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The Continuing Rise of the Social Enterprise

The path to social enterprise may be potentially paved with gold, but it’s not necessarily going to be a smooth downhill journey

What was that thing before the enterprise-level social network called? It was meetings, personal calls from salespeople or perhaps even the Christmas and summer party right? These "were" the various means that we used to talk with each other and our customers before we were connected online it seems.

Of course these channels for interactivity still exist. Enterprise social networking merely seeks to augment our "personal" experiences, as we also seek to get more value out of every personal engagement as and when it happens.

Impending Inevitability
As CIOs now look to the impending inevitability of implementing social tools in their organizations, we must realize that this is not just an enhancement of email or "Facebook at work," despite what some vendors will say.

The use of enterprise social networks from sources such as Yammer, Salesforce.com or indeed Facebook is an extension of a firm's marketing voice if leveraged effectively. A recent report on Forbes.com suggests that:

  • More than half of firms moving to social enterprise platforms have been able to reduce marketing costs over the period of their migration.
  • By 2015, we may see as many as $30 billion worth of corporate sales resulting from use of social tools.

Where are these networks growing? Acquired by Microsoft in June of 2012, Yammer is a secure, private social network for firms to "empower employees to be more productive" through collaboration. In practice, these are the type of tools that claim to "drive business alignment and agility," which in turn are generally hoped to reduce cycle times and improve relationships with customers and partners.

Note: Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff famously commented that he declined to buy Yammer due to its proximity to his firm's own Chatter application. He also insisted that the firm should have remained independent and entrepreneurial and that there was no need to sell out to acquisition as it did.

What Should CIOs and Architects Look for in Social Enterprise Tools?
Must-have functional factor number one is the presence of native mobile applications to support connectivity to the social enterprise hub. Unless your workforce can connect while they are on the move, you are missing a massive slice of the pie.

Positive disruption is also important. Social enterprise tools are all about breaking down silos within "traditional organizations" and opening up a new playing field for all employees (and partners and customers) to engage upon. It is, in a sense, like ripping up the organization chart and the process plans of old and reconnecting new corporate synapses at every user touchpoint.

Those firms that truly embrace the social enterprise model might even progress from a point where they initially regarded customers as mere transitions, units or items on a balance sheet... to a point where a deeper personal relationship develops.

HP has been working to refine its Social Enterprise Services for more than two years now. The firm bases much of its technology development in this space around the core concept of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and the provision of tools to serve this discipline.

Frost & Sullivan analyst Joe Outlaw has taken the social CRM further and suggests that this is also an opportunity for firms to tap in to customer-to-customer communications. If businesses can now enter into these conversations and use the right analytics software to back up their evaluation of market opportunities as they now develop, then profits can potentially be maximized.

On top of the IBM, HP, Salesforce.com, Yammer (Microsoft) and other offerings in this space (the list is long and growing by the day), we this month hear of the Oracle Social Relationship Management (SRM) Suite. Announced by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, the database giant is actually progressing to extend social intelligence as far across its stack as it can.

With the current move to cloud also recently announced by the firm, Oracle is seeking a new connected level of interconnectivity - and, very crucially, it all has to happen in real time if it is to be of value.

"By fundamentally changing the way organizations connect with their different stakeholders, social is changing the rules of business," said Oracle VP Thomas Kurian. "With the Oracle Social Relationship Management Suite we are empowering our customers to embrace this change by integrating the tools required to listen, engage, create, market and analyze social interactions into existing applications and services."

But... and it's a big but

But achieving this kind of social connectivity at the enterprise level is not necessarily plug-and-play whatever the vendors tell you. VP and principal analyst at Constellation Research Alan Lepofsky points out that even new Oracle's social network is still not generally available. Digging deeper, Oracle Collaboration Suite and Oracle Beehive already exist as "failed attempts at collaboration" as Lepofsky sees it.

"Not only is it not available to the public, it's not even in private testing with customers. The only current deployment of OSN is Oracle's internal network, where approximately 20,000 of their employees are using it," writes Lepofsky.

The path to the social enterprise may be potentially paved with gold, but it's not necessarily going to be a smooth downhill journey. Instead, this move to enterprise social might just require quite a lot of effort after all. Will social business still work for lazy introverts then? Time will tell.

•   •   •

This post first appeared on Enterprise CIO Forum.

More Stories By Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater is a freelance journalist and corporate content creation specialist focusing on cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects software engineering, project management and technology as a whole.

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