collaboration - a real problem of platform interoperability


I was reviewing a few industry studies (McKinsey, Gartner, etc.) on collaboration this month and it struck me how none of them really touched on THE BIG GAP as I like to call it. In my last two posts (see part 1 and part 2) I talked about another feature that doesn't seem to be on the Enterprise Social radar, a user timeline. But here I would like to discuss a more fundamental issue, cross platform inter-operation.

Collaboration is the act of building something together, be it tangible items such as documents, graphics, music, videos, widgets or intangible things such as ideas, opinions, theories, knowledge. Social applications are essentially enhanced, multi-faceted communication systems. To be effective, these systems must be able to reach everyone you need at that moment or any other moment.

To build Social Collaboration platforms that do not include communications would just be silly. Facebook enables it in several ways such as messaging, postings, likes, mail, and recommendations. Twitter, for the most part, has one or two forms of communication that people enhance with the content they use (text, pictures, links); One-to-one and one-to-many using the @ and # symbols. But neither platform has a native way to see the others’ streams from within their platform directly. For large public platforms such as these, the meteoric rise and saturation of user subscriptions mitigate this cross-platform inter-operational issue almost entirely.

When it comes to enterprise social there will never be mass user adoption of one platform to preclude the need for inter-operability with other systems. By their very nature, enterprise social software is sold to subsets of users (users of company A or B). The big gap in all these vendor plans exists at a fundamental level: cross-platform, cross-company inter-operation. Where would email or the phones be if they could only communicate with other systems exactly like themselves?

historical perspective -- problems solved

The phone networks have the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), which took decades and millions of dollars to build. The internet took much less time and money (relative to the PSTN by using the PSTN) but they have TCP/IP, DNS, and SMTP as their ubiquitous communication protocols. These systems allow individual vendors to sell highly customized and unique systems to companies A and B, all while having no fear that their system would not work with the company next door.

Fotolia_31159356_XS230x290.jpgEnterprise social networks have no such foundations. If one company deploys a Jive platform but their largest customer deploys an Oracle or IBM platform, there will be no way for the respective employees to natively communicate with each other. Unified Communications can utilize the aforementioned protocols, but once they hook their wagons to a social platform they sacrifice their core functionality (inter-operation) for users on their system to communicate with users on other social systems. These social platforms fall back to the PSTN and SMTP in order to let users message and talk to each other when they need to leave their systems. This creates two drastically different experiences for the employee and creates an innovation roadblock.

what’s the answer? you tell me

The big question remains, how do you get competitors to collaborate and enable inter-operability? They all think they will eventually "win" the market. Therefore none have an incentive to talk to, much less work with, the competition. Either from their products or engineer to engineer. The best way to get competitors to work with each other is to have a common enemy. Which brings us back to Facebook’s Timeline. The Enterprise software vendors need a new entrant like Facebook to force platform interoperability, and a built-in feature like Timeline could give Facebook (or even Google+) a killer differentiator to help it enter the enterprise market.


top image © Kirill Kedrinski -
bottom image © Dmitry DG -

Joshua Sillers

I'm proud to be a techie with a liberal arts degree and miss those late 90's parties where all the techies had liberal arts degrees because the computer programmers didn't know how the internet worked. I started in network sales then tech support, and now delivery for Unified Communications.