Although enterprise social networking (ESN) products that replicate Facebook-like and Twitter-like functionality for workplaces have been around for about five years, Microsoft sees a big opportunity in that market, to which some feel the maker of Windows and Office has been slow to respond.
The value of ESN is undeniable in enhancing employee collaboration and communication, but many ESN implementations have failed to deliver on their promise for various reasons, such as lack of integration with third-party business software and poorly planned deployments, a Microsoft official said.
Microsoft's approach will be to increase enterprise social features in SharePoint, as part of an integrated, organic collaboration platform that also includes Lync, Outlook and its Office productivity applications, said Jared Spataro, Microsoft's senior director of SharePoint product management.
“We believe social technologies will be incredibly important in transforming the way people interact with organizations. But we also think much of the discussion happening in the industry today, led by the pure play, standalone social vendors, is somewhat misguided,” he said.
“Social shouldn’t be implemented just for social's sake, but for business sake. It shouldn’t just replicate Facebook for the enterprise, but rather focus very squarely on task completion, on helping people get their jobs done," Spataro added.
Spataro declined to give specifics about how this vision and strategy will be manifested in Microsoft collaboration products, but said that SharePoint has been gaining enterprise social features since its 2003 version, continued adding them in its 2007 and 2010 versions, and will pursue a "people-centric" model going forward.
"The first 10 years of SharePoint's life were very clearly focused on documents. It was a document-centric system. That’s exactly what the industry wanted at the time," he said. "As we look towards the next 10 years of SharePoint, we want to maintain that document strength but we’re also going to increasingly become a people-centric system.”
Vendors like NewsGator have provided ESN capabilities to SharePoint for years, meeting the demand of customers who weren't satisfied with the native social collaboration features of the product.
"There have always been places where the partner ecosystem has been able to innovate faster than we have, so they produce solutions on top" of SharePoint, he said.
However, some like Forrester analyst Rob Koplowitz feel that Microsoft has been slow on the uptake.
"Microsoft has lagged behind vendors with more focused offerings. The decision to use SharePoint as a primary delivery device for enterprise social capabilities has advantages but speed to market is not one of them and enterprise social is a fast moving market," he said.
Faster moving vendors that have a delivery mechanism that allows keeping up with consumer trends have had the advantage so far, he said. SharePoint's biggest functional shortfall has been its lack of native Twitter-like microblogging and Facebook-like activity streams, Koplowitz said.
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