Tag Archives: social computing

Final thoughts on Oracle Open World 2011

I got back from San Francisco a few days ago, after attending Oracle’s annual conference, and have been ruminating ever since. You can see a summary here (I wrote some news coverage for CRM magazine), but that’s journalism—there’s no place for my own opinions. What follows are the impressions that don’t belong in a neutral-toned article. Nothing horrible, but still inappropriate for news articles outside of the New York Post.

I should point out first, however, that Oracle paid for my flight and hotel accommodations, and treated me to a couple of meals to boot. The Oracle analyst relations people are top notch, and the company is smart enough to allow them to do their job without undue interference.

1. Oracle Is Too Big. This should not surprise anybody. I don’t even think it’s necessarily a problem—economies of scale are important for industries valued in the billions of dollars and touching every facet of life in the developed world. It becomes a problem when you have a diverse array of products to display, but only one opportunity to do so.

OOW11 was two conferences, one for hardware and one for software. Unfortunately, the two conferences were co-located and ran consecutively, so all the hardware people got their content first, and then all the software people got theirs. This was especially evident at Larry Ellison’s two keynotes. The first, on Sunday evening, was a drool session for server wonks, with nary a bone thrown to the applications crowd. The result? A number of walkouts, and scads of Twitter heckling. The second, on Wednesday afternoon, introduced enterprise social networking tools and the Oracle Public Cloud—a big deal for apps people, useless for server people. More walkouts, and probably some heckling as well.

This approach isn’t likely to change, either. Throwing two events would be more expensive than throwing one big one, and Oracle’s new Engineered Systems initiative will bind hardware and software even tighter. Should it succeed, there will be even less reason to separate the shows.

2. Larry Ellison Doesn’t Get People. He’s an extremely sharp fellow, this Larry Ellison. He’s passionate about Oracle technology, and he’s an absolute shark for business. But he hasn’t figured out these flesh creatures around him. Sunday’s widely-ridiculed talk about nuts and bolts—Oracle Exadata, Exalogic, and new Exalytics servers, and the new SPARC SuperCluster general purpose megaserver—was passionate enough to hold my interest for a while, despite being irrelevant to my immediate needs. It made a strong business case for the devices, and was really a love letter to the technology. No doubt about it: Oracle has some very sexy tech, and it runs the world.

But the whole thing was numbers. “Ten times faster than X! One-fifth the power consumption of Y!” Complete failure to engage people, to tell a story that sold these behemoths on anything but raw capability. Attendees of OOW10 said it was like he picked up right where he left off the previous year, with as little regard for the audience as he exhibited then.

By comparison, the Wednesday keynote showed us a different Ellison. His presentation, likely due in part to the poor reception from Sunday and the gaffe of cancelling Marc Benioff’s scheduled Tuesday address, was lively, pojnted, and full of humor and fire. I don’t know Larry Ellison personally, but I’ve observed him over the years and seen him speak on several occasions. This was the first time I felt he was human, and I liked it. He rose to the occasion, introducing a family of Cloud apps whose relevance to individual users as well as the enterprises that employ them was clear.

This second address wasn’t perfect. It was largely devoid of specifics and, coming on the last full day of the conference, left little opportunity to get more information, or even build up much buzz. Introducing the Oracle Social Network and Oracle Public Cloud earlier on would have given us industry analysts and reporters a chance to talk amongst ourselves, dig for details, and basically do Oracle’s PR work for it. Instead, we spent three days begging for scraps, and Oracle leaders like Anthony Lye and Steve Miranda were reduced to telling us “there’s an announcement coming on Wednesday, and we can’t talk about it.”

3. If You’re Going to Give Free Press to the Competition, Do It on Your Terms. If you heard a loud bang on Tuesday night, it was Oracle shooting itself in the foot. Marc Benioff, chairman of Salesforce.com, was scheduled to give an address at OOW11 on Wednesday, as he’d done for at least the previous two years. At the last moment, Oracle (Larry Ellison) cancelled the address—changed the time, actually, to Thursday 8 a.m., after many attendees would have already left. This, combined with Marc having a prior commitment in that time slot, effectively killed the session.

Perhaps inviting Benioff in the first place was a bad move. He’d been critical of Oracle’s strategy and products in years past, and there’s no reason to think this year would have been different. The social tech Oracle was introducing would put the two companies into more direct competition, so providing a podium could be a risk.

As bad as it might have been, blocking the address was a HORRIBLE move. Marc Benioff is a master of the public address. Every word out of his mouth sells Salesforce.com and the vision of Cloud computing. Ellison’s actions removed any constraint Benioff might have had to be a gracious guest; they cast Benioff in the role of injured party and Ellison in the role of jerk; and they cost him money by making him have to get a different venue at the last minute. In other words, shit just got real.

Marc was able to use his time to attack Oracle much more fully than he could as part of the Open World calendar, pitting Salesforce’s fully-formed and successful Cloud model against Oracle’s still-unannounced one. Larry’s rebuttal in his own Wednesday address was intriguing and pointed, but it didn’t have enough meat on its bones. For the first time in history, Oracle was fighting outside its weight class. It’s believed Larry set this debacle in motion on his own initiative, which means there’s nobody else to blame. Stupid move from a very smart man.

4. Follow Your Announcements With Facts. I am really looking forward to seeing OPC and OSN in action. Their introduction alone was worth my attendance, and 2012 is going to be all the more exciting for the social technology crowd because of it.

The old show biz mantra is to always leave the audience wanting more. OOW11 took it to an unreasonable extreme, but it left us wanting anything. I can tell you little more about Oracle’s social and Cloud initiatives than that they exist, and there are some early adopters. I can’t name the early adopters because of NDA. I can’t tell you what the apps do, because the demo was sparse and the people who could tell us more were gagged. I can’t even tell you when to expect to see them in the real world, because the company’s official line is that no release schedule has been set beyond “over the next several weeks.” This is not how a company generates buzz. It’s a great way to make us industry watchers very suspicious of what we’re being shown.

Time spent by top executives deflecting questions could have been spent arming us with the facts we need to get the message out, all by tweaking the announcement date a few days. Now we have to beg for follow-on briefings and demos when available, hoping that satisfying our curiosity will wash this bad taste from out mouths.

5. Please Invite Me Back Next Year. Oracle is an incredibly important company. Even when Open World is a misfire, it provides valuable information, access, and networking. My criticisms are honest, and I offer them in the hopes you’ll make OOW12 much better for us, and thus for yourselves. Prove me wrong about what I perceive as your mistakes. I look forward to it.

Enterprise Social CRM a la Tibco

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned them before, but TIBCO (Tibco hereafter, because I hate capitalizing entire company names) is one of those wicked-smart companies that is moving social CRM forward in a usable, well thought out way for the enterprise. Tibco, and its tibbr product in particular, needs more exposure, because it has got a really solid grip on what businesses need to make social computing part of the work day.

Today marked the launch of tibbr 3.0, which Tibco is calling “the 21st century universal inbox for social computing in the enterprise.” Tibbr 3.0 will be generally available in August 2011; you can read the launch press release here, but I’m inclined to give my own thoughts about what’s on offer.

Videoconferencing. One of the components is tibcast, a video conference app with desktop video and voice. You might think this is no big deal, since there are several companies who have conference modules, and at least one or two who only do video conferencing. the difference is that tibcast is built right into your desktop work environment, and is completely ad-hoc. Nothing needs to be set up or agreed upon in advance; you can decide to have a conference on the fly with anybody you can reach, and just start the thing up. Anybody on the team who wasn’t available has full access to the recorded meeting, as well as any files that were shared.

Related to this is Tibbr Voice. When you dial into 1-800-TIBBR, the system recognizes your phone number (and thus your permissions) and allows you to post voice memos directly to your wall, or somebody else’s.

Document Management. Ram Menon, Tibco’s EVP of marketing, has been mentioning lately that next year, businesses will generate an estimated 1,500 exabytes (1 EB = 1 billion GB) of files—some 33 trillion documents—in addition to all the other data they will produce. Each year, what Menon calls “Where’s the File Syndrome” grows worse, and is exacerbated by cases where static copies must be distributed.

Tibbr 3.0 integrates with any folder file system (the example given is Microsoft SharePoint), granting discovery and write-back capabilities while preserving all corporate permissions and security. You can’t accidentally share a forbidden document by dragging it to the wrong area of your desktop, but you can make it available to the right people as if they had their own copy while still preserving a single version of the truth.

Easing Social Sprawl. Anybody who deals with more than a few social networking tools knows what social sprawl is—our attentions are split between so many communities and different kinds of interaction that managing the feeds becomes its own full time job. Tibbr Communities provides a single work space for them all, with multiple walls and varying access rights—again, you can’t accidentally put sensitive data on the wrong wall. All the pieces of your social media pile are consolidated into one installation. Tibco is calling this an industry first.

Actionability in the Social Context. Seeing the activity of coworkers, partners, and customers, and being able to communicate about it quickly and easily, is a huge plus. But business operations need more than a news feed and some chat. Tibco draws on its SOA expertise to let users act on what they see in the feed without going to another applications. Tibbr 3.0 lets you do things like approve purchase orders, OK budget requests, or order more inventory without ever leaving your wall—the place where you found out about the needed actions.

Further drawing on SOA, Tibbr 3.0 introduces tibSmartwidgets (I don’t choose the names, I just report on ’em), a way to embed tibbr 3.0 into any existing enterprise apps through context-sensitive widgets.

What it all means to me. From what I can see, tibbr 3.0 is bloody beautiful in concept and execution. I might never again work in a large corporation where all of these new and awesome technologies will be used, but I can imagine using something like tibbr if I did, and feeling like it was how things should always have been. Feeling faceless, powerless, out of the loop, disconnected—these are major concerns for modern workers, and the younger generations coming into the work force won’t stand for it.

A number of good point solutions and adaptations of consumer-level social technology already exist, and there is a growing movement to integrate them into a single social business environment. Tibco is doing a fantastic job of it with tibbr. This is full-bore SCRM here.

Tibco is a name well known to industry insiders, but it seems the company doesn’t get much attention beyond those circles. I think this is a mistake. Tibco is doing game-changing work, and I urge you to take a closer look. Even if you’re happy with what you’ve got, or are a competitor, make Tibco part of the conversation. A rising tide floats all boats.

Mixed Media, Mixed Message

Many of you know that I come from a print media background—mostly magazines, with a few books shuffled in. While I’ve moved on in my career to a place where most of my work seems to be electronic in nature—blogging, ebooks, social networking—I still have a soft spot for words on dead trees. So whenever somebody says that books, magazines, or newspapers are dying forms of media, I have to speak up.

Of course, nobody’s actually said that to me recently, so I need to stretch a bit. Just the other week, this brilliant video posted all over the Interwebs. While it turns out that it was prepared by a unit of Penguin Publishing, the message is no less valid. Make sure you watch and listen to the whole thing before you make up your mind.

Yes, it’s on YouTube. Yes, social networking has been a big deal long enough to go from fad to trend to established communication form. But there still has to be something to talk about. One can only get so deep into philosophy, current events, science, and art with Facebook or Buzz status updates. There will always be a place for physical media. These are major sources for big ideas.

New media can be the start of great print too. Social networking is a thousand different sociology experiments writ large, all happening at once. Good information on human behavior is there for the observing. Journalists get leads from Web sources all the time. And who’s to say that a hot exchange of tweets won’t inspire the next great novel—or that a blog won’t help us find out about it?

Sure, circulation and ad revenue are down, but that’s just good news for the trees. Executives must learn that the socialverse isn’t going away, and adjust print’s business practices to reflect this fact. I don’t have the answer yet, nor do they, but we’re working on it.

Chattering about Salesforce.com

As usual, my patented, trademarked, hermetically sealed and hypoallergenic live coverage of this morning’s event (Dreamforce 09) will be appearing in the Twitter stream to your right. Follow @Lager if you don’t already, and I will be adding my analysis afterward in this space.

If you’re wondering why I don’t just liveblog it here, the answer is simple: I like words, and the temptation to editorialize is much easier to manage at 140 characters a pop.

UPDATE 11:40 am PST: Tweetdeck just crapped out on me, with the “recipient not following you” error message. I’m over my limit.

11:44 am PST: Generally speaking, Salesforce Chatter looks a whole lot like Facebook. There’s also Twitter embedded. It’s a secure social business interface. I want a lot of demo time with this.

11:48 am PST: Marc is wrapping up now. Force.com has been modified so you can build collaboration apps. Chatter collaboration cloud is an attempt to change the way we work and make it more like … well, how we kill time at work when we should be working. Your coworkers are now your community, with the closer contact that implies. The biz apps, dashboards, and workflows are still there, but social networking is now built in instead of layered on.

11:53 am PST: For those of you who are worried about security, Chatter is as secure as Salesforce.com in general. You can pull in info and interactions from outside the enterprise, but I assume that once it’s there it is shielded from malfeasance.

11:55 am PST: Sales Cloud 2 is built on Chatter. Service Cloud 2 has been rebuilt for Chatter (that two rebuilds of Service Cloud). It’s all mobile capable.

12:01 pm PST: True to social form, content can be followed or broadcast automatically–you don’t have to go into a group and post to it. Your content, your apps, and your people are all talking to you. And, to judge by this demo, they’re all talking about how bad Sharepoint is.

12:04 pm PST: Demo is over, now announcing pricing. Available early 2010 in all editions of Salesforce.com and Force.com–standard in all editions. If you want to bring outsiders into Chatter, there’s a $50/user/month product. Very nice, and a welcome departure. We’ve got Jason Goldman, from the board of directors of Twitter. @goldman if you want to know.

The Business of Crowdsourcing

The hot topic in social computing is social CRM—at least it is for me—but there are other aspects that bear consideration. I spoke with LiveOps yesterday (by way of Eckart Walther, SVP) about one of them. Paid crowdsourcing is a newer kind of business process outsourcing (BPO) that leverages qualified personnel as a sort of “in crowd” for projects. The occasion for the briefing was LiveOps’ announcement of new application programming interfaces (API) for LiveWork, the company’s BPO platform (for which Walther is general manager).

LiveOps and companies like it have developed applications to manage uncertainties (like whether the offsite employee is competent and present) and make it easier to get the best effect out of remote labor. The greatest success has been in virtual contact centers, but imagine if there was a means by which businesses could access a pool of experts, specialists in a given industry or product line or core competency. Remotely, as needed. Think of the efficiencies for a business, not to mention motivated individuals who don’t happen to live where the main office happens to be.

The new API set allows developers to leverage LiveWork in settings beyond the contact center. Two early examples are Smartsheet (which crowdsources lead generation, content review, and content generation) and CrowdFlower, a more general workforce-on-demand provider.

If a LiveWork API and some ingenuity can be stretched far enough, this could be mildly disruptive in the BPO industry. Major outsource providers (staffing agencies and large management and/or IT consultancies) will still have a lock on long term engagements, especially where frequent reassessments and tweaks are needed; but for cases where the duration is short or the required workforce is very large, this solution beats the heck out of hiring temps and part-timers.

If you’d like to see why LiveOps thinks this has play in the business world, it recently produced a white paper which you can find here. [CORRECTION: The white paper was in fact produced by SmartSheet, though with the assistance and participation of LiveOps. Thanks to Andrew Schmitt of OutCast Communications for the clarification.]

[Correction #2: I’ve changed the link to the document. It should take you to the most recent version of the SmartSheet white paper at their site.]