MS SharePoint: Enterprises Get Boost by Adding Social Tools

If anyone still thinks "Enterprise 2.0" is just a catchphrase, think again.

Wikis, microblogging, discussion forums, social bookmarking, online groups and communities, and other tools that have come to comprise "social networking software" are marching into enterprises at a rapid clip.

Just ask any beleaguered CIO.

Workers, particularly younger ones, are demanding that the social tools they use via Facebook and Twitter spill over into the workplace. In addition, the cultural clashes that once prevented senior management from adopting social tools are waning.

Ironically, no one knows this more than Microsoft, and with the upcoming release of SharePoint 2010, the company is integrating more social networking features to keep up with nimbler companies that sell social software to enterprises.

Nearly all of the main Enterprise 2.0 vendors -- SocialText, Jive, Newsgator, Atlassian -- have built their social apps to be compatible with SharePoint. The fledgling vendors strategy (and hope, it would appear) is that entrenched customers will integrate their tools into the big mother ship SharePoint.

Yet at the same time these vendors compete with Sharepoint, and that competition will only increase when the more social-friendly SharePoint 2010 ships.

Tying Social Tools to the Business

One enterprise that has seen success integrating social tools into SharePoint is consulting giant (and former Tiger Woods pitchman) Accenture.

More and more lately, the IT department at Accenture has noticed a thawing in senior management's resistance to social networking tools.

"The best line from a senior executive I've heard is, 'I get that I don't get it, but we need to do it,'" says Kevin Dana, Accenture's director of enterprise social computing and collaboration.

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Two years ago, Accenture began experimenting with social networking through SharePoint's MySites, which are profile pages that include a profile picture, job title, skills, e-mail and calendar information, document libraries and a list of co-workers (dubbed "Colleague Tracker").

But the MySite profiles turned out to be more like a static roster and were limited in how much they can be customized, says Dana. What the company needed were official Accenture Groups where employees can become members and have a main site where they can share information about a certain industry or subject through wikis, microblogging, tagging and social bookmarking.

Accenture ultimately chose to integrate Newsgator's SocialSites suite into SharePoint 2007 to build on existing SharePoint social tools. After pilot testing the Newsgator suite from March 2009 until the end of August, Accenture flipped SocialSites into production mode this past September.

Accenture has been using Newsgator's SocialSites for both its Group pages and its People profile pages (MySites). The end result resembles Facebook's News Feed page.

The Newsgator suite outshines SharePoint's marginal social tools, notes Dana, with features including microblogging, status updates, social bookmarking, tagging, activity feeds and information such as alerts for peoples' birthdays. Dana was also able to customize individual blog posts using Newsgator so they can be tagged to a certain group, and the posts are then aggregated on the group page. This prevents users from having to go to a group page to blog.

In January, the SocialSites pages within Accenture's SharePoint platform had 37,000 unique visitors and 86,000 visits.

Why did Accenture choose Newsgator over other social software vendors? Dana says he likes that Newsgator is designed to integrate on top of SharePoint rather than off to the side.

"What makes enterprise social networking valuable is when it lets you integrate with business processes," he says, "and Newsgator is architected to do that."

SharePoint Opens Up

Global public relations firm Edelman is another enterprise benefitting from the integration of social networking tools in SharePoint.

One of the world's largest PR firms with 3,200 employees in 51 offices worldwide, Edelman launched SharePoint 2007 and Newsgator SocialSites simultaneously a year and half ago.

"We were already using Newsgator's enterprise server, so we decided to continue that investment with their social networking plug-in," says David Rosenberg, VP and development lead for Internet Services / Corporate MIS at Edelman.

These days, Edelman has 3,500 employees tapping into SocialSites within SharePoint. The PR giant also uses SharePoint for document management as well as for its full corporate intranet (called Fusion) where clients can upload and share files. The firm's extranet platform, where clients can communicate in a secured environment, also runs in SharePoint.

Rosenberg says the big gain with Newsgator integration into SharePoint is that it has enlivened the MySites profile pages with more social features and allowed Edelman to create groups and community pages that interconnect through microblogging, tagging and social bookmarking.

A benefit of using Newsgator enterprise server with SocialSites, says Rosenberg, is that Edelman can port feeds from external sources -- external blogs (from employees and clients), Facebook and Twitter accounts -- into activity streams on MyClient and MySite pages in SharePoint.

"This is a big win for us because as a PR and communications firm, we like to keep things as open and social as possible," says Rosenberg.

Staying Ahead of SharePoint 2010

Both Edelman and Accenture are actively preparing for an upgrade to SharePoint 2010. Yet while both admit that the social tools in SharePoint 2010 are improving, they still don't match the social bookmarking and microblogging features of Newsgator and other Enterprise 2.0 vendors, as well as their ability to accommodate group and community pages, they say.

However, Accenture's Dana notes that although social software vendors provide capabilities beyond what SharePoint 2010 is offering, they will all have to adjust to SharePoint to survive.

"They have to stay ahead of Microsoft," he says. "Newsgator may end up getting rid of some features that are newly available in SharePoint 2010."

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

This story, "MS SharePoint: Enterprises Get Boost by Adding Social Tools" was originally published by CIO.

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