The social software market is dynamic and growing. It's customer rather than vendor driven, and grew by 15 percent last year, according to Gartner’s recently published Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace.

In the past, customers were primarily concerned with product maturity and support. But now they're more focused on collaboration and social capabilities, and how both can be seamlessly embedded into daily operations.

Seismic Shift

The shift towards embedded technologies is so rapid that Garter reports it may have to change its evaluation criteria. In the near future, it may look at two categories of enterprise social software: stand-alone products and those that provide collaboration and social capabilities that can be embedded in other applications.

It is hardly a surprise the market has moved in this direction. Gartner concedes social software has evolved rapidly since it started covering the space in 2007. By now, all vendors have developed a set of core capabilities and functions, including:

  • User profiles
  • Group spaces
  • Content sharing
  • Discussions
  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • Search
  • Activity streams

One other interesting point worth noting is that IT is very much in control of the budgets and spending here. About 42 percent of IT managers are calling the social shots in the enterprise, Gartner wrote.

What is Social Software?

Gartner defines enterprise social software as software that is used principally to support people working in teams, communities or networks. They are products that are not specialized for any one particular business process or activity and, increasingly, are being used to communicate with external customers, suppliers and partners.

Buyers in this market are looking for virtual environments that can engage participants across a whole organization in creating, organizing and sharing information. Some of the key tasks help users to:

  • Discover talent and collaborators across the enterprise
  • Form teams with similar objectives
  • Collaborate on joint tasks
  • Share information
  • Organize work and group tasks.
  • In fact, anything at all that requires people or groups to interact, generally at a distance.

Social Software Magic Quadrant

This year’s Quadrant changed relatively little, with 17 vendors spread across the four quadrants. 

  • The Leaders Quadrant includes Microsoft, IBM, Jive, Salesforce and TIBCO
  • The Challengers Quadrant includes VMWare, Atlassian and Sitrion
  • The Niche Players Quadrant includes OpenText, Huddle, Igloo, Liferay and Zyncro Tech
  • The Visionaries Quadrant includes Zimbra, Google, SAP and Acquia

There is also an extensive list of other vendors that did not make Gartner's cut, but which it nonetheless considers worth investigating. 

Social Software Buying Drivers

Gartner has made some interesting observations on the issues that are driving buying decisions around social software, in particular around the previously identified problem of embedding social software into work processes. They include:

1. Business Value

Many potential buyers are still trying to pinpoint the business value of social software, and look to other businesses for peer validation. The perceived risks can hold up the decision to invest.

Gartner suggests that IT should make the ultimate decision, but that the decision should reflect input from all business units. By doing this, enterprises can identify what changes will be needed to make deployments successful.

2. Further investments

Many enterprises struggle with adoption even after a successful deployment. This often happens because the deployment is regarded as an IT issue, even when the business value is clear.

Gartner recommends that business units and IT establish a set of metrics that will measure the impact of social technology in real terms. These measurements will help decide on future investments.

3. Embedding social capabilities

No decisions about social software should be made without careful consideration of the other systems that are operating in the enterprise, including business applications and information management. While it is possible to deploy pure enterprise social networks quickly, other applications can complicate matters. This is particularly true of intranets, portals, content management systems and other business applications.

Gartner suggests that enterprises consider their entire ecosystem before investing and decide on what they want to accomplish. This should include considerations about integration points, information flows between systems, security and the ways all of it collectively supports business goals. 

4. Fragmentation

As social software matures, the risks of fragmentation increases. Enterprises may invest in social and collaboration options piecemeal, resulting in duplicative investments in similar kinds of software over time. Some of this results from buying software that comes with social software out-of-the-box and which has been configured simply because it is there. This can complicate projects, confuse users and lead to a failure to adopt.

IT should be watching out for this kind of duplication and should be looking at consolidation and rationalization, with an eye to adding business value to the existing or primary systems.

5. Due diligence

Many enterprises have not looked at the implications of a cloud-only solution in any great detail. Enterprises should carry out such assessments and create acceptable guidelines that will cover issues like compliance, security and legal services.

6. Usability, User Experience

According to Gartner, most organizations don’t pay attention to usability and the end-user experience when choosing and deploying a social software solution. Keeping in mind that the success of these deployments depend on user acceptance, issues like poor mobile support, limited external access through the firewall, poor integration with key applications like email and sluggish response times are significant risks.  To avoid this, Gartner suggests hands-on testing of products before a final decision is mad to buy.

Tomorrow, we will look at the vendors that made it into the Leader’s and Challengers Quadrant, as well as the functions they offer.

Title image by Rasmus Andersson  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.