Tag Archives: Salesforce

Facebook for the enterprise

19 Feb

If you look back at the trends in “electronics era” (post-1970) , it is clear that popular consumer technology eventually creeps into the corporate world. First it was the personal computer, then the internet and the world wide web. Web 2.0  followed when companies realized the value of collaboration tools such as wikis and instant messaging and began  to pilot them. The trend continues with social media revolution. Facebook and Twitter have seen a meteoric rise in their popularity, so it was just a matter of time.

One of the first movers in this area, Yammer, was launched in Septermber 2009 starting off with a bang when it won the TechCrunch50 event in 2008. It was called Twitter with muscles and brains but in the two years since its launch it has not seen the sort of widespread adoption enjoyed by Twitter. The game changer could be Chatter from Salesforce.com. Originally launched in 2009 at its Dreamforce conference, Salesforce touted it as “Facebook for the enterprise”. The company described it as “a new secure enterprise collaboration application and social development platform”. Chatter was initially available only to their paid users. It appears to have gained so much traction that in December 2010 they unveiled Chatter Free – a new edition of Chatter that is completely free. Anyone with a verified company email address can join their company network.

Other companies have started jumping into the fray. One of the leading BPM software vendors Appian recently launched Tempo – a new addition to their product suite that brings real-time collaboration and social networking features. A colleague pointed out that in January business integration software vendor TIBCO launched tibbr. While tibbr is available as SaaS, it can also be deployed on premise. It boasts of having out-of-the-box feeds for events in and out of major ERP and CRM applications and the ability to leverage clients’ LDAP for user profiles etc.

It is likely that sooner or later all major vendors will extend their existing offerings (or introduce new products) to include  real-time collaboration and enterprise social networking. With Salesforce offering Chatter at no cost it appears that the process of commoditization of these products has already begun. The consumer social networking space has become unipolar with Facebook effectively crushing its competitors. In the enterprise space this is less likely to happen. As has happened with ERP and CRM applications it will be a multi-polar world. The challenge for end-user companies will be to decide which horse they are going to back. Once you start using one of these platforms the possibility of lock-in is very high. In large companies, if an enterprise solution is not rolled out quickly enough individual departments may choose different products. The challenge then will be compatibility between such products. This is definitely an evolving space and it will interesting to see how things pan out, say, in five years from now.

The future is cloudy

22 Jun

Nicholas Carr first gained wide-spread fame when he stirred the hornet’s nest with his article IT Doesn’t Matter published in the May 2003 issue of Harvard Business Review. This article caused an outrage in the IT industry and Carr was flamed by many industry big-wigs. He followed up with his book Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage that expanded on the theme of the article and included rebuttals to many of the criticisms lobbed at his original article. In summary, his proposition in this book is that IT is becoming a commodity and the result is that while IT is necessary to survive, it no longer is sufficient to provide a competitive advantage.

Carr’s second book The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google draws interesting (and convincing) parallels between evolution of the electrical grid and evolution of computing. In a sense, it picks up where first book left off. Does IT Matter? discussed what is happening (i.e. IT is becoming a commodity) and The Big Switch continues with how cloud computing it is making it happen. The book begins by tracing the history of power generation industry. In its infancy, towards the end of the 19th century, big companies were generating their own power on sites of their factories with windmills and water wheels. The discovery of electricity altered the landscape dramatically within a few decades. Instead of setting up and operating their own power plants, companies simply plugged into a ubiquitous electrical grid. Specialized companies were born whose primary focus was to generate and supply electrical power. Suddenly the playing field was leveled. You no longer had to be a behemoth and operate a power plant to be able to assure yourself a reliable supply of electricity. The same reliable supply of electricity available to a factory that employed thousands was now also available to a 10 person shop. Carr says that we are seeing a similar thing happening in the IT industry. In the early days everyone was writing their own custom software for essential business operations like accounting, inventory management, sales and so on. This meant and investment of millions of dollars in hardware and software resources. Soon, home-grown software began to be replaced by commercial off-the-shelf software like SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft etc. While not as intensive and expensive as writing your own software, it still costs huge amounts of money to buy, implement and maintain these packages.  These costs are still prohibitively high for small companies. Carr argues that with the age of internet and advent of Google AppsAmazon Elastic Computing Cloud, Salesforce.com and other such companies, computing is becoming a commodity and is leveling the playing field. It used to take thousands of dollars and several weeks to obtain the hardware servers to run your business software. Now, the same computing power is available to you in minutes and at a fraction of the cost. You just pay for what you use. Similarly, enterprise-level software once available only to Fortune 500 companies is now becoming available to mom-and-pop entities on a subscription basis. This is a harbinger of things to come. The shift is beginning to happen.

All the parallels, arguments and examples put forth by Carr are very compelling and persuasive. In the last couple of years almost all the big IT vendors like Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP etc. have jumped onto the cloud computing bandwagon. Will computing and IT some time in the near future become as ubiquitous as electricity is today? Will organizations be simply able to plug into the cloud for all their IT needs? Only time will tell.