When Rob Koplowitz, principal analyst at Forrester Research, used to get calls to talk about enterprise social networking tools, it often meant discussing things such as wikis and blogs. Sometime around last November, though, all of that changed. "People aren't asking me about blogs and wikis, they're asking me about true social networking," says Koplowitz. He says he thinks the success Barack Obama had using Web 2.0 tactics in the 2008 presidential election played a big role in getting companies to sit up and really notice the power of social media. Open Text Corp. (www.opentext.com), an enterprise software company specializing in content management and collaboration, may not care what's behind the winds of social change, but the folks there are certainly glad to see it finally happening. Open Text Social Media is "something we've been working on quite hard over the last year," says John Myers, general manager, Social Media at Open Text. "This is the right product for the right time."
Officially announced on June 23 at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, Open Text Social Media is the latest addition to the company's ECM Suite. The solution offers a social media application that gives people new ways of working together through the web and through mobile devices, while also working to meet security and compliance demands by integrating with the company's wider ECM system. "We've always been challenged, perplexed, puzzled that these kinds of tools never saw widespread adoption," says Myers. "This was seen as a complex, expensive, perhaps unnecessary luxury. ... We do think the market is right now."
As Myers says, Open Text has been hard at work on this project for quite a while. In that time the public has embraced social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter as a matter of course. As people began to see their grandmothers using these sites, companies have, perhaps, started to recognize the value they offer and started to explore the ways organizations can benefit from them. "They realize this stuff is powerful, it works, it's easy, ... it's a better way for people to work together on things," says Myers.
As younger employees have moved into the work force, bringing with them the technologies they use to study, collaborate, and stay connected, they have also begun to influence corporate culture. "Younger employees view email as outdated," says Myers. Organizations hoping to attract the best new employees want to offer cutting-edge environments, but there is more than just the tools themselves to consider, he adds. While Facebook is a great place to reconnect with old friends, and maybe even find a new job, it's certainly not where companies want to see employees conducting official business.
Companies serious about making social networking and collaboration tools part of the workflow know that security is of the utmost importance. As with email, companies have to think about the possible implications of legal compliance, e-discovery, and the general governance of information. Open Text hopes that with this latest product introduction, it will give organizations a way to address these concerns by marrying social media technology to an enterprise-ready content management infrastructure.
According to Scott Welch, chief evangelist for social media at Open Text, this latest release offers all the features you might expect from a social networking tool: profiles, communities, threaded discussions, blogs, and wikis. Only users of this server, however, can see the information contained within the network. In other words, it's not open to the public. Communities, which are often set up around particular projects, can be given designations as public, public (read-only), private, or secret. Public communities and the documents associated with them can be seen and edited by any user. The read-only communities can be seen by all users but can not be edited-this is a place you may want to keep HR policy documents, for instance. Only members can enter communities designated as private, but users can request membership. Secret communities are strictly invitation-only.
Users can post status updates just like they would be able to on popular public social networking sites; they even have the ability to do a social search. Entering a term into the tool's search box will return results of related documents, communities, and people. All of these features can be accessed on-the-go, as well. Open Text has made the Social Media offering available through mobile channels. Users have the same access to this tool from their Blackberries or iPhones as they do from their PCs or Macs.
"In some sense I would call this a social networking solution. In other ways it's very much like a traditional collaboration tool," says Koplowitz. Customers currently using Open Text's ECM Suite with a maintenance contract will receive the Social Media tool as an upgrade. But the company aims to win new customers with this new tool. Myers says collaboration customers represent a fairly small percentage of Open Text's customer base, and the company hopes this offering will change that.
However, it is the existing customers who are the ones likely to benefit most from the social capabilities, says Koplowitz: "There's a couple of places where Open Text is interesting as part of this landscape." He adds that while Open Text Social Media is still maturing in terms of some of its truly social aspects-especially when stacked up against the offerings of other pure-play social media vendors-where it really excels is in its ability to tie back into the company's ECM workflows.
Welch says Open Text Media, which has been running in production for about 9 months, is scalable into the hundreds of thousands of users. While customers have been using the tool in beta testing for months, Open Text Social Media won't be generally available until July 2009. Myers says it will be sold under a standard per-seat license and will be competitively priced at about $20-$50 for a perpetual license.
It still remains to be seen whether enterprises are really going to embrace true social networking or continue to rely on more traditional collaboration tools. Koplowitz is sure about a few things, though: "We're doing too much collaboration through email. ... We need better collaboration tools."