Last week Oracle announced enhancements to its nascent collaboration platform, Beehive. Team workspaces, web / video conferencing, and integration with desktop productivity tools (including Windows Explorer) were the among the list of improvements cited in the press release. These enhanced capabilities build on announcements Oracle made earlier this year when it announced Beehive On-Demand (A SaaS play) and submitted the Beehive Object Model for standardization (OASIS ICOM TC). Oracle also acquired Tacit in November of 2008. David Gilmore, founder of Tacit, is now Senior Vice President, Collaboration Technologies, Oracle (focused on Beehive).
- Press Release
- Beehive 1.5 "Cheat Sheet"
- Beehive Collaboration Software
- David Gilmour • SVP Collaboration, Oracle Beehive
- Oracle Beehive On Demand
- Beehive Object Model
Beehive 1.5 release notes:
- Oracle Beehive Extensions for Explorer
- Oracle Beehive Workspaces Client
- Oracle Beehive Extensions for Outlook Enhancements
- Oracle Beehive Zimbra Enhancements
- Enhancements for Mobile Device Support
- Oracle Beehive Conferencing Enhancements
- Other Features and Enhancements
Beehive (announced at Oracle Open World 2008) is the successor to the failed Oracle Collaboration Suite. Beehive is (at least) Oracle's third attempt to introduce a credible collaboration solution into the market. Past attempts have failed for a variety of internal (e.g., lack of sales support, immature technology) and external reasons (e.g., inability to compete with IBM and Microsoft, no widespread adoption). While Oracle's WebCenter solution itself has collaborative capabilities (e.g., blogs, wikis, tags/bookmarks), the company has positioned Beehive as the foundation for its collaboration strategy.
At a high level, Beehive has four major components
- Enterprise Messaging (e-mail, calendar, tasks, contacts)
- Team Collaboration (document library, wiki, team calendar, micro-blogging, search, RSS, workflow, etc)
- Synchronous Collaboration (web/video conferencing, instant messaging, presence, voice chat)
- Beehive Platform (platform services including security, policy management, integration, object model, admin functions, and interfaces to related Oracle technology)
Oracle makes the case the collaboration has been fragmented across three major domains (Enterprise Messaging, Team Collaboration, and Synchronous Collaboration). This has resulted in tools being deployed that are more costly for organizations to deploy and maintain from an infrastructure and operations perspective. The fragmented nature of collaboration tools also negatively impacts end users (fragmented tools result in a poor user experience). The lack of "collaboration in-context" Oracle views as a key long-term value proposition with Beehive. As applications integrate with Beehive services, the unified object model within Beehive will provide contextual consistency. From a management perspective, the unified platform enables consistency in policies being applied (security, audit, compliance) resulting from a single storage architecture that delivers a consistent information management framework. In the video segment, David Gilmore discusses process-centric collaboration and how Beehive might enable more seamless transitions between process-centric applications and collaborative tools. Today, users switch back-and-forth. Oracle believes that it will lead this concept in the industry.
At least that's the argument. There are some key points to consider however:
- Oracle must have missed the "contextual collaboration" discussion that emerged in the industry during the late nineties (defined and led by Meta Group at the time). The idea of combining process-centric and collaboration activities "in context" is not new. Both Microsoft and IBM have targeted that scenario for several years. Oracle is correct in pointing out that the current state of contextual collaboration remains fragile (sometimes done in a brute-force fashion), but Oracle is misinformed that it has discovered the concept or will lead the charge towards this end-state given its poor track record in the collaboration market so far.
- Oracle makes another assumption that a single platform (e.g., storage architecture, object model) is the most effective way to solve the problem. While that approach sounds attractive (one giant database), it raises a credible concern (and counter-argument) that its approach is monolithic, not modular, too tightly coupled to other Oracle technologies, and will not be able to sustain the type of rapid platform change needed as requirements evolve over time.
- Oracle asserts that current solutions have a cost-of-ownership challenge but offers no numbers to show how Beehive is more cost effective from a TCO viewpoint.
- Oracle has not articulated an effective migration / co-existence strategy. So far, there is not a lot of information available on how other application and infrastructure systems participate in a Beehive ecosystem. What does it mean to "Beehive-enabled" other systems?
- Oracle has not clarified the relationship between WebCenter and Beehive. It is undeniable that WebCenter has a collaboration capability (blogs, wikis, tags/bookmarks). The lack of clear and concise information on how WebCenter participates in a Beehive solution is mystifying and should be a customer concern. This includes alignment between WebCenter and Beehive in terms of content management and records management services. I believe both systems leverage the same records management services but differ on other content management functions.
- Oracle's submission of the Beehive object model to Oasis is "interesting" but without market uptake by third-party vendors, it remains an intellectual exercise.
- Concerning the enterprise messaging component: I don't believe the argument of switching from one on-premise solution to another on-premise solution is where the market is at right now. I think the argument is to switch to a SaaS model (Beehive On-Demand), or find the right balance of SaaS and on-premise messaging (a hybrid model). Also, the focus is on Exchange exclusively yet there remains a large amount of Lotus Notes customers that also might be reconsidering their enterprise messaging direction. Overall, I think the best play for this component is the On-Demand aspect but unfortunately, the On-Demand solution has not been positioned effectively in the market. Oracle seems to be playing "last year's" battle for e-mail, etc.
- Concerning Synchronous Collaboration: Right now, I'm surprised if anyone would take this component seriously. Virtually all organizations I am talking to are looking at unified communications as a platform direction with SIP as a core technology anchor point. Oracle Beehive has no SIP story here. The instant messaging and presence is based on XMPP which is virtually a non-starter in many organizations. There's no stated direction on PBX integration into telephony systems (e.g., Avaya, Cisco). There's no information on how this component co-exists with IBM and Microsoft (e.g., client integration, shared presence). There's no information on federation of instant messaging and presence with external systems. The web conferencing feature might be attractive - but without the integration with telephony and video systems from third-party vendors, I just don't see the Synchronous Collaboration component being a serious play in the market.
- Concerning Team Collaboration: This component has the strongest potential in the market but faces stiff competition. IBM (Notes, Quickr) and Microsoft (SharePoint), as well as historical players such as EMC (eRoom), are dominant providers of collaborative workspaces. Smaller vendors have also gained some momentum in the market by focusing on enterprise social networking (e.g., Jive, Telligent). What would differentiate Oracle from other competitors would be pursuit of deep integration within its application systems (e.g., CRM, ERP, HRMS). Such a strategy has not been defined and it should leave customers wondering about the cross-group support Beehive has with other internal groups within Oracle. The lack of cooperation from other teams was a key factor in the demise of Oracle Collaboration Suite. Another example of this disconnect from other groups is the lack of Beehive being represented as part of the Enterprise 2.0 solution from Oracle. The Team Collaboration solution could do well from a SaaS perspective but again, the On-Demand theme has not been pushed hard enough by Oracle. Beehive in the cloud would also let WebCenter take on more of an obvious collaboration role with Beehive "powering" WebCenter.
- When the Tacit acquisition was announced, Oracle quoted this in its press release: "The addition of Tacit Software’s technology to Oracle Beehive underscores our commitment to a strong, differentiated presence in the collaboration software industry,' said Terry Olkin, Chief Architect and Vice President, Oracle Collaboration Technologies. 'This capability enables coordination and collaboration to occur between the right people at the right time based on the information present in the documents, conversations and messages within the enterprise." One can assume then that Tacit's mining and correlation capabilities will show up in Beehive - perhaps making Beehive a key engine for Oracle's eventual social networking efforts.
- I would skip the on-premises Enterprise Messaging component. Push Oracle on the evolution of its On-Demand direction for Enterprise Messaging.
- I would also skip the Synchronous Collaboration component. Right now, I don't see these capabilities as being credible in the market.
- If you are an Oracle client (business applications, WebCenter, etc), consider piloting the Team Collaboration component. By pilot, I mean off-on-the-side to explore integration with the business applications, experiment with the potential benefits from a unified object model). As critical as I have been with some of the points above, I would not dismiss what Oracle is putting together outright when it comes to this component but - adoption of a long-view is required given Beehive maturity and the need to better align internal resources (including go-to-market resources). Oracle needs to focus on building the ecosystem around Beehive and not rely solely on an all-Oracle model.
The points above are a high-level assessment. If you are a Burton Group client, feel free to schedule a conference call to discuss how Oracle's collaboration initiatives apply to your enterprise.