NewsGator's enterprise social-networking product, Social Sites, now has a component for employees to submit, discuss and evaluate ideas for business projects.
In its version 2.7, announced Thursday, Social Sites has a new tab in its interface labeled "Ideas," which provides functionality for what NewsGator calls "innovation management."
There are stand-alone applications for automating these idea-generation tasks, but NewsGator believes the functionality is important enough that it should be a standard component of Social Sites.
"Companies have to innovate their way to a better position in this economy," said Brian Kellner, NewsGator's vice president of products.
NewsGator is far from alone among business software vendors in adding innovation management components to its products, something Jive Software and Salesforce.com, among others, have done, said Forrester analyst Oliver Young.
"It's not surprising to see NewsGator heading in this direction, which is where the market is going," Young said.
At the same time, vendors that specialize in innovation management software, like Spigit and Brightidea, have started to add enterprise social-networking and collaboration features in general to their products, Young said.
"Wrapping together collaboration and innovation management makes a lot of sense. It's not enough to have an idea. You have to vet it, explore it, work with people, expand on it. That's a collaborative process," he added.
Social Sites as a whole is designed as an enterprise social-networking complement to Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server 2007.
With SharePoint Server 2010 expected to be a major upgrade that includes many of the features Social Sites has provided for it, it's critical for NewsGator to stay on top of the innovation curve, Young said. When SharePoint Server 2010 comes out, NewsGator must have added enough unique features to convince SharePoint customers it's worth it to spend extra for Social Sites, he said.
Social Sites' idea management component lets users draft ideas not only in written form, but also with embedded images, tables, links and other elements.
Once the employee submits the idea, colleagues to whom this person is linked via contacts list or workgroup membership are notified and can append comments to the document and vote it up or down.
However, the feature isn't meant to manage the entire evolution of an idea into a finalized project. "We focus on the front-end of the process: capturing ideas easily. We stop at the point where the idea is considered worthwhile and moves into a stage involving funding, proof-of-concepts and so on," Kellner said.
Once supervisors promote ideas into a more formal initiative beyond the brainstorming and evaluation process, the discussion can be moved into a community or wiki page in Social Sites for further collaboration or into a separate, third-party project management application.
Ideas get aggregated in a central repository where the list of submissions can be sorted and filtered based on different parameters, such as date created, number of votes and number of comments. Ideas also get logged into the individual profiles of the employees who submitted them.
Other enhancements in Social Sites 2.7 include an option for employees to get a daily e-mail digest with activity notifications from colleagues and workgroups to which they belong.
Version 2.7 also lets employees who create community sections for collaboration within Social Sites to add blogs, wikis and announcement modules to them.