About a year ago IBM first announced they would be developing their next generation email client, code named MailNext. Today in NYC (and similar satellite events around the world) IBM unveiled the official product, now named IBM Verse. That's verse as in converse, or social interaction, not the shoe company. It's not a play on universe, nor a song or poem, nor related to Lotus "Notes" making up a verse!
One of the most significant things about IBM Verse is the level of attention it has within IBM. Full disclosure, I have been advising IBM on Verse for over a year now, so I have seen this first hand. The resources being put into Verse, from design and development to sales and marketing far exceeds anything I have seen from IBM related to collaboration in a long long time. From the very top down, meaning Ginni Rometty and her entire executive team, the company is viewing the launch of IBM Verse as a critical event. The internal attention to IBM Verse is the type of thing we dreamed about during my time working at Lotus. I say that not to stir up bad feelings, but instead to put into perspective how vastly improved the situation is now.
The codename MailNext only represents a limited part of the vision of this project. The concepts behind IBM Verse are not solely focused on creating a better email client. Instead, IBM has used their reinvigorated focus on Design Thinking to more holistically look at improving the way people deal with communication and collaboration. That said, the first manifestation of IBM Verse is email centric, but it's just the start of IBM's longer term vision. How Does IBM Verse Compare To the Competition?
The hardest part of that question is defining who the competition is. There are several categories that combine to contribute to the way people work. The market for improving communication and collaboration includes an array of vendors, each delivering a different set of capabilities. Here are a few things various software vendors are doing: - Google recently launched their new Inbox for Google (currently available only for personal accounts, not Google Apps accounts) and Microsoft launched Clutter for Outlook. - Startups like Slack , Glip and Convo are providing people with alternative ways of working, more social networking than email. - Unified Communication vendors are launching new collaboration tools focused on blending social networking with VIOP and web-conferencing, such as Unify Circuit and Cisco Squared. - Vendors like Contatta and Nimble are focusing on helping people take action on their email, not just respond or file it. - There are dozens of "mobile email" clients introducing innovative new features, lead by the popular MailBox by DropBox. - There is an entire industry of social task management tools, including Asana, AtTask, Clarizen, LiquidPlanner, SmartSheet and many many more. - There are new modern online document editors from Office365 and Google, but also startups like Quip and Evernote.
While IBM Verse offers a vastly improved experience over existing IBM products, it is not yet a major leap forward in changing the way people work. It is not "best of breed" in any of the areas mentioned above. But what it does do is bring many of them together. IBM Verse's first release competently accomplishes its initial goal of improving people's email experience. Features like a dashboard of my email-centric action items, people-centric navigation along the top, the ability to easily filter and search email with facets, share a message to a blog, snoozing and setting reminders on messages, and learning more about recipients all combine to create a compelling user experience.
What IBM Verse accomplishes is placing IBM back into the conversation with companies that are evaluating Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps, especially in the SMB market where they previously would not have considered IBM. Looking Ahead
As I mentioned above, it's been a long time since I've seen IBM as committed to collaboration as they currently are. Looking across the key areas of IBM: - IBM Design is making a huge difference in the way products are developed. Instead of product managers prioritising a long list of feature requests from large paying customers, IBM is now developing products based on solving the challenges people face at work. - IBM's vast analytic capabilities will play a large part in shaping how IBM Verse will help people know what they should be working on. - IBM BlueMix will provide the application development capabilities for business partners to expand and integrate the features of IBM Verse.
This first release of IBM Verse has set the framework for a new generation of communication and collaboration from IBM. I hope future releases of IBM Verse will seamlessly blend the plethora of tools people use including email, chat, text, and video conferencing with collaboration features like task management, social networking, file sharing and document co-authoring, as well as the core business applications people use to get their jobs done. A tool that combines these features and wraps it with a layer of assistance (powered by analytics) to help people focus on what they should, and should not, be doing is what is needed to change the way people work.
The signup page for IBM Verse is now online, but accounts are not being set up yet. After you register, you'll receive an email saying "as soon as IBM Verse is ready to try, we'll let you know." After months of seeing prototypes and early builds, I look forward to trying out the official release.
By the way, while I am not a fan of IBM's marketing phrase "A New Way To Work", I do like that it brings back memories from our old Lotus advertising!
For the last few years many software vendors in the enterprise social market have explained what their product does by using the analogy "It's like Facebook at work". Well, now it appears Facebook themselves will be getting into the game by actually offering, Facebook At Work. At the moment there are few official details from Facebook about the product such as when will it be available, what will it cost, what will it do, etc.
Below are a few of my thoughts about the potential Facebook At Work:
1) You can't just move a consumer tool into the enterprise, the requirements are very different. For example, directory support, security, application integration, compliance, auditing, and industry regulations. Many consumer tools are unable to make the transition to enterprise in areas like scalability, language support and accessibility... but given Facebook supports a billion people all across the world, I think they have these aspects covered.
2) Facebook At Work needs to be much more than just a "private Facebook for your company". To be a successful platform for work, Facebook's business offering will need to integrate with the business tools people use to do their jobs. This includes things like CRM, Customer Service, Marketing and HR. Obviously Facebook can partner with almost every enterprise software vendor, but they may want to acquire one or two to develop robust native offerings. Since Facebook is all about people, CRM vendors like SugarCRM, Nimble or Contatta could be a natural fits.
3) Facebook has massive consumer mind share, but do they know how to sell to CxOs? Do they understand how companies buy software, support it and integrate it into their infrastructure?
4) Security. Security. Security. It's one thing to mistakenly share your cat photos with people you had not intended, it's another to accidentally leak a company secret. Facebook does not have a stellar reputation when it comes to security and privacy so they will have to ease the minds of corporate software purchase decision makers.
5) Enterprise social networking is not a "one-size fits all" business. The successful enterprise collaboration vendors understand the needs of specific vertical industries such as Healthcare, Finance, Manufacturing, Legal, Education, Entertainment and Government.
6) The consumer version of Facebook is missing several standard features of enterprise collaboration platforms, including: document editors, file sync and share, project management and web-conferencing. If Facebook is serious about being a tool people can use to do work, they may want to purchase companies like Slack, Glip, Box, Egnyte, Fuze, BlueJeans, Quip, Evernote... the list goes on and on.
There is nothing wrong with using tools at work that are similar to those you use at home. People do it every day with Google and Microsoft products, so perhaps Facebook will be next. Would you want to collaborate with your colleagues and customers using a private version of Facebook?
Today was Day 1 of IBM's Analyst Insight Summit. This exclusive event brings together the top industry analysts from around the world to meet with the heads of IBM's software division.
If I had to sum up the event in one word, it would be analytics.
IBM has a vast software portfolio that covers a variety of topics, but at the centre of all of them is IBM's message around using data to gather insights that can lead to better decision making. While IBM has several technologies in the analytics space, the crown jewel is IBM Watson.
Yes, Watson is best known as the computer that played (and won) the TV game show Jeopardy. But Watson is not just a fast computer that knows a lot of trivia. Watson is culmination of years of IBM research into cognitive computing. Explaining that is beyond the scope of this blog entry, but you can read more about it here. Almost everything we heard today had some link back to Watson. From the Watson Analytics tool that enables anyone to upload data (ex: spreadsheet) and instantly gain insights, to the Watson Services for IBM BlueMix than enable application developers to leverage Watson's capabilities in their own applications.
What can analytics (and Watson's features) do? How about: - Help doctors make decisions using far more information than they could possibly process themselves. (ex: every clinical trial ever conducted + every medical journal + every patient record in milliseconds) - Enable airlines to predict engine failures before they happen - Empower financial analysts to see trading patterns - Assist law enforcement in solving crimes - over even help a small business owner figure out the needs of their customers
Think of any use case where there is just too much data for a person to possibly process on their own, that's where analytics and tools like Watson come in.
Those of you that follow my work will know I am doing lots of research on how future generation collaboration tools will be able to help us prioritise what to work on and what to avoid doing. How will they do that? Analytics. We can't possibly look at our email, calendar, contacts, chat messages, text messages, social networks, social media, CRM data, inventory, customer requests, competitive news, and a dozen other sources and process all that information... but Watson just might be able to.
Here is a presentation I recently gave about how analytics could be the key to helping people be more effective at work
For the last two decade Microsoft Office has been the dominate desktop productivity suite. Argue about "cool alternatives" all you want, but who doesn't come across Word, Excel or PowerPoint at some point in their day?
As web-based applications began to take hold, alternatives to Office became quite viable, most notably Google Apps. The rise of web apps also brought into question the need for word-processors, spreadsheets and presentation software. Alternatives like wiki pages, blogs, collaborative documents, presentation tools like Prezi and others enabled us to rethink what type of tools we even need. Microsoft was slow to bring their Office suite to the web, but has now done so with Office365 and is even introducing new apps to the suite like Sway.
But a 3rd battle ground may be even more important than the web, and that's mobile. For years Microsoft's direction was clear, they would not bring office to non-Windows mobile devices, but thankfully under their new leadership that silly notion changed. In March 2014 they released Office for iPad which has been installed more than 40M times. Today Microsoft announced they are bring the Office apps to Android and iPhones, updating the iPad apps, updating the Mac apps, and planning for touch versions for Windows 10. They refer to this as "Office Everwhere for Everyone."
Office has always been a "cash cow" for Microsoft. Making Office available on almost any device, and even opening Office up to partners like DropBox show Microsoft does not plan on letting that go any time soon.
Last week in Las Vegas, Jive Software held their annual JiveWorld conference. In front of around 1600 people Jive talked about how their products and services enable people to "Work Better Together".
Below is my analysis of some of the key announcements, including: - Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 integration - A new view for "Top and Trending" in the newsfeed/activity stream - The introduction of Jive's WorkTypes tool - Analytics and insights, including a look at their future "Chord Diagram" feature
If you've never attended Salesforce.com's annual Dreamforce conference the first thing you need to know is that no single blog post or video recap can properly express the enormity of this event. It's huge. Gigantic. Enormous. For a week more than 100,000 people descend upon every street, hotel, restaurant, art gallery, museum and even movie theatre for blocks around San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center to participate in the spectacle. The event is part technology conference, part fund-raiser and part entertainment. There were talks/performances by Hilary Clinton, will.i.am, Cake, Bruno Mars, MC Hammer, Anthony Robins and many more. On the philanthropy front Dreamforce generated significant contributions to both fighting hunger and improving children's literacy. And by the way, they also managed to squeeze in almost 1500 sessions about Salesforce.com products.
While there were dozens of announcements about products and partnerships, I'm going to focus on 3 things: - The collaboration products: Chatter, Files and Communities - The introduction of Salesforce Analytics Cloud, or Wave - The introduction of Salesforce Lightning, the umbrella name for Salesforce.com's new UI, APIs and visual application developer tools
Collaboration Products: Chatter, Files and Communities
Unfortunately, there was not a lot of major news on the collaboration tools front. While that disappoints me from a product perspective, I'm actually OK with it from a messaging standpoint. While just a few years ago the entire theme of Dreamforce focused on "Social enterprise", today that is unnecessary as a stand-alone message, as Salesforce.com has successfully integrated the collaborative features of Chatter and Files into the various Salesforce.com applications (Sales, Marketing, Support and Community). Now rather than having to specifically discuss "being social", Salesforce.com can instead focus on the business use-case each of their applications while weaving in the benefits that collaboration features provide.
Last year I wrote Salesforce Chatter: The Collaborative Foundation of Salesforce1. At that time I pointed out some of the deficiencies of the Chatter family, none of which have yet to be addressed: - No long form content creation - While Chatter does allow for posts in the activity stream, it currently lacks any formal document creation tools. The lack of an integrated document editor means people have to switch to another tool (blog, wiki or word processor), changing contexts to create content. In 2012 Salesforce.com acquired online collaborative editor Stypi, but the closest thing we've seen to that is the very simple Notes application avilable in the mobile client of Salesforce1.
- No integrated web-conferencing or video chat - Chatter does provide integrated instant messaging based on Salesforce.com’s 2011 acquisition of DimDim, but the company still has not delivered native web-conferencing features. With the slew of "next generation" web-conferencing services out there (ex: BlueJeans, Fuze, Glance, UberConference) Salesforce.com has plenty of acquisition targets to choose from.
- Chatter does not have a native video library capability. To use video within Chatter, you need to purchase a partner product such as Vidyard.
One significant announcement (which actually came a few weeks before Dreamforce) was the re-branding of Chatter Communities to Salesforce Community Cloud, thus elevating external customer forums to a similar marketing level as Salesforce.com's Sales, Marketing and Service applications. The Community cloud offers: customisation options enabling customers to configure the user experience to match their corporate theme, mobile access, automatic tagging of posts and dashboards for reporting community activity.
Salesforce Files was enhanced with Files Connect, which enables companies to aggregate access to files from multiple sources including Google and Microsoft drives in a single place. Salesforce Files is well integrated with the various Salesforce.com applications, but unfortunately there is no stand-alone or consumer service similar to Box, DropBox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive or other cloud file-storage services.
While on the topic of collaboration tools, below are the slides from the presentation I gave at Dreamforce on the future of collaboration tools, focusing on the areas of context, sentiment and intelligence.
At Dreamforce 2013 Salesforce.com introduced us to their new application development platform, Salesforce1. This year they added to this with a visual application development tool aimed at allowing business professionals to build their own applications via drag and drop. The people that build these types of applications are often referred to as Citizen Developers. The concept of drag and drop application development has been around for many years. There are dozens of tools that allow this, and as the Build Your Own Application (BYOA) movement grows new options are popping up all the time.
On the surface it may sound like a good idea to allow business professionals to build their own applications, but in most cases application development requires both technical and design skills that business professionals do not possess. For example it's not enough to just know how to drag-and-drop components onto a canvas, developers need to understand user experience and user interface principles in order to make a successful application. That said, business professionals typically understand the details of their business process better than coders. So the best bet is to allow these two groups to work together, perhaps starting with a prototype built via drag and drop which is then finished by a skilled coder.
Salesforce Analytics Cloud (Wave)
Perhaps the worse kept secret before Dreamforce was that they would be introducing a new analytics application. Once the news was out and people could see Wave, many people in the industry got into heated discussions on the differences in reporting, analytics and business intelligence. Rather than continue those debates here, I am just going to comment on Wave with respect to collaboration.
I was pleased to see that even in the first release, sharing reports via Chatter is available. That means people can create a report in Wave, then share it with their colleagues in a post in the Chatter stream, enabling open discussion about the information. This is much more effective than the common practice of creating a spreadsheet or slidedeck and emailing it around to a team. Unfortunately, at this time Wave only provides reports on the Sales, Marketing and Service clouds; meaning reports are not available yet on the usage of Chatter, Files or Communities. I was told these are on the roadmap.
For More Information
For detailed thoughts on Salesforce.com's new reporting (Wave) and application development (Lightning) applications, please watch the following video that my colleagues Holger Mueller, Natalie Petouhoff and I recorded: