BlackBerry isn’t dead yet, and the market for mobile OS might not be closed, either

Looking back on what was a relatively quiet week, there no doubt that the actions at BlackBerry stood out.

First off, as I wrote about in Blackberry’s Chen is pushing hard to turn the company around, acting CEO John Chen cut a serious number of senior executives that had been brought in by Thorsten Heins, the previous CEO, who was fired early in November. This wave of execs included Kristian Tear, the chief operating officer,  Frank Boulben, the chief marketing officer, and the chief financial officer, Brian Bidulka, (who will be advising the company for a few more weeks). Roger Martin, a long-time director, stepped down from the board.

The company also announced agreements with a long list of Android smartphone makers to preinstall BlackBerry BBM on their phones, including Be, Brightstar, Celkon, EVERCOSS, IMO, Micromax, Mito, Snexian, Spice, TECNO, TiPhone and Zen.

Later in the week, BlackBerry announced its own social network, implemented inside of BBM, called BBM Channels (see BlackBerry announces social network within BBM). Channels based on the chat notion of ‘channels’, like those found in IRC, or the ‘chatrooms’ in Twitter when a group are following the same hashtag. However, BBM channels can be sponsored by brands or organizations, as well as individuals. What is unclear at present is whether there might be an enterprise angle for BBM Channels.

At present BBM Channels is only available on BlackBerry 10 devices, although the company plans to release versions for iOS and Android soon.

So, it appears that BlackBerry isn’t quite dead yet. PerPerhapsen’s actions could make the company viable enough to kindle interest for a sale, perhaps by one of the major Android phone manufacturers.

One More Thing

The dominance of iOS and Android on smartphones and tablets looks fairly unassailable, despite efforts by Microsoft to break in, and BlackBerry’s efforts to hang on. During this week there were a few interesting activities that suggest that innovation at the edge may be on the rise, as BlackBerry has shown. Another example is the chief secretary of Samsung, Wonsuk Lee,  proposing that Tizen and Mozilla OS could converge. Both are HTML5 based, meaning apps written for one could run on the other, for example.

In unrelated news, the Finnish startup Jolla released its first phone based on the Sailfish OS. The company was started by some ex-Nokia folks who had worked on the now dead MeeGo project. Apparently the company’s CEO, Tomi Pienimäki, plans to let existing Android users install Sailfish, which is supposedly easy to do. He then plans to make money on apps and other services.

So, just when is started to seem like the mobile OS market was closed to new entrants, new entrants start cropping up.

Work management vendors adding more structure and speed to their tools

In just the last few weeks, I’ve been smacked in the head by a new trend — as demonstrated by three different companies — where companies are providing a higher level of structure in the information objects being created and shared within their work management tools. Those companies are Atlassian, SAP, and Qortex.

The tl;dr short version: we are going to see a rapid reconsideration of the plain vanilla status update and tasks, and its displacement by much more structured and specialized sorts of information.

Now, the analytic walk through the three examples.

Atlassian Blueprints

Atlassian briefed my on new features and company growth this past week. With of 5.5 million users and 30 thousand client companies, Atlassian has become a leader in software development work management. They find that they start in development, with Jira and Confluence, and then Confluence tends to spread outside of the development team into product, marketing, and elsewhere.

Rather than just a stream of undifferentiated updates, tasks, and files, people want more structure in their work lives. Atlassian is adding more structured objects with the newly released Blueprints.

Here, the create panel for a Confluence space shows a list of composite blueprints:

Screenshot 2013-11-24 16.06.37

Meeting notes include the sorts of things you’d expect: attendees, agenda, notes, action items, and so on:

Screenshot 2013-11-24 16.07.02

Screenshot 2013-11-24 16.07.23

Users could have created these elements individually, but this dramatically speeds things up and lends a consistent pattern to meeting documents.

Atlassian integrates these Confluence Blueprints directly into Jira, its requirements management tool. so A confluence requirements Blueprint could lead directly to a series of requirements for a sprint, for example.

Work Patterns by SAP Jam

A year ago, SAP launched JAM, and now reports over 10 million subscribers. After learning a great deal through that year, Sameer Patel and his team have developed Work Patterns by SAP Jam, which are intended to conform to type work patterns in the organization. As he describes them,

Each work pattern is:

  • Centered around you: Dynamically connect the dots by recommending and assembling 20% of the data, process, content and network of experts you need 80% of the time.
  • Repeatable: Slow kills. Kick start each pattern you follow by suggesting prior art – formal and informal learning content to allow for repeatable best practices to get you working, fast.
  • Flexible: Your needs will change. Fine-tune any element of a work pattern to conform more closely to how you work.

This re-thinking of how we work cuts right through the tenuous relationship between systems where we engage and others where we transact. Work patterns by SAP Jam are designed to celebrate how we’ve always wanted to work. And it can only be done effectively because of the underlying business context that SAP Jam can not only access, but also interpret.

SAP is launching with 13 work patterns for sales, support and human capital use cases. Here’s a screenshot of an account management page as a sales-oriented work pattern:

National+rivera+Account+Group+overview-v3

Related work patterns exist for opportunity management, deal rooms, and so on, providing a fast and consistent way of working for Jam users.

Qortex

Qortex is a work management tool from Tokyo-based the Plant, with a well thought through design. They have a subtle touch with minimizing information overload, while providing access to a great deal of information metadata. For today’s discussion, I want to focus on their implementation of tasks.

Tasks are not all alike. For example, in a project principally based on the creation, editing and review of reports, users might want to have tasks progress through one series of states, while in a sales context, leads might go through a different series.

Most work management tools — even task management tools that specialize in task metadata — do not allow users to create such task state transitions. Bu Qortex does. Here’s the task states from one project:

qortex states

Note that the metastates — ‘not yet open statuses’, ‘open statuses’ and so on — are fixed, but users can create any number of states in each.

These appear in task lists of the project, along with any labels. Here’s a list organized by user, and showing the states and labels for each task, along with other metadata. For example, Qortex also supports optional time tracking.

Qortex-UI-1.45-PM-todo-list-byuser

In line with SAP Work Patterns and Atlassian Blueprints, these state specifications can be reused. When a new project is created the user can reuse states from an earlier project. While this seems less sophisticated than the structured pages of the other two approaches there is an added and general wrinkle. Because Qortex knows about the metastates, these state transitions can be exploited by the tool. So, for example, when time tracking is on and a task moves from an open to a closed status, the tool automatically asks the user to enter the time applied to that task. This sort of automation is another take on adding specific sorts of structure to work management. And in the future, it is possible that Qortex could expose these hooks so that users could define their own protocols, stipulating next steps when certain states are reached. For example, in a sales example, if a deal ends without a sale, the tool could require the user to fill out a post-mortem on that broken deal.

The Bottom Line

In the period of a few weeks, I have seen three unrelated examples of competitors upping the ante on structure in their work management architectures. These efforts are driven by the same goals: to add value for customers by allowing them to manage work more quickly, more consistently, and with a more structured form of information management and sharing.

This is a trend that I expect to accelerate, and that will reach across all functionality of these and competitive solutions, over the next few years.

Moving toward a third way of work: leaving the first and second behind

Chris Heuer’s ‘Social Business is dead!’ article has led to a cascade of other articles, some of which are made up of comments of a dozen or more thinkers and practitioners on the topic.

I wrote a long post,‘Social Business’ isn’t dead, but it isn’t enough, either, that led to a lot of discussion of Twitter and elsewhere. My thesis is laid out in the title, but here’s the meat of my response:

Perhaps, then, I could restate Heuer’s apocalyptic statement into something more practical and pragmatic: social business isn’t dead, but it isn’t enough, either. And simply getting the meaning of the term straightened out — if such a thing is possible, at this point — won’t add much, either. At the best, there are a set of ideas derived from the social revolution on the web — like pull versus push communication, and the benefits of defaulting to open, not closed, communication — that can be productively applied to make working socially easier and faster.What is needed, though, is not a retreat to arguing about the term social business, but a movement forward, a movement embodied as a community of people committed to advancing new principles of learning, organization, leadership, and management, pushing forward into a new future of work.

To the extent that social business was a concept that a community of practitioners hoped would represent or spark a radical break with the past, it has fallen short. You can interpret that as a failure of the concept, or a sign of endurance of the mainstream notion of business, or perhaps even as a failed power grab by those most loudly advocating for ‘social business’-led change. But this does not mean that work isn’t changing, or that we do not need even more change — in our organizations and ourselves — in the months and years ahead. We do. It is essential to find new balance in a new normal, where the ground beneath our metaphorical feet is never steady and always shifting.

I now characterize the central flow of what I see emerging in business — that new balance in a new normal — as the third way of work, about which I have started to write here. (Expect a longer piece this week, laying that all out.)

Justin Kirby polled a number of folks and collated into Is Social Business Dead? The Argument Dissected.  David Cushman offered this insight,

I think it’s a result of a reductionism – trying to simplify massive change to the selection and delivery of a series of social tools. This focus on the technical means the human element – the really important part of what those with their hearts in the right place were trying to achieve with social business – is inevitably missed out.

Euan Semple adds some pepper to the pot,

The recent pimping of “social media” and “social business” is the same old technology hucksterism that has plagued the industry since its inception. Many of those over-selling and under-delivering in this latest wave have no idea of the real challenges faced by people running large complex organisations, and it should come as no surprise when those busy people working hard to make a living shrug it all off.

I stumbled across a piece from a week earlier, which acts as a backdrop to the whole affair, called What next for Social Business? by David Terrar, also pulling togethers thoughts from clutch of others from an event on 7 November. Terrar summarizes the speakers, like Luis Suarez, who prefectly captures the core message of social business:

Luis’s premise is that a social business is (or should be) an open business.  He talked about the culture change required to move from the old way of doing things to this new way of collaboration and sharing using social tools.  He talked in terms of a 30 year time frame – and he’s right, this is a major change that will happen slowly, but it’s happening.  He used his own company, IBM, as an example – they’ve been doing social business internally well before the existence of Facebook.  He talked Open Business and mentioned@davidcushman.  He explained an Open Business uses its resources to discover people who share its purpose, and then bring them together to realise that purpose.  He talked about the hierarchy and the wirearchycoexisting in a networked company.  He talked about accountability, and getting rid of layers, and providing incentives for employees to share.  He explained how managers need to transform in to leaders, and talked about the need for transparency.  His conclusion, with a touch of Mafia style – Open Business is “Just” Business, it’s the only way to go.

Philip Sheldrake took on the task of directly responding to Chris Heuer’s post, as I did, and points directly at the argument going on between Chris and me:

The tectonic forces of the 20th Century led us to design organizations that resist change. Such entities excel at efficiency, at repetition, with varying facility to adopt incremental, evolutionary tweaks to the way things are. There was no facility to recognize the complexities of the marketplace and operations let alone deal with them. So the design worked well enough, particularly when the competition was designed similarly. It competed and survived to this present day by searching for ways to make things a few percent better with a few percent less resources.

Microsoft Yammer co-founder and CTO, Adam Pisoni, writes: “Our modern ‘scientific management’ corporations remained competitive by optimizing for efficiency, a result accomplished through greater specialization and driven by overlaying process and rigid structure across the business. In this way, we arrived at the cornerstone of the modern company – predictability. Success was built around predictable costs, revenues, customers, and employees. Inherent in the notion of predictability is a sense of control. For corporations, it seemed that harnessing this control while setting and meeting expectations would keep them on top forever.”

Yet what served us very well for the best part of a century now frustrates and disappoints us. Reifying the organization as more than the sum of its human parts for the moment, we have created a monster that won’t be tamed for the 21st Century. In actual fact, it is doing precisely what we trained it to do.

How can we break this deadlock? Here’s Chris’ advice: “While Stowe Boyd still remains an ardent supporter of the impact and power of social in the enterprise as he notes in this GigaOm post citing McKinsey’s Social Economy report, I think it’s just time for us to find a phrase that is more attractive to corporate leadership.”

Now I’m a keen student of persuasion and the power of language, but really? Will the monster cower and roll over for its tummy to be tickled upon the simple incantation of a new turn of phrase?

In Stowe’s response to Chris’ post, he reasserts this point of view: “One of the toolsets to apply in this quest for the fast-and-loose business are ideas about working socially and tools to support that. However, the greatest advances are likely to be more closely linked to fundamentals of organizational culture, and the relationship of the individual to work and the organization, rather than a social business breakthrough, per se.”

In other words, social business was never just about social media, despite many twitterings treating #socbiz and #socmed as synonyms. It’s about people being able to behave differently as a result of new technologies, indeed wanting to behave differently, centered around common purpose and shared values.

 The Bottom Line

My interpretation of this brouhaha is that there are a number of people — social business experts and consultants — who have affiliated their professional brands and personal identities to the notion of social business as the apotheosis of an ethos about a more democratic and open style of business. That’s fine as far as it goes.

However, as others with different beliefs about social — about where it begins and ends — have started to use the term in very different ways, or as people are adopting social tools without adopting the democratic principles, these practitioners have grown disenchanted.

Personally, I think — as I said — that many of the ideas that underlie ‘social business’ are helpful, especially those dealing with the deep logic of human social networks, rather than narrow methods derived from social media practices.

The focus of my investigations in recent years has been to track the changing world of work, and work will always have a future. The concept of the future of work is therefore timeless, unlike time-bound terms like Web 2.0, anything with an e- suffix, and soon, anything with the adjective ‘smart’ in front of it.

What may be the most difficult thing for the social business cadre to accept is that the core principles of social have already been assimilated into the world of business, perhaps as deeply as they can be at present. What is before us is a new era, where other, post-social innovations will arise, and findings from other schools of thought — cognitive psychology, bioeconomics, and social anthropology — become part of the mix.

Social is altogether too tied to a second way of working, I believe. A way better than the first, in many ways, but still too close to the old, industrial models to be more than a bridge into the next. A third way of work is ahead of us, and it’s more than just social. Much more.

Who’s calling the shots?

Who Will Be Calling The Shots At Microsoft?

I wrote this week about Stephen Elop’s willingness to ax some of Microsoft’s products if he were to get the CEO role at Microsoft (see Stephan Elop supposedly thinking about making big changes at Microsoft). In particular, people with access to Elop told Bloomberg reporters that Bing would likely be shuttered, Xbox spun out, and other consumer-oriented products reconsidered.

Most cogent to the business orientation of the firm, Elop would move to make Office actually workable on other mobile devices, like iOS and Android. Some commentators made the case that Office Mobile is already available, but they seem to forget that it requires an Office 365 subscription, at the least. Here’s an interchange I had with Henry Blodgett and Mary Jo Foley on that:

Screenshot 2013-11-10 10.46.59

So, Elop may only be advocating a speed up, but it’s been a long time coming.

However, others have started to wade in, notably, Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft. The chief investment officer of Allen’s family investment office Vulcan Capital is Paul Ghaffari, and he spoke at The Financial Times Investment Summit recently, and according to Stephen Foley of the Financial Times he said this:

Mr Ghaffari said the overwhelming majority of Microsoft’s earnings were generated by selling software and services to business customers.

“The search business and even Xbox, which has been a very successful product, are detracting from that. We would want them to focus on their best competencies,” he said.

“My view is there are some parts of that operation they should probably spin out, get rid of, to focus on the enterprise and focus on the cloud.”

The Microsoft board has shown a new “receptivity to getting outside views,” Mr Ghaffari said, adding that the search for a successor to Mr Ballmer was being handled well.

If the board opts for rumoured candidate Alan Mulally, currently chief executive of Ford, Mr Ghaffari suggested he be paired with another executive with technology product experience. Other shareholders have questioned the recruitment process, including the issue of whether Mr Gates may circumscribe future strategy.

Note that this presentation preceded the Bloomberg reports about Elop.

Other reports suggest that the Microsoft board wants to replace Ballmer before the end of the year, partly to deal with the issues surrounding its Nokia acquisition, the release of the Xbox One console, and to complete the company’s reorganization (which is still a work in progress). The same names keep popping up —  Elop, Ford’s Mullaly, former Microsofty Paul Maritz, and current evangelism and business development head, Tony Bates, the former CEO of Skype — with no dark horse appearing on the horizon.

So far, Elop is the only one that has presented a new vision for the company to the outside world, and it lines up with what investors like Allen seem to think is a wise course. But the others may be quietly presenting plans for Microsoft to the board, but not leaking it to the world. Personally, Paul Maritz might have a better claim for successfully leading large and successful business software companies, like VMware and Pivotal.

‘Because Marissa Said So’

There is a growing furor at Yahoo about Marissa Mayer’s Quarterly Performance Review system, instituted last year around the time of the ‘No Remote Work’ mandate. In essence, Mayer’s created a review approach that attempts to systematize reviews of employees: reducing the role of the manager in evaluating an employee’s performance, and placing employees along a curve.

This is the most recent example of the human resources issue: should all employees be evaluated using a companywide, ‘objective’ approach, or should employees be measured for the effectiveness in the work setting they are part of? On one side, the company is seen as a large monolithic collective, and all are ranked based on company-wide metrics and considerations, such as the degree to which they align with corporate culture. On the other side, an employee would be measured based on how their efforts supported localized goals, like getting their product designed and out the door on time. In place of corporate goals, localized goals would dominate.

Mayer is in favor of the former, which comes along with the need — apparently — for managers to find a certain percentage of their teams ‘missing’ goals: to match the curve, and to serve up candidates for firing. Mayer has denied this in a 7 November Yahoo Q&A, as Kara Swisher reported,

Mayer highlighted that a part of the quarterly process called the “bucket” ranking allows for a divergence of plus or minus one to three percentage points. According to sources, this still apparently requires mandatory calibration, using the rankings: Greatly Exceeds (10 percent) Exceeds (25 percent), Achieves (the largest pool at 50 percent), Occasionally Misses (10 percent) and Misses (five percent).

There are rumors that these ratios may be relaxed, but there is no suggestion that the QPR regime will continue, as part of that glorious ‘entrepreneurial’ culture that Mayer is trying so hard to impose at Yahoo.

Are Millennials Calling The Shots?

I interviewed Avinoam Nowogrodski this week, the first in an ongoing series called The New Visionaries, where I plan to talk for entrepreneurs building social tools (see The New Visionaries: Avinoam Nowogrodski). He had piqued my interest by suggesting the businesses could learn a lot from Millennials, which he defended in the interview

According to a recent Forbes article, by 2025 more than 80 million Millennials are projected to be in the workplace. On the one hand, some feel this brings a wave of ambitious individuals with high expectations. On the other hand, I believe Millennials, more than any other generation, stand to democratize collaboration, which in turn can empower individual workers of all ages.

Because Millennial workers were raised in the digital age of transparency, they are accustomed to posting their activities online and having their progress followed. For them, success at work is about proving their worth to the team and the project. They must have an online voice and be constantly augmenting that voice and adding clarity to the team. Millennials thrive on transparency and a sense of team cohesion, which is something that social media provides. Because they are used to interacting online regardless of their physical locations and the time of day, they will provide the impetus companies need to embrace workforce mobility.

I read a story by Tom Agan in the New York Times today that provided additional support for Avinoam’s argument, and some specific examples:

I worked with one executive who was starting a big I.T. project — and she was shocked and a little embarrassed to learn that her mostly-millennial team had identified a lack of support for the effort among higher-ups. How? During her introductory presentation, they sent instant messages among themselves and to others in the company and figured it out.

[…]

When I worked at Nielsen, I led a quantitative study of major consumer companies like Kraft and Procter & Gamble — research that demonstrates the link between learning and innovation. The study found that employees were likely to generate more revenue if they held mandatory meetings to identify the strengths and weaknesses of new products after their introduction, used a consistent set of questions to do so, and recorded what they learned.

 At some companies and universities, smart leaders are already tapping into millennials’ abilities. For instance, when leading conference calls, one senior executive I know asks younger staff members to introduce the instant messages they send during the meeting directly into the discussion. Rather than keeping the two streams of information separate, he is intentionally encouraging and inviting the parallel conversation into the mix.

At Northwestern University, teams of undergraduate and graduate students — guided by older, experienced faculty members and alumni, and often paired with senior-level researchers — create plans for start-ups in an interdisciplinary series of classes called NUvention. Over the last two years, three of these teams have won first- or second-place awards in the Rice Business Plan Competition, to the tune of more than $1.5 million in prize money. And the winning teams have gone on to raise over $1 million each.

Mike Marasco, the leader of the NUvention program, puts it this way: “Millennials work more closely together, leverage right- and left-brain skills, ask the right questions, learn faster and take risks previous generations resisted. They truly want to change the world and will use technology to do so.”

In another example of Millennials’ preferences, Goldman Sachs recently announced that they want their junior bankers to work less, so they don’t burn out and quit. They also dropped their efforts to prohibit first year bankers talking with headhunters, and dropped the initial two year contract arrangement, making new hires full-time, regular employees from day one.

Millennials are starting to change the world of business, one text message at a time.

Apple Q4, Gates disses Zuckerberg, Mayer’s Cultural Revolution, and Chautauqua

Apple Q4 and looking ahead to 2014

Apple met its own estimates and analyst expectations posting record numbers on Monday for the company’s fourth quarter. Profits were high with earnings per share of $8.26 on revenue of $37.5 billion, crushing expectations of $7.92 on $36.82. Bizarrely, Apple traded down after the news, even after reporting sales of 33.8 million iPhones in the quarter, up 26.9 million in the same quarter last year, 400 million visitors to retail stores, and sales of 14.1 million ipads this quarter compared to 14 million Q4 last year prior to the release of new iPads.

Tim Cook offered this insight into the company’s plan to make iWork, iLife, and OS X Mavericks free:

We wanted to make this software part of what it meant to own a Mac and an iOS device. IWork had become the best-selling productivity app on a mobile device, we wanted all of our customers to have access to it so they could have the best features. […] Other folks charge for their OS and productivity apps. We wanted to make it a part of the experience.

I wrote at some length on why this is important: it will force Microsoft to do the same (see Apple moves to edge out Microsoft Office and Google Drive).

Cook also alluded to building new products, so I am fairly certain that we will be seeing iWatches, and Apple TV as a gaming solution in 2014, and perhaps even the much rumored iTV. (Note that Intel is rumored to be trying to sell off its planned set top box business.)

As I wrote earlier this week, I think the emergence of wearables could usher in significantly different modes of computing and communication, and I am certain that Apple will be at the forefront of that in 2014 (see Wearables might make us live more in the moment).

Gates on Zuckerberg and Connectivity

Bill Gates — in a Financial Times interview — suggested that Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of connecting everyone on earth to the internet was dumb, compared to other priorities. Richard Waters, the interviewer, rendered Gates perspective this way:

These days, it seems that every West Coast billionaire has a vision for how technology can make the world a better place. A central part of this new consensus is that the internet is an inevitable force for social and economic improvement; that connectivity is a social good in itself. It was a view that recently led Mark Zuckerberg to outline a plan for getting the world’s unconnected 5 billion people online, an effort the Facebook boss called “one of the greatest challenges of our generation”. But asked whether giving the planet an internet connection is more important than finding a vaccination for malaria, the co-founder of Microsoft and world’s second-richest man does not hide his irritation: “As a priority? It’s a joke.”

Gates also said,

“I certainly love the IT thing,” he says. “But when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition.”

Getting the world’s unconnected online?

“As a priority? It’s a joke.”

I am no techno-utopian, and I agree that fundamentals — like infant mortality, now slipping in the US — are critical to bettering society. As the same time, I don’t think we pretend that  disease prevention and other health and welfare issues need to be fixed before we start work on other initiatives. And I also think that making the world more connected is a foundational issue, too, but in my case it is not so obviously a matter of self interest as it might be for Zuckerberg.

Yahoo Applies The Screws

The rumors are flying about coming staff reviews at Yahoo, where Marissa Mayer famously ditched the company’s remote work arrangements in order to ‘get all hands on deck’ and turn the culture around. But as I said when the announcement was made last February, getting everyone in the office to be more closely supervised is a subtext for culling the outliers that don’t fit into her top-down Cultural Revolution:

Stowe Boyd, Yahoo’s Mayer thinks that remote workers are… too remote

Even if Mayer thinks she’s trying to kindle a new culture at Yahoo, pretending the 11,000 employee company is a startup and everyone has to toil endlessly under the watchful eyes of their fellow Yahoos to share culture is a bit much.

More likely this is the next step in a cultural cleansing of the company, one intended to scrape off all the folks who psychologically don’t fit in with the new cultural norms that Mayer believes she needs in place to make Yahoo go zoom. She wants more collaboration, by which she means she needs to get employees buying into long-term strategic goals, and the principles and practices that management believes are essential for meeting those goals. In this ‘collaboration’ is a code word for becoming part of a collective, where certain behaviors — like working independently outside of Yahoo offices — will not be tolerated.

The word is that Mayer’s highly numerical rating system — which mimics one used at Google, where she spent all of her career before Yahoo — will lead to the departure of as many as 500 Yahooligans.

Announcing Chatauqua

I broke the cardinal rule of journalism this week, burying the lede in a piece called ‘Social Business’ isn’t dead, but it isn’t enough, either. The post was a rebuttal of an argument advanced by Chris Heuer on the Brian Solis blog, in which he argued that the ideas of social business have failed and the term is dead because C-level executives that he has spoken with don’t really get it, and so we should come up with ‘a phrase that is more attractive to corporate leadership’.

I spend a few paragraphs taking that argument apart, especially attacking the CxOs aspect of his argument, concluding with this:

Social business isn’t dead, but it isn’t enough, either. And simply getting the meaning of the term straightened out — if such a thing is possible, at this point — won’t add much, either. At the best, there are a set of ideas derived from the social revolution on the web — like pull versus push communication, and the benefits of defaulting to open, not closed, communication — that can be productively applied to make working socially easier and faster.

What is needed, though, is not a retreat to arguing about the term social business, but a movement forward, a movement embodied as a community of people committed to advancing new principles of learning, organization, leadership, and management, pushing forward into a new future of work.

And the I concluded by announcing l the launch of a new initiative, Chautauqua, an open community organized to understand and channel new ways of working together, to redefine our connection to work and each other, and ultimately, through that, to change the world. That was buried in the bottom of a long post. And it was not my plan to announce the initiative until the new year, so much of the community aspect of the community is not in place. As I wrote at the Chautauqua site,

The world of work is changing at an accelerating pace, paired with the enormous upheavals in society, the economy, and the world at large. Uncertainty and ambiguity is systemic, and it is harder than ever to assess risk, predict economic trends, or even to know who to listen to. We are being forced to adapt to a new era, the postnormal, and our personal lives, organizations, and work will never be the same.

Chautauqua is an open community organized to understand and channel new ways of working together, to redefine our connection to work and each other, and ultimately, through that, to change the world.

Despite the lack of an operating website, the response has been amazing. The post and the Chautauqua community have been twittered and written about extensively and widely. I am in discussions with over five people who want to open chapters in various cities. I haven’t had time to write up a detailed prospectus about the planned Future of Work 2014 tour, but I have already been approached by companies wanting to support the tour, sketched this way:

A monthly evening event, involving a changing cast of thinkers, authors, practitioners, and tool vendors, hitting major cities in North America. Talks, interviews, and live streaming. Networking at the cocktail party, deeper exploration at an afternoon workshop. Codeveloped with local Chautauqua chapter and the show’s host, Stowe Boyd.

If you want to keep up with the news on Chautauqua, please sign up here.

What Apple’s zero pricing of iOS, Mac OS X, and iWork means

Apple’s announcements last week create a high water mark from several trends, and in one case we are witnessing a clean break with the past into a long-anticipated tomorrow.

The incremental improvements to the iPad line of products — over 170 million have been shipped in two years — continue, the best example of the rapid transition to companion devices (smartphones and tablets) away from desktop and laptop computing. While Apple is releasing new souped-up MacBooks and iMacs, they are starting to look like highly specialized devices particularly geared toward high-end applications — like film and music production — rather than office workhorses.

Microsoft unveiled its next tablet, the Surface 2, which is considered by those who have fooled with it a much better product than the Surface, but still not competitive with iPad and Android alternatives, and inferior to Nokia’s Lumia 2520, which also runs Windows RT.

Still, all these doings in one week underline the trend to companion devices, the steep decline of the old model of computing, and how rapidly our notions of productivity are changing.

And along those lines — the changing nature of work productivity — Apple’s biggest news has to do with its iWork tools. The release of OS X Mavericks led to an upgrade of the operating system and a new version of the beta iCloud implementation. I wrote about some of the more technical useage pros and cons earlier in the week (see Apple moves to edge out Microsoft Office and Google Drive), but the biggest change announced by Apple is not about the (relatively immature) coediting and document sharing of this iteration of iCloud. The big news is that Apple is making the iWorks software for iOS and Mac OS free with new hardware purchases. Note that it has also made the upgrade to OS X Mavericks free for everyone, not just for new hardware buys.

John Gruber at Daring Fireball makes the clear argument of how Apple and Google are pinching Microsoft in the operating system and Office software sales sector.

John Gruber, Thoughts and Observations Regarding This Week’s Apple Event Introducing the iPad Air and Retina iPad Mini

This puts Microsoft in a tight spot. Apple gives away software for free in exchange for your buying their hardware. This is not charity. It’s also in marked contrast to Google, who gives away software for free in exchange for selling your attention (and personal information) to advertisers. Apple and Google are squeezing Microsoft from both sides, and the result is that less and less perceived value in the industry resides solely in software. You can make money selling hardware (like Apple) or make money selling ads (like Google), but given the popularity of Apple’s hardware and Google’s apps and services, it’s getting harder for Microsoft to make money by selling software.

Well, to narrow that down a bit: it’s going to be incredibly hard for Microsoft to make money selling Windows or Office when people are getting Google Docs/Drive and Apple iWork/iCloud for free.

Microsoft’s recent quarterly results (see Microsoft results point to the future, one that is all business) show that the growth area for Microsoft is in enterprise software, and losing the dominant position of Microsoft Office would be an enormous strategic blunder.

I am betting that the next Microsoft CEO — which should be on point in the next few months — if he or she has any awareness of where the winds are blowing should quickly move to drastically drop the price of Office and Windows, and best would be dropping the price to zero. For everyone, on every platform, including Android, iOS, and Mac OS X.

This battle isn’t about near-term software revenue, it’s a battle about one of the cornerstones of the working world: creating and sharing documents. Microsoft will have to forgo the cash flow from Office and Windows in order to keep in close contact with the information sharing habits of people everywhere.

The other side of those habits is the emergence of file sync-and-share platforms, like Dropbox, Box, Hightail, and Intralinks, that backfill a gaping pothole in today’s operating systems: the lack of a distributed, virtual file system that leverages our ubiquitous connectivity to the internet (see The future of work: new paths to productivity). Microsoft, Apple, and Google are fighting back with Skydrive, iCloud, and Drive, respectively, but ultimately will have to build that functionality into the operating system level. (That will most likely happen by acquisition, although why it hasn’t already escapes me.)

And yes, those super-duper next generation operating systems with built-in file sync-and-share functionality will also be for free as they become increasingly social.

It appears that three approaches are appearing — if Microsoft does what I propose:

  1. Apple will give OS and office software away, to get you to pay a premium for their hardware.
  2. Google will give OS and office software away, to get you to give information for targeted advertising.
  3. Microsoft give OS and office software away, to get you to buy their enterprise software.

This is a really profound shift at the foundation of office (so-called ‘productivity’) software.

The identity management marketplace is getting crowded

Like a one-two punch, announcements this past week in the identity management space demonstrate how important solutions that marry directory-based identity solutions (LDAP and Microsoft Active Directory, for example) with social business tools have become.

Jive Software and Okta announced a strategic partnership that will integrate of Okta’s enterprise identity manage service with Jive’s work management solution. This opens up a direct path for companies using Jive to now connect to LDAP and Microsoft Active Directories without jeopardizing the security of corporate firewalls, and to allow the central management of user identities for Jive, as well as the provisioning of users via Okta.

Jive’s fall cloud release also includes a revamp social directory, providing users with a 360º view of employees, as well as surfacing social connections across the company network. Okta will be extending current identity capabilities to create a single repository of user profiles.

It seems that Salesforce wants to muscle its way into the growing marketplace for identity solutions that has been pioneered by smaller firms like Ping Identity and Okta, joining Microsoft, who launched Azure Active Directory earlier this year as an in-cloud version of its Windows-based Active Directory. Salesforce Identity is built on the Salesforce platform, and integrates natively with Salesforce’s CRM offering and other  tools, like Chatter.

The movement of users away from Windows desktop machines onto companion devices — like tablets and smartphones — as well as the emergence of cloud-based work management tools has quickly shifted the playing field away from LAN and Windows-oriented identity solutions. But CIOs are eager to avoid a proliferation of identity silos — although many have already fallen into that dark hole — and so we are seeing a very fast adoption of modern identity solutions that play well in that new world.

The centralization of identity and profile information — across applications and specifically across social tools — will be a real boon when that comes into general use. This is not just about the ease of provisioning — and deprovisioning — employees, but also a single point of profile management, so that users can project a single collation of interests, accomplishments, and current projects across different applications.

One last observation: the possibilities for organizations to find and analyze metanetworks — the social connections across the company mined from all the company’s social applications — has some real promise. And may lead — especially in large and dynamic companies — to a better understanding of employee sentiment, opportunities for cooperative work, and other wellsprings for innovation.

Real time isn’t what it used to be: It’s really real time, now

In the early days of the web, one of my first areas of concentration was the rise of instant messaging tools like AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), ICQ, and Jabber. In fact my primary blog in the mid zeros was called Get Real, and my writing at the time was oriented toward the rise of real time and social technologies.

At a certain point, around 2006 or 2007, the rise of more social tools like Facebook and especially Twitter pulled attention and users from instant messaging, but the rise of more capable companion devices (tablets and smartphones) and a new sensibility about social connection in the workforce is leading to a return to real-time as a primary communication mode in business.

Some have started to talk about mobile 3.0 as a way of indicating this new level of connection and the capabilities of todays always-on, always connected companion devices, which are taking us above the mobile 2.0 era ushered in by 4G LTE generation of cell networks.

Today’s social web communication tools share some DNA with the prototype instant messaging buddylist: the list of connections you have created a shared relationship with. And in the business context, we seem to be doubling down on that model of real-time communication with a closed group of known colleagues. There are much nicer interfaces today, and devices that implement real-time background processing — like Apple’s iOS 7 on iPhone and iPad — mean that we can get really real-time messages, perhaps only milliseconds old, on our smartphone or tablet.

In just the past week, I have seen three new products for business real time communication that share a great deal of commonality: Slack, from Tiny Speck; Glip; and Talk.co. I will use a screenshot from Talk.co, which is in some way the minimum viable product of the three, and also because I plan to review the other two at length in future posts.

Screenshot 2013-10-12 15.26.40

Talk.co supports group chat between people in a given company, and limits membership to those with company email address, or Google apps accounts. Chat posts have images as attachments, but no other sort of files. Groups can be set up and people invited, so that topical chats can take place. Likewise a sidechat can be created on a specific topic with the members of an existing group. On the fly chats can be created with other users, either groups of one-to-one. There are no tasks, polls, or other niceties, although URLs in posts are clickable.

That’s it.

As I said, Slack and Glip have other capabilities, extending the core ideas of Talk.co.

My sense is that there is a growing disenchantment with the perceived heaviness and social overhead in collaborative enterprise social networks, or what I have traditionally called work media tools, such as IBM Connections, Yammer, Podio, and so on. These are tools that were developed around the desktop/browser/cloud stack of web 2.0, and which are not based on the premises of true real time communication. For example, in a build-all-the-functionality in approach, these tools might implement a sophisticated polling tool to get feedback from a group on some question, such as the best date and time for a video call. But in these real time chat context, your team mates are all online so they simply answer your question in near real time, so the necessity for the complex poll functionality is eliminated. As mentioned, this is because they are always on, or will be in a few moments.

One data point to add to this argument: companion devices are the only hardware with any growth, as shown in this chart from Ralph Finos Third-quarter IT spending report:

Screenshot 2013-10-12 15.44.12

And a final observation and conjecture. The inch-by-inch slide into a real time mindset — encouraged by technologies like those discussed above, and abetted by the prosumer mindset of always-connected communications — threatens another revolution in business. Business leaders are growing dissatisfied with business intelligence solutions based on slow time premises: monthly or weekly reporting cycles are simply too slow to make the sorts of informed decisions necessary in a real time world.

In the last week, I came across this piece by Ari Hesseldahl at AllThingsD about Josh James’ new company, a real time business intelligence firm call Domo. James was the founder of Omniture, which he sold to Adobe for $1.8 billion in 2009. And Domo is apparently growing scarily fast, like 25% to 50% per quarter.

Domo’s proposition is that information is stuck inside of a million dumb containers — documents, applications, spreadsheets — and a lot of what might be enormously helpful can’t be found, but what can be is stuck in slow time models which are unsuitable for businesses to discuss productively.

I found this enigmatic snippet — the Collaboration Gap — in a Domo white paper:

Data from a Forbes Insight study suggests that employees that use collaboration tools are up to 62% more productive and accomplish work 57% faster. Yet, that same study claims 59% of executives believe cloud-based collaboration stimulates innovation, our findings show only 8% of CEOs feel their reports facilitate collaboration — and that number drops to 6% when you include all business leaders.

My hunch is that Domo is breaking the data out of its silos, making it available in real time, and placing it in a context in which it can be shared, curated, discussed, and annotated, allowing greater degrees of informed communication, cooperation, and coordination of work. Perhaps Domo will be the first example of the intersection of big data and social work management.

Really real time business is coming, and — no surprise — it’s coming fast.

Coming soon to an operating system near you: file sync-and-share

Last week, Evernote announced a new product, Evernote for Salesforce (see Evernote for Salesforce announced), which connects the popular document repository platform with the post popular CRM application. This is interesting for more than the first-order effects, the benefits to Salesforce and Evernote users. It’s it the most recent example of a rising trend, in which the new architecture of work management will be based on the dynamic that all work is distributed and social.

Consider the emergence of solutions like Evernote — a tool for people to collect snippets of information, links, scribblings, images, scans of business cards — and to store and organize them in ways personally relevant to the user, using tags, folders, and naming conventions. These can be synced across all a user’s devices, and shared with others in later versions, like Evernote for Business. This is paralleled by the rise of other not dissimilar tools like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Hightail, and so on, that support the syncing and sharing of files — created by whatever other tools — across what amounts to be a virtual, distributed operating system.

The emergence of these tools is actually the backpatching of a flaw in our operating systems, which are still based on the 20th century premise of a local file system, and relative ignorance of the web. Smarts about the web is not built into the operating systems on our laptops and desktop computers, although those on our companion devices are somewhat more web-savvy. But they all force the user to wrestle with files as if they are fixed, and not distributed across devices. We leave that to specialized applications, who compete for our trade, and who have created a divided world of contending distributed virtual file systems.

One of my earliest programming projects in grad school was to create a hierarchical file system on some truly ancient computer that Boston University had lying around. Imagine: the native file system was a single flat namespace. So I programmed a file directory, allowing folders and nesting. And then I and others were able to create modern style programs for that machine. Basically, I backpatched a logical flaw in the operating system.

And that’s what Evernote, and the others are doing. They are constructing programs that allow users to operate as if files, notes, images, and so on are being managed in a giant distributed file system, one that sits at the center of our world of work (and play, too), and where the dumbness of today’s operating systems can be overlooked, to a degree.

The major vendors of operating systems — Apple, Microsoft, and Google — have entered this marketplace in recent years, and are parroting the offerings that these other newcomers have dreamed up. Google Drive, Apple iCloud, and Microsoft Skydrive offer somewhat contrasting approaches which in the final analysis are competitors. But what they should do, and what they will inevitably get around to doing, is to build file sync-and-share capabilities into the operating systems.

Consider a not-too-far-in-the-future versions of OS X, in which iCloud is no longer an app, but a set of low-level capabilities. For example, I can create a folder (in a future version of the Finder), and simply share that folder with other people from my Contacts, or indicate that I want this folder synced with my other devices. In those cases, other people and other devices would receive notifications about their ability to access that folder. The next time I turn on my not-too-far-in-the-future iPhone, the synchronization of that folder would start running in the background.

And what if my device was an Android tablet instead of an iPhone? Obviously, the various operating systems would have to interoperate. They won’t at first, but ultimately they will. And then, Evernote would be relegated to being a relatively minimal editing tool sitting on top of the vast distributed file system implemented by iOS, Android, Chrome, and Windows. And the market share for Box, Dropbox, Hightail, and the other file sync-and-share apps would collapse, although a few of them would likely be acquired to become the plumbing for Apple, Google, and Microsoft implementations.

Most people can’t remember back to the time when email services couldn’t intercommunicate, but I can. And they also don’t recall when Mac and MS-DOS file systems were incompatible, so that a Windows formatted floppy couldn’t be opened on a Mac.

In a strange way, we’ve come all the way around to this, a return to a world of silos. You’re using Google Drive to share folders with me, but I want to use Box, and another friend is sharing files from Evernote.

Building this into the OS’s will also mean that they become social at their core. They’d be implementing one of the most important aspects of our social networks: the network defined by who we share files with. (And presumably, we want to share comments about those documents, and a stream of updates about what’s in those documents, and… you get the picture: social operating systems would be next.)

The first operating system vendor to bake these capabilities into their OS is going to gain a serious market advantage in the business space. Imagine I could more easily share — securely and reliably — files with my coworkers in a way that also guaranteed back-up and recovery, and it did so in a way that could be managed both by the individual (for personal files) and by company administrators (for business files). Why haven’t Google, Apple, and Microsoft implemented this yet?

Today in Cleantech

My Weekly Update that posted this morning deals with the question of how the U.S. government should deal with the aggressive (some would say illegal) support that the Chinese government is giving its green industries. So, it’s no coincidence that we hear today that GM and its Chinese partner SAIC Motor Corp. have signed an agreement to build and develop EVs in China. The Chevy Volt will go on sale in China this year but because it isn’t built in China, it’s ineligible for subsidies that would result in an almost 30 percent price reduction. China has given over $200 billion in subsidies to its green industries, more than double what the U.S. has given, and sooner or later the U.S. government is going to have to address Chinese trade and subsidy practices (and its own) surrounding cleantech, if it wants U.S. companies to remain competitive.