Salesforce.com's Chatter platform offers a promising advance for collaboration across information silos and organizational boundaries in the enterprise. The platform brings Twitter-like information sharing to participants in business activities, while enabling data sources (such as software applications, database transactions, and mobile devices) to create automated status updates and feeds.
Combining updates from people and computers creates a convenient way for the enterprise to consume real-time information about processes, corporate operations, and so on.
People and data. To understand the significance of bringing together updates from people and devices, consider a standard Twitter stream filled with messages from friends, colleagues, associates, business partners, and so on.
Now, imagine that Twitter stream supplemented by automatic messages created by software associated with your work. For example, when project teams hit a particular operational milestone, the platform places an automatic status update into your stream. Chatter neatly integrates human communication with machine- and software-driven messaging.
By allowing software and devices to speak "Chatterese," Salesforce.com extends the Twitter user experience in a meaningful new way.
Platform importance. Positioned as a cross-boundary organizational product, Chatter offers Salesforce.com the opportunity to sell more broadly inside the enterprise, in contrast to the company's traditional departmental solutions. For this reason, Chatter is integral to Salesforce.com's plans for future growth.
Based on extensive interviews and discussions with senior executives over the last few months, it is clear that Salesforce.com is deeply committed to Chatter as a platform. Correspondingly, the company has deployed a level of internal resources to Chatter that is commensurate with its strategic importance.
Chatter adoption. Despite the promise of Chatter to influence models of collaboration in the enterprise, Salesforce faces several potential obstacles to achieving its vision:
The enterprise is conservative and convincing management to try new approaches takes time. Although Salesforce.com will surely take a grassroots, bottom up approach to sell Chatter, CIOs will eventually demand participation in software adoption decisions related to the platform. This may slow the viral adoption Salesforce.com hopes to cultivate, but the company can build on existing relationships with CIOs to gain executive support.
Social networking is new. The terms collaboration, social media, and Enterprise 2.0 all reflect a new philosophy of information engagement across an organization. Although Salesforce.com understands these new approaches, the enterprise does not yet recognize collaboration and Enterprise 2.0 as a mission critical activity. Market education that demonstrates concrete value is key to solving this particular challenge.
Information hoarding is rampant. Some folks hoard, rather than share, information to increase their own individual power, influence, and control. To address this issue, Salesforce.com should seek out innovative organizations possessing a corporate culture oriented toward creativity and efficiency rather than bureaucracy and stagnancy.
Parker Harris interview. To learn more about Salesforce.com's plans, goals, and views with respect to collaboration in the enterprise, I recently participated in two private meetings with Parker Harris, the company's co-founder.
These wide-ranging discussions culminated in a video interview, which took place at the launch of the company's new VMforce platform.
Please listen and enjoy this video with Parker. It offers an industry leader's view of collaboration, enterprise software, and much more.
[Disclosure: Salesforce.com paid out-of-pocket travel expenses for me to attend the VMforce launch event. Image from iStockphoto.]