Corporate intranets via SaaS are the future but are not without risk

Earlier this year Forrester Research published its "Top Enterprise Web 2.0 Predictions for 2008.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor on

Earlier this year Forrester Research published its "Top Enterprise Web 2.0 Predictions for 2008." Since oftentimes predictions are made and then forgotten, I thought the halfway point of 2008 would be a good time to check in with Forrester's Jeremiah Owyang, senior analyst covering social computing, a frequent speaker and well-known Web strategist. Owyang specifically reiterated how the future model of corporate intranets is software as a service (SaaS), and while there has been an uptick this year in companies taking this approach such adoption does not come without risk due to lack of full integration capabilities.

According to Owyang, the enterprise adoption of social networks can occur in three different ways:

  • Companies will buy software from white label social networks -- social networking platforms that can be fully re-branded -- and integrate it inside of companies. Owyang says there are currently more than 80 vendors creating white label social networks as the software is somewhat commoditized.

  • ERP-type vendors, such as Microsoft, Salesforce.com, Oracle and IBM, will continue to release and improve on software offerings with social features. But enterprises will face a challenge, according to Owyang, because this type of software is somewhat inflexible or suited to offer the types of benefits that the white label vendors offer.

  • Existing social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn will become the company intranet as part of a SaaS model, moving company intranets beyond the firewall. One such company already doing such is Serena Software, which has adopted Facebook as its company intranet. The business mashup and application lifecycle management software company has "Facebook Fridays", at which time employees are given a small window to spend on the social network to engage with coworkers, customers, or even friends and family.

"It's not a matter of which one of these approaches is going to happen. These are all going to happen, just in different ways and at different times," Owyang said.

Enterprises, however, may be slow to officially adopt SaaS models for their corporate intranets. In the case of LinkedIn, while it has converted its homepage into a destination and has launched company groups, still does not offer single sign-on (SSO) nor does it yet have a way to connect to a company's infrastructure, creating security and integration issues.

"LinkedIn just received $53 million in funding so even investors are seeing a great opportunity," Owyang said. "But LinkedIn needs to figure out a social trigger for these types of security issues. Until they do, companies will first consider the white label social networks and enterprise software solutions for their corporate intranet models."

With this enterprise adoption will come additional market shifts. Owyang also predicts that many of these white label social networks will eventually be acquired by the big software companies.

"A lot of companies are trying to tackle this issue of social networking for corporate intranets, but we're still waiting to see who is really going to figure it out," he said. "There is a huge opportunity for whoever does it first."

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