Would You Manage CRM with a Wiki?

Or human resources with a blog? How about project management with forums?

Funny questions to ask, no doubt. Of course it’s not possible to effectively address many of the critical business functions using basic Enterprise 2.0 tools. Yet when it comes to social software, it often seems that the only game in town is to be a provider of such tools. For instance, Gartner’s Social Software Magic Quadrant requires that vendors have wikis, blogs and forums to be considered (side note – for the record, Spigit has all three social software tools and more).

I am fully on board that there are great opportunities for new types of communication, collaboration and information discovery in these tools. For instance, see my post, Microblogging Will Marginalize Corporate Email.

But there’s an enormous opportunity for applying the ethos and value of  ‘social’, ‘transparency’ and ‘collaboration’ to a wider range of business processes. Key here is not to force specific processes into a general purpose tool, but to bring social software ethos to longstanding enterprise activities.

Hmm…sounds Dachis Group-like (“social business design”), eh?

Activity-Specific Social Applications

In the recent Gartner Social Software Hype Cycle, analyst Anthony Bradley introduced a new category, Activity-Specific Social Applications:

“As social software implementations mature, application patterns are evolving, and the software industry is responding with activity-centric social application offerings rather than with generic social software capability suites. Delivering a targeted social solution with a general purpose social tool (such as wikis and blogs) can involve significant development, configuration, and templating effort.”

Bradley has identified the next opportunity in enterprise social social software. Integrating the valuable characteristics of social software into the in-the-flow activities that make up our days. As a percentage of employees’ time, activity-specific social applications will be quite large.

Back in March 2009, Sameer Patel wrote, don’t confuse Enterprise 2.0 with social computing concepts. He was making this exact point, and included this illustrative diagram:

Credit: Sameer Patel, Span Strategies

Credit: Sameer Patel, Span Strategies

His point is that the left side are tools, whereas the right side are results-based activities. Key here is to create applications aligned with the processes for those activities. That means going deeper than a general purpose tool.

Successful Applications Will Be Designed for Results

So back to the original question. Would you manage CRM with a wiki? Could you? Perhaps there’s a geek hack to do this, but for mainstream business, the answer is ‘no’. Customer relationship management includes:

  • Case management
  • Customer revenue analytics
  • Sales pipeline
  • Individual prospect opportunity workflow
  • And lots of other stuff

It would be really hard to use generic off-the-shelf social software to deliver the above functionality. Yet, going back in time, here’s what was prescribed for CRM success in April 2002:

People [who fail] don’t integrate CRM into the other parts of their business or implement CRM as a stand-alone and don’t have it communicate with core systems. A bigger and more frequent stumbling block is forgetting to address the people issues around a CRM implementation. In almost all of the cases we described earlier, CRM is a behavior modification tool.

There is a need for the “hard” functions that CRM can provide, like case management, campaigns and analytics. But that’s not enough (e.g. see social CRM), and enabling the customer-centric firm seems to require a good bit of what makes Enterprise 2.0 tick: cross-organizational perspectives, contributions from different departments, a more collaborative orientation to an end-goal. Integrate CRM into “other parts of their business”.

Wikis, by themselves, don’t provide the necessary CRM functions that are table stakes to be useful for companies. But CRM platforms could benefit from integrating more social software tools and conventions.

And that’s the case for a lot of the current processes that define companies today. They aren’t going to be addressed by off-the-shelf generic social software tools. But they benefit by incorporation of social software tools.

“Activity-specific social applications”. A few examples:

Dachis Group talks about social business design as “the intentional creation of dynamic and socially calibrated systems, process, and culture.” Indeed, there’s a huge opportunity to apply social software to the multitude of applications and processes that make up organizations, beyond the insertion of standalone generic tools.

Watch this space.


Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2009: What’s Peaking, What’s Troughing?

Gartner maintains something called hype cycles for various technologies. What’s a hype cycle? The hype cycle provides a cross-industry perspective on the technologies and trends IT managers should consider in developing emerging-technology portfolios.

UPDATE: Link to Gartner’s 2010 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle

Here are the five stages of the hype cycle:

1. Technology Trigger
The first phase of a Hype Cycle is the “technology trigger” or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest. A “technology trigger” is breakthrough, public demonstration, product launch or other event generates significant press and industry interest.

2. Peak of Inflated Expectations
In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

3. Trough of Disillusionment
Technologies enter the “trough of disillusionment” because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.

4. Slope of Enlightenment
Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the “slope of enlightenment” and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.

5. Plateau of Productivity
A technology reaches the “plateau of productivity” as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations.

On July 21, Gartner released its omnibus Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2009. This report covers a wide range of industries, from flat panel displays to home health providers to cloud computing.

Honestly, it’s fascinating to see how Gartner positions the various industries along the cycle. Here is 2009’s hype cycle for emerging technologies:

Gartner Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle 2009

Boy, that’s a full hype cycle isn’t it? The report itself is chock full of analysis and forecasts for the various technologies. Here are a few notes of mine from reading it.

Social Software Suites: It’s clear that the market is moving toward more applications bundled into Enterprise 2.0 offerings. As Nikos Drakos and Anthony Bradley write, “we expect that successful products will continue to assimilate new functionality.” The report notes that Social Software Suites have tipped past the peak of inflated expectations.

One observation made by Drakos and Bradley resonates with me:

In the longer term, many companies will have social software technology supplied by their strategic workplace vendor, perhaps augmented with additional third-party products. Accordingly, industry is starting to move from general-purpose suites to more targeted products, concentrating on “horizontal” social business challenges, such as idea engines, prediction markets and answer marketplaces.

Putting Enterprise 2.0 to work on specific problems was something I wrote about as well recently in Enterprise 2.0: Culture Is as Culture Does. If you’re not addressing specific problems as a social software vendor, you’re basically angling to replace the company intranet or portal.

Finally, note that standalone wikis and corporate blogging are in the Slope of Enlightenment. Those apps are also part of social software suites.

You can see the Gartner Social Software Hype Cycle 2009 graph on the Spigit blog.

Idea Management: Idea management is further along the curve, knocking on the door of the Slope of enlightenment. What’s interesting to me is how much the idea management space is really overlapping the social software space. Indeed, read the quote above. According to my interpretation, this means that social software is moving more toward tackling horizontal challenges, “such as idea engines.”

Speaking from my own Spigit experience, this quote rings true:

Industries that emphasize new product development were early adopters of idea management tools. In 2009, service industries and government are increasingly adopting innovation and idea management practices.

Microblogging: With Twitter’s rapid ascension in the public consciousness, it’s no surprise that the Enterprise 2.0 vendors are rapidly adding microblogging to their suites. Analyst Jeffrey Mann predicts that “by 2011, enterprise microblogging will be a standard feature in 80% of the social software platforms on the market.”

I like Mann’s advice to corporate clients reading this report:

Adopt social media sooner rather than later, because the greatest risk lies in failure to engage and being left mute in a debate in which your voice must be heard.

Cloud Computing: Cloud computing is at the top of the Peak of Inflated Expectations. It’s hot. I’ve seen bloggers debate what constitutes “cloud computing”. This definition by David Mitchell Smith seems as good as any:

Gartner defines “cloud computing” as a style of computing where scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using Internet technologies.

Smith notes that cloud computing is actually quite varied, and “that one dot on a Hype Cycle cannot adequately represent all that is cloud computing.” The report does say that cloud computing will be transformational. Yup.

E-Book Readers: So, have ya heard of e-book readers? When they debuted, I personally didn’t think much of them. I mean, what’s wrong with books? Turns out, there’s a great market for them. I still haven’t bought one, but that doesn’t mean much.

And this report is illustrative of the unexpected success of e-book readers. Here’s what the Gartner analysts said for the appearance of e-book readers at the top of the Peak of Inflated Expectations:

This positioning has been reassessed from the prior year’s Hype Cycle. E-book readers saw serious hype in the early days. These largely failed to capture the attention of the consumer and fell into the trough never to emerge.

Those are a few notes from the report. It’s 55 pages, and there are technology-specific versions of them as well. Gartner always has an interesting take.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 061909

From the home office in Tehran…

#1: RT @Brioneja The Future of Energy: A Realist’s Roadmap to 2050. Which technology will finally free us from oil?

#2: People’s interest in the real-time web is as much a social thing as it is a need to stay on top of events as they happen.

#3: In case you didn’t know…Atlassian’s new release of Confluence 3.0 includes status updates:

#4: RT @rhappe the tight engagement you build with a small group will go viral… a big group with a lot of ‘extras’ won’t have the same

#5: RT @prwpmp Very insightful article in today’s WSJ about the power of daydreaming! {Daydreaming = AHA! moments}

#6: Which are most likely to survive in social media-driven news world? The mega global media (e.g. NYT), regional newspapers or local papers?

#7: New Spigit blog post: Kaiser Permanente Crosses the O-Gap in Innovation #innovation

#8: What is the magic number where the size of a group outstrips its ability to stay on top of everyone’s ideas? 25? 50? 100? #innovation

#9: Is there such a thing as the “avg distance” between a firm’s employees & its customers? SMBs’ avg distance < enterprises’ avg?

#10: ABC7 prediction market: Will the Dow Jones Industrial Average end 2009 below 2008’s year end close? My vote = NO

My Ten Favorite Tweets: Week Ending 040309

From the home office in Detroit, Michigan…

#1: Tim O’Reilly talks about how every appliance has a unique electrical signature. Useful for ID/control. #w2e

#2: Nice shout-out from @jowyang on my move to Spigit

#3: Writing my own bio for a press release for Spigit. I agree with @tacanderson I find it painful to do these.

#4: Perhaps a note of caution in any Twitter acquisition talks…YouTube may lose $470m this year.

#5: Gartner predicts that by 2011, enterprise microblogging will be standard in 80% of social software platforms

#6: RT @SameerPatel Add Your Twitter Blog to Technorati Directory by via@labnol

#7: SocialText raises $4.5 mm, lays off six: In line with the times. Nice fund raise.

#8: Great to meet @thomashawk last night at FriendFeed meet-up. Nice collection of pics of people that were there:

#9: Just finished touring the #w2e floor w/ @mediaphyter Great to meet in person!

#10: Using the word “users” in write-up. Alternative is “employees, customer, partners”, which is wordy. Or “people”, which describes 6 billion.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 032009

From the home office in Manhattan…

#1: The unintended meme….cisco fatty

#2: RT @jenn bah. “cisco fatty” is no “I KISS YOU”, Kids on the Interwebs will meme anything these days. When I was young, we used 2 meme uphill

#3: “Twitter Most Popular Among Working Adults” Nielsen February stats

#4: Reading about WordPress’s new microblogging offering ‘P2’ Looks great, perfect for internal company tweeting

#5: Reading – SXSW – Jumping Sharks, Hunting Snarks, Punting Sparks and Something Stark by @freecloud

#6: Wondering which will be cheaper for wireless…3G iPhone tether or an EVDO card?

#7: Reading: Spigit Launches New Version Of Idea Generation Innovation Software on @techcrunch

#8: The Schwab commercials with the people who have been turned into animation are oddly compelling. You just stare at these real-life cartoons.

#9: Grey’s Anatomy, finder of cool music at a level comparable to Apple commercials.

#10: I didn’t know there was certification for such a thing: The Life Coach Institute

Microblogging Will Marginalize Corporate Email

In case you missed it last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt had this to say about the microblogging service Twitter:

Speaking as a computer scientist, I view all of these as sort of poor man’s email systems. In other words, they have aspects of an email system, but they don’t have a full offering. To me, the question about companies like Twitter is: Do they fundamentally evolve as sort of a note phenomenon, or do they fundamentally evolve to have storage, revocation, identity, and all the other aspects that traditional email systems have? Or do email systems themselves broaden what they do to take on some of that characteristic?

At first blush, this seemed like an example of Google not ‘getting it’ when it comes to Twitter (see the comments to the linked blog post above). But I think he’s actually on to something. It is a new way of posting notes about what you’re doing, but it also has a lot of communications usage via @replies and direct messages (DMs).

Reflecting both on Schmidt’s statement, and my own use of Yammer at my company, I’m seeing that microblogging is slowly replacing a lot of my email activity.

As more companies take up microblogging with services like Yammer, Socialcast, and SocialText Signals, employee communications amongst employees will both increase and divert away from email. Something like this:


Socialcast’s Tim Young said this about email:

Email is dead. If your company is relying on email for communication and collaboration, your company is walking dead in this new economy.

Being the CEO of Socialcast, that’s not a surprising statement. But I think he’s more right than wrong.

The shift I describe applies regardless of the microblogging application used. Since I’m actually familiar with Yammer as a user, I’ll talk about its features in the context of this shift.

Yammer Follows the Innovator’s Dilemma Path

A useful context for thinking about Yammer versus corporate email is Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma. Generally, the premise is that incumbent companies need to grow and increase the functionality of their products. This increases the products’ complexity and cost, but also increases margins. But as the incumbents are doing this, it opens an opportunity at the lower end of functionality for new companies to come in and attack the incumbents’ base. From Wikipedia, here’s a graphic that demonstrates the concept:


A useful way to think about the Innovator’s Dilemma in the enterprise software space comes from this blog post, Enterprise Software Innovator’s Dilemma. Existing vendors expand the functionality of their products, heavily relying on the requests of large customers. Over time, this has the effect of creating a robust, highly functional and more expensive offering. This trend is what opens the door for new vendors to come in.

Let’s consider Yammer in this context. Simple microblogging runs along the “low quality use” in some ways. At least in terms of the feature set. But it certainly takes “use case share” away from email.

If all you could do was make public notes, that’s the end of the story. Microblogging does not replace email. But these guys are advancing their product, and are rising up the performance axis.

Here is what Yammer now offers:

  • Behind the firewall installation
  • Public notes
  • @replies
  • DMs
  • Groups
  • Private groups
  • File attachments
  • Favorites (a form of bookmarking)
  • Tagging
  • Conversation threading
  • Unlimited character length (i.e. not limited to 140 characters)
  • Search

Look at that list. When you think about your own internal email usage, what ‘s missing? Folders or the Gmail equivalent of tags seem to be something for the down the road. I’m not an IT manager, so I’m sure there are some heavy duty infrastructure aspects of Microsoft Exchange/Outlook and Lotus Notes that are not there. Thus, Yammer still has the insurgent, disruptor profile relative to corporate email.

But don’t underestimate that. There’s what IT knows is needed behind the scenes. and then there’s what the users actually do when given the different applications.

Expanding Communications, Marginalizing Email

Microblogging’s premise is that public proclamations of what you’re doing and information that you find are a new activity for people, and they have value. Information is shared much more easily and in-the-flow of what we’re all doing anyway. In an office setting, I continue to find the way Dave Winer describes it quite useful: narrating your work.

This use case is what promises to dramatically increase communications among employees. As we’re seeing with Twitter’s explosive growth, it takes time for people to grok why they should microblog. But once they “get it”, it takes off.

So services like Yammer have your attention as you post updates and read what others post. In reaction to what someone posts, you hit the Reply button. You’re having a conversation that others can see, and join in if they want. You decide to have separate conversation with someone in this context. Do you open up your email? Or just click “Private Message” to someone? I’m willing to bet you’ll do the latter.

Which starts the marginalization of corporate email. Why? Because a lot of what’s going to generate interactions is occurring right on that microblogging app you’re looking at. It’s the most natural thing to act in-the-flow and use that application in lieu of email. Well-designed microblogging applications are also quite seductive in terms of ease-of-use.

As I’ve written before, email’s role changes in this scenario. The logical end use cases are:

  • Notifications
  • External communications

This isn’t something that’s imminent. Email is quite entrenched in daily workflow, older generations aren’t likely to stop using it and internal microblogging is still nascent.

But no one said the Innovator’s Dilemma plays out over the course of a couple years. It will take time. But watch the trends.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

How Much Scale Is Needed in Enterprise 2.0 Employee Adoption?

A couple recent items caught my eye with regard to the issue of employee adoption of social software.

In Reversing the Enterprise 2.0 Pricing Model, Julien le Nestour argues that pricing per user for social software should increase as more employees use it, because the network effects of higher participation make the software more valuable. It’s a great theoretical piece, tying pricing to value received. But in the harsh budgeting realities of the enterprise and in the comparison against other software pricing models, it’s not likely we’ll see anything like this.

Atlassian, maker of the Confluence wiki and developers tools, recently passed the cumulative revenue mark of $100 million. In the post announcing this milestone, Atlassian blogger notes that the company has no sales force. People just download the app. I know some of the Atlassian guys, and this kind of viral, bottom-up adoption is core to their philosophy. They don’t sell to upper management, adoption occurs at the departmental level. That being said, I am aware from my work at Connectbeam of some large-scale rollouts of the Confluence wiki by Fortune 500 companies.

What connects these two items? The first post describes the nature of Enterprise 2.0 apps and how their value increases as more employees use them. The second post points to the value that departments have received from Atlassian’s Confluence wiki, even without broad adoption. In other words, network effects are not a critical aspect of the Confluence value proposition.

From these posts, other readings and direct customer experience, the following occurred to me:

You don’t need a high level of adoption to get value from some Enterprise 2.0 apps. Others require broad participation.

In some ways, that may seem obvious. Yet I don’t tend to hear this distinction being made. Usually, all social software is lumped together under ‘Enterprise 2.0’ and there is a collective view that wide-scale adoption by employees is a necessity. It’s actually more nuanced than that.

Varying Adoption Levels Required

The graphic below depicts the relative levels of participation required for different apps to “deliver value”:


Here’s a quick summary of the graph:

  • Employee participation is defined as contributions and engagement (views, edits, comments, etc.)
  • Moving from left to right, the percentage of employees involved gets higher

This graph has a couple of implications for Enterprise 2.0 vendors. Before that, here’s an explanation for why I put the different applications where I did.

Consider the Purposes of the E2.0 Applications

Before discussing these applications, I want to note this. All social software applications get better with higher adoption. There is no disputing that. The distinction I want to make is that some apps require increased participation before they deliver value.

Blogs: The nature of a blog is a single person’s thoughts, observations and ideas. Inside companies, these applications can be tools for the ongoing recording of things that fall outside the deadlines and process-oriented activities that make up the day. Making them public is a great way to share these contributions with other employees and establish your record of what’s happening. If only a few key people blogged inside a company, there will be value in that.

Wikis: Wikis actually have two purposes: (1) knowledge repositories, and (2) projects and collaboration. It’s that second purpose that makes wikis particularly valuable even with small participation. I’ll use Confluence as an example. We use it as our low home for putting up documents accessible to anyone else, and for free-form contributions on all manner of things. It is very much a utilitarian use case for us. If we weren’t using Confluence for this purpose, we’d share documents via email. In larger organizations, Confluence may replace usage of SharePoint or the company portal.

Using wikis as knowledge repositories, such as [Company Name]-ipedia type of implementations, requires a larger percentage involvement. Sparsely populated company versions of Wikipedia are of little use. As are wikis that are not updated regularly with new information. I’d put wikis-as-knowledge-repositories up there around prediction markets in terms of required participation.

Forums: The old man of Enterprise 2.0…forums. These are the place where topics can be posted, and a scrum of conversation occurs. To really get value out of these, it helps to have larger participation. Blogs are solo voices with interesting content. Wikis can have a very specific collaboration purpose among a few employees. Conversations around a topic require a wider variety of voices. Otherwise they fail to give people a sense of what others are thinking. Nothing sadder than forum post with no comments.

Social bookmarking: Bookmarking sites you find useful has value by itself. So in that sense, “social” bookmarking can work for very few employees. But it’s not really “social”, it’s simply a replacement for your browser bookmarks. You get value by finding those gems your colleagues deem interesting. The odds that any single bookmark will be useful to you are small, so you need a healthy amount of bookmarks to increase the chances of finding links that will help you. And to get a healthy amount of bookmarks, you need broader participation.

Microblogging: In some ways, microblogging could be compared to forums. Both are public places to serve up topics. But they’re fundamentally different. And that’s why broader participation is more important here. Forums have a distinct purpose – the discussion of a particular topic. You need participation by those who know something around the topic.  Microblogging is a more free-form, personal activity. You don’t need a distinct purpose to post something. You post all the things that occur to you during the day. Some of which will have value, although it can be hard to predict for whom. It also helps to know that people are seeing these posts, because there is a conversational aspect to microblogging. The free-form, who-knows-what-might-be-interesting, conversational aspect of microblogging require larger participation than forums do.

Prediction markets: Prediction markets thrive on having a variety of ideas, events and initiatives. They also require the different perspectives of employees, leveraging different perspectives, knowledge and experiences. This is true wisdom of crowds work. Limited participation limits the value of prediction markets. These benefit from broad employee involvement.

Social networks: I put these at the top of the chart in terms of employee involvement. Perhaps one of the best use cases for social networks is finding colleagues with the knowledge or interest in projects you’re working on. This requires large-scale participation. If a social network only is used at the departmental level, it doesn’t provide value. In terms of expertise location, you’re probably already aware of what others in your deparmtent know. It’s breaking out of that traditional sphere of contacts where social networks shine. I know I’ve heard many instances of large corporations suffering from “reinventing the wheel” syndrome because employees lack visibility about what others know. Broad participation addresses this issue.


Three implications of this view about required involvement come to mind.

Greater required participation correlates to greater impact on a company’s value: Generally, you could change the metric in the chart above from percentage of employee involvement to impact on company value. The increased participation means the associated application will also have a larger effect on the company’s strategies and operations. It’s not an tight correlation, but a general trendline. Exceptions will abound.

Top-down vs. bottom-up: General observation is that broader participation requires a greater amount of senior management support. That’s the way things work inside companies. Employees will listen when the executives of the company push something. For applications that need lower participation, the name of the game is to provide a compelling application with a low entry cost. Departmental budgets and the green-light from employees at lower levels of the organization are all that are needed.

Time for application to gain traction: With applications that require low levels of participation, there is plenty of time for the application to grow virally. It serves its purpose for a select few, and over time others will see the value and elect to participate. These apps can be resident inside companies for long periods of time. Those that require higher participation to see value will need to show results sooner. They are on senior management’s radar, generally cost more and have a greater number of employees who will be watching to see the results.

So it matters what type of application we’re talking about when it comes to Enterprise 2.0. It matters for companies and vendors. It impacts the skills required for everyone’s success.

A nice post that complements this one is Adina Levin’s Scale effects in enterprise social software.


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