Advice on social, mobile and cloud from Igloo

Andrew Dixon is SVP of Marketing and Operations at Igloo who feature in our company spotlight for this episode of the ITProPortal podcast. Andrew has a vast amount of experience in the professional IT industry having worked alongside Bill Gates at Microsoft. Here, he talks to us about their current offerings around social, mobile and cloud.

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Andrew, start off then by introducing Igloo, who are you, what do you do and where did it all start?

Igloo is what we refer to as a social business software company and essentially we make cloud based intranets that bring modern communication and collaboration tools into the business for the purposes of productivity. The company started in 2009 essentially as a platform that helped to connect together whether it is employees inside organizations or connect organizations to external constituents like customers and partners and so essentially we produce both social intranets and social extranets that are 100% cloud based.

I mentioned that you worked alongside Bill Gates at Microsoft. Tell us about the sort of things you were doing back then and how those insights have helped you at Igloo software?

I had the privilege of working for Microsoft for about 18 years and worked on a number of different businesses many of which helped in how to apply the learning here in my current role. One of the places that I worked was heading up office PR so I spent a lot of time working on the problems that knowledge workers face in communicating and collaborating together and how we can make a better office product for them. In addition I had the good fortune of working with Bill Gates and other senior leaders at Microsoft working on the tablet PC that was really the pre-curser to the iPad back in 2000/2001. What that taught me was a lot about how knowledge workers interact on mobile devices and how that is different from lets say a desktop and the types of things you could do on a different size screen and portrait mode. It really educated me a lot on mobile and how you can build great applications for the purposes of mobile. Then of course I worked on the Windows products as well and ran a lot of the Windows campaigns and was able to look at the operating system aspects. All of these things helped me to be able to inform now what we do with social business software, which is essentially the next generation of productivity tools that take the form of intranets inside companies.

Social, mobile and cloud are of course areas that all IT departments are looking to integrate but tell us what you think organisations should consider when they look for providers of these solutions?

What is interesting is I have been in the industry now for almost 25 years and I have witnessed a lot of technology and milestones from mainframes to client servers onto virtualization and that sort of thing but really it is social, mobile and cloud that are really the largest technology trends that I have seen to-date. They are compelling trends in their own right but they are converging together to drive social adoption within organizations.

If we start with social I think it was Mackenzie that found in a recent survey that something like 72% of organisations surveyed had already adopted a social technology of some type so it is clearly in main stream adoption right now within most corporations.

On the mobile side of things Gartner has assessed that by the end of this year, your cellphone is going to outpace your laptop as the most popular device to access the internet and so clearly mobile is having a profound effect on our working and personal lives.

Then on cloud it was also Gartner that assessed that by the end of this year only one-fifth or 20% of organisations will have no IT assets whatsoever so they are going to turn 100% of their IT requirements to the cloud. When you bring all three of those trends together those things are what is really driving this very aggressive adoption of social technology.

These services really have changed the habits of employees and the way people work haven’t they?

There is no doubt that that is the case and it is more a case I would say that it is people now working the way they want to work versus the way they have been asked or in some cases forced to work based on the tools that they have been given.

If you think back to the tools that a knowledge worker used to be productive and how that has changed in the last 20 years, we have given you a word processor, we have given you a cellphone, we have may be given you a spreadsheet or presentation programme and email but not much has really changed. What happened is in the consumer world there started to be this emergence of tools that were far more lightweight and easy to use and self-service. We all know Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and these are all tools that end users were able to configure and get up and running to work on their own. It allowed them unprecedented levels of networking with their peers, with their friends and with their family. So they came into the workplace expecting the same self-service lightweight tools and they didn’t get them. So the consumer market is really where these business social software trends and tools came from because this is how end users really want to work.

So talk us through some of your offerings and how you have managed to bring social, mobile and cloud all into one package?

You can think about Igloo as the new generation of intranet. It is not the intranet that you are used to. The intranet that you are used to, if you have one is a one way read only information repository where you go to find information out or documents and it is generally outdated and stale and it is certainly not the place that you go to collaborate. It hasn’t been the place you go to get instant updates on what is going on in your organization either. So the category of social business software that Igloo provides is a modern intranet that pulls together modern communication and collaboration tools that do those things for you.

I will describe some of those. You are probably familiar with Wikis which is essentially a new type of document, a forum for asking questions and micro blogging for sharing a thought very quickly. Also, activity feeds which automatically tell you what is going on in your company by giving you a list of new documents for example that have been uploaded or comments that have been made. The ability to follow content so if I follow a piece of content I am interested in, each time somebody updates it I am automatically notified so I can go and see what has changed. The list goes on to include rating where I can rate content and then later on I can assess what is the content that has been the most popular and the most consumed and try to seek out who the authors are of that content.

All of these tools now have come together in one modern intranet service that is 100% cloud. In other words there is no installation, no maintenance and no patching you just turn it on and allow people to communicate and collaborate on documents and produce finished products and content as a result of that collaboration.

An interesting feature is the ability you have built in to track the engagement of users, why was this important to integrate into your offerings?

The justification for deploying a new social strategy, whether it is Igloo or anybody else needs to have some kind of ROI associated with it. You can’t just say people are going to be more productive because they are working more along the ways they want to work to justify this new investment, you need a way of being able to measure that. You need to be able to look at what type of interaction people are having with each other and what content and that assessment is what I am seeing along the lines of the improvements I am looking to drive within my company. So we have contracted with Microstrategy who are a leading analytics provider in the BI space who have made possible for the very first time the ability to actually measure peoples interaction with each other and content as an indicator of their success. For example, for lets say you have two teams one east coast sales team and one west coast sales teams. We know that the east coast sales teams are selling better than the west coast we just don’t know why. They are getting the same type of leads they have the same type of skills, now we can delve into what it is that the west coast team doing differently, are they following content more often than the east coast team are they micro blogging and communicating more often, are they maybe following content from other departments like the product group so they can see what products are coming down the pipe and are able to convey that to their prospects?

These types of insights are going to be very powerful to help reinforce those types of behavior across the company.

Where do you see the developments in this space going next? What do you see the future holding?

The world is moving more and more towards self-service and it started in the consumer space. That expectation has been brought into the business and it is to the benefit of the business user and IT departments if implemented correctly. In the case of BYOA and BYOD, (‘Bring Your Own App,’ and Bring Your Own Device’) I would say that the pendulum has maybe swung too far in that direction to the point that it is the end user who is now starting to dictate what comes into the company. All this has started to put pressure on IT departments to really regain some level of control and process and how all these things work together.

So, while it was an important milestone to start having these end user driven applications come into the company I think you are going to see the pendulum start to swing back into more of a balanced place where IT is the provider and the entity that puts process around the applications even though these applications are self supporting. You are going to see IT departments becoming more of an ad market place where the apps are sanctioned and applications that any user can use and the user goes in self provisions and uses those and configures those themselves.

In terms of security do you see enterprise class app stores being the answer to managing the distribution of these services?

It really is. I refer to some of the Dropbox type of cloud transfer utilities as ‘consumer cloud’ and they are very popular because they do a good job of transferring files but they are not necessarily secure. What enterprise needs to see is a secure solution that integrates with what they have already got, be it an active directory or a single sign-on that meets all of their security requirements. Having enterprise class of cloud provider is critical versus a consumer class because that just doesn’t scale over time and so you will absolutely see that balance of end user friendly tools but with enterprise class security.