There was an interesting debate in the blogosphere last week rekindling research originally posted by Forrester's own, Rob Koplowitz, last November which basically said that large, enterprise software vendors were lagging behind in the social software race.
Some of Rob's findings have been discussed in this blog's earlier posts, as well (i.e., Mary Wardley's IDC report on Enterprise 2.0 development "among" enterprise players, OpenText's social innovations in LiveLink's most recent release versus common capabilities across the plethora of "white-label", social-computing firms.)
Had I not been in the final throws of my program exams at Columbia, I'd certainly have joined the fray...
At its core, Sam argued that the major enterprise vendors -- i.e., Oracle, IBM, SAP, MSFT -- (a) have no stakes in the enterprise, social software game, (b) aren't really planning on making any major plays worth meritable substance in the market, or for their customers and (c) are so far behind that it would be a long, hard slog to catch-up with the innovations underway at the "white-label" firms currently cutting the path.
Like any true marketeer, Sam even goes further suggesting that social software -- or, more specifically, the lack of serious attention the big guys are giving it -- could even dethrone their current positions.
Sounds like an oft-told headline, doesn't it? The truth is that there are equal merits to both sides of the debate. But, although, the pendulum of probability certainly swings in Dennis and Steve's favor -- Sam is making some interesting points, even if his suggested "end-stories" are off on the story's final frame.
Case in point? Rewind 26 years ago when five programmers in the Northern region of Bavaria thought that companies "should" be able to manage core business transactions "in-batch" outside the mainframe. Or 15 years ago when one of Oracle's most successful sales executives thought there was a better way to manage sales activities across a variety of channels. Or 9 years ago when another Oracle exec questioned the entire license-software "take your umpteen CD's to install" business model forsake of ASP-streaming over the web.
There has always been innovation at the fringe of industry. It's the wrinkle in our fabric that causes us to revisit the weave and design anew.
Sam is right that social software, as Jive and others currently define it, hasn't been at the forefront of enterprise development for precisely the reasons Steve and Dennis articulate so well. There wasn't a business behind it.
Only now -- as we've arrived at a point of maturity from the vendor side where the majority of transactional business processes have already been automated -- are we at an industry pause where attention to social software spend is relevant. None of the current white-label firms, save perhaps Jenna Woodall's current foray, were even conceived when another gaggle of pioneers were truly blazing the social computing trail. Firms like Participate.com and Peoplelink.com were ahead of their time...and certainly ahead of the industry adoption curve. Whereas SAP, Siebel and Salesforce -- while ahead of their time -- were present "at the right time" for industry adoption.
Both, my colleague Steve Mann, and Dennis highlight the obvious in their counterpoints to Sam's view
"...these large companies, SAP, Microsoft and Oracle aren’t going any where…per your point, they have massive installed base with massive recurring revenue streams..." (Steve Mann)
"...the fact that (IBM, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft)...have yet to establish infrastructures that allow them to credibly include the full gamut of social software...doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t...all the above vendors are looking closely at social software and endeavoring to figure out where and how these technologies can be sensibly used among their customers...these vendors are not going to play fast and loose with their millions of users or billions of revenue they collect each year. They’re going to get it right - with purpose..." (Dennis Howlett)
The enterprise players "are" serious about social computing but they're also managing it as "one" revenue stream out of many more across their portfolios. And what is truly relevant, is that "only" the enterprise companies have the platform to provide "true" economic value that can significantly impact a firm's P/L in its application of social networking capability.
In a recent survey published earlier this year, Forrester asked 260 senior IT executives to stack-rank their highest priorities in the development of an information workplace -- i.e., an environment where the relevance of social software has greatest sway.
Not surprisingly, the emphasis was squarely on improving content, role-specific content, automation and collaboration "all within the context of business processes" -- and this is the domain of the larger, enterprise application vendors. Not the innovation pack of "white-label, social software firms".
The debate should certainly continue - but I hope it skews more towards which "industry verticals" and "departmental business processes" and would receive the greatest economic benefit through the integration of social software capability.
Otherwise, I'm afraid our debate is really much ado about the "not-truly-interesting".