Earlier this week I gave the opening keynote at the Sydney launch of Tibbr, the new social enterprise offering from TIBCO. I hope to have the video of my presentation up before long.
Before the event I summarized some of the very positive commentary on Tibbr since the San Francisco launch two weeks ago.
It’s now time to offer my own thoughts. Here is what I think is most interesting and important about Tibbr.
Social media-style interface.
As many have commented, the Tibbr interface looks very much like Facebook. The familiarity of the interface makes it immediately easy to use and understand for almost anyone. Marc Benioff of Salesforce once asked “why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook?”. If you agree, your time has come, given Tibbr provides exactly that style of front end to virtually all corporate activity.
The follow paradigm.
It has been fascinating to watch the evolution of social media over the last decade and the trial and error discovery of what works. Twitter’s success is founded on its simplicity, including the very simple premise of choosing to follow others’ updates. Facebook, which had previously focused far more on profiles, quickly learned from Twitter and is now based on following friends, brands, and groups. The latest suite of social media tools, including Quora, Tumblr, Amplify and far more, are all based on the follow paradigm. The value and familiarity of this approach is ripe to be taken into the enterprise.
Tibbr at its heart is very simple – you can follow the activity streams from individuals, discussion on particular subjects, and from applications. Bringing these all together in one interface means that all activity across the organization relevant to the individual can be brought together in one easy-to-use interface.
Having worked for Thomson Financial in the 1990s, I am well familiar with TIBCO as an integration and middleware platform. When I first heard about Tibbr my first thought was about the potential for enterprise social software to integrate deeply into the nuts and bolts of enterprise applications.
This is critical, because the reality is that most social software suites today are an overlay to core enterprise applications – they enable conversations and collaborative work but don’t link in a meaningful way to core systems such as CRM or ERP systems. Tibbr is from the outset linked to all applications, drawing on the 140 technology and application adaptors that TIBCO has developed. An open SDK is available for companies who have in-house applications that they want to integrate with.
TIBCO boast how they had 20,000 MGM staff on Tibbr within 3½ hours of getting a call from the client asking for it to be installed. This is the power of starting as an integration company.
The use of LDAP to access existing internal directories means that people do not need to populate profile pages, overcoming the hurdle that many corporate social networks have stumbled over.
One of the longest-standing issues for large organizations has been expertise location – finding the person or people who have the deepest knowledge and experience in a particular field. Allowing people to follow subjects immediately surfaces those who are interested in a particular topic, and from there it is fairly easy to identify who has expertise and is highly regarded in the group. Back in 2005 I wrote about how Morgan Stanley was finding internal blogs a better way to identify expertise than the several dedicated expertise location platforms it had trialled. A follow tool like Tibbr is far better since there is minimal cost in time to identifying yourself as interested and expert in a field.
Work and personal stream integration.
Tibbr allows staff to pull in their personal streams such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr into the . This has to be approved by the corporate administrator as something they wish to allow. However given the blurring of work and personal boundaries for many professionals (not least that they want to build relationships with people they do business with) means that many organizations will choose to allow this.
Building useful stream taxonomies.
Choosing whether to following people is fairly easy. Working out the subjects and activity streams to follow can be more difficult. Allowing people to set up ad-hoc subjects can work, but if that results in a multiplicity of overlapping subjects, it can splinter discussions. Too broad topics means much of the activity is not relevant to most followers, too narrow ones end up inactive. Similar issues can emerge from the definition of application activity streams.
The hierarchical structure of topics in Tibbr – meaning that people can choose to follow broad or increasingly narrow parts of topics – is a big help.
However while emergent development of a set of activity streams can work, in many cases it won’t be optimal. As such, to get the most out of Tibbr organizations will need to think through – or more likely evolve on the fly – the most effective taxonomies of subjects and application streams.
The need for great stream filtering.
Tibbr’s basic structure of following activity streams from across the organization, drawing on the power of its integration capabilities, is a significant step forward for social enterprise software. However anyone who has been a heavy user of Twitter or other follow-based social tools will know that it can be overwhelming, and you it often isn’t possible to keep across your streams. I am sure that many people who start using Tibbr will soon find they have a lot to keep up with.
In my keynote I predicted that social media will overtake email for internal communication in the best performing organizations. If that isn’t done well, it will take overload through one channel and move the overload to other channels.
Part of the solution is in training people in how to use social media well. I know many masters of Twitter and other consumer social tools. However many others start the wrong way, get frustrated, and sometimes give up. Knowing how to select who to follow and manage multiple streams is a skill set that is yet to be learned by many corporate staff. Those skills need to be complemented by automated filters.
Tibbr does have some filtering tools based on subjects and keywords, as well as rich controls over selection of time brackets and devices for delivery of messages. However I believe the next phase for Tibbr and similar tools will be the development of intelligent filters that can assess likely relevance and importance of items within the stream, significantly based on collaborative filtering and rich profiling of individuals.
In summary, Tibbr is a big step forward for enterprise social software – in concept and in practice.
As always in looking to the future of the enterprise, I point to the uniqueness of every organization. The way in which the Tibbr or any other activity-stream based system is used will be – and should be – very different in each company. Its true power to drive performance and profitability is in bringing out the unique culture and motivation to collaborate across an organization.