I spent the first part of this week at VMworld, mostly catching up on two acquired products, SocialCast and Zimbra, as well as the Horizon product line. I continue to be impressed with the feature set and depth of the SocialCast product and I have to say that the strategy and direction for the product are really shaping up nicely (more on that in a minute). Along with the barrage of press releases from VMware this week, you may have noticed an announcement from IBM about another acquisition, Kenexa. Now IBM acquiring another application company has become pretty common over the past few years, but this acquisition, I think is interesting more for the implications of strategy than just from the additional assets added to the IBM solution portfolio.
Over the past few years I've focused quite a bit on some emerging technology that falls loosely into the category of social applications. We've gotten more specific with our labeling of the products over time of course. Now the hottest products are enterprise social networks (ESN), community management platforms, social marketing automation, socialytics, social sales intelligence and enablement, ideasourcing apps (which are a part of the new innovation management solutions) and probably a few others I've accidentally left out. I categorize these apps as systems of relationship; software that can facilitate connecting people in some way.
Systems of relationship today are stand-a-lone products, for the most part anyway. Think of the most common ESN deployment for example, the tool forms a relationship layer across the company, and in some cases out to customers and partners. It's a new application (or in some cases several applications tied together) that coexists with other collaborative tools and enterprise applications. Collaborating or networking becomes it's own process in effect. Now that's not bad, it helps teach new behaviors and change company culture, which is a necessary part of the adoption process. But, does work really happen that way? ESN's increase productivity by making it easier to find information and people, by informing a broader population of information, by connecting people to each other and to data and systems in a single system, by facilitating ad hoc problem solving, and generally creating a place to work collaboratively. The point of the ESN is getting work done in new and more productive ways, not just about sharing what you did last weekend or new pictures of your cat. That's the purview of public social networks. So if the point of the ESN is collaborating in the context of some work process then shouldn't the collaboration happen where the work actually takes place? Now in some cases the work is not associated with some system of transaction so collaborating inside the ESN is a natural way to get things done. But work also happens inside the systems of transaction or needs the support of a system of decision, so wouldn't it be more natural then, to have the social tool available inside the system where the work is taking place?
The idea of collaborating in real time in the context of some work process is very important to driving adoption and use (as well as changing the associated employee behaviors) of the system of relationship. The social tools needs to be integrated with other enterprise systems of course, but it also needs to be embedded inside the work processes to get the most value out of its use. Out of the current set of social applications most can be integrated with other applications relatively easily and some have the capability to be embedded inside other apps as well. Over time you will see vendors release more enterprise apps with the system of relationship embedded already. Some vendors are already taking more of a platform approach with the ESN, embedding it inside a broader development platform so that it can be surfaced inside any app. Salesforce.com's Force platform, for example, has the Chatter ESN product embedded and other ISV's can surface it inside their apps. FinancialForce does this with both its financial products and its professional services software.
The current leading apps vendors have the potential to disrupt the social vendor landscape by embedding social into all of their new apps. This won't happen overnight of course, but the move has already started. Until more apps are inherently social companies will need social apps with the capability of being embedded into legacy apps as the way of socializing the apps, and embedding social into the work process. Salesforce's platform approach is one way of socializing applications, but other vendors are moving there as well. Oracle, for example, has the Oracle Social Network and Fusion Public Cloud offerings that are partially socialized already.
So what does this have to do with VMware and IBM? Let's look at VMware first. The SocialCast ESN already has the capability to be easily integrated as well as embedded inside other apps, That capability was added with the release of SocialCast Reach. Currently under development are new features that will extend the capabilities of SocialCast by providing functionality inside the product that add important complimentary capabilities like work / task management. Things like facilitating "getting work done" more effectively are natural extensions of the ESN. The next step for VMware would be to provide SocialCast inside its PaaS, CloudFoundry. While not specifically announced yet, I believe that this move will happen over the next couple of years.
IBM and its ESN product, Connections, is also moving down a path to extend the product through both integration and embedding. The Kenexa acquisition is an example of their approach to this concept. Talent / performance management is an inherently social process. The Kenexa products though, are not socially enabled presently. By acquiring Kenexa and putting it in the social business organization IBM can move the Kenexa products to a new level of capability through Connections. Its likely that this isn't the only process area that IBM will socialize in this way. Not that IBM plans to acquire a complete set of enterprise apps. I think its plan will be more focused on the highest value business processes that need social capabilities built in.
The current crop of social apps are gaining traction in businesses of all sizes. On a recent IDC social business survey we found that 67% of the North American companies that responded were using / deploying social apps (June 2012, n=700). More and more though, companies will need to take the social apps and get the rest of their apps portfolios socialized. The capability to embed the social capabilities into legacy apps will for the foreseeable future be the most common method, at least until all apps are built to be inherently social and the apps that are not built to be social are replaced. That will take many, many years.