Can Microsoft Spark the Next Generation of Collaboration

May 11 2015 11:30:16 AM Add/Read Comments [0]

Today's Microsoft is vastly different than just a few years ago. Collaboration is now central to their OS, applications and even devices.


This week in Chicago Microsoft held their innagural Ignite conference. This event combines previous conferences that were focused on SharePoint, Exchange and Lync into a single "mega-event".  The result is an conference that includes topics ranging from Windows 10, to Office 365, to Azure and SQL server all in a single event. While on the surface (pun intended) it's a good idea to bring together the various IT teams that now must work together to deliver the complete portfolio, the reality remains that these different groups are not interested in the other side's information. While the breakout topics were divided into seperate tracks, unfortuantely the keynote was a single session, meaning that at any given time a portion of the audience was not interested in what was being shown. I'd recommend keeping the combined event, but next year having two keynotes: one for front end including Windows and Office 365, and a second for infrastructure like Azure, security, SQL server, etc.  You can watch the keynote here.

My focus at this event was obviously on Microsoft vision around the future of collaboration. It was not so long ago that for most employees Microsoft simply meant "Outlook and Office." But Microsoft has been on quite a tear over the last few years, starting with the aquisition of Yammer for enterprise social networking to the shift from (on-premises) SharePoint to their cloud-based Office 365 suite. Not content to just bring out new versions of it's core products, Microsoft is rapidly expanding their portfolio via a strategy that includes build, buy and partner.


- Office 365 Groups: Groups bring people together around a common goal, interest or theme. Groups provide a forum for communicating (rather than email), a way to share files and a shared calendar. Groups are available today in Outlook, OneDrive, OneNote, Skype and just announced Dynamics CRM. In the future Groups will be in Delve and Yammer.

- Delve: to discover the people and content across your organization

- Sway: for creating highly visual presentations that are more like web pages that PowerPoint slides.  (see Picture 2)

- OfficeLens: for capturing content from your mobile device and moving it into applications

- OfficeMix: for creating interactive PowerPoint presentations for traning and education

- OfficeVideo: internal media library, like a private Youtube for your company.


They have also been on quite the buying spree, recently aquiring:

- Accompli: this has become the new mobile Outlook email client

- Sunrise: the has become the new mobile Outlook calendar client

- LiveLoop: real time document collaboration on Office documents


- Cloud Storage Partner Program: enabled companies like DropBox and Box to integrate with Office 365



On thing is very clear, Microsoft is vastly different today than they were just a few years ago. I am impressed with their vision of collaboration and productivity which starts right at the core of the Windows OS (ex: Cortana in Windows 10 will help with business processes such as scheduling meetings or finding slides, see Picture 3), continues into their new collaboration tools and extends into devices including their own Windows phones, Surface tablets and Surface Hub (giant confernce room screens) and even into competitive products such as Android and iOS devices. Microsoft has had over 100 million downloads of Office applications on iOS and Android in less than one year.

While new applications like Sway and Delve are interesting, the most signifigant thing Microsoft has done is link together their tools (behind the scenes at the API level) via what they call the OfficeGraph.

Picture 1: The Microsoft Office Graph

Office Graph

OfficeGraph maps the relationships between people, content and actions. It provides the links between what people create, who they work with and the actions that are taken. OfficeGraph provides the foundation for Microsoft (and recently announced, partners and 3rd party developers) to create their next generation applications like Office Groups and Delve. In a seperate blog post I will dive into more detail on OfficeGraph and Delve.


From Vision To Reality

Three of the main challenges facing Microsoft are:

1) Not everyone is ready for the cloud: Speaking with several customers and business partners this week, the most recurring concern was that the new products are focused on cloud (Office 365) and not on-premises. This is not just a problem for Microsoft, as most collaboration vendors today are focused on the cloud.

2) Change is difficult and costly: The introduction of new tools such as Office Groups, Delve and Sway, and even increased usage of existing tools like Yammer and OneNote, require training for employees who today primarily use Outlook and the standard Office applications.

3) The portfolio needs simplification: As mentioned above, the Office 365 portfolio is rapidly expanding. This sometimes creates overlap, such as Yammer Groups vs. Office 365 Groups and PowerPoint vs. Sway. Perhaps the biggest problem at the moment is multiple user profiles. Microsoft has already started taking steps towards simplification, for example the combining of Lync and Skype. However, more work needs to be done here moving forward, especially as it related to collaboration tools such as Yammer. Microsoft needs to have a single profile, a single filesharing service, a single chat service, etc.


Recommended Actions

Existing Microsoft customers: Evaluate your plans for moving their collaboration tools to the cloud. While each tool offers benefits of their own, the Microsoft Office 365 platform provides the greatest return when the suite of products are used together. 

Customers on competitive platforms: Evaluate the short term and long term vision of their current provider. Migration is never easy; technically, financially or culturally, but changes are coming in the way people work together. Organizations need to feel confident their vendor of choice will provide the right tools, with the right infrastructure and the right business partner ecosystem.

Business Partners: Microsoft is putting a great deal of resources and marketing into ensuring the openness of their platform.  From cloud storage access to APIs for Delve, there is a clear direction to ensure partners have the access they require. Partners should evaluate the new business opportunities that Office 365 will provide, as well as the opportunities that will be created due to Microsoft's c loud focus, which will perhaps leave gaps to be filled for customers that remain on-premises.



Picture 2: Microsoft Sway - a new tool for creating visual presentations



Picture 3: Windows 10 with Cortana integration. In this case Cortana is locating all the files for a specific topic that are located on the person's local drive as well as OneDrive cloud storage.


Next Generation Collaboration and Microsoft’s Vision for Dynamic Teamwork

May 11 2015 11:26:55 AM Add/Read Comments [0]

Below is the presentation Microsoft Senior Director Bryan Goode and I gave at Microsoft Ignite 2015 about the state of collaboration and the rise of more dynamic and automated tools and teams.

My key themes included: the challenges and solutions to input overload, suites/platforms vs. best of breed solutions, and intelligent collaboration leveraging analytics.  Bryan talked about Microsoft's view how the workforce is changing into a giant network, and how Microsoft's portfolio including Office 365, Yammer, Delve and other tools support this vision.

Click here to watch the Ignite keynotes and sessions.

Citrix Podio Gets @DBLookups... Sort Of

April 24 2015 11:34:17 AM Add/Read Comments [2]
Citrix Podio is a platform for developing applications which can be used on the web or mobile devices. People can build business applications by simply drag and droping fields to create forms and views. It requires very little development knowledge and no actual programming language skills.

Then have recently added a feature I asked for, which allows you to limit the choices that are displayed in drop down lists.

While I like the addition, you still have to create a view for each filtered value that you want to use in lookups.  I'd prefer to see a formula like @ApplicationLookup("AppName","ViewName","FieldValue")

My Thoughts on the State of Collaboration via CMSwire’s SocBizChat

April 24 2015 09:00:00 AM Add/Read Comments [0]
On April 23rd, 2015 I participated in CMSWire's SocBizChat on Twitter. Below is a summary of my responses to their questions.

What does the number of collaboration tools on the market say about the state of collaboration in organizations?

During the chat, I responded with: We don't need more tools, we need our tools to do more. We're already suffering from #InputOverload”. When asked what the “more” is, I responded "More connectivity. More integration. More intelligence. More workflow. More automation."

Still, this does not really answer the original question. The reason there are so many tools comes from a) organizations are not successfully collaborating with the tools they have today (i.e. there is a need) and b) no one (or small group of) vendors have yet to solve these needs. Compare that to the email, where just 3 vendors (Microsoft, Google and IBM) dominate the market.

The definition of the collaboration market is complex.  A few of the main categories are: 

  • Suites from the enterprise software vendors that bring together multiple tools such as email, calendar, profiles, blogs, wikis, communities, social networks, chat, etc. Ex: Microsoft Office365/SharePoint, IBM Connections, Google Apps.
  • Collaboration solutions built into business applications. ex: SAP Jam, Salesforce Chatter, Oracle Social Network, Infor Mingle
  • Community-centric software. Ex: Jive, Bloomfire, Igloo, Huddle, HighQ, Jostle, ThoughtFarmer, Traction
  • A growing popularity of persistent chat vendors such as: Atlasian HipChat, Cisco Spark, Convo, FlowDock, Glip, Hall, Intellinote, Slack, Unify Circuit 
  • Project management-centric solutions such as Asana, Clarizen, LiquidPlanner, Mavenlink, Redbooth, Smartsheet, Trello, Workfront, Wrike and Wunderlist
  • Mobile Messaging Apps like CoTap, Jive Chime, GroupMe, Talko, Mez, Lua
  • Niche solutions for things like File-Sharing, Ideation, web-conferencing each with a dozen vendors
  • a dozen others!
So to get back to the question, with no dominant vendors in this space, there is opportunity for many companies to go after customers. Heck, Facebook is even working on a business version of their platform, so clearly the opportunity still exists.

Image:My Thoughts on the State of Collaboration via CMSwire’s SocBizChat

If collaboration occurs naturally, why do so many businesses have problems with it?

Collaboration fails when it is forced and does not fit into the way people work. If a tool meets a need, it will be used.
If a tool is implemented just because it's new and shinny, and not because it solves a need, then it will most likely fail.
Implementations struggle if you focus on the What? (tool), Who? (culture) but not the Why? (purpose)

For more on this topic, see my report on Purposeful Collaboration.

How can companies reach a balance between employee driven tool selection and enterprise security and governance concerns?

Security and governance need to be like special effects in movies... do their job so well you don't notice them.
What did I mean by this? Essentially, security should not be the responsibility of the end-user.  The platforms organizations use need to have built in features for identity, authentication, encryption, compliance, governance, etc.

Can companies succeed with small-scale collaboration efforts or is a larger social business strategy needed to scale

Small-scale and large scale collaboration do not compete, they serve different purposes.
Small scale collaboration could be entered around a specific department, project or geography. Not everyone needs to be involved in everything!
Look at the recent success of tools like Slack, which focus on small scale deployment, not company wide adoption.
Very few use-cases call for company-wide collaboration. Company-wide communication is great, but work gets done in teams.
Software vendors what to sell licenses company wide. Companies want to improve the way employees get their work done. ;-)
Silos are excellent for helping organize info, but they should not be barriers to access. "Open Silos = fences"

My main point here was, collaboration is great. I want to see people sharing information and expertise. But the “kumbaya” around sharing everything and working completely open and transparent is not realistic. Not everyone needs to have access to everything. That is not only insecure, but it also leads to information overload, which can more of a productivity burden than helper.  I’m not saying information should be locked away. There is a difference between enabling information to be discovered (searched for) vs. trying to push everything into the open all the time.

What will the collaboration tool landscape look like in five years?

The collaboration landscape will be just as cluttered in 5 years as it is today, it will just be a whole new set of tools.
The cycle has repeated for decades. Email wars. IM wars. Blog wars. Wiki wars. ESN wars. Chat room wars. The same will happen again in 5 years with a whole new set of tools.
Clearly there will be continued growth in mobile and wearables, but wearables will be very different. They won't be discrete new objects, they will be more embedded into existing items.
Most importantly, on the software side, products will have far more "intelligence" and help automate our decisions and our workflows.
Image:My Thoughts on the State of Collaboration via CMSwire’s SocBizChat

How Do I Know You?

April 24 2015 08:00:00 AM Add/Read Comments [0]

Dunbar's number proposes that humans can only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships. Well I don't know about stable... but I'd say I interact with far more than 150 people every day. With interactions via email, chat, social networks, blogs, web sites, discussion forums, customer communities and a dozen other sources, it's a real challenge for me to keep up with who all these people are.

That's the problem Nimble is trying to solve.  Here's a quick look at some of what Nimble can do.

While several products are claiming to help you know who people are, Nimble is the first I've seen that instantly pulls in data from multiple sources, giving you a very complete overview. My first reaction was a mixture of awe and fear. Of course Nimble is only aggregating data that is publically available, but by doing so it really reveals a lot about the digital footprints we're all leaving out there.

Email In Real Life

April 11 2015 10:43:51 AM Add/Read Comments [21]
Kudos to my friends at Workfront for putting together this great parody on email.

The First (IBM) Verse in a Long Journey

April 2 2015 04:16:16 PM Add/Read Comments [2]

IBM Verse v1 scorecard

Today IBM announced the availability of IBM Verse, their new email client that aims to help people manage the email overload problem that many people struggle with. I provided my initial thoughts on Verse (please read!) after IBM’s launch event back in November 2014.

Given that five months have passed, I’d like to revisit some of the key points from that post and examine what progress has been made.

Who? What? Why?

> One of the most significant things about IBM Verse is the level of attention it has within IBM

IBM Verse combines communication and collaboration features with analytics that span several internal divisions of IBM. It’s good to see them working together, along with the IBM Design team and the SoftLayer team for hosting in the cloud.

As for marketing, IBM Verse has been shown at key IBM conferences, Mobile World Congress, CeBIT, SXSW and several IBM user groups around the globe. There is a dedicated IBM TV commercial about it, and IBM even had a skit about Verse run on the Jimmy Kimmell show. I’ll refrain from sharing my thoughts on that skit and let you make up your own mind.

While the breadth of marketing is a good thing, it brings to mind a very important question: Who is the target audience?

Is IBM Verse intended for:
- Personal (consumer) use or businesses? If businesses, enterprises? SMBs? If personal, why would anyone choose this offering over a competitive one like Gmail or Outlook
- Upgrade for existing Notes/Domino customers? If so, is the focus on moving to the cloud or waiting until Verse is available on-premises?
- Upsell for IBM Connections customers? Connections has always worked well with Microsoft shops, is the hope that Connections + Microsoft customers will now go fully IBM
- Migration of Google or Microsoft customers? While Verse is primarily focused on email today (there is some chat and file sharing capability) is the goal to compete with the more complete Microsoft and Google suites?
- Brand new customers? Is IBM hoping to entice brand new organizations as they make their initial IT decisions? Will these new companies even be looking at email solutions, or instead focus on newer forms of communication and collaboration?

IBM needs to have a clear answer for this, and can’t say “All of the above.”  I am hearing from some IBM Business Partners that they are getting inquires from small customers who are currently using Microsoft or Google’s products. However, I believe the vast majority of Verse customers will be those that have both Notes/Domino and Connections, and are looking to modernize their IT and end-user experiences. 

Delivering On Vision

> The concepts behind IBM Verse are not solely focused on creating a better email client.
> 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. 

While the first manifestation of Verse is email-centric, IBM does have a broader vision for encompassing additional forms of communication and collaboration. I understand IBM needed a start ing point, and email is a good one as it is still the primary communication tool used by businesses around the world today. However, given the marketing hype around #NewWayToWork and the impressive size of IBM’s Design team, I am disappointed in v1.0 of Verse. This was a good opportunity for a new starting point in communication and collaboration, but instead it’s essentially a bit better inbox than what exists today in iNotes. My major concern is that there very little #NewWayToWork about it.

Will it:
- Change the way Sales Professionals build pipelines, complete RFPs and close deals?
- Enable Marketing teams to run campaigns more effectively?
- Assist Support organizations in resolving customer issues faster?, etc.

Not today, as email is just one component in getting work done. Verse currently does not factor in social networking, task management and enterprise business process software. Verse does not provide a new “starting point for the day” that aggregates together all the information people need to get their job done. Today it’s a better inbox. That’s a good thing, but it’s not a #NewWayToWork. One of my primary research areas is the intersection of social and analytics. The combination of these two areas has potential to significantly improve the way people work. IBM is in a good position to leverage their vast analytics capabilities, but the current version of Verse offers very little in this area.

Help From Your Friends

IBM BlueMix will provide the application development capabilities for business partners to expand and integrate the features of IBM Verse. 

One of the keys to the success of a platform is the depth and reach of its partner ecosystem. In the early days of Notes/Domino, IBM built a huge base of business partners. Similarly, other enterprise software vendors like Microsoft and Salesforce rely heavily on their partners to sell, support and extend their platforms. IBM needs to do the same with Verse. At launch, the partners for Verse are ones that can assist in migrating customers to the cloud. That is a very logical starting point, but IBM needs to heavily invest in getting partners to create additional features, admin tools, security products, and other extensions to Verse.

Thankfully, IBM BlueMix is positioned to provide the platform for these partners. In the past, Lotus Notes/Domino was sort of an island in the vast sea of IBM products. But now BlueMix is a single platform where developers can leverage features of Connections, Watson Analytics and more. I am hopeful that IBM can entice business partners to build on the Verse platform similar to how Microsoft, Google and Salesforce have done with their partner ecosystems.

The First Verse in a Long Journey

My recommendation is that existing IBM customers speak to their account teams about IBM Verse’s roadmap and where it fits into their 2015/16 IT plans. As others such as Volker Weber have pointed out the features and user experience of Verse are not ready for prime time usage yet. You can read Volker's posts here: Verse Beyond PowerpointWhat IBM should do to improve IBMVerse.comNo more talk about IBM Verse Freemium. Currently, I don't see Verse as a compeling enough platform to warrant enterprise wide migration from a competitive communication, collaboration and productivity platform.

While IBM’s vision is solid, th ey need to improve on their execution and do so quickly. Their competitors are all working on next generation collaboration platforms as well, so 2015 is a critical year for locking down customers. IBM has excellent assets available to them in security, cloud hosting, analytics, mobile and design, so I look forward to seeing how quickly IBM can interate on Verse and create a compelling experience that matches the vision.