Assessing the Enterprise 2.0 Marketplace: Robust and Crowded

Aus Dione Hinchcliffe’s Blog:

Social software platforms, including services such as Facebook and Twitter, have become one of the primary channels for communication amongst consumers this year, even eclipsing e-mail in some parts of the developed world.

It was companies that either open sourced eventually or took open source and then made it enterprise class that often scored the best.The same however, can’t quite be said yet for the workplace. While the adoption numbers for social applications are still impressive in business (about half of all large organizations), actual adoption and use is lagging significantly behind the non-business world as organizations take the time to assess a range of issues with enterprise social computing, including appropriateness, security, control, management methods, and roll-out strategies.

However, given the widespread interest and popularity in social tools these days, it’s becoming a pretty safe bet that you’ll be seeing them in some form on a workplace intranet near you. The question is in what form? The choices of social tools these days can be daunting and are only increasing rapidly, with new entries appearing weekly and existing ones being upgraded often. What’s increasingly needed is a detailed look at what’s currently available in business-class social software and how it sizes up, which we’ll try to do in high-level form here.

As we’ll see, since last year’s marketplace map, there has been a veritable explosion in social applications that are intended for use in business settings, both internally or externally. These offerings have a surprisingly wide range of features and so in this post I will explore one of the broadest and most important categories of business social software, Enterprise 2.0, in detail. I’ve also included a pretty comprehensive map of the marketplace for 2009 as defined by the products that are available today (or are highly anticipated and soon to be released, such as Google Wave.)

Enterprise 2.0 software: Choice abounds

A wide range of software providers now proclaim that they make Enterprise 2.0 tools, or have adapted/extended what they make today in order to address this space in some way. This includes the full gamut of open source projects, commercial vendors, startups, and established Web firms such as Google.

In fact, during the course of the survey work, it sometimes seemed like every company making business-oriented collaboration and communication tools is now offering Enterprise 2.0 capabilities in some form. Overall this is a good sign for customers (because supply is most likely greater than demand) and though all new markets tend to shake out, we are no longer in early days with social software. This means that the majority of these products will likely be around for the medium to long-term. It also means that there is probably something available that will fit your specific choice of features, price, technology needs, standards support, and other requirements.

Map of the 2009 Enterprise 2.0 Marketplace: Social Software Directory
Click To View In Detail

The visual above can be clicked to view the gallery containing the full list of Enterprise 2.0-capable applications assessed in this survey.

There are over 70 major products on this list — many of them entire software platforms in their own right — with a wide range of Web 2.0 capabilities including blogs, wikis, forums, community, social networks, and social messaging. Every attempt was made to be inclusive while still adhering to the spirit of “emergent, freeform, social collaboration” tools. Also, a product had to be compelling and capable in order to appear on this list at all; all of the offerings that made the cut are solid products in my opinion. Literally hundreds of candidates did not make the cut.

Further Reading: The enterprise microblogging marketplace for mid-2009.

So, for example, a simple but popular microblogging tool like Yammer appears on the list along with the widely used, feature-laden Microsoft SharePoint suite. It’s important to note that these are very different applications in terms of  scale and purpose. So though they might even be used side-by-side in some organizations, a smart enterprise social computing strategy will spend time selecting the right tools for the job depending on exactly what’s needed by the business. In other words, these applications aren’t all interchangeable, but form a general class of applications that can improve collaboration, knowledge management, expertise location, leverage of corporate data, and so on.

Sizing up today’s Enterprise 2.0 marketplace

In general, here is what was found as we looked at each of these applications and tried to put them into the assessment framework:

  1. The Enterprise 2.0 products we looked at were dominated by their 1) traditional enterprise capabilities, 2) open source/online roots, or 3) managed to be a compelling mix of both. The Enterprise 2.0 marketplace map is an attempt to put them into one of these three categories, though this was sometimes be difficult to do. Readers should take this categorization with a grain of salt, since the products themselves often evolve and change rapidly. Even so, this gives a good, high-level sense of where they lie in terms of their overall potential. In my experience, the most successful Enterprise 2.0 efforts (though certainly not all), tend to use software platforms nearer the “sweet spot” in green in the upper right of the visual. That is, these are social platforms that have figured out how to comply with needs of enterprises in terms of governance, security, single-sign, portal support, standards, etc. while reconciling this successfully with essential Enterprise 2.0 capabilities such as being social, freeform, Web-oriented, and so on.
  2. Most large ECM/DMS platforms now offer Enterprise 2.0 capabilities in some form. Magnolia, Ektron, Sitecore, FatWire, Exo and other traditional enterprise apps in this list now have some combination of blogs, wikis, tagging, social interaction, and other components of Enterprise 2.0. Note that this most certainly not make them automatically a good Enterprise 2.0 platform, and buyers should examine Enterprise 2.0 solutions from traditional vendors with care to ensure they’re getting what they need. In some cases, some of the additions of Web 2.0 features to traditional offerings were clearly window dressing, while others seemed quite capable. Remember that less is often more with Enterprise 2.0, so definitely evaluate entries in the blue section of the map with care and a close eye towards FLATNESSES.
  3. More startup products made it into the Enterprise 2.0 sweet spot than enterprise products. This generally reflects that most of these applications were designed from the ground up and/or had little legacy baggage than larger software vendors, the latter which have to reconcile their offerings with the software their customers already have and which may overlap/conflict. There are also relatively few truly stand-out Enterprise 2.0 products overall on the mapo, which I might also observe seem to almost depressingly devolve into the standard feature-itis, complexity, heavyweight structure, and difficulty-of-use of traditional enterprise products. Web 2.0 applications tend to work so well precisely because they are simple, less structured, and easy to use. I would also note that enterprise products don’t have to compete for users on a daily basis and consequently seem to lose some of their edge when they don’t have open source/SaaS versions of their product.
  4. Pure consumer and open source products often didn’t score high (towards the upper right) because of lack of enterprise-class features. This is not much of a surprise given that Enterprise 2.0 has its roots in Web 2.0. In fact, it was companies that either open sourced eventually (SocialText) or took open source and then made it enterprise class (Twiki and Acquia Drupal, for example), that often scored the best.
  5. There is still open space in the marketplace for compelling new Enterprise 2.0 products. The Enterprise 2.0 marketplace map displays a marked bell curve, with fewer products in the top end and bottom end of the scoring. While some products are extremely good in various areas, with a handful quite strong across the board, it also highlights opportunities for new entrants. New offerings that can address the requirements of businesses while offering the power that social business tools can provide if they are designed to focus on the value equation, particularly high leverage, ease-of-use, effective and engaging architectures of participation.
  6. You’ll need more than primary interaction tools to succeed with Enterprise 2.0. Good federated search, well designed portals, community management tools, social analytics, security tools, integration with existing IT systems, and more are all ultimately needed for social software to flourish inside of an organization. The tools on this list are only for engaging in Web 2.0-style collaboration directly, they are not the support tools, which you’ll also need.
  7. Don’t forget: The tools come later when it comes to social business. Although good, capable tools help tremendously with being successful in your Enterprise 2.0 endeavors, starting with the tools is almost always a bad idea. This list should help you understand what’s out there in conjunction with a social computing strategy that, in general, identifies the business goals, objectives, and requirements first and then determines the most appropriate tools.

The scoring methodology used for the Enterprise 2.0 marketplace map was based on a survey of the product literature and use of the product (if possible, which wasn’t in about half the cases). Any omissions or errors are mine alone. I will be accepting a limited number of new submissions over the next few days, which you can submit via e-mail here and which I’ll update here. Hopefully this will give us as complete a picture as possible of the Enterprise 2.0 options currently available to businesses today and a useful reference for their research.

Be sure to also read: Ten leading platforms for creating online communities.

What do you look for in Enterprise 2.0 software in terms of features and requirements? Please share them in Talkback below.

Dion HinchcliffeAn internationally recognized enterprise architect and business strategist, Dion Hinchcliffe has been working for two decades with leading-edge methods to accelerate project schedules and raise the bar for software quality. You can follow Dion on Twitter

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