I presented at a session of the Enterprise Social Networking Conference today in San Francisco with Jim Fowler, CEO of Jigsaw. I had a couple of key points to make:

  • It’s not clear whether public networks (like LinkedIn) or enterprise networks (Lotus) will win the corporate market, and I expect it to be a fierce battle. Enterprise products like Lotus Connections, Microsoft Sharepoint, Visible Path, and Jive have some clear advantages such as privacy, security, the ability to integrate with enterprise applications, and the ability to direct the network to support company goals. But the public network vendors also have some indisputable advantages, such as mass, momentum (rapid growth rates), and engagement. 5 years ago it would seem impossible for an enterprise to rely on a public social network; today it seems plausible. 
  • ‘No decision’ is actually a decision in favor of public networks. As each company delays or defers its decision about its own enterprise network, more employees join public networks and build their business of public networks. These networks are delivering indisputable business value, and people connecting to colleagues in their own company represents a large share of the connections.

AOL instant messenger (AIM) is a good analogue. It’s become a widely used (dominant?) instant messaging client in corporate America. So has Skype. I expect both have bigger footprints than Lotus SameTime, FaceTime, or any other secure corporate IM client – a good example of how a consumer product can become a defacto enterprise solution. Specific verticals like Financial Services still demand a secure enterprise solution like Bloomberg, but for most of the rest of the business world, AIM and Skype work fine. The publication Waters, which covers technology in the financial services industry, described how many firms continue to rely on public solutions despite security risks:

Granted, these firms have a vested interest in publicizing bad news for IM users, but an informal survey of European firms conducted by Waters found that while firms are adopting specialized solutions such as Reuters Messenger and Bloomberg Messenger, many establishments rely on popular public platforms from AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo.

The firms selling secure IM spend a lot of effort publicizing the security risks of public IM, thinking that if the company was aware of the risks, they would deploy a secure solution. This may be true for a minority, but I tend to think that most firms are already aware of the risk, but are more compelled by the fact that they’ve already got an IM solution in place that works (!) and that the employees use (!) – no small feat in IT. Net, momentum rules.

InfoWorld published a good summary of the panel.

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