Dec 11, 2012

Mobile as the New Customer Service Channel


StaffingTalk.com
I remember being amazed by the exceptional customer service by American companies, when I first came to the US in 1997. The  ability to call the 1-800 number practically 24/7 to solve any problem was unlike anything I had experienced in India. However, in the last 15 years in the US, I have seen the quality of customer service plummet. Today, most people would dread calling the 1-800 number (if you can even find it!) raising the question 'Is Customer Service Dead?'

Oct 7, 2012

Skype Meets Siri: Is MindMeld the Future of Collaboration?

Shouldn’t enterprise collaboration be more than just adapting consumer technologies for work (‘Facebook for the enterprise’)? Most of the 'Social Enterprise' tools are for asynchronous text-based communication, while the most important type of (remote) collaboration in enterprises continues to be real-time by phone/ video conferences. Hence it was fascinating to see an advanced voice recognition & search solution from the San Francisco start-up Expect Labs at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference a few weeks ago. They were one of the finalists and according to Robert Scoble, the hottest iPad app at Disrupt!

Sep 11, 2012

Four Reasons Why Enterprise Software Got Its 'Mojo' Back: TechCrunch Disrupt


This is my second day at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco.  Disrupt is the largest startup conference in Silicon Valley, attended by many startups, corporates, investors, and press. Mark Zuckerberg gave his first public interview after the Facebook IPO (the conversation drove up Facebook’s price by 4.5% in after-hours trading!) It was amazing to see how passionate & hands-on product person Zuckerberg is. He said the biggest strategic mistake of Facebook was betting on HTML5 and not going native on mobile. I am not sure if all business gurus would agree, but I guess that’s why he’s a billionaire and others are just commentators!

Aug 22, 2012

How 'The Mentalist' Can Engage Me Beyond a Facebook 'Like'

It looks like every business wants to ‘engage’ with consumers these days, but as a consumer, I don’t think I want to engage with many companies. Sure, I like my breakfast cereal, but I ignore their plea ‘Like us on Facebook’ on the cereal box. I am very happy with my washing machine and microwave oven, but I would never tweet about how excited I am about those. This insightful article explains why - social media sharing is more about showcasing your refined tastes (skeptics might say driven by vanity and narcissism!) - like a BMW or a neighborhood Deli.

However, I am baffled to see that even the ‘refined’ brands still fail to engage with their best customers. Of course, Facebook is a great platform to talk about any brands or products with your friends, but can the brands do more? Let me try an example. 

Jul 5, 2012

Gamification: Parenting to Enterprise Software

Gamification is one of those buzzwords that start as a cool word play, but gradually morph into a nebulous concept. Many might even find out that they’ve been doing it without realizing – like the Moliere character who was surprised to learn that he was speaking ‘prose’ all his life!

Jun 26, 2012

Chromebook, Surface Tablet, or iPad?

I have been reading a lot about how the new Microsoft Surface tablet will be an iPad killer. I don't think iPad will roll over and die anytime soon, but it's interesting to see how it fares against Google Chromebook and whether the post-PC era is finally here.

I am a big fan of Chromebook. I bought both the generations of Chromebook weeks after launch.

Jun 12, 2012

3 Reasons Why Apple Passbook Might be a 'Smarter' Google Wallet

At the WWDC today, Apple made a bunch of product announcements. Passbook was one of the most interesting new features of the iOS 6, apart from the turn-by-turn navigation that effectively shuts down the nice business of AT&T to charge $10 monthly fee for its app :-)

Passbook ‘paperlessly’ stores all your passes - loyalty cards, coupons, movie tickets, boarding passes etc and even visually ‘shreds’ them when you are done! Passbook was innocuously positioned as ‘the simplest way to get all your passes in one place’, but it is clearly the harbinger of Apple Mobile Wallet. The vision might look similar to Google Wallet, but apart from its cool features, Apple Passbook might be a much smarter mobile payment/ mCommerce strategy for three reasons:

May 18, 2012

Facebook as Social CRM


It feels wrong not to comment on the largest tech IPO in history happening today. I have read many articles about the Facebook IPO. Most of them dismiss it as ‘Bubble 2.0’, but have also seen some interesting analysis on the potential of new business models.

Let’s not forget that just about every pundit predicted doom for Google when it went IPO in 2004. I have heard compelling arguments that Google was likely to self-implode and the growth would stagnate. Yet, Google defied gravity to become the most successful technology company (only next to Apple).

May 17, 2012

India Trip: Reflections

I am leaving for a 2-week vacation to India on Friday. As always, I am excited about the trip. Apart from the obvious goals such as catching up with friends and relatives, attending a wedding, and having some great authentic food, I look forward to observing a few new things in India & Kerala. Maybe, it's the right time to take a break from all the serious 'enterprise consumer' stuff to reflect on these:

Consumer Products: India must be one of the fastest growing consumer sectors in the world and has great brand marketing talent. The innovation and pace of adoption of consumer goods, especially through non-traditional & localized business models, is quite amazing. Last time, I saw the large Audi showroom (first in India) in Cochin that was quite impressive. This time, I am curious to see if there will be more foreign brands including Audis and BMWs on the roads than the quintessentially Indian Ambassador cars.

Apr 23, 2012

DEMO Conference 2012 Review: Consumer Startups


I attended the Silicon Valley DEMO conference last week. This was my second DEMO and feel it’s a great conference to get an overview of the emerging trends and companies. Over two days, 81 startups demoed their products in 6 minutes each. The creativity and diversity of companies is often amazing – both in geography and in the problems they tackle, ranging from the everyday frustrations of an average consumer (e.g., DealAngel, Eva) to the needs of special groups such as architects (e.g., Archability) or business professionals (e.g., Voxeet).

Here are some thoughts on a few consumer startups that I found interesting as an end-consumer.

Apr 16, 2012

Why Tagtile, not Instagram, might be more Strategic for Facebook


Facebook bought two San Francisco mobile startups last week. Much has been written about the Monday deal - Instagram, which is probably the highest acquisition price ever paid per employee ($77M!) I suspect the Friday deal – Tagtile – was probably two or three magnitudes smaller than the first one. However, it might be a more long-term strategic move than the first one. 

Why? A strategic acquisition is something that helps you enter new markets. Google acquired YouTube for $1.65B, instantly giving them ~50% market share in a new category (despite Google Videos experiements). SAP acquired Sybase to be the market leader in enterprise mobile market. Instagram deal could very well make sense as bolstering mobile and increasing engaged users or probably avoiding an acquisition by Twitter or Google. Either way, it does not help Facebook enter a new category, whereas the Tagtile deal can get Facebook into an entirely new multi-billion dollar market by connecting the social/ mobile commerce world with the massive offline retail commerce (and potentially later into mobile payments). The approach might be similar to the Google Android deal: buy a small player and scale with the big company resources to be the market leader. Let's not forget that Android was a small acquisition of an 8 people company in 2005 that later built the Google mobile strategy (Fortune article here).

Mar 31, 2012

Organizations Don't Tweet, People Do: A Personal Review


It’s rare that a book’s title tells you something new, but when I first heard of this title, I was enamored by the original insight. We often see Twitter accounts, where companies and individuals push their agenda through a one-way blast of self-promotional tweets. This title suddenly made me realize that social media interaction needs to be between authentic individuals, not projected images of your role or organization.

Euan Semple is a leading expert on social web based on his direct experience in introducing social media tools into a large successful organization, BBC. After reading his book, I feel it is much broader than its subtitle: ‘A Manager’s Guide to the Social Web’. It is a manifesto for a new management paradigm similar to other fascinating books like ‘Mobilizing Minds’ by McKinsey authors and ‘Future of Management’ by Gary Hamel (who continues his work through the Management Innovation Exchange web site).

‘Orgs Don’t Tweet’ feels like conversations with a friend over a beer on how social media works answering questions I was too embarrassed to ask. The book does not have laborious case studies or fancy trend diagrams (‘# of smartphones by 2015’ etc). It is a hands-on guide giving actionable advice in nuggets (45 short chapters) slowly transforming your worldview, by one insight at a time based on practical tales. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in social media, especially those new to blogging or tweeting. Let me discuss a few ideas that I found personally valuable connecting to my own experiences as a newbie blogger/ tweeter:

Collaboration as learning: Watching an expert and asking questions in an ‘apprentice model’ has been the most effective way to learn a new skill. Social tools (like forums or YouTube) let you learn from experts all over the world and even get answers from them – on cooking or coding or repairing a car. The whole web is about informal learning.

Business learning has been focused on formal courses (‘bums on seats’) or rigidly structured intranets/ knowledge management solutions (‘dry business stuff stored in knowledge coffin’), which are useless to most people to find the information they need when they need it. However, businesses are realizing that being able to ask a question to the leading expert on the topic in real time is the best way to learn. The author defines informal learning as ‘increasing the quality and frequency of the conversations that get your job done’.

Collaboration is how organizations can make this happen through social tools and is not a buzzword. I called it ‘Q&A platform for the company’ in a post. Collaboration does not happen through establishing processes or ‘initiatives’ mandating the use of a software tool, but through a willingness to help. True collaboration is always through mutual self-interest, but facilitated by a culture that does not focus on the short-term self-interest alone, but promotes a shared willingness to help.

Blogging as ‘Writing ourselves into existence’: Anyone considering blogging has faced the uncomfortable questions: ‘Who am I to say all these? Who cares what I think? What if nobody reads (and everyone knows that nobody reads!)? What if my boss disapproves or colleagues ridicule me in the café?’ We often end up taking Mark Twain’s advice: “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt!” Committing to your ideas in public is hard. ‘Blogging is like being confident to throw a party but then not confident enough to deal with how well or badly it goes’ – true! It was scary to write a post comparing Google Plus and Twitter!

I realized the truth in the author’s statement that blogging makes you self-aware. Once you start blogging, you start observing the world with more awareness and take responsibility, instead of going through the motions as a passive subject. ‘If you are going to say what you think in public, you have to be happy about what you are thinking or do something about it until you are happy!’

The process of blogging will also help you reinforce your learning, as you need to explain it to someone else. Euan Semple calls it one of the least publicized benefits of blogging. I discovered it while writing about mobile loyalty or enterprise finance.

‘A Word or Two on Love’: In his farewell blog post at BBC, he talks about the strongest motivating force in the world not being used in business. I named this blog ‘From Enterprise to Consumer with Love’ from the conviction that enterprise software could have a deeper connection with people inspired from the consumer world. However, it was embarrassing to use a ‘touchy-feely’ word in a ‘professional’ blog, especially when colleagues showed slight derision. Semple’s final words were reassuring: “Love does have a place in business… Maybe we will realize that accepting love into the workplace reminds us of the original purpose of work – not to maximize shareholder value but to come together to do good things, to help each other and hopefully to make the world a better place!”

Book on Amazon:
Euan Semple’s web site:euansemple.com

Mar 12, 2012

Mobilize Loyalty before Mobile Payments


Mobile payment seems to be the hottest eCommerce category now. Google, PayPal and Square have massive mobile payment initiatives, along with many innovative start-ups like Dwolla. At SXSW, major mobile and credit card companies (AT&T, Verizon, Visa, MasterCard etc) just announced the Isis Mobile Wallet two days ago. 

However, as a consumer, I don’t understand 'what’s in it for me'.  The geek dream is to eliminate the 2-3 credit cards from your wallet and probably 10-seconds faster check-out. However, it’ll be 3 years (if not more) before every store I visit will work with my smartphone payment solution, which means I still have to carry these cards, even before we discuss if NFC is realistic or the inevitable privacy/ security concerns. Sure – it feels cool to walk into Starbucks and brandish (or tap) your phone to pay, but is that a real benefit? Moreover, the space is extremely competitive and fraught with deep conflicting self-interests.

On the other hand, carrying plastic loyalty cards is a real problem today and relatively far easier to solve. I have 15-20 plastic loyalty store cards, out of which I probably use 5-6 frequently. It’s annoying to carry all of them. If I decide to leave any of them home, miraculously I end up having to go to that store the same day! And to redeem any mail offer, retailers insist on carrying both the loyalty card and the paper coupon.

Loyalty is critical for repeat business (customer lifetime value) and hence, store profitability. Groupon has built a great customer acquisition tool that still offers no guarantees of repeat business, while even a marginally effective loyalty program can sway customers to choose store/ restaurant A over B. (Great article explaining why - ~20% of loyal customers account for ~80% of brand sales).

Hence, I am curious to find any mobile app that promises to solve this problem. I am not interested in the deals/ check-in apps (e.g., ShopKick, Foursquare etc), but want an app that reduces the plastic loyalty/ punch card clutter and also help me get the best offers at my favorite stores easily (without the ‘oh s**t’ feeling for having missed the discount after purchase). For every store loyalty program I transfer to mobile successfully, I can throw away one plastic card immediately and even go paperless (sustainability!) without waiting for all the stores adopting that application.

I have downloaded and played with many loyalty apps. All of them let you scan your plastic loyalty card and save it on your phone as a barcode/ image. It also works with some stores to send mobile offers or coupons to your phone. I like KeyRing App the most, as it’s extremely simple (detailed review) Another app is CardStar. They are never perfect, as scanners are not always designed to read from a smartphone (e.g., Mountain View Public Library). It could also be awkward - the PF Chang's waiter had to take my phone with the barcode image to give the discount. Never a good feeling to see your iPhone disappear into the kitchen!

For a mobile loyalty program to be effective, beyond being extremely easy to use (entry bar for a consumer mobile app), I think there are five requirements:
  • Integration with the retailer CRM system to correlate the loyalty data with the existing user profile & demographic information. I am not talking about social network integration, as it’s unclear to me why P&G expects me to tweet every Tide purchase at Costco.
  • Purchase history at line item level detail is the crown jewel data, but often buried in POS or order management systems. It is incredibly valuable combined with loyalty program data to determine my brand preferences, actual spend habits etc. 
  • Big Data analytics is where all the data above come to life producing relevant and targeted offers for me. I read stories about how retailers know all my secrets, but I have never seen a single major retailer (except Amazon) have any clue about what I like nor stop bombarding with me all the irrelevant mail promotions that usually go straight to recycling.
  • Loyalty program management is the ability to log in to the actual program to get e-bills, update information etc
  • An aggregator/ consolidator app that works with most retailers & brands. I cannot download and manage 20+ brand mobile apps.
 As I wrote in an earlier post (on real-time inventory feeds), connecting the new mobile app world and the ‘old’ enterprise system world is critical to drive value for consumers, as offline and online commerce are rapidly merging. Loyalty management is another great example.

Do you think mobile loyalty could be more useful than mobile payment?


Mar 5, 2012

SuccessFactors Jam for Social Enterprise


My colleague Prashanth Padmanabhan has been blogging about SuccessFactors Jam (former CubeTree) collaboration tool. In the spirit of ‘eating your own dogfood’, I started using the tool and here are some initial personal observations as an employee user.

Jam is free to sign up for at cubetree.com.  With your work email address, you are instantly in the internal company group – similar to Yammer. After playing around for some time - joining groups and creating groups, I felt this was the best enterprise collaboration tool I’ve used that solves many problems of earlier products. It’s extremely easy to share content (link, email, Twitter, blogs, discussions etc) and also build content through video.

 Social enterprise is often presented as an all-or-nothing word with all tools claiming to be everything for everyone, but the features of a tool need to be understood in the context of the specific problem you are trying to solve. In an earlier post, I talked about the behavioral differences between social in enterprise and consumer worlds, but I think there are three distinct classes of business problems that social tools can best solve in an enterprise: project-collaboration, ad hoc functional collaboration, and broad Q&A platform.

 Project-collaboration: is when a few (~<10) colleagues (whether same team or cross-functional) work together for ~2-6 months to complete a project. Everyone is motivated by the same project goals and if a tool is easy to use and helps them be more productive, reducing email clutter, it’ll be quickly adopted. In a small working group of peers, network effects and information overload are not major concerns.

Since the deliverable of most knowledge worker projects is a document (often Microsoft Office) – e.g., sales contract, decision presentation, white paper, RFP/ response, budget spreadsheet - document collaboration is critical for projects. Jam really shines here due to the unique document collaboration support in groups/ projects (private or company-public). Everyone can put comments in documents at the right place, instead of long email threads. The strong version management feature helps you discuss and converge quickly.

Ad hoc/ ongoing functional collaboration: happens when many people (100+) in one or more related functions (e.g., engineering, sales, finance) collaborate in that business context to get a specific task done as-needed, without confined to a well-defined project. Example - a new hire needs help with filing expenses or a sales person wants to understand the revenue recognition implications of a deal. This is a harder network problem than projects, as there’s value only if there are a minimum number of valuable participants. Moreover, many discussions might not be relevant, risking low-value information overload. To succeed, there should still be enough motivation/ self-interest for people to come back to the site – whether to contribute or listen/ ‘lurk’.

Coming from SuccessFactors, Jam has a strong focus on making collaboration in HCM talent management context extremely easy by integration with performance management, learning, recruiting, and onboarding processes. General purpose collaboration tools fail to establish a compelling ‘beachhead’ use case, but Jam has a strong advantage here.

Q&A platform across functions or the entire company: Examples are developer communities asking for architecture advice or sales searching for an expert product person for a demo.  SAP Community Network (SDN) has built such a great public platform. However, this is a hard problem for an internal social tool, due to the network building challenge and the ‘noise’/ irrelevant content, as the group size expands (1000’s in a large company). Safety becomes an issue as well. For example, if a customer service rep finds major problems in a product, or a sales person disagrees with the regional pricing strategy, asking for resolution openly becomes tricky. Moreover, contributors get limited short-term value, since intra-company reputation today has less direct career upside (unlike an external forum like SDN) and the motivation to come back and engage could diminish.

Hence, an additional useful feature could be a Google+ Circles-like filter to reduce the information overload. If I can segment incoming feeds or outgoing notifications by people - my team, org unit, topic-expert people etc -, I am much more likely to come back to monitor/ engage in those relevant sub-networks, beyond project-collaboration.

Enterprise collaboration is certainly different from consumer social networks. Finding the right tool and building an adoption strategy focused on the problem you are trying to solve is critical for mass adoption. SuccessFactors Jam gives the tools for you to identify the right social enterprise use case and solve with the right adoption strategy.

Detailed Jam overview (YouTube video)

Feb 25, 2012

Social Manifesto for Enterprise Finance Apps


Despite the title, this post is not about the ’99 percenters’ in the workplace revolting against the ‘1% Finance/ Wall Street’ types, but just an attempt to apply 'social/ consumerization’ buzzwords in a specific domain. A recent post by Josh Greenbaum rightly points out consumerization as the final peak for enterprise software and it's interesting to see how it applies to financials domain.

Why Finance? It’s not the most exciting area, but the most important domain for business. You can survive without a CRM app on your mobile, but you don’t exist as a business, if you don’t know how much money you are making or losing every month. Here are some personal thoughts partly based on discussions with customers in my former life as an ERP Financials product manager.

I believe consumerization means bringing consumer expectations to any software at work. There are probably four levels of consumerizing Finance, with increasing business value - discussed in detail:
  • Intuitive user experience for Finance professionals 
  •  Empowering the non-Finance managers & employees through financial insights 
  •  Rich Collaboration between Finance and non-Finance 
  •  Consumerizing/ redefining financial business processes 
Note: For this article, ‘Finance’ mostly refers to the controlling/ management accounting function, which has the biggest interaction with the the business, but could also broadly include all CFO functions such as financial accounting, treasury, corporate financial reporting, strategic planning, budgeting, forecasting etc.

Finance professional user experience: Applying the consumer software principles to simplify financial user experience is a no-brainer. However, it may be ‘necessary, but not sufficient', since the business impact for the company might be limited.

Finance is a highly specialized profession requiring unique skills and pragmatic temperament. Clearly, most of us will struggle to post a GL transaction in any enterprise finance application, but most of us cannot build a complex budget either. Unlike the Silicon Valley ‘Millennial’ stereotypes, graduates entering finance professions often do not mind mastering the software tools to get their admittedly complex job done. I was surprised to see the fresh hires by SAP customers not complaining about 'Facebook-like' during my first ERP Financials training in Newtown Square, PA. Of course, any financial management software does need user experience improvement (what doesn’t?), but it may not be the crux of consumerization.

Empowering Managers and Employees: The financial future of every company is built day-in and day-out by employees, first-line supervisors, and middle managers, but these are the most ‘disenfinanced’ (like disenfranchised?) in an organization. Finance spends a lot of time with the senior management, but due to bandwidth constraints, they only provide crumbs of information to line managers, often as a large PowerPoint data dump file at the end of a quarter, with limited 'last mile' of human interpretation. Most first-line supervisors do not understand its implications for their daily work. Finance software can serve these consumer-like employees by providing (probably mobile-first):
  • Personalized insights with ‘you at the center’ combining aggregated data and intelligent analytics (‘your 3 largest expenses were x, y, and z, and the 3 biggest spenders in your team are a, b, and c) 
  •  Contextualized information based on benchmarks against org/ unit (‘your region x profitability is x% lower than the average for similar functions’) rather than raw historical numbers
  • Intelligent interpretation based on data trends at 90% confidence (without 100% data) and inferences (e.g., ‘travel is up this month, probably because of the x event in Orlando’) 
  • Forward-looking guidance for actions based on exceptions (a quote: ‘a GPS, not a rear-view mirror’) –e.g., ‘at the current rate of spend, you will run out of 3rd party budget in 15 days’
Many of you will recognize these as similar to the consumer finance software like Mint.com or newer start-ups – e.g., HelloWallet
 
Collaboration between Finance and non-Finance: Finance departments are probably not the most collaborative, partly due to the regulatory implications of ‘chatter’ that could easily land the CFO in jail. However, the online collaboration tools can simplify the rich conversations between Finance and the business, instead of email ping-pong with excel attachments:
  • Business context aware and embedded in daily work (ask a question directly from the sales report ‘why is the profitability so low this quarter’)
  • Short-term project collaboration – e.g., preparing documents for the Quarterly Operations Review with the top management
  • Workflow in context of an event (not a perpetual stream or feed) – e.g., planning and approvals for the next unit Christmas party
(Not calling it 'social finance', as money is probably not meant to be shared freely!)

Consumerizing/ redefining finance business processes: does not mean all financial processes need to be revamped. Many old processes have been proven to work (e.g., double-entry book-keeping) and best left untouched. Many others are strictly regulated (e.g., financial statement production) and cannot be tinkered with, except introducing enabling technology (e.g., XBRL).

However, many processes that touch the lives of every business person in the company are highly outdated, while the software just automates ‘paperwork’. For example, traditional static budgeting processes are mostly top-down and based on last year’s actuals with a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ mindset. Managers spend a lot of time lobbying for budget or ‘horsetrading’ and are usually stuck in long approval battles, which are still not solved by ideas like ‘zero-based budgeting’. 

Consumerization means redefining processes from a ‘design thinking’ perspective putting the key ‘consumers of information’ at the center and using the company interest as the guiding principle, instead of rigid rules. Several other processes like travel management, marketing event planning, product portfolio planning, business case funding etc with heavy financial implications often operate in isolation, due to the high degree of unstructured interaction. Instead of automating these processes with software, ‘consumerizing’ them with the latest principles of personal context, collaboration, analytical insight etc have far more impact – will discuss some use cases in a later post.

Money is the lifeblood of any organization. Consumerizing finance software is probably not jazzy UIs alone, but is to look at the needs of every employee as a ‘consumer’ and incorporate ‘people-centric’ design principles. After all, corporations have people too!

Do you think Finance can be made better as a  'consumer' of Finance or a Finance professional?

Update (4/11/2012): Read the recently released CSFB research report 'Apps Revolution Manifesto'.  It's long, but well-researched and covers each enabling technology in depth.It has many interesting use cases for social, but was disappointing to see no finance use case at all.

Feb 15, 2012

SAP's Enterprise-to-Consumer App

SAP today launched its first consumer mobile app called ‘Recalls Plus’ (Ray Wang’s review here) It is a simple iPhone app (free on AppStore) to track consumer recalls and provide real-time alerts on selected categories and products.

I personally love the concept, as few apps better symbolize the essence of this blog title ‘Consumerizing Enterprise’! I knew the product was in the making for some time, but did not know any details. Here are some personal impressions as a consumer, after downloading and playing with the iPhone app for a while.

It’s a nifty app that does one thing well: track recalls and has an extremely simple user interface. Instead of signing up on various brand and government web sites and receiving a ton of emails on every recall, you can create a watch-list of products (including food, allergens) and set up a filter for alerts. It also gives you a few pre-defined categories, based on the kid’s age group and also lists all recent recall news. It is a clearly useful app for any family that is concerned about recalls (like we are).

The broader idea is to connect the enterprises (brands and retailers) to the end-consumers in the context of a key concern of most parents. The app could also be quite viral, giving parents a chance to easily share a recall alert on Facebook or Twitter to potentially interested friends. For enterprises, the app could ultimately be a channel to engage with the end consumers or at the minimum, learn a bit more about their preferences and usage.

I saw some questions on how SAP makes money. I don’t know if SAP is hoping to make tons of money with this app, especially from consumers directly. I suspect if it gets in the hands of many consumers and gives some more insights to its CPG customers, SAP might not be too disappointed. Moreover, almost every consumer app starts with a freemium approach. SAP already has a consumer employee application in the market (StreamWork) that has a freemium model, though I don’t know the future plans for the RecallsPlus product. If you would like to find out more, please contact Rishi Diwan, the product owner.

‘A journey of a thousand mile begins with a single step’ and this app is probably the first step of SAP into the consumer software world, where SAP has a stated ambitious goal to reach 1 Billion users by 2015.  I am sure SAP will need to learn a lot and reiterate quickly in this widely different world, as Rishi mentioned in the interview. But it’s a start and it’ll be exciting to see more cool apps from any software vendor connecting enterprises and consumers.

App available on iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/recalls-plus/id499200328 
App web site: http://www.recallsplus.com/ 

Feb 8, 2012

'Social Enterprise' and 'Consumer Social': 5 Behavioral Differences


Saw this funny cartoon in an otherwise serious (&excellent) article:

 
After nearly falling off my chair laughing, I felt like adding another box:
  
Social Media: "Social Enterprise emancipates individuals to be collaborative free agents building collective intelligence in the cloud" - 3 books and 10 keynotes later, they still haven’t caught on :-)



Don’t get me wrong. I am a big believer in Social Enterprise or Enterprise 2.0 (or the puzzling phrase 'Facebook for the Enterprise'), a concept heavily promoted by the likes of IBM, Salesforce.com, InformationWeek, Yammer etc. However, as a practitioner, I always felt there are some fundamental behavioral and structural differences between the ‘consumer social’ and the ‘work social’ worlds, even without getting into the universally understood challenges such as security, data privacy, tool features etc.

My perspective is as a passionate user of work collaboration technologies (before the social buzzword) and also as someone who has evangelized and tried to drive the adoption in every group and company (small to large) I worked for over the last 13 years. The results have been mostly mixed and let me share some patterns of challenges:

Lack of mutual self-interest: Real collaboration is through strong individual motivation and mutual self-interest, not by a corporate edict (‘thou shalt collaborate’). In your company, if people do not regularly make new connections without a pressing need, even over lunch, interaction without a concrete short-term reason is unlikely or not sustainable. Aligned self-interest is hard to establish without personal relationship and trust. Hence, social interaction might work for deep existing relationships, but not for new casual ones (or 'weak ties'), lowering the allure of ‘click and collaborate’.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs: Most people work to pay bills and the goal is to get the job done as quickly as possible. Work is at the lower levels of the Maslow's pyramid (safety/ employment), whereas in online social networks, people just want to ‘waste time’ building a connection and empathizing, in the esteem/ self-actualization levels. You may have a few good friends at work, but it’s not the same as wading through tons of status feed from relative strangers at work at 10pm.

Network effects: might be the biggest barrier to adoption. Metcalfe’s Law sounds great, but also means that the value kicks in only at critical mass. Otherwise, you go there once or twice, but have no reason to revisit and slowly forget or give up. There’s an interesting paradox – the smaller and specific the network is, the more valuable it is for the employee (self-interest and relevance at critical mass), but the greater and general purpose the network is,  the more valuable it is for the company (IT investments, streamlining, ROI etc),  making it challenging to merge the two motivations. There’s also a ‘chicken and egg’ problem in network, as it is hard to migrate everyone to a new tool, but also less valuable if everyone is not on the same tool. Facebook famously and brilliantly solved the network problem by going after college after college, giving exclusivity and relevance per each network, but it continues to be hard for enterprises, especially due to the challenge of reaching critical mass in multiple sub-networks.

Different online habits: People vary widely in their communication preferences (e.g., email vs. in-person) by personality, nationality, culture, age etc.  Most executives & business people prefer verbal communication, even if they claim to be 'social'. Many employees do not feel comfortable in openly debating complex issues electronically, for the (legitimate) fear of misinterpretation. You cannot stay anonymous in an internal network, raising the stakes. You have to be naïve or rationally risk-seeking (e.g., people in satellite offices) to engage in company-wide (or even org-wide) open discussion on sensitive topics. 

No ‘Ashton Kutcher’ prize: Every company already has one – its CEO. The charisma of people in an enterprise is mostly determined by the organizational structure rather than follower count or social activity. There’s a clear pecking order as to whose opinion is more important, even more in a hierarchical organization (like the Orwell quote: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others!”) Investing in internal social tools for increasing influence is hardly worth the effort, unlike the ‘people social’ world, where the Google VP in Egypt or grass-root Twitter activists could become instant celebrities. Clearly, flatter and democratic organizations will be the future norm, but it’ll take some time.

Does it mean Social Enterprise is a fad? Absolutely not. There are clearly select classes of enterprise business problems, cut out for social tools, I feel. Hope to discuss that in a later post.

Why do you think consumer social-like behavior does not easily translate to enterprise?

P.S  Is this ‘Facebook in the enterprise’?

Feb 2, 2012

Future of Retail: Why eBay's Milo is cooler than any mobile coupon apps


I think of shopping as a necessary evil and never believed in the eBay ‘shop victoriously’ slogan. Online shopping saves time, but some items need to be looked at (‘squeezing tomatoes’) or should be ‘returnable’. Amazon doesn’t help. Store web sites? Good luck finding anything useful like stock availability there and I hate shipping fees!

Enter eBay’s Milo.com. It is not a sexy app. It is a plain web site that lets you check real-time store inventory connecting with the back-ends of major retailers, but I think it points to the future of retail (according to eBay CEO John Donahoe), whether eBay or someone else succeeds there. Why:

Milo answers the key consumer question – is the item available in-stock across multiple retailers & stores at a good price (than just price alone), instead of the painful ordeal of going to each web site or physical store. Milo helps you decide whether a drive to Best Buy or Sears is easier than waiting for a package, even if 2 days from Amazon Prime.

Milo is not perfect. It works only for a few national chains and has many glitches. I don't think many people use it. It’s not a cutesy mobile app that bombards you with coupons or makes you feverishly run for offers or check-ins or announces your shopping skills to your friends. It is a start-up acquired by eBay in 2010, but interesting point here is demonstrating the value of tight real-time inventory check and availability-to-promise function across all stores and online. This establishes the consumer at the center of his multi-channel activities, without being segmented as mobile/ social/ web/ physical shopper, especially when mobile-to-web, web-to-store, mobile-to-store and even physical catalog-to-mobile-to-store flows are much more the norm.

In the last few years, many high profile mobile apps for shopping/ scanning/ pre-purchase promotions have emerged – ShopKick, AmazonPriceCheck, eBay’s RedLaser (which still needs to integrate better with Milo) etc and loyalty card/ mobile wallet/ payment apps from start-ups and behemoths alike. However, for physical goods, any app without a tight link to the back-end inventory, catalog and order management processes is only marginally useful at best, and embarrassment at worst (like the recent Best Buy fiasco) emulating the death march of Borders and Circuit City.

eCommerce is bound to explode, but still has huge disadvantages against brick-and-mortar stores for physical goods. Seamlessly integrated solutions connecting enterprise software (such as SAP) and consumer front-ends (mobile/ web) to offer multi-channel commerce are increasingly required to meet the new user expectations, merging online and offline commerce. As a curious consumer with enterprise software background, this is a fascinating convergence and I hope to discuss some observations in this blog and also learn from you!