So what should be the strategy for CIOs regarding SharePoint, Yammer and competing ESN tools at this market's crossroads? Below we offer analysis criteria and suggestions.
Not All ESN Vendors Are Created Equal
Companies that make ESN software fall into three categories: collaboration platform companies, business application vendors and specialty players.
Microsoft falls into the first category, along with others like IBM with its Connections product and Cisco with WebEx Social. These are big software vendors that have other collaboration and communication products.
Then there are enterprise application vendors that have added ESN complements for their core ERP and CRM suites. That's the case of Salesforce.com with its Chatter product and of SAP with Jam. Middleware vendor Tibco has an ESN product called Tibbr.
Finally, there are the smaller niche players like Jive Software, Socialtext and NewsGator which focus solely or primarily on their own ESN products.
Thus, a criteria for CIOs, especially those whose organizations aren't yet using ESN software, could be to look at the vendors they're already doing business with.
"See what vendors you have existing relationships with and may prefer to work with," says Larry Cannell, a Gartner analyst.
There are pros and cons that are evident on the surface for vendors in each category. The vendors in the first two categories are larger, with more resources, and thus can be assumed to be more stable. They can also offer the promise of broader software stacks that are natively integrated with their ESN components.
However, they will inevitably approach ESN from their ownperspectives, and it's not clear to Cannell which one will emerge as the most appropriate one.
"Is ESN an extension of other unified communications, collaboration and email products? Or is it an extension of business applications," he said. "We don't know how that's going to shake out yet. There are credible arguments on both sides."
Moreover, the smaller specialists not only focus exclusively on ESN, but they also often find it easier to move faster when adapting their products to customer feedback and technology innovations. They also don't have to comply with the competitive mandates of a larger corporate parent, and can thus be more agnostic in their partner relationships and third-party software integrations.
Determine Your Level of Comfort with the Cloud
A key consideration for CIOs should be their organization's willingness or reluctance to have their ESN software running in a public cloud.
ESN is most effective when it becomes an underlying layer of social collaboration capabilities that are integrated into the applications employees use on a daily basis, whether it's email clients, CRM software, ERP applications, office productivity applications or video conferencing wares. Obviously, the data involved in all of those applications can be highly sensitive.
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