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The "Facebook Imperative": Some May Not Like It, But Collaboration Tools Are Only Becoming More Social

Many in the enterprise software market—users and vendors alike—have been skeptical of Marc Benioff’s “Facebook Imperative.” Salesforce Chatter, the company’s socially-minded enterprise collaboration platform, was introduced at the Dreamforce 2009 conference in November, and went into private beta last month. When the platform went into beta, the Salesforce CEO took to blogs to disseminate the “Facebook Imperative”: the reasons he believes all enterprise software should be like Facebook.

Naturally, most detractors have responded by saying that if enterprise software doesn’t resemble Facebook, there is probably a good reason for it, and one major contention is that social integrations in enterprise productivity suites only create workplace distractions. Salesforce Chatter does admittedly have very Facebook-like features—the profile pages and news feeds look almost identical to the homepage iteration Facebook was running when Chatter was announced—but at the time, Benioff insisted that Chatter was a collaboration tool, and not a social one.

Indeed, the insistence on collaborating above socializing is likely the one to make Chatter and similar platforms enterprise mainstays. Everyone wants real-time functionalities in enterprise, but most are hesitant to think of it in terms of the social for fear of putting these products in the context of leisure. Still, despite condemnations of “Enterprise 2.0,” a plethora of collaboration platforms are jumping on the social bandwagon, and perhaps proving that collaboration suites need to get hip to the Facebook Imperative to survive.

One collaboration platform to make headlines recently was Socialcast’s, as they announced a new activity stream, an Outlook plugin, and an on-premise offering and a private cloud environment. Their name implies a non-enterprise product, and indeed Socialcast was not originally positioned as a workplace application. But this month, Socialcast announced they’re taking their activity-stream collaboration model and bringing it to the office.  With the release of their newest activity stream—dubbed “EASE,” short for “Enterprise Activity Stream Engine”—businesses can utilize Socialcast’s microblogging and social networking services. With their image overhaul, Socialcast is now targeting companies with over 100,000 employees, and is looking to give programs like IBM’s Lotus Software a run for their money.

To sweeten the deal for enterprises with enterprise-sized needs, Socialcast is offering their collaboration platform in the SaaS hybrid model. There are also handy integrations with Outlook, SharePoint, and mobile devices, but offering an on-premise component is being read as Socialcast’s move to make their platform enterprise-acceptable.

Another collaboration company to shift their focus to the enterprise is Socialtext. Socialtext began in 2002 as a microblogging service, but this week they announced the latest iteration of their flagship product, Socialtext 4.0, and to everyone’s surprise, it had suddenly become a collaboration platform. Socialtext users can view activity streams, and join task-related groups for collaboration, and like Socialcast users, can access the client online or on-premise.

As more and more companies endeavor to make microblogging channels the new workspaces, it will be interesting to see which companies take the lead—established productivity suite vendors adding social features to their products, or socially-bent companies looking for a piece of the enterprise market? Of course, we’ve still yet to see if enterprise software pundits are going to do some more serious bucking against the social media-inclined collaboration models that are taking hold. It’s going to be an interesting year, to be sure.

Today, RightNow Technologies made a big move in encouraging CRM users to take up cloud platforms with the RightNow Cloud Services Agreement (CSA)—a client-focused approach to solution licensing. The overarching goal is to eradicate the hidden costs, intense maintenance bills, and shelfware often involved in current SaaS contract, filling in gaps to make contract negotiation simpler. In addition, RightNow is implementing a “Cloud Challenge”—their call to other vendors to “engage with clients like true cloud vendors, not on-premise vendors in cloud clothing,” says CEP Greg Gianforte.
The specifics of the RightNow CSA promise quicker implementations and innovations, and more customizable programs that allow users to pay based on usage and the number of users rather than choosing from a few pre-packaged plans. The present terms state that new RightNow users will be offered the CSA, and current customers will receive the offer when their present contracts are up for renewal; those new customers signing contracts under the CSA will be able to determine their renewal charges in the first contract. New users can also try RightNow CX, their flagship CRM product, for a 90-day trial with unlimited capacity.
And the RightNow CSA aims to bring tangible savings to customers. Allowing users to purchase only what they need are RightNow’s “seat months.” Seat months can be adjusted each year, are intended to do away with shelfware, and the concept will be especially helpful to users with seasonal businesses. Also pleasing to potential customers: RightNow pledges to return portions of a user’s subscription fees if the platform fails to meet service-level agreements (SLAs). As RightNow is promising cash back for SLA failures, they’ve fortified their SLAs, and therefore strengthened their product.
It’ll be interesting to see how other cloud vendors respond to RightNow’s developments. While announcing RightNow’s new cloud pricing model and the Cloud Challenge, Gianforte claimed that 30% of CRM seats are shelfware. Things can sometimes get dicey when aggressively challenging your competitors like this, but it seems all in the spirit of better business, and we’re curious to see how it shapes SaaS CRM products.

[Photo courtesy of cisco.]