If you look back at the trends in “electronics era” (post-1970) , it is clear that popular consumer technology eventually creeps into the corporate world. First it was the personal computer, then the internet and the world wide web. Web 2.0 followed when companies realized the value of collaboration tools such as wikis and instant messaging and began to pilot them. The trend continues with social media revolution. Facebook and Twitter have seen a meteoric rise in their popularity, so it was just a matter of time.
One of the first movers in this area, Yammer, was launched in Septermber 2009 starting off with a bang when it won the TechCrunch50 event in 2008. It was called Twitter with muscles and brains but in the two years since its launch it has not seen the sort of widespread adoption enjoyed by Twitter. The game changer could be Chatter from Salesforce.com. Originally launched in 2009 at its Dreamforce conference, Salesforce touted it as “Facebook for the enterprise”. The company described it as “a new secure enterprise collaboration application and social development platform”. Chatter was initially available only to their paid users. It appears to have gained so much traction that in December 2010 they unveiled Chatter Free – a new edition of Chatter that is completely free. Anyone with a verified company email address can join their company network.
Other companies have started jumping into the fray. One of the leading BPM software vendors Appian recently launched Tempo – a new addition to their product suite that brings real-time collaboration and social networking features. A colleague pointed out that in January business integration software vendor TIBCO launched tibbr. While tibbr is available as SaaS, it can also be deployed on premise. It boasts of having out-of-the-box feeds for events in and out of major ERP and CRM applications and the ability to leverage clients’ LDAP for user profiles etc.
It is likely that sooner or later all major vendors will extend their existing offerings (or introduce new products) to include real-time collaboration and enterprise social networking. With Salesforce offering Chatter at no cost it appears that the process of commoditization of these products has already begun. The consumer social networking space has become unipolar with Facebook effectively crushing its competitors. In the enterprise space this is less likely to happen. As has happened with ERP and CRM applications it will be a multi-polar world. The challenge for end-user companies will be to decide which horse they are going to back. Once you start using one of these platforms the possibility of lock-in is very high. In large companies, if an enterprise solution is not rolled out quickly enough individual departments may choose different products. The challenge then will be compatibility between such products. This is definitely an evolving space and it will interesting to see how things pan out, say, in five years from now.