Vignette brings Social Media to Enterprise Content

vignette2At the Web 2.0 Expo recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see the increased focus on social media offerings for the enterprise space.

So when I heard about Vignette’s introduction of Community Applications 7.1, as part of its Social Media Solution, I sat down with Gerardo Dada and Lee Shepstone from Vignette to learn more about their Social Media Suite for the Enterprise. 

 

My first question to them was How can Vignette’s new solution help large enterprises?

Gerardo Dada referred back to the beginning of the web, when companies wanted to capitalize the web content and Vignette started by helping folks manage their work flow and make the experience be more personal. He sees the same trend today in media and video. Vignette is leveraging its expertise in content management systems to help companies better manage social interactions in an efficient and user-friendly manner.

The advantage Vignette enjoys is its existing relationship with key brands and expertise in content management for large enterprises. In addition to enabling the creation and support of Web 2.0 capabilities such as blogs, wikis, forums, ratings and reviews, the solution allows companies to quickly and easily create unique social micro sites.

It also allows aggregation of content on global sites which allows global companies to leverage information across countries. However, the ability to translate and search multiple language sites is still limited but their in-country offering is quite robust.

 So my next question to them was, What makes Vignette’s solution better than thousands of other enterprise social media offerings out there? 

 

vignette_ss11

According to Dada, the Vignette offering is much more comprehensive and eliminates the need to cobble together offerings by different vendors.  The company has incorporated advanced search and analytics feature into its social media offering that makes the solution very robust when it comes to finding relevant content.

Shepstone described how the Vignette solution allows companies to create an unified social microsite for their web audience that includes social features and tools like wikis, blogs, forums, and video-sharing capabilities. 

He went on to say that these flexible sites combines microsite features with social-centric benefits such as idea management, calendars and events and the sharing of multimedia-rich assets including videos and podcasts.

What impressed me about Vignette is that it’s still a fairly small and nimble company with about 700 employees it operates with the efficiency of a small company, yet it has the depth and breadth of experience working with larger enterprise companies.

What are the key challenges that an enterprise faces today in this social media age?

Dada was blunt in his assessment that many companies still lack a cohesive social media strategy, which is a great challenge and he went on to say, “..social media can not be done in isolation and you can not have community on the side. Community and social media content has to be a central part of an integrated strategy.”

At the end of the 90s, businesses needed enterprise grade vendors who understood web as a space. Today’s there’s a similar need for experienced vendors who can manage, govern, and publish end-to-end solution for enterprise social media. Here is Dada’s presentation – 20 Social Media Trilogy Vital Components for an Enterprise Strategy  on creating a social media strategy and building a community.

For anyone working for a large enterprise, one question always comes to mind, so How about those legacy systems?

Shepstone said that the advantage of the Vignette solution is that it can work with any legacy system. Even companies without a content management system can use it because it can be deployed as a standalone sytem. Existing website integration very flexible, modular. The goal is to bring the customers back to the site. There is content out there, where all commuity can host content, doesn’t need to be one place. Widgets and gadgets are used to share content in a single place for connecting around product. Integration of  content happens around community, be it external or internal community.

What does deployment , cost, & support look like?

The solution includes Portal license so it’s included at no additional cost for that. The solution costs approximately $50K (perpetual license)  and support is available at 20% annual cost. The solution comes with web API and advanced API, making it easier to integrate with other vendors. Vignette, says Dada, “..Drinks its own Champagne” and uses social media tools that it advocates for training and support.” They use wikis for training documentation on the product, making it easier to update and provide training to their customers.

Transparency is the Keynote Theme at Web 2.0 Expo

webexsf2009_logo1The second round of keynotes yesterday at the Web 2.0 Expo focused mainly on transparency, both in business and in government.

The first to take the stage was Douglas Rushkoff, the author of “Get Back in the Box”. His perspective was both radical and refreshing. He said, “It’s not distraction from core competency to be transparent, transparency forces you to be competent.” According to him, companies with core activity and competency in their industries find it easier to be transparent.

He gave the example of the outgoing Gap CEO who said when he joined the company that “I’ve never worked a day in the garment company.” He asked a thought provoking question, which was – How did management and business become generic? He also narrated how creation of corporations prevented free market competition and hindered creation of value. He supported his assertion with related instances in history where the first companies were chartered monopolies by the government, like the East India Company.

He said that Web 2.0 has ushered in a new era that allows people to create value from the peripheries again where central bank and VC lending were not needed unless you’re setting up a ponzi scheme. Laughter and applause broke out, when Rushkoff said the banks fell for their own ponzi scheme.

He ended by saying that using the traditional currency model in the digital world with abundance of value is not sustainable. It’s up to the net industry to create value with the purpose of making a living rather than to cash out.

Anssi Vanjoki from Nokia followed this fiesty presentation with some bold predictions of his own. According to Vanjoki, by 2015, we will have wireless network connecting us 24×7 globally. His second prediction was that everything will be based on context because it’s awareness that separates us from other creatures.

He repeated multiple times during his talk that there was an emerging trend of marrying reality with virtual world and added that this new behavior required a new device.  According to him, this a “mobile computer” that would replace all current phones. This device will have hundreds of gigabytes of memory and allow users to store and leave your own traces on coordinates.

Nokia has invested a lot in the location services and recently bought a digital map maker, Navteq because it’s their belief that everything on this planet can be described with coordinates. He ended his speech by giving a glimpse at phone of the future, which looked like a watch and ended by saying -  “We (Nokia) will bring the net to everyone, everywhere.

“Tim O’Reilly sat down to talk to Ellen Miller from the Sunlight Foundation who is working on getting more transparency in the government. She said that the foundation is not interested in digitizing the information just for academic use but put it into hands of the citizens – feedback loop aka accountability. Here are the Open Government Data Principles that that they have put together: Data should be Complete, Primary, Timely accessible, machine processable, non-discriminatory, nonproprietary and license-free. Miller said, “For data to be useful, it must be consumable.” She also mentioned that databases are already created, which show who’s lobbying for whom and where the campaigns are coming from.

She alluded to an ongoing contest between Republicans and Democrats on who is more transparent. Ellen said that the house and executive branch are not open to being transparent, but they don‘t have a choice, as she so eloquently put it, “Transparency will be done to them (government).” She went on to say that government needs to be held accountable and that it’s not non-profits like Sunlight who should be responsible but rather it’s the government’s responsibility to provide transparency.

Kevin Lynch, Adobe Systems Incorporated followed up with a short but effective demo on the Adobe Flash Catalyst, which is still in beta. This is a professional design tool that automatically generates the Flex code for any static composition created using Adobe’s other design tools like Photoshop or Illustrator. This allows the designer to deliver a finished application to the developer for additional functionality without losing any of its original fidelity.

Last but not the least, John Battelle, Federated Media sat down with Will Wright, from Electronic Arts for a discussion on the online gaming business. Will mentioned that EA is focusing on getting more transparency in the gaming business especially when it comes to data that‘s being shared online. When asked about the Wii, he said he liked it and that it highlighted a trend in non-immersive gaming. Immersive is when the gamer is so absorbed in the game and tunes out everything going on around him/her. However, games like Wii make the environment part of the game and he sees the trend continuing with virtual worlds meeting reality.

Will the real social media expert please stand up?!

Just about everyone I meet these days claims to be a social media expert but 2minutes into the conversation, one realizes that apart  from the general gushing  over Twitter and blogs, there isn’t much else. So, I cheered when I saw this great blog post on 25signs of a strong SM consultant (which incidentally also  inspired my first blog post of 2009).

My favorite one on the list is,

 ”#25 Understands that social media isn’t the sole terrain of marketing or PR and helps clients educate internally to other departments.” 

Although, it’s easy to think of social media as just Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, there’s much more to social media than just a handful of tools and websites.

The social media revolution is a  fundamental shift in the way customers are using and sharing information across the web. Marketing/PR are  no longer one-way channels, the consumers now have the power to take information your company puts out there and do with it as they please. They can blog it, digg it, stumble it, twitter it, etc. across their social networks and the scary part is that you might not even know about it until it”s too late. 

For me, one of the most exciting parts of this new ‘social’ revolution is how it has not only democratized external communications but it’s on the verge  of breaking down silos within organizations. It’s no longer just the marketing Joe or Jane who’s responsible for the messaging, it could very well be Jack, the product line manager who’s messaging the customer directly.

I can’t imagine a better use for social media than to open up real communication between a company and it’s customers - without restricting it to one department or group of people - now that’s real enterprise social media/web 2.0.

Despite hype, many enterprises still ambivalent about social media

While, the “Motrin Moms” debacle thrust the influential power of social media networks like blogs and Twitter into the limelight, it also highlighted the enterprise ambivalence around use of social media. Some experts placed the blame on Motrin’s poor use of social media, when in reality, Motrin didn’t leverage social media for its ad campaign or to quell the uproar over its highly controversial ad, instead it belatedly responded with a standard press release on its site.

Despite all the hype and publicity surrounding social media, there are plenty of well-known companies who  are either reluctant and/or clueless, when it comes to social media adoption. Larger companies are risk-averse and typically invest in communication/marketing channels that are mature and thoroughly vetted. Twitter is a great example of a site that probably wouldn’t pass the enterprise litmus test, partly because of its stability issues and also because enterprises still haven’t figured out how to use it effectively.

Even for the companies, who have set up accounts on many of the leading social sites, having a presence is a good start but that by itself is not enough.  Companies like Zappos have successfully leveraged social media because they have a highly engaged and customer-oriented culture where even the CEO is accessible  via Twitter. This further affirms that social media can help but it can’t replace pro-active customer engagement and to drive that interaction, companies either need to have or cultivate a customer-centric mindset. 

Infancy of social media combined with insane proliferation of new social tools and sites doesn’t help adoption either. While prominent blogs/bloggers are doing their part to further adoption of social networks, sites like Twitter could help themselves and enterprises by providing user-friendly tools to help companies manage customer engagement on their platform. This would be a much more effective way to increase enterprise adoption rather than solely relying on third-party applications or hoping that companies will figure it out themselves.

Why enterprise social networks don't work

Knowledge Management has been around since the 90s and every so often it makes a prime-time re-appearance. Last week it was on Techcrunch, who featured UK-based Trampoline system’s Sonar Dashboard, a social network utility for large companies being touted as ‘Facebook for business’. Adding a coolness factor to the social enterprise networks by riding on the coat tails of a popular social site is a clever PR ploy but here’s why I am not buying into the hype.

Sonar_dashboard

I am a big fan of knowledge-capture/share systems but no matter what fancy name you come up with, these systems have the same fundamental issues. We all know that employees aren’t just sitting there waiting for a cool tool so they can share their information with thousands of co-workers. Sure they update their Facebook profile gazillion times a day, but that’s personal and it’s fun. In the professional context, what’s the incentive for keeping your profile updated? And do you want to be the slacker who’s constantly overloading the corporate site with boring details of his/her inconsequential project?

Trampoline Systems acknowledges this lack of inclination on part of the employees and says,

Automation is critical to enterprise social computing. Employees are less inclined to update profiles at work in comparison to consumer social networking. SONAR Dashboard is connected to SONAR Server, which analyses a company’s email and documents to discover the key themes and relationships hidden in electronic information.

TBH, this ‘automation’ reeks of corporate snooping. Over the last year, I interacted with at least 20 different teams in my organization and every day I find new individuals who impact my work. Unless you read my emails, you probably won’t know what I am doing or the projects that I am working on. So I am leery about how effectual this feature really is going to be. The text in the screenshots of the Sonar Dashboard or social maps (even those on Techcrunch) is not legible, so it’s impossible to tell what these relationships or the profiles really look like or what information is being extracted ‘automatically’. That just adds to the intrigue and ambiguity of their product and how it really works.

Some companies already have social ‘sharing’ features built into their intranet, where employees can add pictures, profile information, discuss questions, but you typically see the same handful of folks posting information most of the time. So the companies need to figure out how to encourage mainstream adoption, ie. how to get a critical mass of their employees to use and leverage the social network to make it meaningful.

Lastly, there’s a question of churn. I can see how the Sonar Dashboard could map my relationships to other divisions/groups and that’s valuable but those relationships are constantly evolving, people leave the companies or take up new roles, so the question is how regularly will these maps be kept updated?

I saw all the accolades that Trampoline has received, so naturally, I was curious as to who their customers are. There seem to be only a couple of firms who’ve signed up so far.

Trampoline’s clients include the Raytheon Company, a top 5 global management consultancy and the UK Foreign Office.

I can see this Sonar Dashboard and others like it, being very effective in a company with low churn and fairly stable processes and Raytheon seems to fit that description. In addition, law and consultancy firms also would highly benefit from this system, given the knowledge-intense nature of their business. However, companies in fast-paced environments, where things are a bit more fluid, would have a tremendous challenge in getting such a system implemented and getting any value from these types of systems.

I think it’s essential for larger companies to put some system into place encourage information-sharing and making it easier for employees to tap into their geographically-dispersed knowledge base. Call me old-fashioned, but I think there needs to be a cultural shift and incentives should be put into place to get employees to share information. As much as I think technology is great, but it can’t solve a company’s process and cultural problems. If the company culture is not inclined towards collaboration and sharing, no fancy-schmancy system is going to help the company. Any technology, including social-networking utility is a means to an end, not the end unto itself.