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An Interesting Cloud-Based Intranet Offering

I was recently briefed on Jostle’s People Management platform, an offering that the company refers to as an intranet, but that many might consider to be an enterprise social platform. Jostle’s platform is an interesting offering for several reasons:

  • Unlike SharePoint that has a document-centric focus with social capabilities also built-in, Jostle’s People Management platform has a social/people focus that also has document capabilities built-in. For example, Jostle’s offering has a photo wall that presents the images of everyone in the organization. Users can search across all employees by name, role, location, skill set, etc. Clicking on an image presents contact and other information about that individual, such as tags about the individual’s interests that are auto-generated by the system based on their activity.
  • The People Management platform also offers a “Relationships View” that presents the activities individuals are working on at any given time. Interestingly, it can also present the formal organizational structure of an organization, but also the informal organization structure that might represent a better picture of how employees relate to one another collaboratively. This view provides insight into the contributions made by individual employees and the groups in which they participate, perhaps offering insight into how the organization really works.
  • One of the more powerful features of the platform is its ability to find expertise within a company based on activities in which employees participate, information that might not otherwise be discoverable through conventional communication and collaboration channels.
  • The platform also provide a robust news platform that allows individuals or groups to post events, documents, client information and other content that can keep everyone in an organization up to speed on the latest events.

So, why are tools like Jostle’s People Management platform, as well as social offerings from companies like Socialtext, Jive, Socialcast, IBM, Microsoft, Novell Vibe and many, many others important?  While they allow individuals in one location to share information and become more productive and informed as a result, I believe one of the primary advantages is that they allow geographically separated employees—both those across the world and those across town who telework, for example—to work more efficiently.

For example, in An Empirical Study of Global Software Development: Distance and Speed—a research paper written several years ago by individuals from Lucent Technologies, the University of Michigan and Xerox PARC—the authors discuss the results of their research into problems caused when people who must work together are separated geographically. An interesting finding from the study came from questioning professionals, mostly software engineers, about delays in their work caused by the need for information from other people. The study found that when these people needed information from others at local sites, there was an average of 2.1 delays per month and the average length of delay was 0.9 days. However, when they needed information from others at geographically distant sites, the mean number of delays was 1.9 per month with an average length of 2.4 days. In other words, there were 1.9 local delay-days per month when needing information from others at the same site, but 4.6 delay-days per month when the information was needed from people who were geographically separated, a difference of more than 140%.

The key takeaway here is that distance imposes delays in gathering information from others. These delays might manifest themselves in slower response to a customer inquiry, delayed introduction of a new product, deleting certain product features from a new release if the deadline for the release is unchangeable, and other problems. None of these are issues that are necessarily going to create a clear and quantifiable financial impact in and of themselves, but they will result in an impact on the bottom line at some point. Tools like Jostle’s People Management platform and a host of others will help to address these issues by eliminating at least some of the barriers introduced by distance.

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