We’ve been down this road before. A disruptive technology comes along, upending the status quo and delivering significant improvements in enterprise productivity. Eager to catch the wave, legacy providers give their products a makeover, adding some new features and re-positioning them as next-generation solutions.

The motivations are understandable. Vendors want to rejuvenate aging products, and customers want to squeeze more utility from existing investments. Sometimes the bolt-on strategy buys a little time. But in the long run, it usually comes up short, as retrofits yield to purpose-built solutions, designed from the ground up to tackle a new set of challenges.

IT is in the midst of a transition, from Enterprise 1.0 to Enterprise 2.0, or as Geoffrey Moore puts it, from “systems of record” to “systems of engagement. (See also Moving Beyond Systems of Record to Systems of Engagement, Dachis Group report, June 8, 2011). And that requires more than incremental improvements.

Content Management vs. Social Business

Content Management Systems (CMS), aka Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems, belong to the first category, Social Business solutions to the second. The differences run deep -- so deep that current attempts to repurpose CMS systems as social platforms are likely to be futile.

CMS is built for command and control.
Social Business platforms are built for collaboration and sharing.

CMS is designed to manage content.
Social Business fosters conversations.

CMS reinforces organizational boundaries and hierarchies. Users are siloed in separate sites and document spaces.
Social Business promotes openness and connectedness. Users are part of a unified community.

CMS tracks activity without providing context or meaning.
Social Business platforms are all about context and meaning. They apply adaptive intelligence and social connections to bring information to the right people at the right time.

Social Business platforms depend on an outstanding user experience: communities thrive and collaboration flourishes because people actually enjoy using them. When is the last time you heard anyone say that their content management system made work great?

CMS systems additionally lack other features important to Social Business -- such as the ability to create external communities to engage with customers and partners and monitor the social web. CMS systems don't typically provide sentiment analysis, tools for innovation and ideation, support for mobile devices, activity filters and more.

These aren’t just differences of philosophy or look and feel. They extend to the software architecture itself. CMS has its roots in transactional, database-driven systems. There are no provisions for essential social constructs such as activity streams, user profiles, social feedback and reputation mechanisms, a centralized view of community activity and collaborative messaging. These capabilities come from a bottom-up design, not just slotting in some new modules or slapping a new UI on top of an existing CMS foundation. Actually, adding social features after the fact can make matters worse, creating more walled-off information that is hard to manage and search.

Take SharePoint 2010 as an Example

The gulf between CMS and Social Business is highlighted in a recent study by Doculabs, a consulting firm specializing in enterprise social collaboration and content management. The study focused on the most prominent ECM-to-social play on the market today: Microsoft’s SharePoint 2010. Doculabs surveyed a number of their client companies with an eye toward answering two questions:

To what extent can SharePoint 2010 support the breadth of capabilities that organizations may need for Enterprise 2.0? If it falls short, what additional investment is needed to bridge the gaps?"

Their conclusions:

  • “While Microsoft has incorporated some ‘social’ computing capabilities into SharePoint 2010, the functionality does not approach that which would be required for a comprehensive Enterprise 2.0 environment.”
  • “Enhancing SharePoint 2010 for Social Business will be expensive. For organizations intent on using SharePoint as a Social Business solution, customization and/or third-party Web Parts will be required -- which likely will be time consuming and expensive.” Interviewees estimated the costs could range from $500,000 to over a $1 million to start, with more for ongoing maintenance.
  • “Organizations serious about Social Business now should consider a purpose-built tool, rather than customizing SharePoint or using third-party Web Parts. SharePoint customers that are ready for social computing now may not want to wait for the next major SharePoint upgrade, which will certainly have improved social capabilities but will likely not be released until 2013 or later (based on Microsoft’s history).”

Final Thoughts

Those results shouldn’t be surprising. They drive home a lesson we’ve learned many times in the history of technological shifts. Half-measures rarely work. If you want a Social Business platform, get the real thing.

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