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You’ve Got a Friend in Me” -- Randy Newman, Toy Story

Just a little while ago, the main way to add social features to an application was to build them by hand. That required coding the microblogging, activity streams and file sharing features. The only other option was to embed a link to an existing standalone social tool, but that method eliminated any real connection between the social tools and the application.

It was possible, in some cases, to exchange information from an enterprise application to a social portal (sometimes called an enterprise social network), but again, the integration was weak.

That has changed considerably as social portals have begun to transform into the social layer of the enterprise software stack. With better APIs and a focus on the type of developer support necessary to bring social tools to enterprise applications, it is now much easier to create socially enabled applications from a standard toolkit.

SAP StreamWork

Consider SAP StreamWork, a standalone social portal and workflow suite. Users and IT can create ad hoc social workflows and enable new types of social interaction. It also provides the social capabilities for SAP’s enterprise applications.

By integrating SAP StreamWork into SAP CRM, ERP and many other applications, IT can not only deploy new social workflows, but also enhance existing transactional workflows within existing enterprise applications. This tight integration creates a combination of new social processes, socially enhanced enterprise processes and central views of both.

Using SAP StreamWork’s rich set of APIs, other application vendors can use SAP StreamWork themselves to do the same thing.

IBM Connections

SAP is not the only software vendor to help enterprise applications become socially enabled. IBM -- via its IBM Connections social software -- is doing the same with other ISVs. A good example of an IBM Connections-enabled application is the Trilog Group’s ProjExec project management software. IBM Connections provides the base social platform for ProjExec’s social features.

Mindjet Connect SP

Meanwhile, using a hybrid model, Mindjet’s Connect SP product uses Microsoft SharePoint to provide collaboration features, while Mindjet itself builds some other social features.

Many social portal vendors are trying to position themselves as the social layer for enterprise applications. This is beneficial to themselves and other ISVs. The application developer can focus on building features unique to the market they serve. The social platform vendors, in turn, are able to tap into another group of potential customers.

The social layer strategy will only work if there is a development environment to combine these tools seamlessly. The environment must accommodate well-designed and powerful APIs (most often RESTful APIs), integration with developer tools such as popular debuggers and IDEs, and pricing options that make including someone else’s tools economically viable.

Social platforms are the best solution for creating socially enabled applications in the future. It is too expensive and wasteful for everyone to build social tools from scratch. The emergence of social platforms is a great example of two heads being better than one.

Title image courtesy of Michael D Brown (Shutterstock).

Editor's Note: To read more by Tom Petrocelli: