Connectbeam: The Corporate Game Changer
Date: Wednesday , July 02, 2008
We live in a world of unprecedented changes, increasing global competitiveness, and the very real threat of commoditization. Hence, Innovation is mandatory to continue in the game and Innovation is the best way to win. Innovation is not a separate, discrete activity but the duty of everyone in a leadership position to bring it as a total corporate strategy and as an organizational culture.
This is how, authors, A. G. Lafley, CEO, P&G and Ram Charan have written in their powerful book ‘GAME CHANGER’ while talking about how Innovation is directly correlated to collective intelligence of people in an organization to increase productivity. In today’s corporate world, it's natural for people to collaborate and share ideas and unlock the collective intelligence, even when no one requires them to do so. These informal social networks, working on mutual self-interest can unleash creativity and mobilize collective expertise across the organization. But is it possible in the era of globalization, how to bring in the collective intelligence of thousands of globally placed employees of an organization to drive it to new heights?
Connectbeam, a Mountain View, California based provider of enterprise social software applications, is leading the charge in this area. Thanks to the new avatar of the Internet, web 2.0 and social computing for creating new ‘villages’ every day for linking up like-minded people to talk and do things. Now, Innovative products designed by Connectbeam, leveraging some of the lessons and learnings of social media in the consumer space, are being adopted by corporations to unleash a level of employee collaboration, and creation and sharing of ideas that has never been seen before.
People use social computing to connect to each other. But connecting for the purpose of collective intelligence development is not an easy task within an enterprise. Web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis are not for everyone inside an organization, resulting in information that is often left trapped inside these ‘point’ application silos. Though these were getting adopted in the enterprises, they could not win mass adoption due to these limitations. Most employees have neither the time nor the inclination to write blog entries. For internal use, most enterprises found the collaborative authoring, organization and versioning capabilities of wikis more useful than the personal publishing of blogs.
But soon even wikis witnessed very slow adoption rate. As for the end users, an application must be complimentary enough to work with existing IT infrastructure – so that it does not disrupt their day-to-day workflow. ConnectBeam recognized the potential of Universal Social Bookmarking and Tagging as the effective solution that did not suffer from these symptoms. Puneet Gupta, Founder and CEO, Connectbeam says, “We found that adoption rates of blogs and wikis were too low, and we looked to understand the reasons behind this slow adoption. We zeroed in on two key reasons when looking at the enterprise user. First, there was a steep learning curve for users with both of these technologies, and second, users did not really want yet another destination to go to, to do their work. We felt that Social Bookmarking and Tagging could leap past these limiting symptoms, and deliver an even more powerful collective intelligent store of user generated content. ” Because employees tag documents or share bookmarks, a collective intelligent map of ‘what was useful to whom, and in what context’, can be built. “Further, we could keep track of the people of tagged information whereby the system would dynamically keep track of employee expertise, sorting into groups those who know a lot about a particular topic,” he adds.
A Handshake with the Past
We all know how to bookmark our favorite websites or information on the Web. The function of how to bookmark a web page is as old as the Web browser itself. Thus, leading users to the concept of Social Bookmarking and Tagging is not as much a leap as is introducing the concepts of wikis and blogs. Social Bookmarking presents a strong handshake to the past for the user, and incrementally adding value through new features presents a seamless path for users to navigate and to adopt this technology. By adding the ‘social’ element to this well understood concept of bookmarking, Connectbeam leads people down the path of expertise and people discovery, and provides the ability for employees to build a professional social network of colleagues whose interests and skills complement their own work and projects.
Why traditional (non social) software falls short?
Most of mid to large enterprises today have some flavor of an Enterprise Search solution installed. These solutions are good at crawling a company’s intranet and building a massive index, and raking it based on when a document or web page was last linked to. While this approach works well in the consumer Internet space, it fails miserably when applied to content inside a company, because links do not get refreshed as often. Consequently, in an enterprise, an employee ends up spending vast amount of time searching for information and does not know when to stop, as the content presented via these search tools have not attributes of Context and Quality. So, how can his search for information be made easier and more productive?
Connectbeam’s idea of Universal Social Bookmarking and Tagging provides a way for content to have the attributes of Context and Quality, and be ranked on the basis of human touch points (what was useful to whom), rather than some random ‘page-link’ based algorithm. Using Connectbeam’s technology, bookmarks and tags applied to any content by an employee of an organization can be made available to anybody within the organization who is searching for similar information, no matter where that person is, but is connected by the Internet or enterprise intranet. Simply put, once the user bookmarks some content and tags it under his name, he gets a LinkedIn (A professional network) like connection between the content and him, which is then accessible by his colleagues. With each tag, the system uses standard directory technology to identify and create profiles of employees who create these bookmarks.
Pretty soon, a collective intelligent data repository develops organically inside the enterprise, that leads to users discovering highly relevant and specific information related to their search, and other users inside their organization whose prior and active work they can benefit from. Hence, “This also quickly becomes an effective tool to connect with knowledgeable colleagues on demand,” states Gupta.
In addition, by deeply integrating its Universal Bookmarking and Tagging framework into existing corporate IT infrastructure and applications, example, enterprise search, portals, Email, SFA applications, corporate directory services, and more, Connectbeam does not require a behavior change from its users to interact with application and to experience its benefits. ConnectBeam’s system works with several popular enterprise search engines, including those from Google, Microsoft, and others.
Let’s take a look at an example of how it actually works. For example, if anyone requires competitive information about the subject ‘X’ inside their organization, by typing ‘X’ on company’s intranet search will often result in thousands of search results. However, with Connectbeam, it will also show the user related tags and related users, in relation to this search keyword in the same search results page. Now, if the user clicks on any one of the related users, he or she will see a social graph and profile of this person reflecting why this person showed up as a related user to the search keyword. The social graph shows the related users list of bookmarks, tags, and shared communities, and provides a way for both of them to interact with each other.
Connectbeam’s core application is called as Spotlight. The architecture of its technology is designed in such a way that it enables people and information within the organization to connect by aggregating the social metadata that is generated naturally by using the web into a single, centralized repository that everyone in the company can access and use. The beauty of the product is that, even if the user tags their content either in blogs, wiki or any other commercial or home grown Enterprise 2.0 application, the tags and associated metadata gets deposited in the central repository, where intelligent metadata management and association algorithms are constantly at work in de-normalizing data, building relationship graphs and association links
The solution also relies on a standard methodology called folksonomy, a method to categorize and rank content based on user-defined tags. "This technology puts content into context," notes Gupta. When applied to inside the enterprise, folksonomy results in generating a tag cloud that reflects the interactions and research interest of an organization as a whole or down to a single user level.
Unlike consumer based social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us and Digg, Connectbeam’s Social Software is delivered as a turnkey Appliance that is deployed behind the enterprise firewall, which facilitates deeper integration and reach into the corporate IT infrastructure, and keeps the corporate information completely secure.
Recently the company released a virtual appliance for social bookmarking, tagging, and social networking. The virtual appliance includes the similar features of the physical Connectbeam application and can be downloaded directly from the company’s website. Importantly this will allow organizations of all sizes – from small, medium and to global biggies to instantly add behind-the-firewall, secure social computing capabilities to their existing Intranet and business environment.
Connectbeam’s virtual appliance allows organizations to overcome the waiting time that a physical installation entails. Exemplifies Gupta, “A major U.S. bank is among the first to deploy Connectbeam’s new virtual appliance. Although rigorous security measures at financial institutions can delay new hardware installations for some time, Connectbeam’s virtual appliance is being downloaded instantly to the bank, where it can be tested and adapted to the bank’s specifications until the physical appliance clears regulatory requirements.”
Connectbeam is planning to release its next flagship product, Connectbeam Spotlight version 3.0 this month (July, 2008), with key significant enhancements and new features including core tagging and tag-suggestion enhancements, support for RSS and email feeds to keep abreast of latest happenings. In addition to this a completely updated and streamlined user interface, integration with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Microsoft Outlook will come as added features of the product. All product enhancements are carried out based on recommendations given by about 40 fortune 100 companies.
In addition, the hallmark of Spotlight version 3.0 is the Centralized Tag Repository, which can now automatically extract tags and related social metadata from other Enterprise 2.0 applications that are scattered across a company’s intranet. With inputs from the human factors team of one of Connectbeam's customers, cognitive processes have been addressed. Informs Gupta, “Companies are looking to streamline the deployment of different sets of Enterprise 2.0 applications, and harness into a single repository the enormous mass of user generated content that is left scattered across their intranet in various Enterprise 2.0 applications such as blogs, wikis, news feeds, forums. Connectbeam’s enhanced Centralzed Tag Repository is a leap forward in providing ways for businesses to harness this collective intelligence into a single store to extract the real value out of this rich information. Furthermore, user testing and evaluation of results from other installed customer sites have led to many aspects of navigation being made more interactive and intuitive. For instance, in the forthcoming product, features like balloon summaries will contain quick snapshots of data attributes, tag suggestions will be more accurate and the ability to see inter relationships between the various elements of one’s social metadata will be fine tuned.”
The Road Ahead
Gupta is a seasoned technology executive, an avid blogger and entrepreneur with over 15 years of marketing and operations experience at both large and small technology companies. He was CEO of CourseCafe, an online social collaboration application company enabling researchers around the world to work together online on academic and coursework-related research before founding Connectbeam. Having deep roots in enterprise software arena, Gupta wanted to build something distinctive in that domain. When the world was abuzz about the potential of Web 2.0 in the consumer space, Gupta went against conventional wisdom and founded Connectbeam in early 2006 to apply some of the Web 2.0 concepts at the enterprise market to solve the perrinial information access and discovery problem.
He did achieve his goal. Today, the Connectbeam technology has seen wide admiration from big corporations like Honeywell and Cisco that have deployed this technology. A proud Gupta exemplifies his success with Honeywell (around 121,000 employees) saying, “Now a Honeywell employee in Minnesota searching for information on ‘Aviation lighting’ might find relevant information bookmarked on the same subject from someone at Honeywell office in Czech Republic or in Bangalore, India. ”Honeywell deployed the solution, which can be used by its 21,000 R&D engineers. Connectbeam sells its software as an Appliance (per named user based pricing model). Connectbeam also has partnership with Intel, Microsoft, Fast, MC+A and WBB, to market its product.
The company that raised a $3.5 million Series A round funding from Gabriel Venture Partners and Startup Capital Partners expects competition from companies such as IBM and BEA Systems as both produce applications that integrate with their other software suites, while the U.K.-based Cogenz provides its own hosted service. But Gupta sees this as a great validation for this technology. He says, "Competition is good and of course we have first mover advantage. Importantly, there is a huge Enterprise 2.0 market opportunity to be tapped which is worth $4.2 billions"
Jim Collins and Jerry I Porras write in their book ‘BUILD TO LAST’ about what has enabled some corporations to last so long despite the adverse conditions they faced. But nowadays, enterprises are gradually realizing the importance of collective intelligence of human capital to compete and increase their competitive advantage and to compete effectively with larger players. Hence it is imperative that Human capital must be identified and empowered in a meaningful way in order for it to be accessed, shared, and leveraged across the enterprise. Probably, the authors never mentioned about how “Collective intelligence” of human resources can contribute in spearheading the growth and sustenance of a corporation. But, ConnectBeam certainly has shown the way. Hopefully, authors will write about this in their next book.
ConnectBeam at a Glance
Headquarters: Mountain View, CA, U.S.A.
India center: Pune
Headcount: 16(U.S.A.); 8 (India)
Investors: Gabriel Venture Partners, Startup Capital Venture
Connectbeam Spotlight—Connectbeam’s flagship product with features like Collective Search Toolbar, Universal Social Bookmarking, Universal Tagging, Social Networking, User Communities, Live Profiles, Social Search, Enterprise Search Engine Connectors, LDAP and Active Directory Connectors, and a Centralized Tag Repository to store and tags from across all Enterprise 2.0 applications inside an enterprise. With Spotlight, you know what information was helpful to whom, you can easily find subject matter experts, and you can share and collaborate on any search getting just what you need right when you need it.
Spotlight Central Tag Repository –-A centralized, behind the firewall, intelligent tag repository that captures from end-users and auto-extracts from existing Enterprise 2.0 applications, tags applied to content originating from both inside and outside the company.
Spotlight Connectors—Using REST-based APIs, ConnectBeam has built connectors for several enterprise productivity applications and search engines, Email, and Enterprise 2.0 applications. These connectors provide for simple and seamless integration of Connectbeam Spotlight’s social search and discovery functionality into the tools your people use every day.
Spotlight Connect for SharePoint—Makes SharePoint more intelligent and valuable by leveraging the “social metadata” that is generated naturally as employees interact with information and colleagues, all from within the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 platform.
Spotlight APIs—To make direct integration with your existing infrastructure as simple as possible, a full set of REST-based Web Services Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are available.
Connectbeam Appliance: -CB-1000, CB-5000, CB-9000 Series—An integrated hardware and software solution. Connectbeam Appliance offers true plug-and-play installation and can be set up behind company firewall, integrated with company Intranet, in a matter of minutes
Virtual Appliance (CB-VA)—This offers the same full featured Application as Connectbeam’s Physical Appliances, but is available as a VMWare download directly from ConnectBeam’s website.