Everyone seems to understand that social computing is a hot technology these days, and at Forrester we get plenty of questions from companies trying to understand how they can access the power and benefits of social computing into their own companies.

But before companies consider which technology platforms they should use, they should be carefully considering for what business purpose they need social computing tools. In my view, technology is a powerful lever in solving business problems, but it is not a solution in itself. For example, I know a lot of people who spend a lot of time on Facebook, but I can’t see much business value in it (unless looking up former high school classmates counts as business development). The same is true for far too many (but not all) of the social technology tools hitting the market today. <

This is where innovation management tools come in. While many community platforms are great at providing technology for internal collaboration, the best innovation management companies are taking the power of technology one step further –   they are using social technologies, to help companies generate a response to specific business problems.    Companies like Imaginatik and Innocentive have distinguished themselves in this market with a client-centric approach and a deep understanding of innovation.

If this sounds like a minor distinction among vendors, its not. Understanding how to direct a technology product towards a specific business result is not a capability that all, or even most technology companies have.  In innovation management, these vendors are taking the Open Innovation concepts popularized by Henry Chesborough ten years ago and applying them in new ways, in real-world scenarios, and trying to generate real dollars for clients. Thus, for the leading vendors, technology is simply a tool (albeit a powerful one) that unlocks new opportunities — but it can’t succeed without a specific focus.

Chris Andrews