Demonstrating how quickly the social business software space continues to evolve, rumours that Microsoft might acquire Yammer caused a ripple in online discussion overnight as people analysed the implications and potential benefits, particularly for SharePoint customers.

Only a couple of weeks ago I used the opportunity of a trip to San Francisco for the Atlassian Summit to meet up with a selection of vendors based there that Headshift Asia Pacific are either working with or actively tracking. Yammer was one of the vendors I met with, along with Netvibes (now part of Dassault Systèmes), SAP StreamWork and VMWare Socialcast. Its interesting to note that of the four vendors I met with, only Yammer stood out as a wholly independent business (backed by VCs of course).

Speculation about acquisition aside, these four examples present an interesting mix of companies. At one end is Yammer, a 100 per cent cloud-based solution that appears to be successfully applying the ‘freemium’ model to enterprise software. In the middle are Socialcast and Netvibes, who have been acquired by other larger established vendors. Finally, we have forty year-old SAP who are beginning to innovate in the social space through acquisition (Successfactors) and also new products (Streamworks).

The real social business centre of gravity

But despite these generational differences, there is definitely a centre of gravity pulling each of these vendors towards the same objective. This pull is about a shift away from using enterprise social software purely for employee engagement and conversation towards embedding the capabilities of social software into work processes and activities across the value chain. This includes addressing the unnatural barrier created by organisation between what happens inside (staff) and outside (customers). This is true even of Yammer, which was born out internal conversational sharing. For example:

In practice of course, this won’t be so straight forward. For the time being, there will still be a role for using these tools to boost employee engagement and conversation. This also means that while some companies will accept those benefits on face-value, others will continue to question the return-on-investment and actual bottom-line impact of “social”. And of course other companies are also using social platforms to bootstrap mobile access and to embrace bring-your-own-device (BYOD). But fundamentally these benefits are really only surface deep.

Beyond employee engagement and conversation

The deeper change of being social, the territory that the vendors above are moving into, requires parallel changes to organisational architecture (how they operate, how they organise) and not just the installation of technology (although mobile, social and cloud are all change drivers). What I was pleased about most when talking to all these vendors is that they are not oblivious to this change. I even see evidence that Yammer is taking the need for organisational change more seriously than ever before, as they see the potential for re-wiring organisations. Companies that go deeper, make the change and push past simply adding social features to traditional intranets will see greater measurable returns on social business.

Right now we are approaching the end of round one for social business software. Companies like Yammer and Jive have dominated mindshare based on community and conversation, although other players like Newsgator have made steady headway into specific companies by focusing on integration with key platforms like SharePoint. In the next round we will see that community and conversation become the basis for creating integrated systems of engagement and record together. But this means the board is wiped clean and we are seeing vendors like SAP, TIBCO (tibbr), VMWare – and even potentially Microsoft – that have strong enterprise knowledge and experience joining the market with new ideas and capabilities along side existing leaders.

What are the implications?

We suggest you:

  • Reassess your vision for social and think “social business” instead – are you trying to improve employee engagement and conversation or are you trying to improve how your business actually functions and meets customer needs? Also Consider the impact of mobile, social and cloud together on that strategy.
  • Don’t pick products just because they are popular or mainstream, but match capabilities to your vision and align product roadmaps with where you want to be in the future – Yammer’s roadmap is different to SAP.
  • Ensure you have access to a social business team that has the ability to deal with the people, process, information and technology decisions and changes involved.

Finally, like I did on the cable cars and trams of San Francisco – enjoy the ride!

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Ilan Frank (SAP), Chris Damsen (Netvibes), Ross Hill & Kevin Young (Yammer) and Dan Wire (VMware) for taking the time to meet with me in San Francisco.

Photo Credits: James Dellow CC BY-SA.

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