by Bob Lewis

News flash! IT does its best to circumvent capitalism!

Jul 27, 20114 mins
BPM SystemsCollaboration SoftwareData Management

Do you have a 21st century workforce? Or is yours mired in 20th century habits?

Capitalism depends on two principles — the law of supply and demand, and the ability of every customer to take his, her, or its business elsewhere (I include “its” because the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people too, but hasn’t commented on their gender).

Principle #2 is what makes IT an anti-capitalist domain: CIOs understand that when it comes to all but their most peripheral vendors, threats to take their business elsewhere are empty, because the switching cost is almost always high, and very rarely adds discernable business value.

Worse, switching costs increase in proportion to the level of integration, which is also a major driver of business value. It’s ironic — providing more business value circumvents capitalism.

Which brings us to Lync, SharePoint, and why Microsoft-driven capitalism circumvention might be in your future.

InfoWorld’s Savio Rodrigues wrote a nice piece about Lync and its alternatives. Titled “Before you get locked into Lync, consider open source options,” (7/22/2011) it pretty much concluded there aren’t any, nor are there many serious commercial alternatives, either.

Other, of course, than doing nothing. But this being the what … 21st century? … doing nothing probably isn’t the right answer. That’s because doing nothing will give any competitors that do decide to improve their employees’ ability to collaborate with each other and with outside partners a serious competitive advantage.

Start with what Lync and SharePoint are. Lync is unified communication — a single product that provides telephony, instant messaging, web conferencing, and fax. SharePoint is … well, let’s be honest. Nobody is entirely sure what it is, but it’s a whole lot like Lotus Notes. It manages content, supports basic workflows, integrates email, and lets you create websites.

Being a more modern product, SharePoint also lets you set up internal social-network-like thingies — blogs, wikis and such.

Now I have no hands-on experience with Lync, and have only used SharePoint in very limited ways — I’m not endorsing either product’s usability or quality of construction. This isn’t a review (these are: Lync and SharePoint).

It really isn’t even about Lync and SharePoint themselves. It’s about their being canaries in the 21st century workforce coalmine. Bear with me.

What makes Lync and SharePoint so potentially interesting, and so threatening to your capitalist desire to minimize switching costs is their tight integration into the Office/Outlook/Exchange constellation of products, and each other. Once employees are using them productively, taking your business elsewhere will be a pipe dream.

Not that there’s any elsewhere to take it. Because while quite a few organizations sell products that compete with MS Office, none have products that actually do compete with MS Office.

In the world of view-from-100,000-feet punditry, Google Apps, Open Office, Symphony, LibreOffice, Apple’s Pages/Numbers/Keynote combo and so on are Serious Incursions Into Microsoft’s Turf.

In the world of having-to-get-the-job-done, though, they share an overpowering drawback: The document you send a business partner from them won’t be the document your business partner reads — they garble all but the simplest formatting. And as most businesses consider information exchange to be the point of sending documents back and forth, this is a crippling deficiency.

Sure, you can print, if you think paper is a state-of-the-art medium for information exchange. You can send PDFs, but these are only satisfactory for final publishing, not for mark-up, commenting, multi-authoring, or other forms of collaboration.

So for most companies MS Office is a given, which makes MS Office integration a big plus for making communication, collaboration, and information management easier.

Right now, like it or not, the list of qualifying products appears to consist of Lync and SharePoint.

Imagine you decide the time has come. You’ll replace your old-fashioned PBX with Lync. You put SharePoint on your buy list as well. You install them, provide training in how to use their basic features. You’re done, right?


What these products have to offer is improved individual and team effectiveness. They’ll succeed in organizations that expect employees to be sophisticated in how they handle their individual and collaborative responsibilities — to master the tools, and use them.

Does that describe your company? If it does, a Field of Dreams implementation (if you build it, they will come) will work just fine.

If it doesn’t, implementing Lync and SharePoint will be just about as successful as trying to cure a cadaver with chicken soup.

It’s like this: Companies with 20th century workforces will be at an increasing disadvantage as the 20th century stops being current events and starts being history. If that’s your situation, you might be able to use Lync and SharePoint to spark the change you need.

That’s quite different from their being the change you need.


For this week’s great quotation, click here.