Facebook Beta Launches Work Chat Application

Late last week, Facebook quietly made its entry into the work chat (enterprise real-time messaging) arena with the very limited release of its appropriately-named Work Chat application. There was no announcement in the Facebook Newsroom; the app just showed up in the Google Play store and was called out in a TechCrunch article. Work Chat is available for Android devices only now; an iOS version is in development and expected to be available soon.
Work Chat is the corporate equivalent of Facebook Messenger. Those applications appear to have the same user experience and feature set, although TechCrunch noted that Work Chat allows individuals to temporarily turn off their notifications, so as to not be disturbed when on vacation and when other personal activities are prioritized.
Work Chat is intended solely for organizations that are Facebook at Work customers. Anyone can download and install the app, but it will not work without a Facebook at Work login.
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Facebook at Work is still in closed beta, so very few companies and individuals will be able to use Work Chat today.

Is This a Market Disruptor?

While it’s impossible to gauge the actual market impact of Facebook’s Work Chat at this point, we can draw some conclusions about its potential effect. First, it will boost awareness of, and interest in, chat-based, real-time communication tools in organizations of all size. Individuals who use Facebook and its Messenger app in the personal lives will push their IT departments to consider the Facebook at Work and Work Chat combination.
In all likelihood, many organizations will try Work Chat, at least in a pilot implementation. It’s been reported that Facebook at Work will be available in a free version that will likely have a limited feature set and support. If that is true and the same applies to Work Chat, then a company’s cost to try the app is negligible.
Facebook’s land and expand strategy for enterprise sales may indeed work and, if it does, Work Chat would likely be swept along with the tide of Facebook at Work adoption. Facebook has already said that some of the roughly 300 companies in the Facebook at Work trial program have announced their intent to scale its use next year. Heineken has already grown its user base from 40 to 550. Royal Bank of Scotland plans to have 30,000 employees on the platform by the end of Q1 2016 and aims to roll it out to all 100,000 employees before the end of the year.
It is entirely possible that Work Chat will see those kind of adoption numbers as well, resulting in a decent share of the enterprise real-time chat market segment for Facebook. Other vendors of communication and collaboration platforms, suites, and applications should not dismiss the potential impact that Facebook at Work and Work Chat could have on their revenue streams. If Facebook can build an enterprise sales capacity and execute well, they will become a formidable competitor.

Of Mashery and Men: Tibco builds bridges to the cloud

After spending some time at Tibco’s customer event in London today, I thought I would jot down some thoughts while they were still fresh. Tibco has managed that rare thing in the IT industry — to hang on to a mid-market position without being swallowed by one of the tech giants or being overtaken by more agile startups. Few companies achieve this over the long term (NetApp, OpenText and, until recently, Citrix spring to mind).
Having maintained its place through acquisitions of its own, such as Spotfire and JasperSoft, one year ago Tibco followed others in removing itself from the stock market ostensibly to give itself some freedom to think beyond the quarterly report. “Tibco will have added flexibility to serve our customers and execute on our long-term strategy,” said then-CEO Vivek Ranadivé, a view echoed today by his replacement, Murray Rode.
In practical terms this strategy has meant moving away from the traditional market of software running inside the enterprise, and looking towards delivering visualisation, integration and analytics services that fit with, dare I use the term, the ‘digital’ world — working with cloud-based services, devops practices and non-IT customers. Far from being marketing bling, Tibco believes that this aligns with clear and present demand. “We are just responding to what customers are asking for,” says CTO Matt Quinn.
In a nutshell, this means delivering tools that work with both in-house and cloud-based software. To reinforce this point, the company today announced it was acquiring Mashery, an API management company, from Intel. Can Tibco deliver? There is no reason why not; the only open questions are how well it manages to integrate the older and newer elements of its portfolio together and broaden its customer base (therefore growing revenues), both of which remain a work in progress.
All the same and like AWS, the company is highly oriented to responding to customer needs, a pre-requisite of survival in these messy times which appear to favour the new over the old. Unlike AWS, Tibco sees genuine benefit in both in-house and cloud-based technology. If the future is hybrid (which it will be for the next decade or so), there is value to add helping companies bridge the gap.
While the immediate future of technology may be difficult to chart, this doesn’t phase the company. “We thrive on complexity and change,” says Matt. Indeed, more fragmentation of technology, an inevitable consequence of current trends, begets greater need for integration and simplification.
Whether or not the organisation will retain its independence in the long term remains to be seen. In the meantime, simply helping its customers respond to the dual pressures of delivering innovation while keeping existing systems going (and helping both work together) should be sufficient basis for Tibco’s continued success. “We are blessed with some wonderful customers,” says Murray. And it is by helping these that Tibco will itself ride the digital wave.

Slack Posts New Functionality

Slack is widely acknowledged as the enterprise real-time messaging (work chat) tool with the most traction, having passed the million daily user mark in June. It seems that the company is not content to stay boxed into the work chat category, however. Yesterday, Slack announced and released Posts 2.0, a feature that enables the rich authoring of blog posts and publishing them to targeted collections of people.
Since its launch, Slack has had this feature, called Posts, that lets people write content that far exceeds the length of a normal chat message. However, it was so clunky that few people used it, if they were aware of it at all. To create a Post, one was sent out of the Slack application to a web browser, where text was written using a very simple editor and then saved back to Slack as an entry in the conversation stream of a specific channel or group.
The new Posts 2.0 includes an inline text editor, which improves the experience in two ways. First, it keeps users inside the Slack app. Second, it lets them create rich text with formatting styles like headlines, bulleted lists and checkboxes. Beyond that, the new editor also acts on embedded URLs by automatically displaying graphics, showing previews of websites and expanding tweets.
Once written, Posts can still be shared with specific individuals, channels and groups, whose members can comment directly on the entry (as opposed to creating an chronologically-ordered entry in the Slack conversation stream). This is one of two places in Slack where properly threaded discussions are possible; Files is the other.
There is another important new feature in Posts 2.0 – the ability to save and access Posts in the Files section of the Slack application. So rather than having to scroll through or search the Slack conversation stream to view a specific Post again, it can be easily found in the Files repository. Additionally, if an author stars a Post in the editor or a reader does so in the conversation stream, it will show up in Slack’s Starred Items list. 

Cool, But Do Businesses Need This? 

With Posts 2.0, Slack has complemented existing features with new ones that, in combination, begin to move the application beyond being primarily a work chat tool. Slack has now effectively become a lightweight Web Content Management System that enables blogging (to a targeted audience), file storage and sharing and threaded discussion (around Posts and documents stored in Files only). It’s a lightweight people directory with profiles too. Oh, and it’s still a communication and collaboration tool.
This expansion of mission is fine, but it immediately raises the question that I previously asked and continue to pose about Slack. Why? Do work teams really need an alternative to existing corporate communication and information management applications that already satisfy the same use cases that Slack is addressing? How is Slack better than the status update, IM, blogging, file sharing, and discussion tools for communities (groups) that are bundled in the enterprise social software applications and platforms that organizations have already licensed and deployed?
In addition to the functional redundancy, one also wonders if Slack will ultimately lose its audience by becoming the opposite of what it was originally. The application’s strong initial appeal was the simplicity of its user experience. By adding more communication and collaboration features, Slack risks becoming a complex mess of functionality that few will care to use, especially on mobile devices.
On the other hand, Slack may intentionally de-emphasize its application in the future, positioning and going to market as a platform on which developers can create their own apps. We’ll see. Many already refer to Slack as a messaging-centric platform. Time will tell if that is indeed their market strategy for the long-haul, but, for now, Slack is beginning to look like yet another bloated application.

Research Agenda of Larry Hawes, Lead Analyst

Greetings! As my colleague Stowe Boyd announced yesterday, I am part of a fabulous group of smart, well-respected people that have joined the rebooted Gigaom Research as analysts. I was affiliated with the original version of Gigaom Research as an Analyst, and am very pleased to be taking the more involved role of Lead Analyst in the firm’s new incarnation, as detailed in Stowe’s post.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve spent the last 16 years working as a management and technology consultant, enterprise software industry analyst, writer, speaker and educator. My work during that time has been focused on the nexus of communication, collaboration, content management and process/activity management within and between organizations ─ what I currently call ‘networked business’.
I intend to continue that broad line of inquiry as a Lead Analyst at Gigaom Research. The opportunity to work across technologies and management concepts ─ and the ability to simultaneously address and interrelate both ─ is precisely what makes working with Gigaom Research so attractive to me. The firm is fairly unique in that aspect, in comparison to traditional analyst organizations that pigeonhole employees into discrete technology or business strategy buckets. I hope that our customers will recognize that and benefit from the holistic viewpoint that our analysts provide.
With the above in mind, I present my research agenda for the coming months (and, probably, years). I’m starting at the highest conceptual level and working toward more specific elements in this list.

Evolution of Work

Some analysts at Gigaom Research are calling this ‘work futures’. I like that term, but prefer the ‘evolution of work’, as that allows me to bring the past and, most importantly, the current state of work into the discussion. There is much to be learned from history and we need to address what is happening now, not just what may be coming down the road. Anyway, this research stream encompasses much of what I and Gigaom Research are focused on in our examination of how emerging technologies may change how we define, plan and do business.

Networked Business

This is a topic on which I’ve been writing and speaking since 2012. I’ve defined ‘networked business’ as a state in which an interconnected system of organizations and their value-producing assets are working toward one or more common objectives. Networked business is inherently driven by connection, communication and collaboration, hence my interest in the topic.
While the concept of networked business is not new, it has been gaining currency in the past few years as a different way of looking at how we structure organizations and conduct their activities. As I noted in the first paragraph of this post, there are many technologies and business philosophies and practices that support networked business, and I will do my best to include as many as possible in my research and discussions.

Networks of Everything

This research stream combines two memes that are currently emerging and garnering attention: the Internet of Things and the rise of robots and other intelligent technologies in the workplace. In my vision, networks of everything are where humans, bots, virtual assistants, sensors and other ‘things’ connect, communicate and collaborate to get work done. The Internet, Web, cellular and other types of networks may be used in isolation or, more likely, in combination to create networks of everything.
I’ve had a book chapter published on this topic earlier this year, and I’m looking forward to thinking and writing more about it in the near future.

Microservices

How do we build applications that can support business in a heavily networked environment? While the idea of assembling multiple technology components into a composite application are not new (object-oriented programing and Service Oriented Architecture have been with us for decades), the idea continues to gain acceptance and become more granular in practice.
I intend to chronicle this movement toward microservices and discuss how the atomization of component technology is likely to play out next. As always, my focus will be on collaboration, content management and business process management.

Adaptive Case Management and Digital Experience Management

These two specific, complementary technologies have also been gathering more attention and support over the last two years and are just beginning to hit their stride now. I see the combination of these technologies as an ideal enabler of networked business and early exemplars of component architecture at the application level, not the microservice one (yet).
I’ve written about ACM more, but am eager to expand on the early ideas I’ve had about it working together with DEM to support networked business.

Work Chat

Simply put, I would be remiss to not investigate and write about the role of real-time messaging technology in business. I’ve already called work chat a fad that will go away in time, but it needs to be addressed in depth for Gigaom Research customers, because there are valid use cases and it will enjoy limited success. I will look at the viability of work chat as an extensible computing platform, not just as a stand-alone technology. Fitting with my interest in microservices, I will also consider the role that work chat can play as a service embedded in other applications.
Phew! I’m tired just thinking about this, much less actually executing against it. It’s a full plate, a loaded platter really. The scariest thing is that this list is likely incomplete and that there are other things that I will want to investigate and discuss. However, I think it represents my research and publishing interests pretty  well.
My question is, how does this align with your interests? Are there topics or technologies that you would like to see me include in this framework? If so, please let me know in a comment below. Like all research agendas, mine is subject to change over time, so your input is welcomed and valued.

The Return of Middle Managers

“That experiment broke. I just had to admit it.” — Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse Island, on his attempt to run the company without managers

There is currently a widely-held view among organizational design experts and pundits that managers, particularly middle managers, are a harmful artifact of hierarchically-structured, command-and-control organizations. Conventional wisdom holds that middle managers, and their responsibilities and stereotypical behaviors, are outdated and severely constrict the speed at which a business can operate. Flat, democratic organizations made up of loose, recombinant relationships have gained favor in the org design world today because they enable agility and efficiency.
There’s just one problem with that view – it’s not entirely accurate. It represent an ideal that may be right for some organizations, but very wrong for many others.
Carson and Treehouse Island’s failed experiment was one of the examples given in a recent Wall Street Journal article (behind paywall) titled “Radical Idea at the Office: Middle Managers”. The common thread between the companies mentioned in the article was that the elimination of bosses had the opposite effect of what had been envisioned. Productivity decreased because workers weren’t sure of their responsibilities and couldn’t forge consensus-based decisions needed to move forward. Innovation also waned, because new ideas went nowhere without a management-level individual to champion and fund them. Employee morale even took a hit, because no one took over the former middle management’s role of providing encouragement and motivation when they were needed.
Research of over 100 organizations conducted by an INSEAD professor led to this conclusion, cited in the WSJ piece:

“Employees want people of authority to reassure them, to give them direction. It’s human nature.”

Enabling Technologies that Don’t

Another problem experienced by many of the organizations mentioned in the WSJ article was that technologies meant to enable employees to work productively in a manager-less workplace failed to do so. Enterprise chat systems were specifically fingered as a culprit, for a variety of reasons.
At Treehouse Island, which had never used email, decision-making was severely compromised by employees opining on chat threads when they had no expertise on the given subject. This led to “endless discussions”. The chat technology drove conversations, but ideas rarely made it past discussion to a more formal plan. Work tasks informally noted and assigned without accountability in the chat application mostly got lost in the shuffle and weren’t completed. Treehouse Island eventually turned to other communications channels and even acknowledged that email has valid uses.

Worker Education and Training, Not Managers, Are the Problem

While I agree with the assessment that human nature is a barrier to effective manager-less workplaces, I also think that our base impulses can be minimized or completely overcome by alternative, learned attitudes and behaviors. Society and institutions in the United States have programmed multiple generations to submit to authority, seeking and accepting its orders and guidance. Our educational system has largely been designed to to produce ‘loyal and reliable’ workers who can thrive in a narrowly-defined role under the direction of a superior. Putting individuals who have been educated this way into situations where they must think for themselves and work with others to get things done is like throwing a fish out of water.
As for enterprise chat technology, it has seen documented success when deployed and used to help small teams coordinate their work. However, most of those teams working in chat channels either have a single, designated manager with the authority to make things happen, or they are able call upon a small number of individuals who can and will assume unofficial, situational leadership roles when needed. Absent people to act with authority, chat-enabled groups become mired in inaction, as document in the WSJ article. As I put it in my recent Gigaom Research post on enterprise real-time messaging,

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.”

We will see more experiments with Holocracy and other forms of organization that eliminate layers of management and depend on individuals to be responsible for planning, coordinating and conducting their own work activities. Some will succeed; most will fail. We can (and should!) create and implement new technologies that, at least in theory, support the democratization of work. However, until systemic changes are made in the way people are educated and trained to function in society and at work, companies without managers will remain a vision, not a common reality.

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.
 
 

Facebook takes on Twitter with real-time Super Bowl hub

Looks like Facebook has decided it can do Twitter’s job better.

The social media site has built a live news hub for Sunday’s upcoming Super Bowl. It will feature user posts as they occur in real time, along with Super Bowl attendees’ videos and photos, content from the NFL, players and media companies, and the current score. It’s a shot across the bow to Twitter, the king of real-time content.

Twitter has struggled to build an easy, clear onboarding system for new users, leaving a hole Facebook can easily fill. Even during its Analyst Day, CEO Dick Costolo fielded a complaint from an analyst in the audience who tried to sign up for Twitter during the presentation and couldn’t figure it out.

In contrast, Facebook has more than 152 million users in the United States and Canada alone, many of whom aren’t on Twitter yet. It can parlay them into its own Super Bowl hub for their fix of social connecting while the event unfolds. According to Reuters, Facebook is even selling targeted ad units that it will show to people discussing the Super Bowl on the site.

The experiment could potentially set the precedent for more event-based, real-time hubs down the line. It will also show that Twitter isn’t the only social network that can do live.

Assuming Facebook’s Super Bowl hub is a success, of course. The company doesn’t have a lot of experience with live channels and people on it are used to the algorithmic nature of the newsfeed. The company may not be able to expand its brand to include real-time posting.

A screenshot of Facebook's Superbowl hub on Wednesday, January 28th

A screenshot of Facebook’s Superbowl hub on Wednesday, January 28th

Uber: For better or worse, this is the way the media works now

The way the story around Uber’s behavior has emerged is another example of how much the media landscape has changed over the past couple of years, with CEOs and VCs tweeting and blogging and new-media entities like BuzzFeed driving the agenda