David-and-Goliath Battle Shapes Up in Enterprise 2.0 Technology

IBM, Microsoft and SAP respond to the social networking innovators.
Will incumbent IT vendors prevail by adding social networking functionality to existing platforms, or will Web 2.0 innovators add ID management and security features and take the business world by storm?

That question, delivered as part of a text-messaging poll, was put to the nearly 1,000 attendees at this week's Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. The response was fairly evenly split, with 56 percent favoring the establishment and 44 percent believing pioneers will displace existing technologies.

Both camps are well represented among the more than 60 exhibitors here this week, but IBM, Microsoft, CISCO and SAP seized bully pulpits with prime-time keynote speaking slots. They took advantage, spotlighting products and functionality either shipping or in the pipeline.

image gallery Enteprise 2.0

Big Blue's developments were highlighted by Ambuj Goyal, general manager of IBM Information Management software, who detailed Ajax-powered interfaces and application/data mashup capabilities shipping in WebSphere portal. He also noted Websphere Commerce capabilities in use by customers including and that enable customers to prioritize and filter products by price, brand and other characteristics while also providing mouse-over descriptions and Web-based drag-and-drop navigation.

Goyal also previewed QeD Wiki, a "quick and easily done mashup maker" that lets you drag, drop and combine information sources among widgets, as well as an unnamed dynamic data visualization technology.

Microsoft expects to deliver Enterprise 2.0 functionality within and alongside unified communications, democratized business intelligence tools, enterprise content management, collaboration and search, said Derek Burney, general manager of SharePoint Platform & Tools. He followed with application scenarios and descriptions of existing blog, wiki, rss, profiling and presence capabilities within SharePoint and the Office Communications Server. Burney also highlighted Silverlight, Microsoft's recently announced Web 2.0 development environment, which has been used by big-league Web publishers including Fox and Burney also highlighted a Microsoft "Alpha" site:

"It's a mashup builder, Web site editor and community all rolled into one," said Burney. Once you join you get a host of building blocks that you can drag onto your workspace and connect with lines to create compelling mashups. If you come up with something useful you can share it with friends in your community."

Among the other IT giants presenting here, CISCO's Marthin De Beer, pitched video as the coming wave in collaboration, executive communication and training while SAP's Dennis Moore described enterprise mashups in which services-enabled ERP and CRM functionality, user profiles, data sources and collaboration tools could be combined to quickly create new apps without IT assistance or development delays.

These larger vendors were far outnumbered by the dozens of Enteprise 2.0 pioneers and startups exhibiting at the conference, several of which touted the advantage of having ground-floor experience in putting social-networking methodologies and best practices to work. And in contrast to the code bloat, feature creep and high prices known to some industry-standard collaboration tools, break-through products from smaller vendors may be sought after for their sheer simplicity, ease of use and affordability.

"When I think about the technologies that have really grabbed me, it's their Zen-like simplicity that appeals to me," noted Harvard Business School Associate Professor and keynote speaker Andrew McAfee. "It's the fact that they do one or two things for me and they make it really easy to do."

The upstart vendors let their name-brand customer wins be known. Northwestern Mutual, for one, is using iUpload's community-building software and newsgator RSS software to bring blogging, wiki, forum, calendaring and news feed capabilities to the insurer's 15,000-plus employees. And Shore Bank has tapped Traction Software to deliver headlines, bulletins, threaded discussions, and milestone-tracking capabilities to its employees. Indeed, in Enterprise 2.0 circles, iUpload, Traction, Socialtext and newsgator are part of a new vendor establishment.