TIBCO’s Tibbr: Inching Towards Great.

Few organizations providing enterprise social software have a process and integration DNA, as does TIBCO Software. The last of the independents in the enterprise integration game, TIBCO supports some of the most gnarly systems integration efforts at some of the best known organizations in the world. For these reasons, I went to TUCON 2011, TIBCO’s Annual Customer Conference to see what customers have to say about Tibbr, TIBCOs enterprise social software offering.

For starters, if you need a primer on what Tibbr set out to do, the best place to start is this post by my esteemed industry colleague, Ross Dawson.

My main take aways….

Injecting Context into the Collaboration workflow: First off, I do have a bias when it comes to different strands of collaboration and I lean towards the kind the calls for injecting the needed business context that makes collaboration purposeful. I’ve been writing about this since 2009 and increasingly, scores of examples exist that show tepid or even failed social/collaboration uptake at large organizations due to the fact that context around collaboration was just not apparent.

Tibbr has drawn on its integration heritage to ensure that meaningful events can be drawn in from an organizations BI, CRM and other Business Applications that provide the needed context that often invokes collaboration in the first place. As much as we might tend to think that the business systems market has consolidated around SAP and Oracle, any one that has worked in large organizations knows that scores of other third party and custom tools also hold critical data and content. When you consider customer and partner systems that you don’t control, this gets even more complex. TIBCO provides integration points to well over 140 apps as Ross alludes to in his post and so the context pool that Tibbr has to draw from is a mammoth kitchen sink of apps that big industry relies on, today. That, along with its ability to let end users follow people and subjects is powerful in theory and if messaged and executed correctly, powerful in practice as well.  The product design and road-map reflects this in spades.

Customer Traction: MGM, KPMG and Macy’s, amongst others, is a solid list of reference-able client names that any social software company would grab with two hands. What’s particularity impressive to me is that these customers trusted a plumber with the interior design of their living room. Honestly, I would have a hard time doing that, unless the story convincingly re-set my expectations on why the underlying infrastructure and the collaboration experience complement each other. And TIBCO seem to be convincing customers that this trifecta of people, applications and subjects, matters. KPMG, the giant services firm is looking to connect SharePoint, Work-flow Applications, SAP Practice Management and Outlook in a way where Tibbr provides the single command and control center. CargoSmart, a shipping concern that helps over 22,000 customers streamline its shipping operations and lower costs uses Tibbr to manage thousands of exceptions by invoking collaboration between the best minds. My kind of social business, if you know what I mean.

Net, net, the product itself is drawing on TIBCOs overall strengths to differentiate its offering in a very crowded enterprise social software market, and big customers are giving them a shot at powering their collaborative needs.

 

More needs to be done…

To be honest, I hold TIBCO to a high standard when it comes to an enterprise social offering because I believe the opportunity for them can be unique. A few reasons why:

- TIBCO knows more about the intricacies of getting the right information to the right people at the right time, and from the right systems, than most technology providers.

- Every conceivable business activity of an organization is completed by some combination of right process on one hand, and unstructured conversation, knowledge leverage and content access on the other. Via its integration and BPM products, TIBCO also has a clear appreciation for how much time the average employee spends in structured work-flow and process activities. By extension, it also aware of the white spaces that exist outside of that workflow, and the daily scramble to find people and information outside of those work-flows to effectively complete the a given business activity.

- At a holistic, market level, a clear appreciation of the needs and expectations of those organizations that decide on technology investment based on hard numbers and who wouldn’t be likely consider ‘becoming social,…..just ’cause’.

- And finally, at a industry level, TIBCO has a firm understanding of the market pressures faced in massive industries such as Financial Services, Telco and Healthcare – some of its largest verticals.

Against this backdrop, I was hoping to see more contextual collaboration customer examples and market messaging at a product level that was tied to better business outcomes that TIBCO knows so much about.  My sense was that there was heavier focus on some of the more general purpose productivity metrics that we’ve seen for years and that ultimately will be hard to use as proof points that a larger target market will be willing to bite into.

As Dennis Howlett and I discussed in this JD-OD.com video, the vision as laid out by Vivek is solid and the product itself has the goods. Together this reflects TIBCOs legacy in solving the most gnarly business problems for some of the most mission critical systems on the planet. TIBCO just needs to ensure that on the ground, they stay focused on solving business tasks with the careful injection of collaboration where it makes sense. That is the language the even the most pig headed social software skeptic will at least understand. And given its legacy and what Tibbr can deliver, TIBCO has the currency to credibly spark this conversation.

Collaboration isn’t all about process of course and the team has a solid focus (and a growing stable of experts) on community building to help customers get off the ground. But between product vision and associated product chops at one end, and community uptake at the last mile of execution sits the translation of the business benefit of collaboration that TIBCO needs to communicate and help its customers succeed with. Those business problems that live across squeaky supply chains, daily customer exception handling, not so repeatable order to cash processes, cobwebbed BI data that mostly goes unused, and the like. That’s where a significantly large untapped market sits that includes both organizations that attempted collaboration at a grass roots level but never took it seriously, or the uninitiated that never got the a-ha moment to begin with.

Closing thoughts….

One of the things I’ve repeatedly said in the context of why we need engagement platform layered across our silo’d organizations goes something like this:

For the last 2 decades we’ve spent ungodly amounts of time and even more money trying to integrate systems. Its expensive in a time when we don’t have discretionary dollars. It can be slow in the face of changing latency expectations of our customers on how we engage and collaborate to build products and service them. And it’s rigid in that its an absolute design in a world where our information, exceptions, data and content consumption needs are becoming extremely fluid and unpredictable. And it certainly shows its age in a world that’s going to look a lot more like the Two Second Advantage that CEO Vivek Ranadive describes.

Why do I hold TIBCO to a higher standard? Its because I truly believe that the world of integration, as we’ve known it, is going to be turned on its head over the next decade. It’s going to slowly move from today’s hard coded systems integration down in the bowels of the enterprise stack, to also include people integration at the last mile where instead of relying only on IT to perfectly integrate systems, we’re going to find that integrating and connecting people can be a more practical, cost efficient and fluid design. One where answers can flow from a) peoples brains and b) their knowledge of where critical data and insight lies across our fragmented global systems footprint. And few organizations can agnostically appreciate how big this problem and opportunity is as TIBCO can. And so the opportunity to lead this coming business design change is their’s to lose.

Its important to keep in mind that Tibbr in its current incarnation is barely 9 months young. But first impressions are lasting impressions and I hope that TIBCO gets this right as customers experience the product for the first time. The corporate vision is on point. Unlike many we’ve seen, Tibbr the product isn’t another example of vaporware that’s miles away from growing into its stated vision. Now they need to get the follow-through right so customers understand where Tibbr is a slam dunk enabler of hard business efficiency. Most social software vendors have caught on to this en masse – many of the big platforms are melding process, data, third party information and even bi-directional updates into and out of their social streams via connectors, APIs and AppStores.

So the time is now to communicate the business activity benefit of collaboration and compete on that distinct yet for-a-limited-time-only advantage.

 

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For some of the best content on the event, take a look at what Sandy KemsleyVinnie Mirchandani and this discussion between Vivek Ranadive, Dennis Howlett and Vinnie.

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