Very interesting news: As mooted by ZDNet, Microsoft has just announced an add-in to Office SharePoint Server 2007 called Knowledge Network, which will automatically develop profiles of employees’ capabilities and experience. It will then allow people to request to be connected to others in their organization that have specific expertise. See some screenshots here. This squarely puts Microsoft into a space – enterprise social network software – that has previously been populated by Spoke, Visible Path, Contact Networks, and Tacit. Each of these companies has developed fairly mature offerings, and gained traction in the corporate marketplace, with a number of leading audit firms, investment banks, and pharmaceutical companies in the process of implementing their software. Microsoft’s offering – as a new, free download for SharePoint – may not yet be as mature, but as in many other cases, their market clout means they can access more markets, and undercut the often high-priced software of the existing players in this space.
The broader theme here is that there is now unambiguous recognition that social networks are central to organizational performance, and to cracking the “expertise location” issue that is fundamental to any large knowledge-based organization. Unquestionably, good software, well-implemented, can be a powerful enabler. However business processes and culture need to shift too. Many organizations seem to think the enterprise social network software will provide an immediate solution, and many have stumbled already in applying these tools. The real value is harder to tap. Once more organizations implement Microsoft’s Knowledge Networks and related tools, social networks will be brought further to the fore as critical enablers of performance.