Happy Birthday Office 365, what’s next?

It sure looks like it’s been around for a lot longer, but office 365 is officially celebrating its 1 year anniversary this week.

It’s true that some aspects of earlier MS cloud effort have been around for 4-5 years under different names like BPOS but the new branding and consumer side were introduced last year and SharePoint online took a huge step forward. So how is it doing?

Not bad according to different reports. 3.5 million Consumers have signed up and 15% of exchange users are in the cloud (6% increase over the last year). Microsoft is clearly betting the farm on cloud and the recent choice of its cloud chief Nadella to be the next CEO is a telling sign.

A recent technical summary at ZDNet and a financial analysis at Seeking Alpha both look very positively on the stability and profitability of this model.

We’ve been using the Microsoft office 365 email for a number of years and SharePoint for the last few months and our experience has been very positive. Our customers have been reporting similar satisfaction levels with the reliability and performance. The main advantages we see are:

  • Reduced IT costs: No need to allocate server or VM’s. No need for redundancy and backups. No need for regular installation of patches and updates and all the testing involved.
  • We invested in putting provisioning processes in place that dramatically reduced the timeframe for creating new sites and reduced administrative effort.
  • Mobile and iPad access through Office Web Apps.
  • Social: the new newsfeed, Yammer integration and Communities bring out of the box enhanced collaboration and social interaction.

Looking ahead, there are definitely some concerns and wish list items I’d like to see Microsoft address for office 365 and SharePoint online:

  • Stronger security and privacy commitments. Not that the NSA would have a problem getting to most information anyway but knowing that all corporate secrets are basically available to them upon request is disquieting. Multinationals may not be willing or legally able to make the jump and trust Microsoft with their data. This can be the biggest obstacle for mass adoption for larger companies. Small to midsize companies may care less.
  • More control. From an IT point of view this is scary. An inhouse server you can test, tweak, add memory to, reboot when needed, and install 3rd party add-ons. You now, control. Giving away the ability to jump in and intervene is hard. Even when Microsoft does deliver reliability and reasonable performance our natural impulse is to try and make it better, tweak, optimize. Not much you can do here. I do hope that Microsoft expands the controls given to customers. It will get a lot of untrusting IT guys a level of comfort that is not there now.
  • Support for Web Content Management. If we are giving up a local SharePoint environment, why force users to have one if they want to take full advantage of SharePoint as a content management tool for public website?
  • Add native migration tools. Not that I have anything against our partners the migration tool makers but releasing a platform with no out of the box method of upgrading to it was very odd and the fact no support has been offered since is disappointing. Makes the natural audience of smaller to mid-size businesses with an additional expense to migrate.
  • Cleaner social toolset. I wrote about it earlier in the year, that the Yammer acquisition created some confusion among users. The promised SSO is still outstanding and the small incremental steps like the one released this week are a little confusing.

Yammer or SharePoint 2013 for the Social Enterprise?

In buying Yammer last year, Microsoft pretty much acknowledged that it dropped the ball on social and needed to bring in external reinforcements. Acquiring Yammer also fits well with the new cloud services approach of office 365. The vision according to Microsoft is cloud first. They love the ability to roll out changes and fixes on a faster pace, but mostly, they love the business model.

At the same time SharePoint 2013 includes a much improved set of tools for social collaboration including a brand new activity stream app. So what should you use? Yammer or SharePoint 2013 built in social tools?

Here is the timeline and guidance as provided by Microsoft:

If you are a SharePoint cloud user – go with Yammer. There is a basic integration available now with the promise of single signon in the fall. They also promise updates every 90 days.

If you are an on-premise user (and most companies are since SharePoint 2010 online was not very good..) and moving to SharePoint 2013, the decision is a bit more complicated.

Yammer offers an existing app for SharePoint 2010 that can be integrated in if you are a paying Yammer customer, but nothing yet announced for SharePoint 2013.

So the only option really is to deploy the SharePoint social services unless you are already using Yammer Enterprise and can wait if/until they support 2013.

The longer term roadmap beyond 2014 is cloudy as well. Yammer is a cloud offering and will clearly be tightly integrated into office 365 but as much as Microsoft would like to, not everyone will get on their cloud platform that quickly. In all likelihood, Microsoft will continue to support and even release new version of SharePoint on premise but certain aspects will likely not be improved much and Social seems one of them. Yammer will become a selling point and an incentive to go cloud.

Another interesting point is how will this work for Hybrid Deployments and how migration to the cloud will handle the social data or be able to migrate it into Yammer. We’ll have to wait and see..

For more details see the official blog post from Microsoft and an interesting post on ZDNET on how Microsoft approached social for their internal Intranet, apparently using both models and giving users the choice when creating a collaboration site based on their primary need – document based (SharePoint) or activity stream (Yammer). Now, if only one site could do both..

10 Best New Features of SharePoint 2013

The new SharePoint 2013 was just reached “Release To Manufacturing” stage! It is available for download now to MSDN subscribers and slated to be officially released in Q1 2013.

To celebrate, we thought to share some of the highlights in this upcoming release. While SP13 builds nicely on the foundation of previous versions, it does offer plenty of cool new features / improvements for business users to get excited about.

So here are the top 10 in no specific order.

  1. Cloud First: while SharePoint was part of Office 365 for some time now, it was a limited experience. SP13 is promising the full experience in the cloud + regular release of improvements and enhancements.
  2. The Newsfeed: taking the best from Facebook and Twitter, the new Newsfeed is the centerpiece of SP13 social push. The foundation was there in SP10 but you needed an external component like NewsGator to make it work. Now you’ll be able to build your network, follow colleagues and post / search the newsfeed at different organizational levels. #hashtags for all! For more…
  3. Communities: the other new social feature is the ability to create communities. A community (as separated from a project team) is for getting a group of people to collaborate more freely around a topic and share expertise. Built around Discussions, it expands them into seeing members, their contributions and allows easy formation of expert communities. For more…
  4. Cross site publishing allows for the first time to share content across sites, site collections, applications and even farms. We built a custom solution for this for an insurance company that wanted to post new forms to the public site, Agent portal and Intranet in a single action. Now it is built in. For more….
  5. Search had received a major upgrade. The acquisition of FAST was finally integrated into the main SharePoint search resulting in a long list of great improvements such as: Search for conversations, videos and reports, visual results and in-page previews, context sensitive sorting, advanced filters and of course, better performance, API’s etc. For more…
  6. SharePoint Apps!: one of the major changes to SP13 is the concept of apps. Apps are just like they sound, web applications that can be packaged so users can add them to pages or use them from within SharePoint. Not that different from the concept of solution packs before (line the Famous Fab 40 that were discontinued in SP10..) of packaging your web app in a web part. The new model does have a few advantages. It gives users more control on apps to use and while IT can still approve apps, they do not need to install them for users. It can also make internal applications easier to find and reduce redundancy. For more on apps see the Microsoft SharePoint apps blog.
  7. Simple project / task management: for complex project management you still have project server but it is an overkill for most simple projects. The new team site template includes the ability to manage tasks, deadlines and a simple work breakdown structure for a project team. It generates a personal and a group view of tasks and timelines perfect for keeping everyone on time. For more.,..
  8. Enterprise eDiscovery: one of the essential requirements for ECM in this age is a good eDiscovery mechanism to ensure content related to litigation or information requests can be executed efficiently and across all information repositories. SP13 is adding a new eDiscovery center that would make this a lot easier. For more…
  9. New Usage Analytics and useful views: Microsoft is replacing the SharePoint analytics with 2 new tools: search analytics and usage analytics. Usage analytics provide more detailed view of how SharePoint is used and even better, adds up to 12 cutom events to be added and tracked without custom tagging. You can also use the data collected from these tools for useful views such as Most Popular, Popular Searches ect. For more ..
  10. Better support for digital assets: there is no longer a need to create a special media library for digital assets. Once enabled, audio, video and other rich media can be added to any library. For more…

Is the 1-9-90 rule for social participation dead?

It has long been an axiom that getting people to participate in online communities is hard, and the 1/9/90 rule helped explain why. 1% will be die-hard content creators, 9% will participate and 90% will be passive consumers and sit on the sidelines.

A recent BBC study claims the old rules are dead and that a whopping 77% of adults should be considered participators in some capacity. Interestingly, GigaOm pounced and claimed the old rules still apply.

I think the BBC research is on to something and that the online participation patterns have changed. Few of the things may have contributed:

  • Consolidation: social networks such as Facebook and Twitter consolidate for us updates and posts from multiple communities and allow us to respond directly from there. You no longer need to go and check on 7 different communities to see what is going on.
  • Ease of content creation and sharing especially from mobile devices. Probably too easy if you ask me. if you allow it, your phone will post your location, the pictures you take and more without even asking. The success of Instagram is just one example. Being connected 100% of the time allows us to interact 100% of the day.
  • We are not anonymous anymore. It has been a slow change but if the late 90’s were about virtual identities and avatars, now we interact as real people. It may look like a small change but the whole nature of online interaction shifted from an outlet to interactions we wanted to have outside of our normal (and sometimes restrictive) social circle to where now most of the online interaction is with our social circle. More and more the online communities and social networks augment and extend our real relationships with people and brands.
  • While some people who came to the party felt a bit out of place and stayed close to the wall for a while. After some time you realize that keeping to yourself in a social setting is not very nice and that people actually notice. If you are part of the community, participation is now expected.

So if the BBC is right and we should be expecting more participation what does it mean for businesses?

Business social participation may still be closer to the old rules because they do not reflect a close knit social group but as more people become comfortable in sharing it will start to have an impact.

Internally, collaboration and social networking with colleagues will eventually follow the same pattern of heightened participation if you allow the same enablers. Aggregate and consolidate activities and updates so they are easy to access, make it easy to respond to them and embed interaction and sharing everywhere in internal web applications, sites, tools etc. Making sharing a social norm may not be too far off.

Externally, in addition to the brand enthusiasts and deal seekers there is now a potential in making a lot more people participants

  • Think about creating content that people would want to share. Too many websites and social media sites focus on the marketing side “what we have to sell”. Cool or useful things to do with the product or that are just related to the category will more easily be viral.
  • Many websites have added sharing and likes to their pages but few take it to the level of actually allowing specific questions or comments through social networks on content or products.
  • Think mobile sharing. From QR codes in trade show booths to special coupons for scanning or photographing in the store. Even my dentist has a promotion for getting free whitening pen if you scan a code and like him on Facebook. Brilliant.

The Case for a Business Case when Rolling Out SharePoint 2010

Before Migrating to SharePoint 2010 or Implementing SharePoint for the first time – do a business case!

The facts are stark: Almost 70% of enterprises are using SharePoint (Source) however the results of a survey conducted by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) indicate that less than 50 percent of SharePoint implementations were subject to a formal business case, and only half of those that did required a financial justification. (Source)

Even if you’re sure you want to implement SharePoint for the first time or migrate to SharePoint 2010, it’s a good idea to do a business case. Why? Not just because it’s good form.  Unfortunately, organizations that skip this step risk taking steps in the wrong direction instead of rectifying identified problems with elegant solutions.

First, let’s take a look at what a business case is:

  • A document or statement that captures the reasoning for initiating a project
  • An acknowledgement of resources needed to complete the project and an understanding of the net value to the organization of doing the project
  • An accounting of quantifiable and unquantifiable benefits of doing the project
  • An outline of the known risks of doing the project
  • A look at the alternatives to the planned implementation, including doing nothing

SharePoint 2010 is a great product, with many new features including seamless integration with Office, major improvements to Search, and great collaboration features.  So, why is it a good idea to do a business case even when you’re already clear that you want to migrate to SharePoint 2010 or implement SharePoint for the first time?

The act of creating the business case begins to make the successes and impacts of the project a reality. In the case of SharePoint 2010, one of the first important tasks is to really articulate what SharePoint will be FOR YOU and your organization.  SharePoint is multifaceted.  The more focused an organization can be on what it needs out of SharePoint, the more likely its implementation will be successful.

Writing a business case means thinking about the questions of why are we doing this? What are the costs, timescale, benefits, and risks?  Having thought through these questions and their answers, even best guesses at ROI and benefits, and presenting them in a well formed document provides you with something to share and enables you to involve other people. Such a document is a good means of getting buy-in and socializing the changes you want to see, as early in the planning stages. Even when change will bring a positive outcome, it’s never easy to get everyone on the same page for a smooth transition.  SharePoint can never be rolled out by one individual – as a system it will need at least cooperation from just about everyone in an organization, and starting with a clear understanding of why the change is happening and what the benefits are provides a solid foundation for success.

Even in organizations planning a migration to SharePoint 2010, there are multiple ways and reasons to migrate. The costs can be considerable, just like the benefits.  Consider this statement from Rob Helm, an analyst from Directions on Microsoft:  “SharePoint 2010 will challenge even companies already using SharePoint… Even for existing users, there are differences. The way supporting services are managed is different. Administrators and architects will need a lot of ramp-up time to understand the new product version. In some areas, it’s an even bigger jump than we saw moving from SharePoint 2003 to SharePoint 2007.”  (Source)

“Technology provides no benefits of its own; it is the application of technology to business opportunities that produces ROI.”  —Robert McDowell, In Search of Business Value   (Source)

Getting specific on the tensions solved by migrating to or implementing SharePoint 2010 not only allows your organization to do the right thing for its growth, but also to have the means to look back and assess success.

If, like many organizations do, you plan on hiring a vendor to do the implementation or migration, you will want this information prepared to communicate your needs to the vendor.  You’ll be better able to evaluate the vendor’s proposals and solutions if you’ve thought your needs and concerns through. Edgewater does many SharePoint implementation and migration projects and no two are ever the same.  It’s important that you use SharePoint to build solutions to the problems specific to your business. Don’t just skim the surface and fit your needs to a list of features that you know of or that already exist. This will lead to poor adoption and waste of your resources. The better you understand your actual needs, the better your solution can be.

Another important facet of the business case for SharePoint is that it encourages you to focus on ROI – it’s important for companies to really understand the long term costs of a SharePoint implementation.  When implemented correctly, SharePoint 2010 can save your business considerable costs and streamline your processes.

In addition, training is critical to making any conversion a success.  Sitting down to write or review a business case can be the first step in really thinking through what it means to make a successful change, how best to do it, and what it means in terms of specific costs and specific benefits to the organization.

So a good business case:

  • Backs up a decision to transition to SharePoint 2010
  • Forecasts expected ROI and other intangible benefits
  • Provides a vehicle for buy-in for both decision makers and potential users
  • Outlines measurable goals for the business, ensures actions are in-line with ideas
  • Reveals level of effort to implement a new SharePoint platform
  • Is a good vehicle to socialize the thinking and set expectations

A good business case can help your company focus on allocating the right resources, know what to expect, and be clear on what constitutes a successful project completion.  If your business case is convincing at a certain price point, and all your RFP responses come in higher than that, you’ll readily know if the project is really worth pursuing, or what portion of it to focus on first if you’ve written a good business case.

As author J. Peter Bruzzese  puts it, “SharePoint 2010 is jam-packed with new features that matter, ones that will increase productivity if used properly. I predict the number of companies using SharePoint is going to soar with this next release. I’ve been working with SharePoint since its first release (where I hated it) through 2007 (where it was growing on me) on to 2010 (where I can honestly say I’m really impressed by and loving it).” (Source) There are many resources available through searching online to assist with creating a business case for SharePoint 2010, but only someone with real knowledge of YOUR organization can write the business case for you, and ensure you’re using SharePoint 2010 properly to serve your business’s needs.

— — —

Related post on ROI of Enterprise 2.0:
https://edgewatertech.wordpress.com/2009/05/03/why-ceo%E2%80%99s-must-care-about-enterprise-20-as-a-strategic-imperative/

Keeping it Fresh: The 6 Pillars of Web Content Governance

Content. It is the bane of existence for web marketing managers everywhere. As soon as a new site is up and running, the content is getting old in inaccurate by the minute. Chasing business owners to revise, update or write new content is a constant struggle. To make it worse, many areas may not have an owner at all..

Fancy CMS systems were supposed to solve all that with expiration dates on content and distributed ownership but the tools themselves are just the means. People still need to use them.

That is where Web Content Governance comes in.

Web Content Governance is the overall approach to the way content is created, managed and maintained intended to ensure consistency, accuracy, relevance and compliance. It generally comprises of 6 main components: Process, Structure, Policies, Standards, Ownership, Processes and the Systems that are used to enable, enforce and automate them.

The details of each component vary between companies but generally include the following:

  • Process
    • Creation
    • Updates
    • Retention / expiration
    • Archiving
    • Workflows:
      • Editorial review
      • Legal review
      • Brand Review
      • Publishing
  • Structure
    • Content classification
    • Media types
    • Taxonomy and Metadata
    • Hierarchy and inheritance
  • Policies
    • Legal
    • Security
    • Data collection
    • E-mail
  • Ownership
    • Roles
    • Permissions
    • Escalation
  • Standards
    • Brand Guidelines
    • Content guidelines
    • Accessibility
    • Legal
    • Copyrights
  • Systems
    • Content Management System (CMS)
    • Digital Asset Management (DAM)
    • Document Management
    • Business Process Management (BPM)

Few tips and tricks

  1. Assign a bad cop. A senior enough executive who would be the enforcer.
  2. Build a team of champions. Department of area champions who have enough familiarity with the tools and can provide knowledge and communication channel to different business units and groups. The team should meet on a regular basis.
  3. Use automation. The ability to set content expiration is a great way to ensure all content is looked at (however briefly) regularly.
  4. Don’t relinquish control over the last step. Someone from the centralized web / marketing team should still review every page before it is being published

Paying Too Much for Custom Application Implementation

Face it. Even if you have a team of entry-level coders implementing custom application software, you’re probably still paying too much.

Here’s what I mean:

You already pay upfront for fool proof design and detailed requirements.  If you leverage more technology to implement your application, rather than spending more on coders, your ROI can go up significantly.

In order for entry-level coders to implement software, they need extra detailed designs. Such designs typically must be detailed enough that a coder can simply repeat patterns and fill in blanks from reasonably structured requirements. Coders make mistakes, and have misunderstandings and other costly failures and take months to complete (if nothing changes in requirements during that time).

But, again…   if you have requirements and designs that are already sufficiently structured and detailed… how much more effort is it to get a computer to repeat the patterns and fill in the blanks instead?   Leveraging technology through code generation can help a lot.

Code generation becomes a much less expensive option in cases like that because:

  • There’s dramatically less human error and misunderstanding.
  • Generators can do the work of a team of offshored implementers in moments… and repeat the performance over and over again at the whim of business analysts.
  • Quality Assurance gets much easier…  it’s just a matter of testing each pattern, rather than each detail.  (and while you’re at it, you can generate unit tests as well.)

Code generation is not perfect: it requires very experienced developers to architect and implement an intelligent code generation solution. Naturally, such solutions tend to require experienced people to maintain (because in sufficiently dynamic systems, there will always be implementation pattern changes)  There’s also the one-off stuff that just doesn’t make sense to generate…  (but that all has to be done anyway.)

Actual savings will vary, (and in some cases may not be realized until a later iteration of the application)but typically depend on how large and well your meta data (data dictionary) is structured, and how well your designs lend themselves to code generation.  If you plan for code generation early on, you’ll probably get more out of the experience.  Trying to retro-fit generation can definitely be done (been there, done that, too), but it can be painful.

Projects I’ve worked on that used code generation happened to focus generation techniques mostly on database and data access layer components and/or UI.  Within those components, we were able to achieve 75-80% generated code in the target assemblies.  This meant that from a data dictionary, we were able to generate, for example, all of our database schema and most of our stored procedures, in one case.  In that case, for every item in our data dictionary, we estimated that we were generating about 250 lines of compilable, tested code.  In our data dictionary of about 170 items, that translated into over 400,000 lines of  code.

By contrast, projects where code generation was not used generally took longer to build, especially in cases where the data dictionaries changed during the development process.  There’s no solid apples to apples comparison, but consider hand-writing about 300,000 lines of UI code while the requirements are changing.  Trying to nail down every detail (and change) by hand was a painstaking process, and the changes forced us to adjust the QA cycle accordingly, as well.

Code generation is not a new concept.  There are TONs of tools out there, as demonstrated by this comparison of a number of them on Wikipedia.  Interestingly, some of the best tools for code generation can be as simple as XSL transforms (which opens the tool set up even more).  Code generation may also already be built into your favorite dev tools.  For example, Microsoft’s Visual Studio has had a code generation utility known as T4 built into it for the past few versions, now.   That’s just scratching the surface.

So it’s true…  Code generation is not for every project, but any project that has a large data dictionary (that might need to be changed mid stream) is an immediate candidate in my mind.  It’s especially great for User Interfaces, Database schemas and access layers, and even a lot of transform code, among others.

It’s definitely a thought worth considering.

Rise of the networked Enterprise – Web 2.0 finds its payday

McKinsey & Company published their yearly study of Web 2.0 adoption in the enterprise as they’ve done over the last few years. In addition to the interesting data and continual growth of use, they tried to use some statistical analysis to correlate the level of use and adoption to company business performance.

The results, while far from being statistically conclusive, do show that companies that have extensively adopted Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies (they prefer using the term “Networked Enterprise” to the traditional Enterprise 2.0) perform better than their less networked peers.

It’s a great validation to what many of us practitioners in the field see as obvious. More information sharing, transparency and collaboration increases knowledge dissemination and empower better informed decisions. Taking these approaches out to customers and partners can only have positive effect.

Few things I found noteworthy in the results:

  • The ownership of internal collaboration at 61% of responding companies was in IT, not the business or corporate communications. This leads in many cases to a tool based discussion and decisions rather than how can these tools best serve business needs employee needs. Overall lack of ownership is still one of the biggest problems we are seeing. One of the most important steps a company can make in promoting the importance of collaboration is assigning clear ownership.
  • The biggest benefits come when companies use collaboration technologies both internally and externally. Business processes are complex and span multiple stakeholders. Companies that are able to automate and refine these processes and interactions see returns and this is very encouraging.
  • Success and adoption comes from putting Web 2.0 technologies “in the line of business”. If use of collaboration tools is not an additional tool or task but where the work is done, it will be used. If documents are only stored in SharePoint folders rather than in file shares, reports uploaded vs. emailed etc. everyone will get used to it quickly.
  • Social Networking being the highest used web 2.0 feature at 40% adoption. The term Social Networking itself is problematic as it can be used to describe many different types of interactions, from facebook to the SharePoint “colleagues” but there is no doubt that the immense popularity of these tools outside of the enterprise is having an impact, at least on what people think the priorities should be.

What’s ahead?

So how will social technologies evolve in 2011? It seems like the trend of adopting successful consumer tools and bringing them to the fold will continue. The gap is still huge and for most companies, even getting to a reasonable level of sharing still is in the future but some likely candidates include:

  • Full adoption and usage of smartphones as working and collaboration tools, not just email.
  • Location a la 4square
  • Collaborative editing with office 2010

Your Company’s Social Debut

Planning Your Company’s Debut or Strategy in the Social Media Sphere

Corporations have long been regarded by the law as having “legal personality”-  which means they have rights, privileges, responsibilities, and protections just like humans (with some differences, like marriage).   It should come as no surprise then, that they’re acting like humans more and more – now they’re relaxing with friends, and socializing! As communication gets easier through digital technology, humans are now able to interact with corporate personalities.  And these personalities are just beginning to awaken to the new freedoms they can find in the digital landscape.

If you’re like me, and I bet you are, you are both human, and, also a part of bringing business personalities to the social scene. In this capacity, I recently attended SocialTech2010 in Jan Jose, CA, right from my desk in NYC.

As the Twitter stream flowed by rapidly with commentary and quotes from the speakers, I watched and listened to advice, case studies and stories from the experts on Social Media for Business. I came away with the recognition that Social Media for business is just like a big networking cocktail party!

Companies aren’t accustomed to acting as social creatures and the adjustment will take some time. We all had to learn social skills growing up; companies can do the same. There are a few things that etiquette would require of a cocktail party attendee and that’s the same strategy the speakers at SocialTech2010 are recommending:  Know who you are, be interactive and respectful, don’t gossip, be a good listener, and don’t be afraid to share yourself.

As businesses gain proficiency in this kind of interacting, they follow an arc towards maturity. Kathleen Malone of Intel outlined the following 5 stages of a Social Media Approach:

1)      Listen: In this stage a company finds out: What are people saying about my Brand and/or my field? Where are they having this discussion? Who are the major players and influencers?  Services like Radian6, which Malone says Intel deployed 18 months ago, make this possible.

2)      Analyze: This is the time to read the room/space, figure out what your angle will be when you eventually do pipe up. Which conversation will you enter? What are your expectations? Why are you going to participate?

3)      Create: This is the stage where the business comes up with something appropriate to say. To participate effectively in the conversation, Malone says your content should be: useful, interesting, human, “snackable” (meaning in bite size pieces, easily consumed), inspiring and should cater to egos and build community.  

4)      Engage: In this stage you go public and enter the conversation, getting your content out there in new ways and/or by participating in the conversations that already exist.

5)      Measure: Your social media approach is not complete without an understanding of how you’re doing. The internet is an amazing forum for measuring how people behave with your content, and you should use a variety of tools to understand the response to your forays. Measuring properly will provide insight on how to proceed, both in the ongoing conversation, and with the business itself.

Both Malone and Brian Ellefritz of SAP outlined the natural evolution of Social Media programs at large companies  – first there are what Ellefritz calls “Grass Roots” efforts, where excited individuals branch out in ways that are unpredictable and non-uniform. He says companies should encourage these exploratory missions. Leadership will begin to emerge internally, and informal education will get the ball rolling. Following the “Grass Roots” period, Ellefritz sees “Silos Form.” This may not feel 100% smooth, but is an important step, as “coop-eteition” (a kind of cooperating/kind of competing relationship, sort of like sibling rivalry that spurs each one on) sees different silos jockeying for position. During this step, Ellefritz encourages companies to “invest in leaders, not laggards”, and to get the players from various silos together to learn from each other.  Also, he says, “don’t wait too long for governance.”

The next evolutionary phase in a corporate Social Media Program is “Operationalizing” – where leadership becomes clear, channels become well formed and in alignment with the divisions in your business.  Tools begin to consolidate and more emphasis on measurement and results appears. By this point your business may have headcount devoted to social media, and content should become less problematic, less of a focus, because it’s running more smoothly.  During this stage it’s important to align and integrate silos, and focus on strategy, ownership, metrics and priorities.

After this shift, the next phase is what Ellefriz calls “Lifestyle.” This is when the Social Media program has engaged and competent employees and success is understood and positive outcomes are frequent. This is a level of Social Media implementation that is fairly rare in today’s scene, though Ellefritz points towards Zappos as an example of a company that may be at this level.

.. .. ..

The wonderful thing about participating in social media is that it lets your personality out! For a business that hasn’t previously seen itself as the kind of entity that has a social life, this might seem daunting at first.  That’s why Ellefriz’s evolutionary arc makes so much sense to me. The way I see it, people and businesses want more than ever to get clear on who they are, and who they want to be, in order to present themselves well, and to participate in Social Media conversations. The best advice is to be authentic. Just like at cocktail parties, the people you’re conversing with generally know if you’re “full of it”, or if you’re being sincere.  Your conversational counterparts like to be complemented, offered nuggets of useful information, and generally considered and included.

For businesses, (and the teams of people that perpetuate them) this will mean really focusing on what the goals are, what opportunities exist to communicate clearly and uniformly around these interests, finding “friends” out there to talk with, and owning up to the inevitable minor mistakes that are so easy to make along the way. Since SM is such a public sphere, the resulting increased level of transparency is going to make businesses change and open up in new ways.

Coachdeb:”RT @MarketingProfs: “When someone says they need a Facebook strategy, a Twitter strategy, I say… Wait! Take it back… What’s your story?” @scobleizer #mptech”

So, armed with the Social Media/networking party analogy and with the stages of approach and evolution path laid out before you – what are you waiting for?  Participate!

Here are 10 tips to consider as you get started:

1)      Go where the fish are – target engagement carefully where the conversation already is.

2)      Social Media is Local. The goal is to be uniform while being decentralized – Intel communicates internally with their 1000 “Registered Social Media Practitioners” with guidelines and trainings (some mandatory). Intel also has their own internal newsletter that aggregates Social Media content – Malone says this makes management comfortable as well as keeps everyone updated.

3)      Have a Content Calendar for the year to coordinate Social Media messaging across channels and people, and to keep it focused on your message. Kathy Malone said at Intel, 2/3 of the content that gets put out falls under the guidelines of their content strategy calendar.

4)      Consider in advance how to manage Social Media Risk. One of the most interesting things Jaime Grenny of SalesForce said at SocialTech2010 is that all their employee training videos on Social Media strategy (and how to use online video for B2B marketing) are up for the public to see on YouTube (here).  This level of transparency lets everyone know what to expect upfront.  Malone outlined a “prevention/detection/response” approach in which 3 teams worked from different angles to mitigate risk on the social media front. And experience teaches: “if you screwed up, fess up”, and be transparent.

5)      If your company is doing moderation of dialogue, consider having a light hand to keep the conversation honest – as Intel puts it, they let the good and the bad in, but moderate the ugly – mostly meaning profanity and non-constructive comments, and they’ve found their audience appreciates it.

6)      Build a business case for your business so you know why you’re entering into Social Media – not only will it legitimize your efforts internally, but it’ll provide clarity for your message. Will it extend customer service? Will it increase SEO? Can you use it to create brand advocates and champions? Can you collect ideas on where to take your product?

7)      To measure, use Context. As with all web metrics, in order to understand what’s happening you need to understand the context of your data, and compare it to a baseline to view trends. Knowing your goals will assist you in setting up context.

8)      People are the PlatformLaura Ramos of Xerox encourages us to get our people out there and seen. Show video of your thought leadership. Get your salespeople to share their stories and knowledge with the rest of your company and make them heroes. Build relationships, and let your existing customers create new business for you. Social Media Marketing is not about reaching many to influence a few but engaging a few to influence many!

9)      Social is relevant. Here are some StatsRené Bonvani of Palo Alto Networks says that FaceBook has a 96% penetration in enterprise, meaning that only 4/100 people aren’t using it at work! He also said that only 1% is posting on Facebook but that people are 69 times more likely to use FaceBook chat than to post.  Another impressive Bonvani stat: 69% of business buyers use social media to make purchasing decisions.  No matter the numbers, it’s clear that with the cost of communication dropping close to $0, as social beings, we’re using the web to communicate more often with more people, and in smaller chunks regularly.

10)   Social media has to be part of WHAT you do, not something else you do. Jeremiah Owyang in his keynote said that the only difference between the Social Site and your business is the URL. He says that in the radical future, websites will be dynamically assembled on the fly based on social profiles. URLs and domains won’t matter – the web will be sorted around people and contextual situations.  Because of this, ads will become useful content.  This is already evident.

So – Get out there and participate!

Edgewater Technology provides strategy, consulting, web metrics, and implementation expertise to help you focus on the best ways your company can engage in these dynamic communities and track your success!

Making sense of SharePoint’s Workflow and BPM capabilities

Workflow and BPM often get lumped together but it is important to understand the difference between them if you are to pick the right tool for your enterprise. While it is generally agreed that workflow is for modeling simple sequential processes and BPM solutions are more capable of handling complex tasks the distinction between the two needs to be further sharpened. According to David McCoy of Gartner BPM can be defined as “… a structured approach employing methods, policies, metrics, management practices and software tools to manage and continuously optimize an organization’s activities and processes.” Workflow on the other hand is concerned with tasks and application-specific sequencing of activities through a series of predefined steps, involving a small group of people and/or closely related applications. The distinction between the two is far from crisp and in fact it can be argued that both are part of the same continuum. However, there is a distinct difference in focus and complexity between the two. Here is a chart that attempts to further define the two based on capabilities and task suitability.

According to a recent survey by Forrester, Microsoft and SharePoint came in as #1 among the IT decision makers for use as BPM platform followed by Oracle, SAP, IBM, and a host of other BPM centric companies. Forrester report further notes that despite Microsoft’s best efforts to not position SharePoint as a BPM solution (rather as a collaborative workflow solution); the message does not seem to come across clearly. This confusion seems to thrive due to lack of clear and well-defined goals for business process automation and understanding of capabilities of SharePoint and BPM suites (BPMS).  The Forrester report outlines that SharePoint’s features for supporting true BPM are limited. Most of SharePoint’s capabilities in this arena are founded on Windows workflow foundation (WF). While a custom solution can be developed based on SharePoint and WF API to support BPM like capabilities, such an endeavor is bound to be expensive and brittle. SharePoint shines best when OTB capabilities are leveraged to the maximum and customizations are managed carefully. SharePoint’s workflow, document management and collaboration features can be used to develop robust workflow applications that can simplify and automate document & form centric business processes. SharePoint can also serve as a hub of cross-department and cross-application integration but only at the user interface level. SharePoint does not pretend to act as middleware or an enterprise service bus (ESB) and therefore does not provide any standards based application integration features – tasks best left to dedicated integration platforms or BPM solutions.

The limitations of SharePoint’s built-in workflow and underlying Windows Workflow surface quickly when tested against complexities of true enterprise business process automation scenarios. SharePoint’s workflow processes are constrained by the Site Collection boundaries. Therefore any workflow that needs to span organizational boundaries and as results site collections becomes difficult to manage and brittle. For example if a budget approval process needs to go through the finance department, corporate office and local approvals and if any of these structures use their own Site Collections the workflow process will require custom coding or manual workarounds. This constraint limits SharePoint’s workflow scope to department or local application level. WF processes are also limited to either sequence or state machine patterns. There is also no support for a user who makes a mistake and needs to go back to the previous step during a workflow. Multi-level approvals are also not supported a document needs to be routed back to one of the earlier approvers rather than the author. SharePoint workflows are executable programs and therefore cannot adopt easily at runtime (after instantiation) to changes in the rules that may result from changes in business process environment (e.g. regulation changes, corporate policy change, etc.)

While SharePoint is not ideal for complex business process automation it can certainly be used to get started. If all you organization needs is automation of simple and commonly used business tasks (approvals, document management, simple HR applications, financial approvals, etc.)  that do not require tight integration with other data systems and do not require complex exception processing, modeling, optimization, monitoring, etc., then it is a good candidate for SharePoint workflow. However, if your organization is truly looking into business process automation and business process improvement (BPI) then there are many 3rd party solutions (AgilePoint, Global360, K2, Nintex etc.) that can be layered on top of SharePoint to create a more robust solution. The advantage of a layered solution is that 3rd party vendors are able to leverage Microsoft’s significant investment in ease of use, collaboration and user interface integration capabilities of SharePoint while adding core BPM functionality. Such solutions are also typically less expensive and deploy more quickly than a traditional full-blown BPM solution (depending on the situation).

There two basic flavors of the layered BPM solutions (products that leverage SharePoint’s platform & interface for most interactions). The first flavor of these solutions relies on the underlying WF as their workflow engine. Using WF as the base they have built capabilities that are more advanced than out of the box capabilities of SharePoint. Furthermore they are able to maintain a light footprint by leveraging SharePoint and WF infrastructure. However, they naturally suffer from some of the same shortcomings as WF. The second group of solutions relies on proprietary workflow engines that are not built on top of WF. Such solutions typically have larger footprints since they create their own parallel infrastructure for workflow processing and data storage. Their independent foundation allows them to provide capabilities that are not limited by WF but typically at the cost of additional infrastructure complexity. There is a place for either kind of solution and picking the right tool (SharePoint workflow vs. SP layered BPM vs. dedicated BPM) is a vital cog in any business process automation or improvement endeavor.

However, the story does not end at picking the right tool; in fact it is just getting started. Edgewater recently conducted a case study on the effectiveness of such efforts and found that there is a significant disconnect between popular BPM messaging and the companies deploying such technologies. While ROI is considered to be the holy grail of most IT projects the respondents in the survey noted that “ROI was not the most important factor … “, other areas such as customer satisfaction were more important. Survey also found that while BPM tools are more than capable of modeling complex processes organizations implementing BPM preferred to “start with well-defined process that involved fewer people to get a quick win and buy-in first”. Perhaps the most important finding was that the success or failure or an implementation depends on “solid understanding of the business AND the necessary technical skills to implement BPM; just one won’t work.” Business Process Improvement (BPI) needs to be a continuous learning and optimizing cycle. Picking the right tool is only half the battle, having a clear vision of goals and objectives and how BPM may or may not help achieve those is just as essential.