Greater availability of social-networking-services, coupled with changing demographics and work styles, will lead 20 percent of employees to use social networks as their business communications’ hub by 2014, according to Gartner Inc. Analysts said that this is one of a wide range of capabilities that have emerged in communications, social Web and mobile, enabling richer interactions among people and expanding collaboration to a broader level.

Gartner analysts examined the business impact and opportunities of new mobile collaboration capabilities during Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2010, held in Cannes, France.

“In the past, organizations supported collaboration through e-mail and highly structured applications only,” said Monica Basso, research vice president at Gartner. “Today, social paradigms are converging with e-mail, instant messaging (IM) and presence, creating new collaboration styles. However, a truly collaborative, effective and efficient workplace will not arise until organizations make these capabilities widely available and users become more comfortable with them. Technology is only an enabler; culture is a must for success.”

While microblogging is reshaping enterprise communications, business communications are evolving. Newer employees will enter the workforce with a predisposition to communicate via a social network, but they will use e-mail in parallel – optimizing the business need with the communication modality.

“The rigid distinction between e-mail and social networks will erode,” Basso said. “E-mail will take on many social attributes, such as contact brokering, while social networks will develop richer e-mail capabilities.”

Vendors such as Microsoft and IBM will add links to internal and external social networks from within e-mail clients and servers, making services such as contacts, calendars and tasks shareable across e-mail and social networks. By 2012, Gartner said contact lists, calendars and messaging clients in any smartphones will be social-enabled applications.

Collaboration is slowly moving to the cloud, and Gartner analysts expect to see steep growth rates for sales of premises- and cloud-based social networking services. Organizations will deploy hybrid models where some services live on-premises and some are in the cloud. Gartner predicts that the percentage of e-mail accounts on cloud services will grow to 10 percent by year-end 2012, up 7 percent from 2009.

From a vendor’s perspective, the market is consolidating around Microsoft and Research In Motion (RIM), the two market leaders. Gartner forecasts that by 2012, RIM and Microsoft will own 80 percent of the enterprise wireless e-mail software market.

Communications and collaboration are critical to business success, and any organization should invest in these areas to pursue innovative organizational and work-style change. “Even in an economic downturn, innovation is a must for any organization to prepare for recovery and further change,” said Basso.

“The reality is that mobile collaboration will increase for all categories of workers, and organizations can either take the lead, or be led by their users,” she said. “The most progressive organizations won’t be afraid to explore the innovative communications and collaboration models enabled by new devices and social services allow their employees to generate innovative ideas by experimenting with them.”

During her presentation, Basso provided an example of this collaboration by highlighting Ocè’s use of Yammer. In this situation, employees spontaneously adopted the enterprise micro-blogging service that is now helping capture and spread knowledge, accelerate decision making, improve customer responsiveness and support continuous learning.