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?

Yammer Gets Bronx Cheers from the Blogosphere. Why?

Yammer, as much of the free world seems to now know, won “best of show” at TechCrunch50. Yammer is an enterprise 2.0 company. The blogosphere had a fairly negative opinion about this. I read a number of these posts, and the table below outlines the reasons Yammer was viewed negatively:

Links to source posts: Dennis Howlett, Rafe Needleman, Rob Diana, Mathew Ingram, Svetlana Gladkova, Chris Cardinal, Chris Brogan, Jennifer Leggio, Bernard Lunn, Joe Duck, Stephen Baker, Mike Gotta, Fred Wilson, Duncan Riley, Liz Gannes

It’s a diverse collection of bloggers, and they each bring different perspectives. But there was enough commonality that I bucketed the reasons into the five groups you see in the table.

The reactions surprised me a bit – although there were positive reactions too. Let’s break down these five buckets.

Another Twitter Clone

Understandable reaction. We’ve seen Plurk, Identi.ca, Rejaw, etc. So I get the weary “Yet Another Twitter Clone” reaction.

Key difference here is the market Yammer is pursuing: enterprise. That makes all the difference in the world.

  • For Identi.ca to succeed, people would have to stop using Twitter (see Louis Gray’s post for analytical back-up to this point)
  • For Yammer to succeed, the more people use Twitter, the better.

Twitter ain’t enterprise, and I’d be surprised it gets there anytime soon. But using Twitter makes people understand the value of microblogging, which in turn helps Yammer.

Twitter/Others Will Do This

Given Twitter’s problems with keeping the service stable, I’d be shocked if they had also been putting in cycles figuring out how to go after the corporate market.

The other key difference is this. Enterprise is a different world than consumer. Probably one of the better explanations of the differences was by Mike Gotta, in discussing microblogging inside the enterprise:

“Within the enterprise, it is highly probable that IT organizations will classify these tools as messaging platforms (I would BTW). As a messaging platform, these tools would have to support security, logging, audit and archival functions to satisfy regulatory, compliance and records management demands.”

To succeed in the enterprise, you really need to focus on the enterprise. Twitter is having a field day in its growth in the consumer world. Wachovia just added their Twitter account to the website Contact Us page. Keith Olbermann is now on Twitter. Twitter should really focus on the consumer market, and own that.

Yammer is more likely to bump up against SAP’s ESME and Oracle’s OraTweet.

Extortion Revenue Model

The extortion is based on the fact that Yammer is free for sign-up and use. But if a company wants to control it, access to the administrative functions costs money. So companies will feel compelled to pay in order to manage the goings-on inside Yammer.

I’ll admit it’s a pretty creative enterprise pricing model. It seems to address two issues that bedevil enterprise software vendors:

  • How do I get a company to try my software
  • How do I prove employees will use it and get value from it

Companies don’t pay until they’ve seen employees use it and get value from it. Not bad, and it really wouldn’t be that hard for a CIO to tell employees to stop using Yammer (and block the site).

It is sneaky, but it’s also a clever way to address the adoption and value proposition issues that enterprise software vendors will always face. Atlassian Confluence achieved a solid share of the wiki market via viral adoption. Atlassian doesn’t have sales people – it’s all word of mouth.

Workers Won’t Adopt

This is where Yammer faces the toughest road. Getting people to microblog. Twitter is available to the hundreds of millions of people around the globe who might be interested. And it’s gotten a very small percentage of them.

Inside the enterprise, you need a much higher adoption rate. People already on Twitter are natural adopters, but a lot of employees will still have the “why would I do that?” reaction.

The “sell” has to compare Yammer to existing communication modes:

  • Email
  • Instant messaging
  • Forums

Note that relative to Twitter, Yammer has immediate context and built-in users. Context comes because the internal messages will generally center around work that colleagues have a stake in. In other words, they care more about each Yammer message than they do about individual tweets out in the wild.

The other thing is that managers at the departmental level can join and start using Yammer. On Twitter, if you don’t follow an A-Lister…so be it. On Yammer, if you don’t follow your boss…you’re going to miss something.

Cloud Computing Is Scary

This is an ongoing issue for the entire cloud computing/web apps world. Amazon S3 and Gmail’s recent outages highlight the issue.

Salesforce.com experienced outages back in late 2005 and early 2006. They were a blow to the software-as-a-service sector, but the company appears to have righted the ship since then.

Salesforce.com has a market cap of $6.9 billion. Yammer doesn’t.

But Yammer doesn’t have the database-of-record mission that Salesforce.com does, so the threshold for Yammer is lower. Still, ideally for Yammer, people will message about critical issues for their companies, not just what they’re having for lunch. So Yammer’s scalability, security and reliability will be important.

Cloud computing still has a sell-job of its own, but I like the way Anshu Sharma put it:

“No one (at least not me) is suggesting that on-premise software will disappear – its just that growth in enterprise software will come from SaaS and not on-premise (which is growing at about 4%). Venture capitalists like Emergence Capital and Humbold Winblad are voting with their dollars!”

A lot of action is around SaaS, it’s a question of how long the adoption curve will be. Yammer is counting on this one.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle

Gartner puts out updates on something it calls the Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. The hype cycle tracks the market views of various technologies, which go through predictable cycles:

  • Technology Trigger
  • Peak of Inflated Expectations
  • Trough of Disillusionment
  • Slope of Enlightenment
  • Plateau of Productivity

In July 2008, Gartner released its latest view regarding the hype cycle. This one included both microblogging and cloud computing, Yammer’s model:

Courtesy marketingfacts on Flickr

Courtesy marketingfacts on Flickr

Neither microblogging nor cloud computing is anywhere near mainstream uptake. Gartner pegs that at a 2 to 5 year horizon.

The companies that are in now, though, will be best positioned to figure out what drives the Plateau of Productivity. It takes time to learn a market, get some positive customer stories and gain a wider customer base.

I’ll be watching Yammer.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.