What does it tell us when major infrastructure and enterprise content management vendors employ niche social computing products for some of their own projects?
Some background: I participated in an interesting workshop at the 2.0 Council last week where one of the big debates was -- inevitably -- the tension between behemoth collaboration platforms (especially SharePoint) vs. point solutions for social computing behind the firewall. I'm sure that debate will recur at the (excellent) Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston next week.
It's an important debate, but one that yields few simple answers. I don't subscribe to the presently fashionable argument that platform vendors will rule the Intranet of the future.
One interesting data point here is how many major software vendors use other (nominally competing) smaller vendors' products. Some examples:
- Oracle uses Jive Software for its OTN forum services
- Back when BEA was an independent company its developers used Atlassian's Confluence wiki (and I'd guess still do), despite the fact that their AquaLogic group had developed its own wiki package
- Some Microsoft developers continued to use Telligent community software long after MOSS 2007 was released (perhaps they still do), while Redmond's "Office Live" team also employs Telligent for its public Workspace Community (including wiki and blog services)
- Meanwhile, among big ECM vendors, Open Text's Social Media product team communicates via a Wordpress blog, and EMC is a large Jive customer internally.
I won't soft-pedal integration and other challenges associated with licensing point solutions, but there's a role for niche software on your intranet, extranet, or public communities when it gets the job done better than a larger, unified platform. Many platform vendors seem to agree.
Moreover, these comparisons and decisions hinge on more than just current feature sets. When customers who contribute to our Enterprise 2.0 vendor evaluations tell us they prefer best-of-breed vendors, it's the smaller vendor's focus and ongoing commitment to that particular service that often come up as the most important rationale for their choice. In contrast, when is Microsoft going to upgrade SharePoint again? Not until 2013.
So, in social computing as in other market segments, there's no pat answer to suite vs. best-of-breed. I don't like saying "it depends" any more than you like hearing it, but....it really does depend on your situation.