The Lotus legacy & social fuzzy concepts

IBM 'Flying Cars' Commercial 2000Web 2.0 technologies have been through a short, strange trip since they came to the fore in the middle of the last decade.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

IBM 'Flying Cars' Commercial 2000

Web 2.0 technologies have been through a short, strange trip since they came to the fore in the middle of the last decade. The old 1.0 web of dot com boom destination websites and email have now been largely supplanted by the highly interactive, opinionated and tracked world enabled by 2.0 technologies. As I've previously written, how we organize our personal work, social and societal lives is becoming increasingly important for success. As individuals we are encouraged to believe it is valuable to live in an online world where we interact on our own terms and timeframes by social media marketers, but the enterprise business world has very different conventions and workplace needs.

As Web 2.0 technologies matured and became mainstream on the worldwide web, enabling greater interaction on multiple levels between increasingly networked individuals and groups, enterprise computing became even more stodgy and archaic looking, with user interface and technology roots that often predated even the dot com era web.

The inevitable clash between the old enterprise technologies and rigid work patterns and Enterprise 2.0, as it came to be known, started with agile online departmental solutions that enabled the type of rapid collaboration individuals were used to outside the confines of the older technologies. One of the huge challenges in enterprise computing is in providing mission critical workflow systems that satisfy international security requirements, and vendors such as SAP, Oracle, IBM/Lotus and Microsoft were tied to supporting legacy technologies even as they attempted to introduce next generation thinking.

The Enterprise 2.0 technology vendors, who had mostly started with a blank slate, looked highly attractive to those in business who found IT provisioning to be wholly inadequate for the speed and sophistication of their needs, in particular against the hidebound email and document based behemoths perpetuated by Lotus and Microsoft. As the Enterprise 2.0 movement grew, a whole coterie of academics and theorists published and interacted through 2.0 technologies and wrote books on their ideas around the future of connected business, not least IBM's stable of fellows, employee experts and bloggers.

Ten year old Jive software, one of the pioneers of secure enterprise class collaboration technology with their java based forums product, launched their Enterprise 2.0 Clearspace product back in 2007

"Clearspace resulted from year-long conversations with some of the world's most innovative companies about solving the age-old collaboration issues in new and creative ways," said Dave Hersh, Jive Software's CEO. "Companies have told us that they're tired of cobbled-together point solutions that perpetuate redundancy and closed teamwork. With Clearspace, users are rewarded for creating value and enterprises are rewarded with significant increases in organizational knowledge and productivity."

My previous post on Jive's marketing messaging statistics shows how remarkably this thinking has grown within three years, and where they see demand for their products - as is the case for the other vendors in the same business space.

In early 2009 Jive renamed Clearspace 'Social Business Software' integrating the functionality of their experience around  "online communities, microblogging, social networking, discussion forums, blogs, wikis, and IM under one unified user interface".

Outside the IT product provisioning world and associated influencers, a social business is "a non-loss, non-dividend company designed to address a social objective" according to the crowdsourced, Web 2.0 world of wikipedia.

Presumably unbeknown to Jive in January 2009 Prof. Muhammad Yunus of the Grammen Bank introduced 'Seven Principles of Social Business' at the World Economic Forum in Davos:

* Business objective will be to overcome poverty, or one or more problems (such as education, health, technology access, and environment) which threaten people and society; not profit maximization

* Financial and economic sustainability

* Investors get back their investment amount only. No dividend is given beyond investment money

* When investment amount is paid back, company profit stays with the company for expansion and improvement

* Environmentally conscious

* Workforce gets market wage with better working conditions

* …do it with joy

The period between early 2009 and now has seen a blizzard of usage of the word 'social' around computer and mobile telecommunications, a term which already has many different meanings on the planet and is a fundamentally fuzzy concept.

The last couple of weeks saw IBM - whose Lotus products have in some cases been the historical poster child for all that was wrong with enterprise collaboration - making a whole lot of marketing noise unveiling their version of 'social business'.

IBM, who are celebrating their 100th birthday this year, are now trying on the new marketing outfit of 'social business' and attempting to present themselves to the world as the solution to many of the problems they created for customers in the first place. I was half expecting to see an IBM/Lotus 'Social Business' TV spot during this weekend's Superbowl, but their advertising onslaught is still presumably a few months away. Lotus are running an 'Social Business Jam' this week, as discussed here on ZDNet by Tom Foremski, which will presumably form some sort of future consensus around their messaging.

Long suffering IT prospects and buyers can expect visitors from Lotus to appear at their door in these new clothes extolling the virtues of the 'social' future as the panacea to their existing problems. To be fair to Lotus and their colleagues at IBM Global Services (the consulting company that hope to integrate the new layers of Lotus into the existing enterprise stack of Domino databases, Lotus Notes email etc) at least they are continuing to innovate.

In my experience the folks actually running Frankenstein technology stacks inside companies, attempting to provide the services their business needs with layers of legacy technologies, tend to not have time to get involved in philosophical debates about vendor products.  They are trying to fit in strategic planning and tactical logic against their objectives while simultaneously keeping everything running. The challenges of mergers, acquisitions, upsizing and downsizing and specific business needs are vastly more urgent.

These same folks are used to waves of nebulous and buzz word messaging from IT vendors in trade print advertising, conferences and in the last few years in 30 second TV spots which also appear online, and have quickly learned to filter out stuff which may be career killers for the gullible who buy into fuzzy concepts.

"Technology changes all the time...human nature hardly ever" writes Evgeny Morozov in his new book 'The Net Delusion - the dark side of internet freedom'. As I've written previously, it doesn't matter what naming conventions you use to discuss internal business initiatives to accelerate business performance by getting people working together more efficiently, what matters is effective strategy and appropriate tactics, tools and techniques to get there.

When managing enterprise scale projects you are dealing with timeless issues around multiple instances of human nature in a very specific way and to very specific ends. Much as technology vendors would like you to believe they have solved all these human problems with their products, the reality is they're presenting tools that you could purchase and use towards achieving your objectives. Calling these tools 'social' doesn't solve any of your problems.

Here's a technology company video by Saba Software that at least demonstrates how enterprise business networking and real time collaboration could work, which is far more useful than 'where are the flying cars' style social business advertising I fear we are about to be subjected to....

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