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Microsoft: We're Investing In Enterprise Social

Armed with survey results and a belief that the 'turmoil' of the social software market is over, Microsoft says it's time to round out SharePoint and other products as an enterprise social platform.

Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Microsoft says it is getting ready to make big moves on enterprise social software, citing survey results that show a rising tide of enterprise adoption.

"The enterprise social space is hot," Jared Spataro, Microsoft's senior director of SharePoint product marketing, said in an interview. With Forrester Research forecasting that enterprise social software will grow into a $6.4 billion market by 2016, Microsoft is paying attention. At the same time, Spataro cited a Gartner prediction (which appears to be a couple of years old) that 70% of IT-led social media projects will fail. Microsoft wants to help its customers "avoid that trap" and provide them with a blueprint for success, he said.

"Our vision of social is that it should really put people at the center of business. It's not social for social's sake, it's really task completion--how to get specific tasks done and how to interact with the organization," Sparato said.

Although Microsoft previously has not jumped in with both feet, apparently it has been watching and waiting. The pace of innovation and turmoil in the social software market is starting to slow, "so now the focus moves from just being on features to business value," Sparato said. "I think the timing is actually quite good for us to think hard about investing." In a survey Microsoft commissioned from Harris Interactive, more than 50% of the organizations venturing into social software said they were just getting started, he said.

"Our point of view is that social is incredibly important--it's not just a fad; it really will change where work gets done," he said. However, it's now time to "stop focusing so much on features as on the entire experience as presented to a customer, partner, or employee." The total experience Microsoft delivers will be "more than just SharePoint," also including elements from Microsoft Lync unified communications and Microsoft Office.

To date, the software companies making the most noise about social software have been specialized ones such as Jive Software, which enjoyed a public stock offering in December, or Yammer, with its cloud-hosted, freemium alternative. The best-respected product from an established enterprise vendor probably is IBM Connections.

SharePoint is so broadly deployed as an enterprise collaboration and file-sharing technology that every social collaboration platform needs some sort of plugin of connectivity widget for it. Vendors such as Neudesic and Telligent make that one of their primary selling points, while NewsGator Social Sites is the best-known social networking application that runs as an application atop SharePoint. However, by itself SharePoint is often characterized as an inadequate social platform, even though it provides the basics of activity stream updates and personal profile pages.

Social software is "a very big investment area" for Microsoft right now, "We're working on our next product now, but we're not ready to talk about it yet," Sparato said. The next big step with be a public beta covering multiple products in the Microsoft collaboration and productivity product line over the summer, he said. He did not directly answer the question of whether Microsoft would acquire a company such as NewsGator or replicate its software, although he spoke about a likely wave of consolidation in the market.

"We've tried really hard not to just be a follower of the fad," Spataro said. "Social is certainly a very frothy area right now--whether consumer or enterprise--and part of our job is to take these great technologies and sift the wheat from the chaff," producing "solid technologies and excellent products for our customers," he said.

In the Harris Interactive survey, 90% of respondents cited security as a top concern with social software, followed by integration with existing systems (66%) and compliance (53%). "That's very consistent with the way we think about the platform," Sparato said. Survey findings also reflect an interest in integration with, and taking advantage of, existing IT infrastructure that might tend to favor SharePoint-based solutions.

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User Rank: Apprentice
3/26/2012 | 7:55:17 PM
re: Microsoft: We're Investing In Enterprise Social
Our challenge: As an engineering centric company who has used Jive, Roller, and Confluence in the past, it is a bitter pill to convince engineers to let go of advanced collaboration capabilities in those tools in lieu of SharePoint. Cases in point: No wiki markup language capability, no threading of forums in an effective way, no effective embedded microblog/twitter/mobile capability (unless you pay the premium to a third party provided like Newsgator).

Also, the comment about doing pilots. Nice idea, but who has the budget, resources and time to do a pilot for every feature area in SharePoint?

Summary: Microsoft has a long, long, long way to go with their core SharePoint product in the social-business future (without the bolt-ons from the expensive third-party players) before they get to critical mass. Yes, they'll get there, but it's been ugly so far, and they're not very receptive through the main support lines to listen to the feedback.

I didn't even mention the constraints for configuration of Office 365 and SharePoint . . . .
My Senior Portal
My Senior Portal,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/22/2012 | 3:24:04 PM
re: Microsoft: We're Investing In Enterprise Social
I wonder how they will distinguish themselves in this space, rather than be an also-ran.

It is a killer potential market, but somehow they need to be innovative, as they are too late to just be a follower.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2012 | 7:41:35 PM
re: Microsoft: We're Investing In Enterprise Social
It already seemed like Microsoft was working on social strategies. But, then I work for Telligent and Microsoft has been a big customer for a long time. Right now they are partnering with Telligent on a global workshop tour surrounding the SharePoint social integration. One of the key messages is that organizations/companies can enhance SharePoint for better business results with a customer-centric social community. It's hard point to argue. :)
User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2012 | 7:39:50 PM
re: Microsoft: We're Investing In Enterprise Social
48% + 30% + 12% = 90% in my book. Where is the market for Microsoft? Perhaps it's all those 1000 person companies they are talking to. Surely the organisations 'that matter', and which are pushing the idea of social business, are 50,000 users or above.
Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2012 | 12:26:50 AM
re: Microsoft: We're Investing In Enterprise Social
Microsoft watching and waiting before jumping into a hot new technology? Why does that sound so familiar?

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
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