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Enterprise social network software: Integrate with business applications

Gina Narcisi

The enterprise social market is shifting its focus away from differentiated features, to integration with enterprise software, according to the latest Magic Quadrant report on social software from Gartner Inc.

Enterprises don't want standalone social network software

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that emulates Facebook with news feed and embedded commenting features. Employees need social software that ties into business processes through integration with unified communications (UC) tools and customer relationship management (CRM) software. But enterprises shouldn't cram social elements into existing business applications without first understanding if social could enhance productivity within an application and if users would take advantage of the tools.

"Differentiation is getting harder to do -- many vendors are starting to have the same elements," said Mike Gotta, research vice president for collaboration and social software for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner. "The destination sites are trying to become more purposeful and more contextual around getting work done, as well as more integrated with other vendor offerings. At the same time, social elements are also being added into existing project management and CRM tools."

Smaller social network software vendors may be better integrators

Today, IT departments carry the burden of integrating social platforms and connecting them with UC tools or CRM platforms. Social network software vendors could and should help businesses with aggregation and consolidation of social features, Gotta said.

"If a user wants to follow another employee on one social or UC product, it's locked inside that particular vendor's follow model," he said. "Employees could have four or five profiles to maintain, or multiple activity streams to look at. A more unified view is needed in order to be more productive."

While larger players -- such as Microsoft and IBM -- still are encouraging single-vendor strategies, smaller social vendors may be better positioned to develop partner ecosystems to help IT admins with their integration needs, Gotta said.

Igloo Software, a Canadian social software provider and niche player on the Magic Quadrant, helps its customers develop integrations between its social intranet offerings and third-party social and CRM offerings, said Andrew Dixon, senior vice president for Igloo. "Our customers are able to influence our product line and are able to get exactly the product they need for their company," Dixon said.

Igloo's Software as a Service personalized intranet product integrates with SharePoint, as well as Salesforce.com -- a leader in this year's social software Magic Quadrant -- via a Salesforce widget. "Customers don't have to go into Salesforce or SharePoint to see the pipeline and upcoming calls -- it's all populated inside of [the company] intranet."

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Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), a Canadian-headquartered international social enterprise, uses Igloo Software to run its youth-led training programs. Through the program, recent college graduates train their peers in technology, business and entrepreneurial skills across 12 countries located throughout East Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, said Anne Patterson, community manager of DOT.

More than 6,000 members -- including trainers and students -- use Igloo's intranet software for program delivery and online professional development and engagement. "We were able to get all our users on Igloo software within two years, and it's very easy to use, especially for users in developing countries," she said.

DOT has been able to easily integrate Igloo into tools the organization was already using -- such as Salesforce -- and its homegrown learning management system (LMS) for its intern trainers, Patterson said.

"We deliver our online courses from the LMS to our interns through Igloo and can access tools to help them deliver their programs. We've been able to integrate our LMS into Igloo intranets very easily," she said.

Social software Magic Quadrant: Don't cram social elements where they don't belong

Enterprises are still struggling with the return on investment (ROI) for social network software, but simply plugging social elements into existing tools and applications won't encourage employees to use them or create a more productive workforce, Gartner's Gotta said.

"Applications are designed to get a task done; social is designed for the relationship layer," he said. "Relationship data doesn't really come through the normal data-gathering process, so social elements can't just be jammed into every application -- that's a design gap that still exists."

The conversation is shifting toward how communication tools tie together and promote productivity, and how enterprises can measure that value, Gotta said. "Simply working social elements inside an existing application won't solve the ROI issues for enterprises, without [them] pausing to understand the cultural aspects of how social works."

Jive Software, a leader in the enterprise social software Magic Quadrant, offers customer engagement social tools and internal social network software for large enterprises. While some vendors have tried to modernize their offerings by sprinkling in social technologies, Jive offers standalone social offerings for its customers that tie into third-party UC tools -- such as IBM Sametime and Microsoft Lync -- as well as CRM products and content sharing tools, said Christopher Morace, chief strategy officer for Jive.

"No one knew early on what social was or what kind of power it would have in the enterprise," he said. "Now, [social] is being added into existing products, but customers using Chatter [within Salesforce] and [Microsoft's] Yammer aren't really sure they provide any business value."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.


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