TIBCO tibbr: what's the deal?

TIBCO has its own take on micro blogging that concentrates on two dimensions: people and subjects but in the context of business processes. What does this mean and can it compete? Decide for yourself.

We are awash with micro blogging tools. Twitter, Yammer, Social Signals...the list goes on. Contrary to what we might expect in IT, building a micro blogging tool is easy. Relatively speaking. Making it scale is much harder and especially so if you want to do exotic things like multi-threading inside business processes. Getting it to operate within the confines of an enterprise is equally difficult. Security policies, LDAP authentication and other factors quickly feed into something that is rapidly becoming seen as a useful idea for incorporating into the fabric of enterprise IT.

TIBCO, with its heritage in messaging systems and real-time event processing has its own twist on this and yesterday I spoke with Ram Menon, TIBCO SVP worldwide marketing. I wanted to know how TIBCO sees this idea going forward.

In the short video, Ram stresses that it is in beta but is being tested by customers. He mentioned one customer under embargo that would make most E2.0 maven eyes pop out with envy. At the TUCON conference, they have been experimenting with an instance of tibbr that helps you organize your schedule and can pick up tweets (from Twitter) carrying the #tucon hashtag. It's a really interesting idea and worked reasonably well apart from glitches around getting the calendar to load. When you think about it, putting out a beta at a customer event where things will go wrong is brave.

During our conversation it struck me that tibbr provides a way for TIBCO to become an apps vendor. Ram would not be drawn on that, preferring instead to say that the company is being driven by what custoers are saying.

According to Al Harrington, TIBCO global director, business optimization, customers are seeing the potential to solve many types of problem that would otherwise be extremely difficult to solve except through a series of manual and error prone steps. One example might be more efficient and safer patient care management through sensor alerts coupled to human input.

These are big hairy problems where the simplicity of the human interface masks a mass of complexity and the need for a lot of compute power underneath to harness and deliver the right information. Given TIBCO's reputation for delivering best in class industry solutions and especially in financial services, telco utilities and the airline industries, I see massive opportunity to develop apps that can be productised and which would sit conveniently on TIBCO infrastructure. If the company can take that step then it changes a lot of things and introduces a fresh competitive element into a burgeoning market where there are many pretenders to the enterprise crown.

In many of the situations it is brought into, TIBCO and tibbr are about problem solving. That means it also fits neatly into Sig Rinde's notion of Barely Repeatable Processes. Except that in TIBCO's world, we could be talking about massively scalable situations requiring intensive filtering.

tibbr concentrates on capturing two things: people and subjects. This is a similar concept to the hashtag and to ideas that were circulating around the ESME design. In other words, TIBCO's variation on 'Twitter for enterprise' is not as a general purpose tool requiring additional engineering as in the hashtag. Instead, they've taken the notion of a subject and baked it directly into the application.

In her analysis, Sandy Kemsley thought the company was making too much of the social aspects. I'm not so sure that TIBCO really sees it that way but marketing being what it is....In my conversations with execs including Ram, the social dimension was only mentioned as one of many aspects of this type of technology.

The question remaining is whether tibbr has enough going for it to become a platform of the kind Ram envisages. That's certainly the view that Salesforce.com takes but in its case, it is partly handing off those use case inventions to its channel of Force.com and other partners. TIBCO doesn't have experience of that way of working although it does have a vibrant community of customers. Those are important challenges the company needs to consider because it will only be able to work through a fraction of the possible permutations that micro blogging tools of this class imply. The last thing it will want is to see others ride in on its back due to a lack of 'feet on the street.'

Let's revisit this in say six months and see how much progress has been made.