Earlier this week I attended the UK launch event for just another Twitter style microblogging tool for the enterprise like Chatter or Yammer or Signals inside SocialText. This one’s called tibbr. Some people would have been underwhelmed and said “so what?”, but I got excited – I can see some huge potential here, and I’d argue that every enterprise should be taking a serious look at this product. Let me try and explain.
It’s from TIBCO, which is hardly a particularly well known, sexy or significant name in the IT world. They are pretty big though – they are a US company (NASDAQ:TIBX) who have been around since 1997 and formed out of Teknekron who started back in 1983 (with a product called The Information Bus, which is where TIB comes from). They have grown to have offices in 40 countries and provide over 4,000 customers with tools for business process management, SOA, and application integration – crucially important middleware that connects things together in the background for big companies. They might be very well known to the IT guys, but fairly invisible to the rest of the business. That could all change now they’ve launched tibbr.
Now I’m a firm believer that team collaboration through microblogging (or microsharing as some call it) is the way all business applications should be heading. I often talk about enterprise 2.0, which is all about the use of emergent social media tools inside business (although that social word can frighten senior management – the subject of an upcoming post). This is about moving away from being trapped inside your inbox, sharing documents and files by email, which means that as soon as they are sent you are out of control with multiple copies and “who’s got the latest version?”. To avoid that we use things like blogs to support conversations around an idea, or wikis to collate, develop and share information, people profiles to help you find the expertise within an organisation that you need to do your job, or microblogging tools like Twitter and Yammer for more efficient team communication. These tools can definitely help. They take a data centric approach to finding people and sharing knowledge. Up to this point companies have implemented combinations of solutions, often from several suppliers, which worked disconnected, in parallel or asynchronously with the conventional business processes of the organization. They work better than what we had before, which was often no system at all, or often something based around an Excel spreadsheet, but we could be doing more. I got excited when Salesforce Chatter came along, because that provided a family of collaboration tools on the same platform as the business system that could be easily integrated with the standard applications, as well as integrating with any new processes you might need to create on their Force.com development environment. For some companies where the Salesforce’s application suite and available partner products are a good match, this will provide a good fit, but not every company will want to change all of their systems to this one company solution. Salesforce just missed a big opportunity when they released a free version of Chatter. If they planned to turn it in to a proper platform, that might really mean something, but actually all they’ve created is another alternative to Yammer and the others. This is where TIBCO’s approach is different.
What they’ve done with tibbr is both straightforward in terms of concept and user interface, but very sophisticated in terms of the foundations upon which it is built. They’ve got 25 years of real world experience integrating enterprise applications and business processes, and that’s what tibbr makes use of. It sits like a business oriented Twitter or Facebook “hub” over the top of all of a company’s systems, taking feeds from in house business applications from SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Saleforce and others, as well feeds from external social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, or also from external news and blog feeds that might be relevant for the company’s personnel. They have APIs for configuring further feeds and apps, but the crucial factor is that they have the security and policy management in place so that this data can be properly surfaced and managed in the controlled and secure way that an enterprise needs.
So if you want to find people to work with on a particular topic or subject, you can search the people directory and find who has the right knowledge or expertise (and by the way, tibbr uses Active Directory so you can connect with existing directories). You can follow people, like you would with Twitter or Facebook, but you can also filter what you see – maybe you’re not interested in their personal stuff, but if they say anything about finance, you need to know. You can organize yourselves in to teams and groups that might be public or private. The company would set up a hierarchical directory of subjects that people can subscribe to, but tibbr also allows the same kind of search of all data, so I can pick up on any subject, name or word that gets mentioned in the information stream. I can chose to follow everything on a whole topic, or maybe I’m only interested in a few of the sub-topics. TIBCO are trying to address the problem of signal to noise ratio with this filtering approach. All of this new collaboration data might just add to the information overload, but if I can filter things properly I’ll be able to discover just what I want to see, and get alerted on topics that are important to me. Depending on the subject’s importance, my alerts can be real time, at a certain time of day, or collected in a daily digest. Some companies will want to control the subject taxonomy, others will let the community create a folksonomy, or maybe they’ll do a bit of both. The tool allows you the control.
That’s all great for collaboration inside the organisation but I mentioned Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. The marketing departments of big companies are already monitoring the Twittersphere for product mentions or customer service issues. Plenty of the employees already use Facebook. Some of them will be doing their business networking on LinkedIn, and joining external groups that will help them network or do their jobs. tibbr recognizes that trend by bridging those in to the collaboration solution too. An external search of Twitter can provide an alert, or you can link out to Facebook and LinkedIn groups.
Pricing for the platform starts at $12/user/month, but goes down from there with volume discounts. That might seem like a significant cost compared to the Yammers and free web 2.0 products, but the integration that comes with tibbr takes this to a new level of value for an enterprise. Existing software suppliers like SAP, Oracle and others are watching what Salesforce has done, or are working on microblogging products themselves. However, most larger companies have a very mixed environment. TIBCO’s opportunity comes from their agnostic approach to applications. They’ve got 25 years experience of linking to most of the technology stuff that a big corporation uses. They can provide a collaboration layer that is easy to use for everyone, but which is like a symbiotic plant with roots growing across the enterprise in to all of the existing applications, along with the ability to reach out and connect to more.
So I have to say I’m impressed with the platform, and I believe most larger organizations should consider it seriously. I’m particularly interested in how they might take the product down to small and medium businesses. If they could get the pricing and the partnerships right for that level, there is a huge opportunity there for TIBCO too.