Archive for June, 2012

HyperOffice and ZDNet Panelists Discuss Doing Business in India (27 June ‘12)

HyperOffice President Farzin Arsanjani and eminent ZDNet journalists Christopher Dawson and Larry Dignan will get together for a live online panel discussion on “doing business in India” today (27th June 2012).

If you are interested, you can register at the following link – http://www.techrepublic.com/webcasts/live-webcast-doing-business-in-india-a-primer-for-us-it/4285349

India’s spectacular economic growth story is widely known, and most companies either already have a presence in India, or are considering entering Indian markets. Such companies will find this panel discussion immensely useful. ZDNet felt that HyperOffice would offer some important insights on the subject, since we have a long standing relationship with Tata Communications, who offer HyperOffice communication and collaboration solutions to their telecom customers.

Be there!

How to set up an intranet (or extranet)

This is the second article in our series of “how to” articles. “How to create an intranet” is a common search, and therefore a common business query, but before we go any further, it makes sense to first deal with the question “What is an intranet?”

What is an intranet?

No matter how much you try to clear the waters, the confusion between the terms “intranet” and internet” remains. So, yet another time, an intrAnet is broadly a set of “internal facing” web pages and tools, or in other words, a website available only to the employees of a company. An intranet may also be sometimes referred to as “company portal”. This internal facing website, when extended to a company’s broader network of clients, partners and vendors, is referred to as “extranet”.

It might be pointed out that this article is intended to get you started with intranet creation, and point you in the right direction. Before you undertake intranet creation, you might want to study the larger subject area of “intranets”. Intranets can have far reaching impact on your organization in terms of employee communication, knowledge management, human resources, collaboration and more, which calls for careful planning around the structure of your intranet even before you start. Some very useful resources are the Intranet Benchmarking Forum and Step Two Design.

The tools and methodologies you choose will depend on what you expect to achieve from your intranet, and hence the type of intranet you choose to implement. The types are broadly as follows:

Static Internal website.

This is the most light weight type of intranet. Your intranet is just a set of static web pages that are available only to company employees. The objective of such an intranet is simply “top down communication” where the management wants employees to have access to certain information. This information could relate to company news, policies, products, strategy and vision, or motivational information like announcements, quotes or “employee of the quarter”. This website might be further broken down into sub sections for departments and groups.

In this case, the process would be much like creating a website, and you would simply look for a website content management system. The best tools in this case are open source content management systems like Joomla and Drupal. However, since Joomla and Drupal are server based systems, you would need to set up your own web servers. Companies are increasingly looking to move away from self-hosted solutions to cloud based systems. In this case you might want to try something like Weebly, Wix or Webs. You simply need to access these sites and can start implementing your intranet right away.

Intranet with tools.

Most companies are looking at intranets as more than a set of static web pages displaying information. They want it to be a “home” for their employees where they can not only view information, but also communicate, connect with other employees, and actually find the tools they need to manage day to day work.

Companies who are looking for such an intranet are looking for a software which will not only let them design internal web pages, but also have inbuilt tools – project management, address books, calendars, forums, social networking, document collaboration, IM and more.

Again, here companies have two choices of the kinds of tools they want to use. They could use an out of the box, cloud based intranet software like HyperOffice. Here, you don’t have to set up your own servers, and can simply access all the tools you need to build your intranet through a web browser. Moreover, it is a very easy to use solution, meaning you can set up an intranet without any specialized expertise. This solution is ideal for small to medium sized businesses.

Other companies might want to host their own intranet. Such a company can use a solution like Sharepoint or Drupal. These are powerful systems that allow you almost any degree of customization you want. But consequently, these are sophisticated systems which require in house web servers, SQL databases, and experts to implement and manage them. These might be the best choice for enterprises with ample resources and highly intricate needs.

The Microsoft Yammer acquisition, Sharepoint, and social business

It’s a closed deal. The media has widely reported the imminent acquisition of Yammer, the enterprise social network provider, by Microsoft for a whistle-evoking 1.2 Billion dollars. Everyone knows something big is happening here, and experts, in characteristic style, have quickly congregated around opposite ends of the pole – equally shrill in lauding or denouncing the move.

It is unclear as yet how Yammer will fit in Microsoft’s product portfolio – will it be used to bolster Sharepoint’s outdated and weak social capabilities? Or will it go the Skype way, where Microsoft uses it to enter enterprises through the backdoor (employees using it in small groups with or without official approval), and then upsell heavier Microsoft enterprise products like Sharepoint, Dynamics CRM and Office through integration points?

Social business is the winner

But underlying both of the above two approaches, or any other approach Microsoft might take, is an implicit acknowledgment – Social tools in businesses are here to stay. And this time, unlike Office 365 in cloud collaboration, Microsoft does not want to be a laggard in the race.

As a general rule, it suits giant companies to slow market movements and keep the status quo, and milk existing markets where they have a dominant position. Microsoft did that with cloud computing, till it was finally forced to move to the cloud with Office 365. But when an IT giant invests in and shows commitment to a new market movement, it is an indicator of the undeniable importance of the movement. Microsoft’s $1.2 billion spend on Yammer is one such indicator for the social business space. IBM’s attempt to be associated with the organizational study of social business is another. This is further supported by a flurry of merger and acquisition activity in the social business space.

But the most important indicator is real businesses using social businesses tools more and more, and reporting benefits. Email might not quite be dead yet, but it is increasingly finding a new companion in social business software.

But an important, and yet unresolved question is the best approach for a company to introduce social software. At HyperOffice, as we have argued before, we feel that collaboration software is a natural environment for social tools to be introduced. Social and collaboration tools both have something to contribute to each other (collaboration tools become less siloed, and social tools become task oriented rather than encouraging empty chatter), and moreover, both relate to generic communication and collaboration needs that exist in all organizations.

Microsoft probably plans to do the same by integrating Yammer into Sharepoint, its collaboration software. This is hinted by the emphasis Jared Spataro, Director of SharePoint Product Management, has put on social capabilities in Sharepoint’s future.

However, we feel that Microsoft is not likely to do justice to bringing the collaboration and social pieces together, given the vastly different architectures of Sharepoint and Yammer (the former is server based, while the latter is cloud native). Add to this the inertia of a risk-averse large enterprise with existing revenue bases to defend.

With most players in the market geared either as “collaboration” suites (Office 365, Google Apps), or “enterprise social networks” (Yammer, Chatter), we feel there is a gap in the market of a solution which combines the two approaches. We hope to fill this gap with HyperSocial….

What does strategy have to do with buying business software?

I came across a very interesting article by Daniel Rasmus, which was in turn was inspired by an article by Doug Henschen late last year. The article talks how more and more business intelligence vendors are adding collaborative capabilities to their suites. Multiple players have tried to do this, including Microsoft with Sharepoint, SAP with StreamWorks and IBM with Cognos 10.

While it’s always good to have a few extra features in your software, things start getting a little confused when your CRM provider also includes email, your email application also includes shared folders, your collaboration vendor throws in light weight reporting and business intelligence tools, and your accounting system suddenly goes “social”.

It is understandable why vendors want to do this – the cloud deployment model offers a great opportunity to blur traditional software boundaries, enter high demand markets (is it a wonder that everyone is clamoring to enter the collaboration market), and make the user more committed to your solution.

But from an organization’s standpoint, solutions with overlapping functionality create a great temptation to use the tool immediately available to manage data (for example store an invoice in the “shared folders” section of your accounting system) and as a result fragmenting corporate data, and creating scores of mini information silos. As an organization increases in size, this potential for fragmentation grows exponentially.

Companies therefore need to take a careful look at their application portfolio, and decide exactly how they distinguish software categories, exactly what they want from each software category and how they will interact – ERP, CRM, Collaboration, Social. Special attention might be necessary in the area of collaboration, since it can have such a far reaching impact on organizational performance. Conceptual models might be of help here. For example I had proposed a model about how “social software” can best enter the enterprise.

Daniel Rasmus has the following incredible suggestions about how to see collaboration software in the organization (we suggest a similar approach : Whitepaper – Collaboration or Chaos).

Focus on deploying a set of collaboration tools that connect with other technology, not collaboration tools within other technologies. People only have so much time, and there are personal switching costs involved in deciding which tool to use to share something. There are also costs involved in remember where you shared something, or even in remember to check various locations to see if people have shared something you need to know about.

The best implementations of collaboration software should have a single interface that brings everything together for the end user, and makes the same conversations available on mobile devices that are accessible on larger clients.

But all of this goes to strongly underline one thing – the importance of a strategic, long term view while selecting your company’s software.