Social Enterprise Software discussion buzzing last week

Across the blogosphere, the topic of “Enterprise Social Software” was hot this past week.

The buzz is great news for those of us betting on collaboration and social networking as fundamental disruptors to the traditional enterprise landscape and as fundamental enablers for the next generation of value creation from enterprises of all kinds (corporate, governmental, non-profits, and others). It means something is happening, and it surely is.

However, I feel the debate about this “Enterprise Social Software” market is being viewed through the wrong lens. It is a great set of reading, but it seems that most of the conversation can be summarized with the phrase “Where’s the beef?”. This is consistent with ongoing discussion around Enterprise 2.0 continues to swirl around the topic of the lack of repeatable case examples of ROI for wiki, blog, forum and social network applications.

The perspective that I believe is missing from all of these conversations is that the next generation of enterprise applications – Enterprise Social Applications – are not strictly about wikis, blogs, forums, etc. The emerging Enterprise Social Applications market, as discussed in the conversations listed above, should be about how those Web 2.0 capabilities (blogging, wikis, forums, social networks) are applied to applications to solve the business problems of next generation enterprises.

The problems to be solved by and emerging demand for these new applications arise from three underlying multi-decade mega trends hitting large enterprises today – Globalization, the Talent Crunch and Web 2.0. The push toward being global and acting global will force enterprises to have much more agile, open and collaborative business processes, and the applications to support those processes. The same thing is true with the talent crunch which is upon us – as boomers “retire” and the Net Generation enters the workforce, the demands for more agile, open and collaborative work processes and applications will grow dramatically. This is how the Net Generation gets work done. The fact that Web 2.0 is upon us and that wikis, blogs, forums, social networks exist enables all of this – however, these capabilities are not the specific applications which will be the next generation of enterprise applications, or Enterprise Social Applications as coined in the conversations this past week.

Much of the conversation focused on whether the legacy vendors, SAP, IBM, Oracle, will be dethroned by the emerging social software vendors of wikis, blogs, forums and social networks. I don’t think the real debate is about whether the incumbents will be dethroned or not. This movement is not about dethroning the incumbents. They will be embraced, and the true next generation of Social Enterprise Applications will leverage these legacy applications, primarily as data services for the new apps. If we focus on the definition today of Enterprise Social Applications, i.e. wikis, blogs, forums and social networks, then there is a debate as to whether the legacy vendors will replace them or be replaced. In this regard, I tend to agree with Dennis Howlett, that the legacy vendors will lay the tracks of collaborative infrastructure slowly buy surely across their massive customer bases. We’re seeing this happen (with strong anecdotal evidence) already with Sharepoint and Microsoft in the large enterprises, and I would expect to see Oracle/BEA, and IBM/Lotus to be there too. From the perspective of truly different agile and collaborative next generation Enterprise Applications, this is fine either way – the important part is that the collaborative foundations are established and accessible with webservices, and not so much about who is providing it.

The emerging need large enterprises have is to harness and operationalize these collaborative capabilities and Web 2.0 norms into true next generation applications to enable them to remain highly competitive in the coming decades solving problems around global execution, the talent crunch, collaborative customer experience, and collaborative leadership and planning.

So, if wikis, blogs, forums, and social networks are not the next generation of social enterprise applications, what will those applications be? That is exactly what we are working on today with hundreds of our Global 2000 customers at nGenera. Here is an example of a problem statement that we typically see today, with a focus on the Pharmaceutical industry. In Pharma, filling the drug development pipeline is more challenging than ever and the industry is not immune from the talent crunch or the demands of the Net Generation. While a large percentage of the workforce is considering or entering retirement, the demand for new drug development is higher than ever and the challenge for finding new breakthrough opportunities is as tough as it has been. A pharma company can ignore these issues and continue to solely rely on a shrinking in-house staff of thousands or researchers to innovate in this challenging environment and see its global competitiveness erode, or it can take a new, collaborative approach to drug development and talent sourcing. While sticking a wiki in the R&D department certainly will help, it will not be a breakthrough, and to Sig Rinde’s point above, without some level of process and ownership, it will not survive in the enterprise environment or be operationalized more widely in the enterprise.

What the pharma companies need are a true set of On Demand applications for Innovation that can manage agile and collaborative processes of talent sourcing by project – reaching out to millions of scientists and researchers across the globe in marketplaces scattered across the web – to facilitate an R&D process across the ultimate collaborative team of inside and external professionals (some of whom will be “retired” former employees) who aggregated to execute against project goals, and all of this done across many initiatives across the enterprise. Integrations with back office applications will be required. Mashing up web marketplaces where this external talent aggregates is necessary. A process for onboarding the candidates must exist (find, qualify/credential, accept) as must a process for compensating and providing proper incentives. The relatively small, tight internal R&D core drives the innovation and process through the applications, and the worldwide body of available qualified researchers and scientists engage in the process on a project by project basis either directly or through aggregation points mashed-up in the pharma company’s Innovation application.

I believe applications such as this, and the required leadership development, research, education, and process development offerings to support these new collaborative applications, are the future of enterprise applications for companies which seek to be competitive worldwide in the coming decades while navigating the globalization, talent crunch and Web 2.0 waters. Current collaborative applications such as wikis, blogs, and social networks provide us a glimpse into the possibilities, and will likely be an enabler, but alone are not the applications or the answer.

  • Very cogent and coherent contribution to this debate. Conventional wisdom of course is that the big dogs- Oracle, IBM, MSoft et al, will ultimately provide the underlying infrastructure for collaboration with other players either subsumed or in niche roles augmenting big player platforms.
    Assuming for a moment this is how things play out the bigger question then becomes in what timeframe. In my earlier post you cite above, I deliberately linked to an IBM 'collaboration' page that was less than impressive. I know IBM are planning big things but no one challenged my post, unlike the sharepoint civil defense force who are vigilantly scanning the horizon for comments about their baby.

    The reality is most enterprises are not ready for fully formed 'solution' suites at this point in time. We are in a fascinating era where collaboration processes and procedures are still evolving – software represents the functionality required from this thinking and at this point the solution is often a combination of different apps under single sign on for specific goals.

    There clearly will be consolidation and shake out in this space which is set to be joined by yet more me-to apps as the consumer web 2.0 bubble deflates and attempts are made to rationalize 'social' in the enterprise.

    What I'm seeing on the ground today as an enterprise collaboration consultant recommending appropriate sets of tools for a given set of client needs is diversity. This diversity is typical solved with an amalgamation of appropriate solutions, usually under single sign on.

    There's no question suites are coming as we rationalize but that day hasn't arrived. Yet.

    • Thanks Oliver – great comment. I agree that IBM page is not impressive in
      the least, and the timeframe question for the big players is the real
      question. All have a placeholder for sure because they have to, but many
      lack commitment – in the ham & eggs analogy, they are the eggs. This
      includes Sharepoint despite the civil defense force you mention. The
      Sharepoint story seems to their typical play – rather than just have a
      placeholder, they deliberately seed something inside their customers into
      which will grow whatever needs to grow to dominate that part of the customer
      infrastructure over whatever timeframe it takes them to figure it out.
      I agree with your comment – we are seeing the natural evolution in market
      development in play here – from Education to Custom Solution development to
      more packaged Applications / Solutions. We're probably in between the
      Education and Custom Solution development stage, with collaborative
      processes now being defined in some enterprises / industries, and custom
      solutions being developed on these infrastructure toolsets – wikis, blogs,
      forums, social nets, Sharepoint : ) – and single sign-on.

      Dennis is probably right, these infrastructure players get consolidated into
      the infrastructure. Alongside that, new application / social enterprise apps
      providers will emerge building the next generation apps leveraging this web
      middleware. All in all, a fun time to be in the market.

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  • Jeff Dachis

    Well said

  • staffpower

    Discussing of Enterprise Social Software is very amazing.

  • staffpower

    Discussing of Enterprise Social Software is very amazing.
    staffing power

  • So, I'm interested in the effect you think Drupal Commons (http://drupal.org/project/commons) will have. I agree that the issue is not technology – it's making sure the enterprises understand the business benefits of using the technology.

    But when the technology itself becomes free (as in both libertas and beer), what changes about how fast enterprises try, and find the benefits? What will this do to both the businesses, and the proprietary social business software market?

    Thoughts?