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Enterprise collaboration tools move beyond social media toys

James Furbush

Social collaboration tools for enterprises were acquired faster than you could tweet about it during the first half of 2012, and more companies have begun to realize their business value.

Recently, Oracle Corp. acquired Involver Inc., a software vendor founded in 2007 that lets non-technical users build corporate Facebook pages and create other social media presences. It was Oracle's third social collaboration tool purchase in 2012, and follows a wave of similar purchases from Salesforce.com and

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Microsoft, which spent $1.2 billion to acquire Yammer in mid-June.

Now, almost every significant enterprise software vendor offers a social collaboration platform that IT shops can easily roll out to their employees.

"Social is a foundational layer of business and building or rolling out social-enabled tools is no big deal," said Rich Harbridge, a SharePoint architect with Rockville, Md.-based Portal Solutions, a collaboration software provider. "Where it becomes tricky is using that technology to further business objects and measure it."

The spotlight on enterprise collaboration tools validates their usefulness and should benefit future collaboration startups that help employees accomplish work tasks, rather than just communication, said Raheel Retiwalla, CEO and founder of Fuzed, a Dallas-based collaboration company.

Enterprise collaboration tools cut costs, improve morale

One U.K. government agency with over 120,000 employees said its social collaboration tool saves money and gives employees a voice within the organization.

The United Kingdom's Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) implemented idea management software from Pleasanton, Calif.-based Spigit to give employees a place to suggest ideas and put those ideas into executable plans.

Employees add ideas to Spigit's Web-based interface and the community comments on it to flesh out the idea. Ideas are voted up or down by other employees to determine its worth in relation to other ideas. Employees also develop reputations based upon their participation, so some votes and feedback from users count more than others.

Since April of this year, the DWP has collected approximately 2,200 ideas from employees and has implemented 136 of them. These ideas have led to savings that range from thousands of pounds to tens of millions of pounds, according to Duncan McGugan, the department’s innovation manager.

Return on investment and user participation have long been hurdles to enterprise adoption of social collaboration tools, but with Spigit, the DWP is able to measure both, McGugan said. About 50,000 of the organization's employees collaborate on ideas to improve the department.

"Saving money has been huge, but more than that our frontline employees feel appreciated," he said. "They feel that sense of affecting the bigger picture direction of the department."

Social collaboration tools -- less is more

Collaboration software startups typically focus their products on performing just a few business tasks well. Most of the Web-based applications integrate with other products through open application program interfaces.

It's a model that some users approve of.

"I'm not a fan of tools that do more than three to five things," said Matt Pfeil, co-founder of DataStax, an Apache Cassandra database software company based in San Mateo, Calif.

"Anyone who expects a business app to completely alter or disregard existing tools are setting themselves up for failure. We're still living in our inbox, so I need other tools to make my life easier," he added.

Six months ago Pfeil learned of Sparqlight, a social workflow application. It integrates with Google and Yammer accounts to layer real-time social communication over users' ability to assign and monitor tasks and share documents.

When DataStax invoices a new customer, multiple teams are involved, including sales, support, accounting and engineering. Sparqlight lets Pfeil start the process with a customized template.

"Without having to bang my head or send a thousand emails, I can check the dashboard to see what's been ticked off, where the process is at, who's doing what -- all that stuff," said Pfeil.

Pfeil can't imagine working without Sparqlight, which is exactly what will distinguish the future of social enterprise.

Other companies, such as Huddle and Fuzed, help IT pros surface relevant content across the organization. Huddle automates the process of finding content (think Netflix recommendation algorithms), while Fuzed provides a way for employees to link relevant information items, whether internal documents or external data, in one place.

HyperOffice, a cloud-based office productivity suite, started to overhaul its product nine months ago to include more social features based around surfacing content, as well. Those changes will launch at the end of July.