Won't get fooled again?

Is Wall Street's current enthusiasm for profit from enterprise social technologies good for the end user, and will the old guard vendors outflank the challengers with feature offerings?

There's a solid, even handed piece in the Wall Street Journal today by staff reporter Shayndi Raice titled 'Social Networking Heads to the Office' which reveals a lot about the current financial markets mainstream view of the crowded business collaboration social networking technology world.

'New business applications allow far-flung workers to collaborate in a way they often can't with email' is Shayndi's sensible sub head. In 2012 ideas which were bleeding edge a couple of years ago are now beyond mainstream within the business world, at least on a theoretical level, as expensive marketing carefully shapes messaging. The very crowded Collaboration/Social Enterprise technology marketplace layers are currently highly attractive to Wall Street, who understand the financial potential of a new generation of productivity technologies which could allow enhanced productivity.

...These new business tools are based on the idea that email isn't always the best method of communication for widely dispersed workers who need to collaborate on projects or stay abreast of other initiatives within their organizations.

Says Raice, picking up on the reality software vendors are experiencing with prospects and customers by acknowledging email isn't going to go away, but use can be constrained if the organizational intents can be put in place at a people and their processes level.

Raice name checks several financial market attractive vendors in an even handed way - Jive, Salesforce, Tibco, Yammer - and interestingly Asana, the former Facebook & Googler staffed Benchmark Capital and Andreessen-Horowitz backed startup. With Facebook's ipo imminent the street clearly also sees profit potential in the pure play collaboration vendors, either through growth, acquisitions ...and probably simply as a pump and dump bubble. (What goes up typically comes down in fickle financial fashion circles...).

Humbler pure plays who have done so much hard work to originate and realize the potential of Enterprise 2.0 thinking with their software development such as SocialText are put in a difficult position: busy developing their product and serving their customers instead of behaving brassily to attract the financial markets, they find themselves wallflowers at the Wall Street dance. While the original ethos of Enterprise 2.0 thinking was very much all about the little guy - tacit knowledge stored in individual heads could be surfaced in the flow of work making the world a better place for everyone - our current software marketing era is full of wild claims for massive culture shift in organizations enabled by free gateway drug style seat licenses.

The siren song of Wall Street profits is behind much of this market positioning of course. There are two other core dimensions to the space: old guard enterprise software vendors in various industry verticals attempting to add process flow features to their offerings in an attempt to out flank the current generation of contenders, (Tibco with their Tibbr product have done a great job with this in-context approach so far, particularly in regard to their financial market positioning)  and heavyweight champ Microsoft Sharepoint heading up the digital filing cabinet brigade incumbents.

Add in the departmental and small/medium sized business software offerings and we see a market space that is spoilt for choice. As I discussed a few weeks ago the reality is typically a mind boggling mix of collaboration channel possibilities, putting aside the user name and password protected  collaboration silos competitive business units coalesce around to protect their fiefdoms, which is a whole separate issue. Raice's Wall Street Journal article identifies the top line benefits modern technologies can unlock: the devil of course is in the details. The 'What's In It For Me' factor looms large when getting people to use new technologies of all stripes, and as I repeatedly point out on this blog, the ways we use personal social networking channels in our own time is completely different to the ways in which we interact with business colleagues, rivals and enemies in an internal work environment.

As Drucker pointed out  "It's easier for companies to come up with new ideas than let go of old ones"..or in this current era's case adopting new layers of working on top of the old. Anyone paying attention to the new ways people could work together are starting to understand the roles different technology collaboration channels could enable, but for the overwhelming majority there's a danger of adding complexity and complication to work rather than simplifying and enhancing productivity. Clearly there's a fertile market selling to these folks as they 'get' the possibilities, something which Wall Street currently thinks smells very tasty indeed.

The early Enterprise 2.0 movement practitioners understood how fundamentally experiential and hands on the new ways of finding the best ways to work were, both individually and collectively. The evolution of the now mainstream read/write 2.0 web and explosion in mobile technologies and services have put the old guard firewall surrounded business 'cities' under enormous pressure. What supersedes that enterprise era in some cases now in danger of falling prey to the past 'tick the boxes' mentality of enterprise software suite buyers. The shortcomings of this formed the original rationale for Enterprise 2.0 thinking in the cubicle trenches, which sought to break free from the inadequacies of inflexible 1.0 MISO enterprise software and email.

Technologies to enable those Enterprise 2.0 thoughts are available today, but the question is whether anything genuinely new will endure or whether familiar old faces will roll up innovation and bake new thinking into the 'old ideas' Drucker discussed, and in that case whether modern businesses can remain competitive if provisioned with technologies anchored in the past. My sense is we are at a tipping point and past familiarities have  bred contempt: reinventing yourself is harder than providing attractive, agile new green fields business solutions.  Nothing is ever quite the same twice, but my gut feeling is that past enterprise software buyers won't get fooled again, despite Wall Street's current appetite.


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