Jumping Into Tibbr Social Collaboration With Both Feet

IT services firm CGI skipped the pilot project and launched Tibco's Tibbr to 31,000 users at once.
"Our Sharepoint 2010 implementation is kind of a sister to the Tibbr work, where they're going to be used in combination, one to the other," Lebel said. One aspect of the combination CGI is not satisfied with yet is search--currently, the Tibbr search function covers only Tibbr content, while CGI would really like to have one method of enterprise search that also covers SharePoint content.

Because Yammer offers a free version of its social collaboration service, some 500 to 600 CGI employees had started collaboration groups there using their email addresses, but it never got much beyond "chatting conversation," Lebel said. "After we brought in Tibbr, that gradually faded out. I think since March, there's been no more action on that front."

While Tibbr hasn't received as much attention as some other social software products, it may get more respect in the coming year. A just-released Forrester Research report on enterprise activity stream products classifies Tibbr as a leader, rivaling Yammer and's Chatter in the strength of its current offering and of its strategy (although not in market penetration).

Forrester's write-up on Tibbr begins with a bit of a backhanded compliment: "For a company with such a deep reputation for middleware, Tibco has managed to build a product with a very well-received interface." As evidence, the product is winning deals with organizations that are not Tibco middleware customers, according to the report. "Tibco provides all major deployment models (SaaS, private cloud, on-premises, and hybrid), but its vision really comes to life in the on-premises model. By leveraging Tibco middleware, customers can provide access to underlying line-of-business data and processes. Customers have begun to bring the vision to life with deep integrations into SAP and Oracle applications," reads the Forrester report.

For this particular ranking Forrester didn't look at social intranet products from Jive Software or IBM, which Forrester considers to be in a different category. Forrester classifies Tibbr as a more narrowly focused, supporting a particular style of social collaboration: an activity stream with updates from social connections as well as applications, and conversations around those posts.

Gorber said CGI consultants have done social software implementation work with Jive as well as IBM, but he perceived Jive's approach as being more like trying to recreate the portal model in the image of social networking. "The model seemed more flexible" around Tibbr with its streamlined focus on the activity stream, he said.

They also found Tibbr easy to use. "At the beginning, we were saying the technology is almost a commodity," Lebel said. "After seven months, we're finding it isn't true. Yes, you can say technology isn’t the most difficult part, but the technology must be a lever." People who've gotten used to Apple and Google tools, he continued, "take it for granted that it's now the de facto expectation that technology should be simple, efficient, productive--blah, blah, blah," and they notice when enterprise software doesn't measure up. "If that gap is too big, they just won't get into using the tool."

CGI also wants to take what it has learned about Tibbr and apply it to implementation work for its clients. At the time of our interview CGI hadn't actually landed contracts on that basis, but it was starting to garner interest. "We're making a push, but we've also seen in the last month or so some pull for this," Lebel said.

"We've been surprised at the level of proactive interest from government agencies, both in Canada and the U.S., where this might be part of a larger package," Gorber added. These agencies are looking for social software that meets their security standards, he said.

Internally, CGI is seeing "better visibility into what people are doing around the company," Gorber said. At the same time, there's a growing trend toward cutting off further development on isolated portals, or even shutting them down. Processes like responding to client requests for proposal inquiries are working better, and a key organizational group called the Global Operations Team has been able to move toward more continuous collaboration rather than relying so much on quarterly meetings.

Gorber also believes social collaboration has helped "humanize" the executive team by providing a channel where people can reach out directly to a leader such as the CIO. "That can sort of breed catchiness around the rest of the company," he said.

Lebel is working to develop more quantifiable metrics and key performance indicators for social collaboration. Email volume has not yet tapered off, but he expects it will as workers learn to give up their group email habits. CGI does see reducing mass emails as a goal, since it tends to be more efficient for employees to subscribe to the topics they are interested in following.

While almost 100% of the company participates in the social network, so far activity conforms to the rule of thumb that 1% contribute the majority of the content, 9% participate moderately, and 90% are mostly observers, Lebel said. "But over time, we think more and more the other 90 percent will get in the conversation."

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

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