Real-time Messaging in the Enterprise: Here We Go Again

There was a good Wired article, published yesterday, that bemoaned the rapidly-growing plethora of communication applications centered around real-time chat. Its author lists consumer-oriented applications to demonstrate the situation:

“I bounce through a folder full of messaging apps. I talk to a few people on Hangouts, a few others on Facebook Messenger, exactly one person on WhatsApp. I Snapchat all those people, too. I use Twitter DMs, GroupMe, HipChat, Skype, even Instagram Direct a couple of times. Livetext, Yahoo’s new app, is fun; I’ve been using that. Oh, and there’s email. And iMessage. And, of course, good ol’ green-bubble text messaging.”

The same problem is beginning to develop within businesses as their employees self-adopt enterprise-first chat tools from startup vendors that have been in-market for a while, including Slack, Hipchat, Wrike, Flowdock and others. Oh, and let’s not forget that many employees use the consumer-grade applications mentioned in the Wired article to conduct business, even if it’s against company policy.
Of course, all of these newer chat tools compete with IT-approved enterprise real-time messaging offerings for employees’ attention and love. IBM Sametime, Microsoft’s Lync and Yammer, and Salesforce Chatter are just a few well-known examples of longer-lived, enterprise-grade messaging applications and services that support real-time exchanges. To further compound the clutter, we are also seeing new chat offerings, from established enterprise collaboration software vendors, that mimic their consumer-oriented cousins. Jive Chime and Microsoft Send are real-time chat apps that have been released in the last four months to support organizations’ increasingly mobile workforces.
There are a few problems created by this overwhelming collection of enterprise real-time messaging options. First, these applications are largely siloed from each other, so employees have to remember in which one a certain conversation occurred or know in which application they have the highest probability of gaining a specific coworker’s attention. Second, some can interoperate with other enterprise applications via RESTful APIs, while others require more costly, time-consuming integration efforts. Third, some messaging applications support information governance initiatives such as records retention and disposal whereas other offerings essentially assume that chats are throw-away conversations that do not need to be archived and managed.
There are so many other issues that they will be better dealt with in another post. But they are bound by one clear fact: we’ve made all of these mistakes with previous generations of enterprise messaging technology.

The BIG Problem: Why?

The biggest problem facing the newest wave of enterprise chat tools is an existential one. It is not clear why they are needed when existing real-time messaging tools satisfy the same use cases. I voiced this in the following mini-tweetstorm on the day that Microsoft Send was announced. (read from the bottom of the graphic to the top)
Larry's Enterprise Chat Tweetstorm
That’s right. You can hold my feet to the fire on that prediction. Enterprise real-time chat is destined to quickly fail as a market segment and technology with significant, positive business impact. Just like the combination of status update and activity stream features in enterprise social software failed to displace email, instant messaging and other, well-established forms of business communication.
Insufficient technology is not the cause of poor communication within organizations. We have had at our disposal more-than-adequate messaging technologies for decades now. The real reason that employees and their organizations continue to communicate poorly is human behavior. People generally don’t communicate unless they have something to gain by doing so. Power, influence, prestige, monetary value, etc.
Well-designed technology can make it easier and more pleasant for people to communicate, but it does very little to influence, much less actually change, their behaviors. So the latest enterprise real-time chat applications may offer improvements in user experience, but they won’t measurably increase communication frequency or effectiveness in most organizations unless their deployment is accompanied by change management efforts that include meaningful incentives to communicate.
I intend to track and chronicle the rise and fall of enterprise real-time chat as part of my research agenda at Gigaom Research. Stay tuned over the coming months as we watch this drama unfold.
 
 

Virgin, Qualcomm invest in SpaceX’s satellite partner

There are billions of people who do not have access to the internet, and tech’s biggest brands want to change that. Qualcomm and Virgin joined the fray today by announcing investments in WorldVu, now known as OneWeb, a satellite communications company that recently paired with SpaceX to build a fleet of 648 small satellites.

Neither company said how much they put into OneWeb, but both will contribute a member to its board. Virgin Galactic will deliver the satellites to orbit on its planned LauncherOne rocket, which is expected to be able to launch for a relatively inexpensive $10 million.

OneWeb plans to build each satellite for around $350,000, the Wall Street Journal reports. They will weigh 258 pounds and sit 750 miles above Earth.

Satellites can relay an internet connection to remote parts of the world that are difficult to reach with more traditional internet infrastructure. Companies like Google and Facebook are also pursuing satellite fleets, plus alternatives like balloons and drones.

The Sony hack is a line in the sand

Last week, I was interviewed by NPR show host Larry Mantle about the recent Sony hack. I was asked to speak about it, I believe, because I was featured in the first paragraph of the recent Pew Internet report, The Future of Privacy. The authors asked this question:

Will policy makers and technology innovators create a secure, popularly accepted, and trusted privacy-rights infrastructure by 2025 that allows for business innovation and monetization while also offering individuals choices for protecting their personal information in easy-to-use formats? Describe what you think the reality will be in 2025 when it comes to the overall public perception about whether policy makers and corporations have struck the right balance between personal privacy, secure data, and compelling content and apps that emerge from consumer tracking and analytics. Bonus question: Consider the future of privacy in a broader social context. How will public norms about privacy be different in 2025 from the way they are now?

I responded in this way (bold added for emphasis):

The powers-that-be will not come together to support this, and the technological underpinnings of the massively distributed infrastructure of the Web—changing all the time—cannot be easily curtailed. For example, imagine just the issue of Chinese-designed and built mobile operating systems. We have seen the emergence of publicy as the default modality, with privacy declining. In order to ‘exist’ online, you have to publish things to be shared, and that has to be done in open, public spaces if serendipity—or influence on more than existing friends—is desired. People have come to rely on implicit norms that do not take into account big data algorithms or the NSA reading literally everything, or they accept the hypothetical consequences of openness as a byproduct of its direct benefits.

And Larry Mantle asked me whether the Sony hack is going to represent a real turning point in the business around security, specifically when it comes to email. Here’s more or less what I said:

Email should be treated, going forward, as if it is ephemeral, and companies should, to the extent that they legally can, delete all emails after a relatively short period of time. Email is a system of communication, not a system of record. It’s notoriously bad as a repository for information. So we should all start putting important information into other systems, and try to secure them better than Sony did.

JP Rangaswami, now the Chief Scientist at Salesforce, told me about his open email policy, which he used while at UK phone company BT. He set up his email in such a way that all of his direct reports could see all of his email communications. His intent was to let them “look over his shoulder” when dealing with partners, fellow execs, and others. That practice led to a very different set of behaviors in that group. And I bet that many of the folks at Sony now wish that they had operated as if their email was public instead of private.

But what we have learned from the Sony hack is that we need to operate as if everything we write is public, because it could be, next week.

 

Elon Musk confirms SpaceX is working on a giant fleet of satellites

SpaceX is getting into the satellite business. CEO Elon Musk confirmed via tweet that the rocket company is in the early stages of creating a large fleet of micro-satellites, and there will be an announcement about it in 2 to 3 months. A Wall Street Journal report last week outlined plans for 700 satellites weighing less than 250 pounds. It stated Musk is working with Greg Wyler, the former head of Google’s satellite division, who owns a portion of the radio spectrum. The satellites could be used to provide internet to remote parts of the planet.

Three harmonious factors that change the CIO octave

Wikipedia: The term harmony derives from the Greek ‘harmonia’, meaning “joint, agreement, concord”, from the verb ‘harmozo’, “to fit together, to join.

The future of the CIO role comes down to this very issue. Many speak of the demise of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Yet, a growing contingent of folks sees the path to success for the ‘new’ CIO role. Make no mistake; the (old) traditional CIO looks little to nothing like the (new) transformational CIO role. Unfortunately, many in traditional CIO roles will never make it into transformational CIO roles. The leap between the two roles will prove too great for many.

While these changes may seem obvious, actual widespread adoption continues to lag. Companies and their business leaders are craving these CIO success factors, yet they remain illusive.

Shifting focus

For those looking to shift gears to a higher orbit, there are a number of core success factors that come to light. Each of these provides the alignment necessary to refocus the CIO role toward a business-centric role.

  1. Follow the Money: Focus on key areas that govern the flow of money both in and out of the company.
  2. Partner: Go beyond just the basics of partnering with fellow business leaders. Truly understand their objectives and propose ways to enhance or expand their opportunities. In order to partner, collaboration is a must.
  3. Communicate: Providing regular status reports will not cut it. Use communication vehicles to communicate the IT priorities and how they benefit both the company and the specific leader’s objectives.

All about business

At a CIO Summit last week, the executive recruiter panel addressed how CEOs and other business leaders in search of a CIO are changing their perspective and ostensibly, their wish list. Instead of asking the executive recruiter to ‘get me one of these’ with specific technical or leadership skills, they are looking for CIOs with greater business knowledge about their industry…and the ability to apply that knowledge.

Similar to other IT roles where someone has a certification (ie: CCIE, MCSE, ITIL, CISSP), the certification itself brings little to no value without the ability to apply it. A CIO in title may only bring limited value without the applicability. For the CIO, this means quickly understanding the industry, company, customers and how the flow of money takes place.

Follow the Money

Key to starting is in understanding how the company makes money. How does the ecosystem of money flow both in, and out, of the company? Which departments or divisions are key to driving both top-line revenue and bottom-line expenses for the company. What attributes are critical in maintaining this ‘engine’ of commerce within the company? A successful CIO will clearly understand the process, the players and the levers of opportunity.

Partner

Partnering today means building a symbiotic two-way relationship that mutually benefits both parties. This means that the CIO must build critical relationships with fellow c-suite executives across the organization. In order to accomplish this, the CIO must be open-minded and collaborative in nature. Walking in with a closed-minded, technology-centric agenda need not apply. One must possess the ability to reach escape velocity from the daily grind. In addition, the language used in these conversations needs to shift from technology to business. For many, this means talking about money and how it applies to the executive(s) at the table. Applicability of the conversation is key to the success of the collaborative process. The CIO needs to lead this conversation, which may push them well outside their typical comfort zone.

Communicate

We have all heard the phrase: Communicate, communicate, communicate. But is it the right communication? More is not always better if it isn’t the right content. Part and parcel with the collaborative nature of the relationship, the CIO needs to clearly communicate their priorities and how they benefit the company and/or the specific executive’s priorities. In some case, the CIO’s objectives may not benefit the executive in question, but that doesn’t mean it should be omitted. There is a level of appreciation in understanding (and respecting) the CIO’s methods of prioritization among fellow executives. This leads the CIO to greater credibility and buy-in.

CIO = Career Is Over?

In a word: Hardly. The role of the traditional CIO is at a state of plateau. However, the role of the traditional CIO is just getting ramped up. The business-centric transformational CIO will thrive and succeed beyond the current expectations. One trend that exemplifies this is the appointment of CIOs to corporate boards of publicly traded companies. We can only expect far more opportunities from the CIO as the momentum of this evolution takes firm hold.