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Enterprise collaboration platforms go social -- or at least try to

To meet end users’ expectations in the age of Facebook, more vendors are adding social collaboration features to their enterprise collaboration platforms.

Enterprise collaboration platforms are having a hard time meeting workers’ new expectations for how they share information with colleagues.

Consumers today can share specific information with specific groups of people on social networks, such as Facebook and Google Plus, and they can access their photos, music and the like on multiple devices thanks to cloud synchronization services. And they carry these expectations over into the workplace. To meet these demands, vendors are adding more social collaboration features to their platforms, but issues about user-friendliness -- not to mention IT security concerns –- have made it a rough transition.

"The effect ... of the self-service consumer model is apparent on all of these products," said John Head, director of enterprise collaboration for PSC Group, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based IT consulting firm.

Social collaboration in the enterprise

Lotus Notes, for example, integrates with IBM Connections, which features a Facebook-like layout where end users can post status updates and comments, plus project pages where team members can upload and view media. Microsoft SharePoint lets users build internal Wikis and search across multiple enterprise systems. And social networks have also given rise to a new breed of social-first enterprise collaboration platforms, such as Jive Software’s Engage.

But the problem with these platforms is that, like most enterprise software, they don’t really work well with each other. Users are able to access their personal data and files from multiple platforms and devices, and if they can’t do the same at work, it will be tough for IT to get buy-in.

"They really are silos, for something that's supposed to be social," Head said. "Once I go with one platform, it's not easy to move out."

Google eyes enterprise collaboration platforms market

It’s not a given that consumer-oriented social networks could fare better in business settings, but that hasn’t stopped at least one vendor from trying. Google has added Google Plus to Google Apps, its cloud-based productivity service for businesses.

Google Plus lets users place their contacts and colleagues into Circles, or specific groups that can only see specified shared information. A personal user might have Circles for his friends, family and coworkers, for example, so his mom and boss can’t see party pictures he shares with his friends. For social collaboration in the enterprise, users could build Circles for different departments or project teams they work with, allowing them to share and discuss documents and information with relevant colleagues.

But businesses worry that employees could post sensitive or confidential corporate data for the world to see (either accidentally or maliciously), because Google Plus also lets users share information publicly, even through Google Apps. Just last month, a Google engineer wrote a lengthy rant about the downfalls of Google Plus and accidentally shared it with all of his followers.

"If a Google employee can't use the tools, then how are the customers supposed to do that?" Head asked. "There has to be the ability to audit and control, and that's one thing Google doesn't do well."

Brad Shimmin, principal analyst at Current Analysis, said Google Plus is “very limited” when it comes to its enterprise capabilities, but he did point out some potential uses: Businesses could build custom apps to link Google Plus to, which would allow non-sales staff to communicate and collaborate with clients more easily. Or organizations could use Google Plus to share information with partners more freely, because Google Plus runs in the cloud, outside the firewall.

Still, many other enterprise collaboration platforms have also moved to the cloud and added features such as analytics and data governance that Google Plus lacks, Shimmin said.

"The collaboration platform marketplace has already gone to the cloud and embraced it and has a number of advantages over Google Plus," he said.

Colin Steele is’s senior site editor. Email him and follow him on Twitter @colinsteele.

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