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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Can Enterprise 2.0 Apps Stand Alone?

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Socialtext, one of the earliest and most established pureplay Enterprise 2.0 vendors, released the latest version of its flagship suite this week, and it set me thinking. Is there a future for standalone Enterprise 2.0 software suites, now that the functionality they offer is increasingly being offered within established enterprise application software suites?

The independent survival of companies like Socialtext is probably guaranteed for a little while yet by the unresolved question whether collaboration gets subsumed into content management or process management. The recent ebizQ Forum discussion of this topic highlighted that it crosses both areas: in essence, collaboration is a process, but it's often centered around content. In many organisations, therefore, it'll make sense to keep it separate from both so that it can serve both equally well.

But the pressures to integrate more tightly into one or the other will intensify. There will be increasing competition from vendors approaching from both sides, whether content management or business applications. There will also be a logical attraction to extending into such areas, as Dennis Howlett's blog about the Socialtext announcement this week suggested:

The next step must surely be along the path of direct process integration with an SAP, Oracle or Microsoft. Having got this far in making it easy to collaborate, taking that into business process a la Google Wave/12Sprints seems a logical way to go.

That comment, coming at the end of the blog post, leaves unanswered how the integration will be achieved. There are next-to-no standards in this area, whether as technology specifications or even simply established best practice. That lack creates opportunities for vendors to establish their own proprietary technologies as de facto standards. Salesforce.com may be trying to do this with its Chatter technology, and I'm sure it's what Adobe would like to do on the back of the near-ubiquitous penetration its Adobe Acrobat and Flash technologies currently enjoy (though Flash faces challenges of course with its lack of access to platforms such Apple's iPhone and iPad).

Will standalone vendors like Socialtext lose relevance as these and other larger vendors wage much broader battles for supremacy? For the moment, Socialtext is doing the right thing by concentrating on the richness of collaboration capabilities it offers. The latest release adds several features that address real enterprise needs. But the ability to overlay collaboration and link it into other enterprise platforms is going to become a growing imperative. That's an opportunity, of course, for a vendor like Socialtext to become the preferred independent mediator — the neutral 'Switzerland' — of integrated collaboration processes. But the risk is that the early pioneer ends up sidelined once the capabilities it has championed have joined the mainstream.

5 Comments

I think you're right. Most of the enterprise 2.0 products have grown more CMS like functions along the way, and the traditional CMS providers are making their product more and more social by adding funcion or acquiring products to integrate. I personally think it wil be content driven, but the successful CMS-enterprise 2.0 companies will make easy integration in to existing and legacy application processes a priority.

I agree that we'll need E20 products until standards are in place. The primary reason from my perspective is for continuity. If we rely on every business app's social feature set, what will result is a disjointed collection of content that will just expand one of the problems social should solve, unreachable information. I don't even want to think about the different content streams needing to be aggregated that would result from every business app being social enabled.

A contiguous layer of social on top of business apps will provide the discoverability element that is sorely missing from current intranets. Today that layer has to be in the form of a product. Tomorrow, it may be in the form of interoperable standards implemented across apps.

The problem is an architectural one. E2.0 is not about applications, it's about architectures. Its goal is to build a knowledge freeway system. Classic applications have NO role in this future.

I also agree with this, we are currently using Atlassian's Confluence connected to Sharepoint 2007 this gives us the best of both worlds (Great Wiki capabilities and ubiquitous collaboration around documents) and the integration is seamless. As we are starting to seriously evaluate Sharepoint 2010 we are finding that Microsoft did allot to improve the UI/UE in their collaboration tools, however, they have still missed the ball on the Wiki side, our test users have all reported that they would not switch from Confluence to SP2010's Wiki as they did not find it had what it took to collaborate in a transparent and open way, about 75% of them actually said "it does not feel right" they all found it was too UI heavy. So as we may move to SP2010 in the future we will still be using different tools to manage different things on our Enterprise 2.0 platform, for us, the key is that our users are happy and that they are truly using the tools at their disposal to get their work done and we do not see this being accomplished by a single vendor or platform.

Certainly E2.0 applications are going to have their work cut out for them when they're trying to get into an account already dominated by a core app that provides social features. But isn't it all too early to tell? Relatively speaking, we're barely out of the gate on SaaS to call the demise of any segment surely? And with interoperabilty and standards some way off, there will be plenty of opportunity to play between the legs of the big boys.
Beyond the the feature-sets, a look at market sizes by revenue would say that there will still be a large market to go at. Another thing to consider, getting into an account does not ensure that everyone in the company is using salesforce (for example). So it's not just market penetration, but account penetration that will have a great influence on how this plays out. Numbers and expansion here http://ow.ly/1fLHu.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

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