There's a brand spanking new Forrester Wave report out that focuses on the best enterprise social platforms available today. Why organizations are using them and who makes the list is our focus today.

It's About the Customer AND the Employee

Maybe it's true that many organizations don't like to talk about being "social", that the term doesn't mean a heck of a lot when it comes to running a business, but they still understand that to succeed in today's economy, they have to do two very important things:

  • Engage and interact with customers
  • Embrace and encourage innovation and collaboration with employees

That's right, while the customer is extremely important to the overall success of a business, the role the employee plays is really no less important. So how does an organization provide an internal landscape that brings out the best of their employees? They develop a solid strategy around, and implement, an enterprise social platform.

In Forrester's report, The Forrester Wave™: Enterprise Social Platforms, Q3 2011, author Rob Koplowitz says that there has been a big shift from focusing on technology such as ERP, Human Capital Management (HCM, product lifecycle management (PLM) to collaboration tools (25% planning in 2011 investments in the former category vs 37% planning investment in collaboration tools). Three key factors are influencing this shift in technologies:

  1. Capture and re-use knowledge
  2. Maintain human connections across a disparate workforce
  3. Pressure to use new technologies for today's demanding workforce

Forrester's View of Enterprise Social Platforms

Only a matter of time before Forrester had a Wave report that looked at enterprise social platforms. Didn't we use to call them Enterprise 2.0 platforms? Regardless of the name you attach, there are any number of these platforms on the market, supporting a wide range of capabilities.

There are nine platforms discussed in this report:

  1. IBM
  2. Jive Software
  3. NewsGator
  4. Telligent
  5. Atlassian
  6. Microsoft
  7. OpenText
  8. Cisco
  9. SocialText

But there are many others as Forrester notes supporting a number of capabilities ranging from microblogging & activities streams (think Yammer) to social technology extensions (think Chatter for and WebCenter for Oracle). And of course there are many new and smaller entrants into this market including Moxie Software, Igloo and Saba.

You should know the Forrester evaluation process by now, it's based on market presence, strategy and current offering. Current offering capabilities includes: 1) core functionality; 2) language support, 3) architecture and administration, 4) monitoring and reporting, 5) security, 6) cross-platform support and 7) Information Workplace readiness.

Ok, so in a nutshell:

  • IBM, Jive, NewsGator and Telligent lead
  • Atlassian, Microsoft, Socialtext competitive
  • OpenText and Cisco in the game


Enterprise Social Platform Leaders

Seeing IBM in a leadership position is no surprise (really none of these are surprises when you take the time to think about both product offerings and market presence). I had a great talk with Jeff Schick, IBM's VP of Social Software earlier this week about IBM Connections and what is clear is that IBM is focused integrating social capabilities across all of its systems (see IBM Offers Real-time Compliance for Connections 3.1). Schick said that IBM was transforming itself, identifying how to improve business processes by being more agile and transparent. IBM sees social as the fundamental fabric to infuse into the way people do their work.

Jive Software is on pretty much every vendor report that discusses social capabilities, including Forrester's Wave for Community software and Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Social CRM. We also noted them as a leading integrated social solution for SharePoint. A long list of product enhancements, solution acquisitions and the creation of its own App Marketplace all demonstrate Jive's desire to be the best in social software. And of course, let's not forget that Jive was the one who first coined the term "Social Business Software".

As a Microsoft-based social platform, Telligent offers a number of different solutions -- all built on the same core platform -- targeted at different audiences. Telligent Enterprise, and its associated community and analytics solutions, was evaluated for this report. Its integration with Lync and with SharePoint are key pluses, as is its own growing marketplace.

NewsGator rounds up the list of leaders. As a platform that integrates tightly into Microsoft SharePoint, NewsGator rides the SharePoint wave that shows no signs of dying off. But just because it's the most integrated social platform for SharePoint doesn't make it a leader alone (Check out all the changes to Social Sites over the last while). NewsGator gives SharePoint key capabilities it lacks like really strong microblogging, activity streams, innovation management.

The Competitors

You didn't really expect to see Microsoft SharePoint as a leader did you? No, but you can't argue that it offers a number of social capabilities, which may be just enough for some organizations. It's a platform that can be extended not only by partners, but by customization using the Business Data Catalog (think rich profiles). Forrester does note that its not a fit for "best of breed", but if you are looking for a wide range of capabilities across both social and content management, SharePoint should be considered.

Socialtext likes to talk about the "social layer". Aimed at mid market, this is a well rounded platform with strengths in microblogging and activity feeds. But remember that Socialtext has its roots in wiki, so there's a lot to see here as well.

Finally we look at Atlassian Confluence, another wiki rooted social platform. Forrester sees the potential for Confluence to break out into the broader business audience and it does have plenty of other capabilities that work nicely alongside its wiki. Forrester does note that Confluence has traditionally been more suited to technical users, but that it has made investments to provide better business user usability.

Social Platforms Not to Left Out

OpenText Communities and Cisco Quad round out the list of vendors discussed in this report: Quad the relative newcomer and OpenText Communities from the Vignette acquisition. OpenText is another vendor who is very focused -- like IBM -- on bringing social into existing business processes. Cisco Quad recently had a few updates, including a new hosted environment for organizations who don't want to manage the platform on premise.

Did Forrester Get it Right?

Strip down Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Social Software and you'll see all of these vendors in pretty much the same position. NewsGator is the only one I haven't seen on a Gartner report, but that may be because it is tied to SharePoint. Regardless, I've seen most of these platforms in action and they all offer some great features and capabilities. So which one do you ultimately select? Go back to your use case (s) and choose wisely.