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Google Wave and the Enterprise: Beautiful Potential, Faraway Dream


google_wave_logoGoogle Wave…Google Wave…

Google Wave.

I’ve spent some time the past few days reading up on Google Wave. The Google I/O 2009 presentation by the Wave team was a smashing success. Quickly summarizing what it is, borrowing from Google’s own categorizations:

Product: Free-form page onto which multiple people can contribute and interact. Every wave in which you are a participant shows up in an inbox. The modes of communication are both email and IM. Email, because you can write something anywhere in a wave, and all wave participants see that the wave is updated in their inbox. Like Gmail.  IM, because updates post instantly, and anyone on the wave at the same time can see them. There’s more there, watch the I/O presentation demo to see it all.

Platform: Wave is to be an API playland. APIs to leverage the functionality of Wave, and embedding functions in Waves. The I/O demo includes functions for maps embedded easily into a Wave, and the ability to create a simple event tracker where Wave participants simply click whether they are attending or not (Evite for dummies). Very cool stuff. Another use of APIs…Wave as your Twitter client. With real-time search results served up into your Wave inbox.

Protocol: Waves are to follow an open federation, which means they all can interact with one another. Wave servers can be set up behind the firewall.

As they said in the demo, they though in terms of “what would email look like if we invented it today?” How long before Gmail converts over to Google Wave? Maybe in a year or two.

It’s quite early, and we have limited information so far on Wave. But I thought it’d be interesting to consider Wave from the perspective of an enterprise software company. It’s a starting point for me to get a handle on Wave and where it might have an impact. A few notes:

  • I’ll make educated assumptions about what Google Wave can do
  • I may be re-hashing old concepts here, such as portals
  • Google Wave would need significant penetration of the enterprise market, potentially displacing Outlook email

Enterprise software is a broad area, too broad to analyze well in a post. Rather, I’m going to focus on the enterprise software I know well (my company’s), and make some points that will apply to all enterprise applications.

OK, with that out of the way, and Dion Hinchcliffe’s post about the enterprise and Google Wave as inspiration, let’s dive in. I’m going to lay out some initial thoughts of how enterprise software could integrate Google Wave. And then I’ll explain why I think it’s going to be a long time coming before it impacts the enterprise.

What Job Does Your Software Do?

Clayton Christensen talked about the “job” your product does. In other words, think less about your product’s features, and more on what needs your product fills for customers. From that perspective, innovations are more likely to emerge.

This notion struck me as a good way for enterprise software companies to think about how Wave might relate to their products. In other words, less focus on features, more focus on specific use cases.

Spigit provides enterprise idea management software. Its “job” is as follows:

  • Easy place to enter your ideas
  • Interact with people over your idea or ideas of others
  • Help identify the best ideas
  • Make it easy to track ideas during their progression into full-blown initiatives

I’m going to use these four tasks as the basis for thinking about Google Wave. Where will Google Wave have an impact?

Easy place to enter your ideas

With Spigit, we have a simple basis for entering your idea – a basic web form. And Google Wave supports forms, as shown below:

Example of a web form in Google Wave

Example of a web form in Google Wave

The ability to use forms makes me think there’s an even better way for employees to enter ideas. A principle that I really like is that information and activities need to be in-the-flow of daily work. The more you can put things at the finger tips of where someone is engaged, the better it is for awareness.

In the demo, different types of waves were available via the New Wave dropdown menu to allow access to separate apps. Here’s what I can see happening:

  • A menu option for New Idea is displayed inside an employee’s work Google Wave UI
  • Selecting it launches a new Wave, with the idea template displayed
  • Enter the info, click submit
  • It’s now on the employee’s personal Wave page, as well as becoming a new Idea in the Spigit platform

The Idea is now part of the Wave inbox. It’s also accessible on the Spigit platform, for others to see. That would be great. It’s a level of interconnectedness that is difficult to put in place today. It wouldn’t just apply to ideas either. Why not do this for expense forms? Wiki pages?

Key here is leveraging the open federation protocol. A person’s individual Wave becomes a new object in another Wave-based application. The Idea would be considered a Wavelet in Spigit. From the demo, here’s an example of two separate Wave servers (i.e. two separate apps), where a Wave is shared between them:

Wave created on one server displays on a second server

Wave created on one server displays on a second server

Interact with people over your idea or ideas of others

The parallels between Google Wave and Gmail make Google Wave great for knowing when there are changes to a Wave. In Gmail, when a reply to a message hits your inbox, the original message becomes bold, and moves to the top. It’s a clear, easy way to see when someone has responded, while keeping the entire thread intact.

Google Wave applies this characteristic even more broadly. If someone replies to your wave, it returns to the top of your inbox, bolded. If someone edits your wave, same thing happens. Basically, any updated to a Wave will display as a changed item in the Wave inbox. The screen shot below shows this functionality:

Google Wave inbox - changed items at top, bolded

Google Wave inbox - changed items at top, bolded

On the Spigit platform, a number of actions can be performed with regard to an idea: vote it up or down, comments on it, review it, post/edit a wiki page for it, become a team member. Now all of these actions are supported with email notifications currently.

Any of these actions will cause your Idea to return to the top of your inbox, bolded. Where an email notification is good, a Wave notification would be great. Everything can be seen in context, and you can respond right from your Wave inbox. Comment, IM or just see the latest changes to your idea.

Another great innovation is the ability to easily add others to a Wave. With this functionality, you can let others know about your idea, and they can see changes as they occur as well. If the idea isn’t interesting to someone, they just remove themselves from the Wave.

Really, really powerful feature.

These easy interaction hooks for objects and activities are something that many enterprise applications would benefit from.

Help identify the best ideas

The Spigit platform tracks many activities and included unique features to help surface the best ideas. And this where Google Wave doesn’t change things really. A lot of that is the secret sauce of the Spigit platform.

Which brings me to an important point: Google Wave won’t replace enterprise software applications. The logic and features of the individual apps – ERP, CRM, wikis, HR, etc. – continue to be the primary reason companies buy them.

Assuming Google successfully brings Wave into the enterprise, either replacing Outlook or standing beside it, I’m sure there will be companies that create Wave-based apps to compete with the big enterprise systems. But such competition happens today anyway.

Make it easy to track ideas during their progression into full-blown initiatives

In Spigit, ideas that make it go through a series of stages. Each stage has different criteria for evaluating whther it’s ready to be prototyped and operationalized. Along the way, aspects of the idea will be addressed in other enterprise applications:

  • Company wiki
  • Product development software
  • Engineering issue tracker
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
  • Accounting
  • Project management
  • Blogs
  • etc.

This is where a couple of features might make sense. Google Wave includes robots. Robots are “automated elements” that perform tasks as part of a Google Wave. Let’s assume the original Idea wave is copied to other enterprise apps. Now, there is a connection from the original idea to these objects in other systems.

The robot can look for updates on those other Waves which tie back to my Idea. When there’s a change in status, My Idea wave gets the update. I’m now on top of what’s happening with my initiative, from anywhere in the company.

Yes, that would cool.

The Impossible Dream?

You may have heard the phrase “working the wiki way“. Well I’d like to work the “wave way”. The possibilities with Google Wave are tantalizing. A much more seamless experience for using software. A common protocol around which applications communicate.

Not likely to happen for a while, if ever.

For companies like Spigit, with a web 2.0 orientation and SaaS delivery, Google Wave is something we can do, and as an enterprise social software company, it makes sense. But to fully realize the benefit of Google Wave inside the enterprise, a lot of applications will need to leverage the Google Wave platform. It’s hard to imagine SAP, Microsoft, Oracle and the like doing much with Google Wave.

As Dion Hinchcliffe notes:

New protocols, servers, data formats, and client applications are required to use wave. Unfortunately, Google Wave brings a lot of baggage with it, though it’s mostly straightforward. You will require new software, though not on the client since that all runs in a zero-footprint browser client. This means more integration code, management, and monitoring.

You look at that, and contemplate all the installed software already in place. And I don’t imagine MISO thinks of Google Wave as being in their interests. Google Wave directly overlaps Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, for instance.

So it will be up to the young bucks to push for the new way to deliver end-user simplicity and in-the-flow accessibility to employees. It will take time.

I’ll be watching developments around Google Wave. How about you?

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

14 Responses to Google Wave and the Enterprise: Beautiful Potential, Faraway Dream

  1. I think the Wave opportunity is less with the enterprise than with groups of people who need to collaborate across organizational boundaries where organizations already have a multitude of architectures and semi-compatible applications. Maybe the focus should be on “application X’s compatibility with Wave” rather than “Wave’s compatibility with application X.”

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  3. Larry Hawes says:

    Hutch: I agree with your assessment that Google Wave adoption by enterprises will take time, if it ever happens at the corporate IT level. Google is in a very similar fight with Microsoft already (Google Docs vs. Microsoft Office) and the pace at which Google has been chipping into the Office install base has been quite slow. I expect to see the same in Wave vs. Outlook (and Notes, etc.)

  4. beso says:

    I think wave is definitely amazing, but wouldn’t it be even better if you could also include a pane for calendars and documents, that way you could not only wave emails but also everything else, just imagine the possibilities, draging and dropping from documents pane to emails to calendars, and more.

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  11. mcfaddena2 says:

    cool

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  13. E.J. says:

    Wave adaption will snowball when a CEO realizes that the Saturday BBQ Wave her neighbor setup has more vastly functionality, effectiveness, and ease of use than any in-house system IT has ever been able to provide.

  14. Huddson says:

    Google Wave is so amazing. You can even have addons and have Twitter integrated and Tweet from there. I’m glad that I got an invitation.

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