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Social Intranet Technologies, Part 4

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, I introduced many of the technologies used to build a social intranet.  In part 3, I talked about three scenarios and list some of the technology that would be involved in each social intranet.  For this last part of the series, I want to talk about what some of the major vendors are doing to help you create your social intranet.  Of course, there are way too many vendors to comment on, so I’m going to limit my comments to the following:

  • Microsoft
  • IBM

In future posts, I’ll cover some of the other vendors.

Microsoft has SharePoint.  If you haven’t heard of SharePoint, there are lots of articles on the internet, on this blog and on our Microsoft blog.  SharePoint is really a swiss army knife for the social intranet.  SharePoint 2013, in particular, contains all of the features I talked about in part 1.  With SharePoint 2013, you get a Windows-based platform that can meet all your social intranet needs.  Here are some of the really great features of SharePoint 2013 that will help you with a social intranet:

  • Communities can be built easily through SharePoint’s site features.  
  • Social tools like profiles, blogs, activity streams, microblogging are all included in SharePoint 2013.  All of these technologies have been greatly improved over previous versions of SharePoint too.
  • Formal content and document management are included in SharePoint too.  You can create highly controlled sites for corporate use and use built-in workflow to get content published.
  • Search in SharePoint 2013 is enterprise class and can be tailored to your needs.
  • SharePoint nicely integrates with MS Office applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.
  • Built on the Microsoft .net platform, SharePoint includes robust security features and excellent integration with other .net applications.
  • Office 365 is a cloud-based systems using SharePoint.  If you prefer a cloud-based system, then consider Office 365.  At this time, Office 365 is still based on SharePoint 2010, but we think Microsoft will upgrade to SharePoint 2013 soon.
  • If you have SharePoint 2010 and don’t plan to upgrade to 2013 soon, then you will need to look at third party  add-on tools for many of the social technologies.

So what are the caveats to SharePoint?  The first area is that SharePoint is based solely on Windows.  Many companies have Windows infrastructures for their desktop environment, but have standardized on Linux, AIX, Solaris, or other operating systems for their internet and intranets.  Also, SharePoint can be a pain for Mac users, of which I am one.

If your Information Systems developers have standardized on Java technologies, implementing SharePoint might be a shock to them if you need them to customize the intranet features.  MS .net is a lot different than Java, so there will be a good learning curve for the IT organization if they are used to Java.

Another area that SharePoint does do not so well is mobile.  Yes, it has support for HTML5, so the mobile browser experience is better in SharePoint 2013, but there Microsoft does not have a native mobile application for iOS or Android devices. I personally like the native applications because they can integrate with the notification systems on those devices.

Finally, if you are a company that needs only content management and blogs, SharePoint will be overkill for you.  SharePoint is especially good for the company that needs most of the technologies I mentioned in part 1.  But since it includes all those technologies, you are going to pay for them whether you use them or not.

IBM has several options for the Social Intranet.  IBM has taken the approach of creating individual systems that implement each of the technologies I’ve mentioned, and then combining them into a “suite” of products.   This gives you the advantage of picking one or two systems to implement if that’s all you need.  However, if you need the full suite, you can get those individual parts bundled together.

Lets go through some of the individual components first and then talk about the bundle.

  • Content Management is provided through IBM Web Content Manager (WCM).  This is a full featured content management system that includes all the features you need to manage formal content:  security, workflow, templates, etc. 
  • Document Management can be done through IBM WCM, IBM’s Quickr system, IBM’s FileNet system, or IBM’s Content Manager system.  The number of systems and the various feature sets make this a confusing area for IBM.
  • Wikis and Blogs can be delivered through IBM WCM or IBM Connections.  If you just need content management and blogs, you can use IBM WCM.  If you want blogs and microblogging and profiles and activities and file sharing and more, then you want IBM Connections.
  • Activity Streams and microblogging are offered through IBM Connections.  Connections has a lot of social features built into the product.  If you already have a content management system and want to add social features, you can buy IBM Connections and get all the social features you need.
  • Social File Sharing is really a feature of IBM Connections.  If you need to do more formal sharing with workflow attached, then you need to look at IBM FileNet or IBM Content Manager.
  • Portal technology comes from IBM WebSphere Portal.  WebSphere Portal comes in several flavors that can include IBM WCM and some portions of IBM Connections.
  • Search is built-in to IBM WCM, IBM Connections, WebSphere Portal, etc.  However, if you need to search outside of those systems, you need IBM’s Enterprise Search system.
  • Instant messaging comes from IBM Sametime software.

So if you wanted to build a simple social intranet, you can use IBM WCM.  For a more complex social intranet, you might combine IBM WebSphere Portal, IBM WCM, Sametime and IBM Connections.

IBM offers a bundled system called IBM Employee Experience Suite.  This suite is a bundle of Portal, WCM, Connections, Sametime, IBM Forms, and web analytics.  A cloud-based version of the IBM’s social intranet is the IBM SmartCloud offerings.

How about caveats for IBM?  First, contrary to Microsoft, IBM’s systems are all Java based.  If your company has standardized on MS .net systems, then moving to a Java based system will be shocking to your IT staff when they have to make changes to the system.

A second area is the potential complexity of the overall IBM solution.  Separate products for each of the technologies means that each product has to be installed, configured, and then integrated with the other systems.  This is even true of the “suite” – its sold as a bundle, but each product is installed separately.  IBM has done a lot to make their systems less complex, but they still have more work to do.

To sum up, both Microsoft and IBM have excellent systems with which you can build your social intranet. Both vendors can be used for simple intranets or the most complex social intranets.

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