The first day at this week's IBM's Lotusphere 2012 event in Orlando focused on the technology giant's social analytics offering, IBM Connections.
IBM Connections is a social networking platform that has been updated to incorporate analytics capabilities, real-time data monitoring and cloud services.
According to Forrester Research, social networking platforms are a growing trend among businesses. The research company predicts that social enterprise applications will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 61 per cent to become a $6.4bn market in 2016.
This is supported by recent acquisitions in the market such as the purchase by Salesforce.com of social software provider Rypple and IBM's acquisition of social enterprise management software producer Curam.
So clearly vendors are keen to provide social enterprise software but is there demand from enterprises for the platforms?
Gartner analyst Carol Rozwell believes that there is a lot to gain from the software from a business perspective but that it is too early to say which vendors are leaders in the field.
"We're seeing a variety of new vendors appearing in the market. There are social media monitor vendors, organisational network analysis vendors and many more, so it is not a market that is easily analysed, particularly as there are no case studies to base our thoughts on," she said.
The fact that the social analytics market is so young means that businesses may only now be finding uses for such software.
However, Ovum analyst Richard Edwards believes that social analytics already has a place in the enterprise but the functionality hasn't been available to make the most out of the information passing between colleagues.
"Before social analytics there was email but corporations were not allowed by law to change this to an enterprise social network because of privacy issues. Therefore the valid information for businesses was lost. So now the enterprise social network is trying to replace email in the enterprise without officially scrapping the email service," he said.
Gartner's Rozwell said that the social network adds the new dimension of social media to a company's information and that companies will have to analyse it to find answers to critical business questions. She said that it also adds the capability to analyse network behaviour, something she said is new to many IT leaders.
"Social media allows any organisation that interacts with any population the aggregation of insight according to a specific need or category of individual or topic.
"For example, if you've got a group of nurses that are talking about a piece of medical equipment and they're all saying that it's hard to use because of a certain feature, it is information that the company may not be able to pick up if its sales people are only asking the physician," she said.
But Ovum's Edwards believes that only certain types of businesses can benefit from social analytics.
"A social enterprise platform would be useful for any business that has at least 1,000 employees. Especially if these employees are ‘knowledge workers', that is those that think about the work they do at all times. It is often these workers that are the closest to customers so it would be beneficial for companies to try to gauge information from these employees," he said.
Both Rozwell and Edwards are convinced that social enterprise networks allow businesses to benefit from added social knowledge, but the bad news for vendors is that the capabilities of the software itself may not be the biggest factor in retrieving the desired information.
"The biggest issue is in human belief that it actually works. The problem isn't with the tool, it's with the CIOs who decide whether to take the technology on board," said Rozwell.
Edwards agreed, but added: "At IBM Lotusphere, we were shown a case study in which users started their own social enterprise network. So even if an IT leader doesn't implement a network, if the employees find it beneficial to themselves then there are ways around it."
In regards to the future of social analytics, Edwards said that currently, businesses that are looking at social enterprise networks are focused on access and appearance but eventually they will think about the kinds of insight they can gain from the software.
Rozwell added that the kinds of insight a company can gain could come from answering critical questions such as: "Do my customers like our new product? What are the unmet needs my customers have? Who are the most productive people in my organisation? How can I emulate their behaviours? And is my supply chain working efficiently?"
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