The Social Enterprise and its supporting technology is being adopted broadly by all types of organizations. In a recent ESG survey of IT professionals in mid- and large-sized enterprises, 74 percent of respondents reported that their organizations had deployed some type of social collaboration or communication tools, with the majority reporting implementation of both. Social tools are a mainstream part of the corporate experience.

Social Side Effects

This widespread adoption has led to some unforeseen consequences. Though social tools are deployed broadly across organizations, complaints are now emerging of social silos.

While the Social Enterprise has broken down walls between functional units and geography, it has helped create its own new walls around teams. Groups that form to complete an objective will often then seek to only work with each other all the time rather than search out new team members.

The software tools themselves may be responsible for this situation. Since few social tools have been integrated into common business processes and traditional transaction-oriented enterprise applications, only those who are comfortable with the social portal or enterprise social network products are afforded an opportunity to collaborate with others.

Building socially enabled enterprise applications is a part of the answer, but only part. By embedding social tools into common enterprise applications such as CMS and ERP, you bring the Social Enterprise to workers where they work. However, since not everyone in a multi-disciplinary team uses the same applications to get their work done, this can contribute to the creation of social silos rather than avoidance of them.A way of connecting social tools together to foster collaboration between users of different applications is needed to prevent social silos from forming around enterprise applications.

Democratizing the Social Enterprise

The solution is building a social layer in the enterprise software stack. Yes, social portals are important as points of coordination, like a social inbox. More important is the proliferation of social tools everywhere in all the software commonly used by companies. Wherever users are and might need them, social tools should be. This method provides users with the maximum opportunity to make use of these tools to collaborate in ways most comfortable to them. The social layer helps to implement the same social workflows across all enterprise applications and different modes of use, effectively democratizing the Social Enterprise.

Learning Opportunities

The tools for building a social layer exist today. The vast majority of standalone social portals or workflow products -- for example, IBM Connections or SAP StreamWork -- have RESTFul APIs and support for OpenSocial widgets to ease integration with applications across the enterprise.

Similarly, many Enterprise CMS products from companies such as DotNetNuke and Ektron have the building blocks of a social layer and similar interfaces. Both of these types of products can help implement a social layer that binds your applications and company together into an agile and collaborative enterprise.

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

-- Social Task Management: A View of the Future