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Who buys enterprise social collaboration tools and why? An interview with Irwin Lazar: Part 1

On February 11, 2015, we’ll be hosting a live webcast, Driving Workforce Change with Social Collaboration, which features Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research. Irwin is a prolific author, blogger, and frequent speaker at industry events, and heads up a Nemertes research team that helps enterprises quantify the value of emerging technologies.

PILOTHOUSE_TOP_PROVIDER_LOGO.jpgIrwin and his team recently published a Nemertes PilotHouse Top Provider report that ranked enterprise social collaboration vendors for their technology, value, and customer service. Leading up to the webcast, we sat down with Irwin to hear his thoughts on the evolution of social technology – who the buyers are, why they buy it, and what buyers should be looking for.

Who buys social collaboration tools in the enterprise? Is it a specific line of business or is it IT?

/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/headshot_irwinlazar_631633.jpgIrwin Lazar: In addition to the PilotHouse report, we do an annual benchmark where we gather data from about 200 companies year over year. One of the areas that we look at is social collaboration and adoption.

It’s still kind of all over the map. Very few companies have a group whose charge is to develop an internal social collaboration strategy, to deploy a social platform, to manage it, to grow the community, and so on.  It’s only about 6% of companies that have that kind of structure.

“In about 30% of companies, lines of business go out and buy something tied to specific applications”

In the rest, you see a little bit of everything. Sometimes it falls under the domain of folks responsible for other collaboration applications like SharePoint, email, document collaboration, etc. Sometimes it falls under the telecom group because they’re the ones that handle unified communications, and because people see social as part of collaboration, they get ownership of that, too.  Often, it could just be a dedicated application group running within IT. That’s about 22% of organizations.

In about 30% of companies, lines of business go out and buy something tied to specific applications that they’re using for operational processes – companies that are SAP shops buy SAP Jam, or companies that use Salesforce get Chatter, for example. Or individuals buy a couple of licenses or they download a freemium version for their team. They start playing with it because somebody thought it would be really cool to try. Those are probably the least successful deployments. They tend to start pretty quickly but fizzle out if you haven’t tied your social tools into your business processes or other applications. There’s no one actively helping grow that community, no executive buy-in, and so on.

We talked to one company that started using Yammer and very quickly had a lot of people using it – it was a great way to exchange information. But within a few months, it was “Where we are going for happy hour?” and “Who shall I start this Sunday on my fantasy football team?”

Why are enterprises buying social collaboration tools?

Irwin Lazar: The biggest reason is simply because they are looking for better ways to collaborate – they’re looking for ways to collaborate in context.

When you talk to folks about what’s attracting them to social tools, they say, “I use Facebook in my personal life to collaborate with my friends and plan events and activities. Why can’t I do that when I get to the office? Why do I get an inbox? There’s got to be a better way.” People are looking to leverage the kinds of things they do in their personal lives within the corporate environment.

“They’re looking for ways to collaborate in context”

The amount of time people spend searching their emails for discussions that are relevant to a particular project, product, or process they’re working on is not a great way to use their time – that’s the single biggest reason.

We asked folks what their primary driver was for purchasing social tools and 76% said “We want to improve the ability of our folks to collaborate both internally and externally.”

Only about 14% had a measurable business case where they said, hey, if we deploy social it will lead to X percent increase in revenues, X percent decrease in cost. That’s very difficult to measure for any collaboration application – not just social tools but others as well, like unified communication, video conferencing, etc.

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