Reid Hoffman co-founded LinkedIn, one of the best-known social conduits for professional networking. He also happens to be partner at the venture capital uber firm, Greylock Partners, and sits on countless boards for popular Internet companies. When he talks, people tend to listen, and Hoffman is saying enterprise is the next big thing, but it will take consumer technology to get it to the top.
The Enterprise Matters
TechCrunch Founder Michael Arrington interviewed Hoffman at the Disrupt 2012 conference currently underway in San Francisco. Of course, Hoffman addressed all the topics popular with those who enjoy technology gossip: Twitter’s developer smack down, the future of Facebook and what’s happening with Yahoo.
A little over halfway through the interview, Arrington and Hoffman began discussing a topic that actually matters outside of Silicon Valley and Wall Street. According to Hoffman, Greylock has one of the best enterprise investment teams in the world, and the next cycle of IPOs will be really interesting enterprise businesses. He also affirmed what many technologists have known for some time -- consumer technology is spreading into the enterprise and driving the market.
Arrington displayed his trademark “charm” by feigning a yawn during the discussion of the enterprise, but Hoffman made it clear the enterprise is important. Enterprise technology can be a game changer; it can improve the productivity of an entire industry. Hoffman pointed to companies like Workday, which just filed a US$ 400 million IPO, that are integrating social and mobile capabilities that change how people work in subtle (e.g. post to an activity stream instead of sending an email) and not so subtle (e.g. allow customer service reps to work from home) ways.
The Enterprise Still Matters, but So Does the Consumer
The enterprise technology market has not traditionally focused on engaging users or providing experiences that rivaled consumer facing products and services. The key motivation has been getting a job done -- not appearance and sentiment.
Conversely, the consumer market has often failed to address enterprise class qualities like strong security, fault tolerance and high availability adequately. The lines separating work and personal have blurred and so have technology expectations.
Companies that can close the gaps between these previously separate environments are what Hoffman alluded to as game changing technology. This does not mean Facebook of the Enterprise or a new business iPad is coming. The companies that excel and thrive in this space aren’t replicating features from enterprise to consumer or consumer to enterprise. They are identifying opportunities to make benefits like fluid collaboration transcend their former consumer and enterprise boundaries and delivering those benefits in a manner that is uniquely suited to the target environment.