Momentum, some confusion mark 'Enterprise 2.0'

Enterprise 2.0 show opens amid researchers' predictions that enterprise spending on technologies such as social-networking and RSS feeds will grow to $4.6 billion by 2013

About 1,200 people are expected to attend this year's Enterprise 2.0 show, set to begin Monday in Boston, a rise of about 20 percent, according to the conference's organizer, Steve Wylie.

"I think there's a lot of people who want to get up to speed and act on it," he said.

Enterprise 2.0, according to the man often associated with the phrase, Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee, is defined as "the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers."

The conference is placing more emphasis this year on customer use cases, with presentations scheduled from Pfizer, Sony and others.

It wasn't as difficult this year to find solid case studies, Wylie noted, which could be a sign of the market's maturity.

And one prediction has the space ready to explode. Forrester Research recently said that enterprise spending on technologies such as social-networking platforms and RSS feeds will grow to $4.6 billion by 2013, from $764 million in 2008.

However, other data suggests many enterprises are generally interested in employing social software in a business context but are confused about how to do it.

A recent study by the research firm AIIM found that while nearly half of respondents said Enterprise 2.0 is "imperative or significant to corporate goals and objectives," 74 percent said they have "only a vague familiarity or no clear understanding" of the concept.

And some companies are still too busy to care.

Vince Biddlecombe, CTO of Transplace, a Frisco, Texas, company that sells logistics software and services, said the company's technical team has been consumed recently with meat-and-potatoes projects involving virtualization and business intelligence.

"In terms of the social networking and stuff like that, to be honest, we haven't even thought of it," he said.

"It could be useful," Biddlecombe allowed. "The nature of what we do is very collaborative and our ecosystem is very broad. But the honest truth is, we haven't had time to even look at it."

Vendors, in contrast, are fairly bullish, describing the market as having reached a modest level of maturity with room to grow.

"In the marketplace we're definitely seeing a lot more traction, a lot more interest. ... Companies are beginning to figure out you can't just innovate at the product and service level. You have to innovate at every level of your business process," said Tim Young, CEO of Socialcast, one of the many makers of "white label" social networking platforms in the market.

Oracle is finding that customers now generally understand the "better phone book" type of benefits that Facebook-style applications can provide and are now looking to push the concept deeper into their workflows, said Vince Casarez, vice president of product management for Oracle's Fusion Middleware division.

But users such as Chuck Hollis, vice president of technology alliances at EMC, say there are major considerations to weigh as companies invest more in products.

Hollis is maintaining a blog about his experience working out a social media strategy at the company.

"There's a big difference between some engineering group putting in a wiki for their team, and a large corporation making a strategic decision for all their employees," he wrote in a recent post. "If I'm selling to a small group, I'd want an offering that's focused on price, ease of installation, price, ease of management, price -- and maybe price."

But there are different considerations for company-wide deployments, he noted: "I want my new social software to work with everything I have -- not as another free-standing entity, but as a 'layer.' I don't want to create a separate, distinct and isolated content domain -- one that's arguably much less functional than the one I've already got."

And the new class of tools will likely never replace major enterprise infrastructure components, he added. "If you dig into any modern content management system, you'll find a very fine-grained environment for controlling different aspects of a document -- far beyond what any social software vendor is prepared to implement."

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