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Cloudforce London: Will call centres join the Chatter-ing classes?

11th Dec 2009
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Collaboration was the main topic of the crowd's chatter at's CloudForce2 event in London last week as CEO Marc Benioff showed off the firm's latest offering to a UK audience for the first time.

Chatter, due to be released next year, is a platform for collaboration that closely resembles both Twitter and Facebook. It has Web 2.0 features including live status updates, targeted groups, event scheduling and task scheduling, but all within what is promised to be enterprise-level security and business functionality.

“We do CRM for the enterprise, but things are changing,” said Benioff. “Chatter is a very powerful idea in enterprise computing. The feed keeps you in touch with the business, and gives you the ability to know the latest events now,. And there is the real privacy and security you need. We’d like to think we’re getting towards a new CRM: collaboration relationship management.”

Chatter first got an airing at the Dreamforce global customer gathering in San Francisco last month where it was well received by the audience. The same seemed to be true in London, although some audience members did question aspects of the pricing model, specifically the straight substitution of a $ for a £ sign between San Francisco and London. For all that, certain flagship customers at the event in London could clearly see the potential of the new offering.

A hot topic

This may not be that surprising as has tapped into a hot topic. “The melding of social media and CRM is a hot topic and makes the release of Chatter timely,” reckoned Aphordite Brinsmead of research house Ovum. “Enterprises are constantly looking to use social networking in the business environment, and Chatter offers a way to do this. It is currently undetermined whether Chatter is more than a glorified content management system, but it is clear that employees need better collaboration tools and that social networking, like Cloud Computing, is here to stay.”

So it's an offering that will make organisations pay attention to the sales pitch. But there will also be barriers to adoption in the way, warned Brinsmead.  “Enterprises will face challenges adopting Chatter,,” she noted. “They already have issues with limiting the time employees spend on social networks. Chatter potentially adds another outlet for staff to waste time and could be misused.”

But the key concern will be managing and controlling access to information. “The solution allows administrators to assign feeds and updates as private or public for certain user groups, increasing their workload and training needs,” said Brinsmead. “Enterprises may find it difficult to track information that employees should have access to, particularly in the contact centre where there is often high staff turnover and sensitive customer information.

“Although Chatter will be free for current users, the real value in collaboration tools is inclusivity. Topic experts and back-office staff need access to participate. clearly wants to expand into the rest of the enterprise, but its provisional price of $50 per user per month seems high, particularly as enterprises' current priorities are around cost savings. However, pricing will likely come down before release.”

It seems likely that the main route to success for Chatter will be the integration of the technology into other applications or offerings. Indeed Jeremy Roche, CEO of FinancialForce – a spin off from accounting software giant Coda which was built on's platform  - spoke of his enthusiasm to get Chatter integrated with his firm's offering.

Other Chatter targets

Bidsmead can see other applications for Chatter such as being deployed to resolve complex queries where employees with specific knowledge are needed. “Agents and managers can rate each other on their areas of expertise and then be contacted if this subject area matches that of an open case,” she suggested.

But she had doubts that Chatter will make a big noise in the contact centre space as yet, noting that the demonstrations provided by were all sales-centric in nature. This may lead to some interesting rivalry, she suggested. “ may face 'co-opetition' from Unified Communication (UC) vendors, if they add presence to Chatter as suggested by,” she sugegsted. “At present Chatter doesn't integrate with the voice channel as UC does. Given that voice is still the most important channel for contact center operations, this will need to be addressed before we see strong uptake of Chatter in the contact center.

AMR Research – now being acquired by Gartner – sees the collaboration message as the strongest selling point for the new offering. “E-mail is not a collaboration platform,” noted analyst Bruce Richardson. “Because I sent you an e-mail asking for help or requesting that you perform a specific activity or set of tasks, that doesn’t guarantee that you’re even going to read my message. That’s not collaboration. In the old days that would be called “shifting the monkey.

“If Marc Benioff is right about Chatter adoption, I’ll bet that a large percentage of internal e-mails will shift from Outlook to his new cloud offering. The ease of using Facebook and Twitter will make it a preferred collaboration platform compared to SharePoint, and an alternative to dead intranet sites. This could easily result in a tighter relationship with Google Apps … and possibly IBM’s Lotus group, too. I hope Marc’s budgeted for a lot of new storage.”

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