“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”
Thus spake the Danish Nobel prize winning physicist Niels Bohr. I was reminded of this quote on reading Alex Williams’ post on ReadWriteWeb The Paradox for Jive Software . The paradox he sees here is this, Jive he believes are a solutions orientated company and “Solutions oriented companies build custom configurations.”
As evidence, Williams cites Tim Bertrand over at the Drupal builders Acquia. Jive, Bertrand reckons, are playing a time-old game of building highly customised solutions, that not only cost the client a lot of money themselves, but also cost even more every time a new release is made: “Proprietary Social Business Software and Its Dirty Little Secrets” .
I don’t buy this argument as it goes completely against my own experience with Jive. They have a well developed Professional Services wing, but they’re not exactly keen on producing customisations. For sure, Jive will make customisations if requested but as they publicly stated at a Jive customer event in London last year, they do not see this as their core business. Their business they said was selling software, not to produce bespoke solutions. As this market is worth a potential $100BN a year, there might well be some mileage in this approach.
No even if a quarter of this size, this market is still pretty huge and the question remains on how customers’ needs are going to be met – is it best met with Open Source solutions such as Drupal (or my own personal favourite for small business solutions, WordPress); ‘best of breed’ vendors such as Jive; or the architecture behemoths such as IBM’s Connections or Microsoft Sharepoint?
The answer of course is ‘it depends’ and each of these solutions can and do meet customer needs to great effect. How they do this points to a bigger paradox than the one facing Jive and one that impacts all players. This paradox is this: how do you achieve standardisation and security and still provide agility and customisation?
The answer to this paradox is quite possibly revealed when we look at the pace or Social Layering model of an IT architecture. See Lee Bryant’s Social layering can help bring IT and the business together and my On Pace and Panarchy. To reiterate, this model posits a slower changing and tightly controlled IT foundational architecture – the ‘transaction layer’ and a more quickly changing and less regulated social or ‘interaction layer’.
Such a model points to the way that standardisation and customisation can coexist as happy bedfellows. The foundational transaction layer provides the economy of scale and security needed for the core business operations. The interaction layer supports the winning edge of people driven innovation and collaboration needed for the modern social business.
What strikes me is that this model is one that we can actually see mirrored in some of the vendors mentioned above. SharePoint for example provides the potentially corporation wide architecture, but can happily coexist with a social layer provided by Yammer, Newsgator and the like. Perhaps at the other end of the scale we see this at a micro level with WordPress and its legion of plugins. The most interesting model is seen with Jive however.
Jive sits in the middle – there’s a core product that does the job pretty well indeed, at least according to Gartner and Forrester. It also can connect up to SharePoint and socialise a Microsoft architecture. The really interesting aspect of Jive is coming out in the imminent release of Jive 5.
What Jive 5 promises, is a core product, a standardisation, with the ability to create customisation via bespoke applications, named not surprisingly Jive Apps. Using OpenSocial these adhere to global standards and great flexibility. They can be built in-house, bought from vendors selling them as commercial apps or built by specialist agencies as part of a social business design. I like this approach as it combines stability with agility – it solves at least potentially, the paradox of how to customise without getting locked into the endless ‘vicious’ loop Bertrand speaks about.
Next blog will feature another physicist, Einstein, when I’ll look at how to make things simpler…;-)