- Current go-to-market practices within the collaboration platform marketplace call for a highly transformational experience, where the wisdom of crowds can make an organization smarter through lofty ideals such as ideation and expertise location.
- IT professionals responsible for the purchase of such solutions hope instead for an improvement of existing collaboration tools, most notably e-mail.
In preparing some presentation materials for an upcoming webinar (later this month) on enterprise social networking, I was struck by a singular, unexpected trend – something called pragmatism. As an industry analyst, I am used to hearing grand visions, the biggest of which is business transformation. This is the idea that software can literally change the way a company does business, enabling it to reach into new market opportunities or to simply bring business practices back into alignment with its stated business objectives.
As numerous studies and customer case studies show, this idea is very real. However, for the 600 international IT professionals we studied in our 2012 collaboration survey, particularly those working within the confines of small to midsize businesses, the primary driver behind the adoption of an enterprise social networking platform such as Microsoft’s Yammer or Google’s Apps for Business concerns the improvement of existing collaboration tools. That means e-mail. Specifically, 62.6% of those IT buyers with existing enterprise social networking software solutions felt that this factor drove their purchase decision, eclipsing would-be drivers like the generation of ideas (37.4%) and the re-invention of human resources (40.9%).
Perhaps not surprisingly, this same group also felt that e-mail itself was not the problem. When we asked respondents if a driving factor in their decision to roll out an enterprise social networking solution was to cut down on their reliance upon e-mail, to cut down on the use of e-mail itself, only 22.8% actually looked to cut down on e-mail traffic. I believe this figure points to a mature understanding of the still valuable relationship that exists between e-mail and social networking.
In my experience, while event streams help users effectively push information to a group of subscribers (those following them), an e-mail message represents a more intimate form of communication. It affords an electronic equivalent of a phone call or a private letter (for those who remember such things). Enterprise social networks certainly enable direct messaging and one-to-one chat. However, the continued value placed upon e-mail by users and IT professionals points to at least a continuing sense of ‘trust’ in this increasingly anachronistic form of communication.
Whatever the reasons behind the value our respondents have placed upon messaging, their interest in preserving e-mail and their desire to improve existing collaboration tools (i.e., e-mail, calendar, chat, etc.) through social networking points toward a much more grounded, more realistic view of enterprise social networking itself. Tools such as rich profiles, social analytics, and event streams are not supposed to ‘un-invent’ our existing collaborative tools. Their real value lies in their ability to make these tools better, to help us re-envision how those tools can best fit into the way we conduct business. That is true transformation.