Data integration software and services provider Informatica boasts a heavy-hitting roster of customers, including 84 of the Fortune 100 companies and government agencies in 20 countries. About two years ago, the company decided to create collaborative environments where its impressive array of users--as well as developers and architects--could gather to discuss technologies and share ideas. Informatica has set up online communities for users of individual products and for local user groups by deploying collaboration technology from Jive Software.
In a recent interview with FierceCIO, Informatica CIO Tony Young discussed the value that these collaboration tools have brought the company and its customers, as well as the challenges that the technology presents.
FCIO: What was the impetus for deploying collaboration tools at Informatica?
Young: About two years ago someone in the IT organization went to our chief marketing officer and said we need to evolve from a portal strategy to a social strategy.
FCIO: What kind of results have you seen since setting up collaborative communities for your customers?
Young: Our support portal has now evolved into a support community. Our unique visitors on our community sites have grown astronomically. Sixty percent come back once a day, and 85 percent come back once a week. It's such a different experience from what you have with a portal.
In the consumer world, you might have used My Yahoo, and it's a great destination, but once you find what you want, you leave. With a community, people come and engage with each other. That's the kind of engagement we want with our customers. People can come, share, post and create the vibrant environment in which they want to participate.
FCIO: Do you have any plans for deploying collaboration tools internally?
Young: This quarter, we're launching our internal communities with one of our larger internal organizations, professional services, which is a distributed organization. Our products are complex, and there is a lot of distributed, discrete knowledge. The internal community is probably analogous to a combination of a Facebook page and LinkedIn. They will be able to create collaborative groups and discussion forums. At some point, they will be able to dynamically share some of the products with customers by inviting them in.
Ultimately, our goal is to roll this out to the entire enterprise. Then the next step is to have internal/external collaboration--the ability to form internal/external private groups. We could dynamically create a community where we could have scheduled events, and we could have the documents available there. Another opportunity is what we call secret communities, which you have to be invited to join.
FCIO: Are there any downsides to these kinds of collaboration venues?
Young: I don't want you to think this is all a panacea. One of the big questions we grapple with is, where does Jive start and stop, where does SharePoint start and stop, and where does Salesforce start and stop? What is the ideal collaboration strategy to enable your employees and make the experience seamless for them?
Salesforce has a product called Chatter, where a sales rep can do posts, almost like Facebook posts. They also have a document repository, where you can find documents, and you can stitch together presentations pretty easily. Within Jive you can also do posts, and with SharePoint you can do some of the document collaboration. The challenge you run into is that you would love for a sales rep to just go to Salesforce to do their job, but the problem is that you have the rest of the company [using other tools]. If other people want to engage in this collaboration, how do I enable this without having to buy Salesforce licenses for everyone?
There is no great model for all that. Each vendor is going to raise its hand and say, "I am the answer." The Jive folks are pretty committed to working with other technologies, like SharePoint and Salesforce. I think they realize they need to have a strategy to play nice with everyone else.
FCIO: What new challenges do you anticipate once you begin deploying collaboration tools internally?
Young: When you put something out on the Web, there are no instructions on how to use external Web sites. You just kind of get there and you figure it out. People just opt in. When you do this internally, we can bring in the technology and make it easier to use. It's only valuable internally if you get the vast majority of people participating. How are we going to create that mindshare?
The thing you have to realize is that you don't just enable this one time and walk away. It's a program. You have to continuously go out and monitor usage. This is one where we'll run a pilot first, and if the pilot is successful we'll promote that success.
FCIO: Do you foresee the death of email?
Young: I don't think it's going to die, I just think its use case is going to evolve over time. It will become point-to-point communication with latency. For many kids nowadays, in their world email is a secondary or tertiary form of communication. But if you're so entrenched in email, it's going to be really hard to pull out of.