Enterprise Social Software: A New Category

This week we introduced some important and groundbreaking research on a new, important category of enterprise software:  the market for corporate Social Software platforms.   Traditionally our research has focused on identifying the strategies, processes, and systems which help corporate HR and L&D drive effectiveness and business value.  But as we continued to study the market for Talent Management and Learning Management software, we found that almost every software vendor was building features for internal social networking.

As we talk with corporate HR and L&D leaders they tell us that more and more of their focus is moving toward strategies and systems which support and create internal social networks, internal collaboration, content sharing, and informal learning.  So naturally we asked ourselves, how is this all going to come together?

Our research found several things.  First, today most companies are experimenting with many forms of social software in the areas of employee expert directories, customer service, customer community management, sales force collaboration and knowledge management, and technical communities of practice.  In fact, more than half the companies we talked with have active, highly sophistocated communities of practice in many of their customer facing and technical roles.  

Second, we found that very few companies have found a way to apply these tools and solutions to enterprise-wide HR, learning, and talent strategies.  Some, like IBM and Cisco, have invested heavily in this area and are well along on implementing what we call “learning on-demand” solutions internally.  But most companies are still bringing together teams from IT, HR, L&D, sales, and service and trying to figure out how an enterprise-wide social networking strategy would work.

Third, we found that this new application segment has spawned a large and very fast-growing segment of software providers.   While the jury is still out on whether these companies will grow into billion dollar companies or be subsumed into the likes of Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, IBM, and others, we believe that for the next 3-5 years these companies will become very important in the development of strategies and solutions for enterprise-wide learning and talent strategies.  The market is already over $270 Million and we expect it to grow to over $400 Million by the end of 2009.

These new, fast-growing companies like Atlassian, Jive Software, LiveWorld, Mzinga, and Telligent have built highly functional systems which implement the four major categories of “Social Software” – conversations, connections, collaboration, and content.  While most are not uniquely targeting the market for HR and corporate training, all are moving in this direction and they warrant a good look by your organization.

Does this mean that the market for Learning Management Systems (LMS) and content management systems is going away?  No, not at all — but it clearly means that a new “category” has been created, and this new category will challenge LMS providers and corporate buyers to think hard about how they build their next-generation HR and Learning systems architectures.

I encourage our clients to learn about this space – it is transformational.  Our upcoming research bulletin on the role of Social Networking in Enterprise Learning and Talent Management will help you learn more.

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