SMB Tech Tidbits: Focus on Social Collaboration!

This week I had a chance to attend the 2012 Enterprise 2.0 conference  in Boston, which focuses on social business and collaboration solutions. This edition of Tech Tidbits features a roundup of some of the more interesting collaboration and social apps aimed squarely at small and medium businesses (SMBs) that I was able to speak with at the show.

But first, I’d like to share three key trends that surfaced very clearly at the event:

  1. More vendors are paying attention to SMBs. Until recently, many vendors were putting the lion’s share of their attention on large enterprises. But several vendors I spoke with are focusing either exclusively or primarily on SMBs.
  2. Vendors are starting to understand that moving from traditional to a social collaboration represents a major cultural shift for most companies. They are trying to ease this transition with easier to use apps and services to help companies cross the chasm.
  3. Social business and collaboration vendors are moving beyond using their platforms to share information. They are connecting collaborative activities with business processes–both internally and with external customers, partners and suppliers. This should make all of these solutions much more interesting to SMBs looking for more actionable and practical ways to use collaboration platforms.

The solutions below are good examples of some or all of these trends in action!

Broadvision showcased Clearvale, a newish (launched in 2010) cloud-based social networking platform which lets SMBs create separate social networks for employees, customers, partners, suppliers or whoever–but manage them together as a whole–kind of like circles in Google+.  Clearvale “hybrid network” approach lets administrators set up different permissions for different types of users, and create collaborative workspaces that are either public or private.

Clearvale includes analytics to measure and track social network use, and an incentive system to encourage and reward user participation. Clearvale comes in two editions. Clearvale Express is the freemium version, which includes basic collaboration capabilities, file sharing, and activity streams for a single network. Clearvale Enterprise adds collaboration tools (blogs, wikis, forums, polls); mobile access, LDAP and OpenID authentication, developer APIs, and the ability to customize the app for your business. It also features one-button integration with Microsoft Outlook (unfortunately this is not yet available for Google Gmail). System integrators, telcos or others can also private label Clearvale for their customers via the PaasPort reseller program.

The company also features a 90-day “social enterprise transformation” program to help customers map relationships and business processes to Clearvale. Pricing depends on the number of users, and discounts kick in based on the level of activity. I like the idea of this program, as it acknowledges the fact that becoming a social business takes more than turning on a cloud app, and it puts skin in the game for both the SMB and Broadvision.

Citrix recently acquired a company named Podio, which has a social collaboration platform designed to help businesses “get work done.” You can work with employees, clients and partners in dedicated work spaces. In addition to an activity stream, collaboration tools, and permissions, Podio has an app marketplace (which currently has about 600 free apps) that users can plug-in to address specific needs, such as competitive tracking, lead management or planning an event. Or you can build your own, no programming skills required.

One of the things I really like about Podio is that it integrates out of the box with Google Apps, Gmail, Google New Feed, and Facebook–tools that many small businesses in particular already rely on. Podio is also fully mobile-enabled for Apple IOS and Google Android devices.

Citrix also recently purchased ShareFile for enterprise-grade file storage and sharing too. Podio integrates with ShareFile as well as with other popular file sharing services such as and Dropbox. Podio is available free for the first five users, who get full access to all functionality. After that, pricing is $8/user/month.

IGLOO takes the approach that businesses need interconnected “hubs” or social networks for different groups, whether different internal business units, customers, suppliers or partners. With IGLOO, each business unit can manage their own individual network, and IGLOO is working on providing the ability for users to publish content across multiple networks. In addition to the ubiquitous activity stream, IGLOO features a full roster of social networking tools, including IM and DM, different ways to create and share content, personalization capabilities, document management, search and a rewards and badge system. And it integrates with several key applications, such Microsoft SharePoint and as well as Microsoft and Google personal productivity tools.

Visitors to IGLOO’s  site can complete a short form requesting a free trial, IGLOO contacts the individual (often within minutes, at most 1 business day) to learn more about their requirements. From there, IGLOO sets up a custom collaboration environment based on one of its 8 social business applications (each application is preconfigured, but also customizable for the user).  Then IGLOO gives the user a guided tour of this environment, sharing insights and best practices on everything from configuration to driving user adoption.

DoubleDutch debuted Pride, a new, free mobile collaboration app. You can use Pride to post and share short, microblog entries about what you’re doing. Pride has some built-in smarts to help identify patterns and connections and fill in some of the details for you. You can download Pride on the Apple’s iTunes app Store and Google’s Play Store. According to DoubleDutch CEO Lawrence Coburn, the sweet spot for Pride is companies with 5 to 50 employees.

DoubleDutch also has positioned itself as an enterprise mobile apps maker. Pride shares some of the functionality of DoubleDutch’s Hive mobile CRM app, but Hive also addresses sales specific needs, such as tracking the stages of a deal from lead to closed business.

Pride is a more general tool that could be used by marketing and business development executives to share their activities and keep up with those of their coworkers. The solution also provides some nice analytics so you can see where people are spending their time, so you can make adjustments if needed. Pride is an easy and lightweight way for teams to stay on the same page. It doesn’t have a full-blown desktop version yet so it could be frustrating for users that want to use it via both mobile and desktop devices.

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