There has been much talk over the last few days about Enterprise RSS, and whether it’s dead, still being born, or alive and well. Since I’ve got a pretty unique view into this particular industry, I thought I’d write some thoughts and try to give you a more clear picture of what’s really happening.
First, let me get this out of the way – RSS use in the enterprise is definitely alive and well. But it’s not in the obvious places. No one is writing articles talking about how their desktop feed readers are revolutionizing the way they do business. No one is talking about how they’re retiring their Exchange servers because so much content is delivered via RSS instead of email (and in fact, email is alive and well). No one is saying “if I only had Google Reader behind my firewall, I could save millions of dollars.” Few companies even say their users are clamoring for some sort of enterprise RSS application.
So if not all of that, then what?
My team and I, collectively, have detailed conversations with at least 50 different large companies every week, talking about the real problems they do want to solve. Many of these include 10 or more people on their side, ranging from IT folks to business owners with line-of-business responsibility. And these conversations rarely start with any mention of enterprise RSS. These include:
- Portal enhancement. They want to pull additional content into their portal to make it more useful, or get content out of the portal to distribute in some other way. Or in many cases, they want to add personalized content capabilities to the portal. A while back, an analyst told me “this could be the technology that saves the corporate portal.” Indeed – that scenario is playing out today.
- Alerting. There are many use cases where folks want to alert certain groups or individuals of a specific event. For example, we have a large bank that uses our system to deliver fraud alerts to teller desktops, replacing a legacy system that worked via fax and paper. Incredible efficiency gains and cost savings.
- Competitive tracking. Or tracking any other external news for that matter – many companies wish to track media mentions and online conversations about themselves, their competitors, or anything else; once they have this information, then, they need to filter and distribute it appropriately. Increasingly, these systems are being used as a replacement for high-end premium content services. We have a large bank who reduced their premium content subscription expenses by over $1M per year by using our solutions – we’re talking about real savings here.
- Knowledge capture. In large companies, mountains of information are created every day, in many different systems. If there is some way to collect all of this information, and surface it in appropriate places, the content’s value is multiplied.
- Social networking. More and more, companies are investigating the idea of implementing social networking within the enterprise. The use cases for this are numerous; we have a large PR firm, for example, who uses this to manage their talent globally. A global advertising firm uses this technology to connect not only the people working on a specific account, but also others in the company who might have relevant experience or interests; it’s amazingly effective.
- Collaboration. This is sort of a catch-all, I suppose…but it’s a popular use for this technology. For example, one of largest banks in the world is using our system to unify groups of people who are on different communication systems (due to acquisitions and such); their analysis indicates rolling this out will be much faster and cheaper than attempting to unify their email systems in 2009, and provide other benefits such as social connections.
For any of these specific problems, RSS forms the underlying plumbing to transfer content around the organization. And if you can track the user interactions with the content, using enterprise RSS infrastructure, very rich data is collected – and the combination of the content plus this interaction data forms the underlying foundation for a social computing solution. One that can even form relationships based on implicit behavior, rather than explicit actions.
An interesting tidbit – of the content recently added to NewsGator Online, 40% of it is content related to social computing (e.g. Twitter updates, Facebook feeds, etc.). In the enterprise, this percentage can be even higher in active social computing environments. But the point is, RSS (and associated enterprise infrastructure) is increasingly used as the basis for social networking and collaboration.
From a business perspective, momentum for all of this is accelerating dramatically. As Brad mentioned, NewsGator added over 30 paying enterprise customers in Q4 2008 – most of whom were large Fortune 2000 companies (there is some breakdown by industry in this press release). These enterprise installations (plus ongoing maintenance) represent about 75% of NewsGator’s revenue, the rest coming from our enterprise SaaS offerings. Enterprise RSS-related infrastructure, including social computing, is growing quickly in demand.
RSS in the enterprise is not about “reading feeds.” It’s more about enterprise integration, search, feedback, etc. It’s about extending the value of existing systems, and leveraging efficient content distribution and tracking into new applications (e.g. social computing) as well as existing applications (e.g. portal enhancement). It’s not about installing FeedDemon on every desktop to enable folks to read content.
And, thus, it’s hard to see from the outside. But it’s there, forever an enabler, making new things possible. It’s enterprise infrastructure. And it’s in more places than you probably think.
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One client of mine has his company goal statistics available as a RSS feed. This allows people to monitor the numbers even if they don’t have full access to the internal corporate dashboard.
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I’m sure this “enterprisee RSS is dead” thread has amused you as much as it has riled you and other proponents of RSS.
From the beginning, the conversation had already driven off a cliff. People uninformed about RSS as an implementation detail generally adopt a definition of “enterprise RSS” that is an incomplete version of reality. The reality is that “enterprise ” has little to do with security or personalization or newsreading, and far more to do with enterprise-wide use of a technology, or even narrow use of a technology in a manner that would benefit the enterprise as a whole. If we take this [more realistic] definition of “enterprise ”, we can quickly dismiss assertions that “enterprise RSS” is dead. As you accurately point out, RSS is used by many businesses [widely and narrowly] to meet specific business requirements.
Before declaring Enterprise RSS dead, one must accept that it was (a) previously alive, and (b) defined in a manner which we all understand and agree. Since neither of these conditions were (or are) true, journalists must be cautious of making broad and sweeping assertions.
And even if there is no apparent (or obvious) mainstream adoption of “RSS reading” by corporate information workers, Marshall’s conclusions are disingenuous; there is no research or case studies I’m aware of that indicate RSS use in enterprises is something this market segment has given up on – ergo, opening the door to claim it is now dead.
What was (and apparently remains) alive is funding for enterprise RSS “stuff”. This includes highly visible evidence such as NewsGator funding, but more important – RSS-related initiatives ongoing in businesses of all types. My hunch is that every Fortune 500 has some sort of RSS effort or initiative underway or in planning stages.
From my own experience chatting with large organizations, many companies are paying their IT groups, 3rd party services, and consultants to help them produce both secure and customer facing RSS content. They are engaging in projects directly related to RSS such as better content syndication, mashups for intelligence gathering, content search, and integration with other applications both inside and outside the firewall. Given this more accurate version of enterprise reality, enterprise RSS is alive and thriving.
And intimating that RSS is dead because it hasn’t replace email is a silly notion; one is a protocol and the other is an application running on a protocol. Again, uninformed journalists tend to drive off a cliff on this point — RSS is simply an XML specification – it’s not even a standard (like SMTP is). It needs to be discussed in a context for what it is; an implementation detail. But more important (and often missed by journalists), because it is XML-based, it opens the door for a variety of interesting use cases (unlike email). Agile frameworks based on RSS induce many benefits – some are unintended innovations and many are not apparent or fully understood at first. Some RSS use cases are readily adopted without the users knowing that RSS is the underlying foundation. We can’t say these things about email.
What we *can* say about email is – “Email is where knowledge goes to die.” RSS has the capacity to mitigate the premature death of knowledge in the enterprise. I suspect you’ve personally seen cases where enterprise IQ has grown and enterprise amnesia has dissipated as a result of implementing RSS-based solutions.
This reminds me a of a very relevant blog post written in 2004 – http://myst-technology.com/public/item/56043
RSS is a unique and thriving beast – one that is widely used but not so widely recognized.
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I’m not convinced of the comment…RSS in the enterprise is not about “reading feeds.”
When RSS is finished doing all the discovering, sharing, collaborating, integrating, plumbing, networking, etc ultimately someone has to do the consuming. Its the consuming that creates the value proposition.
If the consuming is too labour intensive (primarily due to information overload) then value instantly evaporates. Making it easy to consume is the key to creating value.