork were all more important than a detailed knowledge of the software.

I was looking forward to the opportunity to see Microsoft software deployed and used the way its developers intended, using all the best practices and perhaps have my opinion changed by the experience.  To that end, I was both impressed and disappointed.  The infrastructure is very sophisticated and well managed.  Everything you would expect.  Yet I was surprised at how some technology was used.     I often asked myself things like “Why are we having this big reply-to-all email conversation instead of just using a discussion forum or Teamroom?” or “Why are we creating online instructions in Word documents?”  Well at least now I understand the reasoning behind why certain Microsoft software features work the way they do.

I may find myself back there working on another project, perhaps on another team and get a totally different experience.  Actually, I hope so.  It’s a big, diverse company and I expect, like most large companies, different teams work in different ways.  Meanwhile, I am back in the world of IBM and social business and  I will continue to share the knowledge of collaboration and social business here in a region where it is needed most, only now with a deeper understanding of both brands.

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