Social technologies: Standalone Applications Or Features?

During CScape at Cisco Live, one of the more interesting conversations I had started with a simple question: Is social software (and collaboration software in general) a set of standalone applications or features of other business applications? This sprang from a discussion on the future of the collaboration technology business and really speaks to a couple of important developments in the market:

 

1) Collaboration platform vendors incorporating social features into their offerings. Anyone who's followed my research and my blog posts knows this story: Cisco, IBM, Microsoft and Novell (amongst others) have released collaboration tools that include robust Web 2.0 technologies such as social networks, tag clouds and blogs. This has led to a maturing of the messaging of pure-play vendors - going from "we have the best social software" to "this is how we solve a specific business problem."

2) Business applications that power business processes are becoming social. Another recurring theme in my research is corporate interest in (and fear of not having) enterprise 2.0 technology has led business application vendors to jump into the market. As these vendors do so, they are seeking out tools to help them make their applications social. The inclusion of business application vendors, though, has put more pressure on the pure-play vendors to find a niche that will allow them to compete with vendors that have sure footholds in businesses.

 

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How Do You Demonstrate The Real Value Of Collaboration (Software)?

As I cruised the pavilion at Cisco Live in Las Vegas last week, the display that held my attention the longest was the Collaboration ROI booth. There, the network infrastructure provider making waves in the collaboration software market was demonstrating calculations it had done on how its various solutions were improving efficiency and productivity for specific jobs in verticals like retail banking. In the example I reviewed, banks using virtual loan officers were able to obtain more small business customers because the bank was able to have someone "there" to answer the prospective customer's questions. Now, with all the activity going on around me, why was this so fascinating? Put simply, it relates to a fundamental issue for all vendors hoping to compete in the collaboration software space: How do you differentiate in this crowded market?

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