What's Next for Social Enterprise
What are the next steps for the vendors crowding the Enterprise 2.0 area today? 


A strong recent theme at CMSWire has been the future of the social enterprise. There have been some excellent articles from deep thinkers like Deb Lavoy (The Future of Social Business is Paved with (Good) Intentions, Thierry de Baillon (Let's Get Rid of the Social Enterprise), Daniel Kraft ((Social) Evolution of Work), Stephen Fishman (The Social Enterprise: One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure) and many others.

Deb and Thierry particularly have taken a high level, strategic look at the future, but I would like to bring us back down to a very tactical view of the near future and take a look at what I think the next steps are.

Next Steps for Social within the Organization

Firstly, if you have read my stuff before you will know that I am an internally focused knowledge and information management professional, I have no expertise on how the “social enterprise” should evolve its relationship with customers -- I will leave that to others to muse upon.

When I think social enterprise / social business, I think of Enterprise 2.0 and internally focused interests such as portals and the social intranet, collaboration tools in all their myriad forms, the tensions between systems of record and systems of engagement, etc.

Either as part of my day job or at conferences I talk to vendors such as Jive, Microsoft (SharePoint, Yammer), Tibco (Tibbr), SalesForce (Chatter) or open source vendors / projects like Alfresco about their platforms, and where there products fit in addressing generic business problems and specific needs.

Increasing Maturity in the Market Place

There is plenty of choice in the internal social computing platforms area, and so perhaps one of the next steps may be some consolidation in the market place? Personally, I am not so sure we are going to see this in the short term future, as there remains some clear segmentation between the vendors:

Social Business Software suites / major “platforms”

  • IBM Connections
  • Jive
  • SharePoint 2013
  • Oracle Social Networks

WCM / Web Publishing Based Vendors and Products

  • OpenText Social Communities
  • Atlassian Confluence
  • Ektron

Social Intranet

  • ThoughtFarmer
  • PBWorks
  • Igloo

Social "Extensions" from Enterprise Software Vendors

  • SalesForce Chatter
  • Tibco Tibbr

Open Source Projects/Products

  • eXo
  • elgg
  • Drupal
  • Dolphin

Of course this past year we have seen the start of this process with Microsoft acquiring Yammer, and announcing that Yammer will be the core of the social functionality in the Office 365 cloud offering (as opposed to base SharePoint 2013 social functionality).

Increasing Maturity Within the Products

We will definitely see maturity of feature sets and functionality within the products, as the vendors battle to increase release cycles at an ever more rapid pace. The cloud offerings have an advantage here, with much shorter upgrade cycles and the ease of “turning on” the latest feature filled goodness from your cloud provider, as opposed to the hundreds of hours spent figuring out if the latest upgrade to your on premises solution will break all those customizations that you thought were a good idea last year.

Where the maturity is in terms of new features, ease of use and improved user experience within a specific product will of course depend on the vendor, its existing product and API’s and what its interpretation of its customers’ needs and desires leads it towards in the context of product development strategy.

There is considerable discussion about measuring the business benefit of social computing / social collaboration tools, in part to justify the claims made for improved employee digital workplace experience, improved employee engagement and of course to prove those ROI calculations that got you the funding in the first place; given this I would expect to see further development of built in analytics capabilities and / or the open standards and API’s required to allow third party tools to provide this information.

I also expect to see some of the vendors such as SalesForce, Tibco and potentially IBM and Oracle continue the push for social collaboration to be taken seriously as an enabler for not just knowledge workers, but transactional process workers too. This includes for example, specific line of business applications (CRM or ERP tools, etc.) sending out their own automated status updates as part of the universal “enterprise event stream.”

Integration in general is going to be key to preventing social tools becoming YAS (Yet Another Silo)! My article from May (What's Next for the Enterprise Portal?) looked at the role of the intranet portal in providing a presentation layer integration play, but while SalesForce can deeply integrate Chatter into its Force.com platform and Oracle can attempt the same with OSN through Fusion product family, how for example does Microsoft embed SharePoint based social functionality into some other vendor's ERP tool? (Or should they even try??)

Social Collaboration Use Cases Mature - Or Do They?

So we may see some maturity in the market, and the tools themselves continue to improve at a fairly decent pace, but what about the “social enterprise maturity” of the average organization? Can we make the most of the tools we have at our disposal right now?

Linking back to integrating social capabilities and tool sets as discussed above, how do you (or would you) use social collaboration capabilities deeply embedded into business processes for transactional workers? What does social collaboration mean to a bank teller, a warehouse operative or a factory floor worker? If a large percentage of your workforce doesn’t have their own desktop or laptop PC, then is your entire collaboration strategy linked to mobile and BYOD strategies? If you have been relying on email to communicate with a mobile workforce via our favorite Canadian product, the Blackberry; what business benefits can social collaboration via BYOD bring to your employees?

Hopefully if you're out there reading this and you have some good examples of how you're being innovative in your use of social capabilities, please drop by the comments section and let us know, because right now I am not sure that social collaboration is really breaking out of a “knowledge worker” niche; hopefully I am very wrong about this and someone somewhere has taken the IBM marketing line of “social everywhere” and made it real, and made it their own.

Joined Up Thinking Required

In the end, we don’t do social for the sake of it, we do it to enable and realize tangible business benefits. I think a definite next step is that we go beyond the “Facebook for the enterprise” scenario (it’s good to know what everyone is doing) or the “LinkedIn for the enterprise” scenario (it's good to make serendipitous connections) and move into a period of strategically planned social collaboration deployments into high priority business areas or specific business processes, potentially requiring that joined up thinking between business strategists and planners, technologies and HR specialists.

One thing is for sure, the next steps will be no easier than the initial ones, but they are bound to be fun.

Title image courtesy of alphaspirit (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Want more from Jed? Read his The Importance of Intranet Governance