Monday, July 31, 2006

What is business doing to foster collaboration

I was out at a couple of organizations at the end of last week. A common conversation began to spark a question inside of me.

What are we doing to create better collaborators?

There are some great tools out on the market right now that help to develop a good collaborative environment. We are in business state currently that gives the collaboration market the best chance ever. Again though, what are we doing to create better collaborators?

I have seen this trend with e-Mail and other communications components also. We as a corporate industry place technologies in and expect people to use them correctly. I am not talking about finding out where a function is in the right mouse click menu or knowing how to connect to the server when traveling. I am talking about real use. How should someone communicate with e-Mail or IM? How should someone build a team with a collaboration solution? How should someone manage an asset in a content management system?

The last one is interesting because external pressures such as compliance are beginning to spell this out for companies. The sad thing is that for the most part that is the only thing helping the users within the corporation.

I would argue things such as e-Mail have made us worse communicators than before. The terseness of the messages, the ambiguity of the decisions/topics, the needless chit chat, etc... are all examples of how we have de-evolved since having to pick up a phone or have a face to face conversation. Communicating electronically is different and the expectation that someone who can communicate in real life well will be able to communicate electronically well is misguided. Body language, oral pitch, and other physical aspects are all things that go into whether we are good real life communicators. It is a different ball of wax for electronic communication :-) (or should it be =P).

The same is true for collaboration. Just because someone can work on a team in real life does not mean that they can do that electronically. Who teaches users to take advantage of the electronic upsides such as real time status, contextual settings, digital roles, etc... If you have a story of a customer that is doing it right I would love to hear about it ( or post a comment. I am sure it is going on but where I could not tell you.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I got a message now what?

I got to thinking while reviewing the latest Exchange Beta, "why make it easier to keep things in the Inbox?".

The Inbox is the most unstructured quagmire of information people manage (I would even argue over the OS file system). $.07 bet anyone? The fact that information is mainly intended to come inbound to an Inobx hampers activities such as content management, compliance and a litteny of others.

So...where in the new Exchange, functions such as autoarchiving, searching, routing control, encryption and auditing are important; the most important feature would be easily moving this data from my unstructured Inbox to a more structured application to be managed. We did the genesis of this a long time ago in Notes (e.g. move a message to a calendar entry or task or another db). I also know that the extensions in Notes and Outlook make this possible to program (i.e. we did this at Groove to move messages from Outlook to a Groove space but unfortunately that was taken away with the latest release). The point though is that this needs to be made easier for businesses to implement, should have more emphasis placed on it and should be more out of the box. Give me a generic target on disk where I can register something similar to an XSLT++ that defines a path, transport and data migration to move things from the Inbox to a target. Then allow me to embed that in the message window. Then for goodness sake ship some of them out of the box. Every messaging company has plenty of targets that they could pre-program.

More emphasis should be placed on the Inbox being viewed as a temporary holding spot instead of the eternal dumping ground. When things come in, act upon what needs action and place the information in the right context and then discard or archive what is left. Maybe it is that people get too many messages that makes this behavior unrealistic or maybe it is the fact that they have no other option but to just take the message and file it away.

I remember my mom used to tell me "when you have something in your hand it takes just as much work to put in the right place as the wrong place". Now I didn't buy into that much as a teenager. I only somewhat buy into it as an adult usually because I have to pick it up later anyway and that's the point! After someone opens, reads a message and puts it in a folder do you really think they are going to go back once a week and say "hmmm....what needs to be done with this to ensure compliance?". Someone needs to figure out the Interact/Act model to capture the users attention when they first open a message to say "this needs to be placed in context".

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Fire, Ready, Aim!

I always loved that saying. It was one that was sunk into me by a colleague Barbara Baird of Lotus Organizer fame. No idea what she is doing now but man she had her finger on the pulse of how people really were and how they really acted.

I was recently talking to a Lotus employee about a bunch of stuff and was asked "why don't customers get the power of custom applications". My answer "don't forget people Act then Think versus Think then Act". It is not that customers don't get the power of custom applications it is that they don't think about it first anymore. The more I get out there really working with customers the more I see how true this is.

Customers say, "I want to be in better touch with my customers and partners so I need a CRM package". You have to read into that statement alone. What automatically brings them to conclude the fact that they need a CRM package? Well, someone told them. Next they say well I need to look at SAP or Oracle or Siebel or (sorry MS Dynamics is not on the tip of the tongue yet). Why? Again because they have been influenced to think that these COTS (consumer off the shelf) based products are the best. So then what really happens. They buy one of these and end up spending thousands of dollars customizing it to have this report or that report or capture this data or that data blah blah get the picture.

In addition, custom applications have gotten a bad stigma over the past 3 or 4 years (especially in the public sector). CIOs and IT managers are afraid to build a best of breed solution for the most part because they are afraid if it doesn't work then they will get canned. Custom applications have always had the hard issue also of "now who will support it" or "what happens when one component gens itself and breaks the solution". Very few people anymore, sit there and think, "well I need the best workflow engine, the best database and indexing capabilities, the best search performance, the best data capture capabilities...etc...".

The sad truth though is that everyone needs custom applications. Software is about business and in the true sense of form follows function, not all businesses are ran the same. Do you really think Jeff Bezos used a COTS product to manage his shipping without at least customizing it to fit a unique on-line shopping model? To compete we have to be unique. To be unique you need systems that can adapt and react at business speed now.

This war around custom vs COTS is enabled by the advancement in the openness and robustness of the engines today but as always it will be won by the applications. How good is a motor without a car or boat to power? A good friend of mine, Peter O'Kelly, use to say "it's the apps stupid" all the way back in 1993 when we first started working on Lotus Notes together. How right he was. Luckily he didn't bet me $.07 then.

You want to win the war? You have to fight the battle on multiple fronts. Your platform/engine message needs to be targeted at the ISVs not the customers. You have to get them to realize you have some very unique pieces that could allow them to build better COTS products. You then have to help them take that message to the consumer that there are COTS products available on the platform. Either that or get into the COTS business yourself (which I would recommend at least for a certain amount of applications). Then in a high touch sales model convince them that your COTS is good but it is the ease of customization that makes the Solution powerful!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Another IM post

I have received a ton of e-mails discussing my views on IM and how it really is the new e-Mail (or at least it will become that).

I had another thought this weekend while playing an on-line game. Why is the IM in game not integrated with the IM in real life? I can send tells cross servers so not all conversation is meant for game play so no excuse there. Several of the on-line games are owned by companies that either have ties to or directly manufacture an IM product so no excuses there.

Wouldn't it be cool if parents wanted to get in contact with their kids that they could IM in game? Don't see why not. BTW, if you want to learn to be a good IM'r then play an on-line game. They have the individual, group and gang metaphor down.

Zuna vs iPod

I have been engulfing myself with Zuna material over that last several months trying to get a clearer picture of actually what MS is planning on shipping. It looks smart with its WiFi connectivity instead of fumbling with cables and its gargantuan hard drive that will make 60 Gigs music players look like an IBM AT soon enough.

That being said the platform that will win will be the one that has the content. Apple has done a great job with iTunes and now the TV shows (something like 150 shows in their format). Microsoft did a good job with the gaming console but not enough to lure games like Metal Gear Solid and such huge titles away from Sony and thus Sony is still winning. Speaking of Sony though let's not mention why the heck they aren't in this battle ( Walkman ).

MS is going to have the better player at least until Apple has a chance to regroup and possibly leapfrog but their success lies in the hands of some Desperate Housewives. However, even Survivors will make money in this House (man!!! I couldn't resist but that is bad).

A start of a trend...hopefully....

Richard Hatch, who you will all remember as one of the first reality tv winner (honestly don't know if he was the first or not), got thrown in jail today. I guess he forgot to pay taxes on that $1M he won while doing whatever they do.

One can only hope this is a start of a trend to send all reality participants, creators and supporters to the slammer. Reality TV you have made America dummer!!!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Big news for the mediaholics

Cingular yesterday announced that it had finally shipped a HSDPA phone. I think this is big news not necessarily to the Desperate House Wives junkies that catch the latest on the rail line to and from work but more so for the infrastructure that is being put in place for the mobile user. Yes we still are a ways away from the never disconnected model. Still too many places in the US that don't have as good of coverage as the major metro areas. However, that being said this is a great technology model.

Engineering firm creates technology ---> Broad appeal and consumption by a large audience (in this case 14-35 year olds) ---> Investment back into the technology to harden it for enterprise usage ---> Back out to the enterprise/public sector to pay for additional services

The one interesting thing I haven't seen a lot in the press around this announcement is the continued dominance that LG is experiencing. Can you say 간다 LG는 간다!!!

Friday, July 14, 2006

When is a message a message?

I just got done looking at the IBM SameTime 7.5 and the Microsoft Communicator 2007 Betas and am a bit disappointed that neither company has taken advantage of what I see as a big opportunity.

Simply put there is NO difference between e-mail and instant messaging and the first company to realize that is in line to change the model. If you think there is a major difference, ask yourself why e-mail is so easily completely replaced with instant messaging for the younger generation.

There are a couple of boundary functions that each has that has always kept them seperate. E-Mail has always had the asynchronous capabilities along with the archival management (folders, sent, backup, auditing, etc...). IM on the other hand has always had the more real-time aspects of communication such as the ability to transition into a many to many chat instead of those fun back to back e-mail thread you can never follow. IM has also always had precence but we have seen that slipping into all e-mail products out there now, even the web based ones.

There are other differences also but they are at a lower level (e.g. in e-mail you don't need any prior relationship with the user to send them a message but in instant messaging you typically need to be able to discover their contact information prior to sending a message). The ironic thing though is that most instant messaging architectures, or at least any one that has the ability to be federated, is not truely instant. It is a store and forward mechanism much like e-mail anyway.

As for the UI I think it ends up being a mix between the two. I like the lite interface of IM with just my contacts and the list of messages at the bottom. However, I now get about 150-200 im's a day (direct replacement of e-mail) so I could really use an Inbox with some sorting capability.

E-Mail as we know it today will be dead in the next 7-10 years (btw you will find in my blog I will be assertive and I will take any $.07 bet out there ;-)). Users will have either completely switched over to an IM platform because they want a more contextual/less spammish environment or IM will be tossed because it never grew up to include the things like archival, backup and auditing that any kind of Enterprise communication infrastructure needs. I don't think this opens up the messaging market but I do think it will tilt the market either to IBM or Microsoft...whichever gets it first.

Too fast of a moving target...

I am really looking forward to follow this feature. Hoteling, Roaming User Profiles, or whatever name you want to call the technical solution is sorely needed. It was nice that the developers thought of things like limited registry access, etc.. that typically inhibits users from walking up to any device and loading software.

I still question the usefulness of the entire client since the domino web access continues to get better. Doesn't it make more sense to have a thinner client that really just holds my security credentials for things like digital signing, encryption over the wire and a more secure login? Will anyone really be replicating data to a temporary machine? I might not being seeing the whole picture at the moment.