Enterprise social networks come of age, says Ovum

Megaphone with social network logos

The market for enterprise social networks is maturing, and businesses should be looking to move to enterprise-grade platforms for collaboration, an industry analyst advises.

Enterprise social networks provide companies with better control and monitoring over staff activity than off the shelf consumer sites, according to research firm Ovum. But enterprise networks also provide an alternative to internal group email use, or to technologies such as Microsoft Sharepoint.

Although some companies are making effective use of sites such as Facebook and Twitter for business purposes, enterprise-specific networks such as Yammer, Salesforce's Chatter and Jive are "the other side of the coin", according to the report's author, Richard Edwards. Consumer social networks score because of their low cost and ease of use, but businesses need more functionality when it comes to deploying, and managing, social networking software than consumer sites offer.

But demand for networking technology is growing, as organisations look at ways to improve collaboration especially among more disbursed workforces. Email, the mainstay of business communications for more than a decade, is giving way to more flexible but also more feature-rich collaboration tools that inprove cooperation. "It is about 'working out loud'," said Edwards. As workforces become more scattered, businesses are looking for a fabric to reconnect all the different parts."

And a combination of cloud-based business models and free to "freemium" or paid-for plans is also spurring take up of enterprise social networks, with companies now starting to replace collaboration tools that, according to Edwards, are four or even five years out of date.

"CIOs do have to demonstrate the business value of these networks, and prove it is not a fad," he said. "But enterprise collaboration software has been clunky, and businesses have struggled to keep it up to date. The idea you can have that functionality in the cloud, for the price of a coffee and a croissant, is very attractive."

Ovum believes that the enterprise social networking market is currently worth some US$500 million, but predicts that the market could be worth $10 billion.