The State of Enterprise Social Software

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , ,

Last Friday the Read/Write Web post on "Big Vendors Scrap for Enterprise 2.0 Supremacy" post really was bothersome for me. The list of big players and their products in the post seemed to show the sorry state of offerings by the big companies more than it shows they understand the vast improvements that have been put forth in the consumer webspace and by much better smaller companies.

Companies Claiming to Get Web 2.0

Nearly all of the enterprise software product companies are claiming understanding of Web 2.0, but none execute well on it and very few show promise of getting to good products (not even targeting great yet) in the near future. The companies placing a stake, include:

  • BEA: Traditional enterprise clunky and difficult to use interfaces
  • IBM: A good start with their Connections social software stack, but none of the tools are close to current practices and not to best practices. A version 2.0 may fix a lot of the issues. This is the best of this traditional enterprise bunch.
  • Microsoft: Leads their efforts with their newest version of Sharepoint. Sharepoint creates mini silos that are difficult to share information out of. The opposite of openness, sharing, and efficiency (tenets of Web 2.0).
  • Oracle: Offers sprinkling of Ajax interfaces and Web 2.0-like features, but really misses
  • SAP: As far as I can tell they have not launched anything yet

The best of this bunch with the most promise is IBM at the moment. IBM is saying all the right things and their products, while not current best practices or close yet, show they have most of the right foundation and the whisperings of version 2 sound like that could be a really useful tool for enterprise. IBM is using their own tools in-house and getting a lot of feedback there from eating their own dog food.

The BEA product I have only been able to watch video demos as my request to get hands on demonstration was turned down as I am not a direct buyer (I have three large clients interested in the products that are wanting my feedback and that will drive their decision to purchase or not). The BEA screen shots show really poor traditional enterprise software interfaces and while including trendy (but often not helpful) tag clouds and other hints they heard the buzzwords, the tools are not really more than old enterprise software in Web 2.0 clothing.

Microsoft Sharepoint is every enterprise's darling for a few weeks. Sharepoint built on top of its existing teamware, collaboration, and workflow tools from the prior version and added easier to use interfaces. The downside for organizations is it creates mini silos of content and ideas that can benefit the whole organization. There is a lot of frustration around Sharepoint in enterprise as it is more difficult to get it to do what is desired and the silo issues are often problematic. I do like Sharepoint as it triggers business for me, with enterprises wanting to better understand and get smart on what social software in the enterprise could do for them if they get it right (this is what I do at InfoCloud Solutions, Inc. for customers, get them smart on possibilities and good practices, which usually leads to helping the technology vendors improving their products for use).

Oracle seems to have added "features" into their offerings (based on what Oracle developers tell me), but there is little solid there to talk about.

SAP is an unknown as they have not launched anything as of yet that I can tell.

What Should Be in Web 2.0 for Enterprise

One of the core pieces of the Web 2.0 mantra is Ease of Use. Most enterprise software over the years has been "ease of abuse". Enterprise software is apparently supposed to come with very large manuals. The interfaces need to be cleaned up and focus on affordance and improved task processes that allow for diversions (say, fix an address while entering a sales order should hover to fix the address not require you to go back to the beginning).

Providing ease of sharing information as well as ease for holding on to information that has value to individuals. Sharing is a really sticky problem in most large organizations as many are built around heavy privacy (some of it for good reason, but an incredible is overly cautions and hinders efficiency and being a smart organization). Sharing to make an organization smart and knowledgeable requires openness. There is yet to be an enterprise service that account for openness and needed privacy well. Many require a gatekeeper and permission, which are both bottlenecks. There does not seem to be a trust in employees to do the right thing. Most management can not come up with a valid worse case scenario that is viable, but still strong privacy is important. As one CIO commented to me, "we know we need social software inside our organization as we recognize the strong value, but we need to greatly limit sharing and have everything private." At least that person recognized the value of social software, the next step is sorting out that most things inside the organization do not need to be private (20 to 30 percent is usually what needs to be private) so to make a smarter, more knowledgable, and more efficient organization that is more competitive.

Today's Viable Web 2.0 Tools for Enterprise

While the big companies are not quite grasping how to vastly improve their offerings to enterprise, there are many companies that do grasp that is needed and being demanded by many enterprise organizations. There are many of these companies, but the ones I see performing well in enterprise and companies are happy with are the following for in-house enterprise solutions:

  • ConnectBeam for social bookmarking that intelligently incorporates with your existing enterprise search
  • Cogenz for social bookmarking for smaller companies and are comfortable with the service being hosted outside the firewall.
  • SocialText for enterprise wiki and adding needed wiki tools into Sharepoint
  • Atlassian for enterprise wiki and an increasing array for social software options
  • MobableType Enterprise Edition for blogging, identity management, community support, and profile tools
  • WordPress with Automattic Services for blogging
  • Drupal for a full platform for social software development.

There are many more options on this front, but these are the ones that are getting the most interest and high marks from people using them.

The Next Step

Those organization who have been implementing real social software solutions in-house are finding they are needing another layer after the tools have been running for a while. When the tools catch on, and the most often do, there will be a good amount of new content and sorting through it, analyzing it, and finding the best relevant information out of it (be it blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, collaboration tools, etc.) needs tools. Most of these tools will need to be built in-house as solutions are not yet there (other than enterprise search and its augmentations). Most organization do not see the need for these tools until 9 months to 24 months in, but it will come. There is good information and there is great information, but much of it all depends on the hand the information is in. On the web we are not quite there yet, but we are getting closer with tools like Lijit, and some of the ConnectBeam's relevance understanding is helpful.

I will likely be doing more in depth looks at these tools over the coming months. But if you need help sorting through what social software means to your organization and help analyzing needs and best products for your organization, please feel free to contact me through InfoCloud Solutions.