Tibco aims at Salesforce, Socialtext with Tibbr platform

Tibbr, now generally available, allows workers to follow data and topics, not other people, and filter out the fog

Socialtext, Yammer, Salesforce.com's Chatter and other social collaboration platforms have a new rival in the form of Tibbr, a product that creator Tibco hopes will be the standard for large enterprises.

First announced in late 2009, Tibbr will be launched Monday at an event in San Francisco. While sharing the now-familiar concept of information streams with other social platforms, Tibbr throws in a twist by having users follow specific "subjects": data, topics, or events generated by a company's existing business applications, rather than specific people in the organization.

This approach is better than simply following people with like-minded interests, said Ram Menon, executive vice president of worldwide marketing. "Billy in shipping in San Diego doesn't know Joe in shipping in Hong Kong, but Samsung is their biggest client," he said, giving a hypothetical example. Therefore, a subject dubbed "Samsung shipments" could be created, perhaps pulling in data from a logistics system, and both workers could follow it through Tibbr.

Tibco has also tried to improve the concept of information-stream filtering. "What we're trying to do is think of the grown-up person in an enterprise with varying priorities," Menon said. "If it's a post from my boss, I want it in real time. If it's a post from a marketing campaign, you know what, let me know in the morning and send it to my desktop."

The platform also allows workers to integrate their Tibbr streams with outside social networks such as Facebook, if they desire. Administrative settings let such tie-ins be one way only, ensuring that corporate data doesn't make it outside the firewall.

Tibbr also offers an "event stream framework" that line-of-business managers can use to create subjects without help from IT. For example, a sales manager might want to pull in a stream of frequently updated or accessed fields from the company's CRM (customer relationship management) application.

Other enterprise-friendly features include mobile support and integrations with Microsoft Active Directory and LDAP, for user authentication and access. Tibbr is offered as SaaS (software as a service) but also in on-premises form.

That feature set is the result of a longer-than-anticipated but worthwhile period of development, Menon said.

Tibco launched an initial beta version of Tibbr several months after the initial announcement, but soon learned that "just slapping on typical features that have been popularized in the consumer world doesn't work for the enterprise," Menon said.

For one, "in highly regulated industries they're very reluctant to have their most private conversations floating in the ether," he said. Therefore, Tibco decided it needed an on-premise version.

However, "as soon as you say on-premises that's a six-month IT project. So we worked on that," he added. Using Tibco's expertise in middleware, the company developed methods that enable Tibbr to get up and running on-premises in just a couple of hours, much like the SaaS version, he said.

Tibco also realized it needed strong mobile support at launch time. Tibbr has native Apple, Android and BlackBerry applications, with more platforms to come. Tibco believes that if a product like Tibbr was not able to provide universal [mobile] devices at the time of implementation, it would hinder adoption, he said.

Overall, Tibbr earned a positive nod from analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research.

"This is a really, really snazzy internal collaboration tool from a company you would not expect to have a snazzy collaboration tool," he said. "It's one of the things that will make Tibco relevant in 2011."

Tibbr's ability to filter information down to what's really useful is the crucial component, he added. "We're being swamped by all this information," with even a fairly modest Facebook account's stream quickly turning into a mess, Wang added.

One of Tibbr's initial customers is the IT outsourcing firm Ciber, which has 8,000 employees and more than US$1 billion in revenue, according to its website. Tibbr is being rolled out to all of Ciber's employees, said Tony Hadzi, executive vice president and president of Ciber North America.

The company is switching to Tibbr from Yammer, Hadzi said.

Yammer enjoyed remarkable adoption by workers with little effort on the part of management, and since Ciber was using the free version, it was an inexpensive way to test the social-networking waters, he said.

Ciber is in a period of transformation, with the goal of getting a once-fragmented organization to come together, according to Hadzi.

"We launched the concept of social networking and my approach was to take a product-agnostic view," he said. "For me, it was more re-engineering the company and using this as one of the core tools to change the mindset of the teams in the field and my executives."

But over time the company found Yammer's feature set lacking, he said. Tibco's background in enterprise messaging and integration was a selling point for Tibbr, he said. "Yammer to me was more of a point solution. Tibco was an enterprisewide product."

Hadzi was also more interested in bringing together content that workers can interact with, rather than bringing together people, he said.

Ciber currently has Tibbr in an internal testing environment and plans to begin rolling it out across the company soon, said Dawna Covey, manager of collaboration applications.

Hardware commitments will be minimal: Ciber should be able to run Tibbr for the entire company on a single Linux server and database, she said.

Tibco's claims of rapid implementation rang true for Ciber, she said. "Within literally five hours, we were up and running and integrated with our Active Directory."

Pricing for Tibbr starts at $US12 per user per month, with volume discounts available.

While Tibbr is a standalone product, with no previous investment in Tibco middleware required, additional costs could be incurred for various advanced scenarios, Menon said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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