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Friday, December 16, 2011 by Angela Ashenden
In October at Openworld, Oracle announced the release of its new social collaboration platform, Oracle Social Network (OSN), with a (rather awkward) demo of the product by Larry Ellison. Yesterday, I finally got the chance to look a little bit closer at the product, and I have to say that I was rather impressed by what I saw.
Collaboration has always been a sticking point for Oracle – Oracle Beehive never had any significant success, and the company has always seemed to be struggling with how to position and present the wealth of collaborative capabilities it has to reach the right audience within enterprises. It has to be said that Oracle is far from trailblazing in the social collaboration space – it’s perhaps three years too late to market with OSN to claim such a title. However, through the in-depth demo that I and a couple of other analysts were given yesterday, it was clear that Oracle has spent that time carefully considering how to best deliver social capabilities in the context of an enterprise’s broader business applications.
As a standalone social CRM application, Oracle Social Network delivers a slick UI which leverages many of the social features which typify consumer social networks and online communities – status posting and threaded comments, activity feeds, integrated chat, groups, trending topics, profiles and the ability to follow individuals, for example. However, it also provides a number of features that are specifically business-focused, such as presence (both at the level of online/offline status, as well as highlighting where in the application someone is working), document management features such as check-in/out (enabling this in the context of an activity thread, not just in a separate documents area), and document preview, editing and annotation features (the annotations capability is rather neat, particularly its integration with the activity feed).
Like Salesforce.com with Chatter, Oracle Social Network has been tightly integrated with Oracle CRM to enable social collaboration in the context of particular customers, prospects or opportunities, but it also integrates with other Oracle business applications, such as ERP or human captial management (HCM), as well as (potentially) 3rd party and custom applications.
In contrast to previous Oracle collaboration products, I felt the UI was well-balanced – there is a lot of information and capability in there, but it doesn’t overwhelm the user, instead providing a sense of being able to easily see what is happening without too much digging, and yet without clutter.
I don’t know whether Oracle will be able to make this product fly in a way it never managed in previous collaboration software efforts, but the company certainly has an offering which stands out in the crowd. Perhaps it will be able to leverage OSN as an extension to its existing products like Salesforce.com does with Chatter; the integration would suggest that this is the primary route the company will take. However, outside the existing customer base, Oracle still has an uphill struggle to create a profile in this chaotic market, and while the demo will be a great tool for selling the product, there is still some serious work needed on the positioning. The price point will be a key factor here; pricing is not yet available. But I do wish Oracle luck as I’d like to see this product do well.