Our columnist identifies the challenges which could derail social enterprise tools, as Cisco and IBM battle to turn businesses into Facebook-like collaboration environments. With counterpoint from JP Rangaswami, Murali Sitaram, and Ted Schadler.
I'm fresh from Enterprise 2.0 Boston, where the big takeaway was that social decision-making and collaboration tools for businesses are moving beyond the hype stage (OK, the hype hasn't abated one bit) and into the implementation phase. Products such as Cisco Quad, IBM Lotus Live, and SAP StreamWork were on display.
Personally, I'm extremely enthusiastic about this stuff, though I can't help but think this is because we're on the cusp of a major market battle, which could be more intense than the Office Suite wars of two decades ago.
I hosted a session at Enterprise 2.0, during which I served as a self-appointed voice of skepticism. I asked my panelists -- BT Design CIO JP Rangaswami, Cisco vice president Murali Sitaram, and Forrester analyst Ted Schadler -- why no one seems to be able to definitively measure the business benefits of E2.0 tools.
Rangaswami responded with a memorable quote. "I've never seen a document describing the benefit of restrooms," he said. "There are some things you're going to install because they're important to have in an enterprise."
On that note, here's my list on the top five big questions which need to be asked about E2.0 products, at least in their current state of maturity and deployment. What's your take? Join the discussion by leaving a comment at the end of this story.
The Quantifiable Benefits Remains Unclear. Despite that fact that many workers have already spent the past year dipping their toes into wikis on the corporate intranet and unified communications tools, beyond amorphous proclamations about the benefits of collaboration, there are no hard numbers to back this stuff up.
More vexingly, as Rangaswami's witty quote makes clear, E2.0 proponents are now beginning to push back against what are really rather timid and reasonable requests to quantify the ROI. Hey, if you're going to spend $10 per seat per month -- that's $120,000 per year, and it's probably just for starters -- isn't it reasonable to ask to see something in black and white?
During my E2.0 panel, Forrester's Schadler pointed out that putting documents and proposals together is faster in a collaborative environment -- a big benefit for marketing and sales teams. I get that, though I'd point out that the current impediment to doc creation isn't so much tools as it is information discovery -- something many wikis make even more difficult, if that's possible.
Here's a devil's advocate question: What happens, five years down the road, if these tools haven't delivered their promised benefits, yet we've ripped out all our previous stuff (eg., legacy e-mail), so that we're locked into a Facebook-style interface when the rest of the world has moved on to the next revolution, in the form of, say, Hypercard 2020?