Tag Archive for Workplace

Microsoft’s Acquisition of Yammer Tips the Workplace Into a New Era of User-Centric Productivity

Four hours ago the Wall Street Journal reported that Yammer agreed to sell itself to Microsoft for $1.2B.  It is a big deal (dollars) and it is a big deal (shift in technology and impact on the SharePoint community and all business information workers).  In this article I’ll give you my take on: a) why it is good business for Microsoft to do it,  b) why I believe it signals a significant change in the future of applications, the workplace, and end-user productivity, and, c) how we and other ISV’s will adapt and where it will take us.

First off, Yammer is a social networking company – many call it Facebook for the enterprise.  At the core of it is the Activity Stream.  People post updates, people follow people, and it all flows into their Activity Stream.  The stream becomes a single place to go for the user to see their social/collaborative activity.  Ostensibly, it is to be used for business purposes, yet, in reality it is at this time really a communications tool vs. a work tool.

On the surface, Microsoft bought Yammer for two good business reasons…

First, SharePoint was being disrupted at the low end of collaboration.  In 2003, SharePoint was the easy to understand, easy way to share content.  Over the releases it got a little better with collaboration.  But, since 2008, the outside vendors like Yammer started to disrupt SharePoint with an even easier way to share information.  Yammer, Jive, Box.net, Alfresco, etc. etc.  They started to eat market-share and mind-share at the base of SharePoint – those organizations that only use it for the low end work.  SharePoint/Office 2013 would have made the “social” feature set of SharePoint better, but, the independent social ISV’s were way ahead and unfettered by enterprise baggage.  Microsoft couldn’t afford to lag on this one.

Second, Yammer has a user based business model.  The SharePoint market is saturated.  Where will the next billion come from?  Office 365 is the big bet.  But, you need to own the disruptive engine to drive users to it.  Hence, Yammer.  $5/user/month – $60/year.  Just add this feature to the Office 365 package and you justify the price and get your next $1 or $2B in revenue.  And, since it is separate and hosted, you can get the $1-$2B without cannibalizing your on-premise enterprise business. (Note: You’ll see how this will work when I talk about what CorasWorks will do in this context.)

Okay, so what does this signal in terms of the future of technology and the user…

If you read the 100’s of articles to appear tomorrow you will read lots and lots about social this and social that.  As a technologist for enterprise business, this just isn’t that compelling.  Most social-social software is just about the conversation and following people and their conversations.  In its current incarnation, it doesn’t add much business value. Yet, it is super hot – you can sell a company with $30m in revenue for more than $1b.  But, it doesn’t really add much to the bottom line of enterprises, yet…

The significance is the impact on the business end-user experience over the next five years.  What you are witnessing is the tipping point to a new user-centric standard.  For 30 years, when we speak of a user interface we are talking about the interface to a single application – be it Word, Excel, Salesforce, Siebel, SAP, mainframe, any business app.  Now, take a visual look at Yammer.  What if that social activity stream was instead a business activity stream?  What if all of the work you do that you need to stay on top of flowed to you in one place and you could easily collaborate with others?  What if you could start to manage your work across applications from one place?  You, the user, would start to have control and life would be a lot easier than schlepping from app to app.  The user would have a new great experience.  Throw in real time communications technologies and you have the next generation user experience.

But, there is even more business value to be had.  I wrote about this user centric scenario in an article Engage the User with the Cim Activity Stream last year.  CorasWorks has an activity stream but it is a business activity stream vs. a social activity stream.  You follow work vs. following people. With ours all activity is around the work as part of our Work Management platform – programs, tasks, requests, knowledge content, policies, projects, opportunities, task orders, items in processes, etc.  So, we are a bit different.  The reason is that our core business is enabling organizations to build all of those business apps on SharePoint that add tangible business value without coding.  We simply saw the user experience of an activity stream, like the UI of Yammer, as a great way to bring all of those apps together and put work at the fingertips of the user.

So, the Microsoft purchase of Yammer signals a shift to user-centric activity stream experience today, which, over the next few years will extend to encompass more and more of users’ core business activity.  Thus, the real business user interface will move from many app UI’s to their activity stream.


Why only Microsoft should have moved on it?

Over the last year, a problem in this beautiful future started to occur – many ISV’s (independent software vendors) started adding activity streams.  If the purpose is a single user experience, then, how will it be good if every vendor had their own activity stream.  We had ours on SharePoint.  Newsgator has a social – social activity stream on SharePoint.  So, we federated ours into theirs. I wrote about the need to do this more than a year ago. We also began the process to federate into Yammer, Salesforce’s Chatter, Jive, Appian, and SharePoint in Office 2013, etc.  Believe me this is costly to support, but, a commitment to cross-federation was the only way to make it work for the users unless…

Viola, now Microsoft buys Yammer.  To us, this means that we can now federate to Microsoft Yammer and push business activity into that stream.  Will others ISV”s follow?  I believe so.  What you’ll start to see is the flow starting to go into this new UI.

Why Microsoft?  Because it is up to them to set the industry standard.  They are uniquely positioned to do so in mass as they have done many times before.  I think on this one, they can and will do it.  We the mass will accept them because there should only be one.  While we hate that it makes life easier in situations where you need a single standard.


Where CorasWorks stands in all this?

The base of SharePoint users is really just starting to move in mass up the stack from low end collaboration into work management apps – our sweet spot. We have always pushed the business value of an integrated workplace of inter-connected applications on SharePoint.  We’ve set the standard for configured apps vs. custom coded that accelerates the ability for customers to create the apps they need and drive tangible business value.  We’ve set the standard for cross app integration on SharePoint.    We added the business activity stream to drive that integration and end-user convenience further.

Over the last couple of years we worked to trumpet the move to this new user-centric approach to work.  We have a small trumpet compared to Microsoft.  I see Microsoft’s move accelerating the realization of organizations on how all of this comes together to serve the user which will drive more apps onto the platform to feed the experience.  We will do our part to federate and help drive the movement. My belief is that we are moving into a new era of a virtuous cycle that will simply make it easier and more productive for people to work better together.  It is a good day.


Stay tuned…


Large Federal Contractor Drives Customer Intimacy and Value with Dedicated Program Workplaces on SharePoint

Our customer is one of the top 10 largest Federal Government Contractors.  Being so big you’d think that they would act it.  But, when it comes to contracts, performance, and customer value they have found a way to act small, local and drive very tangible customer value.  They are accomplishing this by creating dedicated Program Workplaces using CorasWorks on SharePoint.  In this article, I’ll tell the story of one $150M contract/program and how this has become a successful model that is spreading. By the end of 2012 this approach will cover 5 contracts/programs worth more than $1 Billion dollars.  And, as you’ll see, it is a story of organic innovation at the edge of the business, where the customer value is created.


The Challenge

Our customer won a contract worth $150 million over 5 years.  The contract is for services for a program for a Civilian Agency that involves delivering on a schedule of similar yet differing “projects”.  The user base is about 500 people with 200 of them being employees from our customer and the rest being customer and partner employees.  Our customer believed that the best results could be achieved by enabling their employees, partners, and Agency customer participants to work together in a dedicated, seamless, program work environment.


The Solution

A year ago the contract started.  Our customers’ Program Manager decided to invest in their Program Workplace out of their own pocket.  They deployed an extranet infrastructure based upon “vanilla” SharePoint.  They then used CorasWorks to build out their Program Workplace.  It took just a month to get the environment up, built and being actively used.

Now, this is not some passive intranet or a skinny extranet portal.  It is a dynamic, integrated, seamless, interactive, role-based workplace for everyone involved with the mission of the program.  Here is what this means:

- it is a dedicated environment for employees, partners, and customers working on the program

- it is role based – the Agency customer people have their work consoles, the functional managers have their work consoles, and the contributors have their consoles and places to go to get the work done.  They are enabled to see, act and contribute from wherever they work.  They see only the information and activities that they have rights to see.

- everything is there – it is a self-contained environment.  All of the information, reporting, processes, collaboration that relates to the program are there.

- it is about the mission and the work – it is a workplace dedicated to delivering the projects on schedule.  Effectively, the projects are managed through a structured set of stages with a final result.  All of the users have their roles and participate in the work.  Any supporting processes are part of the environment

- it evolves – effectively, the workplace gets better every month.  They learn with each project, they make changes in their work processes and the workplace, they get better.

Each project of this program is mission critical.  A project either succeeds or fails.  Everyone is accountable.  By having this workplace, the users share accountability.  And, in the last year they have succeeded with each project.


What makes this Workplace Different from an Extranet

Most SharePoint extranets are designed and built as appendages of an Intranet.  They are skinny – a place customers can go to maybe see reports and access information.  What happens is that the extranet is separate from the intranet where the internal people work.  Thus, the work and information environment have lots of seams (holes, gaps, barriers, cracks).  Lots of information, productivity and accountability thus gets lost – it is a seamy way to work with others.

With their dedicated Program Workplace, our customer has changed the game.  They designed it top down from the perspective of the whole team to accomplish the mission of the program.  Thus, everyone works equally together.  The result is that the work and information flow from person to person and task to task instantly and seamlessly.

Technically, the environment has more than 200 SharePoint sites.  But, unlike most SharePoint environments this fact is transparent and irrelevant to the users.  They do not have to navigate to the sites to see what is going on, contribute or act.  The majority of the sites just store information and establish security barriers.  Instead, the users see, contribute and act from their role-based consoles.  The information, work to be done, and results come to them.  You don’t prepare reports, you just do your work – the system takes care of the rest.  It is role-based and seamless. Imagine, a workplace that makes it easy and convenient to be productive.

What is truly unique here is that this customer invested from their own budget to bring up a dedicated environment, that they own, and that has become part of their service offering for this contract.  Plain and simply, it is a better solution for driving customer value and achieving contract success – breakthrough stuff.


A Cost Neutral Solution

Federal Contractors, particularly with service driven contracts, have to worry about costs – margins are tight.  Initially, this contractor made the investment up front – a minor miracle.  They were clear in their objective and how to get there.  They had planned that they would get change requests from their users.  They did.  So, in addition to the normal contract task orders, the Agency customer has been issuing change requests as task orders to enhance and extend the workplace.  In this first year they received more revenue in change request task orders then they had projected for the 5 year period.  This revenue has enabled the original team to stay on the project to maintain and enhance the environment and has made the environment a cost neutral part of their offering.


The Solution Becomes a Business Model – Organically

This Program Workplace has been very successful.  The approach is being adopted for other contracts/programs across our customer…

For instance, our customer has another contract with the same agency.  They are also a user of CorasWorks but have been supporting the customer via their internal Division Intranet.  The agency has now “guided” the Program Manager to move out of the Intranet and into an extranet workplace – to provide them the benefits that their other agency comrades have on the other contract.  In fact, they are consolidating the workplace of that program into the infrastructure of the first program.

In a new contract with a different Agency to be awarded this year, our customer is including a CorasWorks-based Program Workplace as part of their bid.  This contract will be about 3 times larger than the other two mentioned above.  They intend to leverage the same Program Workplace overall design with the primary difference being the workstreams and processes.

And there is more…  There are two other contracts/programs within the same customer, with different Federal Agencies, that are also following a customer-intimate, dedicated, Program Workplace model based upon CorasWorks on SharePoint. They have been running for years. The fascinating part is that until a couple of months ago these different programs and their managers did not know what the other groups were doing. CorasWorks has now connected them up.


Innovation Happening at the Edge of the Company

The miracle of it all…

This approach was not explicitly driven by Corporate or even the Divisions.  It emerged at the edge of the company.  This very large Federal Contractor has somehow magically created a culture that has enabled the drive towards customer intimacy on these contracts.  It empowered the local program managers to truly do what is best for the customer and the mission of their contract.  It delegated accountability.  Now that they know about each other, they are starting to share their designs, approaches, practices, even application templates.  So, without explicit corporate guidance, funds, or systems, there is an evolving common approach, to drive their customers’ success, that is driving the delivery of more than $1 Billion of business.  This is pure goodness.

In our increasingly hyper-competitive world, customer intimacy that delivers exceptional results, is a (if not the) key differentiator – particularly in services based sectors. The fact that this is happening organically in a very big company, sets a new bar for competition in Federal Contracting – one that other organizations large and small should take notice of.



$0 to $250 Million in 3 Years–Federal Contractor leverages CorasWorks on SharePoint to Support Growth, Productivity and Integration

Planning began in 2009.  Through a series of acquisitions and aggressive organic growth this Federal Contractor has gone from startup to a $250 Million/year business with 1,100 employees in 3 years. Their story is a testament to solid planning and knowing how you will execute before the tornado comes.  It has been very cool to be part of this ride from the initial planning stages.  Here is their story…


The Planning

In 2009, the CEO set very aggressive goals to build a big business quickly. They began planning.  A key part of the plan was the infrastructure, systems, and processes to enable very rapid growth, keep costs down, and drive productivity.  They would have no time for experimentation – this was about execution on a business strategy.  The target was to establish an agile infrastructure that could grow to support a $500m business.

Building this infrastructure fell on their seasoned CIO and a few key IT experts who had done it before.  In particular, they had helped build a Federal Government Contractor business before and leveraged a model of CorasWorks on SharePoint to deliver what they needed.  But, this time, the IT team could do it better and leverage new tools, methods, and capabilities.  To succeed, they had to be better.

They planned to rent hosted services online and build out their initial production environment to be operational after the first acquisition  Their objective was to create a unified, seamless, virtual work environment where employees, customers, and partners could all work together.   The key is that they understood how to manage the security of the environment while also eliminating the seams of the workplace (organizationally and technically).

The plan was that as they acquired companies and contracts these would be integrated into the environment – kind of like a workplace vortex.  As an example of the detail of planning, early on they decided that the environment would fully support the use of tablets (iPads primarily) for users to be able to see, contribute, and access information when working on premise or outside.


The Beginning of Execution

After the acquisitions started they migrated the initial hosted environment into a Private Cloud environment that they had custom designed.  This environment uses VMware with massive storage and fantastic connectivity.

At the core is a new Intranet running on SharePoint.  But, theirs goes far beyond the norm.  In effect, it is a virtual, unified, seamless work environment – their Federal Contractor workplace.  It is powered by CorasWorks that provides the user experience and the glue to enable people to see, contribute, and act from wherever they work.  This environment is a blend of information and all of the various work processes that are required by a Federal Contractor.  Powered by CorasWorks and some other secret sauce their workplace is integrated with their external ERP and CRM (from Deltek) and additional enterprise systems.


Growth and Integration

There are two types of growth: acquisition and internal growth.

Each new company acquired gets merged into the work environment.  This contractor does not leave them as separate operating units.   Instead it merges the people, information, and processes into their organization.  It acquires companies that will be a fit for their integrated model and expand their competencies as they grow.  There is one company, with one culture, and one system.  No redundancies, no loss of productivity to organization or system seams – a focus on win and deliver business and driving customer value.

They are also aggressive with contract acquisition.  For instance, in the last 2 years, they have added four new IDIQs as a Prime Contractor.  These new vehicles are managed using CorasWorks as part of their work environment.  They manage the task orders, proposal responses, teaming partners, all the way through to delivery and overall program management.



They started with 1-2 Terabytes of active SharePoint data.  In 2012, they completed the upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010 in a month without major issues.   Again, this was possible because of comprehensive planning back in 2009 that included the design of an architecture and inclusion of vendors that support this type of evolution.  (CW Technote: When they started they built their workplace using CorasWorks v11 running on SP2007.  When they migrated to SP2010 they did not even have to install a new version of CorasWorks, since the same v11 runs on both SP2007 and SP2010).

Their work environment evolves every month.  They continue to not just get bigger, but, better.  For instance, they are building a new data-smart system leveraging InfoPath forms and workflow to streamline and simplify operations.    Most information now becomes PDFs, including forms in processes.  This drives a level of consistency that is unusual which supports productivity.


My Take

This customer has done an exceptional job at building their business and providing an optimized environment to support growth, execution and evolution.  The fact that they had done the job before is critical.  Mind you, while they used CorasWorks on SharePoint before, it was in the days of SharePoint 2003, circa 2005.  Their current approach is much more holistic, integrated, current (using the latest and greatest) and just plan cooler (imagine their exec meetings where everyone is on an iPad with instant access to shared information).

As to the overall business model and workplace approach – they’ve set another new bar for competition.  For a mid-size federal contractor with a consistent set of service-based contracts, this is an optimal approach.  Instead of lots of separate siloes of work and organizations, they’ve shown how you can do it all in an integrated workplace run within your dynamic private cloud.  The way that they mapped their agile infrastructure, systems, and policies to their business strategy is just plain stellar.  And, they are setup to continually innovate – which they do.  The result is accelerated revenue growth, lower costs, and increased productivity.  It is a model that is working and that appears will take them to their objective of $500m in revenue within 5 years.