Malaysian-made Offiria is an enterprise social networking platform built by the team behind JomSocial
In the mission to improve internal communications, Offiria wants to take email out of the equation
NABIL Feisal Bamadhaj (pic, right) opens every business pitch with the same question: “How important is communications to your company’s business?”
The chief executive officer of software development firm Slashes and Dots Sdn Bhd is currently on a mission to make companies realize the need to take internal communications seriously.
“A company is made out of people, so work is communications. What we see today is that companies award employees devices like smartphones and tablets but they don’t have the tools for their employees to engage in real work,” he says.
Nabil adds that previously, BlackBerry devices were issued for employees to communicate and text securely in real time along with, of course, push email access.
“We’re taking that leap ahead from email and trying to build a culture where internal communications within a company is not email-based,” he says.
In his view, internal communications should be something through which employees communicate via a social networking-type platform where it’s task-driven, trackable and allows for the easy delegation of tasks.
“This is something the Europeans and Americans are doing very well already because they’ve got the traction and attention for this,” says Nabil.
He usually follows up his opening question with another: Do you know your Facebook friends better than your co-workers in terms of what they do every day?
“The whole idea is to allow that culture to resonate within your company when it comes to work-related communications,” he says.
The lure for deploying such platforms is simple enough to understand. What if one person is on medical leave and has important information on his email but is unreachable because he has switched off his phone? Or worse, has left the company?
By keeping all work-related communications and documents in a consolidated platform accessible to relevant stakeholders there is a trackable history and no loss of data.
“With an internal social networking platform in place and actively used by employees, the manager could just go into the system and pull out the relevant information,” he says.
Creating a happy office
Enterprise social network. Social intranet. Employee social network. There are many terms for it but it all boils down to a same thing – a secure internal communications and collaboration platform for employees.
Enter Offiria (click pic to enlarge), Slashes and Dots’ answer to the growing demand for social networking solutions from organizations. The name is a mash up of “office” and “gembira” or "ria", the Malay words for happiness and cheerful respecitvely.
Nabil and his team are no strangers to the world of social networking. Their product, JomSocial is the leading social networking solution for websites running the Joomla content management system, used by over 160,000 websites around the world and counting.
“There are a lot of websites out there using us to power their communities, eBay uses us, Joomla itself uses us and Linux.com as well, just to name a few,” he says.
In fact, it was eBay which first alerted the team to the possibility of a new business opportunity. According to Nabil, eBay needed a private social intranet and used JomSocial as its base, modifying the open source software to suit its purposes.
“From then on we also got customers, developers contacting us directly, saying that they needed a social networking type of software to allow them to engage with their communities securely,” he says.
At same time, the team also saw that companies like Salesforce with its Chatter platform, Jive, Yammer and Huddle come to the fore.
“They were all making huge progresses with a social networking platform that customers were asking us for. So we said, let’s do this!” says Nabil.
He along with business partner and chief technology officer Azrul Rahim (above pic, left), got to work on building an enterprise-friendly social networking platform.
Offiria took eight months, five developers and RM800,000 to build but Nabil is quick to point out that the platform was also built on four years’ worth of experience with JomSocial.
The platform is not a Joomla component, but a standalone product built using the Joomla framework. For end-users, it is not dependent on any other platform and no other software is required to install it. It is also accessible across most mobile device platforms via an HTML 5 browser-based app but with limited functions.
When developing the platform, the Offiria team took a generalist approach to its creation, bringing it very close to Yammer, with no particular focus on things such as file or project management.
“We also realize that is the best approach because each company has own processes and flows. If we go too deep into any focus, we will be labeled as such and we don’t want that label,” says Nabil.
If there is a focus with Offiria, Nabil says, it is with the "social stream" element that drives the core of communications.
"Information is not as useful without context. There's no point having a document when you don't know head or tail of its history or purpose. That's where Offiria would step in, to help provide that context," he says.
He also points to two key features which distinguish Offiria – the system’s ability to track who has read documents and updates, along with a Custom Lists tool which allows for segmented and specified tracking of communications or people with a date-range option.
“With Offiria, you can see who has read an update and who hasn’t. And for managers, it offers them the flexibility to track certain projects or people to keep abreast of progress and also use it as a reference point when generating performance reports,” he says.
If there is one thing the Offiria team will not do, it is integrate existing email systems to the platform.
“When potential clients ask me that I tell them that the whole point of me trying to separate internal communications with Offiria is because all the noise such as spam or newsletters, can then be cut out leaving only work-related information,” he says.
“What’s the point of integration? The same problems you have with email will then affect the system. By separating the two, you can move forward and focus,” he adds.
Same but different
When asked what the differentiators were for Offiria versus its competitors, Nabil says the focus for others was on companies with 500-800 employees and more.
“We wanted to target companies below that line or with low cost budgets that want to be more cost effective in their manner of implementing social network for their employees,” he adds.
Another thing, was the slightly different direction the company took with its solution.
“Our competitors are cloud-based providers and we also have a cloud-based version of Offiria which we are beta-testing now but we offer customers the option to purchase the software and install it within their own corporate environments,” he says.
Nabil explains that this is mainly due to the fact that most companies and management teams within Malaysia and South-East Asia are more concerned about the security, and feel that it is more reliable to depend on one’s own internal hardware setup as opposed to cloud-based one.
The Offiria offering is also touted to be a more affordable alternative with its licensing business model.
“Other platforms are based on a subscription model and can be around US$15 – 20 per user per month which adds up to a hefty sum,” he says.
With Offiria, companies pay a one-off license fee: US$799 for up to 100 users, US$2500 for up to 500 users and US$6000 for 500 to 2000 users. A purchase entitles customers to free maintenance, support and updates for the first year, after which an annual renewal fee applies.
Offiria already has a few companies signed up to be its beta testers, most notably media organization RTM, medical device distributor Mayo Healthcare, consulting firm MMCSB and telecommunications equipment provider Alcatel-Lucent .
When asked what the feedback has been from the initial group of clients, Nabil said that they loved it but the key challenge lies in employee adoption and culture.
“It needs to be a top-down push, with something like this that allows management total control over work communications, the culture needs to be built and habits need to be formed. You have to make it policy for employees to use the platform, make it part of their key performance index,” he says.
Made in Malaysia, for the world
The Offiria team is already building a good base in the United States with good traction in Malaysia but much more needs to be done.
The final unique selling point, according to Nabil, is the company’s physical presence in South-East Asia. With the exception of Yammer, recently acquired by Microsoft, its other competitors have no Asian base of operations and are focused on other markets.
“That’s our main goal. When people think of enterprise social networking or collaboration and networking tools, we want Offiria to be the first name that pops up. We want to take this opportunity to be the powerhouse in the region,” he says.
Nabil said the main mission for the next six to 12 months is the building of brand awareness and market education. The need to market the company and its solutions more aggressively is a bitter lesson learnt from its JomSocial days and a puzzle the team is determined to solve.
“We’re just not getting noticed enough for our technology, even with JomSocial which is used by so many websites the world over, nobody in Malaysia really knows who we are. It’s those kinds of things we want to work on,” he adds.
Pointing to an update on his own Offiria account, the company being the biggest users of its own products, Nabil highlights a recent email query.
“This is from Uruguay. The country’s equivalent of MSC Malaysia contacted us saying they are looking to purchase a license for 1500 users,” he says, with palpable frustration.
“This is the part where I feel sedih [sad], you know. I’m here in Malaysia. I’m sitting here in right smack in MidValley in a kick-ass office and yet we don’t have MSC Malaysia calling us saying ‘hey we need this tool’. Instead we get it from other countries, like Uruquay!”
To find out more about Offiria, click here.