Skype and the Enterprise

The final morning session at Enterprise 2.0 that I attended focused on Skype and the issues its adoption raises within the Enterprise. Irwin Lazar moderated a panel of Rebecca Cavagnari, VP of Convenos, Lou Guercia, President of WebDialogs and Michael Jackson from Skype.

Skype has become the most popular communications application, with 9.2 million users logged in at any time and hundreds of millions of downloads.

The virtual workplace is here. Nemertes Research reports that 83% of enterprises reported in 2006 that they have incorporated virtual workplaces.

Skype is the first unified messaging application. And it has taken off with individuals and small businesses.
Individual employees have introduced Skype into the enterprise. Skype has developed a Skype for Business product geared to the Enterprise environment. However, adoption by the enterprise has lagged behind individual user adoption.

Nemertes researched the views of enterprises about Skype. Almost half (46%) of their respondents have a policy to block it. (Note that the policy is not universally applied.) About one in ten – mostly nonprofit organizations – actively use it. Overall, there is not a great deal of acceptance by the highest levels in the enterprise, but there is broad usage by individuals.

Corporate concerns include control of usage and security.

Lou Guercia feels that the only element missing from Skype as a unified communications platform is data sharing. His company, WebDialogs, offers a Skype web conferencing plug in under the Unyte brand name.
Skype’s Michael Jackson says that one third of Skype’s users claim that they use it in the workplace.

Rebecca Cavagnari indicated that Convenos also provides a Skype web conferencing plug in.

How do they address the challenge of acceptance by enterprises?

Michael Jackson indicated that Skype is paying attention to the concerns and issues raised by the enterprise market. As they refine the product, they are making changes to take these into account.

Rebecca Cavagnari indicated that Convenos users include a large representation of people who are based outside of the United States. And they use Skype to establish presence and communicate prior to the beginning of the web conference.

Lou Guercia indicated that the conferences that are routed through WebDialog’s Skype plugin tend to be smaller than through its other products.

Skype’s Michael Jackson points out that Skype is never positioned as a replacement for phone service. Instead, they point to the greater capabilities, including video, that Skype enables. Skype uses its own internal uasge of Skype as a testbed.

Lou Guercia feels that the biggest challenge for a consumer-based company like Skype faces is scale. As a B-to-C company, Skype does not have the support system that B-to-B customers demand. He expects that this will encourage Skype to continue to focus on individual users while peacefully co-existing with the enterprise.

Cavagnari agrees that companies that partner with Skype should not expect Skype to change its focus to the Enterprise. Consequently, the partners must rely on their own efforts to ensure that their products that use Skype meet the needs of business users.

Bottom line for Guercia, Skype partners, not Skype, will have to meet the needs of business partners.

Skype’s Michael Jackson tackled the question of interoperability. He suggested that this has not been an issue for Skype’s end users, but more of an issue for analysts.

Skype has ventured into social applications with its Skypecast initiative. This is still very much in its formative stages. The company will wait for the community to develop applications rather than, with its limited size, try to itself push into the edge applications.

Why did Convenos and WebDialog integrate Skype into their products? Cavagnari indicated that Skype presented a superior substitute for the Codec that was in their product. Gueros indicated that they incorporated Skype for branding purposes. Skype gave them a brand awareness that they could not otherwise have achieved. Since December, they have done business in 47 countries – with no sales force and just an eCommerce site.

An interesting session for me. However, there seemed to be a lack of audience engagement. In fact, I had the impression that this session was trying to answer a question that nobody had asked.

A Vision for Presence

Melanie Turek moderated a panel session at Enterprise 2.0 featuring Alec Saunders from Iotum, Nick Fera, Paul Haverstock from Microsoft, Jabber’s Joe Hildebrand and David Marshak of IBM.

Companies are looking for new ways to take advantage of “presence” – knowing where their employees are, what they are doing… This is closely tied to realizing the potential of the virtual workplace. How do we stay in touch with people with whom we are working but who are working in a remote location?

Of the panelists, fellow Ottawan Iotum‘s Alec Saunders stood out – both for his clarity and his pragmatic, readily available solution.

Saunders pointed out that your chances of speaking to a human being when you make a phone call are only 18% and people have to try 4.15 times on average to reach the party they want. Fixing this would enhance productivity greatly.Right now, presence is indicated in IM by wiggling our mouse (and having our computer come alive). This is a problem (why be interrrupted when we’ve just started working?) We need a people-centric model.

Saunders pointed to his New Presence paper that he published on his blog last year. He suggested that we look at a range of clues relating to our relationship with the people attempting to contact us. Iotum has developed a solution based on managing presence in light of a variety of factors incorporating your relationships with people and the range of activities you might be involved in at any time.

A free trial of Iotum’s Talk Now is available through download. I think I’ll try it.

Social Project Management: Everything is small again

Leisa Reichelt led a session at Enterprise 2.0 on how the bottom up organization and team building approach of social software might be applied to project management in the enterprise.

Project management software in the company is one of those love/hate things. You can’t work without it. You hate to live with it. The effort required to set up a project and then the tyranny of following the plan are the bane of many people’s existence.

Reichelt points to the ease of connectedness made possible by social media applications such as Facebook and LastFM. Social media has also eased access to information and sharing of that information. There is no requirement for technical knowledge. Virtually no cost.

Reichelt suggests that the new collaboration and sharing capabilities of social software have the potential to replace functions currently embedded exclusively in enterprise project management solutions. Look at 37 Signals’ Getting Real for an early example of the potential for this. A different methodology (build the core quickly, go to market, then build in the rest.) Yes, 37signals is dealing with social software, not enterprise software. But their success does point to the fact that approaches other than the orthodox enterprise project management approach are possible.

What are the hallmarks of the social project management (2.0) approach?

  • Small teams: a developer, a designer and a sweeper.
  • Made up of smart, motivated people.
  • Limited planning. Non-essential documentation and highly detailed specification are dispensed with. Sketching and agreement on fundamentals are the focus.
  • Minimal scope: Less is more. Build less.
  • Multi-skilled teams: Look for people with multi-disciplinary skills.
  • Fast pace: Speed is essential to produce results within a limited budget.
  • Rapid release: Take it out to the community quickly and ask them to participate in alpha and beta testing.
  • Feedback: End user feedback is sought to refine the product.
  • Responsiveness: Speed and close contact with users leads to quick reaction to feedback.
  • Iteration: Constant change.

This approach is similar to the Agile Software Development approach.

Project 1.0 focused on large projects with large budgets and enormous teams.

  • Top down: an extensive hierarchy with information trickling down. But getting the information back up is difficult.
  • Gantt Charts: The bigger, the uglier, the better. Reichelt notes that these are enormously optimistic. How often do they have any resemblance to reality?
  • Many stakeholders: The project manager seeks out all of the stakeholders and the stakeholders put in as many requests as they possibly can. One problem of project management is that too often it seeks to satisfy stakeholders. This is different from satisfying end users.
  • Complex dependencies: Escalating demands leads to complexities which leads to delays.
  • Risk registers: !
  • Horizon & beyond timelines: Planning a project now that will be useful and realistic in 18 months. How often does this really work?
  • Expected failure: This kills team morale. But is it all too common.

Do these projects fail? Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP, Accenture, IBM Global Services. How many of their projects are delivered on time, on budget and to the original specs? Reichelt feels that the large 1.0 “large scale,” top down projects fail spectacularly – all the time.

But, of course, they don’t “officially” fail, because the Gantt Chart has been updated along the way.

Traditional project managment doesn’t match the way we really work. It forecasts a “waterfall” linear progression from data collection through analysis, through plan formulation to implementation. In reality, we work in a much more iterative way, revisiting earlier phases as we progress through experience.

But how does this apply to large scale projects? You can’t build the Space Shuttle using the “Getting Real” stripped down methodology.

Reichelt points to a new generation of project tools such as Basecamp and GoPlan.

But does it scale? Reichelt’s answer is, “Yes, to a point.” She believes that what we should be looking to develop is a composite of the corporate with the virtues of the new more agile, leaner social project management approach.

Reichelt suggested that project managers today can apply some of the practices of social project software management today – listening to teams, breaking projects down into smaller initiatives.

Reichelt acknowledged that her perspective on social project management is rose-coloured. It made a lot of sense to me, but as I looked around the room, I saw a fair amount of skepticism on the part of the enterprise project managers. But I hope that Leisa doesn’t give up. Her vision has potential. And if it is not yet fully attainable, that just creates opportunity for innovators and entrepreneurs.

Corporate Blogging: The Ecology of Participation

Stowe Boyd moderated a panel at Enterprise 2.0 of Anil Dash, Suw Charman, Sam Weber and Oliver Young that dealt with the challenge of corporations embracing blogging.

Suw Charman suggested that the interested question is not whether enterprises can introduce blogs (the answer is yes) but HOW they should do this. Asking whether blogs can be used in corporations is a bit like asking whether pen and paper can be used in business.

The question is what do you want to use them for. What problem do we have that blogs can solve? The answer will be different from company to company and within different groups and levels within companies. The answer comes down to what people need and want.

Internal blogs can meet the need that employees have to know their fellow workers, identify those with information they need and share information with others.

External blogs can fill the need that customers have to peer behind the curtains of the companies that they deal with. Companies can use this to build relationships with customers and to develop a presence within the community.

Blogs are like a hammer. You can build virtually anything with it. A blog can be anything you want it to be. It can put a human face on the company. Ask for customer input on new products. Provide a place for fans to find out information about the product or service. Distribute essential information to employees as an alternative to email (reducing email spam, hurray!), distributing news and background information.

Culture is the key issue in introducing blogs into a corporation. Both ensuring that the culture of blogging and the expectation of the community is understood and ensuring that the corporate culture is able to embrace these expectations and mores.

Oliver Young suggested that a recent Forrester Research study showed that the business value of blogs is still rated fairly low.

Six Apart‘s Anil Dash responded that this is not surprising given how early we are in the cycle of the development of blogs. To even get 17% is an extraordinary success.

Young suggested that part of the problem may be that too many people have unrealistic or unfocussed expectations of blogs. Consequently, it’s not surprising if they become frustrated.

One of the audience members interjected that the “Discoverability” of blogs raises their risk factor. Many corporations are wary of encouraging employees to post information because of the potential that well-intentioned writings may later cause problems.

Charman pointed out that this makes the case for a blog policy that makes it clear to employees about what is or is not acceptable. She also noted that many banks have implemented Wikis instead of blogs because Wikis have a change history.

Oliver Young noted that firms that don’t introduce corporate blogs are not risk free. It is difficult to imagine that there are any companies that do not have any employees who blog – whether the company knows it or not. So, education about social media and a blogging policy should be undertaken by all companies, even those who are not contemplating introducing corporate blogs.

Social = Me First

Stowe Boyd focused on social applications in his session at Enterprise 2.0

Social = Me First. It sounds selfish, but there’s an important truth here.

In 1999, Stowe wrote an article in his newsletter, Message, in which he talked about a new set of software which he called “social tools: software intended to shape culture.” At the outset, many people thought the concept was “out there.” Today, it is at the core of social media.

So, what are the underpinnings of social applications?

photo of Stowe Boyd by Brian SolisFirst, the individual is the new group. The reason that we all use these tools is related to our passions, our desire to connect with people or our desire to connect with markets.

The edge dissolves the center. We, the edglings – the people who are living our lives through these technologies – are dissolving the traditional power centres and redistributing it to the community.

The notion of belonging has shifted to bottom up. I define the groups I belong to through the company and friends I choose, not because an organization has accepted me for membership.

Unique markets can be made out of the wants and needs of the community that I assemble. And this provides an opportunity for innovators.

The buddylist is the centre of the universe. I am made greater by the sum of my connections and so are my connections. And I decide who is interesting to me and what I want to share with them. This is the core idea behind all future successful social applications.

The value of the network application is based on the number of connections that it facilitates and sustains.

It’s really about discovery. Discovery is the primary abiding motivator. They are looking to discover things, places (the Third Space), people (who fill the places) and Self (at the still point of the turning world.) So, the final measurement of success in a social application is how well do you help people discover themselves.

Andrew McAfee – Enterprise 2.0: The State of the Meme

Andrew McAfee followed David Weinberger in the keynote session at Enterprise 2.0.

McAfee coined the term Enterprise 2.0 a little over a year ago. In his presentation, he looked at the changes in the last year.

How are we doing with awareness?

Since the term was coined a little over a year ago, it has spread rapidly, finding it’s way into mainstream media and conferences like this.

The concept of social software is beginning to penetrate into corporations. This is accompanied by an awareness of the benefits of network effects as the usage increases.

Enterprises also are beginning to acknowledge the merits of freeform authoring. Users will create that which is useful to them. So, we must come to grips with the need to “get out the way” and let them do this.

One of the huge leaps forward in Enterprise 2.0 is the realization that the users should also create their own metadata. If we allow this to happen without imposing artificial structures, we will find that the information is organized in ways that reflect the users and their needs.

How about the technologies?

The toolkit is growing and overflowing with freeform, collaborative tools. Massive amounts of new offerings are being offered by both startups and established companies. There will be a winnowing out as users select the best of the set and others fall by the wayside. Messy, but good.

On the other hand, the new applications and platforms are not always as easy to use as they must be. And, the new technologies must take into account existing applications, such as email. Email is ubiquitous and meets a functional need. Enterprise 2.0 applications will be more quickly embraced if they integrate with existing applications like email.
How are we communicating results to decision makers inside organizations? We’re not doing so well with this. Case studies are still relatively rare. To build credibility inside the corporation, it will be necessary to build up a broader set of case studies, benchmarks and stories that describe the success of these tools.

McAfee cautions against attempting to justify the adoption of the tools soley in terms of ROI. Early estimates are likely to be contentious. He instead suggests that the focus should be on telling the story of what they do. This will appeal to decision makers who make their judgments on factors beyond ROI.

He concluded his presentation with a proposal to create a repository of Enterprise 2.0 efforts. This could be generated by the Enterprise 2.0 community through a Wiki. And it will provide a map of the evolution of Enterprise 2.0 that advocates and decision makers can draw on.

David Weinberger – Everything is Miscellaneous

David Weinberger opened Enterprise 2.0 this morning with a rapid fire overview of the thinking he lays out in his new book, Everything is Miscellaneous.

In the face of the rapid change that we have been experiencing, why aren’t we drowning in the ocean of information. The answer lies in the metadata.

The real world requires that we order things within finite, defined spaces. Think of the front page of the newspaper. Power and authority is conveyed upon the person who commands the ability to determine what goes into these spaces.

We have imported the concept of physical limitations of organization into digitization. But the digital in fact frees us from these limitations.

Key thoughts:

  • Leaf as many branches as you can. Information can be tagged in unlimited ways.
  • Messiness is a virtue. All sorts of connections that make sense to individuals are possible and good. There is no need to force these relationships and connections into a predetermined pattern.
  • There is no difference between clean data and metadata. When you go online, this is not so much the case anymore. With Search that draws connections between data, everything is metadata.
  • Unowned order: Users own the organization of the data that is meaningful and useful to them.
  • Take all of these things together and the user can draw meaning from data to meet their immediate needs and context. Everything is Miscellaneous.

In this new environment, authority is distributed and attributed by the community. Authority embraces fallibility. Contrast the self identification in Wikipedia of entries that require further attention or editing by the community with the self declared indisputable authority of traditional media like the New York Times or the Encyclopedia Britannica. By acknowledging fallibility, by acknowledging mistakes, authority is actually enhanced.

Heading to Boston for Enterprise 2.0

Enterprise 2.0
I’m heading to Boston for Enterprise 2.0, which bills itself as “The Collaborative Technologies Conference.”

I decided to attend this year because of the interesting mix of traditional proprietary enterprise software with the new breed of social software. I’m interested in seeing how the purveyors of the big ticket systems are being affected and influenced by the emergence of the open source, community driven collaborative platforms.

There’ll be a great lineup of speakers over the next three days. In particular, I’m looking forward to sessions on the first day with Stowe Boyd, Andrew McAfee, Anil Dash, Greg Reinacker, Ross Mayfield and David Weinberger (I packed a copy of Everything is Miscellaneous to read en route.)
I’ll try to blog from the conference or at least daily after the close of business.

I’m also looking forward to meeting Bryan Person while I’m in Boston. If you are reading this and would like to join us for a drink Wednesday evening, send me an email.

Coca Cola Sprite Yard – Social Network or Exploitation?

Sprite?Is it just me? Or is there something seriously “wrong” with this?

Forget Facebook, Everyone is Meeting in the Yard
Forget Myspace and Facebook. That’s old news. Now, there is Sprite’s exclusive network called the Sprite Yard.As a new way of connecting with customers, Coca-Cola expects the Sprite Yard to set new benchmarks for consumer brand engagement through the use of a mobile platform. Within the Sprite Yard, users can create a tag name, a profile, send “shouts” to friends and even post “scribbles” to a discussion board.

Measurement metrics have been built in so Coca-Cola can track, in real-time, which features consumers are using most to the direct impact on beverage sales. It enables Coca-Cola to react very quickly to what their market wants.

What made them “go mobile” with the Sprite Yard? They saw the opportunity to leverage mobile’s potential for viral distribution and to react to the consumers’ desire for constant connectivity.

With so many people actively online, organizations want to create their own groups and communities to ask their customers directly what they think, feel and want so that companies can make better corporate decisions.

Now, I worry here that I’m being mean spirited. And I worry that by pointing out the obvious, I’ll hurt the people behind it. And heck. I live in a glass house, as a public relations practitioner who is exploring social media and whose firm may also make mistakes.

But having said that, this just screams wrong, wrong, wrong!

What jumps out at me?

  • Right off the top, hyperbole. “Forget Facebook?” The fastest growing social networking space that has turned itself into a platform? Come on! Good communication must be based in reality. Why not just tell me to forget Rocket Richard. Forget Hank Aaron. Forget Joe Namath. Cause, heck, Fred Money-to-Burn has come along and promises that he’ll be bigger than them all. That’s just bald hype. Walk the talk before you make the claim.
  • “Coca-Cola expects the Sprite Yard to set new benchmarks for consumer brand engagement through the use of a mobile platform.” Whoah. Those are high, high, high expectations that have just been set. Let’s check back in three months from now and see whether I’ll have to eat my hat (or drink my Coca Cola.) Never ever tell them that you’re going to hit the ball over the fence on your first pitch. (Unless your name is Babe Ruth. And, oops. It didn’t work out too well for him either…)
  • “Measurement metrics have been built in so Coca-Cola can track, in real-time, which features consumers are using most to the direct impact on beverage sales.” Let me get this straight. You’ve compared yourself to social networks that let me connect with my friends. But the great benefit of this network is that Coca Cola will be able to measure, in real time (no overnight delays for us folks) which features sell the most soda. Wow! I want to participate -not (to quote a phrase as hackneyed as this campaign.)

Bottom line. The foundation of social media is the spirit of generosity. Is Coca Cola being generous here? Or has someone been just a little too candid about how we are all just data points in Coca Cola’s marketing analysis machine?

Is this what social media and social software are leading to? is this the new normal? Or is there another way?

Air Canada wants to charge me to give back a free ticket

Here’s a truly weird customer relations experience.

Earlier this year, Air Canada offered a free ticket to the United States to anyone who bought one of their Rapidair Flight Passes. Because I fly between Toronto and Ottawa virtually every week, I use flight passes. So, I qualified for the free ticket offer.

I used the free ticket to book a trip to San Francisco for the second week in June. But earlier today I discovered that I have to be in Ottawa for an important meeting. So, I won’t be able to take the trip.

The only restriction on the ticket was that the travel had to occur prior to June 30. I realized that I could not reschedule the trip to occur before then. I’d have to simply give up the chance to use the free ticket.

So, I went onto the Air Canada Website to cancel the trip.

Now, here’s where the weirdness starts. I sign onto the Website, locate my reservation and click the Cancel button. Up pops a screen that informs me that I must pay $80 to cancel this reservation. That’s odd. Pay $80 to cancel something that was free in the first place? Hmmm.

So, I call the Air Canada reservation centre. I explain to the ticket agent that I wish to cancel the reservation. OK she says. That’ll cost you $40 each way in order to recredit the ticket to my account for future use. I explain that the free ticket has an expiry date of June 30 and that I won’t be able to use it. I don’t need it credited. I just want to cancel my reservation so that Air Canada can resell the seat.

Sorry, she says. If you don’t pay us to cancel the seat, your reservation will stay active and lapse when the flight departs.

Honestly. I’m not making this up.

Air Canada will forego the opportunity to sell a seat on an Ottawa to San Francisco flight unless I pay them $80 to cancel a free ticket. Wow!

Does this make sense to you?