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.)

Peoplefluent Gains Social Platform as Private Equity Firm, Bedford Funding, Invests in Socialtext

In a press release today, Bedford Funding – the private equity firm that owns Talent Management solutions provider Peoplefluent – announced a strategic investment in privately held Socialtext, a provider of enterprise social software based in Palo Alto, California. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Bedford Funding FamilyFounded in 2002, Socialtext provides enterprise social networking tools – including microblogging, wikis, profiles, social profile matching and other tools to connect employees and information – to more than 6500 mid-sized and large enterprises across the globe. Their customers include such recognized brands such as Getty Images, Symantec, Walgreens, Weight Watchers, Warner Bros. Entertainment, McGraw Hill and Rutgers University.

Bedford Funding is a private equity firm that has been solely focused on investments in the Human Capital Management technology marketplace. Peoplefluent was formed in July 2011, when Bedford combined its three previous acquisitions (Authoria in 2008, PeopleClick in 2009, and Aquire in 2011) into a consolidated offering for integrated talent management under the new Peoplefluent brand.

Socialtext is joining the Bedford Funding family, but will remain an independent entity and remain under the leadership of current CEO Eugene Lee. The strategic investment will infuse Socialtext with funding to drive expanded development and accelerate strategy execution. Operating as an independent entity, Socialtext will be positioned into Peoplefluent’s more than 5000 customers, while continuing to support and sell into customers utilizing other enterprise systems including ERP and Talent Management suites, as well as Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Lotus Connections.

Bedford’s strategic investment in Socialtext places a strong provider of enterprise social networking in the same family as Peoplefluent, and as such, plans are emerging that will integrate the two platforms to enhance employee collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Peoplefluent today provides recruiting, onboarding, performance, compensation, succession planning, workforce communications and business intelligence to more than five million users across 5000 customers in 214 countries and territories across the globe. While Peoplefluent has emerged as an innovative leader in mobile talent management, it has lagged in the emerging market of social talent management processes. Earlier this year, Peoplefluent announced its move into social learning with the acquisition of Strategia Communications, a small provider of Learning Management Solutions based out of Canada. Now, with the incorporation of Socialtext into Bedford Funding, the remaining social gaps can be bridged with integrations between the two platforms.

We look forward to being the growth engine in Silicon Valley for Peoplefluent to extend and enhance its Talent Management offering with Socialtext as its social layer”   – Eugene Lee, Socialtext CEO.

Integrating the Socialtext and Peoplefluent platforms is expected to drive significant growth into Peoplefluent as it benefits from competitive social capabilities delivered through close collaboration between two entities of Bedford Funding. But will integration be enough?

As I have written before, the question remains whether or not next generation experiential systems (as opposed to transactional systems or systems of engagement) can be assembled through integrations, or if they require the incorporation of social technologies into the core technology platform for more advanced business support and analytics. Vendors are taking their stand on either side of this “debate” and for now, the path forward for Peoplefluent appears to be one of integrated social technology. Many of their customers today are already using 3rd party social collaboration tools such as Yammer, Jive and Microsoft SharePoint, and so integrations with Socialtext should be straightforward and rapid. The unique opportunity facing Peoplefluent is the ability to leverage Socialtext to transform people processes with social; the question is whether or not transformation can come through integration.

My POV:

Bedford Funding has been very specific in their positioning of this transaction, citing that the investment is to enable accelerated development and leadership of the Socialtext platform and bring social collaboration into its Peoplefluent platform. The deal is clearly a ‘win’ for all involved:

  • Peoplefluent customers interested in Socialtext capabilities, as there will be greater emphasis on sales, integration and support between Peoplefluent and Socialtext solutions;
  • Socialtext customers, as the investment infuses Socialtext with the funding necessary to grow development and innovation;
  • Bedford Funding, which now has a comprehensive portfolio spanning human capital technologies including the social networking technology necessary for comprehensive collaboration and workplace transformation;
  • Other TM/HCM vendors adding social to their portfolio benefit as well, as this transaction continues to raise the visibility of social technologies in people processes. Most Human Capital Management and Talent Management vendors are currently adding social capabilities into their suites, either through integrations to social technologies (such as Socialtext, Yammer, Jive, Chatter and others) or by incorporating these capabilities into their technology platforms (Saba, Oracle Fusion, and literally tens of startups and niche providers in social performance, social goals and others). As the social enterprise emerges, HR and business leaders will find increased technological support for harnessing the power of collaboration and connectivity to improve how work gets done, everyday, across the enterprise.

This transaction should light a fire under any HCM vendor sitting on the fence regarding whether or not to integrate or incorporate social with their offerings. For the enterprise buyer, it is further evidence that social networking is moving into the enterprise to create the social enterprise. If your organization has not yet established its strategies around use of social technologies, today’s news should serve as a rallying point for prioritizing those conversations.

For another important perspective on this acquisition, please review the post by my Constellation Research colleague, Alan Lepofsky.

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