Borrowing a Page from Facebook and Ning, BroadVision Bets the Company on the “Social Business Cloud”

Pehong Chen says he got the idea for the future of BroadVision from his kids.

It was certainly clear, by 2007 or so, that BroadVision needed a new business. Founded in 1993, the Redwood City, CA-based software vendor built e-commerce applications and corporate portals during the first Internet boom. Chen, the founding CEO, took the startup public in 1996, saw its stock ascend into the stratosphere, and then watched it crash just as hard in 2000, beginning a long period of struggle and reexamination. “Our traditional business has been stagnant, not growing,” says Chen, who’s still at the helm at BroadVision (NASDAQ: BVSN). “The whole enterprise platform business has really matured and consolidated. Not a lot of people are building new things.”

But Chen’s children, like many people their age, are using quite a few new things—they’re big Facebook and Twitter users, for example. “I have noticed—and this was the catalyst of our whole strategy shift a few years back—that my kids, and people in their whole generation, respond better on these social platforms than they do with e-mail,” says Chen. “It always drives my wife crazy that she sends them e-mail but they don’t respond. But when she posts something on their wall, she gets an immediate response. It’s like our generation grew up linear, but their generation is a lot more circular, like they’re collaborating around a table.”

The more Chen thought about that, the more he became convinced that the “Enterprise 1.0” era, dominated by big, complex, centralized business applications, was ending. In the near future, he predicted, enterprise software platforms would be measured not by how many documents they can hold, but by how many employees (including the youngest ones) use them to share and collaborate.

So BroadVision threw out most of its existing code and spent two years building a new cloud-based suite of business services called Clearvale, which it formally unveiled in May. Now, after a six-month shakedown cruise, BroadVision is adding key features that bring Clearvale much closer to being a real “Facebook for the enterprise,” to quote chief marketing officer Giovanni Rodriquez. BroadVision announced today at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Santa Clara, CA, that Clearvale users can now build private clouds using their own hosted versions of Clearvale, and offer Clearvale-based services to their own customers. Japan’s Softbank Telecom, for example, plans to use the new Clearvale technology to provide premium communication and collaboration services to its landline subscribers. BroadVision is also introducing features that help Clearvale users start impromptu online communities and manage multiple information streams, including social media updates.

Plenty of companies, from upstarts like to data storage giants like EMC, are offering cloud-based document exchange software that’s been redrawn along the Facebook model. But BroadVision says it thinks Clearvale is the first platform that lets … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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