Big or small

dice by ThunderChild the Magnificent

Social Software: Freestanding or Layered?:
[Via A Journey In Social Media]

Had an interesting phone interview the other day, and we got into the topic above, which I found interesting.

We both agreed that we were going to see far more social software in the enterprise in the coming years.  The question was more about architecture — would these software packages be purchased and deployed as free-standing entities, or would they be thought more in terms of a “layer” over something else already in the enterprise.

And, if you’re aspiring to be a social media proficiency practitioner (as I am) — or a vendor that’s selling to people like me — the answer might matter to you.

Enterprise Buying Patterns

If you listen to software vendors who are trying to sell in the enterprise, they’ll usually make it sound like all sorts of large, important companies are buying their software.

However, if you dig down a bit, the truth is more usually that some group or another within that large organization made a purchasing decision. It wasn’t what I’d call a corporate decision.

As an example, let’s take SAP — a large, enterprise ERP platform.  No single group or department within a corporation will go out and deploy SAP — it just doesn’t make sense.  100% of their customers are probably “corporate decisions” rather than “group decisions” within a large company.

To take the opposite to an extreme, I happen to use SanDisk USB memory sticks.  Does that mean that EMC Corporation – a Fortune 500 company!! — uses SanDisk USB memory sticks?  Technically yes, but I think you get my point.

Why does this matter for social software?

Because I think there’s a big difference between some engineering group putting in a wiki for their team, and a large corporation making a strategic decision for all their employees.  Trust me, the buying criteria will be very, very different.

If I’m selling to a small group, I’d want an offering that’s focused on price, ease of installation, price, ease of management, price — and maybe price.

If I’m selling to a large enterprise, though, the list is very different.  If I’m a large enterprise, I’ve already made many, many investments in existing infrastructure software.I want my new social software to work with everything I have — not as another free-standing entity, but as a “layer”.

And I’ll pay extra for that capability.


An interesting discussion of the needs of a large company vs. a small company. The large company wants something that will act as a social layer over what it already has. It will not want to reinvest in calendaring, directories, etc.To a certain extent, this is software lock-in. The choices of the company are limited by what others have decided to add on to previously purchased software. It is certainly a way to go but will reduce the types of tools the users can access.

As an example, if a company waits until Microsoft provides a social layer over Outlook, it could be a while. Even if a third company provided this solution, its updates may not be timely, hurting the company’s competitiveness against companies that can utilize new software more rapidly. They are tied to the develop cycle of the vendor, not the technology.

Web 2.0 technologies can change very fast. Twitter was hardly anywhere 6 months ago. Now it is being used by millions. So there is a trap for large organizations, especially ones on the innovation train.

Also, the tools need to meet the needs of the users to be successful.

That is one thing not addressed in the post. People will really only take advantage of these tools if it makes their work flow easier. A group at the company may need and utilize Web 2.0 tools in a very different fashion than others in the company. How does the company deal with this?

Trying to use a tool that may be ‘best’ for the needs of HR may not mean Research is happy. The best tools may be the ones that resemble Swiss Army knives, with multiple attachments, than simply a layer over Outlook. They may need to be almost infinitely customizable.

I do agree that the user needs to have a single point of entry to the social web. But there has to be a recognition that new tools are being developed and that they may have to be implemented someday. A real worry should be that a large enterprise may not be as nimble with the successful recognition of vital new tools. This flattens the playing field with those companies that can utilize the new tools.

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