Jive Rolls Out New Product, Takes on Microsoft and IBM in Social Business Software

3/10/09Follow @gthuang

In the burgeoning software hub of Portland, OR, one company is breaking new ground today. Jive Software, a maker of “social business software” that helps employees communicate with each other and manage their work information, is releasing a new product called SBS 3.0. The software is targeted to businesses, and its goal is to let corporate teams from inside and outside a given enterprise connect and collaborate more easily and effectively.

Jive’s new software combines its business collaboration product with its online-community offering into one package that it can sell to companies. The idea is that giving employees better access to a full suite of social tools will help them stay better connected to key departments and collaborators, thereby saving the company money and time in the long run. “Enterprise software has been a boring category for 20 years, and Jive is here to change that,” says Sam Lawrence, Jive’s chief marketing officer.

You’d expect to hear something like that from an experienced marketer like Lawrence. Yet in this case, he is talking about a bold strategic move by a small company that has its sights set on becoming something like Facebook for the office, putting it on a competitive collision course with Microsoft, IBM, and a slew of startups that aim to help employees get better at collaborating. Jive has evolved to this point from its founding in 2001, before the days of social networking. Its early forays into social software involved online forums and instant messaging, and were focused on support— things like getting customers to help each other rather than call a company with time-consuming questions.

By 2005, a lot of Web 2.0 and social software applications were becoming available, and Jive shifted its focus to helping employees communicate within their company and between companies—on things like who is responsible for which parts of a project, or how an R&D department is connected to other teams like marketing and sales. In the past few years, Jive has signed up customers like Intel, Nike, Electronic Arts, SAP, and VMware. The company raised $15 million in funding from Sequoia Capital in 2007. “Having them in our corner is a big, huge thing for us,” Lawrence says.

Here’s how the new product works. Customers get a dashboard view that shows their contacts in all the different departments, as well as relevant news feeds and other information from outside the company, including customer forums and what the company’s partners are tracking. From there, you can manage collaborative tasks, send and receive messages, and update your status for other team members and partners. One goal of all this is for a company’s chief information officer, head of engineering, or head of marketing to understand at a glance who’s working with whom, which departments have what responsibilities, and the sentiment of both team members and customers—without having to use separate tools like e-mail, spreadsheets, and social networks.

Since laying off a third of its staff (about 40 people) in October, Jive has signed a number of new customers and partners, including United Business Media, Portland Energy Conservation, and Premiere Global Services. “2008 was an amazing journey for Jive,” Lawrence says. “At the beginning of the year, there was a land-grab mentality. We were leading a lot of that. We added 200 customers, and hit a big, huge inflection point.” (I took that to mean the company is now poised for growth after cutting back in order to stay profitable in the market downturn.)

Lawrence sees Jive’s main competitors as big companies like Microsoft and IBM, which he says are trying to add social business software as features in their existing products, rather than building a unified platform. He dismisses other startups that are taking primarily consumer applications like Twitter, blogs, and wikis, and “dressing it up” for business application. Still, there are plenty of dedicated business-software startups trying to improve workflow and project management, like Bellevue, WA-based Smartsheet. But that sort of business software doesn’t tend to have as strong a social-networking component—it’s more about interactivity with the data and workflow than with other employees.

In the end, Jive seems refocused on its goal to lead the industry in social software for businesses. The question now is, with the recession in full swing, will companies be willing to take a chance on a new social platform if they think it will improve business results?

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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