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Jive and Box step closer to employee systems of engagement

EmployeeIf you have held a job for more than a few days you know that information management, access, and exchange are the achilles heel of the knowledge-based enterprise. It’s no surprise then that enterprise social and collaboration tools have been the focus of so much investment and innovation in recent years, among both start-ups and established vendors.

The result is an embarrassment of riches for end users. Box, Cisco, Dropbox, Huddle, IBM, Jive, Microsoft, NewsGator, OpenText, Socialtext, Telligent, and Yammer are only a few that spring to mind, but there are dozens of others. For the established platform players, the challenge is to match the usability and agility of these start-ups’ fresh UIs and rapid release cycles. Rob Koplowitz has noted, for example, that Sharepoint has entered its awkward teenage years.

In that case you could say that many of the upstarts are now tweens. Appearing initially like charming and adorable children next to the moody platform plays, they were widely embraced and adopted at the department and team level. But now success becomes a challenge as they aim to leave their childhood behind. Any decent sized business likely has numerous different solutions, and any one vendor’s desire to become the true enterprise standard runs aground on the shoals of internecine politics and turf wars.

This business impasse will help drive further mergers and acquisitions in the enterprise collaboration space, following the principle that if you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em.  The big money deals will see the platforms buy the stand-alones (à la last year’s Microsoft/Yammer deal), but it will be more interesting, and entertaining, to see how the upstarts band together for survival.

Last week’s announcements around Jive’s new release demonstrates, as Cornel West almost said in the Matrix, that consolidation is not prerequisite to cooperation. Box and Jive, who have been buddies for months, now offer a “fully integrated” cloud solution. The combination makes a lot of sense for many reasons, beginning with product features and strategy. Box’s “place for stuff” benefits from Jive’s interaction and communication capabilities, while Jive’s activity feed gains serious content repository and sharing functionality.

Besides reducing the silos, the Box integration and other features of Jive’s Spring release advance the effort to put social and collaboration tools to work. Of course, vendors will claim that they’ve been doing that for years. But it makes a massive difference if you think not of the workers as the beneficiary of such tools, but rather the work – the projects, processes, and task flows, and ultimately the aggregations of services that constitute customer “systems of engagement.”

Providing customer systems of engagement reliably and affordably requires employee systems of engagement (SoEs) – an under-appreciated fact. An ecosystem of social and collaboration tools (and, perhaps, especially the agile, adaptable, and appified tools typical of the upstarts) have the potential to create employee SoEs.

To this end, Jive now offers “Structured Outcomes,” which appears to be a way to partially formalize and structure ad hoc, knowledge-centric processes, including identifying actions, owners, and escalation steps.

Second, Jive offers project-centric workspaces to support, for example, a particular sales opportunity. Appropriate employees can create and monitor exchanges, store and share files, and access relevant information from Jive, Box, or Salesforce and Chatter. (Jive also announced this integration with Salesforce and Chatter. I take this to be less compelling simply because it is presented as a sales process solution, compared to the broad “horizontal” implications of the Box integration.)

The predominant problem is the nominated nomenclature. Jive wants us to call these project spaces “purposeful places.” Really? Did the committee make the decision during a self-actualization retreat in Marin County? The presumptive rationalization is that these spaces are dedicated to a specific business purpose. (Er, kind of like a project, right?) The unfortunate correlating implication then is that other places in Jive are purposeless. And we can only hope that users shorten it to . . .  P².

Of course, we still have to see how the joint solution deploys and what benefits it delivers in practice. (My constant appeal to vendors: Show not what your solution can do but rather what it actually does – preferably with a demo from a beta client.) Still, the integrations, the cloud service, and especially the new process-centric functions help to transition enterprise social and collaboration solutions to workable employee systems of engagement.


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