Dancing with SharePoint: Damned if you do, damned if you don't
The Enterprise 2.0 market poses a tricky dynamic. For the startups who sell social software, they must not only compete for business with Microsoft SharePoint, but also build out their products to complement it. Because the SharePoint server is utilized by more than 17,000 organizations and caters to 100 million users, its brute market strength cannot be ignored. Thus, top Enterprise 2.0 vendors such as Socialtext, Jive Software, Newsgator and Atlassian have built their social applications to play nicely with SharePoint. The thinking: A company might use SharePoint to manage their documents as in years past, but use one of the Enterprise 2.0 vendors' apps for social collaboration.
"These vendors have to dance with the elephant," says Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester analyst. "Over time, they want to be your social networking and social computing vendor, but at the same time, they partner with Microsoft to work with SharePoint."
For better or worse, many large U.S. companies have come to rely so heavily on SharePoint because it was rolled out to be a kind of glue to hold together documents and applications all over the enterprise. While SharePoint is, on one hand, an application and an accompanying server, it's also a platform on top of which companies can build custom software specific to their business. As those custom apps become entrenched in the enterprise, any social software that gets added must communicate nicely with SharePoint.
During the past year, the Enterprise 2.0 vendors have tailored their products to mirror that reality. Newsgator, for example, has had particular success embedding its Social Sites product on top of SharePoint. Social Sites allows companies to build a corporate intranet on top of SharePoint. When implemented, it behaves much like Facebook's News Feed - information about what actions an employee performs is streamed into a centralized homepage. Universal McCann, a communications and marketing firm, used Social Sites (with SharePoint) on its intranet.
But as the feature set for SharePoint improves in 2010, customers say it will be a harder choice to buy from the Enterprise 2.0 vendors. Customers whom we spoke to just before the Enterprise 2.0 conference say they could go either way, depending on how much the Microsoft app actually improves.
"If SharePoint has what I need, and I have lots of freedom to configure, that would certainly be attractive, but there is no limit to the number of use cases out there," says Jason Harrison, senior vice president and director of digital solutions for Mediabrands (the parent entity of Universal McCann). "We paired Newsgator with SharePoint originally because of RSS and content syndication this time around. I'm sure there will be a whole raft of [new] capabilities out there the next time around."
Race to out-innovate Microsoft is on
Enterprise 2.0 and social software startups have thrived in large part because they have been so much more innovative than Microsoft -- an advantage they say will continue during the coming years. These Enterprise 2.0 vendors have succeeded by observing what's occurring on the consumer Web, and then making it palatable for business use. According to Enterprise 2.0 vendors, they catch enterprises up to those innovations faster than Microsoft.