E2.0 Conference: Social Computing Platforms (IBM & Microsoft)

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InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

June 23, 2008

9 Min Read

I wanted to share some background information on the tutorial presented at the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference. Specifically, the tutorial I moderated on Monday that featured IBM and Microsoft.BackgroundI have been on the Advisory Board of the Enterprise 2.0 conference for a while now (which has given me the opportunity to work with some pretty amazing people). For this event, I proposed a tutorial that would allow attendees to learn more about the social computing platforms from IBM and Microsoft from a user adoption perspective rather than a "plumbing" or infrastructure viewpoint. What I have run into during my client interactions is that people rarely get to see an in-depth demonstration that is visual and one that also allows them to see a storyline involving different use case scenarios that have parallels within their own workplace. So my starting point was to help deliver a session that was "not too high" and "not too low" in terms of marketing spin and technical details respectively.The VendorsI worked with IBM and Microsoft in the months preceding the event. The original idea was along the lines of:1. Introduction and overview2. Component Walk-thru (profiles, blogs, wikis, tags/bookmarks, feed syndication, social networks)3. Use case scenarios (expertise, community, line-of-business application, external application)4. Q&A session5. Under-the-hood (architecture, development tools, planning guidelines)6. Q&A session and wrap-upThe main point at this time (Jan/Feb) was to actually bounce back and forth a lot. For example: IBM blog then Microsoft blog; IBM wiki then Microsoft wiki. Orchestrating this flow was thought to be too much like a tennis match and we would lose the audience and perhaps incur more technical problems with such constant switching around. We also thought that we would run out of time for a serious under-the-hood discussion that actually could be a more technical session for a few hours itself. We also thought that starting out with the scenarios made more sense - give people a story to see themselves in and then go on to explain how the picture was painted more or less.So by the Mar/Apr timeframe, we had arrived at the following flow:1. Introduction and overview2. Use case scenarios (expertise, community, line-of-business application, project management)3. Component Walk-thru (profiles, blogs, wikis, tags/bookmarks, feed syndication, social networks)4. Q&A session5. Bigger Picture (including panel discussion led by moderator)6. Q&A session and wrap-upWe swapped out the external app with project management and the technical dive was changed over to be a more platform-wide and future roadmap discussion that would transition into a panel format that would allow me to ask questions to dig into any issue that I thought should be revisited.The last issue was the vendor flow. We thought at first that we would alternate from section to section (Vendor A followed by Vendor B, then Vendor B followed by Vendor A) but that created some issues (Vendor B goes twice for a long period of time and Vendor A is left at the bookends). So we ended up with repeating the same sequence from section to section."Rules"I did not want to deliver a session that only covered what was possible in the current shipping product and had to be limited to what was out-of-the-box. On the other extreme, I did not want to see highly customized applications that were not really reflective of the products any longer. So to balance that goal:* Vendors could customize their solution and shape the capabilities covered to meet the use case scenarios* Vendors could include extensions or partner add-ons* Vendors could include new capabilities that would be delivered within the short run (e.g., within 2008)* Vendors have to be very transparent and explicitly call out where customizations had been applied and where partner solutions were included* Before/after capabilities had to be shown if the vendor had something that they had replaced with a partner's solution (so if you had a wiki but demo'd another you had to show both)The goal was to be pragmatic about this and keep the audience in mind. What I was hoping for was:1. Vendors would create a "big picture" story anchored to the list of use case scenarios (expertise, community, project or line-of-business application)2. People would "see themselves in the story" and begin thinking of the solution opportunities within their organization3. Vendors would then peel that layer away and talk to the social computing components that made up that story4. People would then relate specific functional capabilities to the solutions they saw in the demo and hopefully expand on how those tools could be used in other ways within their organizations5. Vendors would close out with a broader look at the platform ecosystem and then look ahead to future evolution of their respective platforms6. People would see value in a platform approach, the need for an ecosystem around that platform, and how the platform investment would grown and evolve over time"It's Showtime..."Some thoughts on the session itself:IBM* IBM was the clear winner across the board. The storyline and narrative woven around the presentation and demonstrations was near-perfect. The IBM team established the use case scenarios and drilled down into those scenarios in a way that allowed people to make the connection (no pun intended) between the use cases and functional components.* The functional components came across very well and the social computing tools covered (profiles, blogs, wikis, feeds, social networking) were linked back to the overall storyline in a way that flowed naturally and allowed the audience to put the pieces together without a lot of hard mental work deciphering how the tools worked together in the context of an application that solved a real problem.* One concern I had with the IBM presentation occurred when they talked about the inclusion of a feed management function. It was not clearly articulated as to what was in Lotus Connections 2.0 vs. something of a future and perhaps a future that was beyond the "foreseeable" future boundary I had defined. The other concern (more minor) was that there was little discussion around the platform and system dependencies. Again, a minor nit but I don't recall hearing that the blog component is based on Apache Roller, etc. Maybe that did come out (someone can correct me here) but I think a few more minutes on technical requirements should have been a focal point.* One critique I have is that IBM positions Lotus Connections as an application and not a platform. I found that hard to believe actually. It might not be a platform the same way SharePoint is a platform or other platforms within IBM - but it is clearly a platform in my mind.Microsoft* Clearly (based on audience reaction, post-session comments, news accounts and my own observation), Microsoft did a poor job of showing and explaining why business and/or technical decision-makers should consider SharePoint as a credible solution to meet the social computing needs of an organization.* I was really expecting to see Microsoft show off the Community Kit Extensions, or some partner integration (NewsGator Social Sites) but that was not the case. Basically, I just saw SharePoint virtually out-of-the-box with some customization but not enough to really make an impact on me in terms of thinking that the blog and wiki functions are competitive with what the market has to offer. Even the social networking capabilities within MySite were not highlighted in a way that was compelling.* Microsoft lost the audience. There was a break between the storyline set in the use case scenarios and the component walk-thru. I could see people in the audience struggling to stitch together a narrative of where Microsoft was going with the presentation and demonstrations (especially when the IBM delivery and solution capabilities came across so vibrantly). There was too much "in-the-weeds" talk around property sheets and forms.* The platform argument failed. Microsoft's anchor point was that social computing capabilities emerge from a platform model. I don't disagree with that argument but the feeling that I believe many people left with after the tutorial is that the SharePoint platform is slow-moving, not very flexible, with capabilities that lag behind what is available on the market. Without showing the Codeplex extensions or any partner add-on value, the entire Microsoft presentation was difficult for the audience to get their arms around. Even existing Microsoft champions seemed incredulous based on some of the backchannel conversations that were going on in Meebo.Some might dismiss this tutorial and its attempt to let attendees compare/contrast solutions from each vendor as insignificant due to (1) IBM having better speakers (2) or that it was just a dog-and-pony show (3) or Microsoft just had a bad day (4) or that platforms are hard to showcase in terms of value, etc.I disagree. Each vendor had a few months to prepare. Each vendor had a lot of options to present its solution as a platform and as an ecosystem. Vendors were not limited to just showing what was out-of-the-box. As long as vendors were transparent with their presentations and demonstrations, and owned up to customizations and extensions, I was happy.Maybe Microsoft underestimated IBM. Maybe Microsoft feels that SharePoint is on such a roll that its weak blog and wiki offerings are not going to hurt it in the long run. I'm at a loss as to why the session was such a bust from a Microsoft perspective. There was clearly more that could have been shown but for whatever reason, IBM walked out of the room with a clear and decisive win.Did it change anyone's mind? That's hard to tell - but based on multiple comments and reactions that I heard since the session, I think people are now very open that they need to look at third-parties that integrate with SharePoint for social computing. The growing change I sense (not a tidal wave yet but something very identifiable), is the idea that organizations need to extend SharePoint with third-party products. This is becoming more of the default assumption whereas before people might have thought they could avoid adding additional vendors to the mix. And in some cases, decision-makers are more open to at least considering alternate solutions they might not have even entertained before (which would be good news for IBM and Jive in particular).Lessons LearnedOverall, I thought the tutorial was valuable to those attending. But with most efforts, I saw things I would change:1. Don't forget the break time: This was a really bad oversight on my part (thus I will not be on the show "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader"). In my spreadsheet I did not explicitly include the 15 minutes or so that the conference had scheduled for a break and that time was impossible to make up. My bad...2. Add more audience interaction: Although I had two Q&A sessions, my foul-up on the break squeezed out the second round of questions and the demo periods I felt put the session in broadcast-mode for too long. Shorter burst with feedback would be better.3. Include more critical analysis and debate time: Next time I think my role should be a bit more aggressive and challenging. The barrier was time. Four hours seems like a long time, but to cover the ground we actually did cover, something had to give.4. Consider a full day tutorial: Given the above, a full day or two separate but related tutorials might work out better.

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