Interview with Shel Israel on Enterprise Social Media

Shel just published an interview he did with me about using Social Software inside the enterprise.

For all the shit he has taken lately, I have to say that Shel is a great interviewer who did his homework first and certainly made me feel comfortable and in control through the process. None of the usual stuff where the reporter is just fishing for a particular angle.

Go read it if you dare, it was fun to do some reflecting on the past and thinking about the future again.

What should be free and what should you pay for?

Figuring out what’s what in Enterprise software is tough, and it is definitely no easier when it comes to choosing Enterprise 2.0 tools.

So, a question comes up: What should you pay for, what should be cheap, and what should be free?

What should you pay for?

This is a lot more critical than you realize. Having reliable and reasonably priced support is critical to making sure that you don’t disappoint your users.

Vendors used to traditionally “milk” their customers when it comes to support fees. This is changing as more and more minor support issues are handled by user communities. This is an example of Enterprise 2.0 eating its own dogfood. Vendors and consultants are then able to offer much more focused technical support without having to worry as much about the “It’s all in spanish?!?!” calls.

Data Backup and Accessibility
Most people would say that this should be free. I agree: It should be. But it is also something I am more than willing to pay for. Ideally, you can set up an external repository, such as an Amazon S3 account or a private file vault inside your own datacenter. If you are using a SaaS vendor, then they should automatically back up to this external repository in a non-proprietary XML format.

The reason that you should pay for this is so that you can ensure some sort of minimum service level. If something goes wrong, you don’t want to find out that all your backups are a week old.

User Experience
We all like to think that design comes cheap. And sure, you can go on Elance and get a cheap graphic designer who can make something reasonably pretty. The truth is however that because every organization is different, you are going to use software in different ways. You need to be willing to invest in the User Experience if you plan to keep your users happy.

Many pieces of new software look really nice, but when you start using them, the experience degrades quickly. Non-standard interfaces and poor design decisions are the primary culprits.

Future Innovation
This is a hard one to measure, and you can only really base you decision off past performance. Will this vendor or developer keep innovating and updating tools in the future? The reason you need to be willing to pay for this is that they need to put food on the table as well.

What should be cheap?

I believe that hosting and provisioning costs should be broken out and separated from software cost. Current SaaS pricing models obscure the hosting cost and bundle application delivery in with the cost of the actual software. This is a mistake for a few reasons, but the primary one is that highly reliable vendors cannot easily differentiate their service level from a cheaper alternative. Everyone makes the claim “99.99999% uptime”, but it actually means very little.

If single vendors allowed multiple choices for delivery, then the customer could choose what their comfort zone is in terms of cost.

Integration is not a simple matter, but this is where your own IT folks need to play nice. You should expect them to know what the integration points are in your current infrastructure and they should be familiar with how to do that integration. Whether it is a link on a Sharepoint site, or access to an LDAP server, those options should not be difficult to execute on.

What should be free?

Design Patterns
There really is no such thing as Intellectual Property in the Enterprise 2.0 world. The difference between one vendor and another is not that they know more than the other, it is execution and design capability. Some vendors are incompetent when it comes to integrating features, designing workflows and in paying attention to the overall flow and “tightness” of the product. Do not let yourself be sold on “proprietary” anything.

Community Support
Low level support provided by other users and the vendor itself should always be free.

Deployment Speed
There should be no premium to pay to get tools deployed quickly. Vendors should be ready to deploy a base platform immediately which can start adding value to your organization.

What do you think

There is no way I covered everything here. What do you think? What should be free? What should be cheap? What should customers pay big money for?

Annals of Enterprise 2.0: Picking up Drag Queens

My use of the term “Drag Queens” to describe some enterprise software companies was outed today by Vinnie.

What did I mean when I said “old enterprise companies dressing up like a pretty E2.0 babe”

Here is the story of Tim, an Enterprise 2.0 customer who is a little timid, but has decided go for it and party the night away.

Dress up baby, we’re going out tonight

Tim, a friend of Charlie, is out at a club, the lights are low, the music is loud and he has had a few drinks.

The place is packed, and it seems like it is all new faces. Interesting people, great dancers and they are all buying you drinks. There are even a few celebrities hanging around. He dances until 3am, and before the lights go up, Tim ducks out the door.

As he is walking home through the rain, Tim is feeling pretty good. He had a fun night of dancing, good friends and he now has a girl on his arm. She’s pretty and says all the right things.

This story ends with an IT Project Failure, to say the least.

Who is he/she anyway?

The story is much the same for customers in the Enterprise 2.0 world. Those customers who are actually making purchases right now are a little timid and not sure exactly what to expect, and usually it was a friend who took them out to the party.

When the lights go down and the drinks start flowing however, things aren’t as clear as they were before and it isn’t always obvious who you are getting in bed with.

The Drag Queens of Enterprise 2.0 are those old Enterprise software vendors who haven’t done anything to change their products, but instead they went out and have bought a nice dress and have put some eye shadow on their football player physiques.