Yesterday I spoke to thousands of Cisco’s employees. That itself was a pretty cool experience. In front of me was a live audience along with several video cameras. To my side was one of their telepresence systems. They had people all over the world who I could talk with and ask questions of. You’ve probably seen their latest advertisments. In experience of using one of these systems you forget that the people you are talking with are thousands of miles away. Telepresence systems are helping Cisco become far smaller, intimate, etc. Plus it’s saving them millions in travel costs, several of the executives from Cisco have told me. But I digress.
At one point during the presentation someone asked me what I’d do if I were trying to apply Web 2.0 techniques inside an Enterprise. I answered “every day I’d try to come up with some way to avoid using email.” I almost said it half in jest but was a little surprised when a sizeable cheer came from the audience.
I had hit the Enterprise soft spot, er, the Enterprise Email Crisis (can we have a bailout for our email bankruptcy?).
There is a lot of hatred of email inside Enterprises, I’ve learned. I knew that already, because of my experience working at Microsoft. But since then I forgot that big companies generate far too much wasteful email. We can go into why it’s wasteful later, but since we’re in the middle of the economic crisis, I’ve been trying to find companies that are strong enough to survive any storm.
I am looking for companies that solve REAL pain in enterprises and that deliver real benefits to bottom lines and productivity. It’s going to be those companies that will survive lean times, just like during the last tech downturn it was the new blogging companies that blew away the far more expensive and complicated content management companies.
How about Zoho, Mindtouch, and Socialtext as candidates? Yeah, I know there’s plenty of others, but these three have already told me about real deployments. Zoho just announced a deal with GE. Socialtext, last week, told me about a few deployments that they asked me not to talk about in public. And yesterday Mindtouch’s CEO, Aaron Fulkerson visited me with a list of companies that are using its services, including Intel, Mozilla, U.S. Army, and Microsoft.
Fulkerson is one heck of a committed dude. He has tattooed his company’s logo onto his leg. Now THAT is taking an “I won’t fail no matter what” attitude to the end of the field. You should listen to what he’s seeing in the marketplace and how he’s differentiating himself from bigger competitors. It’s very interesting to me that he sees open source and APIs as being a way to weather the upcoming economic storm. Interesting too that the company is bootstrapped with friends and family money, so they won’t feel the pressure to show short-term value like they would feel if they were VC funded.
In a separate video (embedded below) he shows me his service and gives me a taste of why his service reduces the email load.
So, why is email the Enterprise Soft Spot?
A couple of reasons.
1. When I left my job at NEC after working there for a year I left with 1.5 gigs of email. Neither I nor the company had access to that even though there was TONS of valuable data in there for my replacement. Things like shortcuts in SAP to find important inventory data for our group. Or important people at other companies to know. Getting that data into someplace where other employees can get to it is still way too hard, even when I worked at Microsoft with really cool Sharepoint servers all over the place.
2. The “n*n” problem. Let’s say you have to produce a press release that 10 people have to be involved in. Either to help produce it, or approve it. So, you fire up Microsoft Word. Type a while. Save. Then email it to the 10 people. Problem is, what if each of those 10 need to make a change to the document? They open up the document, reply all, and send around their revisions. All of a sudden there are 100 emails in the system and a huge revision problem for someone to solve.
Mindtouch and Socialtext and Zoho (and many others) are all solving those two problems (A couple of weeks ago I got a demo of Socialtext’s new offerings too).
It’ll be interesting to see how these new companies will swoop in and try to close deals over the next year. If they are successful, these will be among the best positioned to lead us out of the economic troubles. If they aren’t, it’ll be interesting to watch what they did wrong and/or whether bigger companies like Microsoft, with its Sharepoint suite, effectively responded to this new market need clearly is unsatisfied so far.
What do you think? Are you seeing the same Enterprise soft spot? Who is best positioned in your mind to solve the email crisis in big companies?