For many organizations, the term “Enterprise Social” results in immediate disinterest. Admittedly, I’m also not fond of the nomenclature of “Enterprise Social.” For me, the similarities to consumer apps that inspired greater sharing do no justice to how much potential these technologies have to revolutionize business.
Advancement in information technology tends to come in cycles of connectivity (e.g. terminals, Ethernet, the Internet) and capability (databases, operating systems, applications) that build on the previous wave. Sometimes we seem to take some steps back as integrated blocks of specialist technology have to adapt to greater connectivity. But with that boost of connectivity, the next revolution of the cycle is started. I believe that social is that connectivity catalyst we are seeing now. With each turn of the cycle, new business opportunities, even new industries, are created. Don’t be fooled in thinking that social is a fad because the name somehow implies light discourse. It will, in fact, change the way you do business, from product development to customer support.
Given that social is perhaps the hottest trend in enterprise software right now, what are the most important strategic-level enterprise social trends? Here are my picks:
- Social Everywhere. Both customers and suppliers in the enterprise space get that social is no longer just a good idea, It’s an imperative, which is why the uptake of enterprise social is currently so strong and why there are an increasing number of enterprise social networks from which to choose. And suppliers increasingly are getting the message that social should not just be a separate application but a feature that needs to be built into just about every enterprise application. Hence, additional enterprise vendors such as SAP now have introduced social offerings, and Larry Ellison has said that Oracle will be embedding social features across their products.
- Social as a Layer. Ok, I’m cheating a bit because this is really kind of a follow-on to the first trend, but with social everywhere and infused throughout, it is clear that enterprise social should really be thought of as an IT architectural layer across the enterprise, and not just a separate application, and be managed as such. Managing architectural layers as opposed to just managing an independent application means paying much more attention to integration approaches, application programming interfaces, and future-proofing considerations as architectural directions evolve over time.
- Social and Content Unite. The boundaries between social and content management will continue to blur. The historic dichotomy exists because social sprang forth from the consumer world, where strong content management capability was a secondary concern. It is most decidedly not a secondary concern in the enterprise, and we don’t want to have to keep jumping in and out of separate applications with different interfaces to get our work done. So enterprise social is increasingly including stronger content management features and/or are providing tighter integration with content management systems.
- Social Subsumes. The social interface is quite often simply a better interface for doing a whole variety of activities, which is why it has come to dominate in consumer IT. The same generally holds true for the enterprise, so enterprise social is inevitably subsuming the functions of a number of legacy applications. Goodbye email. Goodbye low-end content management systems. Goodbye low-end process management. Etc.
- Social Analytics/Business Intelligence. Enterprise social generates social big data as a by-product of users just doing their jobs. This big data can be analyzed and displayed so as to help people make more effective actionable decisions. That’s what business intelligence is all about—the process of wringing insights from data to support better decision making. So that’s right–we should be thinking that business intelligence just as aptly applies to this social-derived data as it does to more traditional sources, and applying the tools to do so.
- Social Discovery. Methods for automatically bringing to your attention what’s personally relevant are increasingly getting attention from both customers and suppliers. In larger enterprise social implementations, working to simultaneously ensure ease of findability of knowledge and expertise while also maintaining acceptable signal-to-noise ratios for everyone is a never-ending struggle. Leveraging social big data by continuously making inferences of individual preferences has become the solution to scalable signal-to-noise ratios in the consumer IT world, and the same will hold true for the enterprise.
The bottom line is enterprise social is now strategic, and should therefore be treated as such!