Report: How to unlock the promise of agile in the enterprise

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The promises of agile — getting product in front of users faster, embracing requirements changes, choosing and trusting solid contributors — map incredibly well to today’s business environments, where disruptive technology and the ability to quickly capitalize on opportunities either make or break entire verticals. While agile methodologies have had tremendous success in task-oriented teams, many larger businesses have been slower to embrace them as a corporate standard. But agile is not a panacea, and not all projects, business processes, and corporate cultures are natural fits.
The typical enterprise will support multiple methodologies, and making them work together isn’t easy. From budget forecasting to performance benchmarking and accountability, agile presents new disruptions to traditional processes. At the same time, its more granular, responsive approach and the tools that support it can bring new efficiencies to the projects, teams, and organizations implementing them. This report will examine the current state and the future of the multi-methodology enterprise and examine procedural and technological changes that can help enterprises integrate agile methodologies into a larger ecosystem.
To read the full report click here.

Facebook At Work Will Quickly Change Enterprise Social

It may not yet be generally available, but Facebook at Work is a quickly evolving solution that will change how enterprises think about and conduct social interactions. It will also dramatically change, if not eliminate, the single-person role of Community Manager.
Carrie Basham Young, an experienced and respected social business strategist, published a series of blog posts on Facebook at Work last week. Her main thesis across these posts was that Facebook is playing a long game in which the line between social interaction in people’s personal lives and at work becomes blurred or disappears altogether. Facebook is betting that it can change enterprise social to more closely resemble the way that people interact outside of work, on Facebook.
Young made many other astute observations in the posts, including,

  • Facebook controls the message with respect to its product and the social networking industry in mainstream media
  • Adoption (logging in for the first time) does not equal engagement (ongoing, purposeful use)
  • Facebook at Work is “incredibly easy” to use and may nearly eliminate the need for user training
  • Facebook at Work’s extreme end-user focus may cause problems for enterprises, and IT staff at big companies will have a negative view of Facebook at Work until it incorporates enterprise-grade identity management, security and information lifecycle management functionality
  • Facebook has the power to change the entire conversation, user expectations and their behavior without input from currently active community managers

Changing Nature of Work and Organizations

The present (and future) trend in the workplace is toward fewer managers in less hierarchical organizational structures. However, eliminating roles that command others’ work does not equate with getting rid of those who guide and coordinate work. The need for people who can design, facilitate and monitor people interactions within business networks will only increase as authority, responsibility and accountability are decentralized across the employee base of an organization.
If Young’s assessment of the irreplaceable contributions of community managers is correct, then Facebook’s intention to minimize or eliminate them may be a fatal mistake. Instead, Facebook at Work should give all employees access to the tools that Young cites as necessary for successful community management. By doing so, Facebook would accelerate the existing trend of democratizing authority and distributing work ownership. Everyone would be responsible for contributing to the management of communities in which they are members, and stewardship of them would shift contextually.
This vision is not unprecedented. Over the last two decades, Knowledge Management (KM) has moved away from being a top-down activity started and executed by an individual situated fairly high in a company’s organizational chart. Instead, the notion of Personal KM has gained favor, making all employees responsible for creating, capturing, sharing and using knowledge within their company.
It is possible that day-to-day community management will move in the same direction and become a distributed responsibility and activity. Young clearly acknowledged this when she wrote,

“Facebook will maintain a pure focus on viral adoption, resulting in an industry-wide slow shift away from the concept of managed communities and toward the concept of ad-hoc, self-driven collaboration as a new normal employee behavior”

I disagree with Young’s interpretation of Facebook’s goal for Facebook at Work though. I think Facebook seeks to de-emphasize or eliminate community managers, but not community management. It appears that Facebook at Work has been designed for distributed, bottom-up community coordination, rather than top-down, imposed management. (I sincerely hope that Facebook at Work does not intend to have communities ruled by algorithms that decide which topics and interactions are given preference in an employee’s activity stream.) While this will be unappealing to existing community managers, Facebook’s vision for more self-governed collaboration is consistent with the larger trends that are distributing and democratizing work coordination in increasingly flat, networked organizational structures.

Enterprise Social Will Change Sooner Rather Than Later

Young is right that Facebook at Work will upset the status quo in enterprise social and community management, but I think her timeline is too long. This change is likely to happen in 3 years or less, rather than the 5-10 years she predicts.
It will be faster because Facebook can learn from other vendors in adjacent enterprise software market segments, most notably Box and Dropbox in the Enterprise File Sync and Sharing space. Like Facebook, both of those companies began as consumer-oriented services that emphasized user experience over other considerations, including breadth and depth of functionality. Box has since built an offering that meets many of the security, privacy, administration and integration requirements of business customers.
Dropbox has also undertaken that journey, although it did not begin it until well after Box started. That is an advantage in some ways. Dropbox is moving down the learning curve quickly because it has watched Box and learned from its strategic decisions taken and tactical moves made to effect the consumer-to-enterprise shift.
Facebook will do the same, gaining insight from both Box and Dropbox. This will allow Facebook at Work to become enterprise-ready in a fraction of the time that most expect. Watch for Facebook to gradually expand beta access to Facebook at Work over the coming months, then make a version that meets most enterprise requirements generally available by the end of 2016.

Atlassian’s IPO is just part of its lofty goal for the workplace

One of Silicon Valley’s “unicorns” (that is, a tech company valued at over $1 billion), Atlassian is the company behind JIRA, HipChat, Confluence and BitBucket, all of which are aimed at making collaborative efforts within companies easier and more efficient. The company is one of Silicon Valley’s oft-fabled “unicorns” — that is, a company for which the valuation has surpassed the $1 billion dollar mark — and last week the company saw its shares jumping over the initial price of $21 to just over $27, where it has held for the most part. 

Atlassian was founded in 2002 and specializes in workplace software. Most of their products are aimed at streamlining workplace communication and simplifying collaboration in teams. 

HipChat, one of its most popular products, is an email-buster comparable to Slack that brings ongoing correspondence out of lengthy email threads and into a simple chat interface shared by teams and departments within a company. JIRA Software is a project-tracking software development tool. JIRA Service Desk is a task management platform that allows teams to coordinate the living, breathing, changing tasks that often become the foibles of service teams everywhere.

From BBC to Adobe and NVIDIA to Land Rover, Atlassian products are used by over fifty thousand teams worldwide. Which is great, but ultimately just the tip of the iceberg where the company’s concerned. With the successful IPO under their belts, Atlassian’s chasing down some seriously lofty goals.

“Our mission, ultimately, is to have every employee inside of every company using Atlassian products every day,” says Atlassian President Jay Simons. “And when you consider that there’s more than 800 million knowledge workers around the world, that’s a pretty big ambition and it’ll take a while to get there. The IPO doesn’t really change that. That’s basically been a goal of the company since inception.” 

A pretty big ambition, indeed. But it’s a pretty big market, too, and it’s no secret that email’s not particularly well-suited to the way that we work today. Inboxes that tend to get cluttered paired with our own abysmal skills when it comes to staying on top of the constant digital deluge, email’s become something of a dirty word in some circles. 

Though email’s something of a necessary evil that likely won’t be going anywhere (no matter how much I wish the opposite were true), Atlassian products exist largely to bring conversations and collaborative efforts that don’t belong in our inboxes into more appropriate arenas. Even with fifty thousand companies already onboard, there are still thousands of teams stuck in the cluttered trenches of email-only communication.

“I think there’s a tremendous amount of white space across teams with a lot of inefficient use of email,” says Simons. “I don’t think email’s going away anytime soon because it is an effective way to direct certain kinds of communication to people, but I do think that when you use our products, your inbox becomes a lot smarter, more directed and more appropriate for what email’s good at.” 

In Simons’ eyes, the successful IPO signals a recognition that what Atlassian’s doing is not only working, but that there’s room to grow—more tasks to manage, more email chains to prevent, more projects completed on-time with fewer hiccups and dropped balls. The way we work is changing, and the response yesterday would seem to suggest that Atlasssian’s going to be around to usher in some of these changes in the way we get things done.

“I think that the market and the investor enthusiasm recognizes that we’ve built a pretty special company,” says Simons, “and also recognizes that there’s a big opportunity in front of 800 million knowledge workers worldwide and teams all over the place that are trying to figure out how to work better together.” 

Recent Enterprise File Sync and Sharing News

Here is a brief round-up of some recent news from the Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing market segment.

EFSS Application Security

MobileIron published a whitepaper, titled “State of App Security”, that includes results of a survey conducted with its customers. The survey and white paper are briefly summarized in this post.
Survey respondents were asked to list the cloud applications that had been blacklisted by their IT departments. Of the top ten apps listed, five were EFSS solutions: Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, and SugarSync.
It’s important to note that all of these blacklisted apps are consumer-oriented and their vendors do offer business versions that are not commonly blacklisted because they include better security features. However, the unauthorized or “shadow” use of consumer EFSS solutions within businesses continues to pose significant information security risks.

Dropbox Doubles Down on Business

Dropbox made several product and business strategy announcements at its inaugural customer event, Dropbox Open, which was held on November 4th, in San Francisco. Most were directly relevant to the company’s increasing focus on businesses, rather than consumers. They are  briefly summarized in this Dropbox post, but here’s the skinny on a few.
First, it’s clear why Dropbox is doubling down on its efforts to win over organizations. The company announced that it has signed up around 50,000 new organizations as paying Dropbox Business customers in the last year. Dropbox now claims to have 150,000 business customers; that’s organizations, not seats. The company stated that business is it’s fastest growing target market.
To underscore the point, Dropbox announced a new product, Dropbox Enterprise, which “provides the same core security features, admin capabilities, and modern collaboration tools as Dropbox Business — plus new deployment tools, advanced controls, and services and support designed specifically for large organizations.”
Dropbox also announced three new administrative features that will be included in Dropbox Business as well as in Dropbox Enterprise. The new capabilities ‒ suspended user state, sign in as user, and custom branding ‒ are available now through the company’s Early Access program, with no general release date given.
Dropbox is going down the same road that Box has already traveled. It started with a consumer grade product, added functionality to make it more attractive and useful for small and medium businesses, and now is incorporating the robust security and control features that IT departments in large enterprises demand. The big question now is can Dropbox overtake Box in the EFSS market?

Google Drive Adds New Features

Google announced three new capabilities that are intended to improve the usability of Google Drive. These new features apply to all Google Drive users, not just business employees.
It’s now possible to receive a notification from the application on your Android or iOS device when someone has shared a file or folder with you. Previously, those notifications were made via email. The new notifications are actionable; clicking the link will take you to the document or folder that has bee shared.
Google Drive users can now request and grant access to a file or folder to which a link has been sent, but the owner forgot to extend access rights. The feature is mobile friendly. Android users can request access with a single tap. File and folder owners can instantly be notified of the request and provide access from their Android or iOS device.
Finally, it’s now possible to preview files stored on Google Drive on Android devices even if you don’t have a Google account. That feature has been available in Web browsers for a while and makes sense in that context. It’s hard to imagine why an Android device owner wouldn’t have a Google account, but, apparently, its is a problem and Google chose to address it.

Syncplicity Plays Catch-Up on Mobile Security

Syncplicity announced partnerships with AirWatch and MobileIron to help customers secure files on mobile devices. It should be safe to assume that the integration with AirWatch had been ready (or nearly so) for quite a while, since both were owned by EMC until it spun off Syncplicity a couple of months ago. At any rate, these partnerships merely bring Syncplicity even with its competitors, who have had similar partnerships or their own mobile device containerization capabilities for some time now.

Box Expands Its European Presence

Box has opened two new offices in Europe in the last 3 weeks, one in Amsterdam and another in Stockholm. This continental presence is crucial to Box as it seeks to grow by expanding overseas sales efforts. However, the new offices also raise questions about how Box (and competitors) will deal with the recent nullification of the Safe Harbor agreement that had been in place between the European Union and the United States.

ownCloud Brings Control of Open Source EFSS On-Premises

ownCloud announced the newest version (8.2) of its open source EFFS offering, which moves it to a hybrid model. With ownCloud 8.2, it’s now possible for customers to deliver security and control of their files residing in the cloud through an on-premises adminstrative console.

Linoma GoDrive Customers Gain Mobile Access

In another transformation to a vendor’s existing EFSS model, Linoma Software unveiled its GoAnywhere mobile apps for its GoDrive on-premises EFSS solution. Linoma customers can now access files residing in GoDrive from iOS and Android mobile devices. While files and folder are encrypted during transit, Linoma does not secure files while they are on a mobile device. However, they do provide an administrative capability to deactivate and wipe files and folders from devices that have been lost or stolen.

New collaboration tool TABLE is Slack, LinkedIn, & Upwork all-in-one

Communicating with people is hard. Or at least, it can be. Particularly when everyone isn’t in the same room, timezone, or (same) page. I can hear your cries now, bellowing, “That’s why there’s email!” and I would be inclined to agree with you, but email sucks. A lot. That’s why we have Slack and HipChat, which is great for those working primarily at a single organization, but not necessarily for those primarily doing freelance.

Now meet TABLE, a new web-based collaboration tool/platform launching this week in private beta that aims to be an all-in-one for distributed teams, freelancers, and occasional collaborators. Basically if you spend your days doing contract work for many different businesses, this service is worth keeping an eye on.

Table diverges from the recognizable structure of popular enterprise chat systems like Slack and Hipchat by splitting up into three basic portions: tables, people, and discover. The service is essentially divided into these three categories, with each breaking down into several key modules or “micro services” that can be customized to make sense for each project.

“Our approach, even towards the architecture of our web application, is micro services,” says Table CEO and cofounder Cristian Petschen. “We’re not really about the communication tool itself. We’re about connecting people, and being able to build your trusted collaborator network.”

Table lets you connect to people who have individual profiles on the platform, regardless of where they work. You can message them privately, invite them to a Table (which, functions similarly to Slack Channels and HipChat rooms), add them to your Inner Circle, or bring them into a Room. (Rooms function similarly to Teams in Slack and HipChat in that they allow you to bring people and Tables together, but you’re not tethered to a room for collaboration.)

Table isn’t just chat, though. Instead, its purpose is to give you options for communication as it makes sense to a particular project or task via the aforementioned micro services and modules. Some of these will be rolling out as Table moves out of the private beta and into the launch phase, but eventually users will be able to rate each other on performance, make voice calls, and even send and pay invoices directly through Table’s platform.

This brings us to Table’s other two primary categories: People and Discover, which allow you to manage current contacts or find new collaborators based on your professional network.

While LinkedIn has something of a stranglehold on the professional networking game, it’s not exactly a great place for getting things done or finding qualified collaborators for specific projects. Table wants to give users some of the functionality of LinkedIn with a network, but make it possible for people who don’t know one another to connect much like they do through sites like Upwork (formally Elance-oDesk).

“It’s going to be LinkedIn and more in that sense, because you can also put your projects up and people can look at your projects and the work that you’ve done,”Petschen says. “Since you’re collaborating on the platform, it’s not only what you say about yourself, but also what you’re doing. [Table] knows what subjects you’re working on, who you’re coming together with, and it has a much better idea of who you are.”

While Table is still in private beta, you can sign up to get on the waiting list.

Dropbox Paper is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Last week, I wrote about the commoditization of the enterprise file sharing market and how pure play vendors are being forced to evolve their offerings to stay alive. My post focused on Hightail (originally YouSendIt) and its announcement of Spaces – a specialized file sharing, annotating and publishing offering for creative professionals.
Dropbox also made a product announcement last week, albeit quietly. The company has expanded beta testing of Paper, a new offering that was released in a highly limited beta, in March, under the name Notes.  Like Hightail’s new offering, Dropbox’s illustrates how they are responding to the functional parity that vendors have achieved with basic file sharing offerings and to their rapid downward price movement.

Yet Another Collaborative Authoring Tool?

Most commentators, including Gigaom’s Nathaniel Mott in his article from last week, described Paper as “a collaborative writing tool”. They compared it to Google Docs, Microsoft Office (especially its Word and OneNote components) and startup Quip. For sure, Paper has similar functionality to those products, and it allows people to write and edit documents together in real-time. However, I don’t believe that is the main point of Dropbox’s beta product. Instead, Paper is intended to be used as a lightweight case management tool.
Case Management is a discipline that brings resources, including relevant content, related to a single instance of a business process or an initiative into a common place – the case folder. While many think of Case Management as a digital technology, its principles were established in business activities that were wholly paper-based.
Think of an insurance claim years ago, where a customer filled out a paper claim form, and it  was then routed throughout the insurance company in a paper folder. As the process continued, additional paper documents, perhaps even printed photographs, were added to the folder. The last documents to go into the folder were the final claim decision letter to the customer and a copy of the check, if a payment was made on the claim.
Today, that same insurance claim process is likely to generate and use a mix of paper-based and electronic documents, although insurance companies are slowly moving as much of the process online as possible. However, the concept of organizing information related to the claim into a single folder remains, although the folder is now likely to be an electronic artifact, not a paper one.

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Take another look at Dropbox’s beta Paper. Do you see it? Paper is a single point of organization for new content, files stored in Dropbox (and other repositories), existing Web content and discussions on all of those things. It’s a meta-document that acts like a case folder.
Paper enables lightweight case management, not the industrial-strength, production kind needed to handle high-volume, transactional business processes like insurance claims. Paper is case management for small teams, whose work might follow a pattern over time, but does not conform to a well-defined, repeatable process.
Working on a new software product at an early-stage startup with only a few coworkers? Start a new document in Paper, then add the functional and technical requirements, business projections, marketing assets, sales collateral, even the code for the software. Everything that is relevant to the product is one place in which it can be shared, viewed, commented on, discussed, edited and used for decision making. Just like a case folder in Case Management.

A New Way of Working

Still not convinced? Dropbox Product Manager Matteus Pan recently said:
“Work today is really fragmented…teams have really wanted a single surface to bring all of [their] ideas into a single place.” “Creation and collaboration are only half the problem,” he said. “The other half is how information is organized and retrieved across an entire company.”
That sounds like case management to me, but not the old-school type that you are likely more familiar with. Instead, Paper reflects the newer principles of Adaptive Case Management.
Adaptive Case Management (ACM) is a newer technology set that has been evolving from Production Case Management (PCM) over the last few years. ACM helps people deal with volatile processes by including collaboration tools alongside the workflow tools that are the backbone of PCM.
Dropbox Paper may be viewed as an extreme example of ACM, one which relies completely on the manual control of work rather than automating parts of it. In that regard, Paper takes its cues from enterprise social software, which is also designed to enable human coordination of emergent work, rather than the automation of stable processes. As Paper is more widely used in the current beta and beyond, it will be interesting to see if its adoption is stunted by the same obstacles that have limited the wholesale changes to established ways of working that social software requires.

Crashing Waves

I have not yet seen a demo of Dropbox Paper, but the screenshots, textual descriptions and comments from Dropbox employees that I have absorbed are enough to reveal that the product is more than just another collaborative authoring tool. If I was asked to make a comparison between Paper and another existing or previous tool, I would say that it reminds me of Google Wave, not Docs or Microsoft Office. Like Wave, Paper is a blank canvas on which you can collaborate with team members and work with multiple content types related to a single idea or business process in one place.
Google Wave was a powerful, but unintuitive tool that failed to get market traction. Will Paper suffer the same fate? Perhaps, but Dropbox hopes that the world is now ready for this new way to work. In fact, Dropbox is, in some regards, staking its continued existence on just that, as it tries to differentiate itself from other purveyors of commoditized file sharing services.

Hightail to a Defensible Niche

It’s hardly news that enterprise file sharing technology has become commoditized. That process has very visibly played out in the tech media over several months now. However, most of the articles written have assumed that pure play file sharing startups have a bleak future, if any, as Microsoft, Google, Citrix and other platform vendors continue to commoditize both functionality and pricing.
Reality begs to differ. Box has convincingly moved beyond commodity file sharing by offering ready-made, industry-specific solutions and a developer platform chock full of APIs for organizations that prefer to build their own applications using Box technology. Accellion and Egnyte have focused on the sharing of content in hybrid environments that combine cloud-based and on-premises file storage.

Hightail Makes Its Move

Hightail is another enterprise file sharing pure play that was supposed to be put out of business as a result of market consolidation. It too is still standing and has just announced a new offering, called Spaces, that essentially repositions the company from commodity file sharing to content-based collaboration for creative professionals.
Spaces is an attempt by Hightail to help people who work at ad agencies, film and music studios, and in Marketing departments to not only share, but also to give and get feedback on audio and visual files. Collaborators can make annotations directly on visual files and comment in-context of one of its elements. Comments on audio and video files are also made in context, as they appear in the track’s timeline.

Spaces is really a project management tool for creatives, albeit one with only lightweight task management functionality. Individuals can establish a collaborative space in which the creative artifacts related to a specific project are shared, annotated and commented on, and distributed in final form. There is also a dashboard that lets the owner/administrator of the space monitor activities taken by it members on its assets, including comments made and downloads of files.

Darwin’s Theories at Work

Hightail is a clear example of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and specialization at work. From its inception (as YouSendIt, in 2004) the company has evolved from a provider of technology for sharing large digital files to one that also stored those files in the cloud. Now Hightail is specializing to ensure its continuing existing. Its CEO, Ranjith Kumaran, recently acknowledged that roughly 80% of the company’s revenue comes from creative agencies and firms, so focusing the company to serve those customers was a logical move.
Hightail is certainly not the first company to start as a purveyor of a general technology and then specialize to survive. It’s not even the first in the context-centric collaboration space. As noted above, Box has also created industry-specific solutions. The real question is whether or not this pivot will provide Hightail with a niche that is large enough for the company to not only sustain its current level of operations, but to grow as well.

We’ve Seen This Movie Before

Central Desktop may well serve as a historical example of Hightail’s future.  In 2011, Central Desktop launched SocialBridge, a new offering that repositioned the company from the generic social collaboration space to the same niche that Hightail has selected – creative and marketing agencies. While Central Desktop saw some success and growth as a result, it sold itself three and a half years later to PGi, who wanted to augment its existing solution for real-time meetings into a more holistic collaboration offering.
Hightail’s evolution may take a similar path. Adobe could combine assets from its Creative Cloud and Document Cloud offerings to create something similar to Hightail Spaces, but Adobe could also choose to buy Hightail. One of Adobe’s traditional foes, such as Corel or Quark, could acquire Hightail in an effort to better compete Adobe. It’s even possible that Apple could want to buy Hightail to augment its existing offerings for creative professionals.
Whatever happens to Hightail down the road, they’ve made a move this week that they needed to do to stick around a while longer as an independent company. They’ve also demonstrated that generic file sharing has become completely commoditized and that evolutionary specialization will be required of all the other pure play enterprise file sharing vendors if they want to continue in business.

Office 2016 is Microsoft’s Post-Windows Breakthrough

Office 2016 has been reviewed in great detail by many market watchers, including Microsoft itself. But the release represents something much more important than the specifics of how Delve and Cortana work, the differences between Tell Me on Clippy, or even the focus on collaboration — ‘taking the work out of working together’. Office 2016 is a declaration of Microsoft moving past the Windows era of computing, and staking its claim as a leader in the cross-platform productivity world we now inhabit.
Office 2016 is now available not just on various Windows versions, but on Mac, iOS, and Android. This is the new Microsoft, a company that is committed to providing a revamped notion of productivity to where people are getting things done, which is increasingly on today’s most popular mobile platforms, not on the desktop machines of five or ten years ago.
Instead of digging into the features app-by-app, it’s more useful to consider the forces that Microsoft is channeling in the social architecture of Office 2016. As I said, it’s geared to a mobile world. But in a mobile world, the shape and tempo of teamwork has shifted in profound ways. Work is increasingly connected and improvisational, relying more on people working in parallel — coworking in real-time — so Microsoft has invested heavily in coediting, coauthoring, and coordinating. This is the aspect of Office 2016 that most directly catches up to Google Drive, and which threatens to outdo it. Microsoft has had coauthoring in Office native apps since 2013, but this is the first roll-out in web apps, where more work is getting done these days.
But Office 2016 is not just playing catch-up with the sharing model of Google Drive. I think one of the most important additions — and one that is getting lesser attention from reviewers — is the new task management capability, Planner.
planner-hub
I have suggested for quite a long time that task management is a foundational aspect of work, and so any ‘productivity suite’ should have that as a core aspect. The company has offered Microsoft Project for decades, and while is a great project management tool, it’s not organized to serve as a coordinative task management solution, but rather as a planning tool.
I have not had a chance to use Planner for any length of time — I’ve only had a few demos — so a detailed analysis of how it works in the context of other Office capabilities will have to wait. But with its introduction, Microsoft is taking a step forward toward different set of premises regarding the way that teams get work done, and the tools they need to do so.
I don’t want to reduce such a major release of functionality to one element, but to me much of what we are seeing in Office 2016 is the extension of things that we’ve seen before, at least in part. Planner is an independent advance, and one that shift the discussion about productivity away from the world of documents — in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint — and squarely into the coordination of work.

The State of Salesforce Community Cloud

It’s the eve of Salesforce.com’s annual Dreamforce event, and I have the company and its customers on my mind. I’ll be attending Dreamforce again (Disclaimer: Salesforce is covering my registration, travel and hotel expenses). As always, I’ll be taking in all the announcements at Dreamforce, but paying the most attention to the Community Cloud, individual applications and platform components that make up the Salesforce collaboration and content management ecosystem.
Before Dreamforce begins, it’s useful to think about the actual state of collaboration amongst Salesforce’s customer base. There will be marquee customers on stage this week talking enthusiastically about their cutting-edge use of Salesforce’s latest offering versions, including those that are not yet generally available. But what about the mainstream Salesforce customer and how they’re using the company’s products to collaborate?
To get a sense of that, I digested The State of Salesforce survey report that was recently published by Bluewolf, a global consultancy that designs customer-facing, digital experiences using third-party, cloud-based software. This year’s report is the 4th annual edition published by Bluewolf, who surveyed more that 1,500 Salesforce customer organizations, of varied organizational size and located around the world.
Bluewolf’s report does not investigate every bit of Salesforce’s collaboration and content management functionality in detail. Instead, it focuses on the assembled collection of those that is the Community Cloud. In two pages of The State of Salesforce, Bluewolf reports on Salesforce customers’ adoption of Community Cloud, its most common use cases and the high-level business benefits that customers attribute to its use.

Community Cloud Adoption

Of the Salesforce customer companies that have purchased Service Cloud, Sales Cloud, and Marketing Cloud, 36% have also purchased Community Cloud. That represents decent adoption by Salesforce’s best customers, especially for an offering that has only been in-market for a year. Even better, 21% of respondents that already license those other Salesforce clouds said that they plan on purchasing Community Cloud in the coming year. If that pans out, then over half of Salesforce’s most dedicated customers will be on Community Cloud within two years of its launch.
What the report doesn’t illuminate, and I’ll try to investigate at Dreamforce this week, is Community Cloud adoption by the rest of the existing Salesforce customer base. It’s likely that the bar is set much lower there and that Salesforce will need to refocus its marketing and sales of Community Cloud for the next wave of potential adopters. Selling Community Cloud as an enhancement of the other Salesforce clouds is very different than convincing organizations of its utility as an independent collaboration and content management solution.

Community Cloud Use Cases

As for Community Cloud use cases, Bluewolf’s survey found that the top three were Customer Service (25% of respondents), Partner Enablement (21%) and Internal Collaboration (17%). Given Salesforce’s current positioning as “The Customer Success Platform”, and the amount of resources it has spent to launch and grow the Service Cloud, it isn’t entirely surprising to see that so many customers are focusing their use of the Community Cloud on post-sales customer service.
What I did not expect is that a larger number of Community Cloud customers are using it for partner enablement than they are for internal collaboration. Given Chatter’s roots as an internal-only communication tool, I would have expected to see more internally-focused usage of Community Cloud than what was reported. Of course, Chatter isn’t the only component of Community Cloud, but it is the oldest and most established among Salesforce customers. It will be interesting to learn more this week about why external community support is out in front of internal use of Community Cloud.

Community Cloud Business Benefits

The final area of interest here that The State of Salesforce report provides data on is business benefits associated with Community Cloud. Bluewolf compares productivity gains and cost reductions reported by two Salesforce customer segments, those who are using Community Cloud versus those who aren’t.
Community Cloud Biz Benefits
Clearly, Salesforce customers who are using Community Cloud in tandem with one or more of the company’s other offerings are realizing higher productivity and lower operating costs than customers who have not adopted Community Cloud. No surprises here. As noted above, Community Cloud is an enhancement and enabler to the other Salesforce clouds. This data is proof of that notion’s validity.

The State of Salesforce Community Cloud

Bluewolf’s The State of Salesforce report raises as many, if not more, questions than it answers about collaboration and content management among Salesforce.com’s customers. As a result, it’s hard to derive much insight from the survey data reported other than that Community Cloud is enjoying respectable adoption among Salesforce’s best customers, and they are seeing greater benefits by using it with the other Salesforce clouds, especially for external-facing use cases. While I can gather some anecdotal stories and learn more at Dreamforce this week, another survey would be needed to get the data necessary to understand how successful Salesforce’s collaboration and content management offerings have been with, and for, the rest of its customers.

Banks Need To Take A Lesson from Kanye West, Before The Platform Wars Break Out

I was recently invited to address a conference on planning in elite sports – as part of the 2024 Olympics preparation. It got me thinking that when excellence is central to success, people have long time horizons. However, that was only half the point. Why ask someone like me along to a conference about sports?  Answer: Because I might, just might, have an insight into, say, the economic environment in 2020 that might, in turn, be material to success in 2024.

In the same period I got talking to a fan of Kanye West and the discussion centered not on the music but on the incredible level of collaboration that West uses to sustain himself as the most successful rapper of all time – that’s collaboration through sampling and by bringing in artists and producers who can change his mind and change his music.
Let’s take these characteristics into the business community, particularly to banking, a sector struggling with how best to change.
There are few environments with a more complex technology environment than that found in banking – but they exist. I recently had the opportunity to talk with people who’ve worked on the inside of Alibaba. One called it scary. An environment pushed to the limit by the scale of the Chinese market and by the contest, in the China tech industry, to be first with the next app, the next O2O application area, the next financial opportunity.
Therein lies a key to the future of financial services – because Alibaba is now a bank, as well as  a taxi firm, a logistics giant, an e-commerce behemoth, a wealth management firm, a media empire and more. However, it is the banking industry that needs to wake up to what it means to have a competitor like this.
Alibaba will drive change in finance (and already has done so) in months not decades. Internal resistance to this, from say dissatisfied programmers or people whose feel pushed aside, is a non-starter. Banks must somehow put aside internal frictions, very very rapidly. Some of those frictions arise because of the need to scale back costs, some because banks treat IT as infrastructure, some because there is uncertainty over the right technology choices.
In the banking sector right now tech strategy (the portfolio of choices) has three main strands:

  1. Many organisations are banking on distributed ledger or blockchain technology – this is so pervasive as to be religious.
  2. There are banks working on new core platforms to overcome silos and provide a better single user experience (Nordea in Sweden recently announced its new core platform partners and they include Accenture and Tenemos. That means the new core platform will be a Tenemos design with Accenture consulting. It is expected to take 4 – 5 years to fully implement. The bank is taking a Euro 334 million impairment charge as part of the project).
  3. Finally banks are investing heavily in startups, which now look like being bleeding edge innovators on behalf of the banks rather than disruptors. Bank investments include the obvious – P2P finance – and adventurous – China financial services.

What you don’t see much of in banking is a determined effort to change culture (certainly not repeatedly), like Kanye West does or to seek out the small pieces of knowledge that might make a marginal difference down the track, as athletes do.
That brings us back to Alibaba because Alibaba changes shape all the time, as its recent forays into O2O testify. It is not hanging out there dependent on one tech paradigm (blockchain) coming good or not. Nor is it necessarily making a fetish out of its core.
It is chasing down customers wherever they seem willing to go. And for the most part its technology-base is the same as every other tech companies’ – taking plenty of open “source standards” (like Hadoop, MapReduce) and squeezing advantage out of them through the relentless and rapid application of strong coder culture. On that base, its business leaders push every envelope they can find. They are as eclectic as the current generation of music impresarios, as hungry as any athlete.
While the banking community bemoans the entry of Silicon Valley, startups or Apple, the real challenge is coming from the East. And the challenge is this – there is no core competency because Alibaba will be in every industry and will integrate financial services into every offer it makes to its users. There will be no separate financial services, acting like a cushion for banks.
Banks have to contemplate integrating their businesses with the business of platforms, like Alibaba’s, and creating platforms that can compete with and complement customer-centric platforms like Taobao and WeChat. If you want a shorthand for it – welcome to the platform wars.