As I review my notes and collect my thoughts from this week’s Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, one trend really sticks out as having come up over and over again both in keynote presentations and on the expo floor. Namely, the evolution of social business from what speaker Wim de Gier of LeasePlan termed an “internal version of Facebook” to a sophisticated collaboration tool with communication and knowledge capture capabilities fine-tuned for corporate users.

Vendors Heed the Need for Social ‘Business’

A majority of the vendors I visited on the expo floor were offering some variation of a true social “business” platform that does far more than let users post comments and photos and/or conduct chat sessions in a closed enterprise community. Social business platforms are now offering features such as direct links between email, IM tools and activity streams, keyword and hashtag searches to find people or discussion threads that can offer expertise on a particular topic, the placement of exception alerts and other notifications, and general connections between the social business platform and the wider enterprise store of data and activity. In an interview with CMSWire, de Gier termed this type of broad social business connectivity as creating a constantly expanding “corporate brain.”

It is also worth mentioning that many vendors are building on the near-ubiquitous adoption of Microsoft Office and SharePoint tools by providing add-on features that bring the functionality of these applications into the social business world. While Microsoft does an excellent job of building basic platforms that become the de facto means of supporting day-to-day business operations, the company less typically gets involved in higher-level processes.

By bringing data and content from Office and SharePoint tools directly into social business workstreams, and by letting users of these tools participate in social collaboration without having to leave their Microsoft environment, vendors are further extending the capability of social business and turning it into a true “enterprise” solution.

Speakers Give Real-World Examples

It is one thing for a solutions vendor to explain how their system can enable advanced social business, it is another thing to hear a first-person account of a real-life advanced social business implementation. In addition to sitting down to chat with CMSWire, deGier also gave a presentation on how LeasePlan, a global car rental entity with more than 6,000 employees spread across 30 countries and 38 divisions, keeps everyone connected with an IBM-based platform called LinkedPeople that collects information for easy retrieval as well as enables live, targeted communication.

And Richard Foo, Collaboration Director of Nike, Inc., explained how after just 60 days in live production Nike is already receiving significant benefits from a Cisco-based social business network that creates enterprise-wide discussion and informational threads. Looking ahead, Foo said Nike wants to link the platform to transactional solutions so that important events such as reductions in order size are automatically placed into the appropriate activity streams for quick response.

In addition, Nike is taking a “mobile first” development strategy with it social business platform. The modern enterprise is a mobile enterprise, and many vendors were also touting the mobile capabilities of their solutions. Companies that truly want to maximize the benefits they get from social business networks should make them as mobile-friendly as possible.

After all, what’s the point of enabling all this advanced, real-time communication and collaboration if it is not accessible to employees where they need it most, which all too frequently is not at their desks?