Big software firms take aim at Web 2.0

January 29th, 2007

Big software firms take aim at Web 2.0

While 2006 was a big year for Web 2.0 in the consumer space, it was barely on the radar in the enterprise world. That didn't stop volumes of press coverage, speculation, and debate about how applicable Web 2.0 technologies — from Ajax to social networking — would actually be to the business world.

However those in the enterprise who wanted to go ahead, experiment, and conduct pilot projects to see how Web 2.0 concepts work for them were largely stuck with very consumer-oriented Web 2.0 applications to try out. That's because until recently, the major software makers that supply the application platforms that run the vast majority of the business world haven't had applications that specifically focused on Web 2.0 patterns and practices, things like social networking, tagging, mashups, architectures of participation, and so on.

The consumerization of the enterprise was predicted to be one of the significant trends of 2007 and a quick look at this list of applications confirms that it will indeed be a key story this year.However, in the last couple of months quite a different picture has emerged and the world's largest software companies have taken clear aim at the Web 2.0 product space with announcement after announcement. IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and Intel all have significant products, often many of them, targeted at offering the modern consumer Web experience to workers inside the firewall. And far from being a me-too play with the rest of the industry, the truth is that as popular as open source is getting — particularly in the Web 2.0 community — many business customers still prefer solutions that play well with the mountains of enterprise IT applications and back-end systems that currently run the business.

And with approaches like Enterprise 2.0 heating up including the cutting edge topics like the emergence of mashup creation tools to build a visual "face" of service-oriented architectures (SOA), it turns out that Web 2.0 applications aimed at the enterprise must deal well with formal services integration, enterprise search, information security, single sign-on, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, and a laundry list of other enterprise issues. These are all topics that the aforementioned firms understand well and are actively addressing in most cases with these new products.

Adding "enterprise context" to Web 2.0 tools require some work but doesn't have to be daunting. Read overviews of how to provide this for blogs and wikis.

It's also true that these are uncertain days for many of the big software firms. This is partially because the world of software is becoming increasingly commoditized while the expectations for how software should be hosted is also moving rapidly from installed native applications to online Software as a Service (SaaS). There's also a sense that enterprise systems have become too complicated, unwieldy, and slow-moving compared to their nimble brethren out on the Web. New Web applications have continued to adapt and evolve out on the Internet quite quickly in comparison to traditional IT, essentially ushering in the Web 2.0 era itself. It was no accident that the Web 2.0 Summit's theme last year was disruption and opportunity, and so it's concomitant on software companies to adjust to the industry and evolve.

The Web 2.0 strategies of these new applications are as interesting and varied as the companies that have come up with them. It's worth taking a look at the big Web 2.0 enterprise apps being announced so far. To get a good feel for the this next generation of enterprise apps, here's a round-up of the latest Web 2.0 software plans of the industry's top software firms. In no particular order:

SAP LogoSAP announced last week that it would be adding Web 2.0-style collaboration capabilities in many of its projects. While SAP's specific Web 2.0 plans are the least defined of all the companies in this, a couple of notable points are the specific implementation of widgets, small bits of mobile code that can be added to a Web page by a user and provide data or functionality from back-end systems. The emergence of end-user widgets on the Web was one of the more interesting parts of the Web 2.0 phenomenon last year as users got more accustomed to being able to control their user experience, using them to create the views and shared spaces through which they collaborate with others. To leverage all of this, SAP says it is also updating its NetWeaver infrastructure to "make SAP data accessible in different formats, including its traditional client software, a Web-based client, portal, mobile devices and widgets." This is a clear bow to both remix and mashups as well as software above the level of a single device.

IBM LogoIn recent months IBM has clearly jumped on the Web 2.0 bandwagon with two feet and has been preparing quite a number of products in this space. The announcements a few days ago at Lotusphere 2007 contained lots of interesting material including two significant new Web 2.0 applications designed for business. The first is called Lotus Quickr and is described as "a new Web 2.0-based collaborative content offering designed to transform the way everyday business content, such as documents and rich media, is shared and enable more effective team collaboration." Quickr offers blogs, wikis, syndication, and deep integration into existing content repositories and even into the Windows desktop itself. The other announcement was Lotus Connections, which offers what IBM calls "business-grade social computing." Bringing industrial strength social networking features, Connections offers community features designed to eliminate the need for multiple social software platforms. Taking a sip from the Web 2.0 Kool-Aid, IBM cites Forrester saying, "social software tools will become so much a part of the fabric of an enterprise's collaborative environment that it will be like air — enterprises won't be able to imagine life without it." Finally, IBM is working hard to offering software development products that bring the mashup phenomenon to the enterprise market. I highlighted IBM's QEDWiki end-user mashup IDE in my last post, but a quick tour of AlphaWorks' impressive Collaborative Development Environments section shows that's just the beginning of what IBM has planned.

Oracle LogoNot to be outdone, database and enterprise application powerhouse, Oracle, has gotten into the Web 2.0 act with a platform known as WebCenter, which already has an impressive Web site to go along with it. Oracle says WebCenter will "bring Web 2.0-centric applications to your enterprise using open, standards-based architecture". Focusing on the hordes of skilled Java developers that reside in the typical enterprise, and most interestingly Knowledge workers as well, WebCenter provides "a single Web interface to access a wide range of enterprise services, including business applications, enterprise content, business intelligence, enterprise search, communication and collaboration services, and Web 2.0-centric applications. WebCenter Suite improves productivity of developers and end-users alike." Enabling end-users to engage in customer self-service in terms of the IT solution they need is believed by some to be the next major sweet spot in enterprise applications, and like IBM, Oracle is clearly targeting this space.

Intel LogoThe company normally known for its formidable microprocessor line and not so much for software has also decided to throw its otherwise quite capable hand in the Enterprise 2.0 ring with a product suite called SuiteTwo. By partnering with leading Web 2.0 applications vendors such as SixApart and SocialText (blogs and wikis respectively), Intel has assembled a relatively complete Enterprise 2.0 solution with leading-edge syndication capabilities (essential for the signals part of the Enterprise 2.0 SLATES mnemonic, for example.) For its part, Intel says that SuiteTwo "is a rich set of interconnected services that combine to improve productivity and enable high-engagement marketing. SuiteTwo includes the most trusted platforms for blogs, wikis, RSS feed reading, and RSS feed management, all under a single management interface." Use of the Enterprise 2.0 phrase will certainly help give it credibility and/or attention in many circles and we'll see how Intel can use its extensive customer and partner relationships to make SuiteTwo a success.

Microsoft LogoIt's just a few hours away from the launch of Windows Vista, which includes Web 2.0-related features such a highly capable end-user RSS/ATOM feed management system. But Microsoft has been providing highly effective Web-based collaborative, social environments for years, best exemplified by products like SharePoint. But Microsoft has traditionally been half-on, half-off the Web 2.0 fence and has adopted the Live brand for its own line of online applications and services. While Live has famously struggled in the consumer space, Microsoft is one of the most capable companies in the enterprise space, providing productivity applications for tens of millions of business customers worldwide. In a fascinating document released last month, Microsoft explains its Web 2.0 strategy in terms of its Microsoft Office 2007 products in a very intriguing, Enterprise 2.0 way. Explaining the planks of Web 2.0 in quite the O'Reilly-esque manner, including "collective intelligence", data-powered applications, and rich user experiences, the document takes readers on a tour of Microsoft's vision for the latest version of Office as a tool to provide Web-based end-user content management, user-driven applications, blogs, wikis, aggregation, user participation, and more. And while Web 2.0 feature staples like tagging, ranking, and commenting are missing from Office 2007 today (and acknowledged to be missing), Microsoft says it's working on this as well as how to make these systems work across the firewall. Microsoft has long maintained sustained interest in resolving the tension and overlap between Web 2.0, SOA, and SaaS and while their latest products show initial progress down this path, I'm expect much more from them in the near future.

Gartner recommended a long term Web 2.0 strategy for most enterprise firms last year. Read an overview exploring if every organization really needs a Web 2.0 strategy.

The consumerization of the enterprise was predicted to be one of the significant trends of 2007 and a quick look at this list of applications confirms that it will indeed be a key story this year. Unfortunately, the history of enterprise applications doesn't bode well for rapid adoption of new tools. Fortunately, the vision for consumerization is one driven much more by pull-based systems such as grassroots adoption similar to the PC two decades ago rather that less efficient push-based deployment by IT departments. In other words, end-users will begin using blogs, wikis, mashup tools, and other social platforms increasingly on their own volition to get their work done. And smart IT department and business uints will figure out how to ride the swell of this tide.


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