» Archive for the 'Strategy' Category

What to Do If Your Competition Has 95% of the Market

Friday, September 21st, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

If you are in the enterprise software business and your competition has a major product that not only has 95% of the market but is so standard that many think no work can be done without it, what would you do?  If you are IBM and the competitive product is Microsoft Office (which is second only to the Microsoft Windows operating system as a profit maker for the company), you would create a free, open-source suite of applications backed by IBM.  In a move reminiscent of IBM’s support of Linux, which it began to support in 2000 and which now competes with Microsoft’s Windows server software in the enterprise market, IBM introduced IBM Lotus Symphony, a word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation suite.  IBM executives encourage this comparison, which is likely to cause some companies to rethink their plans for deploying Microsoft Office 2007.

IBM has tried to compete with Microsoft before, most notably with its OS/2 operating system and the Lotus SmartSuite office suite.  This week’s introduction was different even though some observers (myself included) had a sense of déjà vu given Lotus’ 1985 launch of a similar product with the Symphony name.  (Lotus Symphony, an MS-DOS-based integrated suite that combined word processing, spreadsheet, business graphics, data management, and communications capabilities.  Lotus Jazz was its Apple Macintosh sibling.)

Free office productivity software is nothing new.  Indeed, Lotus Symphony is based on open-source software developed by a consortium known as OpenOffice.org, whose code goes back to Star Division, a German company that was giving away Star Office, which included a word processor, database application, drawing software, an e-mail client, and a spreadsheet, available in seven languages and for the Windows, Macintosh, OS/@, Linux, and Sun Solaris operating systems.

Sun Microsystems, which purchased Star Division in 1999, and Google, already offer free desktop productivity tools based on OpenOffice.

Lotus Symphony, ca. 2007, is not just for processing words and crunching numbers.  The new offering supports OpenDocument Format, or ODF, which is based on XML, a protocol that enables information exchange between computers.  Using ODF, Basex could publish reports that update automatically by being linked to databases that we would keep current.

Microsoft also supports XML, but via its own document format, Office Open XML.  Regular readers will recall that, earlier this month, Microsoft’s bid to have Open Office XML ratified as a standard by ISO failed.  The OpenDocument Format, the one backed by IBM, Google, and Sun, among others, was approved by the ISO in 2006.

Let the music begin.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Microsoft Speaks

Friday, August 31st, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

Parlano, Italian for “they speak,” developed MindAlign, a technology that supports persistent discussions, i.e. those that persist over a long period of time.  The application was originally envisaged at Swiss Bank (now UBS) and led to the company’s formation.  I recall the announcement, in September of 2000, proclaiming a “new class” of business tools.

“In order for organizations to realize faster and better use of information, a whole new class of business collaboration solutions is required,” said Tim Krauskopf, CEO of Parlano at the time.  (Krauskopf was also co-founder of Spyglass, an early developer of Web browser technology.)

Parlano had a clear vision of its mission at the company’s inception and, despite the vagaries of the marketplace, it managed to follow through on this vision without any detours.  Indeed, the company continuously improved the group chat experience, developing products that could be integrated into a Collaborative Business Environment such as the 2007 Microsoft Office system.

In 2004, Basex recognized Parlano and MindAlign with a Basex Excellence Award, or Basey, noting that the application could “change the face of communications for organizations with a distributed workforce that crosses time zones and borders.”  According to customers we spoke with, it did.

In 2006, Microsoft credited MindAlign with the creation of “a new paradigm for collaborative software” in a book called “Innovation Starts Here,” published by Microsoft’s Emerging Business Team.

Now, going one step further, Microsoft announced the signing of a definitive agreement to acquire the company and its technology.

Parlano’s vision ties directly into what Microsoft’s Gurdeep Singh-Pall commented about the deal: “The acquisition of Parlano and the integration of its leading group chat application will advance Microsoft’s vision to use the power of software to deliver the most complete unified communications experience.”

Nick Fera, Parlano’s current CEO, who was vice president of business development back in September 2000, commented this evening in his Weblog about Singh-Pall’s statement, noting that “[O]f course we share that view and are excited to see MindAlign become an enormous commercial reality and success.  Microsoft is soon to inherit a team of talented and passionate professionals who really understand the value of group chat.”

After the deal closes, Microsoft will add the group chat functionality to Office Communications Server and Office Communicator, and plans to offer group chat as part of the standard client access license for Office Communications Server 2007 Software Assurance customers.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Palm Introduces Foleo, New Tool for the Knowledge Worker

Friday, June 1st, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

On Wednesday, Palm announced a new type of product, the Palm Foleo.  Palm bills this as a smartphone companion and it fulfills that function admirably.  The Foleo, with a 10.2″ color screen and full-sized keyboard, allows mobile knowledge workers to view and edit e-mail and Microsoft Office documents that reside on a smartphone.  Indeed, eventually, the information could reside on a non-Palm device.  The Foleo and smartphone to which it is paired stay synchronized throughout the day.

This is clearly aimed at those knowledge workers who have more to say than one can easily write on a Palm device and who spend a good deal of time out of the office.  But you don’t really need a Palm device to use the Foleo.  It comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless support.  It can access Web-based e-mail and Web sites without a Palm when you are in range of Wi-Fi – and today that is almost everywhere.  Having recently taken five two-hour flights in relatively small regional jets, my first thought was that this is the perfect form for such cramped working environments.

With a Palm, the Foleo is a complete mobile solution for e-mail (that is, any e-mail that your Palm supports), attachments, and Web access.  For heavy users of e-mail who don’t want to carry a laptop and who find the smartphone form factor insufficient, this is a very promising solution.  It automatically saves your work and starts up and shuts down instantly with no bootup or shutdown sequence.  Many knowledge workers use a smartphone as a key computing device but as workers need to do more and more on the go, the frustration level with a small screen and limited input capability has also grown.

Yesterday, in advance of the announcement, I sat down with Brodie Keast, Palm’s senior vice president of marketing (who joined Palm late last year from Seagate).  Keast told me that the Foleo had been Jeff Hawkins’ “brainchild” for many years. (Hawkins is the founder of Palm Computing and the inventor of the Palm Pilot.)  The Foleo, Keast added, was on the drawing board back when the first Treo was introduced and was in actual development for the past two years.  “The time is right” for this device, Keast told me.  Palm “views this as the first in a line of products” and “a new category for Palm.”

The Linux-based Foleo represents a great opportunity for third party developers.  Palm will release tools for developers when the Foleo hits the stores.  By choosing Linux, it is clear that Palm hopes to get replicate the success it’s had with developers and build a community that will create new applications that will extend the Foleo’s capabilities.  The first such application should be a printing application, since the Foleo does not support printing out of the box.  Palm already has DataViz and Opera software as partners.  In addition, it will not only support Treo smartphones on both the Palm OS and Windows Mobile (from the 680 on, numerically higher) but Palm will also certify non-Palm Windows mobile products.

Let’s look under the hood, or better under the 10.2″ 1024×600 display.  The Foleo comes with 256 Mbytes of storage and can be expanded to 8 Gbytes.   It weighs only 1.3 kg, and runs on Linux (more on that in a moment).  It comes with the Opera browser and sports a scroll wheel, back-and-forth buttons, and a track point that allows for easy navigation without requiring the user’s hands to leave the full sized keyboard.  The battery will last up to five hours.  It has a VGA output connector so you can deliver PowerPoint presentations directly from the Foleo.  It also has slots for SD and compact flash cards for memory expansion, a USB port, and a headphone jack.  The power adapter is a normal sized charger, not a brick.  You can also trickle charge your Palm Treo via the Foleo’s USB port.

It’s a smartphone companion, not a smartphone.  It has no telephony capabilities and as far as I know, no microphone.  It will be available in the U.S. this summer (Palm is not saying exactly when) for $499 (after $100 rebate) during the introductory period.

My take is that this is a very cool, elegant application that I would want to use.  My biggest complaint about smartphones has been that I have too much to say (perhaps no surprise to regular readers here) than can easily be tapped into a smartphone’s e-mail client.   There are many times where the mobile knowledge worker truly needs a full-sized keyboard and display.  To fully appreciate the Palm Foleo, you have to see it and hold it.  It’s very small, very light, can be opened from any one of three sides, has an elegant finish (similar to what Palm uses on the Treo 750), and a nice radius on the outside.  It’s also no more than 2.5 cm thick.   I can’t wait to have one.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Good Customer Service – Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Friday, February 16th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

For all the times where large companies are criticized for not doing enough for the customer, there are very few reports of customer service that is above and beyond the customer’s expectations.

I am happy to report three such encounters in the past week here at Basex.

First there is the matter of my IBM ThinkPad.  Basex has long been an IBM customer and we have more or less standardized on the ThinkPad line, which is now owned by Lenovo, the Chinese computer giant that purchased IBM’s PC group in 2005.

My current ThinkPad, an IBM T42 (my 5th since 1999, when I started with the IBM ThinkPad 600), had developed the unfortunate habit of crashing when  being returned to its dock.  Lenovo had changed the motherboard two months ago for the same problem and this particular machine has had other issues dating back to its arrival (despite the problems, I still liked the machine), so Lenovo offered me a new ThinkPad T60 which has more hard disk space, a little more RAM, and a much faster processor.  In addition, Lenovo is sending me a new dock and extra battery since the existing accessories are incompatible with the new machine.

Lenovo could have taken a more defensive position, since the machine was two years old (the warranty is three years with onsite service), but they chose not only the path that will lead to greater customer satisfaction but probably one that will minimize their costs in having to support my existing machine.

The second example comes from Kaz, a healthcare appliance company that recently took over Slant Fin’s humidifier line.  Our office manager discovered that a brand new Slant Fin humidifier wasn’t providing any humidity (we find that humidifiers in the office keep down static electricity and make the environment much more comfortable).  After contacting Slant Fin and being referred to Kaz, the Kaz customer service representative simply asked our office manager to return the product’s electrical cord, upon receipt of which she would ship a brand new humidifier.

I have to give Kaz a lot of credit for common sense.  Why spend money to return a product when it will only be discarded.

Our third customer service story is a more personal one.  My Conair hair dryer stopped working.  I liked this one because it folded and had a retractable cord, making it easy to put away.  I was going to buy the same model (mine was almost two years old) but couldn’t find it in any store.  So I contacted Conair and the customer service representative told me it was still under warranty and that they would send me a new and improved version of the same model at no charge if I sent mine back.  I was told to expect the replacement within three weeks.

I sent the defective unit back early last week and was pleasantly surprised to receive the replacement unit by Priority Mail first thing this morning (I am writing this on Monday, February 12th).

It is important to note that these examples of excellent customer service have nothing to do with which CRM or KCRM system the vendor is using.  Rather, it shows that these companies put themselves in the customers’ shoes and used tremendous amounts of common sense to keep customers satisfied.  And isn’t that what this is all about?

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

How We Work

Friday, December 22nd, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

My description of an interview I had a few weeks ago with a reporter from a major business publication, who was struggling with the use of the term “knowledge work,” struck a chord with readers and also other industry pundits.   I especially enjoyed Melanie Turek’s commentary entitled: Knowledge Workers: They’re Everywhere (and What Kind of Business Reporter Doesn’t Know What One Is?).  Although I don’t think reporters should be afraid of using the term knowledge worker, it does mean different things to different people.  Further, what knowledge workers do in their jobs is more varied than one might begin to imagine.

Knowledge workers are not simply office workers or executives; in fact, the one commonality is that there is little commonality except that they work with information and not raw goods.

In fact, one of the things I am learning from the early results from our New Workplace survey is how knowledge workers work.  (If you haven’t already taken the survey, you can click here.

Unsurprisingly, most use e-mail (almost 95% – but what does the other 5% do?).  88% indicated they use word processing in the course of a normal day, and 79% indicated they regularly use spreadsheets.  The use of instant messaging was about what I expected at 60%.

Most work autonomously; so far, based on early returns from the New Workplace survey.  More than 80% indicated that their work is largely autonomous as opposed to being supervised.

In terms of how they do their jobs, knowledge workers are a group of mavericks.  Only 11% agree with the statement “I prefer just to do my job the way I was shown or told.”  But HOW we work is not necessarily well defined.  Only 20% agree with the statement, “The work I do is primarily defined through formal policies and procedures.”

The survey is open for your input – and all survey takers will receive an executive summary of our findings.  If you haven’t yet taken the survey, do it now before you have to make it a New Year’s resolution.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Google Goes Wiki with Jotspot

Friday, November 3rd, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

Google acquired JotSpot, a Wiki company.  The transaction itself was – appropriately enough – announced through separate Weblog postings on the Google and JotSpot Web sites.  Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

A few months ago, JotSpot unveiled JotSpot 2.0, a wiki that went beyond the traditional boundaries of a Wiki by allowing the creation of collaborative calendars, spreadsheets, file repositories, documents, and photo galleries.  By adding a knowledge-worker friendly interface to their offering, they created a platform that might have the ability to support small organizations’ needs for knowledge sharing and collaboration.

As David Goldes wrote in this space back then, “wikis aren’t that common yet.”  They are, he noted, “easy to deploy and offer a good knowledge sharing and collaboration platform for organizations that have limited IT resources.”  Wikis may not be more common in the enterprise but they do have more mindshare.  More and more CIOs and line-of-business executives are asking us about wikis.

What scares managers and CIOs away from wikis, however, is that anyone can edit anything in a traditional wiki.  A wiki – “wiki wiki” is Hawaiian for “hurry quick” – is a Web page that allows users to add and edit content collaboratively; the term also refers to the software platform that supports wikis.  According to the Wikipedia, the first wiki, WikiWikiWeb, was named after the “Wiki Wiki” line of Chance RT-52 buses in Honolulu International Airport, Hawaii.

JotSpot’s permission model, added in 2.0, gives complete control over who can change and/or see information on a page-by-page basis.  It also added pre-defined page types that allow the creation of collaborative calendars, spreadsheets, file repositories, documents, and photo galleries.  The spreadsheet tool supports formulas, the ability to wrap text in a cell, copy and paste, and the ability to ‘shift-click’ to select a range of cells; the calendar page type allows users to create shared calendars; the file repository page type supports file sharing; the photo gallery page support allows the creation of pages with images and photographs (uploaded images are displayed as thumbnails and a slide show).  A link picker allows knowledge workers to create links to pages inside and outside of the wiki as well as to documents within the wiki.  All in all, JotSpot 2.0 started to sound more like an enterprise Collaborative Business Environment than a wiki.  And now, as part of Google, this is all free.

So what is Google doing with JotSpot?  Ultimately, wikis may prove very valuable to smaller organizations in need of good knowledge sharing and collaboration tools but lacking large IT departments.  They are not a cure-all for knowledge sharing and collaboration ills.  Only time will tell if a wiki suite is the right solution, but it sounds as if Google is making it easier for companies of all sizes to avail themselves of tools that previously only a large company might have in place.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

IBM’s New Workplace (Part II)

Monday, August 7th, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

MOVING FORWARD WITH IBM WORKPLACE

This is the second of a two-part look at IBM Workplace.  Click here for part one.

IBM Workplace is not something you can buy; rather, you have to buy into IBM’s vision for a strategy and vision that is predicated upon delivering role-based clients that include collaborative tools.  IBM sees the Workplace concept as eventually permeating all of its collaboration and knowledge sharing offerings.  In the meantime, however, customers will purchase either IBM Lotus Notes/Domino or IBM WebSphere Portal Server.  Both are part and parcel of Workplace and are starting points on the road to the IBM Workplace vision.

The dynamic nature of the Workplace offerings (Notes and Portal) allows knowledge workers better customization when using the software.  As a result, customers are able to get what they are looking for depending on the overarching platform they are using.  Knowledge workers running Lotus Notes can depend on the Workplace strategy in order to provide a true Collaborative Business Environment.  Knowledge workers operating WebSphere Portal use Workplace to access a composite application framework and to unify content applications.  Also with WebSphere, knowledge workers are integrated with the Domino Server as a back-end mail server while also receiving the benefits of Workplace services such as realtime communication, workflow, and content management.  All of these products are integrated, which allows for easy interoperability and consistency – a cornerstone within the Workplace strategy.  IBM realizes the need for companies to capture and utilize their knowledge is unprecedented, and the solution lies within the strategy of the software rather than the title.  Workplace is the epitome of IBM’s collaborative strategy and will serve as a guiding vision for years to come.

Workplace is also an excellent example of IBM’s SOA philosophy.  On top of that, Workplace functions in accordance with the ODF standards.  The ODF standard was recently ratified at the end of last year by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) and will provide consistency and growth for future platforms.

ODF is an XML-based document file format that allows end users to edit and create documents, regardless of the application vendor.  ODF offers consumers a choice between itself and proprietary document formats found in Microsoft Office components.  The openness of the ODF means that, unlike Microsoft, IBM’s product is interoperable with a variety of software; ODF can operate within its own format as well as within Microsoft Office or earlier versions of OpenOffice.  The fact that IBM adopts the ODF is promising for knowledge workers needing to communicate with a wide variety of companies that may or may not have IBM or ODF products.  ODF also ensures that companies will have more consistency and accessibility within their own documents.  The inclusion of ODF within a Collaborative Business Environment allows companies to make decisions based on business requirements, notwithstanding the vendor of the platform or the format of the software.

Workplace is designed around IBM’s activity-centric computing methodology.  What this means is that the platform is organized around activities performed rather than tools used.  In order to do this, Workplace provides an “activity thread,” which is an ongoing log of the sequence of interactions between employees on a project or among a team of employees working toward a common goal.  By providing this information, the technology takes care of the organizing and sorting of the relevant material so employees can reach a goal faster and more effectively.

The “activity explorer” program is the first tangible expression of the activity-centric philosophy.  The activity explorer allows knowledge workers to create, perform, track, and save their progress within the threads concept.  Knowledge workers create a document and share it with other employees working on the same project.  From there, employees can reply to the document with work of their own.  The activity explorer keeps a log of this activity so that progress is visible; it also has a presence awareness feature so employees can see who is viewing which document and what changes are being made.  The activity explorer also provides such options as shared computer screens, resembling the features of electronic whiteboards.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst of Basex.

IBM’s New Workplace (Part I)

Monday, July 31st, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

THE ROAD AHEAD

IBM Workplace is the company’s high-level product strategy for Collaborative Business Environments.   Comprised of IBM Lotus Notes/Domino, IBM WebSphere Portal, and IBM WebSphere Everyplace Deployment, IBM’s Workplace offerings are designed to meet the knowledge economy needs of three sets of customers:

  • Existing Notes/Domino customers
  • Existing WebSphere Portal customers
  • New IBM customers

For Notes/Domino customers, the Workplace concept will really come into its own with the launch of the next version of Notes and Domino, code-named “Hannover.”  Hannover uses the WebSphere Portal to deliver composite applications without the help of WebSphere Portal.  However, Hannover can work with WebSphere to deliver composite applications more efficiently. 

For WebSphere Portal customers, IBM promises a Collaborative Business Environment optimized for J2EE-based portal-centric organizations.

 Workplace extends a composite framework to IBM’s offerings under what IBM refers to as Workplace services.  These include

  • Portlet Factory
  • Web Content Management
  • Enterprise Search
  • Electronic Forms
  • Workflow
  • Real-time Collaboration
  • E-mail messaging and calendar and scheduling
  • Document management/team spaces
  • E-learning

Hannover, the next generation of Notes, makes Notes a true Collaborative Business Environment by converting current Notes, Sametime, and portal applications into composite applications via a significantly enhanced user interface.  The Eclipse-based client is server managed and provisioned, and runs not only in Windows, but also on Mac OS and Linux.

As a result, Hannover users benefit from a real-time communications and collaboration platform that supports them on virtually any device (from laptop to handheld device) for everything from e-mail and enterprise applications to locating expertise and knowledge within an organization. 

Future Fusion: WebSphere Portal and Notes/Domino Hannover

One quality of the WebSphere Portal is its integration with IBM Lotus Notes in order to provide numerous business tools within a single environment.  When Hannover is released (which is to be by 2007), the line between where WebSphere ends and Notes begins will become increasingly blurry.  Many applications and features of the two platforms are being adopted by one another, such as Hannover’s SOA model containing both composite applications and a portal model.  With functions such as these, Hannover will have portal qualities of its own while also being integrated within WebSphere Portal. 

With this said, the question for the future remains: What will separate the two platforms after 2007?  The steps IBM is taking to integrate WebSphere Portal with such platforms as Notes are admirable, but will it lead to increased customer confusion once Notes makes the transition to Hannover?  One thing that will be certain is, due to the open standards within both platforms, interoperability between functions will be a given.  These standards include workflow standards (BPEL), instant messaging standards (SIP), document standards (ODF), and many others.  Another feature within Hannover is the heavy emphasis on activity-centric computing methodology.  With this new methodology, communication between WebSphere and Hannover will become even more important for a knowledge worker’s success.  As both platforms grow, their functions will become richer, but IBM needs to make clear of the distinctions between the two.

To be continued next week. (Click here for part two.)

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Teaching the Elephant to Retire

Friday, September 23rd, 2005 by Jonathan Spira

Last week’s $2.6 billion purchase of Skype Technologies by eBay is noteworthy for one thing.  No, it isn’t the $2.6 billion price tag (plus an additional $1.5 billion if Skype hits certain performance targets in the next few years) for a company that only had $60 million in revenue and has yet to turn a profit.

It isn’t the fact that, besides eBay, Google, the News Corporation, Microsoft, and Yahoo were also said to have been interested in Skype at one time or another.

It isn’t even the fact that eBay might have overpaid, or that eBay may not be the best custodian for Skype.  (EBay says it will use Skype technology to add communication channels for buyers and sellers and it may add click-to-call adverts later on. If this is the best they can do, it is truly a waste of talent and technology.)

It’s simply the fact that the purchase of Skype serves notice to the telecommunications industry that voice is merely another service delivered in a data setting, and that the market for voice calling, as we know it today, is simply fading away, albeit a fast fade to black.

In ten or more years, we may look back and think of the concept of a telephone number somehow anchored to a pair of wires terminating in a telephone apparatus as rather quaint.  Even with today’s fairly early Voice-over-IP technology, such as provided by Skype, I can accept phone calls from my “New York” number whereever I might be, from Los Angeles to London to Munich.

Today, there are many different ways to place the same phone call: I could use my home telephone (landline), I could use my mobile, I could use the softphone from my company extension, or I could use a VoIP provider such as Skype or Gizmo Project.  The enterprise PBX market has already moved to open standards and Internet Protocol telephony; that leaves traditional last mile providers such as Verizon and BellSouth and mobile operators such as T-Mobile and Cingular holding the bag.  These companies have huge investments in infrastructure largely designed for voice – and for mobile operators, profits from voice services have helped make up for the failure of 3G networks to catch on as planned.

Ironically, federal regulators are close to approving Verizon Communications’ $8.5 billion purchase of MCI and SBC Communications’ $16 billion takeover of AT&T, while the $2.6 billion acquisition of Skype doesn’t warrant a second glance.  It’s likely that the Justice Department will require the merging companies to sell some assets, moves which they believe will preserve some level of competition for enterprise customers.  Skype, of course, has very few assets in the traditional sense and uses lines owned by others (the users’ Internet connections), having only to pay for the last mile when a user calls a non-Skype user.  Moreover, Skype may be the first true international telecomms company; most companies in the industry are successors of national monopolies.

It is of course no longer a question of whether VoIP will supplant the incumbent telecomms business, but rather a question of how quickly this will take place.  Millions of people place calls for free every day and the number is increasing in geometric progression.

Will the notion of a pay telephone seem patently absurd in five years’ time?  We live in a time where many are probably unaware of the etymology of the word “dial” as in to dial a phone number.  Perhaps this is why Skype has attracted the attention (and money) that it did.  After all, who’s going to teach the elephant to retire?

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

IBM’s WorldJam

Tuesday, May 29th, 2001 by Jonathan Spira

Invited: 320,000 of your closest friends.

Over the past few weeks, I was one of the very few outsiders to be briefed on – and view in action – WorldJam, a 72-hour-long online community event hosted by IBM to which all of its 320,000 employees were invited.  Although I will be writing about this in greater depth in an upcoming research report, I wanted to share some initial observations and insights with you.

WorldJam is a set of tools and an environment that were integrated to support a 72-hour online community brainstorming session.  The goals were threefold:

1.)    To tackle ten “thorny” business problems
2.)    To report to colleagues on best practices
3.)    To “jam” with friends and colleagues

For the past nine months, IBM, under the direction of Mike Wing, IBM’s Director, Worldwide Intranet Strategy and Programs, has been planning and rehearsing this marathon community event. Wing’s Corporate Intranet Team worked in conjunction with several other areas of IBM, namely Corporate Marketing, IBM Research, and Strategic Web Application and Technology (SWAT).

There are several levels at which one can view WorldJam.  First, the technology itself.  Second, the issues which were at the heart of the WorldJam discussions.  Third, the collective knowledge and wisdom of the company which WorldJam brings together for 72 hours.  And fourth, as an extraordinary scientific experiment in online collaboration, and the ramifications which it raises.  Today I concentrate largely on the first.

At the core of WorldJam were ten asynchronous discussion databases, or forums, each led by a moderator/expert in the field, assisted by trained staffers.  Each forum had a topic and a question, e.g. “Supplying the Glue: More than 25% of IBMers are ‘mobile’ – telecommuting, working on customer premises, teaming with geographically dispersed colleagues.  What do you do to avoid ‘IBM’ = ‘I’m By Myself’?”.

The next logical issue to tackle was how people might participate in WorldJam.  By the end of WorldJam, over individual 50,000 employees had stopped by; it will take a while to study the statistics in greater detail, but, even in a group of 50,000 people, participation runs along the lines which one might expect.  Some IBMers would stop by and  mine a few nuggets.  Others came to impart and share their knowledge.  Others hunkered down and jammed, and still others formed breakout groups which launched real-time (synchronous) discussions relating to one of the ten topics.

The WorldJam project can be viewed in four phases:
- Preparatory/planning (9 months)
- Live (72 hours)
- Immediate Follow-up (several weeks)
- Long-term resource (infinite going forward)

WorldJam also offered diversions, including “branded” music, and games, which were two applets in the Thinking Tools section called “Words” (a kind of online refrigerator magnet game) and “Music” (a nod to WorldJam’s musical heritage?).

One of my favorites pieces of technology was the WorldJam Activity Map, which uses IBM Gryphon Server technology [which is based on Java Messaging service (JMS)].  IBM describes Gryphon as a publish/subscribe message broker system, the type which could be used for real-time online sports score distribution.  Here Gryphon tracked visitors on the WorldJam site.  The Activity Map also used a custom-statistics server and a JDBC Data Access API.  The statistics themselves were stored in DB2.  Activity Map created a geographic record (i.e., a real-time view of the world) of participants’ activities, and a forum-by-forum record (created by connecting to the Gryphon server and subscribing to the statistics channel) which fed real-time activity, then displayed a geographic record of participants’ activity and a forum-by-forum participant record.

Another personal favorite was a  tool developed for WorldJam, the “JamBroker,” which uses XML and XML Parser to create and match groups of people for a random jam.

The discussion forums used Lotus Notes and servlets, which integrated Notes content together with HTML all on one Web page.  The discussion functionality (comments, replies, voting, etc.) was all managed through Notes, which stored the information in a Notes database.  Servlets generated and managed the moderator’s comments which appeared on each of the ten forums.  Every discussion forum page contained an applet referred to as a “digital heartbeat,” which tracked user activity in real time.  This sent its information back to Gryphon.

Although time will tell how WorldJam and its wealth of intellectual activity and knowledge will be both viewed and utilized in future, the WorldJam team was already making notes for WorldJam’s progeny.  A few ideas I would add would be to add foreign language support (after all, it’s WORLDJam), and to consider having a specific opening and closing activity, both to warm participants up, and to give an appropriate ending to such a landmark event.

The scope and magnitude of a WorldJam-like event is an investment that very few companies could undertake.  Of those that are in fact able, none except for IBM has undertaken an online community/knowledge management event on this scale.  IBM effectively invited all of its 320,000+ employees to not only participate in pragmatic discussions with the possibility of immediate impact, but opened the door for all to partake in embarking upon significant cultural change, with all IBMers taking an active role in their own destinies.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.


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