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In the wake of the announcements of Microsoft acquiring Yammer and Cisco rebranding Cisco Quad as Cisco WebEx Social, the UCStrategies Experts talk about what they're seeing in the enterprise regarding the adoption of social software. Blair Pleasant moderates the discussion, and is joined by UC Experts Jon Arnold, Russell Bennett, Marty Parker, Michael Finneran, and Art Rosenberg.
Blair Pleasant: Hi, this is Blair Pleasant and I am joined today by my fellow UCStrategies experts. Today we’re talking about social software in the enterprise. There were a few big announcements recently that you probably heard about: Microsoft acquired Yammer, and Cisco rebranded its Quad offering to what’s now called Cisco WebEx Social. They also now offer a premise-based version of WebEx Social so now customers can get it either as a service or on-premise.
As some of you know, I’ve been a proponent of integrating unified communications with social software for quite a long time. I came up with the term “collaborative communications” as a way of describing the new integrated solutions that includes UC collaboration and social software. Just like we can see someone’s presence status and do a click-to-call or click-to-connect from a UC client or from within a business application, we should also be able to do this from within an enterprise social software application. This is slowly starting to happen in companies like IBM with its new IBM Connection Suite are also enabling this. I think we’re going to really start seeing a lot more of this in the coming year.
So, let’s hear from the rest of you. Is this a passing fad that will go away next year? Or, is there real value in enterprise social software? Do you see any of your clients actually looking at integrating UC with social software? Jon Arnold, let’s start with you. Can you talk a little bit about what you’re seeing out there?
Jon Arnold: Sure, thanks Blair. Great topic, and close to my heart, too. You asked lots of good questions. The first thing I would say, I think we’d all agree that collaboration is by nature, social. So it really seems to be a natural extension of what the whole UC concept is trying to embody. So I just would comment on it from two prospectives – one from the end users and one from the venders themselves.
Starting with the end users, I think it speaks to the changing nature of what defines communication from their point of view. For an IT person, of course, it’s usually about what you provide your employees to work with. But increasingly, end-users are wearing their employee hats…are communicating much more along the lines of what they want to do on their terms because so many applications are available to them outside the realm of what IT can do.
Social media fits very squarely into that...hole. I say that in a weird way because we don’t know what it really means yet, but we know that everybody is doing it and most people can’t live without it. So the changing nature of communications is becoming more and more social. The tools are there and it seems to be how people relate to each other. It’s very much I think a generational thing. That’s why I don’t see it as a fad. I just think this is a trend that’s going to – not only just keep growing – but go quickly – much like the way we’ve seen the iPad and all the mobile devices totally change the landscape over the last two years. I think social is going to start to have a similar type of impact because you really can’t avoid it.
I think along the way, both end-users and business decision makers will find ways to make this add value somehow to the work flow, and of course UC has role to play there. That just takes me to the other side of the equation, and that’s the vendors – you know, the Yammer story, (and) the Quad story with Cisco...these are all moves that I think are validating the trend that is happening and they know that they have to stay on the right side of where social is going because if they don’t, it becomes a domain of Facebook and all the other types of sites out there that are kind of more or less outside the domain of IT.
So the venders are trying to do as much as they can to keep it in-house. I think Microsoft rightly has to be concerned about Facebook and of course where Google might want to go, but they haven’t had the kind of success that these other guys have had with social. But everyone is trying to make sure they can keep it as much within their domain as possible. So that makes a lot of sense from their prospective to build on what Lync is doing, make it more social, to make Cisco more of a central solution to the enterprises because social somehow has to have connection to the network if it’s going to have business value.
I think some of the consultants in the group here today can speak to that – what they’re seeing with what the customers are doing. I think those two prospective have a lot to do with why it’s happening. The venders have self-interest to protect, and the end users are just simply – they’re the changing model of what passes for communication to the new world.
Blair Pleasant: Thanks Jon, I totally agree with everything you said. Russell, I know you have some thoughts about why Microsoft acquired Yammer. Can you talk about that a bit?
Russell Bennett: Sure, Blair – thanks. Basically, I think this acquisition is about Microsoft broadening its functional portfolio in the UC space and potentially bridging between the social aspects and the UC portfolio that I will come to in a minute. A number of years ago Microsoft bought a persistent chat company called Parlano, and integrated that into what you now call Lync. And that was an important function for some kinds of customers who really depend on the persistent chat kind of metaphor.
Also, when Twitter became popular about three or four years ago, whenever it was, they prototyped an enterprise version of Twitter called internally, Office Talk. It was kicked off by a number of the Lync team and that kind of ran its course. It was a good experiment – probably cost almost nothing to do. The acquisition of Yammer, I think, is basically purchasing a credible product with market acceptance and user base to fill the space of Office Talk, provided in the portfolio and the strategic planning.
Another thing is bridging between Skype and Lync. I think this is going to be important. We still haven’t seen the plans for the integration of Skype into the Microsoft strategy, but I think it will continue to focus on the consumer side and Lync will focus on the enterprise side. This will create a neat bridge between that. It’s a particularly important function that addresses time zones. Just this morning, in fact, I was using a chat application while I was booking my vacation in Europe and they’re all asleep now. I was typing into this bot and then expecting an answer tomorrow when they wake up, I guess.
Another thing is – I’ve already mentioned they acquired users and customers, and getting a brand and something that’s already got a broad user base is important. I’ve seen comment in the blogosphere and in social networks about Microsoft paying $1.2 billion and people speculating that’s too much. These days, these guys don’t pay anything less than nine zeros and that’s certainly what the Yammer shareholders have all been asking for. It’s interesting to note that Microsoft’s free cash flow is $1.9 billion per month. So, this amounts to the loose change that came out of their pockets and ended up on the dresser drawer over three weeks. So, it’s nothing to them. Thanks, Blair.
Blair Pleasant: Okay great. Marty, I know you’ve been talking to some of your clients about UC and social. What are you hearing from some of your clients out there?
Marty Parker: Well first, they would all like to have the same kind of dresser drawer that Russell just described! But anyway, as Jon Arnold suggested earlier, yes – here’s a few consultant comments on how social for business is being used by our clients to create some value. It is gaining some great traction. A number of our clients are proactive in the use of social for business. Mostly, Blair, we’re seeing IBM Connections showing up. I think IBM saw this coming two, three years ago and really put some energy into it. Therefore, their clients are using this broadly.
We saw TD Bank talking about how they’re using it for problem solving and team-building in their community. We have a large engineering firm where the Connections platform is key to the team communications on projects. We have another large financial insurance firm where they have private labeled, because it’s a web-based product they’ve re-skinned it to their own company brand as a work portal – that’s how they think of it, a work portal, which is a concept that IBM spoke about at Lotusphere, as well. This idea that the user experience of the future could look a lot like a business social portal is actually becoming a reality in at least a number of our clients now. The business social approach is having to compete with the job-specific approach because even in that large finance insurance firm, there’s a medium-sized community of people using one of the CRM products on their desktop and the question is whether they need to have both or can they just embed communications into that CRM product?
So it still is a moving template out there. But those that are using social for business I would say are getting four major areas of value. One is remote workers. The companies that we’re working with, they want to move people out of the buildings because there’s so much to be saved. A rule of thumb in a large metropolitan area: you spend about $6,000 per person, per year, to house them in an office. If it only costs two or three hundred dollars capital and installation to put a person up on a UC and social platform, then you know that’s five percent of the savings. You’re payback is almost like Russell’s dresser drawer. Your payback is just a few weeks, not even months.
So, they really are working on this remote worker idea and you have to have the communications tools to make that possible. But we’re finding you also need the social tools because the people need to have an office-like experience and their social network is what provides that. Many of them want to have video capabilities, besides.
The second business value that they gain is the area of skills and expertise utilization. We’re hearing this from a number of companies – whether they’re in technology, finance, insurance or other industries – they want to maximize the skills and expertise that they’ve invested in, the payroll, basically the employee base...and they find that the posting and maintaining of profiles in the social workspaces by the employees themselves significantly enriches the ability to search and find available skills and expertise. Of course they’ve been using directories, HR databases; there are tools out there to do data mining in your SharePoint libraries and data mine in your email messages to figure out what you know most about. But posting into your profile makes that significantly richer, more current, and more personal. So that’s a second area: improving the skills and expertise searches. Of course software is doing that. You can do it manually, but usually it’s software assisted on a specific purpose.
The third is new solution methods: how people solve problems, how they’re working with their peers based on those skill searches and so forth. This is happening, whether it’s collaboration-based or transaction-based or administration-based or relationship-based processes; in all four of those categories we’re seeing new solution methods as people figure out how to solve problems differently.
The thing we see companies trying to do is then convert those into measurable business processes. In companies – especially regulated businesses whether it’s in finance or healthcare or government – places where you're regulated – you need to have a repeatable process and not just an ad hoc process.
The last is the user experience. Companies are finding they can use the social business user interface as the standard interface and just as a specific example with IBM Connections, when you click on a name or hover over a person, you get an IBM business card, and that’s an extensible interface that can show all the different devices available to the people. For example, you can then have a drop-down menu of video devices the person is on and you can contact them on their Tandberg desktop video unit through a SIP URI out of that business card. So, a very extensible user interface. Now, it takes – in IBM’s case – SameTime back end; with Cisco, it would take CUCM, Cisco Unified Communication Manager backend. With Microsoft it will take Lync backend or Skype backend. So sure, you’re going to need to have the backend services, but the user’s experience will be that social business environment. That’s where they will spend their day.
That’s my perspective, Blair, on the trends and the motion in the market.
Blair Pleasant: Thanks Marty. I am glad to hear that your clients are active with IBM Connections. As you know – because we’ve talked about this a lot – I’ve been a fan of IBM Connections since day one. So, it’s really nice to see that it’s getting traction.
Michael, you have some data from an InformationWeek survey that you would like to share with us.
Michael Finneran: Yes I do. Thanks, Blair. First, I should be clear. Coming from the mobile side, I am definitely a believer in the social space. And I see the power of this really comes from two major elements: first, the scale. The key to success in social will be to get as many people as possible involved. The second, of course, is connectedness which basically means that it can’t just be when they’re at their desk. Social and a mobile world clearly go hand in hand.
I think we still have a ways to go before this really becomes mainstream. The InformationWeek survey that I was referring to is their annual survey on social networking in the enterprise. The most recent of which was published in October, 2011. It did have some rather distressing news, I would say. First a quote - I get to see all the original materials that come back from the survey – a quote from an IT director on this basically said, “We’ve tried over four years to push social networking in the enterprise. People just view it as one more place to have to look to get information.” Which basically says to me that there’s a disconnect between where people are working and what’s going on in social.
Now, like Marty, I do have a vision of how social can reshape business. But when we look at the applications that were identified in the information week survey, dominating the list were profiles and collaborative work spaces. Of course with collaborative workspaces they also asked about tools and Microsoft SharePoint clearly lead the pack. They were cited by 71% of respondents. The next highest after that were Google tools at 18% and IBM tools at 15%. But, as one analyst observed, “SharePoint is currently where information goes to die.”
So I think the acquisition of Yammer is really key in making SharePoint into much more what I would consider to be a real social service. But, like Marty, I think we really need to get people to shift where they base their communication. Basically that means move it out of Outlook and into that social tool. But, following Jon’s observation, just like we saw with texting, I think Generation C, or the Millennials as they’re often called, those are going to be the folks who lead the way.
Those are my thoughts. Blair, back to you.
Blair Pleasant: Thanks Michael. Art, another use of social is for customer care and customer interaction. Can you talk about what you see as far as the role social will play in the UC contact center?
Art Rosenberg: Well, it’s still evolving, obviously. But as more and more consumers use social in various ways – not just to communicate with a particular person – person-to-person and stuff – but just to express their feelings about things – their sentiments, if you will... they’re starting to complain about things or brag about things and complement about things. This is going to be mined by organizations to see how well they’re doing with their customers without necessarily waiting for the customer to call somebody, but just to react to something that happened – good, bad, or indifferent – and I think that’s going to be another source of information to fully understand where the customer is coming from that could lead to better customer experiences and treatment and so on because you’re getting more than just waiting for them to do something very explicit that’s not so easy to do. But now, this they can do very easily from wherever they are. They can just express themselves, if you will. And so social is going to be used in that respect just to expose sentiment.
Blair Pleasant: Okay, does anyone else have anything to add?
Russell Bennett: Yes Blair, it’s Russell. Just one quick point that I forgot to mention when I spoke earlier regarding the pricing and another reason for the acquisition (of Yammer) would be that Microsoft is clearly playing keep away as they usually are. So their gain is somebody else’s loss. That, once again, could justify the price.
Blair Pleasant: Okay, well thanks, everyone – great discussion. I think we’re really at very early days and they’ll be lots of changes and evolution in the area of UC and social. I know that I’m very excited about this. Thanks, everyone, and talk to you next week.
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