A praise for an interoperable social information system

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Interoperable social IS

The collaborative digital environment is getting more and more complex. The belief in a unique platform able to cover anyone’s needs is collapsing. Either because a lack of governance or because a one size fits all platform will never excel at any specific use case, the myth of the single platform is dead. Being forced to acknowledge  that we’re going to live in multifaceted digital environment, the only solution is to make all the applications interoperable. As a matter of fact, the first to pay the price of this scattered environment are employees who’re losing time and focus to bridge the gap between all the tools they use. They suffer a terrible user experience.

Some players from the french enterprise social software gathered to launch an initiative about the Interoperable social Information System . I recently discussed this matter with two leaders of this movement : Alain Garnier from Jamespot and Arnaud Rayrole from Lecko.

 

Bertrand Duperrin : You just started an initiative about IS interoperability. What does it consisy of and why ?

Alain Garnier : It’s our response to a need we’re feeling on the market. After having believed that a single social platform could do the job, businesses are starting to admit that they actually have many ones. Each of them responding to specific needs and use cases.

Starting from this acknowledgement, to favor the adoption of new use cases and to help businesses achieve their collaborative and social transformation it’s time to work on interoperability and make all these social continents work together.

That’s why we started this initiative that gathers vendors who want this interoperability to work.

Arnaud Rayrole : Actually,if we want social use cases to be adopted we must fight against the application silos that are the consequence of having several platforms. We have to convince businesses that there is an alternative to the “one single platform doing everything” model sold by vendors.

Today businesses must be able to get an interoperable composit IT, should it only be because the existing IS is socializing and that social applications will have to connect to it if we want to bring value as close to business needs as possible.

BD : How is the initiative doing today ? Who’s in ?

AG : We’re four vendors already and Lecko, a consultancy business known for its engagement in this field, also joined us. We’re committed to both an approach and workable elements. The four vendors are Bluekiwi, Knowledge Plaza, Jalios  and Jamespot. 

BD : That’s a very frenchy alliance. Did you try to involve foreign players, did you talk with the “big ones” ?

AG : No. What we wanted was a fast access to decision makers to go fast and become operational. As a matter of fact we need these vendor’s leadership to go and talk to their own customers to find ideas to leverage and concrete things to do without needing a 2-years discussion.

The “Big Ones” as you call them, namely Microsoft, IBM or Jive are in the US, in another ecosystem and involving them would have taken too much time. So we decided to focus on our agility.

AR : It’s also a matter of pragmatism. Before we gather vendors we must gather large french organizations who will confirm this need for interoperability and put it at work. Once these large buyers will put interoperability in their RFIs, vendors will be forced to move and large ones will eventually join us.

BD : It’s obvious that without clients mature enough to mandate it vendors won’t move.

AR : That’s the purpose of the manifesto. We serve the purpose of businesses because it’s their interest to have an interoperable social IS, not only from a legal standpoint but from a technical one. We’re confident that we’ll make business first question vendors and then force them to move forward.

BD : We agree on the strategy and the theory. Alain, you mentioned concrete initiatives, what about them ?

AG : Actually we don’t want to say “things must me interoperable” and wait for things to happen. We want to make it work.

We’re planning to launch a hackhaton with the involved vendors to work on some use case we’ve identified to show the benefits in a workable demo.

We decided to start with a broad use case what will help to trigger many other ones afterwards. It will be about cross-platforms sharing : I’m in a social system A (ESN, CRM, business application) and as a “connector” if want to share a content I find interesting in a system B. It’s about making things easier for the key link in  the collaborative process : the user.

BD : You’re using the word “interoperability”.  In my opinion it goes far beyond sharing and involves actionability, what means triggering an action in a platform from another one. It often involves business applications. Where are you standing regarding to this point ?

AG : The scenario you’re mentioning can be seen as a broader case of what I said, by sharing content and the buttons that trigger actions, a little bit like in a player. In this case the content embeds the actionable elements.

Technically speaking we’ll rely on a very strong standard, OAuth, that was first designed for authentication but is now used all across the web to make it interoperable.

BD :It reminds me of some old dreams ! In 2010/2011 IBM introduced “Project Vulcan” with many things based on open standards to power what they call the “embedded experience” that made all these use cases possible. For example being able to trigger actions into your CRM or ERP from an alert received in an email or the activity stream of the social network without having to switch apps. In the end I saw very few businesses try to make the most of this potential and work on cross-applications use cases. It was feasible from a technology standpoint but businesses did not follow that way. It’s one more evidence that it starts with educating the client but don’t you fear that history will repeat ?

AG : If I remember well, it was based on Open Social. I had a look at Open Social at this time and, in my opinion, Oauth is to Open Social what XML is to SGML It comes from the web, it’s workable. Having applications embedded in other applications is something we experience every day on the web but never in the enterprise. It’s mainly a consequence of the standards that are used.

We’re in 2016, not in 2010 anymore. We have more simple standards and use cases that exist on the web so I trust some users to understand these use cases.

BD : Another point is that clients are more mature

AG : That’s sure.

AR : There’s a real difference if we compare with 2010. At this time everybody believed that it was possible ot have a single enterprise social network in the enterprise. That’s not the case anymore. businesses are open to multi-applications frameworks

AG : Businesses now understand that they need to optimize with the right software at the right time instead of providing a one-size-fits-all solution.

BD :But real work is still about spending one’s time doing copy/paste from an application to another. Sometimes end users spend a lot of time entering the same information in several apps that don’t communicate.

AG : Conscious information sharing between two application is like dynamic copy/paste and that’s a real use case, a real need.

We need first to prove this then others will join.

BD : Talking about this, even if it’s not enough we see more and more applications interoperating, sharing data through APIs. But One plugs a tool B in a tool A, someone else a tool C in the tool B, someone else a C in the B and so one. Don’t we risk to be in the situation where no one knows where information can go, what is a real governance and architecture issue. If no one knows where data can go and check their integrity this may lead to huge problems.

AG : Should it happen it would mean that our initiative was successful. A first world problem. Of course this is something that will surely happen in a second or third phase but today’s problem is silos.

BD : Arnaud, social IS urbanization is something you’ve been advocating for a long time. Do you see any change ? Are businesses aware from the start that all theses applications will have to talk one with each other ?

AR : businesses are starting to acknowledge that they won’t build the networked organization based on a single platform but are still not able to turn it into a blueprint. But we should also consider what vendors offers them to do things properly. Many businesses ask me “what should I put in my RFI to avoid huge interoperability and reversibility costs”.

AG : All these topics, urbanization, blueprint, interoperability ect. used to be managed from the inside of the company. Today we’re witnessing a slow but irreversible move towards Saas with systems designed by architects who deliver the same model all over the world. Systems heterogeneity will decrease as urbanization become’s a vendor’s issue.

BD : Many vendors offer such integrations with marketplaces, appstores…provided you’re in their own ecosystem. They basically say “I connect to anything provided it’s in my world”.

AG : That won’t last. It’s always the same. Vendors start doing their stuff alone, then they see the limits of the model, then they become intermediates, brokers. In the “greater web”, Zappier is becoming a trusted party.

AR : Yes but i the Greater Web you also have Facebook that took everything, owns people’s social capital and forces anyone to joins its ecosystem. We’re in the situation Bertrand depicts : partners are not on equal terms. One takes all the value and decides what he shares with others. That’s what enterprise social leaders are trying to do but it will happen at the expense of businesses.

AG :This dissymmetry is inherent to the liberal nature of the market  that considers that there’s no limit to the player’s size.

BD : Alain, you were talking about trusted parties. Should interoperability be the job of vendors or of a trusted party that guarantees that everything is done well, reversible and that data integrity is enforced ? Going further, since the platforms economy is a trendy topic, could we expect – for the better or the worse – that a new kind of player can emerge and occupy the space between businesses and vendors ? He would by licences / services from vendors and repackage them in an interoperable way for businesses.

AG : There will be a tipping point where businesses will understand they’re too dependant from some vendors. They will ask a trusted part to at least ensure the backup of some data. But I’m not sure a wall will form…

BD : But who should play this role ? The one in charge can start with backup and compliance and end saying “I’m uberizing the market, I’m going to sell your software to your clients”.

AR : That’s why I dont see this trusted part as an economic player. I rather see businesses keeping ownership of their social capital and outsource the way other apps feed it. Moreover I consider more Zappier as an orchestrator that proposes integration use cases than as a trusted part.

AG : Arnaud, you’re right from an ethical standpoint but from a business one I agree with Bertrand. At a given point, with businesses are in a competition and cost reduction approach, someone will say “I’ll care of your social capital for free” and will make money by playing the role of a broket between vendors and businesses. We must keep in mind that businesses are getting rid of all the regalian sides of IS management. A new player can say “I’m managing your social capital, you deal with me and I’ll manage the Microsoft, IBM, Salesforce and co because I have the connectors).

BD : With a critical mass of clients he can even do bulk purchase of licences and steal the client relationship from vendors.

AG : I fully agree on the cycle and the logics but we’re far from it. In 15 years maybe. It’s a good idea to start a business on in 7 years.

BD : Before we leave, what could we wish you ? That some big vendors join you ? That business application vendors join ?

AR : Yes of course…but above all that many business join us. The more business and use cases we have, the more the rest will follow.

Photo Credit : Application by Kirill Wright via Shutterstock