Last evening, Ross Mayfield, co-founder of SocialText held a conference call with some of the Irregulars to run through the latest incarnation of the company's flagship product. The surprise he held up his sleeve was Signals, the Twitter for enterprise clone and the topic of much debate today. Unusually for Ross, he seemed hesitant to make too much of this development yet I believe this is one of the most important additions that company has made in its evolving enterprise 2.0 platform.
During the conversation, Ross mentioned that many years ago, Erik Keller, one time Gartner analyst and the person who dubbed our group with its moniker said that many supply chain problems could be solved through some form of instant messaging. Signals represents the first iteration of what that might look like. Most important, SocialText is providing the essential linkage between people and context with some elements of process. That's crucial for this type of application to make sense in a corportae environment. However, such messaging systems are not without their critics.
Larry Dignan suggests that:
Sounds great, but will enterprises bite? For all the talk about Twitter’s enterprise potential the fact remains that CIO eyes glaze over–if you’re lucky–when you ask about micromessaging. In fact, I’ll be lucky if this post doesn’t lose page views. The interest in Twitter just isn’t there yet.
In my view Larry has this wrong on three fronts, although I accept the general view that many CXO's don't know about this kind of thing. At SAP TechEd for instance, I estimate that 95% of those in the main conference areas had not heard of Twitter.
First, ESME already has a global player running its service and building out business use cases that provide the process context that is almost, but not quite there in SocialText. Others are in the wings. I cannot say more but it is real. (Disclosure: I am part of the ESME team.) I would not be surprised to find other global companies making the same exploratory investments.
Second, Larry is assuming that CIO's will have an initial involvement with this type of service. That is most unlikely. The use cases I am seeing are being developed by business process experts who have no tie to IT except tangentially. These are the people who try and engineer the best ways of getting things done with large systems like SAP, Oracle and IBM.
Earlier in Larry's article, he says of these Twitteresque services:
Some folks love it, but frankly I need more filters and less noise. In fact, some peace and quiet is kind of nice once in a while. Ever notice how much work you can get done when you’re not connected to everyone?
He's right but misses an essential ingredient. Enterprise forms of these applications don't necessarily mean that users experience the noise of which he refers. As Ross correctly pointed out, the beauty of these services is that they are 'opt-in response' mechanisms. I can take advantage of the ambient nature of these communications methods and ignore them if I choose. In similar fashion, services that allow me to create and destroy groups provides the first filter I need to both accelerate my ability to get things done without imposing an intrusive technology. These same technologies allow me to refuse requests in much the same way as LinkedIn provides. So what's missing from SocialText's offering right now?
Processes are both formal and informal. SocialText 3 provides the informal elements and a potential repository for corporate intelligence. It doesn't have the full gamut of communications that telepresence might offer but it has most of the other ingredients presented in a contextually logical way. What it is missing are the explicit linkages to back end formal processes that fuel the informal conversations. That is a matter for integration.
Quite how this will pan out has yet to be worked through but should be moderately straightforward for those systems that provide open APIs. It is at that point I would expect CIOs to prick up their ears. By then, departmentally priced solutions like SocialText may well be embedded in the fabric of what people want to use.
In the meantime, if SocialText can successfully articulate business use cases that have resonance then the self evident nature of its product should allow it to leapfrog the potential competition.