I’ve been around long enough to recall a time when middleware was virtually non-existent.
Proprietary mainframe systems did not use middleware because everything was exclusively owned.
Then along came client-server computing and graphical user interfaces, and all of a sudden there was a huge demand to separate the backend engines from what we were seeing on the front end.
Middleware heralded in unprecedented application innovations — and cloud computing has only amplified its importance.
So what do we mean by middleware anyway? You can find a comprehensive discussion here, but essentially it is the "software glue" that manages the interaction between disparate applications across heterogeneous computing platforms.
With the recent announcement of Slack Enterprise Grid — along with Microsoft Teams, Workplace by Facebook, Yammer, Jive, Connections, Socialcast, Salesforce Chatter, SAP Jam, Google+ and more — the enterprise collaboration space now has the same flavor of heterogeneous platforms the consumer social space has had for more than a decade.
Lessons from Consumer Social Middleware
The growth of consumer social platforms fueled social middleware providers, who offered services for integrating those social channels.
For the enterprise, this form of consumer social became known as "social customer relationship management" (CRM).
The market for social CRM, which encompasses a social middleware solution across consumer channels like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, is predicted to be close to $18 billion by 2019. Typically, social CRM solutions provide portal style middleware interfaces to the underlying channels.
Looking beyond the enterprise customer interface into the enterprise proper, we can then pose some questions.
Might the social CRM approach work across heterogeneous channels like Yammer, Slack, Chatter, Workplace, Google+ and other options?
Could it obviate the need to choose a single vendor platform?
The natural attraction is the ability to effectively use social middleware to fuse the enterprise’s internal and external social networks into an effective holistic solution. Additionally, the increasing ability to integrate with staff directories like Microsoft’s Active Directory, provides a strong integration point around the individual.
So it looks like enterprise social can take a lead from consumer social and social CRM. The major issue I have identified previously is the mismatch in social graph usage.
Where consumer social measures and social CRM’s measure of influence is in terms of media engagement, enterprise social looks to prioritize connections and people to people collaboration.
Therefore, enterprise social middleware (ESM) will require some adjustments beyond a simple portal interface to content.
Using Enterprise Social Middleware
The term Dark Social has been coined for those spaces where interactions occur but are hard to access for analysis. (Think online chats, private email and the like.)
This RadiumOne study suggests nearly 70 percent of sharing happens in this dark social space.
Our Enterprise Social Benchmarking indicates enterprise dark social levels would be consistent with the RadiumOne study. Sharing is core to enterprise value generation, though its content is not merely data fodder for digital marketing engines, but vehicles for creating connections.
There are potential big benefits from effective enterprise social middleware, including surfacing the 70 percent of hidden data on important employee interactions and allowing analytics engines to use it.
In addition, if an effective ESM could surface all enterprise social interactions for use by analytics applications, it could facilitate a major boost in the innovative human analytics offerings.
The ESM would effectively remove the requirements for analytics and social application providers from having to navigate the complexity of single platform specific API libraries. It would allow them to then focus on their core value propositions.
It would fuse the key people and relationship data from proprietary APIs and provide APIs to a unified social graph representation drawn from participating enterprise channels.
The Status Quo
To our knowledge there is no ESM provider of the form we have described here; please tell me if I am wrong.
Currently, all enterprise social analytics platforms, including our own at SWOOP, are developing their own proprietary API connections to the underlying enterprise collaboration platforms.
There are a growing number of enterprise social applications that have developed proprietary connections to facilitate a real breadth of enterprise applications. VoloMetrix, now owned by Microsoft, has developed people analytics drawn from Microsoft email/Outlook interactions.
Swiss firm Enterprise Knowhow identified the social graph, which it calls Social Graph 2.0, as the new enterprise portal, focused on people and relationships.
Singapore firm TrustSphere, like VoloMetrix, draws its social graph intelligence from email connections from a variety of platforms, but also exports its graph data to other applications through outbound connections to Microsoft, IBM, Google and Salesforce.
San Francisco-based Obindo similarly draws its intelligence through email, but not just for its connections data. Obindo extracts key enterprise terms from email content and re-routes that content, using bots, to a plethora of consuming applications like Salesforce, Yammer, Drop Box, Facebook, Google Docs, and the like.
At SWOOP, we draw our social data from Yammer and Facebook’s Workplace to provide online collaboration analytics and intelligence to enterprise staff. What is common for all of these vendors is the social graph is the essence of their product intelligence and value.
With the explosion of new enterprise social platforms hitting the market, the pressure is on for those platform providers to quickly release their API libraries.
Microsoft is the clear leader, by now making progress with unifying graphs/middleware representations of its own collaboration products and providing API access at this unified level.
Currently the Microsoft Graph APIs provide more utility for content searching than for connections, but the foundations are there for doing more. Others like Workplace, Slack Enterprise and Atlassian Hipchat rely on third party integrations, which potentially limit the richness that they can offer through their APIs.
What we have learned from consumer social is that once platforms are opened up to third party access, innovation in the applications market becomes turbo charged.
For the enterprise, the ability to mix and match collaboration technologies, without the penalty of creating application silos, is an attractive proposition.
In the same way middleware emerged to turbo charge the creation of distributed transaction systems, prospective enterprise social middleware providers should now stand up and be counted.