history as our guide
Last October I published a post about faxing technology, how old it really is, and why it had such staying power (Unified Faxing Communication or Remnant of the Gilded Age - IT managers, you make the call) The benefits of looking at our collective IT history, when talking about current trends, is something that I hold in high regard. Lately I have been trying to figure out if Enterprise Social networks will evolve and be accepted with the same vigor as was voicemail or with the undying and yet un-fulfilled promise of enterprise video conferencing.
For perspective, voicemail became commercially aqvailable in the mid to late 1970's and its relative, the answering machine, in the early 1970's. By the mid to late 1980's (so a span of 10-15 years) both were ubiquitous in their respective markets (the enterprise and the home). By contrast, the first video call was presented to the public by Bell labs at the 1964 New York City World's Fair. After a tepid commercial response, AT&T lowered the cost by 50% but was still not able to generate demand for the service. By the late 1980's the corporate world had adopted some expensive video units at only select locations due to the complexity and high cost of the solutions. The consumer market would not see regular video calling until the late 1990's and the age of the internet. Still the widespread adoption of face to face calling is just now (40+ years later) coming into the mainstream through the use of services such as Skype and Apple's Facetime.
Now that we have a perspective set on these technologies, let's talk about social. I won't go over the statistics (as they are trotted out on almost every major tech column each week) except to say that the adoption rate of social networks by the general consumer, when compared to the other two above, is stunning. This fact above all else is why technology companies such as Microsoft and Cisco are pressing to be the first adopted as an enterprise social network. The cascading effect by being first in the door could very well be a market dagger to the heart of at least one major competitor. And since their play is to tie Social to all the other communication products as one tight package, you are now talking about a dagger that kills competitors across multiple markets.
Cisco has announced the rebranding of their Quad product into Cisco Social. They have tied it directly to their web collaboration product, WebEx and to their messaging technology, Jabber, which itself ties into the dominant voice platform, Communications Manager, as well as their video solutions (based on homegrown and Tandberg technologies). Microsoft has started its second major push into corporate social networking by buying Yammer, a company with a small but relatively established set of enterprise clients. They will work to tie Yammer to their existing communication and collaboration product lines such as Lync Instant Messaging, Sharepoint web collaboration, and of course Office 365 (and the recently unveiled Office 2013).
co-existence before elimination
Each vendor has to play nice with the other. Microsoft has to interface with Cisco’s dominant voice applications just as much as Cisco has to make their technologies work inside Microsoft’s desktop applications. But what each really wants to do is to have their respective solutions win across the various markets. Microsoft is convincing its customers that voice calling could just be done from the desktop (read: who needs those expensive Cisco phones everywhere), while Cisco is pumping their IM client and promoting how their stuff interacts with all comers (read: feel free to dump those expensive Microsoft licenses for Google 'cause our stuff works with them too).
But all this hinges on the predicated idea that enterprise consumers can actually use collaboration tools. Communications by its very nature is best when uninhibited and ubiquitous. Enterprise collaboration, in its current state, is throttled and controlled in use due to fears of intellectual property loss, IT overhead and simple fear of the unknown. How do you leverage a fast-spreading resource when you intentionally slow it down?
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.