Today Salesforce launched the ability to embed a Buy Button into sites built upon their Community Cloud platform. This new feature will bring the power of commerce to the world of social: enabling brands to leverage the activity that takes place in social channels and convert it into financial transactions. The following is Constellation Research’s reaction to the news, co-authored by Principal Analysts Alan Lepofsky and Guy Courtin.
Below you can see an example, in this case labeled Cart, which allows community members to add an item for purchase.
Shopping Meets Social
From the press release: "The new e-commerce capabilities enable communities of customers to discover, research, discuss and buy products in a single location while introducing a new sales channel for companies."
Alan's POV: This is significant because it enables companies to blend together 1) their community forums; where current and future customers can ask questions, post reviews and share feedback with 2) their e-commerce platform for purchasing. Today many companies separate these two functions, relying heavily on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for customer engagement, then shifting those customers to another location for purchasing transactions. The integration of community (social) and commerce (shopping) will allow for a much more seamless, hence more desirable customer experience.
Guy’s POV: Retail and CPG have long been aware of the growing power and influence social channels have on their brands and products. One only had to look as far as Twitter to see how brands such as @BestBuy or @USAir are acutely aware of any possible issue voiced by their customers. This announcement is looking to take advantage of the positive that comes of out social media – converting sales. Retail and CPG are also both acutely aware that their best sales people are existing customers. Enabling transactions to take place in these forums builds on the aspect of community influence.
Commerce Without Coding
From the press release: "With new e-commerce Lightning Components from Salesforce partners like CloudCraze, Demandware and Bigcommerce, companies will be able to seamlessly incorporate e-commerce into their communities. Lightning Components are reusable building blocks that enable companies to quickly add rich new capabilities into their communities without programming."
Alan's POV: While the idea of making it easy for "citizen developers" (line of business workers who are not trained coders) to simply drag and drop components into applications sounds appealing, organizations need to be weary, as there is more to application development than just writing lines of code. Successful applications rely on compelling user interfaces (the look) and user experiences (the interactions). Commerce is a complicated process, involving complex workflows between inventory, purchasing and shipping. These things require professionals with training and experience. That said, there is nothing wrong with Salesforce making it easier for professional developers to add these new e-commerce functions to their appli cations. The addition of the Buy Button and other components from their business partner eco-system, help make the Salesforce1 a compelling platform.
Complexity Of Supply Chain Meets Ease Of One Click Commerce
From the press release: “Community Cloud customers are already deploying custom e-commerce solutions, demonstrating the power of combining transactions with communities.”
Guy’s POV: The addition of a transaction function to the communities is not as simple as adding some code to a web site. The supply chain aspects of order management, fulfillment and payment are all aspects of the supply chain that have to be in sync for the promise of a “buy” button to come to fruition. This is no simple task; many e-commerce players have failed at this step. It will be an interesting play for the software giant if it can integrate some of the efforts it is making with Salesforce retail as well as the partnerships it announced to truly take this to then next level. As the examples given for this new offering revolve around digital assets, the challenge of moving physical goods is much more complex.
Summary: From Forums To E-Commerce
The announcement hold much promise when it comes to the integration of retail and communities. The addition of e-commerce provides Salesforce an edge over many rival social community platforms. However there remains much to be seen as to how Salesforce can fulfill some of the promises, especially when it comes to moving physical goods. What will they build themselves, what will customers need to build and what gaps will be filled by business partners and 3rd party vendors? Constellation supports this first step in integrating shopping and social and recommends customers speak with Salesforce to see if it will work with their specific e-commerce systems and suppliers. This is a space to watch, hopefully with more details and examples being presented at Dreamforce.
There are eight SuperNova Award Categories (listed below), with the Future of Work being most closely related to my research coverage of collaboration tools. Last year's Future of Work winner was Jason Grady from the Northeast Georgia Medical Center who implemented a solution based on SmartSheet that enables hospital staff to quickly and consistently enter vital first responder information.
• Future of Work - The processes and technologies addressing the rapidly shifting work paradigm.
• Consumerization of IT & The New C-Suite - The Enterprise embraces consumer tech, and perfects it.
• Data to Decisions - Using data to make informed business decisions.
• Digital Marketing Transformation - Put away that megaphone. Marketing in the digital age requires a new approach.
• Matrix Commerce - Commerce responds to changing realities from the supply chain to the storefront.
• Next Generation Customer Experience - Customers in the digital age demand seamless service throughout all lifecycle stages and across all channels.
• Safety and Privacy - Not 'security'. Safety and Privacy is the art and science of the art and science of protecting information assets, including your most important assets: your people.
• Technology Optimization & Innovation - Innovative methods to balance innovation and budget requirements.
5 reasons to apply for a SuperNova Award:
• Exposure to the SuperNova Award judges, comprised of the top influencers in enterprise technology
• Case study highlighting the achievements of the winners written by Constellation analysts
• Complimentary admission to the SuperNova Award Gala Dinner and Constellation's Connected Enterprise for all finalists
(November 4-6, 2015) lodging and travel not included
• One year unlimited access to Constellation's research library
• Winners featured on Constellation's blog and weekly newsletter
Learn more about the SuperNova Awards.
What to expect when applying for a SuperNova Award. Tips and sample application.
Will you and your company be our 2015 winner?
Let’s say you’re an account executive and you have an urgent customer issue you need to resolve. A typical process for this common scenario may involve email messages, the customer support ticket, the customer record (CRM), information about inventory (ERP) and prices, and a few other tools like chat, video conferencing and more. How do you bring all that information together to combine into a single story? How do you share that with the people that need to be involved to resolve the issue? How do you make sure each person involved only has access to the part of the scenario that's related to them? How do you record the entire workflow so you can leverage the information again later?
It’s such a typical scenario but one that does not have a very efficient or effective solution. Today there is email, social networks, screenshots, web-conferencing, task management and a long list of other tools, but none allow teams to easily collaborate while at the same time ensuring people only have access to their own part of the workflow.
If you’ve followed my work over the last few years you’ve inevitably heard me talk about collaborative digital canvases. Well Microsoft may have just built one, and perhaps introduced a new way of collaborating.
Today at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC 2015) they announced Project Gigjam.
UPDATE 11:00am - see the storyline of my tweets about GigJam as they occurred during the keynote demo.
Gigjam is an application that runs on your PC or mobile device. The owner of the “gig” started with a blank canvas, then adds containers to each of the pieces of information required for the given scenario. In the screenshot below, on the left there is container showing customer records from Microsoft Dynamics (it could be from any CRM system, ex: Salesforce) and on the right inventory information from SAP. These two applications are linked together based on the customer name, so as the CRM record on the left changes, the right side updates accordingly. The link was created simply by clicking the blue link button at the bottom. No coding was required and no field mapping or SQL queries needed to be written.
Ok, neat. but not revolutionary, as there are many ways to create composite applications today. But now is when the really cool stuff begins.
To share the information the owner of the gig simply needs to circle the components they want to share, select the recipients and choose the level of access they want them to have. If there are specific elements they don’t want shared, they can simply cross them out. This can be information or even UI elements like scroll bars. Read that again, to hide specific information, you simply cross it out before sharing. No complex filtering or setting up multiples sets of permissions.
What the gig participants receive is not a static image, or a link back to the applications, but rather real live access to the applications involved. Think of it as a highly tailored “micro-application” for this specific scenario and this specific person.
Imagine sharing a spreadsheet with a few people, but each only sees the exact cells you want them to update. Or a presentation where instead of sending different slides to each person for updates, you send each of them a task in a gig where they only see the select slides you want them to access.
In the customer support scenario I mentioned above, the owner of the gig may send a request to someone in Logistics to update the inventory, one to Finance to provide a price discount, and yet another to Support to reply back to the customer and resolve the support ticket. Three different people, three different tasks, but all created and shared from a single location. The owner of the gig can even play back the work the participants performed, allowing them to watch every step of the solution. For example, they can watch Logistics update the ERP record, Finance update the price, and Support change the status of the ticket.
What’s The Magic?
The interesting thing about Gigjam is it requires no changes to the applications themselves. Microsoft basically wraps a presentation layer around each application, whether it’s Dynamics, SAP, ZenDesk, Asana, Box, FreshBooks, you name it. That application can then be displayed to each member of the gig.
Of course the linking of applications does not just magically happen. Microsoft has coded a series of links today, such as the Dynamics to SAP one in the example above. Additional links can be created, similar to the way people create events in tools like IFTTT and Zapier. Presumably 3rd party vendors will be able to add links to Gigjam, making it simple for their products to participate in workflows.
Evolving The Way We Get Work Done
I've tested, reviewed and provided advice on hundreds of collaboration products, and I fear what I’ve written above may not do justice to explaining how powerful I think Gigjam could be. It reminds me a lot of the early days of Lotus Notes, where we would demo to people and they would not understand what it really was. Then after the second, third or maybe fourth demo something would click and you’d see their eyes light up as they started to imagine what they could do with it. I think Gigjam is similar. It’s still early days. This is not a product that’s shipping today, and Microsoft will be putting out a lot more information about it as it matures.
Let me summarize how Microsoft Project GigJam works:
- The owner of the gig starts with a blank canvas, then adds applications such as email, customer records, inventory and other business applications
- The containers can be linked, s o that fields like customer name can be used to filter the emails, inventory, support tickets, etc. that are displayed
- Using natural gestures like circle to include and cross-out to exclude you select the information you want to share
- You then choose the people you want to share it with, and set their access level. (see, work with, or work on your behalf)
- Recipients open the gig and have live access to the "micro-application" that was just created. It's not a static screenshot and it's not a screen share from someone else's machine. It's a real application, unique to each recipient providing them access to discrete pieces of information they need.
- Everyone works on the tasks they need to do, such as updating a sales record, changing inventory, completely a trouble ticket, etc. Recipients can even add applications and share those out to the other members of the gig or add additional people.
- Conversations can happen in real time with voice or video integration, or you can add comments/notes to the bottom of each container
- The actions that people take are recorded, allowing others to view them with forward, back and play buttons
- Everyone works together to complete the job
While Microsoft is showing Gigjam as a collaboration tool that enables teams to divvy up work to solve business workflows, I can actually see this as a personal productivity tool as well. When I first tested it (under NDA prior to the announcement) I immediately wanted to create myself a few “canvases” where I could connect the various applications I use throughout my day. I’d love to stop switching back and forth between tools and losing context. Gigjam may be the answer.
By the way, Gigjam’s name comes from the “gig-economy” trend, where people perform small jobs for different clients. Examples you may know of include TaskRabbit, Upwork (formerly oDesk) or Fiverr. This is similar, where you pull in your colleagues to help you complete a task.
Delivering Code, Not Marketing
Over the last year or so, we’ve seen some major advancements in Microsoft's collaboration portfolio. They are not resting on their laurels and just releasing new versions of their existing products, but have instead pushed forward with tools like Delve (visual search and discovery) and Sway (story telling, think nextgen PowerPoint). Acquired best-of-breed mobile applications Accompli (email), Sunrise (calendar) and Wunderlist (tasks). Delivered Surface Hub, a stunning, interactive digital white board and conferencing screen. Microsoft is also making projects from their Research Garage and Fuse Labs such as Tossup (scheduling), InstaNote (meeting minutes), Xim (photo sharing) and Socl (social content sharing) available for public testing, and in the process are gathering critical information that helps them develop their official products.
Project Gigjam is the latest in the serious of moves that Microsoft is making as they focus on personal and team productivity. Customers, partners and competitors should pay close attention as the concepts in Gigjam could play a large part in shaping the future of way people work.
- The history of collaboration tools
- Struggles with adoption
- The impacts of cloud and mobile
- The roles of technology, culture and most importantly purpose
- How in the future, data will be used to provide insights that can guide us to working more effectively and efficiently
- And much more
Below is the recording of the 45 minute session.
If you have any questions or comments I'd love to hear from you.
This Does Not Impact IBM Connections Files: The primary focus of this partnership is not related to IBM’s collaboration portfolio: IBM Connections, IBM Verse, Notes/Domino, Sametime, etc. Yes, there is some integration between the two companies today, such as Box integration in Connections Communities, but this announcement is more about IBM’s Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Analytics capabilities. (see below) In January, IBM announced IBM Connections Files, which is essentially a Box like tool, but to be clear, IBM is not replacing that product with Box.
Insights Into Business Content: Over the last few months, IBM has made several announcements regarding integration of 3rd party content with IBM’s tools. For example, the partnerships with Twitter and Weather Channel. Box represents another large repository of content that several IBM customers rely on. Therefore, combining Box’s content-centric workflows with IBM’s analytics (IBM Watson) and governance (StoredIQ) capabilities, makes a lot of sense. This gives Box a great additional set of capabilities while IBM gets to deploy their tools against a large new source of (customer) content. Questions still remain as to what the combined solutions will cost, and what hosting options will be supported.
Let’s Get Vertical: Both IBM and Box have successful go to market strategies around vertical solutions such as healthcare, finance and manufacturing. This partnership will allow both vendors to tap into the customer base of the other. For example, a healthcare customer currently using Box to store medical records (or Xrays) will now be able to leverage IBM’s Analytics and Case Management capabilities to derive insights from that data.
Mobile Computing: Both IBM and Box are investing heavily in mobile access. IBM has recently partnered with Apple to create several applications which they call MobileFirst for iOS. As mentioned above, Box has a strong customer presence in those same verticals, so if Box integration is added to those iOS applications, Box customers will get a seamless file-centric experienced embedded in this applications.
That raises the question as to why IBM is using Box for file-sharing features of these applications instead of IBM Connections Files? The answer is most likely that Box, available for many years, has a significant head-start obtaining customers in these industries verses IBM Connections Files which has just recently launched. IBM is doing what works best for customers, realizing that if they don't, those customers will look elsewhere. As the Box/IBM announcement is not exclusive, I predict IBM will announce additional file sharing integrations/partnerships, including better integration with their own collaboration tools.
Developers In The Mix: One of the most interesting parts of this partnership is that Box’s APIs will be added to IBM BlueMix, their cloud based application development platform, or PaaS. That means developers building applications on BlueMix will be able to easily add Box’s features to their applications. This is a big win for Box, as it dramatically extends their reach to a large partner ecosystem. Here is example code from IBM developerWorks, Integrate Cloud File Storage and Sharing into your Bluemix App with Box
Keeping Things Secure: In 2013 IBM acquired Fiberlink, developer of the MaaS360 mobile management and security suite. Today MaaS360 supports secure file sharing for Box, so this is another synergy point between IBM and Box which they will continue to build upon.
Files. Files. Wherefore Art Thou Files? What about future hosting implications? Today Box’s infrastructure is hosted by Equinix. Perhaps a move to Softlayer could happen, but that is not part of the current announcement.
It’s certainly an interesting time in the enterprise file market.
A few years ago large enterprise software vendors such as IBM, Microsoft and Google did not really offer their own enterprise file storage solutions. To fill that gap, stand-alone vendors such as Box and DropBox stepped in and secured large customer bases that the enterprise software vendors are certainly envious of. But as file-sharing become a key part of organization's collaboration strategies those companies realized they required enterprise grade solutions. Fast forward to today and the large vendors now offer solutions such as IBM Connections Files, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Citrix Sharefile and Salesforce Files as integrated parts of their collaboration platforms; while Box, DropBox, Egnyte, Intralinks, Huddle and other stand-alone file sharing vendors continue to enhance the file-sharing specific elements of their solutions.
The trend now is to combine the best of both worlds. It seems like almost weekly there is a press release about a new integration or partnership between one of the enterprise software platform vendors and one of the stand-alone file-storage vendors. The key is that these partnerships need to go beyond the basic “you can open file X from inside platform Y”. Today’s Box and IBM announcement provides a foundation for more advanced integrations built to solve specific industry solutions leveraging the best of both IBM and Box. However, it’s important to move beyond the press release stage and deliver real code soon or customers (and analyst s) will quickly look for alternative approaches. I look forward to seeing demos of the IBM + Box solutions soon.
BTW, I'd be negligent as an analyst if I didn't notice that both companies have 3 letter names and blue logos, so the partnership is a natural fit. (don't quote me on that one!)
On June 10th Microsoft announced that Surface Hub, their large screen interactive display device, will be available for ordering on July 1st. There are two models, 55” for $6,999 USD and the statement making 84” model for $19,999. Surface Hub will be available for pre-order on July 1 in 24 markets worldwide, and will begin shipping in September.
Surface Hub is the evolution of the technology Microsoft acquired when they purchased Perceptive Pixel in July 2012. Since that time, Microsoft has been working on ways they could use these large displays to improve the way people collaborate. Last week I had the opportunity to meet with the Surface team and get an overview of the device and discuss the roadmap going forward.
So what is Surface Hub?
At first glance one may think it’s just a large conference room display. However, spend a few minutes with one and you quickly come to understand it is much more. On the hardware side yes it’s a large touch screen, but it also includes microphones, speakers and cameras on each side that come into play as soon as you start collaborating. It’s also a computer, so you don’t need to connect a PC to it in order to run applications.
As attractive as the device is, it’s the software that makes Surface Hub shine. As soon as you touch the screen you can either load an application, or instantly start a Skype for Business meeting. The core of that meeting experience is an infinite canvas whiteboard, allowing people to draw on the screen for brainstorming, event planning, content creation, story telling and hundreds of other scenarios. People not in the room can join the meeting and see what’s happening on the screen in real time. Disappointingly, remote participants currently can only view the whiteboard, they can not add their own markup to it, but that is planned for a future release. The whiteboard is actually a Surface Hub specific extension of Microsoft OneNote, so I’m optimistic that a lot more functionality will be coming to the white boarding experience, as OneNote offers several great note taking and brainstorming features.
The power of this type of immersive collaboration is not limited to simple whiteboards. Below you can see two video where I try out native applications. Here is a video where I work on a PowerPoint presentation, including copy and pasting images from Bing.
The next two videos showcase business partner applications. The first is 3D design software JT2Go from Siemens:
The second is brainstorming application Mura.ly
There are three critical elements Microsoft needs to get right to help keep the Surface Hub out of the conference room hardware graveyard.
1) Ease of Use: The experience needs to be extremely simple. Conference rooms, shared team spaces, executive offices and briefing centers are littered with old equipment like projectors, speaker phones and smart boards that no one uses. In my limited time with the Surface Hub, I found it intuitive and interestingly enough, actually fun. Touching the screen to move things around or using pens to dr aw (called Inking) felt natural. In just a few minutes I understood how to start applications, join meetings, and create content on screen. I would like to see more onscreen navigational aides that popup and help teach people the basics plus tips and tricks.
2) Partner Ecosystem: It can’t just be a large screen display for slides. As shown above, even before launch Microsoft has been busy working with business partners to make sure several applications are available. Microsoft has a huge business partner ecosystem, and it’s these 3rd party products that will make or break the success of the device.
3) Help People Get Work Done: Collaboration needs to be seamless and amazing. These devices are really designed to allow teams to work together. While the first release does have Skype meeting integration and OneNote whiteboards, there is a lot of room for improvement on the collaboration front. As mentioned above, remote participants need to be able to do more than just view content. I’d like to see a lot more Yammer integration, allowing people to attach conversations to objects anywhere on the screen. I’d like to see Microsoft rethink the entire meetings experience, changing the way people plan and prepare for the meeting, participate while it is going on, and then follow up and take action one the meeting is over. With the massive immersive experience I can picture a variety of ways to drag and drop participants, tasks, emails, attachments, and more to create an effective and entertaining meeting experience.
At $20,000 the Surface Hub seems very reasonable for an office that is updating their conference rooms or modernizing their meeting facilities. Customers need to consider all the hardware the Surface Hub replaces, and then think of the creative scenarios that it can be used for.
At a time where everyone is talking about mobile and wearable devices, what role does an 84” screen play in collaboration? If you’re just wanting to look at some PowerPoint slides that works just fine with everyone staring at their own laptops, tablets or even phones. But when it comes to true collaborative work in product design, engineering, manufacturing, architecture, social media monitoring, or brainstorming and creative content creation… the large screen and it's infinite canvas experience is quite impressive.
Smarter Meeting Rooms
Microsoft is not the only company thinking about the meeting room experience. Telepresence vendors like Avaya, Cisco and IBM are working on their next generation products as well. IBM is going beyond just thinking about how people can collaborate, they are working on ways the room itself can become a “smart" participant in meetings. They call these meeting rooms of the future Cognitive Environments. Below are a few videos about what IBM is working on.