NewsGator Collective 2013: Survival of the Social

In a time when technology vendors are starting to shun the “social” moniker, it was refreshing to hear the messaging at the NewsGator Collective 2013 Annual User Conference that NewsGator is all about “making social real” in the enterprise. 

If you’re not familiar with NewsGator, it is a leading provider of social technologies, delivering its flagship solution, Social Sites, on top of Microsoft SharePoint (an application in use at more than 70% of businesses today). It has more than 4 million users across hundreds of customers, including Kellogg’s, Mars, JP Morgan Chase, American Family Insurance, Comcast, Unisys, Kraft Foods, Overstock.com, Merck and others.

In all, more than 200 customers (including those named above), partners and thought leaders gathered in Denver for this 3-day event, immersing themselves in social business by sharing best practices and research, engaging in live brainstorming sessions, networking, and even engaging in a live hack-a-thon resulting in four coded customer-driven projects slated for delivery with NewsGator’s next release.

President and CEO Daniel Kraft (newly appointed in August 2012), kicked off the event by sharing his view of how human networks have enabled human success and business progress from one era to another. He described the evolution from a “Network of Hands” (the industrial age) to a “Network of Minds” (the knowledge economy) to today’s environment where emotions and passion are unconstrained by physical location and instead are enabled through social technologies (the “Network of Hearts”).

(source: NewsGator)

Kraft believes this evolution demonstrates “survival of the social,” and cautions that, “if you do not buy into it, somebody else will.” The case studies shared during the conference spoke of increased customer retention, improved sales productivity, reduced turnover of high impact employees and more, demonstrating tangible business benefits from social investments. With over $1 trillion potential value to be unlocked annually, including 20-25% increased productivity of high skilled knowledge workers (according to McKinsey Global Institute)1, it’s hard to argue that Kraft is anything but spot-on with his assertion.

Employee Engagement is not just an HR Responsibility

Heads of Marketing, IT, Learning and Collaboration, Communication and other business units led the conversations around motivating and engaging the workforce, identifying high performers and key contributors, ensuring sustainable adoption, and measuring impact and results.

If these sound like the traditional concerns of HR and Human Capital Management (HCM) technologies, you’re right. Yet the number of attendees representing the HR function at this conference was relatively limited.

For me, this was further evidence of two main trends concerning talent management in an era of social connectivity:

1) HR does not own employee engagement.  Driving organizational performance through employee engagement is not simply a concern of the HR organization; leaders from across the enterprise are stepping up to rethink work and how best to drive sustainable results. Increasingly important to achieving better work and talent management results are the “non-HCM” technologies making their way into the enterprise: social tools and collaboration platforms that help people align, connect and get work done every day.

2) HR is not leading social initiatives.  When social technologies are part of the new thinking (as is increasingly the case), HR is more often the supporting player (if not absent altogether) rather than the driving force behind such initiatives. The risk to HR is being sidelined as an administrative or policing function rather than establishing itself as a strategic business partner that both adds to and creates new value for the organization.

With all the evidence that social enablement facilitates engagement and alignment, and that an engaged and aligned workforce has direct, positive effect of business outcomes, why isn’t every company “doing social”?

The answer, according to Catherine Flax, Chief Marketing Officer for JP Morgan Chase’s Wholesale Business, is complex. “It’s an evolutionary process for many companies,” said Flax during a Future of Work panel at the NewsGator Collective. “With the concerns about compliance…it’s easier for companies to say “No” than to say “Yes” to social.” She added that saying “no” is actually a bigger risk than saying “yes,” given the many benefits of a socially-enabled enterprise.

I refer to this risk as the new ROI of Social: the Risk of Ignoring. If social tools are not part of the fabric of the organization, introduced during the hiring and onboarding process and leveraged throughout the work lifecycle as a natural way to get work done, the risk for disengagement, misalignment and reduced productivity are significant. These are concerns for every leader in the organization, not just HR.

My POV:

Last year, Microsoft dealt NewsGator a one-two punch when it announced its latest release, SharePoint 2013, would deliver social capabilities, followed by its acquisition of Yammer, an enterprise social technology vendor. However, NewsGator has not just rallied but thrived since those announcements. It reported more than 100 new customers in 2012 and many new product innovations including Social Site’s dual compatibility with both SharePoint 2010 and 2013 from a single code base; a new user interfaced dubbed “Lookout”; support for social learning use cases through its new application, NewsGator Enrich; broader analytics capability through its Webtrends partnership; advanced mobile capabilities and more.

NewsGator has also recently announced that it is rearchitecting its Social Sites suite, eliminating its dependency on Microsoft SharePoint and becoming platform agnostic.  This will put NewsGator more squarely in the crosshairs of enterprise social networking (ESN) competitors of all sizes including Jive, IBM, Huddle, Igloo and tens of others.  Its differentiation will come through a vertical focus on specific businsess-driven use cases.  In fact at this month’s Collective conference, NewsGator announced the development of several of these use-case driven applications to drive tangible business results, centered on Corporate Communications, Field Enablement and Innovation.  Development of these and additional use cases will advance its competitiveness in the ESN market beyond SharePoint-based solutions.

Additional investment in analytics beyond usage and adoption would be a welcome investment from NewsGator as well, as companies are increasingly challenged to communicate the impact of their social investments.  At Constellation Research, we are seeing a trend away from traditional technology RFPs to increased scrutiny on business outcomes. More and more companies are reporting real business results with social technologies, and the question of “social” in business is moving from “if” to “when and how”.

Current and prospective NewsGator clients will benefit from its continued investments in social use case innovations, continued integration to the Microsoft stack as well as integration beyond the Microsoft apps to SAP, Salesforce.com Chatter and others. Clients will also benefit from NewsGator’s new Adoption Framework, a methodology focused on helping organizations achieve better results at the intersection of people engagement, business alignment and technology enablement. For many organizations, making SharePoint “work” is a top priority, and in this endeavor, NewsGator currently has the lead position for both cloud and on-premises SharePoint customers (an important fact since Microsoft has announced it will not integrate Yammer to on-premises SharePoint beyond basic connectivity). For companies not betting their enterprise collaboration futures on Microsoft, NewsGator’s move to a platform-agnostic solution and its continued build-out of social applications for targeted use cases will make it a viable alternative as well.

The path to enterprise social collaboration may come from a single technology platform, like NewsGator, or through an aggregation of social-enabled technologies (for example, integrations of social-enabled tools across HCM, CRM and core communications). Either way, making social real in the enterprise – helping organizations unlock the untapped potential of a humanistic approach to business both within and across an enterprise – is a business imperative.

Your POV

What do you think?  Has your company embraced  the concept of “Survival of the Social” or are you still evaluating the business case for social investments? Are you a NewsGator customer with stories to share? Add your comments to the blog or send us a comment at Y (at) ConstellationRG (dot) com.

Please let us know if you need help with your Social Business efforts. Sign up for a Constellation Academy Workshop or let us assist with:

  • Assessing social business readiness
  • Developing your social business engagement strategy
  • Creating a new vision for the future of work
  • Vendor selection
  • Connecting with other pioneers

Note: NewsGator is a client of Constellation Research.

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1 “The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies.” McKinsey Global Institute, July 2012.

Breakaway Strategies: Looking Beyond HCM Vendors for HCM Technology

breakaway

In the run up to this year’s annual HR Technology Conference, I’ve been meeting with HCM technology vendors large and small. As expected, almost every vendor articulates an interest in, if not full vision for, social enablement of its offering. Some offer social capabilities today, some are expanding beyond initial forays in recruiting or learning, and others point to future directions with social based on customer demand. The path to social is also varied, coming through native development, partnership or even acquisition.

The Social HCM market is nascent, with vendors evolving their strategies and customers wrestling with questions ranging from business applicability to internal ownership of “social” in the enterprise (should these initiatives be driven and owned by IT, Legal, HR, Marketing, or…?)

Applying a different lens to the definition of Social HCM – one focused on employee enablement, engagement, and knowledge acceleration – brings another class of vendors into view: social business software providers. These vendors deliver on the foundations of social learning and social talent management, and have been doing so for years. They’re just not top of mind for HR when shopping for those solutions because they don’t typically market to an HCM audience with an HCM messages.

Consider players like Atlassian, Jive, NewsGator, Socialtext, Telligent, IBM and the many others that serve the social business software market. By their very nature of being social collaboration tools, they support many foundational processes such as social learning and social talent, with companies routinely reporting measurable benefits across employee and business performance. Yet for various reasons – including the fact that HR is not usually a driver for social technologies – you don’t see these players at the HR Technology Conference. But you should, as they routinely deliver on these and many other social use cases that are of direct interest to HR leadership:

  • Social Onboarding: establishing and assigning new hires to communities and groups; ability to follow people/content; system-driven recommendations on who to follow, groups to join, content to review.
  • Social Performance: informal and social feedback via activity streams; badges or other recognition feedback and social rewards; granting “skills” or “expertise” levels to others in the social network; improved engagement through gamification.
  • Social Goals: broadcasting activities and goals (including status and completion); soliciting feedback on goals and projects; granting badges or other recognition; task management for shared goals and objectives and identifying related work of others.
  • Social Learning: creating, posting, sharing, rating, tagging and following content; informal learning through micro blogging and activity streams, often with embedded and actionable content; expertise identification; ideation and crowd sourcing innovation across the enterprise.

Looking at the list of Exhibitors at the HR Tech Conference, I found only two pure-play social networking providers exhibiting this year: NewsGator1 and Yammer1. (I say only two, as Socialtext is now part of Talent Management provider Peoplefluent, and other solutions like Saba and SuccessFactors are already broader talent management providers with embedded platforms. In fact, even Yammer is now part of the broader Microsoft stack and can no longer be considered “pure play.”)

NewsGator in particular is an interesting addition to the list of exhibitors this year. If you’re not familiar with them, NewsGator has been delivering social business applications for many years through their Social Sites offering. They also integrate directly into Microsoft SharePoint – a solution in use by an estimated 75% of organizations.

Recently, NewsGator launched a new offering called NewsGator Enrich, which goes beyond the core use cases above and focuses on specific learning use cases to power informal, social learning across the enterprise. This latest offering includes a socially driven knowledge base for collaborative knowledge development and exchange, and interactive video learning capability for complex learning scenarios. A few of the core tenets of the Enrich Knowledge Base (KB) are described below.

  • Create knowledge base (KB) items in context of business workflows. Conversations in the activity stream, or specific question and answer      activities are readily tagged and saved to the knowledge base. A bookmarklet enables any web page to be referenced to the KB with a single click, and documents of any type are quickly added as well. Content can also be created directly within the knowledge base, turning any employee into a contributor to organizational know-how.
  • Quickly access the right knowledge. In addition to filtering KB content based on the most recent, most viewed or other categories, user-added metadata such as titles, tags and descriptions facilitate searching, discovery, and categorization of the knowledge base content.
  • Turn unstructured Q&A into a powerful resource. Answers can be accumulated, with the “accepted” answer identified for clarity and consistency.
  • Drive engagement with embedded gamification. Award badges and provide recognition to users based on their contributions and activities.

The HCM technology market is undergoing a significant shift. As we move from systems of transactions to systems of engagement, traditional “HCM” processes will be redefined, and it is only natural that new solution providers emerge from outside the HCM space. The move by NewsGator to deliver on highly targeted social learning use cases is the latest case-in-point, as well as a broader signal to the market that HCM technologies can come from non-HCM vendors.

While you’re checking out the many vendors at this year’s HR Technology Conference, I encourage you to stop by the booths of “non-traditional HCM” vendors as well. The door is open for social technology vendors to expand beyond their social collaborative networking foundations and deliver next-generation approaches to traditional learning, talent management and other “people” processes. I expect we’ll see more from NewsGator and others like them in the future, as “HR Technology” gives way to more business outcomes focused “Work Management Technology.”

1(Disclosure: NewsGator and Yammer are both clients of Constellation Research.)

The Path to Social Talent: What is Your Vendor’s Route?

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There is an interesting tug of war taking place in the world of social talent management software. Some players take the side that “social” should be a core competency of the talent platform, and hence delivered natively with that solution/suite. Others consider social a technology that should be plugged into talent and human capital management (HCM) solutions, and are developing various connectors to fit the different social tools. Yet still others are taking a hybrid approach – acquiring social technologies with a view toward deep and unique leverage of the social platform, while building plug-ins to additional social tools.

Different approaches will certainly yield different results. Integrating social to bring activity streams and social conversations into a talent process is a good first step, but even in today’s early adopter market the emerging buyers for social talent software are looking for greater benefits from their social investments. Building out (or acquiring and deeply integrating) a social platform to bring social collaboration into a suite of talent processes can be a game changer for organizations, but what if other social tools are already in use? Will the enterprise end up with too many tools, too much noise and ultimately face social fatigue?

Let the technology vendors duke out the “HOW” of “getting to social.”  Buyers should instead focus on the “WHAT”: what business value is generated from these newly social applications? Ultimately the vendor needs to demonstrate, and buyers will need to prove to their own organizations, that investments in social technologies yield results such as these:

  • Sustainable employee engagement, not just a short term increase from a passing fad;
  • Beyond connections and file sharing – although this is a good start – improvement in how work gets done (efficiency, quality, improved productivity, cost reductions, etc.);
  • Rapid access to knowledge and expertise wherever it resides across the enterprise;
  • Accelerated innovation;
  • Improved workforce connectedness for frictionless work;
  • Revenue creation;
  • Improved customer outcomes.

Look for my latest Quark entitled “Understanding the Paths to Social HCM: Evaluating Integrated vs. Embedded Social Technologies for HCM,” now available to all Constellation Research clients. I’ll also touch on this topic in my upcoming presentation at HR Technology Conference in Chicago, on Wednesday October 10, entitled “The Social Enterprise: New Tools Transform How Work Gets Done”.

Tuesday’s Tidbits: Challenges in Talent Mobility

Tuesday’s Tidbits” is a recurring post serving up “choice morsels” of information. Brief? You bet. Distracting? Absolutely. Useful? Hope so! Read on and enjoy.

I’ve been writing and speaking a lot about the Future of Work and how it requires an evolution in the way we engage and inspire the next generation workforce. New thinking and approaches to Talent Mobility (the practice of engaging, developing, retaining and deploying organizational talent) are required if organizations are to thrive in the future of work.

This new mindset extends from pre-employment considerations (how can we improve the skills in the labor market to improve employability) to post-hire practices which include relinquishing the “command and control” mentality so that employees are given the tools necessary with which to drive their own mobility forward.  (My POV:  Social collaboration tools become critical for organizational success in this area, as they enable mentoring, transparency in projects and foster the conversations that will drive employee engagement, knowledge sharing and, ultimately, mobility within the enterprise).

Mercer published their study on this topic earlier this year, Talent Mobility Good Practices.  The study uncovered four key issues facing organizations globally, as summarized in the Infographic below.

Tackling talent mobility issues
Infographic by Mercer Insights

Your POV

Are you contemplating a shift in your talent mobility strategies?  Add your comments to this blog or send us a comment at Y@ConstellationRG.com.

Please let us know if you need help with your talent mobility strategy efforts.  Here’s how we can assist:

  • Reviewing your talent mobility and other people process strategies
  • Connecting you with other pioneers
  • Sharing best practices
  • Designing a next gen apps strategy
  • Vendor selection

Ceridian Claims its Seat at the SaaS HCM Table

With its acquisition of Dayforce now complete, Ceridian becomes the latest entrant in the SaaS HCM marketplace. Timely execution of strategies and leveraging its differentiators to retain and eventually migrate Ceridian customers to the new platform will be critical factors of success in Ceridian’s transformation from a portfolio-based services bureau company to a leading provider of SaaS HCM.

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Trends in Social Talent: Web Event Recap


In March, I had the honor of kicking off the first episode of the Social Talent Show, a bi-monthly virtual event sponsored by TalentCultureUpMo and #TChat (@Twitter).

In this inaugural show I framed Social Talent as the “Next Wave of Awesomeness”, and had a healthy conversation/debate with Rob Garcia of UpMo and Meghan Biro of TalentCulture on why you should care about these emerging trends, the risks of ignoring them and even where to focus initial efforts. (Spoiler Alert: this is SO MUCH MORE than just a buzzy topic, and doing nothing is not an option).

You’ll find a full recap of this first episode and video replay here.

The format of the Social Talent Show is conversational and engaging, yet also highly informative.  Each month it covers topics across Talent Collaboration, Talent Mobility, Culture, HR and Social Talent.  I’m especially impressed by the lineup of speakers, which run the gamut of vendors, influencers, practitioners, gurus, radicals, visionaries, bloggers, analysts and others.  Community is building around this show, and exciting conversations and debates around Social Talent are growing.  I’m following the Social Talent Show.  Are you?

M&A in Talent Management Continues: My POV on Strategia and Peoplefluent

StrategiaLogoPeoplefluent logo

On January 30, 2011, Peoplefluent, a leading provider of integrated talent management technology, announced that it was acquiring Canadian-based Strategia Communications. Financial details were not disclosed.

This is certainly important news for the marketplace, with yet another leading Strategic HCM vendor filling a gap in an otherwise well-developed talent management suite by making an acquisition. As Learning is, for the most part, considered a key element of any integrated talent management initiative, it is not surprising that Peoplefluent would make the jump to purchase their current partner, as ownership trumps partnership when you’re talking integrated suites.

Peoplefluent can now check all the boxes across the integrated suite, leaving vendors such as Cornerstone and Saba among the final few that have yet to complete their suites. (Both have announced planned releases in the near term to close on these very gaps.)

The Tweetosphere, which would normally be abuzz with conversation about this type of deal, has been relatively quiet.

Is this because of the anonymity of Strategia, or is it because of the paucity of press release information from the two companies themselves? Regardless of the reason, if the solution is indeed solid (as you would expect given customers like Yoplait, Ontario Ministry of Finance, Transport Canada and others), Peoplefluent should be congratulated on this strategic move.

While the market awaits additional information on Strategia, its solutions and planned integrations, I’ve provided my thoughts on the acquisition (with an overall positive or negative indicator) based on the available facts.

What we know about Strategia:

  • On the first day following the announcement, the only conversation I could find on LinkedIn started, “I haven’t come across Strategia…Anyone familiar?” The responses were not overwhelming. (-)
  • Strategia has been in operation since 1999. Their marquis customers are predominantly Canadian, and showcase Strategia’s industry strength in manufacturing, aerospace, public sector and others. The press release touts close customer relationships, one of which may be evidenced by the work between Strategia and their Compliance Management client Timco Aviation Services, back in 2008. Working closely with Timco to understand needs of the aviation and MRO (Maintenance Repair and Overhaul) industries, Strategia was able to design and launch a compliance dashboard aimed at the very complex requirements of validating worker certifications for job scheduling purposes. In an interview with Aircraft Magazine at the time of the launch, President and CEO Romain Gagnon said, “A single aircraft maintenance worker must be certified on multiple levels to perform even simple tasks. This complexity is becoming a challenge for MRO operators who are trying to maintain or increase their turn-times at the same time as accurately managing workers’ certification.” It is reassuring to know that Strategia has been meeting the highly complex needs of aerospace and other MRO customers since at least 2008. (+)
  • Their website, www.Strategia.ca/en, reports fewer than 50 employees (which is great from an agile M&A perspective), but contains no other personnel information (nothing on leadership, partners or others.) Likewise, there is limited product information: beyond text on screens, there are no product screen shots, demo videos, brochures or whitepapers. After 12 years in the industry, this lack of marketing collateral raises red flags for me. (-)
  • Peoplefluent positions Strategia as an existing learning partner, and so basic integration between the two platforms should already be understood and facilitate a rapid first drop on the unified roadmap. (+). Interestingly, I don’t see Strategia listed as a partner on their website. Perhaps they have been removed already?  (-)
  • Based on the available product descriptions, Strategia’s Learning Suite, Ed, would appear to have sufficient functionality to meet common learning use cases. The modules in Ed include the LMS (with instructor-led training, eLearning, virtual classrooms and blended learning), Content Management, Skills and Compliance Management (including an assessment engine), social learning, reporting and eCommerce. This latter component – eCommerce for commercial or for-profit learning – is a strategic differentiator against some LMS competitors, as it is not universally offered. (+)
  • Peoplefluent now has an offering in one of the hottest growth areas: Social Learning.(+)  As a vendor in social learning, why isn’t Strategia on Twitter? (-)
  • In September 2011, roughly three months before this acquisition announcement, a new SaaS application called “HR in the Cloud” was launched. HR in the Cloud was the result of the association of four HR vendors, their solutions unified through the creation of a common point of entry, to deliver end-to-end HCM functionality. Strategia was the LMS component of that offering. HR in the Cloud is as much or more of an unknown as Strategia. I am not sure if the affiliation is seeing any traction or will be seeking a new LMS to plug into their offering, but their engagement in this association is at least worthy of comment. (neutral)

What we can surmise about product impacts:

  • Learning is a fundamental requirement for integrated talent management, both augmenting and benefitting from each of the modules within a comprehensive suite. With Ed, Peoplefluent ostensibly will have the breadth of technologies to:
    • Achieve excellence in the new hire experience both before and after Day 1 with development programs and collaboration integrated with Peoplefluent onboarding processes (including the onboarding of contractors through Peoplefluent’s Vendor Management System);
    • Foster the creation and sharing of knowledge across the enterprise for better outcomes with Strategia Social Learning;
    • Close on skill and competency gaps (take action within an integrated system) identified during performance or succession planning;
    • Plan and execute leadership development programs for high potential and high performing employees as identified during the talent calibration process;
    • Enhance and link assessments to the recruiting process and close gaps after hire;
    • The list of opportunities continues at length from here.
    • (+)
  • Will current Peoplefluent customers that are using another LMS consider switching to a relative unknown in exchange for the benefits of an integrated offering? Research shows that almost one out of every three companies are willing to forgo functionality in exchange for an integrated suite, but will Strategia’s functionality be enough for Peoplefluent’s diverse customer base? (-)
  • Will this acquisition play out in the global market? Are Strategia’s solutions applicable globally? Are they translated, and if so into which languages? Do they support EMEA data privacy requirements and the unique regulations of different regions? I expect gaps in this area of global capability. (-)
  • The press release talks about “new synergies across the uniquely differentiating components of…Workforce Analytics, Workforce Compliance and Diversity, and Vendor Management System“. It’s the last point that really intrigues me. Peoplefluent’s Vendor Management System (VMS), which is already a differentiator for them, helps organizations streamline and manage processes around sourcing and managing contract labor. The VMS has capabilities spanning services procurement, contingent management, compliance & risk management, and reporting and analytics. Ed could advance Peoplefluent’s assessment capabilities, accelerate contractor onboarding, facilitate content creation and new levels of collaboration between contractors and staff, and more. Ultimately, only the roadmap will tell; I look forward to seeing it soon. (+)

Should the market be buzzing? Yes. We just need more data.

While there are many plusses and minuses based on what we know and can anticipate, on balance, this acquisition can only be perceived as a very positive move for Peoplefluent and its customers.

Many technology vendors come to market with v1 solutions that perhaps meet only certain use cases, or bring “good enough” capabilities for the time being. I do not know at this point how Strategia’s solutions will fare in the analysis: good enough for some, market competitive, or even market leading in certain areas. What I do know is that upon completion, Peoplefluent will lay claim to an end-to-end talent management suite; it will have a learning platform from which to grow; and that learning platform will force the consideration of new process flows and new thinking across the rest of the solution portfolio.

Sounds like a win in my book.

Congratulations, Peoplefluent. Now, when can you share the details?

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