As the Chatter marketing machine rolls into action, is there really a role for this latest incarnation of instant messaging in business?
Salesforce.com might not exactly be betting the farm on its Chatter collaboration Cloud offering, but it's certainly the hottest topic inside the CRM company at the moment.
Chatter is a real-time enterprise social collaboration application and platform. Salesforce.com has made Chatter available in private beta with more than 5,000 customers over the last five months to rave reviews.
Last week the firm announced that more than 10,000 of its customers have gone live on the generally available release of Chatter in the first week of its availability. "We've never seen this kind of excitement around a product release before," said Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO, Salesforce.com. "The rapid adoption of Chatter is simply amazing. Salesforce Chatter is the most exciting thing I've worked on in my career. Delivering Chatter is a seminal moment and one that marks the arrival of Cloud 2."
Salesforce.com partners are also hyped up about the new offering. Cloud accounting firm FinancialForce.com's Summer '10 release includes a Chatter-powered inter-departmental collaboration engine. The firm says that this will enable customers to benefit from collaboration around business processes like order to cash, which dissolve inter-departmental boundaries that hinder the running of an effective business. It should also allow more frequent and effective collaboration around sales opportunities, customer accounts and service issues in order to achieve best pricing and payment structures for big deals or avoid costly payment delays and disputes.
"Our customers will be the first to benefit from the collaborative business processes available with Summer '10," said Jeremy Roche, president and CEO of FinancialForce.com. "We have combined the latest Cloud accounting technology with the ability for finance and other departments to collaborate more effectively."
But is there really a role for this latest incarnation of instant messaging in business? Some remain unsure over its benefits, others have suggested that there are gaps in its functionality, while some cheekier sources who believe it brings nothing new to the table have referred to it as a pig in lipstick.
Instant messaging with an audit trail?
When Chatter was first revealed, Salesforce.com's EVP of international enterprise sales Lindsey Armstrong suggested that it was something of a paradigm shift that might appeal to the likes of the finance professional who has resisted such technology due to the lack of a compliance-friendly audit trail.
"Actually I see it as the opposite of IM. I see this as IM with an audit trail," she said. "Let's face it, that's why people use IM – there is no security, no audit trail. You use it and you close it down. It's one way for some firms to get around Sarbanes Oxley. But this drags IM back into the security and audit trail domain. I strongly believe this is a way of systemising IM."
Flash forward nine months and leading US analyst firm Nucleus Research has emerged as a major supporter of the new offering as a serious tool for businesses. "As individuals have recognised the value of wall posts, updates, and tweets to reduce the time spent searching out events and groups and querying friends about their activities, many have considered how similar technology could help in the work environment," it notes in a new report 'An initial look at the business value of Chatter'.
"Salesforce.com Chatter enables users to stay on top of company events by subscribing to different streams of information such as changes in people, documents, opportunities, accounts, and cases. Like Twitter, Chatter enables users to choose which people to follow, which documents matter, and which deals and cases matter to them so they can receive real-time updates – and, hopefully, use that information to make better business decisions. Chatter enables users to go beyond just tracking a deal in a pipeline; instead, it pushes event-driven information to them.
"Chatter isn’t just for deals and cases, however: using a set of APIs, developers can enable third-party applications to push relevant data to business consumers of that data. Thus consumers of information have one source that aggregates and delivers information, rather than having to search for updates, and they can focus their time and efforts on the events and work at hand rather than struggling to stay abreast of all events that impact their work. Just as RSS and Twitter feeds enable consumers to manage the growing volume of information and communication by delivering items of most information in a timely manner, Chatter can enable employees to manage information overload by having the most relevant information come to them."
A world beyond CRM?
The research firm found that most early adopters of Chatter were perhaps inevitably existing Salesforce.com customers that were looking for ways to supplement existing modes of communication like email, phone, and instant messaging that often surround account activity, sales, and support cases, but argues that there is a world beyond CRM for the offering.
Nucleus notes that the likely overall impact of Chatter on management visibility will vary from organisation to organisation and that it's still early days. But the firm identifies a number of initial benefits that have emerged from early adopters, such as managers being alerted about potential issues much quicker than they would have expected to be previously.
The report cites the example of a CIO following his company’s account executives in North America who picks up on a chat about a new opportunity ― and the company’s CIO was a close associate. With that knowledge, he was able to drive an introduction for his company’s account executive to the CIO and accelerate the sales opportunity. Another example cited is the case of a sales manager following a significant opportunity who gets informed that the sales stage had gone back a step and the close date had been pushed back. His immediate assistance helped drive the deal forward to close.
Potential future benefits envisaged by early users relate to the groups feature which enables users to follow groups so that anyone who’s interested in a particular product or offering can just sign up to follow that group enabling the sales team to leverage that for competitive information. Nucleus also found that many users are also expanding their Chatter network beyond traditional CRM functions to enable other departments to follow and comment on their colleagues’ activities. One example cited is a company using Chatter to inform others of events they would be attending, so interested colleagues could chime in with questions they had about the event while another company’s product development team posted updates on product revision and delivery dates so sales and marketing would be up to date on the latest information without having to ask.
The research firm concludes: "Chatter and other similar push technologies have the potential to change the enterprise application use model from a query-dominant one to a push dominant one. Although push technology has been available for a long time, users’ limited acceptance of the technology, as well as integration and security challenges, have limited its adoption in the enterprise. Now that much of the existing and future workforce is well-versed in push information models on the consumer side, Salesforce.com has an opportunity to deliver greater visibility and productivity through Chatter.
"Key to broad success beyond sales and customer service will be the cost-effective use cases of extending Chatter usage rights to the broader organisation and developers’ ability and motivation to Chatter-enable other third-party applications. Given the volume of information users must process to successfully do their jobs, the Chatter push model (provided it can be integrated, secure, and broadly usable beyond just CRM) can deliver significant benefit."
So what are your thoughts? Are you convinced by Nucleus' findings or do you think that Chatter is nothing new? Share your opinions with the community.