As part of the Microstreams In Business project, I want to evaluate the leading 12 or 15 products that provide either a dedicated or integrated microstreaming (microblogging) solution for business use.
You can imagine a wide variety of approaches to doing this sort of analysis. In my case, however, I have rapidly down-selected to a three part approach to evaluating each of the tools:
- Positioning — In essence, this is a quick look at how the vendor positions its product. Is it integrated with other products of the company or partners, or is it a dedicated standalone offering? Is it targeted for specific industries or functions? Of course, all of this is taken with a grain of salt, since it is relatively unproven: it’s just an assertion by the vendor.
- Scenario-Based Evaluation — The second part of the analysis is based on several high-level scenarios that I am developing (see below), which are intended to cover a reasonable range of use cases that will demonstrate the breadth and depth of the offerings. The vendors will have a reasonable time — several weeks at least — to mock-up example implementations of the scenarios. I hope to have the opportunity to walk through these with representatives of the vendors companies, either face-to-face or remotely, and gathering screen shots for the final report. Vendors can make the scenarios as simple or as complex as they’d like, for example if a vendor wants to demonstrate special functionality, or integration with other tools.
- Cross Product Analysis and Segmentation — The third part of the analysis forms the second half of the research activity, which is a cross product analysis of the capabilities of the various products evaluated, and their segmentation into different niches. I anticipate that some products will naturally gravitate toward sales and marketing outreach, while others will be better suited for internal project coordination. My goal in this is not to develop a single list of products ordered from best to worst based on some hypothetical customer. On the contrary, my belief is that there are a wide variety of user profiles, and any given product may fit one or more well, but no product is likely to match the needs of all customers. Over the next few weeks I will also be developing a more detailed survey to try to establsih more clearly what features and functionality potential customers desire, and how they cluster.
High-Level Scenarios Of Use
There is a limit to the level of effort that we can expect the participating vendors to invest in this research, but I have devised a few scenarios with the hope that they will provide enough sunlight to grasp the capabilities of a very large and diverse group of participating vendor companies.
The scenarios are all centered on a fictitious international consulting company called AdjectiveNoun. I have sketched out three scenarios, and some capabilities that I am hoping to see in each.
AdjectiveNoun is involved in a consulting project for a client, Conglomerated Donuts, and needs to coordinate the project with internal and external developers, as well as the client’s various groups, such as marketing and engineering. As a project-within-the-project, the developers — both AdjectiveNoun staff and consultants — are building and managing software for CG.
¿ How are tasks, events, and deadlines supported in the tool ?
¿ How is a project represented ? Can there be sub projects ?
¿ What sort of visibility controls are provided ? What is the granularity of access?
¿ How are ‘external’ members of the project invited in ?
¿ What can be passed through the microstreams to project members ? Files ? Events ? Tasks ?
¿ How are ‘help desk’ and code development activities supported, if at all ? Native support, or integration with external tools, or just general coordination ?
¿ Is there some sort of ‘federation of identity’ supported ? How are AdjectiveNoun and Conglomerated Donuts implemented in the platform ?
Business Development Scenario
AdjectiveNoun has an ongoing marketing and sales program, involving community outreach, networking, and webinars, involving a national marketing team and a regional sales force. The community outreach involves crowdsourcing activities — getting current customers and partners to help with AdjectiveNoun’s goals to improve their services and brainstorm new services as well.
¿ What support does the tool provided for step-by-step, status-based workflows like marketing campaigns and sales ?
¿ Is there any integration with email, such as invitations to non-users and activities like webinars ?
¿ What support is there for outreach marketing, like surveys or users forums ?
¿ How can crowdsourcing be supported, like a program with existing customers to help improve AdjectiveNoun’s outsourced help desk line of business ?
¿ How can results be rolled up, like predictions about quarterly sales results ? Are there tables, charts, or other displays ?
¿ Can external information streams — like RSS feeds and alerts — be integrated into the microstream, and associated with business activities like sales calls or client follow-up ?
¿ Are sales tools like presentations and white papers accessible in the stream ?
Human Resource Scenario
AdjectiveNoun’s HR department has very aggressive staffing and training goals, and coordinates this with managers and project leads across the US and European operations. The company is committed to working to make sure that staff are presented with a variety of opportunities for growth, including international assignments, management training, and specific technical training courses. The company has developed an extensive suite of online video and text training resources.
¿ What capabilities are their to support recruiting ? Can specific email addresses be connected with an HR thread, so that candidates can send in resumes to an HR stream ?
¿ How would posting of job and training opportunities be handled ?
¿ Do users have extensive profiles, including options for a portfolio of skills, including company certifications ?
¿ How would the end-to-end handling of a candidate for a specific job run ? Likewise, the formation of a new marketing group in Europe, and posting the various jobs for that ?
These scenarios are provisional at the moment, although I have discussed them with four or five companies to date. I would expect to gather additional feedback in the next few weeks, and to solidify the scenarios after the upcoming Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston in early June. Companies would then have as long as a month to develop mock-ups indicating how such scenarios might be supported. (I expect that this will involve dummy accounts, and scenario-driven play-acting of the sort most vendors undertake for their marketing efforts anyway. In fact, existing sandbox examples could be used and modified to suit.)
My goal is to have a face-to-face or remote meeting with all the vendors by the end of July at the latest, so that in late July and August I can complete the analysis and write the report. This would lead to a late August or early September availability of the final report.