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Business Report

Please Update Your Status at Work

Collaboration software from a company called Jive Software is challenging products from established rivals such as IBM.

Some companies actually want their employees to blog, tweet, and update their social-networking profiles at work—as long as they’re doing it on corporate-purchased software.

Acceptable networking: Software from Jive helps employees get to know each other better.

Three years ago, the information management company EMC began encouraging employees to spend time on internal social networks discussing their extracurricular interests. “We have people talking about photography, and art, rock climbing—you name it,” says Jamie Pappas, whose title speaks volumes: she is manager of enterprise social-media engagement strategy.

EMC had something in mind beyond connecting all its motorcycle enthusiasts. The management wanted to test new “social business software” from Jive Software, a company that runs online forums and social-networking and collaboration software for businesses.

“The thinking really was that employees really want to come together around a topic, and they’re worried about saying something wrong if it’s about a [work] project,” Pappas says. “So those social conversations were sort of like icebreakers. It helped people get in there and then feel comfortable jumping into the business conversation.”

When companies get too big, opportunities for collaboration can diminish. Individual employees looking for a colleague with expertise on a particular topic can struggle to find the right person. E-mail is little help: employees’ in-boxes are deluged. Corporate memory of sales leads or customer service solutions can get buried.

In hopes of cutting through the noise, Jive offers a wide-ranging platform for collaboration, competing with the likes of IBM and Oracle. It offers applications to connect colleagues and projects the way Facebook, Twitter, and Web forums connect fan bases and friends. Employees set up profiles, blogs, groups, and Facebook-style “walls.” All this interaction happens behind the corporate firewall but is accessible by internal search programs. In turn, these programs work with software that companies already have in place, including customer relationship management (CRM) programs, Microsoft’s Sharepoint, and software for human resources, supply chain management, and accounting.

At EMC, instead of starting long e-mail threads, employees can check updates about a project on a Jive page, search for relevant materials, and download the files as they need them. Sales representatives looking for insight about a competitor can query the “competitive community” on EMC’s internal social network and get an answer as they walk to a client meeting, Pappas says. The company also now uses Jive’s tools externally, to augment user-support forums and to create community or “affinity” pages for clients that use EMC software.

Collaboration tools with origins in the consumer world, such as instant messaging, have often met with resistance from IT departments. But Stowe Boyd, an analyst and advisor to companies building such applications, says business-focused social-networking software is growing much faster than earlier tools. Christopher Morace, Jive’s senior vice president of business development, credits the increased popularity of Facebook. When Jive started selling its social business software in 2007, some potential customers were wary of adding more tasks to the workday. But now, Morace says, he doesn’t need to explain that with these tools, a person can realistically keep track of multiple conversations and engage hundreds of contacts.

Jive hopes to become something like a Facebook in business—a widely used platform on which many kinds of applications are hosted. The company is building a developer community and allowing third parties to write apps to work with its software. “When push comes to shove,” Morace says, “when this market becomes really competitive, we decided we are really good at being the modern platform.”

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