Who’s going to survive in the enterprise social networks jungle ?

survive_jungleThere’s not a week without the arrival of a new enterprise social network solution (or similar) on the market. Analysts reports can make one’s head spin when counting the number of players despite of the selection made. If we broaden the scope and include players with a for vertical or local scope – regardless to their siez – it’s not a list, it’s a dictionary !

On a market where the consolidation process has begun, where the best niche-players have already make their IPO or have been bought, what will arrive to the hundreds of players who are still there or – more surprisingly -arriving

Social networks are dead. Long live to social platforms

First, not everyone has the same goal. Some have hegemonic goals (become the one and only social network in the organization) and others have a niche positioning by market (SMBs, departments), countries, industry, business activity….So they don’t have (or still don’t have) the same constraints.

Let’s start with the “hegemonics”.

Trying to predict the winner of the race is a tough and hazardous game. But we can list the challenges they face and let one makes his own opinion regarding to the assets, vision, capabilities and ability survive in a long term race of each player. As a matter of fact the enterprise social network market is dead and 2013 will be the year of its festive burial. At least for these players. As we already saw, social networks get their value from their periphery and what used to be a product market is becoming a platform market.

It means that assessing a social network on its functionalities is not enough anymore. What matters is the vendor’s ability to provide a set of tools and assets allowing the whole IS to work socially regardless to the activity or process in question, in a coherent and aligned way, without flow-break between the different tools involved (even if coming from another vendor). At the project level, what means a shift from “using a social network” to “becoming a social business”.

So it will be important to assess :

• The enterprise social Network : that’s the visible part of the iceberg. That’s not the tool we used to know but an internal communication hub that will become the gravity center of the work environment, allowing to deal with all incoming signals in a single and unified environment.

• Social analytics : at the beginning we used to content ourselves with statistics of use, what is the minimum we could ask but brings very little value. What matters today is to make sense of this incredible mass of scattered and unstructured information. First to find the right information, at a given moment, in a given context. Then to make decision and manage business activities and that’s where the concept of platform is powerful. First because data will be usable by third part systems (ex. HR), second because these data will not also be found in the social network but anywhere in the IS and even outside of the firwall and that the only way to draw something valuable from data will be to correlate the discovered patterns with structured information located in the good old systems of record. Some will find the matter less exciting and exhilarating than driving engagement into communities but the value of the system lies here : in the ability to make better and faster decisions based on the real time understanding of the external and internal environment and the way it moves.

Social analytics and cognitive computing : heavy investments that makes a difference

• Human capital management : the initial promise of enterprise social networks was about human capital : people, their knowledge, find, mobilize and develop them. But except for some smart managers and HR managers, who used the social data to measure engagement, discover skills, potentials, expectations and move towards an internal talent market approach ? No one and that’s logical at this maturity stage.

HR systems and processes were living their own life, same for the social network, supporting different and even sometimes opposite strategies and policies. Social platforms will be able to rely on analytics to improve HR processes management and, more globally, human capital development programs, both internally and externally (recruitment, employer brand etc.).

• Integration capabilities: if social networks become the heart of the work environment, they need to be connected and integrated with business applications and document management systems. It’s also impossible to imagine them being disconnected from HR systems. This will happen in different ways.

First through the already famous enterprise “app stores”. But this option has a limit : if it works perfectly in Saas, businesses  too many customize d- and sometimes unique – systems for being used in stores needing a lot of standardization. So the second option is to use connectors that, to avoid unnecessary costs will rely on open standards and APis to provide a reliable development framework and ask enterprises to only develop the “last mile”. In this perspective it’s easy to see how Open Social will have a growing importance and I’m quite doubtful about vendors refusing to adopt this standard.

. Delivery : is cloud the future of social platforms ? Certainly but, in my opinion, we underestimate the reasons that make that many businesses will keep the “on premise” model for a long time. But cloud is not only Saas and the specific nature of many applications, often heavily customized does not make it an universal solution. Many businesses will prefer the Paas model, on private on hybrid cloud. Anyway, social platforms vendors will be able to propose all these options and, if needed, combine them.

• Use : work is not a place but a state of mind. It’s done, and information is consumed where and when needed. Making social networks accessible from any device as it is for email is a no brainer. The quality of the user interface and experience on any device will be watched carefully. But, as the work environment becomes more and more integrated, the whole work environment will need to be accessible on any device. That’s not a matter of turning all applications into mobile apps one by one but building a mobile app that integrates services that may come from separate applications. Vendors will have to provide tools that allow to build integrated mobile work environments in a simple and cost efficient way.

So we’re entering a new era. The barrier at the entry of the enterprise social networks market was quite low from a technology point of views. There was no need for heavy investments and a 200 people R&D to issue a good product. Things will dramatically change as the market is turning into a platform market.

Tomorrows’s winner should already be on the move

Tomorrow’s winners  :

• Will have in their portfolio a certain number of business applications designed from the start to work with/on the platform and will offer simple integration frameworks to work with third part solutions.

• Will have “social BI” solutions integrated with the platform. It will need new competences and heavy investments for those who lack such functionalities. Since it’s not only about data processing but contextualization and understanding of unstructured data they will also be able to invest in the field of cognitive computing.

• Will be able to offer the same functionalities in different versions of their product (no…a Saas product is not the one premise one put on a server…and reciprocally).

• Will offer a powerful mobile development platform

• Will have moved from the original “community factory” vision and have a clear vision of what the “collaborative hub” is. If not, buying niche players to bridge the gap will never be enough to make up for the lack of vision.

 

Niche players are protected, provided they don’t join the wrong race

So take you notebooks, question, evaluate and you’ll be able to have a quite clear vision of who’s going to survive and on whom to rely on not only to build communities today but help you with your tougher challenges tomorrow without suddenly becoming a laggard after having been good at window dressing for years.

For niche players the situation is quite different. First the word niche is not pejorative at all : a good niche is better to fight with the “hegemonics” without having the means to do so.

Businesses who chose them do so because they do not have the ambition or the needs I mentioned below. Small departments, SMBs, a community plateform is still enough for them. And it’s still going to be for a couple of years. More : the proximity of local players will also be appreciated by some buyers.

Those that are very specialized and verticalized will even collaborate with “hegemonics”. It does not matter how good they are : it’s impossible to survive against a single corporate platform by fighting against. On the other hand, they can be accepted as a specialized player in the fleet around the flagship. In this case developing bridges with the big ones will help to secure your business and even develop.

The only mistake niche players can make is to go on the wrong market, join the wrong battle.