You may not completely agree, but some people say that SharePoint 2007 was a disruptive collaboration technology. Was it the best solution on the market for enterprise collaboration? Probably not. But it did show us a different way of sharing. And it did bring forward a number of new solutions for the enterprise commonly called social software. 

Social Software -- A Market on the Move

Jive Software is one of a number of social software solutions getting a lot of attention lately, and it's not just from the analysts. You only have to read the news to hear about a new funding announcement or a new customer win and it's pretty obvious social software -- or social business software -- is becoming (perhaps has become) a required technology for organizations.

With Jive's recent funding of US$ 30 million, Atlassian's funding of US$ 60 million and Squarespace's US$ 38.5 million (just to name a few), we are starting to see a lot late stage equity funding that, according to NewsGator CEO J.B Holston, this market warrants.

From Tony Zingale, Jive Software's CEO:

“Social business is a $5B market, growing at a rapid rate. It is the new way to do business. Collaboration and community are the new spots for innovation. Every major software company in the world, including Google, has to figure out how to enable the new social enterprise. Many will face roadblocks because technology alone won’t drive adoption of social in the enterprise. You need solutions tailored from the ground up that radically change the way we do business, not just bolt on to the old way. ”

The question is, if Ted Schlein, KPCB Managing Partner (one of the ventures firm that invested in Jive), thinks social business software is the "most important enterprise software category in a decade" then why are we still facing daily challenges implementing it effectively?

All Social Software is Not Created Equal

Let's take a minute and put aside the question of who actually coined the term social business/social business software, because who really cares anyway. Let's instead address the fact that all social software is not the same, and that software for the business is, and should be, different from that offered in the consumer market.

The first stages of social business software that we saw were often referred to as "Facebook for the enterprise". There were also the beginning stages of community software that included blogs, discussion groups and other basic Web 2.0 capabilities.

While all of these capabilities still remain in most solutions, they have been greatly enhanced and extended. Along with them, we now see newer functionality, like microblogging, rich activity streams, integration with backend systems and more.

Driven By the Consumer Web

Remember how I said that SharePoint 2007 was a disruptive technology that changed the way we worked and collaborated in the organization? Well it may have started this chain of events, but it doesn't drive it any longer. SharePoint 2010, while rich in social capabilities, has not lead the market in terms of being there first and setting the expectations.

Today's expectations are being set by the consumer market. This is what Holston sees. The trouble is, the pace at which consumer's expectations are changing is quick and vendors are constantly trying to keep up. 

The Enterprise Has It's Own Challenges

While it may be true that consumers are driving the changing expectations for social business software, enterprise's are, at the same time, struggling with more traditional challenges implementing it.

Holston points out privacy laws (internal and external), governance, compliance, deployment models and globalization as key challenges. 

As a result we see organizations looking for social business solutions that solve these enterprise class questions -- they are not interested in what is "cool" -- while at the same time, satisfying the needs of the end-user.

Driving Employee Adoption

Here's the question that I keep asking: If employees are driving the requirements for social capabilities in the organization, then why are organizations having so much trouble getting their employees to use them once they put them in place?

Holston thinks the pattern of adoption is still not well understood and that organizations aren't always tracking the metrics that matter. He also believes that as solutions get better, adoption will be less of a management activity/need, that it will happen naturally.

Rob Gray, Product and Marketing Manager for Google Enterprise (UK & Benelux) for Google, says that it's not about technology itself, but the business transformation

People in the business just want to work with others, without having to battle with technology to make that happen. Most good “enterprise 2.0” technologies will enable you to do this in an easy, seamless way. That’s the point of them. There is no shortage of such tools available for anyone in a business to use, but the level of expertise across an organisation usually varies so much, that actually driving adoption of these technologies requires some level of change. For some people it will be very natural but for others, any change is a big obstacle that needs to be overcome. If there is no change, then you probably aren’t doing anything sufficiently radical enough to really drive the transformation of the business.

How is Social Business Software Evolving?

Holston believes that social business software is still an immature market. It's easy to see where he's coming from when we are continually announcing new product updates, new vendors and new analyst reports trying to help us understand it all.

What are some of current trends we are seeing today?

  • Mobile: Holston actually believes this is still an under appreciated element of an organization's strategy. Mobile should be a critical element of a business's strategy considering how much of the workforce is on the move, and how much we, as consumers, love our smartphones.
  • Backend System Integration: Social business software should be implemented to support business objectives. If that's the case, then it only makes sense that the systems we are use to working with should be tightly integrated. Otherwise, we are getting just another silo for storing information.
  • Part of the platform/stack: Social business software does not have to be a standalone system. In many cases, we are starting to see organizations want to social-enable their existing systems directly, make the capabilities part of the current application. We should expect to see some vendors offer their solution as OEM, embedding the functionality directly within other systems (NewsGator does this).
  • Merging of Internal and External communities: CIO's want one platform decision, so they are looking for a solution that will work for both inside and outside the enterprise. There should also be a way for these communities to work together (we see some of this with Jive SBS).

We are also going to see radical shifts in strategy, says Holston, as the market becomes flooded with tools, vendors are going to need an edge. Some will focus on verticals, others the SMB market or services not software. 

It's About People

Ross Mayfield makes a great point when he says People are the platform:

People are the platform, and when you empower them, great things flow between them. While their abilities can be augmented by automating low level tasks, it is they who best provide the intelligence. Either as individuals or even as collective.

Social business software has to empower employees, it needs to provide capabilities that seem almost natural to use because it helps get the job the done, helps them work together and seems like a natural part of the process. When the software stands out or is treated as the focus by management, employees may not be as open to using them. 

All Social software is not created equal. The problem is, neither are all employees. Implementation and adoption challenges will continue to plague even the smartest of organizations who don't take the time to understand what their employees really need to do their job effectively.