Gia Lyons has spent 8 years at IBM and up until now has been the IBM Lotus Connections Software Evangelist. This interview post serves as her notice to her colleagues about her new gig at Jive.
You just gave notice to IBM today after 8 years at IBM and over a year as their Social Software Evangelist. Why come to Jive?
My passion is to help people figure out how to work better with each other, to do better things together. And it’s not just about giving them the right tools. It’s about showing them how to change their culture so that they can become the truly collaborative and innovative organization they want to be. But, to do this, you need to start with great tools, or folks will never use more than the email or the phone. These are good tools, but not good enough for the kind of change people want in their organizations. I’ve always said that there’s no ROI for a software spend if nobody uses it. Jive has really great, intuitive tools that give everyday folks the chance to change, the chance to work better with each other, to do better things together. That’s why I became interested in Jive. And when I met their leadership team, I was blown away by their vision and their passion. And their pet donkey in the breakroom. Oh, and also the free pizza.
You were a social software evangelist at IBM and now you’re one at Jive. What does a social software evangelist do?
A social software evangelist shows folks the future of their organization, one that includes a truly collaborative and sharing culture, one that generates truly innovative ideas. I show them that it is not only possible to reach this stage, but that it’s probable. I share with them down-to-earth approaches to get people to start sharing that, in many cases, have nothing to do with software.
What do you anticipate will be different representing Jive vs IBM?
Jivers put their heart, mind and soul – and all of their funding – into one thing: social productivity solutions, both tools and organizational change consulting. It’s a make-or-break prospect with Jive. At IBM, this is also true, but for a wee little part of the greater corporation. I did a bunch of educating and explaining to customers about IBM solutions. I expect to do similar things at Jive, but I expect a a reduced need for so much explanation and education. The enterprise social software market is moving beyond “emerging”, into the next stage. Folks understand the need for great social productivity tools now. And once they use Jive Clearspace or Clearspace Community, I don’t have to convince them about the tools anymore. They get it. That means I get to help them with the cultural aspects, instead of explaining the tool.
Some people think social software in the enterprise is a myth. What did you see when you met with huge companies at IBM?
I spoke to almost 200 big companies between Jan 2007 and now. Most of them were huge and global. Social software isn’t a myth. These people have budget for social software, but since user adoption is obviously so critical to its success, they want to make the “right” decision, pick the tool that people will actually use. Because they know nothing will change if they don’t pick the right tool.
How do the big guys like IBM see companies like Jive?
At first, companies like Jive were not considered as viable competitors. I experienced the same thoughts back during the early part of the century, when there were hundreds of portal vendors. I was slinging WebSphere Portal. BEA, SAP and Oracle were doing their thing, and then there were hundreds of pure play portal vendors. After the acquisition dust settled, Gartner’s Portal Magic Quadrant lost a lot of dots. Plumtree was the last pure play left standing, just before BEA scooped them up.
It’s not the same in the social software space. Why? Because back-end plumbing like a portal solution is usually considered critical to business operations, companies want to choose solutions from proven vendors, from only a few vendors. They want one or maybe just two throats to choke if things take a nosedive.
Customers are willing to go with pure play and niche vendors for social software because they recognize that a fresh approach is needed here. The folks who wrote your email and shared file applications approach social software through 15 years of “business as usual” thinking.
And here’s some irony for you.
The big vendors spend millions on research to come up with new products. At IBM, I used countless applications from research. Some of them made it into IBM products, some didn’t. But, all of them were developed by IBMers in collaboration with other IBMers, for the use of IBMers, and then later adapted for productization. I imagine Microsoft works the same way. There are lots of smart people in these big companies, but if you’ve ever read the book Wikinomics, you’ll understand that innovation comes not only from employees, but from business partners and customers. And not just three or four customers, but three or four thousand. So, the social software products coming from big software vendors are created in the same organizational bubble, with a few trusted outsiders involved, that all of their other products are created.
Today, the big software companies are running into Jive and other smaller vendors routinely. They are building strong competitive cases against these smaller vendors, and are not taking Jive lightly. Why? Because smaller vendors like Jive have the luxury of taking the time to craft truly great solutions, in collaboration with customers and business partners. And, they don’t have years of policy around to stagnate and strip the solution of features before it gets to market. They also have the ability to deliver not one, not two, but four major releases a year.
What can companies like Jive learn from people like you?
I’ve talked with many customers across the Americas and I can tell you what their foremost concerns are. I can explain the nature of the internal battles they feel they need to fight in order to reach their goal of an open, sharing, collaborative, and innovative organization. And hopefully, that kind of insight can help form truly usable social productivity tools, and more importantly, truly doable adoption tactics.
What confuses big companies about the social software space?
I don’t think they’re confused. By now, they’re used to seeing a giant menu of options out there. It’s like that scene in Minority Report, where Tom Cruise is walking down some road, and all the advertisements – the “loglo” for you Snow Crash fans out there – transmute to appeal to his particular demographic. All the buzzwords become a low hum in the background. What they’re concerned about, however, isn’t just, “Which tool will my people actually use?” but, “How the hell am I going to drive this giant bus of an organization out of the Dark Stingy Forest into the Sharing Light?” I took a little dramatic license with that last thing, but you get where I’m going.
Do you think social software could really dethrone people?
God, I hope so. People don’t really collaborate today. They get assigned tasks. They’re expected to get them done by emailing people to death until they find that one woman who’ll actually DO it, or sit comatose on unending conference calls and work on Saturdays to git ‘er done. To change that is hard work, and takes a grass-roots effort, plus top-down support that goes beyond lip service. It takes great sharing tools and permission from the entire organization to start trusting and sharing with one another.
Like Elvis Costello asks, “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” Give your people a voice, let them get all the bitching and moaning out of the way, and then watch them get truly productive. Let your organization be human again.”
What are some of the first things you plan to do when you start at Jive in a couple of weeks?
Well first, I’m going to feed the donkey in the breakroom, maybe take him out for a stroll. And then I’m going to work with Jivers to learn. Learn about what makes Jive so… Jivey, learn why customers like Nike and Intel and John Deere deployed Jive Clearspace and Clearspace Community, and learn what obstacles they’re encountering with user adoption. Then, I think I’ll take a vacation. I hope to write for JiveTalks, and share some stories about how Jive customers in general are making it all work. I plan to work closely with Jive salesfolks, marketing, and product development. I want my customers to get to the next level of collaboration and innovation , and I want them to enjoy the journey.
What else should everyone know about your move to Jive?
I’m confident that Jive has the right approach to delivering usable social software, and that Jive’s leadership is proactive and thoughtful about deciding where to take the company and its customers in the future. I’m totally excited to be working with a smaller, more focused organization, and I can’t wait to jump in and become part of it all.