Three blind men and an elephant
It has been a while since our industry saw anything like Salesforce.com’s just announced Chatter. Technically, we’ve not seen anything like it period. True there are aspects of Chatter that are already reflected in other products on the market but I am speaking about the novelty of the proposed application that was announced yesterday at Dreamforce.
Chatter is a pure innovation; you can tell that it is because most of the people I hang with – myself included — are trying to figure out if it is fish or fowl. I am writing this in advance of a keynote this morning that will, no doubt, add some heat to the discussion but I wonder how much light.
I am not ready to pronounce anything about Chatter and since the product won’t be out for at least three, and possibly closer to six, months I am reserving judgment for now. Nonetheless, some initial impressions are in order, otherwise why am I here?
Chatter is part of what Salesforce has dubbed its fourth cloud and although they describe it as a collaboration tool, it is really all about intelligence, hence the name. I doubt that Chatter will ever be able to capture bin Laden but, aimed at the internal mechanism of a company’s business processes, it ought to provide some lubrication to those processes.
I think lubrication is a good – though scarsely the only — way to look at Chatter too. Chatter offers the promise of providing greater transparency to a company’s inner workings, which should result in better decisions and fewer surprises. For instance, Chatter makes each data item an active, or perhaps it is better stated as non-passive, element in a company’s decision-making. In the forecasting realm, a deal’s size, completion date and other attributes will now be active in that, if and as they change, they could make their new statuses known to others.
So, a sales manager might subscribe to a sales person’s whole forecast or just the big deal that is supposed to close this quarter. A change with an immediate alert will give the representative, the manager and others in the organization more time to react to the news and possibly affect the outcome. Currently, an organization that reports its forecast once a month might lose four weeks on the follow up but Chatter would make the response more or less instantaneous.
Chatter is not the only product capable of this feat. In this scenario I can see other products doing similar things, for example Right90, which specializes in forecasting. Other scenarios will bring other products to mind and that is one spot where the debate rises over how revolutionary Chatter really is. Some? A lot? Not at all?
Then there’s the question about whether or not this is a good thing. The answer? Sure. Maybe. I dunno. When you peel the onion on this you discover how nuanced Chatter is. There are dials and settings to deal with that prevent a subscriber to data’s changes from being overwhelmed by background noise – don’t show me all deals, just the ones that will pay off my mortgage, for example.
Chatter and noise are two well-chosen terms from true intelligence gathering and they certainly deserve to be part of the conversation. It is interesting to me that Chatter’s focus is internal decision-making and not the vast ocean of data that exists outside a company’s walls. The decision about focus makes the task at hand far more manageable and signals the importance of reducing the siloed nature of information that is still alive and well decades after that term was first coined.
By its nature, information will always be siloed – there is too much to know and too many people who may need to know it for information to be perfectly democratized. But Chatter does something close to solving the problem by making data active rather than passive and automatically subscribable rather than purely reportable. It is that subscribability (to coin a phrase) embedded in a company’s information processing milieu that is so intriguing and potentially powerful and it is the lubrication that I alluded to at the beginning.
It is also one aspect of what makes this announcement something that we haven’t seen in a while. It is close to a pure innovation, the kind of thing that makes people like me scratch our heads or like the three blind men and the elephant, want to run our hands all over it and make tentative first declarations about what it is. If this kind of innovation is back, does this mean the recession is really over? I hope so.