Thoughts On The Enterprise 2.0 Conference

In the wake of the Celtics' fourth-quarter collapse that gave Kobe Bryant his fifth ring, I am endeavoring to find positive things to focus on instead of post-game analysis, which brings me to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference. This was my second year attending the event (which is conveniently located 10 minutes from my house), and I must say that my takeaway this year is more positive than my impressions after last year's show. I appreciated the optimism exhibitors and attendees have about the market and the passion they show for the topic - which led to some lively debates. But during my three days at the event, the things that really caught my attention were:

 

  • Vendors finally striving for real differentiation. One of my principle complaints from last year's show was that the vendors didn't seem to realize they were in a commodity market; every pitch I heard was based on feature sets that all the vendors shared. While there was still a bit of this going on, what stood out was that there were a number of different angles being pitched: Saba and SuccessFactors approaching the market from their footholds in training and human capital management; Jive Software and Ektron talking about applications and widgets that ride on their platforms (more on that in a moment); Cisco talking about integrated presence and IM, as well as social video experiences; and Microsoft and Huddle talking about intercompany collaboration (again, more in a moment) were but a few examples. I think this is the sign of market maturity that many observers have been waiting to see. What's driving this? I think that for the social software specialists, there's been a revelation: Microsoft and IBM have introduced horizontal social offerings that have garnered positive reviews, while a range of business application vendors are providing social components to their tools, making it essential for the social software specialists to tell a better story than, "our features are better than Microsoft's."
  • Application stores and development tools for social platforms are gaining momentum. During the event, I had conversations with three vendors - Jive Software, Ektron, and one other who will make an announcement shortly - that are rolling out widget interfaces to allow for data from other business applications to flow into their environments. For those of us who have complained about collaboration tools in general living outside of established workflows (it hinders adoption), this is a step in the right direction: These little applications or widgets can provide contextual information to these people-centric interfaces, providing the "thing" around which people collaborate. However, I think this isn't where things need to end up: The unstructured work of information workers isn't always solveable within the limited functionality of a widget; it can require the robust feature set of the business application feeding the widget. That said, I submit that the real winner in this space will be the vendor who provides the mechanism to effectively make that underlying business application "social."
  • Professional services are starting to become a bigger part of the conversation. Another complaint I had about last year's event was a lack of discussion on end user adoption. I have argued that social software vendors need robust consultative services to ensure successful deployments (boosting the chance of the license renewal), and the conversations I had during the conference point to broad vendor agreement. The vendors I spoke with discussed their services arm and what they were doing for customers, which was good, and when pressed on the size of this group in relation to their customer base, they revealed that their services group was small, which isn't so good. The enlistment of management consultancies and IT services providers as augmentations for vendor professional services was often put forward, but with many social software companies jockeying for attention from these prospective partners, I fear that some will be lost in the shuffle.
  • Microsoft begins talking about intercompany collaboration. Lost in the stream of announcements coming from Cisco, Jive Software, Socialtext, and more was Internet-based team workspace provider Huddle presenting with Microsoft. In February, Huddle took the top prize in Microsoft's SharePoint 2010 SocialFest, a contest to integrate applications with SharePoint. Huddle's entry tied together SharePoint instances in different companies allowing for communication and collaboration outside the firewall. With its closest competitors, Cisco and IBM, going to market with an intercompany collaboration story, this bridging begins to let Microsoft have a voice in the game. Going forward, it will be interesting to see how they develop their spin on this as businesses put a greater emphasis on being able to work with partners and suppliers more efficiently and easily.

 

These observations alone made my three days at the event worthwhile. As was often brought up by vendors and conference attendees, we're still in the early days of the social software market, but I think we're starting to see maturity. The one area that I still need to see discussed and addressed more directly is end user adoption: telling me about the number of employees a tool is deployed to or pointing to a few customers who report "success" doesn't tell me if people consistently use the tool (and what consistency looks like in the social realm) and it doesn't get me to value different roles in the organization receive (and this is beyond management telling me they think it's great).

Comments

I fully agree on the need for

I fully agree on the need for better user adoption. This is also what we see during firm-wide SharePoint rollouts. Driving adoption is nearly as costly as the implementation itself.

I just have received my copy from New Zealand of Michael Sampson's book on user adoption strategies, reading it with high expectations to get further ideas on how to drive the change with fresh and creative approaches. (http://www.useradoptionstrategies.com)

Intercompany collaboration is becoming a hot topic as global disperse supply chains emerge. Companies are already starting to realize that the have to use multiple collaboration platforms to connect to their partners. Bridging those will allow each partner to use their platform of choice. Maybe an open standard for social software will be the next milestone.

Intercompany is important

I'd say that communication and collaboration between companies has always been with us; joint ventures, partnerships, channel relationships, customer review boards, etc. are old and essential parts of business. I think what you see now are software vendors trying to automate this process in the same way they have automated intracompany collaboration: providing UC (Cisco's IME), collaboration platforms (IBM's LotusLive along with numerous other SaaS providers), and instant messaging (XMPP standardization) to name a few techniques. Will this work? Well, how effective - outside email - are companies using these tools for intracompany collaboration? Early indications are end users don't use much more than email. So, we'll see if intercompany collaboraiton fairs any better.

Metrics measuring employee adoption

Hi TJ! I really enjoyed your in-depth analysis on the current state of business social software, especially where you mentioned the the importance of user adoption, among others. So my question is, what do you think are some of the useful and accurate metrics that should be used to measure social software's adoption rate once it's deployed? Thank you!

Another good question

Hi Lucas,

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this blog post. To your question, I think the answer really depends on what you are trying to achieve. For example, if you're building an HR wiki on your corporate Intranet, your goal may be a certain number unique views if you're interested in all employees reviewing a particular piece of content. If you're building a social network, your goal may be to get a certain percentage of the workforce updating their baseline profile.

So, it may seem like a punt, but I think the metrics question boils down to what you are deploying and what you would like the end users to do. I'm happy to discuss this more in-depth if there is a particular issue you are grappling.