And the best enterprise social network platform on the market is…

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Summary : at a given moment in any enterprise 2.0 project, a choice has to be made about the tools that will be used. And,, the “specialist” is often asked the same question : “Tell me what’s the best tool on the market”. That’s a tough question regarding to the number of parameters to take into account and, in fact, there’s no “best tool on the market” but rather “tools that fit the most a given context. However, with hindsight and as organization’s maturity is increasing, the criterias that are used to define such a tool are evolving. For a perenial, scalable and coherent project that will avoid the “social bubble syndrome, I came to the conclusion that businesses should  qualify an environment and application services rather than an application as such.

I can’t remember how many times I was asked what social platform to chose, what was the “best one” in my opinion. That’s a question I’ve never been able to answer.

First, because it’s impossible to suggest a tool regardless to its purpose. Do you want a tool to screw or hammer ? Both a hammer and a screwdriver are excellent tools to do DIY but if the objective is not known there’s a real risk of suggesting to buy a hammer while there’s a screw issue.

Then, because many factors hav to be taken into account. Its functional richness, its ergonomy (very subjective), how easy it is to implement it quickly, the need or aversion for Saas, its ability to integrate with existing tools, its coherence with the prevailing technologies in the organization…not mentionning a lot of factors that may sound surprising but may be essential in a given context. Depending on the need, each of these points will weight differently what will lead the organization to make a choice that will be theirs.

Last, because it will always be a matter of compromise rather than a matter of choice. Anyone who have ever tried to conduct an exhaustive researche on social tools or, like me, has to know and work with a lot of platforms will tell you the same thing : there’s no perfect tool on the market and even if some are marking themselves out, a given need will make us chose a tool that we would never have considered as a possible first choice before. Even worse : by dint of trying more and more platforms, we are often disappointed with the one that’s chosen, whatever its name is. Everyting being a matter of compromise, we chose the one that is 70%, 80%, 90% like the “ideal tool” as we could dream it but does not exist. And we spend our time saying “xxx software does it better”…knowing that if we have chosen xxx software we would have regreted something from yyyy soft that was the other option.

What’s wrong with compromises is that, by chosing something that averagely meets all the needs, you can end with something that specifically meet no need at all and see all business departments launch pirate projects and go to find an alternative platform for their own needs.

So my answer used to be “try to fing the tools that fits your needs the best and avoid tools that are so neutral that despite they won’t raise any issue they won’t solve anything either”. And once done “learn to love what you have since you can’t have what you love”. Far from being satisfying.

I don’t even mention the cases when businesses have to chose two tools because any couldn’t do the job alone.

Now I’ve refined my criterias.In fact I’ve noticed some tends.

1°) Today, many organizations understand that their enterprise 2.0 project should merge from the start with the existing solutions, connect and articulte with it. Some of those who started earlier without this understanding are now stucked because they have neglected or overlooked this point and have to think about integration afterwards because it’s mandatory to involve 80% of their employees. Problem : they sometimes need to freeze things and disappoint the 10% that played the game from the start. Even worse, making the choice of the “integrated suite that does everything and needs one click to be up and running” sometimes made them underestimate the weight of integration and they have to deal with tools that hardly connect with their directory, seldom with their ECM systemn and never with business tools.

2°) “Neutral tools” often end by being an issue. They’re chosen because, at the beginning, they don’t raise any kind of issue. Conversely, they always lack something to be good at anything and, at then end, are not used. It’s a little bit like hiring someone because he or she won’t cause any trouble, will say yes to anything and never complain and, at the end, realizing that this person will never be a leader that can change and improve things. This is not an issue at one condition : being able to fill the holes with specific developments or extra add-ons. Rather than chosing a tool that does not harm but does not meet any need, better chose one that do some things very well and will be complemented in the future in order it does everything well. It will cost a little bit more but, in my opinion, it’s better to pay more for something that people will use than paying less for something they won’t use.

3°) The increasing demand for integration with business tools. It can take many forms : suggest people, UGC, communties that match a business problem in the business tool where the problem appears. Not that hard provided APIs work well and the organization has a good search engine.

4°) Search : organizations did not wait for social networks to produce information and ask their employees to perform many searches in siloed tools having their own engine each…what was the guarantee they’ll stop searching because it’s a waste of time. Information should not be categorized on the tool it comes from and search my embrace all the contents from any source, traditional or social. When one is looking for information about a product, a processus…, in addition to the “official” documents, it’s relevant to have a liste of relevant people, communities or groups where people talk about it… It’s a key element of any approach aiming at making tools and information serve users instead of making people serve the tools by working like middleware.

To end, this does not give us the name of any tool but help to identify relevant critrias that are not new but are more important now than a few years ago. While, before, the point was to chose between a solution “as it is” or develop a home-made solution starting from scratch, there is now a third way that’s slowly emerging. It consists of using a tool that’s open enough so the enterprise will be able to rely on its services to build a home made solution without having to reinvent the wheel.

It applies, of course, to ambitious large global projects. Other options can work for specific needs or experimentations on a limited scope. But, at a given moment, a choice will have to be made to proceed to a global roll-out phase. The best tool on the market is, consequently, the one that in a given technical contecxt and with the required security level and capacity to scale, will allow organization to develop an unique, home made, and customized platform that answers to a global corporate problematic…even if the tool remains “invisible” from the users.