Thursday, January 03, 2013

Social Software At Work - My Hypothesis

In 2012, I spent a lot of time listening to the needs of CIOs, IT leadership teams and HR leadership teams about how social software can address their needs. I did not have to convince any of them about the value of social software. The questions were about how they can use social software. Some of them even brought up special use cases and asked me how social software can apply to their situation. They also asked about how multiple tools with social capabilities, serving different purposes within their organization, can exist together and even work together.

During the holidays I took a few days and thought about these things. I sketched a few diagrams to make sense of it. I called a few of my friends in the industry who are either product managers designing social software or account executives selling collaboration software. I read the Gartner Magic Quadrant Report authored by Nikos Drakos, Jeffrey Mann, Adam Sarner. I read the Constellation Research analysis by Alan Lepofsky. I researched most of the companies they have mentioned in their reports. I looked back at several articles from Information Week written by David F. Carr.

While all those reports and articles did a fine job of explaining the lay of the land to buyers, I needed a picture to explain to my fellow product managers and colleagues about the different products in the market and point out the areas where we need to invest. I think this might even benefit customers, partners and buyers.

The Hypothesis

All social business tools have to put the person in the middle and help get work done. 
This has become clear to every provider. It has also become clear to most providers that social software should cater to the need of end users.

1. All tools must have person's profile, the person's relationship to others in the organization, their social graph, their updates and their conversations. Most tools need to provide a private space for a group of people to collaborate. This is depicted in the inner most circle of the diagram below.

2. All tools will have to build most of the features depicted in the second circle from the center. Document sharing and mobile access are key for Enterprise Productivity. Collaboration with people outside the organization is a basic necessity today. User authorizations, reporting and analytics tools are key to convince CIOs and IT departments. Most tools will have at least a basic task list.

3, Beyond this, the specialization starts. Office productivity tool providers have an upper hand on document storage, document authoring and document-centered collaboration. Web Conferencing providers have an upper hand on live screen sharing and video sharing. Providers of CRM software will build tight integration with CRM tools. Providers of HR software will build tight integration with HR and talent management tools.

But no software provider can cater to all possible integration points and cater to all the needs of customers. So APIs and development tools to build custom apps on the platform will be key for any social business app to scale. Most providers realize this. Some are investing in this area and have an advantage over others here.


The design evolution of social software at work

User Adoption is Key
User adoption is key for the success of any social business software implementation. CIOs are piloting multiple tools to test adoption by employees. It is possible to do so easily today. For this reason, people centric design, mobile access and a consumer grade user interface is essential for any product to succeed. I believe that smart teams will start designing mobile first for at least all the features in the inner most circle.

Most Product Managers will focus on barriers to entry
Every social business product manager will think about the areas where competitors cannot enter or will find it extremely difficult to enter. There will be providers who will focus heavily in one or more lines-of-businesses because they have an advantage there. There will be providers who do not have any inherent advantage and try to become an interface to all business applications. In a way, the ones with no advantage have nothing to lose. They will go all out and take risks. But even they do not have unlimited resources. Time and money will run out at some point.

It will be hard for every product to excel in every area. Product managers will be forced to pick and choose the areas where they can excel. Customers may end up buying multiple solutions to cater to their needs. I would not be surprised if a company has two or more social software tools for the foreseeable future. SAP is a good example. We use SAP Jam, Jive, Atlassian Confluence and SharePoint. The needs served by these tools are different.

The software providers in each category.
I did map the providers in each category in my notes. I did not share that information here because I work for one of the providers. It won't be very difficult for you to see all the providers listed in the Gartner Magic Quadrant and place them in this diagram.

I discussed my hypothesis with my colleague Enric Gili. Enric added to this hypothesis and shared some of his thoughts about what he thinks the product designers and product managers in the industry should focus on. This is a hypothesis based on one point of view. If you think otherwise or would like to add your thoughts, please let me know.

I did not discuss social software dedicated to customer relationship management here. I also did not discuss Enterprise Listening Platforms here on purpose.
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