play dead, Douglas Gordon exhibit at MoMA
While the collaboration software market continues to expand, there's an elephant in the room that few are discussing PHOTO: photograph: Tikva Morowati artwork: Douglas Gordon

In the wake of Jive’s $462 million acquisition, the spotlight is once again shining on the steadily expanding enterprise collaboration space.

Enterprise collaboration tools have been subsumed under the broader digital workplace umbrella, in many cases moving from standalone solutions to being baked into existing tools. 

But as the world’s workforce increasingly turns towards telecommuting, mobile working and cross-departmental initiatives, these tools continue to play an integral role in encouraging collaboration and communication.

But even as big players like Microsoft, IBM, Salesforce and Jive move forward with the digital workplace revolution, some voices from within the industry are airing concerns over the state of enterprise social software.  

The Elephant(s) in the Room

CMSWire spoke to Community Roundtable co-founder Rachel Happe about some of the key issues hampering the enterprise collaboration space.

Happe has been studying social software since 2007, when she founded the IDC’s Social Software Research Practice. Over the course of 10 years, she has watched the industry bloom — but to her trained eye, there’s still a lot of maturing to be done.

The first concern Happe raised was the lack of features available to community managers.  

“Collaboration solutions need better community management tools. I should be able to pull up data that’s CRM-level sophisticated [in order to see user data, evaluate progress and ascertain engagement levels].” 

“There should also be more ways for community managers to automate certain tasks and messages. But instead, they’re left to do all the heavy lifting.”

Rachel Happe
PHOTO: Rachel Happe
As for the significance of such features, Happe stressed the importance of a community manager within a digital workplace environment.

“High engagement levels come from trust in the community,” she said. According to Happe, community managers hold the key to building that trust between users, the software and the ethos of having an active digital workplace.

Happe continued by lamenting the lack of adequate analytical tools found in social softwares, which once again impacts the performance of community managers.

“Because [the built in] analytics tools are so poor, community managers can’t make the smart calls, and then they have to report back to their demanding executives.”

Searching for the ROI

Dan Latendre, CEO of Igloo Software, voiced his concerns about the industry in a comment on LinkedIn. According to Latendre, the social software industry still has to overcome some fundamental barriers.

“The promise of social in the enterprise has diminished significantly,” he said, while also pointing out the very real pressure coming from the emergence of platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

Dan Latendre
Dan Latendre
Latendre told CMSWire, "Social on its own has always been elusive and never quite caught its footing in the broader enterprise collaboration market because it is just one leg of a four-legged stool. What’s the end game of social collaboration? Unless it’s wrapped with the other legs of the stool — communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing and employee engagement — you just end up with unproductive chatter with no return on objectives."

The answer, Latendra said, was purpose. Deploying solutions in order to solve specific business challenges gives collaboration solutions a purpose, and an opportunity to "drive adoption and nurture a collaborative culture.”

Navigating the Maturing Collaboration Space

So what’s a buyer to do in this environment?

One the one hand, you could invest big in a market leader and hope it heeds the voices coming from within the industry.

Or you could adopt a niche player in the hopes that it innovates where the big fish haven’t.

Rachel Happe offered the same advice she gives to any company in this position: look internally before hunting for a social solution to discover which conversations make their working environment tick:

“Collaboration and engagement are horrible words. [Organizations need to] get crystal clear on specifics when looking for social software.”

She also returned to her stance on the importance of community management. Human community management, that is.

“Although [chatbots and AI in general] can help, technology is never going to be able to develop that [same level of] trust that a community manager can.”