October 6, 2011
On Wednesday afternoon, Oracle's Larry Ellison unveiled the Oracle Social Network. The fact that he did so on the same stage Marc Benioff used in San Francisco's Moscone Center to announce Salesforce Chatter's centricity to the "social enterprise" won't go unnoticed, and not simply for all of the not-so-subtle shots Mr. Ellison took at his former colleague's outfit. For content & collaboration professionals, the thing to note about these dual announcements is they mark, along with IBM's "social business" strategy, an attempt by vendors to make social software relevant to the entire workforce by tying them into specific business processes.
I noted in an earlier blog post that social software use in business is limited to a small group of employees who fit the profile of technology early adopters. This suggests the horizontal approach to social software isn't resonating across the workforce. So how do businesses ensure the investments they're making in social can apply to the entire enterprise? The Salesforce answer is to tie Chatter into customer-facing business processes — sales, marketing and support — and expand social through the concepts that everyone in the business has some role to play in helping customers and something to gain by listening to what those same customers have to say. Oracle is taking a similar approach, as Oracle Social Network is intertwined with Fusion CRM, but is going one step further. Mr. Ellison's group has integrated Oracle Social Network into the Fusion applications suite, which means Oracle is looking to make social a part of a range of business processes — from resource planning to human resources.
Now, in terms of the feature set that Oracle is offering, it's exactly what you'd expect from a social software offering: activity streams, co-authoring and some real-time communication functionality, among other things. The questions that Oracle is going to have to answer for the market are unrelated to feature sets, though. Coming on the heels of Oracle Collaboration Suite and Oracle Beehive, Oracle Social Network is working against the software giant's legacy of less-than-stellar performance in the collaboration software arena. So, clients are right to take a close look at Oracle's strategy to see whether or not Oracle's learned from past mistakes. And, Oracle has yet to tell the complete story about how their social offerings will work in businesses that have already invested in social software such as SharePoint (enhanced by NewsGator), Lotus Connections and Jive SBS. With the emphasis placed on integration into Fusion Apps, Oracle will also have to explain how existing Siebel and PeopleSoft customers may also take advantage of the business-process-enabling power of Oracle Social Network.
With those things in mind, Oracle bears close watching in this space. What they've shown thus far is intriguing. How they turn this into a strategy that truly enables collaboration within the business processes Oracle owns and expands into areas tangential to what Oracle has historically done will be the key to their ultimate success.