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It's been years since companies began adding in-house social networks to enhance collaboration among employees. Now it's time to get real business value out of them.

Until recently, many companies have struggled to get their employees to supplement their email and IMs by engaging in conversations with geographically-dispersed coworkers. Even more elusive was finding measurable value in their status updates.

That's about to change, according to Jim Lundy, CEO and lead analyst for Aragon Research, who has spent nearly three decades looking into social business strategies, talent management and related fields. During that time, Lundy spent 12 years at Gartner Research, where he formed and led its collaboration and social software team. 

Getting Something Done

Lundy believes predictive software will help social business users reach structured outcomes that move the business forward in a measurable way.

He'll dive deeply into this topic during a CMSWire webinar, "How Structured Collaboration Delivers Better Business Outcomes", at 2 pm ET on Oct. 21. Joining him on the program will be Kim Glover, manager of knowledge management for FMC Technologies. The program will be sponsored by ThinkTank, which Aragon recently named a "hot" vendor in collaboration software.

We sat down with Lundy for a sneak preview of his ideas on how social business, predictive software, video and other topics:

CMSWire: How has enterprise social business changed recently?

Lundy: There are a lot of traditional approaches to collaboration and work and software applications. What I think is changing is that collaboration is more contextual, it's more in the flow of work. There's also a shift to the idea of more structured outcomes. That's something ThinkTank is doing. 

We're seeing a trend there. We don't call it task management, though some people call it that. It's more about how you bring people together to get common ground and get something done. The providers call it different things but we are seeing a trend where there are more capabilities from different providers emerging. Five years ago it was all about activity feeds, but it's not about activity feeds any more.

CMSWire: By activity feeds, you mean the equivalent of status updates in social media, right?

Lundy: Yes, status updates. They've also been called microblogs. It's like, "What are you doing right now?"  ...When I say structured collaborations, I mean can I actually use the interactions with people, using technology, so that I can say, "Do we agree we actually want to do this?"  It's about getting to an outcome. And that's a trend to software overall. You're seeing new applications that are driving to do a specific thing. 

Instead of just saying "I'm doing this" or "This is what I like," it's like "In this meeting, we agreed to do these things."  It's really combining some of the real-time collaboration of meeting software with social networking. It's trying to mash that together. There are a lot of firms out there that we've seen that are coming from project management land. Some are coming from group collaboration, which is where ThinkTank came from. There are stand-alone tools. We've probably seen 30 or so providers pop-up in the last 12 months.

One of the things we hear is that companies adopt social tools, but workers don't use them because the tools haven't been integrated well enough into the workflow.  Is that your experience?

Lundy: The success or failure of social is often tied to usage. And there's still a high percentage -- still, three out of five cases -- that don't make it, partially because of culture on the people side, or the companies didn't set it up right, or the workers said, "That's too hard to use." There's still a lot of that. But the biggest issue that comes up is that it's hard to share or find content.

CMSWire: We use a social tool and I constantly have the feeling that a lot of information is getting lost. To me, it doesn't seem to be as efficient as using -- and I hate to say this -- email.

Lundy: Well, email is still the No. 1 content management system in the world. It's still No. 1 by a mile. We've come up with this idea of predictive content where machine learning will allow it to filter data and get the content for your next meeting. Or in a case like sales inside of CRM, where it's going to say,  "Oh, you're in the opportunity qualification stage. Here's a collateral to send."

So that is one of the areas where software and humans are going to work more closely together. It's going to be more predictive and prescriptive. We're just calling it predictive business applications, but in the world of social and collaboration, the big thing has is that there have always been tools that allow people to collaborate in real time or in non-real time. We're seeing more of that come together. Some of it is specific to certain use cases. 

We've started doing videos and adding that to our published research because it's easier for business people get the gist of what the note is about. And one of the videos we're doing is on social networking and communities and how you succeed or fail. Again, sharing the content is a really big deal. Most people want more video in their collaborative content, whether you're using Yammer or Jive or any of that sort of stuff.

From a business leadership position, people think they can see more of what's going on if they're on the social network. Millennials want to use the social network. We have some millennials at Aragon and they really like to communicate in the community. They don't like to communicate via email.

CMSWire: Are there other ways people are using video on social networking that add to the quality of the communication?

Lundy: It's been slow on these past platforms where you could do video-as-a-service. But we are seeing the shift to that. All the big guys are going to eventually get there -- being able to embed a meeting inside your community, and also have it recorded. You're going to see more of that.

CMSWire: Do we really want to watch coworkers 3,000 miles away make a decision that is going to change our lives?

Lundy: If you can search for when the decision was made and didn't have to watch the rest of it, that would be pretty cool. That's what video content management is all about. It's the idea of a video as a document type that is fully searchable, that I don't have to watch. I can just say "find the point where Jim said video's searchable" and boom. There are a lot of players. It's all about interoperability. 

We think by 2018 video content will become ubiquitous. We get asked a lot of things like "How do you make a video tutorial."  They just want to know how you made that. We're doing more on that. Young and old people love video because we grew up with it. We're programmed to say, "Hey, I want to watch that."

CMSWire: Let's shift the focus to ROI. Is there a specific way to measure ROI in social, such as productivity? Or is it still hard to get your arms around it?

Lundy: We think there's ROI around some of the structured collaboration where you can say "We actually innovated. We came to a consensus. We could actually ideate and innovate and get more options out on the table that people actually agreed to." We are seeing some of value there. But I ran the collab team for years, and I never saw a clear justification on an email system. It was just that people had to do it. And CFOs are not buying soft productivity.

Here's what I think: Over the next year and one-half -- we're saying by the end of 2015 -- 50 percent of applications are going to be predictive. The applications are going to be smarter; they're not going to be dumb. And you are going to see more ROI on collaboration applications that are going to do things very specifically. Sales communication is really a collaboration application. All it does is to allow you to send emails, and it tracks them and tells exactly what that prospect is doing with the email and the collateral in it.  That's a very specific collaboration application that is focused on one activity, which is: Did the prospect open it? How many people did they forward it to? How long did they spend on slide 10? ...

If I can get that content faster, then I'll probably be able to say, "Yeah, this is going to have a huge value for me." So with the smarter applications you are going to see significant ROI. We're in a shift, a pivot point in software. Smarter applications are going to have an ROI. You're probably going to see an explosion of use cases. And probably of providers, too, because business people will say "I can buy it on my credit card. It's doing this specific thing. And it's going to be great."

ThinkTank does a lot of work in the professional consulting services. The consulting firms use their software to get to decisions because it basically drives collaboration and consensus so that the manager doesn't dominate the conversation. They're voting and crowd-sourcing among a team. In that category, they're seeing a big ROI for that kind of thing.

CMSWire: Do you really think by the end of 2015, half of all applications are going to be predictive?

Lundy: It's the application of big data to software applications. People are going to be able to take their applications and put it up in the cloud and then turn on the predictive capabilities to make their stuff smart. How is that going to happen? The big providers that are providing software platforms, like Google, Microsoft and even IBM. They're all enabling their platforms. So the Google Compute Engine, you can do it there. Microsoft Azure, you're going to be able to do it there. They just launched their services in beta. And IBM already has all their Watson cloud stuff available for production customers. 

How does this all come together? Open floor plans, more videoconference rooms -- because the prices are coming down so much, and software that is getting better. We think the mobile app, as far as the outcomes go, becomes a new portal. A mobile app can become your portal for the entire team.