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Google Wave Makes a Splash in CRM
Google Wave isn't the first to wade into real-time collaboration, but the tsunami of buzz may drown the competition.
For the rest of the February 2010 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Eight years passed before the verb “to google”—the act of using an online search engine—made it into English-language dictionaries, over the very public objections of the company that inspired its creation. Now, less than a year after the release of Google Wave—an in-the-cloud collaboration offering—the verb “to wave” is already showing signs of adoption. 

“I haven’t gotten very many of my friends to really wave with me yet,” says Chad Wathington, vice president of product development at ThoughtWorks Studios, a provider of agile development solutions. In fact, he says, the only noncolleague he’s managed to get onto Wave is his wife, with whom he collaborated to finalize preschool applications for their son.

Within ThoughtWorks, though, Wathington has a bunch of people to wave with. The company has integrated its project management solution Mingle with Google Wave to, as Wathington says, “add structure to unstructured data.” Users of Wave can import data from Mingle and essentially turn “bullet points into full conversations and documents,” he says. 

If Google gets its way, that may end up as just one use case out of thousands. After Wave’s debut at the Google I/O conference last May, Google sent out 100,000 “preview” releases in September and began accepting individual requests a few weeks later. “Part of the reason we’re doing the preview is to understand how people would like to use Wave,” says Gregory D’Alesandre, a product manager at Google. Outside of the cubicle, D’Alesandre says, Google is seeing unique efforts with Wave, such as coordinating natural disaster cleanup and conducting online therapy. Still, he adds, businesses are finding Wave a natural fit from an organizational and workflow perspective. 

That potential has led to a rising tide of CRM interest, as well. SAP, for one, introduced Gravity, a prototype that showed how partners might collaborate on business process modeling. “It’s an excellent example of [using Wave to collaborate on] something people already do,” D’Alesandre says. Another CRM vendor, Salesforce.com, demoed the use of Wave with its Service Cloud to manage customer service interactions. 

According to Kraig Swensrud, Salesforce.com’s senior vice president of product marketing, the effort is still a work in progress, even following the November announcement of Chatter, the company’s own collaboration platform. “We love Google,” Swensrud says, acknowledging Salesforce.com’s existing integration with the Google Apps suite of office-productivity solutions. “Wave is very important to [us]. Our developers are trying to understand the good use cases for our customers.” 

Wave’s creators—brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen—founded Where 2 Technologies, which Google acquired in 2004 to form the basis of Google Maps. Following the trail blazed by Maps, Google says that developers can adapt, enhance, and customize Wave to fit into the needs of any enterprise—a critical element in user adoption and Wave’s potential for growth.

To that end, the Google Wave Federation Protocol (GWFP) is getting developers excited, too. The protocol aims to expand the Wave platform, allowing others to build a proprietary wave that’s interoperable with other wave servers, similar to how emails are transmitted regardless of provider. A bunch of companies are already onboard with the GWFP—but not all, notes Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Microsoft and IBM are notable holdouts. “You see what’s going on here,” Schadler says. “Everybody’s got to have their own ‘Wave.’” 

If so, they’d better start paddling. Novell, an enterprise infrastructure specialist, demoed Pulse, its own Wave-like solution, at this past November’s Enterprise 2.0 conference in San Francisco. At the time, however, Pulse was merely in its alpha stage. According to Andy Fox, vice president of engineering at Novell, the company expects to launch a private beta by March, by which point Pulse will be in use throughout Novell, as well as with a number of select partners—“hopefully a large number,” Fox says. Pulse, he says, should be open to the public by summer 2010.

Novell is among those hoping that collaboration between people will eventually lead to interoperability between collaboration platforms. “Collaboration technologies today tend to be segregated,” Fox explains. Typically, completing a certain task requires people to use multiple distinct applications for instant messaging, email, document creation, conferencing tools, and social sharing. “We’re looking at what could be a whole new generation of technologies,” Fox says. “It’s a big step when you move from a scenario where people have to fundamentally work separately.”

Schadler shared his initial reactions to Wave in a glowing blogpost back in May 2009. Since then, he says, not much has changed with the solution or its potential. Then again, he admits that there simply haven’t been enough results-based success stories to say with confidence what the end game will be. 

To that end, whether or not Google Wave, and real-time collaboration products like it, will take off ultimately depends on its users. Wathington says that, if anyone had asked him 10 years ago, he would have thought collaboration technology required enterprise buy-in. Now, he says, it’s all about gaining consumer penetration. 

“Enterprises—even when you think about Enterprise 2.0—tend to lag what happens in the consumer space,” Wathington says. As an example, he points to software giant Oracle, which he says internally developed a solution for employees to get to know each other—years after Facebook and others made such social networking mainstream.

Incidentally, what Google doesn’t want, according to D’Alesandre, is for Wave to be lumped into that category. “It’s not about social networks,” he says. “It’s about streamlining interaction and productivity.” 

According to email solutions provider ExactTarget’s Channel Preference Survey 2009, email was still the preferred channel of written communication, capturing 57 percent of the votes, though down from 67 percent since the poll was taken more than a year prior. With Wave, however, email may be facing a viable competitor. 

“Does the technology have the capability to usurp some tools we’ve been using for business productivity?” Fox wonders. “I think it absolutely does.” The decision to drop Wave in as a replacement—or, as Pulse will be at the onset, as an overlay platform to work with existing platforms—is up to the individual company. D’Alesandre stresses that Wave should be approached with a project or goal in mind—otherwise, it risks being dismissed. 

“This isn’t going to be a case where [technology] decides,” Fox says. “Users are going to decide…and it’s going to become evident pretty quickly when it becomes less of an overlay and more of a replacement.” 


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