Predictions for enterprise social software and social network analysis


Gartner has released five interesting predictions for social software. Here are the predictions along with a few of my thoughts.

By 2014, social networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 percent of business users.

This is a transition that we’ve seen for a very long time, and looks finally ready to come to fruition. Coming from a financial markets background, I’d seen from as far back as the late 1990s that email as a primary medium was resulting in communication breakdown. I’ve long believed that shifting communication out of email was one of the main ways that social media would be valuable, as for example expressed in my 2005 white paper How Collaborative Technologies are Transforming Financial Services.

This prediction will play out very differently across organizations. Many companies will remain bound in email. Others, particularly those that are project-centric and effectively implement social software, could well see a substantially more than 20% of communication shift out of email. The development and evolution of new tools such as Google Wave will see email not quite die, but rapidly erode in the most innovative organizations.

By 2012, over 50 percent of enterprises will use activity streams that include microblogging, but stand-alone enterprise microblogging will have less than 5 percent penetration.

I agree that stand-alone microblogging is likely to have limited uptake. There are quite a few success stories for Yammer, the current leader in enterprise microblogging, but far more cases of it simply not taking off.

I think the forecast of 50% of companies using microblogging in some form by 2012 is optimistic. While many or even most platform vendors will offer this, a minority of organizations will go beyond tiny experiments. This is not to say that microblogging, effectively used, cannot be an extremely valuable tool. However relatively few will get there in the next two years.

Through 2012, over 70 percent of IT-dominated social media initiatives will fail.

More like over 95%.

Within five years, 70 percent of collaboration and communications applications designed on PCs will be modeled after user experience lessons from smartphone collaboration applications.

This is the most interesting prediction. What is most likely to be transferred from smartphones to PCs are the device user interfaces. There are very few enterprise collaborative apps on smartphones yet, so there is not much to learn so far. However the rise of the “third device” exemplified by the iPad will unleash a whole new world of collaboration. More and more collaboration and social media will happen on portable (but not pocketable) devices (as I noted in this recent interview on Sky Business). That is where lessons will be learned that can be applied to desktop devices.

Through 2015, only 25 percent of enterprises will routinely utilize social network analysis to improve performance and productivity.

This is a particularly interesting one for me, since I have been applying social network analysis to help organizations improve their performance for close to a decade now. Having seen the uptake over that time, including noting in 2006 that organizational network analysis was going mainstream, I reluctantly have to conclude that this forecast is overly optimistic.

One of the current trends in applying social network analysis inside organizations is that it is far easier to take digital communication trails (e.g. from email) to infer social networks in organizations. Tools such as Lotus Connections now have social network analysis functionality embedded in the system, and other vendors are integrating similar tools. However I am very aware of the difference between generating a social network map, and using this to improve organizational performance.

As I expressed in my California Management Review article Managing Collaboration with a Network Perspective, there is real competitive advantage from effective use of social network analysis. In fact for many of the most sophisticated organizations that have been developing their capabilities over the years, it is the single tool that is most likely to drive significant performance improvement. However I fear relatively few organizations will do this, or at least do it effectively.