Telligent acquires Zimbra - Does social software want to be email when it grows up?

Telligent Systems is a long-standing vendor of social software and is evaluated in our enterprise collaboration and social software research stream. As we note in our evaluation, Telligent has been doing “Web 2.0” even before the term itself became fashionable and is best known for it’s online communities functionality.

Earlier this week, Telligent has announced that it is acquiring Zimbra, which sells enterprise email and calendaring software. Interestingly, Zimbra has been changing hands quite often – Yahoo bought it in 2010 hoping to make a headway in the enterprise market but later sold it off to server virtualization software vendor VMware. VMware wanted to use Zimbra as part of its cloud offerings but in recent times has had a strategy shake-up and as part of that re-think exercise, has divested it to Telligent. BTW, Telligent has better brand recall (at least in the social/collaboration software space), so it’s a little surprising that the combined entity will be called Zimbra.

At RSG, we often find enterprises complaining that social software does not play nicely with email and particularly, calendaring software. In this light, a combined social plus groupware suite could be interesting to them and the acquisition logic is reasonable. However, as I noted previously here, an acquisition announcement does not mean that customers can automatically start reaping the benefits down the road – much can stymie the hoped for synergies.

Moreover, in this case, Telligent/Zimbra will have to compete against some well-entrenched and deep-pocketed incumbents in the enterprise messaging market like Microsoft (Exchange), IBM (Notes) and even Google (Gmail). Not to mention broader Unified Communications players like Cisco.  Most customers would want their social software to work well with their existing communications systems rather than bring in a new solution. Tough to see how Goliath can triumph here against so many Davids.

They may grapple with execution issues (as any acquirer would) but the underlying message that enterprises need both social and email in their collaboration toolkit is resounding. In recent times email has taken a lot of flak, and some have prematurely written it off; but let’s not forget that it was not too long ago when email was being hailed as the killer-app of the Internet. 

The truth is while social networks and activity streams are fun, email carries the bulk of the enterprise payload. In large enterprises, information flows via activity streams can be overwhelming and need to be well-structured and lent some order (i.e. categorized) and when you do all that – it starts to resemble your good old email inbox. The bottom line is that both traditional email and new social tools have a place in your digital workplace.

In passing, let me also note that another social software vendor that we evaluate, Socialcast, was acquired by VMware previously and continues to be part of VMware. Note there were efforts to integrate Socialcast and Zimbra to offer a similar social + email +  calendar bouquet but apparently they did not go far. VMware says it is done with its divestitures for now, but this deal still puts a small question mark next to Socialcast.

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