- IT leading Digital Transformation
- Doing everything faster
- Attracting and keeping talent
- The changing role of the CIO
- Emerging tech – what’s next?
We all know that digital transformation is here and happening whether our particular business likes it or not. Along with competition from smarter, nimbler competitors and the digitisation of business models we’ve also got new compliance “threats” to worry about, and GDPR is the big one we’re starting to hear some “Y2K” like scaremongering and noise about. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is actually EU Regulation 2016/679 and every UK company does need to be worrying about it as it (and the associated fines) apply to all of us from 25 May 2018. We’ll be discussing ways to tackle this over the coming months, but the problem triggered me thinking about the spreadsheet swamp that we’ve been living in for over 30 years. The first thought for so many business people when faced with a new requirement for tracking and reporting something that isn’t handled by our current systems is to reach for a spreadsheet. We’ve been conditioned in to doing that since the 70s and in today’s environment there are social tools and a whole new category of solutions called Low-Code platforms that you should consider before clicking that Excel icon.
We’ve been running our businesses and organisations with incomplete ERP systems for decades – they usually cover most of a company’s core processes but leave plenty of gaps. Those of us who have been around in IT for a while will remember enterprise software names like McCormack & Dodge, MSA, Dunn & Bradstreet, Pansophic, ASK, Baan and more – generations of ERP and enterprise level application software companies that have come and gone but were World players in their day. These (and the current) ERP solutions cover the easily repeatable processes that need to be handled, but most businesses also need to deal with what my friend Sigurde Rinde calls barely repeatable processes. That’s everything from the day to day business events that don’t quite obey the specific rules that we planned for, to responding to competitive threats, to new requirements like GDPR. That’s digital disruption in its many forms – the reality of business in a complex, fast changing world.
How do we deal with these gaps in functionality that our conventional systems don’t cover? To help us get the answers that the core IT system doesn’t provide, right since the dawn of personal computing, we’ve been reaching for the spreadsheet! It started back in the late 70s. What was the application (along with word processing) that helped the Apple II become so fantastically popular when it changed the computing landscape? It was Dan Bricklin‘s VisiCalc – the first ever spreadsheet. After the Apple II the IBM PC came along in 1981 and Lotus 1-2-3 became the goto application, but as Microsoft began to shape the technology landscape then Excel took over to became pervasive. Generations of people in business have built up a literacy in creating data based applications, with calculations and macros sitting in spreadsheets, with ad hoc systems and processes around them to share them with groups of people by email. How did accountants and business people end up as part time programmers? However, in truth this was a real jump in personal productivity and getting things done. But 30 years on we’re still doing it with pretty much the same technology – there has to be a better way!
With the advent of social tools over the last 10 years or so, I was convinced we could break the spreadsheet and email habit and make businesses more effective. We talk a lot here about enterprise social networks and how these kinds of collaboration tools should be at the heart of any company’s digital transformation strategy, but let’s turn to that spreadsheet. At the very least our documents or spreadsheets can be properly shared by a group of users. We don’t have to have multiple copies of the same thing, getting out of date, sitting in every single email recipient’s inbox – who’s got the latest version? Wikis, Google’s G Suite, Office365, and even new products like Dropbox Paper mean we can collaborate on content in real time, but even with these tools to hand many businesses are still living in the spreadsheet swamp. Spreadsheets have their place, but too often they are used as a convenient repository for what is actually a database for collecting and reporting on information that is vital, but missing from the organisation’s core ERP systems. They are used for everything from product lifecycle management to contact management to human resources data. Actually these applications ought to have been created as a proper database, but the cost and time of set up and management means that the user goes a different way. As a medium for data storage spreadsheets are mightily insecure. Anyone who has access to the sheet could change the data layout, change the data, screw up the calculations. Even when carefully managed, with good intentions, there are many examples you can find of huge mistakes and big losses because of a spreadsheet error. As my good friend Dennis Howlett often says:
“Spreadsheets are general purpose tools that can do many powerful things but they are a programming environment and should be treated as such. That means testing and documenting according to good programming standards.”
Why do we let ourselves navigate in to this swamp without that mode of thinking? This is where a new category of applications, called Low-Code platforms, is springing up to provide a 21C, more safe, more secure, cloud native solution to these ad-hoc needs that every organisation is faced with. This is an emerging space, and we’ll be looking at it more over the coming months. The way I see it the current crop of products that allow you to build applications with no (or very few) lines of code fall in to two broad categories. Business Process Management apps that help implement business logic and workflows, and Data Driven apps that offer data management, reporting and data integration. There is overlap of course, and a whole range of user experience from drag and drop interfaces to more straightforward tabular set up and configuration.
This Thursday I will be working with the Ctrl O Team and their Low-Code solution called Linkspace, at a London event titled “Government Computing Presents: Digital Transformation for the Public Sector”. The event blurb suggests that with efficiency and modernization at the forefront of government policy, the need to share experiences, success stories and new ways of working has never been greater. Listening to our senior public sector contacts there is no doubt that Government suffers from the spreadsheet swamp just as much as the commercial world. As I said at the start we need new thinking to tackle digital disruption, and new Low-Code tools provide rapid development without upfront costs, and should definitely be part of your 21C kitbag for application development and delivery.
As a Low-Code example, Ctrl O’s Linkspace allows you to build your own data driven applications in a secure way on a cloud platform that can be accessed anywhere from any device. You create your data layouts, data entry forms, workflow, and reporting. You need no more technical expertise than for spreadsheets and office products, but Linkspace helps you lock down the security so that only the right people have access to add, change or delete things. Ctrl O is an independent UK cloud software provider who already work with a number of government departments. They are passionate about using open source tools to create lean, intelligent, unbreakable products. I’m delighted to be working with them. Go here if you want to find out more about how they deal with the spreadsheet swamp. More details on the Government Computing event can be found here. Please come and talk to us on Thursday.
Disclosure: David Terrar chair’s Ctrl O’s Advisory Board and Agile Elephant helps them on strategy.
Both really. 2007 was pivotal. A big year in our digital history. It was also the year “An Inconvenient Truth” won the Oscar for best documentary, and Al Gore told us we only had 10 years to save the planet. It was the year my literary hero Kurt Vonnegut died. The Police and the Spice Girls both did reunion tours. J. K. Rowling published the 7th and final novel in the Harry Potter series (she’s on a reunion tour of sorts herself 10 years on), but these aren’t the reasons 2007 was so important.
I started thinking about this a few weeks back, on 14th February, when I celebrated 10 years on Twitter, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ve been talking digital since Nicholas Negroponte’s Being Digital book in 1995, with a steady build up of the technologies and associated behaviours that have changed marketing and insinuated themselves in to general business use, changing things completely in the intervening 22 years. Here are 5 reasons, though, why 2007 stands out during that seismic shift.
The iPhone was announced (but it was a slow burn)
Invitations to the Macworld event on 9th January 2007 suggested that the last 30 years had been just the beginning, and everything was about to change. Actually we only realised this was true and not Apple marketing hype several years later. At the now famous keynote, after more than half an hour of other announcements, Steve Jobs explained:
“Well today, we’re introducing THREE revolutionary new products. The first one is a widescreen ipod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary new mobile phone (the crowd went wild). And the third is a breakthrough internet communications device (they were less wild about that).”
And all 3 were the same device. But it was expensive. On top that we had to wait – it wasn’t going to be available until 29th June. It did, however, completely redefine the smart phone (and multi touch screen) user interface, but on initial announcement the iPhone was a closed device. It was only available on one US network, Cingular, and only available with a small collection of native apps. Steve told people that Apple and Cingular needed it to be that way because:
“You don’t want your phone to be an open platform. You don’t want it to not work because one of three apps you loaded that morning screwed it up” and “Cingular doesn’t want to see their West Coast network go down because of some app”.
Where would we be now if Steve had stuck with that position? Actually and thankfully, things had all changed before the end of 2007, but you also need to be reminded of the rest of the smart phone landscape of the time. The major smart phone players were Nokia, Motorola, Sony and BlackBerry (where are they all now?). The Nokia smart phone market share high point was in Q4 of 2007 at 50.9%! Personally, this was the year I upgraded from a Blackberry 8700 to a Blackberry Curve. At the time I considered the Nokia E61i, but not the iPhone. I tried the soft keyboard and just couldn’t get on with it. Actually, one of the coolest phones to own in 2007 was the Nokia n95 which, at the time, was the most powerful smart phone (with apps) you could buy as well as being a satnav, a camera, a player of music, and it was a phone too. If you look at the market share statistics going forward many of us continued to buy non Apple smart phones well in to 2009.
What made the iPhone a real game changer was Steve Jobs 180 degree turn around in June 2007, when he opened up the operating system to 3rd party developers. Then the SDK was announced in October, and once we had the associated app store and developer ecosystem, that really changed everything. In the discussion threads of the time Apple said “It will take until February (2008) to release an SDK because we’re trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once—provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc. This is no easy task.” Collecting all of 2007’s iPhone announcements together, the smart phone market was recast and Android followed in its footsteps.
Twitter took flight (and became a company)
I mentioned above that I jumped on board the Twitter train on 14 February 2007, but at that stage it was only social media and “web 2.0 (remember that?)” type geeks who were using it. As you’ll know Twitter was started as a side project by Biz Stone, Evan Williams, and Jack Dorsey while they were working at Odeo during 2006. Most of the usage was in the US only, and at the start of 2007 it was creeping out to my UK and European friends by word of mouth. In March, at that year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) event, things began to take flight. The Twitter stream was set on two 60-inch plasma screens in the hallway between the sessions and it became the event’s back channel. Speakers at the event referenced it, and the bloggers got on board. All of the rest of the attendees told their friends. Twitter staff received the festival’s Web Award prize. As a result Twitter usage jumped from 20,000 tweets a day to 60,000. Suddenly Biz, Evan, Jack and their team realised they had something. Twitter was spun out in to a separate company the very next month – April 2007.
On 23rd August Chris Messina suggested using # for grouping tweets, inspired by old style IRC. Stowe Boyd dubbed that the hashtag a few days later. Twitter followed up by adding the functionality required. Hashtags were widely used that year in the tweet stream connected to the San Diego forest fires. Usage also took off in Japan as well as Europe. The year that Twitter became really mainstream was arguably 2009, but there is no doubt 2007 was the tipping point.
Zuckerberg had just turned down 1$Bn, but opened up Facebook instead
Remember where Facebook was back then. During 2006 their growth had tailed off approaching 8 million users. Yahoo came calling and offered (22 year old) Mark Zuckerberg $1Bn and he verbally agreed to sell in July 2006. To put things in context, Yahoo had hundreds of millions of users at that time. MySpace was at 100 million users by August 2006. Yahoo’s timing was poor, though. Just after the offer to Zuckerberg they reported slower sales and earnings growth, and delays launching their new advertising platform. Their share price dropped 22% overnight, and Terry Semel, the CEO, subsequently cut their offer for Facebook down to $800m. They put the offer back up a couple of months later, but the damage was done and Zuckerberg didn’t sell – how different would things be now if that set of circumstances hadn’t happened?
Zuckerberg convinced his board they could do better, and started to focus beyond students, opened up membership to everyone, created the news feed and started mapping everyone’s social graph, with an emphasis on real identity and putting more of your personal information online. By January 2007 they had jumped to 14 million users, but the key move happened on 24th May 2007. At a massive press and developer event in San Francisco, they officially launched Facebook Platform, opening up for developers to build apps to help make it even easier for friends to communicate and do more. By the end of August they were at 36 million users, signing up at the rate of 1 million new users a month! It was during 2007 that I first started overhearing “normal” people on the Tube in London talking about Facebook. The die was cast. Facebook became a phenomenon in its own right rather than being lost inside of Yahoo… and MySpace who?
We all started talking Cloud
Clouds had been used in network communications and IT diagrams right back to the 60s, but the first use in the context of distributed computing was by Andy Hertzfeld in a Wired article in 1994. Quite some while later in a Q&A on 9 August 2006, at the Search Engine Strategies Conference, Eric Schmidt of Google talked of an emergent new model. He said:
“It starts with the premise that the data services and architecture should be on servers. We call it cloud computing – they should be in a “cloud” somewhere.”
A couple of weeks later on 25th August 2006, Amazon announced a limited public beta test of something called Elastic Cloud Compute or EC2. Infrastructure as a Service was here alongside the Software as a Service consumer and business applications that we were getting used to. Before this people were talking about webware and web 2.0, but suddenly Cloud was a great catch all term to use. Although the trend’s origin was in 2006, it was 2007 when Cloud Computing took hold in the language of technology. I trace my own usage of it back to that year, and that’s when I remember Simon Wardley and many others in the IT space talking cloud and utility computing for the first time. It wasn’t until 2009 or 2010 that the hype around the concept really started, but 2007 was when we all started talking Cloud.
It’s the year that Social Media started to really mean Business
The visionaries who wrote the Cluetrain Manifesto could see what was beginning to happen as far back as 1999, but 2007 was the year the momentum really picked up. Although I’d been blogging since 2005, and meeting up with like minded people at various events talking social media, web based tools and enterprise 2.0 as well as web 2.0, something different began to happen coming in to 2007. Behaviours started to change. In October 2006 I attended Ishmael Ghalimi’s (brilliant) first Office 2.0 Conference, which connected me to so many great people and helped kick off my 2007 with fresh thinking. I picked up organising and running a monthly meetup on using wiki technology in business called London Wiki Wednesdays in February 2007. I started attending Saul Klein’s weekly London OpenCoffee meetings. Although they had been set up to facilitate start-ups meeting VCs and angel investors, more and more people interested in the new stuff happening at the edge began to turn up too. Elsewhere Chinwag Live was happening. There was a buzz as marketing, communications and PR people wanted to understand the new approaches and how things were changing. Developers with an idea came looking for help or to share what they’d prototyped. Creativity was flowing and connections were being made.
During 2007 those OpenCoffee sessions got busier and busier, moving from the Starbucks in the Esprit on Regent Street, to the 5th Floor of Waterstones on Piccadilly. More and more people started working in cafés plugged in to wifi – suddenly I wasn’t the only one hunting for a power point. Actually the social media geeks that turned up to OpenCoffee during 2007 needed their own home, and when Lloyd Davis started thinking about a London form of Social Media Café, we all gravitated there. You can read Lloyd’s musings from August 2007 – the beginning of what became The Tuttle Club (after the character Harry Tuttle in the movie Brazil – find out why he was our hero here). Lloyd ran the first few sessions in 2007 and the savvy amongst us moved over from OpenCoffee to his place. It really took off during 2008 – by then the venue was the Coach and Horses in Soho and it was happening weekly, but the momentum for all of this definitely started in 2007. The social media oriented crowd in London were meeting, making new alliances, forming new companies, developing products, trying things out, and connecting with people from all over the World. Suddenly we were talking about Social Media Marketing, Social Media in Business and influencers. I can only talk in detail about London, but from my connections I know similar things were happening in San Francisco, but also New York, LA, Boston, Paris, Munich, Milan, Vancouver, all over. I’m sure you will have your own stories, but I can trace a lot of my ideas and network of friends and collaborators back to that seminal year.
So, there’s my case for 2007. It’s only been 10 years, yet it seems longer. So much of what we talked about that year has moved from the edge to mainstream business thinking today. The rate of change is only accelerating and we have a raft of emerging technologies to consider with amazing potential. Every business is (or should be) planning for disruption and new business models, and figuring out how to harness more digital technology in to the products and services they provide. I wonder how much longer we’ll be using the digital term, and I wonder what what will replace it – what comes next?
“If there is a year to be marked as a milestone, as the kick-off of the major innovations we have witnessed recently, 2007 is a great contender.”
Like minded – absolutely! I recommend you check out his book as soon as it is published – some great content and ideas in there.
And if you want some help making sense of digital please just ask or contact us.
“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.”
A very sweet thought from Winnie-the-Pooh. Disney by the way, not A.A. Milne. Well it is Valentine’s Day and it’s exactly 10 years to the day since I started my love affair with the one-to-many messaging service called Twitter. Am I still that passionate? Could I live without it? Actually, we had a fantastic honeymoon period and some amazing highs, but our relationship has hit rocky patches recently. We used to talk all the time, but we don’t communicate quite like we used to. Can we change together? I’m not giving up though. Like all relationships of any value you have to work at it. But what have I learned looking back from my 10th anniversary? What’s the context, both in terms of the backdrop of digital history, and in what happens next? Let’s see.
Do you have a Cluetrain?
When I meet marketing or media professionals at some point I ask them whether they’ve heard of the Cluetrain Manifesto. Their answer presents a digital divide. Those that know of, or have read the 95 theses have a better understanding of digital marketing (and the Internet) as a network of networks of conversations. Those that haven’t heard of it have old style marketing thinking – the Internet in terms of a broadcast and traffic. I’m in awe of the book. Published in 1999 Cluetrain is as relevant today as the day it was first published almost 18 years ago. Let’s pick out 3 of the 95 tenets.
- #1 Markets are conversations. (The foundation of all ingredients of social media and user generated content that has changed marketing forever.)
- #6 The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media. (Technology allows two way, person to person communication across the globe in real time. And then the conversations have to adapt again when AI and machine learning mean that sometimes it’s a human talking to a bot.)
- #12 There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone. (Companies aren’t in control of their brands anymore, but they and we have huge opportunities from the vast amounts of data generated across the web for our analysis every second.)
Twitter has been at the leading edge of these changes over the last 10 years. Buying has changed, and so selling has had to change, and the key word is social. Now every sales person has to think social if they want to be effective, and Twitter is a channel you can’t ignore in the communications mix. Now every brand, event and TV show has a Twitter handle, alongside some other social channels. Twitter has become an essential route to get the message out and feedback from both B2B and B2C marketing. It’s part of the marketing fabric, in most geographic markets, now. Most billboard adverts you see will have the brand’s Twitter alongside their web address. For the fanbase of most TV shows it’s an essential component. Season 6 of The Walking Dead averaged 435,000 tweets per episode. Even that can be topped – the premier episode of season 7 generated 4.7 million tweets, when two of the beloved characters died. That’s buzz of a different colour!
The short message is the medium
Why 140 characters, and why is that so important? There is a magic to microblogging, and a magic to the economy required in a short message. But let’s have some history. Twitter (which started as Twittr, after the fashion of web 2.0 startups dropping their vowels) was envisioned back in 2006 by co-founder Jack Dorsey as an SMS based messaging service for friend groups to keep up to date with each other. Jack sent the first message on Twitter on March 21st 2006. It read, “just setting up my twttr”.
An SMS message is 160 characters long, so Twitter (as it was eventually renamed) grabbed 20 for control characters, and provided 140 for messages. But why 160? Actually not everyone remembers how big text messaging was before Cluetrain and the age of social media. It was created within the protocols and standards of voice messaging in 1985 as part of Global System for Mobile Communications or GSM here in Europe. SMS was to use the voice optimised bandwidth to transport data messages on the signalling paths needed to control the telephone traffic during periods when no signalling traffic existed. That meant unused resources in the system could be used to transport messages at minimal cost. It was Friedhelm Hillebrand of Deutsche Telekom, working on the GSM standard, who defined 160 as the message length – to use the spare bandwidth cheaply, there had to be a hard limit. Apparently he sat at his typewriter back in 1985 typing example short messages, and none of them took more that 160 characters. Then he looked at messages on postcards he’d received, and even did some research on example Telex messages. They all matched the 160 limit, and so his argument was accepted. Even so it was a while before text messaging became a commercial reality. Hillebrand hit upon the Dunbar number equivalent for short form communication. A length that allows for true meaning and emotion in no more than a dozen words. Great for a status update or a strapline, but leaves enough room for elegance, humour and even poetry. Ideal for today’s world where the signal is struggling against so much noise, and that’s exactly why SMS and now Twitter have taken hold.
The first SMS message wasn’t actually sent until December 3rd 1992, from engineer Neil Papworth to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone. The following year Nokia made SMS capable phones, and then the first commercial SMS service was offered by Radiolinja in Finland, followed by Vodaphone launching a service in the UK in 1994. Because of the low cost SMS took hold, particularly with the younger demographic, and was a very big deal in its own right. By January 2001 more than a billion texts a month were being sent in the UK alone. In 2004, prime minister Tony Blair joined the text and mobile revolution when he took part in a live text chat with thousands of callers.
Who’s in charge?
The community, that’s who! Twitter’s power is decentralised and has given a voice and influence to users in ways no other social network has. Right from the start it was the users who were creating the utility. It was users who started to use IRC (internet relay chat) conventions like @ for names and # for topics, with Chris Messina and Stowe Boyd naming the hashtag, and Twitter followed up with the functionality to make that work. Shortly after I joined in 2007, Twitter really took off at that year’s South by South West. It jumped from 20,000 messages a day to 60,000 because there were plasma screens in the halls displaying as the conference back channel. From that point on it spread to over 200 million active users in the first seven years, and the pace has slowed to around 320 million active users now. It has changed history, playing a role in the Arab Spring or in campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter. It has changed world news gathering at a turning point in 2009 when Janis Krums tweeted a photo of US Airways Flight 1549 after it touched down on the Hudson River that went viral, before anywhere else had the story. It’s achieved a new focus of attention as Donald Trump has continued to use it as the way to talk to directly to the American Public as he moves from the campaign, through his inauguration to his first 100 days in office. However, Twitter only grew by 2 million active users in the 4th quarter of 2016, whereas Facebook grew by 72 million users in the same period.
After a wild successful IPO in 2013, Twitter began to struggle dealing with shareholders and market expectations and the stock took a downturn. Jack Dorsey, co-founder and author of that first tweet, who had been ousted in 2008, was brought back in as CEO in 2015. They’ve made changes, there has been talk of extending the 140 character limit, they’ve acquired Persicope for live streaming, but they haven’t articulated their direction anywhere near clearly enough. There have been rumours of acquisition by Disney, Salesforce and Google. From my vantage point they need to shift their balance of listening from the market and shareholders to their community of core (and new) users. Oh, and by the way, in October 2016 Twitter’s Chinese competitor Weibo just went past it in terms of market capitalisation.
Is Twitter dying?
To paraphrase Frank Zappa, Twitter is not dead, but it smells funny. Back in the late 2000s Twitter was like a village or the town square. I had real conversations with people on a regular basis. I’ve met and interacted with new, likeminded people from all over the world. It brought me business. It brought me friendships. It showed me ideas, music, books. It brought me speaking opportunities that would never have happened any other way. It helped me have impromptu meetings with cool people who spotted me on Twitter at a particular cafe. To make it even more personal, my particular Twitter community helped me enormously with support when my father was dying (they know who they are, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart). That’s value!
Now by 2017, the village has grown to a noisy urban sprawl and then a country of major cities and communities, with all of the hustle and bustle and impersonality that comes with that kind of territory, made worse by the fact that there isn’t much of a government or police force to control things. Too big for the kind of community policing that happens in smaller groups. The Jakob Nielsen 90-9-1 rule still applies, where 90% are lurkers, with 9% creating a little and 1% creating most of the content, but now the numbers are at a different scale. The conversations I used to have are now happening elsewhere, on Facebook and LinkedIn and Slack. Umair Haque wrote about this in 2015 but added the key problem of abuse we now face on Twitter and the web. He said:
“The problem of abuse is the greatest challenge the web faces today. It is greater than censorship, regulation, or (ugh) monetization. It is a problem of staggering magnitude and epic scale, and worse still, it is expensive: it is a problem that can’t be fixed with the cheap, simple fixes beloved by tech: patching up code, pushing out updates.”
Twitter has given everyone a megaphone, and there are plenty of people who misuse it. We have mob rule. We have shaming in ways I’ve never seen before. We have a realtime communications mechanism that is highlighting the divisions and flaws in our societies, and this has been brought in to sharp focus by recent political events like Brexit in the UK or Trump’s election in the USA. When politics and religion get in the mix, emotions can run high in ways that I have difficulty understanding. I’m all for more passion, by I want my arguments rational.
So we’ve definitely got a problem, and we’ve definitely lost something, but I don’t believe that means Twitter will die. It’s become too embedded in to the nerve system of business, marketing, government, politics and the World to go away. Even in its current form it provides a service and gives value. It stills provides me with news sources and discovery and connections that add value. But Darwin is calling and it needs to evolve.
What next for Twitter?
I don’t know Jack…. but what would I do if I was in his place? Like it or not, as a Public company they need to manage the finances quarter to quarter, along with market expectations, otherwise he and his executive team will be overtaken by events and it will become someone else’s problem. However, I believe the larger focus of attention should be addressing the needs of their community of core users and remembering the key ingredients that helped build Twitter in the first 5 years. Actually Jack should be looking to lessons from my current favourite business book Team of Teams. Twitter’s community of active users is the complete opposite of a business grappling with a command and control management structure. There is no structure. By definition it is self organising. The users are already formed in to loose teams and tribes, but those teams need tools to help them do a better job of defining, moderating, guiding and organising those teams so that they get more value from their connections and their live conversations. If the abuse problem is the single biggest issue, then they need much finer grain tools to help treat and manage it at source – viewed as an infection, they need antibodies and antibiotics to kill it as it springs up. Not so much a police force as helping community self moderation. Just like in Team of Teams, the Twitter leadership needs to think like a gardener, creating the right environment for the teams to thrive. They’ve got smart product people who can add the functions needed, but they need to narrow their focus to help individuals and groups rather than considering the user base as a whole.
Another key ingredient to make the team approach work is a shared vision, and so Twitter needs a much clearer direction from the top, a much clearer annunciation of what it’s for and why. In those early years, that came from the community itself. More than anything Jack needs to do some listening.
This is the first of a sequence of posts from us Elephants on what’s next for the digital landscape, the future of mobile, group messaging, conversational commerce, artificial intelligence and more. What do you think? Contact us with suggestions, questions – we’d love for you to join the conversation.
We’ve just started working with Hewlett Packard Enterprise. HPE is an organisation with a long track record and history in technology, tracing their roots back to a classic start up story of two guys in a garage – what some would argue was the birthplace of Silicon Valley itself. What started as Hewlett-Packard, like any firm, needed to evolve and adapt to survive as the market disruptions and transformations happen. The original organisation has been around as one of the major forces in IT since the start of the computer era. Over the decades they’ve floated off their electronic and bio-analytical measurement instruments businesses, acquired the likes of Compaq and EDS, as well as becoming a major force in PCs and printers. All this alongside their roots in manufacturing servers, mini computers, data storage, and networking hardware.
In 2014 they split the PC and printers business from its enterprise products and services business to form HP Inc, and HPE respectively – now two separate entities on the NYSE. Last year HPE spun off its “non-core” software business in a merger with Microfocus, as well as a similar spin-off and merge of their Enterprise Services business with CSC, in a series of moves that focuses them back on their computing infrastructure roots. Their new strategy is encapsulated in this paragraph lifted from their CEO Meg Whitman’s 7 September announcement of last year:
“I want to be crystal clear – HPE is not getting out of software. Software is still a key enabler of our go-forward strategy, but we need the right assets to win in our target markets. Moving forward, we will double down on the software capabilities that power and differentiate our infrastructure solutions and are critical in a cloud environment.”
The new HPE wants to be known as the industry’s leading provider of hybrid IT built on ultra secure, software-defined infrastructure.
As part of their new approach HPE launched the enterprise.nxt resource which can be found at the Insights tab of their main website, at insights.hpe.com and HPE.com/nxt. Agile Elephant is delighted to be contributing content to this site which aims to provide insights and resources to help IT pros shape the future of business. Here are the articles we’ve contributed so far:
- 5 things Slack and Teams tell us about workplace collaboration
- 5 steps to defining the ROI for your digital transformation project
- 5 ways to transform your workplace for the digital age
- Chatbots for business: 4 simple ideas to make your team and ops smarter
There’s some great content on there from a variety of HPE experts and technology journalists. The editors asked us to contribute content on digital transformation and emerging technologies. We’re delighted to be involved. Please contact us if you’ve got any suggestions for topics or if you want to hear more.
This is a little pat on the back for the Elephant. I’m pleased to report that Agile Elephant has been awarded a place on Digital Outcomes and Specialists 2, but what’s that?
It’s part of the UK Government’s Digital Marketplace. The marketplace was set up to in part to help reduce the friction, overhead and cost of Public Sector organisations procuring technology, services and expertise, but also to help more and smaller IT services firms gain access to bid on Government projects. Historically, most of government IT was being handled by a small number of well known systems integrator and IT services firms. Now Public sector organisations, including agencies and arm’s length bodies, can use the Marketplace to find a wider range of people, technology and firms for digital projects.
- Cloud services covering everything from web hosting, business applications, website development projects or even IT health checks, all through the G-Cloud framework. You can also buy access to physical datacentre space through the Crown Hosting Data Centres framework.
- Digital outcomes, digital specialists and user research services through the Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework.
The first area is all about Cloud services – SaaS, PaaS and IaaS products and services of various kinds. The second is about finding the right digital and cloud experts and consultants to help tasks and projects, or about developing bespoke systems and software projects.
We’re delighted to be involved and we’ll report news of our progress here. Please contact us if you are a government department that needs any sort of digital expertise or help making sense of the transformation challenges ahead of you.
Here is a first taste of the story of last Thursday’s Enterprise Digital Summit London in tweets and photos. Our aim is to put on London’s most enterprise oriented event on digital transformation, helping organisations change mindset to deal with the incredible technological and competitive pressures of the 21C world of work. Here is the day from the audience’s perspective. We’ll publish posts, an event report, videos and more photos soon:
This gallery of photos below are all taken by our friend across from Germany Ellen Trude:
More content coming soon. If you want to find out more about our approach, or you need help with your digital strategy, then please contact us.
Marc Wright invited us to join in the simply communicate fun at Social Media In Large Enterprise London yesterday – follow #smilelondon to see the great tweet stream. This is the first of a set of posts from the Agile Elephant team reporting on what was an inspiring and well organised day, packed with good stories and networking. I’ll cover thoughts from our research partners Lecko combined with observations on Office365, Microsoft and Teams.
Michel Ezran and Bastien Le Lann of Lecko were Marc’s first victims of the day. Lecko have been reporting on the enterprise social network and collaboration space for 8 years. We’ve been working with them for the last 2 years. Amongst a lot of research reports and analysis they publish an annual report which analyses the market to show how companies are using enterprise social networks, social collaboration and productivity products, and then provides a detailed comparison of the platforms available – they survey 30 products against 550 criteria. They cover every significant solution from Jive and IBM Connections to products like Office365 and Slack. Yesterday they explained their 4 headline findings from the report:
- Collaboration and use of social software is steadily on the increase, more than 15 % up in 2015 over 2014.
- Managers have a significant level of awareness of the benefits (and risks) of digital transformation, but they still lack practical knowledge
- Digital Leaders are engaged in a sustainable way – they represent a new asset for the more digitally savvy companies
- Use of social collaboration is happening and helping at the heart of the value chain.
Take look at the detailed data sheets they produce in their product comparison. (I’m not expecting you to read the detail above, just get a flavour of how they show a product’s strengths and weaknesses – download the report to get to the detail.) The charts for Office365 versus Slack quickly show you the scope and strengths of each. They went on to present a separate report, also available for free download – their latest deep dive in to Office365 which was published at the end of last month, a few days before Microsoft announced Teams. It provides a detailed review of Microsoft’s strategy and multiple, overlapping product set. I particularly like their “London Underground” influenced map showing how the Office365 City fits together. Their conclusion is that they see a very good product, but it hasn’t yet realised a true digital workplace and they don’t see integration or an app layer. The report will be updated to reflect Teams, which is actually built on the Office Groups functionality which is at the centre of the map.
Later in the day Rich Ellis of Microsoft talked with Marc about the new Teams product and how it fits in to their strategy. Rich was at Yammer before they were acquired, and was very clear in explaining that “Yammer is going nowhere!”. There were a few chuckles around the room, but he went on to explain Yammer is a key part of their strategy and onward development, providing broad collaboration across work groups. He commented that Satya (Nadella, the Microsoft CEO) jumps in to Yammer to connect and join in the conversations happening across the company.
Rich explained how Teams is powered by Office Groups and how the Office graph sits below mapping what is relevant to us, listening to what we are working on and seeing what we are doing When you set up a Team it generates a team email address, chat space, with a team OneNote and team sharepoint. He explained how you might start with a group which is private or closed, and how groups are searchable and you chose chose which ones to join. The idea is to let users gravitate to the tools they want to use, and cater for all the options. So Teams doesn’t replace Yammer. It provides small team collaboration while Yammer allows broad collaboration across groups and will continue to be developed.
He talked about early customers like Accenture, who already have 750 TB of teams data on their OneDrive. He talked of the the compute capacity available to customers and how you can do real time language translation within Skype for Business. He highlighted the openness of Microsoft’s approach commenting that they even have a connector in Teams for Google analytics. In answers to questions from the audience he alluded to future developments in Yammer to allow external sharing beyond internal users, saying “stay tuned, it’s coming”. He explained how Teams is a public cloud based app, but that there would be extensibility to connect to hosted and on premise solutions. Inevitably he was also asked about Microsoft’s reaction to Workplace by Facebook. With a wry smile he explained how they are excited by the breadth available in the marketplace.
He made a strong case for how Teams provides a big step towards the digital workplace and is a very significant addition the Office 365 product family positioned alongside Yammer.
We’ll publish more on SMILE London soon, and if you want to know more about distributing digital across the enterprise, join us at the Enterprise Digital Summit London next week on 24 November. Follow the link here or below to find out more.
Yesterday Microsoft responded to the incredible rise of Slack, the cool “new kid on the block” inter office chat app, with Teams. I watched the live stream of the announcement and was surprised. I expected a Slack alternative, a “Slack killer” even, but what they’ve announced is much more significant. Teams and Slack together signpost the future of collaboration and the evolution of the digital workplace. The collaboration and enterprise social network software providers need to take notice.
Over on Hewlett Packard Enterprise Insights, their enterprise.nxt guide to digital transformation, they published my post “5 things Slack and Microsoft Teams tell us about workplace collaboration”. This is a companion piece, amplifying those conclusions having had a chance to think through the implications of what I saw streamed from yesterday’s Microsoft NYC Office event.
Earlier in the year it had been rumoured that Microsoft might buy Slack for $8Bn, but they’ve done their own thing instead. Yesterday’s announcement was an open secret for a while, and Slack took the rather interesting step of publishing a full page advert in the New York Times, simultaneously publishing the text on Medium. They say they are excited at the competition, but that’s more in the context of the purported Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”.
First let’s run through what Slack have achieved, which is pretty incredible really! They’ve only been around since August 2013. You probably didn’t know that the name is an acronym, “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge”. Slack has $540m in funding and a valuation of around $3.8 billion at their last funding round in March, and then we had those Microsoft rumours. Back in May this year Slack passed 3m daily active users, but that was 3.5 times growth in both free and paid for users over the previous year, and the rate isn’t slowing down (so even with Microsoft’s announcement, Slack won’t be going away). As I explained in the HPE article, Slack is used by 77 of the Fortune100. There are teams inside eBay, Ogilvy, Salesforce, Samsung, and Urban Outfitters. IBM themselves have 30,000 users, and have even announced a partnership with Slack so Watson’s AI can quickly provide insights from the huge data sets collected by the messaging system. Slack is being used by large enterprises, small enterprises, by groups of developers sharing code snippets, and it’s even gaining traction in the gaming community.
Like so many web based products of recent years that we know and love, such as Twitter or Flickr, it is the result of a company doing a pivot from their original intention. Stewart Butterfield and his team were working on an online game called Glitch. They had developed their own internal messaging system, and when the online game didn’t succeed, they launched their internal collaboration solution instead, to become the cool product platform that it is now. They have the classic freemium business which has made it easy for groups of users, frustrated with whatever collaboration options they have within their enterprise, to set a Slack group, invite people in and provide their own tactical solution to help a particular community, issue or project. There are plenty of other options around like HipChat in the business world, or Discord in the gaming community, but in a very crowded market of overalapping communication tools, Slack have made a big impact inside 3 years.
Let’s look at what Slack actually provides a group of users. The functionality covers three areas:
- A message threading alternative to email that is device independent. I can use it on Mac, Windows PC, through a web interface, or with mobile apps for smartphones and tablets. Conversations are synced across all devices so I can join the conversation in one place, and continue on a different device when I’m on the move or back at the office.
- It has a more open communication approach – the conversations get organised within channels that are like the hashtags I’m used to on public social media platforms, and everything is searchable so that I can easily loop in the skills and people I need.
- The third key area is Slack’s focus on helping me with menial tasks. They have a growing directory with over 750 apps, chatbots and algorithms that I can deploy to help make my collaboration life that little bit easier. Slack are riding the growing wave of Bots, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Process Automation – a mega trend that is changing office work just as much as automation has on the shop floor.
But wait, there’s more. I mentioned sharing code snippets, but those 750 apps include easy integration with developer and agency friendly tools like Trello, IFTTT, Zapier and GitHub. They are also investing in people to help them scale with senior hires from Salesforce and Foursquare this year.
Slack’s success highlights a key problem for our existing collaboration software options. They are more difficult to use than they should be. On top of that, the digital workplace is a mess. Alongside whatever we use for team collaboration, we access a whole host of disparate corporate systems with differing interfaces to get the job done. Slack has the ease of use and frictionless set up of the consumer apps we all used to on our smartphones and tablets. On top of the user experience there are two more factors. First, team chat functionality which allows me to find, connect and communicate with the right experts helps me get the job done. It’s a core component of all the administration and knowledge work we do. Second, and the masterstroke, is the open platform which provides the store of bots and integrations to third party apps. It means Slack (or Teams) provides me with a place where work happens. Where I can connect to these disparate app silos that my company uses, but in one place where the useful conversations are already happening. This is the starting point for a proper digital workplace, or what Dion Hinchcliffe called a digital workplace hub in his post on ZDNet a few days ago.
More than anything with this team chat based digital workplace approach, I’m looking forward to the demise of email, and products like Slack and Teams bring that a little closer. Having discussed the incredible rise of Slack, the functionality it provides, and some of the reasons why it’s been successful, what did Microsoft give us in response?
Yesterday, CEO Satya Nadella and Office Corporate VP Kirk Koenigsbauer, with a little help from their friends, laid out the new strategy and provided an impressive demo of Microsoft Teams. From my initial take it has many of the good characteristics of Slack, certainly has a similar look and feel, but offers the potential of more through tight integration with the Office365 family of products that it sits in, and becomes the front end to. Satya opened the announcement talking about how the new product needs to accomodate how different teams work differently, using the example of jazz ensembles, crew races, and even cricket teams, and that sets up the fact that the product allows you to customise the experience on a team by team basis.
Getting in to the demo helps explain what Teams does. Over on the left of the screen there are tabs for activity, chat, teams, meetings and files. This bar moves to the bottom in the mobile experience. When you set up a private team, a Sharepoint is automatically provisioned “behind” it to support it, and so any files are put there or created there. The team space showed normal multithreaded conversations, and I rather liked the way messages to you were highlighted with a red tab/tag over on the right of the message. You can open files or notes within the stream, and have conversations around them. Of course (the rather excellent) OneNote has all the characteristics of a wiki for co-creation. When you go in to a team space, you can pin things on to the tabs across the top of the space. Things like the budget for this project (an Excel spreadsheet), a planner for this project team, or even third party tools like Zendesk, accessed right there. This access to, and seamless integration with, the whole of the Office365 suite, or things like Microsoft Power BI, and on top of that a set of third party apps too, is crucial. Teams acts like your inbox, or maybe it’s a workbox, or maybe it’s your digital workplace hub.
When it comes to typing your messages you can add emojis, stickers, or attach files. A ‘Fun Picker’ lets you find and add Giphy GIFs, or memes. The next thing to say is that you can interact with bots just like in Slack. T-Bot sits on top of Teams’ help system, so you can ask questions like “how do I create a channel?”. WhoBot links in to the directories, and more importantly the conversations and meta data associated with that person, so you can ask “who knows about ticket sales?”. You can jump in to video chat with the team right there, using Skype.
Microsoft Teams is available now as a customer preview in 181 countries and 18 languages. General Availability is planned for Q1 2017, when it will have 85 Bots, 70 connectors, and integrations with 150 partners including Zendesk and HootSuite. In terms of licensing it is available to any user on an O365 Enterprise or Small Business plan. One key point that Satya emphasised is that Microsoft already have 85million active users of O365, and this is the market they are addressing.
Microsoft Teams looks like a very good team chat option, but it has important advantages if you are already following an Office 365 strategy. Both Slack and Teams bring you to a place where you can connect and collaborate with overlapping teams to get things done. They both plug in to the rising trend of bots and AI to automate tasks, find answers quickly and easily, and save time. They both offer an array of integrations with other business apps and so begin to provide a practical answer to Dion’s digital workplace hub. They definitely point the way for the next stage of collaboration solutions, and the major social software players need to take note.