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4/4/2013
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Salesforce Chatter Roots Out Experts

Salesforce.com adds social intelligence to Chatter with Topics and Expertise graph tools. This sounds a lot like what knowledge management promised to be -- but wasn't.

Last month Salesforce.com added functionality to Chatter on mobile platforms; this month the company is bolstering the platform itself with new social intelligence features -- namely, Chatter Topics and Expertise, which will enable companies to more easily connect with experts and find related resources based on topics of interest.

According to the company, Chatter Topics and Expertise will analyze and categorize structured and unstructured information within the Salesforce.com platform, connecting related experts, files, groups and other information on a single topic page.

This sounds a lot like what knowledge management promised to be -- but wasn't -- decades ago, said Denis Pombriant, managing principal, founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group. "In some ways this announcement seems like the culmination of knowledge management from almost two decades ago," he said. "KM was supposed to enable companies to expose everything that was known either in files or in people's heads, but it had none of the technology needed to get the job done. But this confluence of multiple tools that employ social concepts gets us at least part of the way there."

[ Does your company encourage employees to use social tools? Read 10 Ways To Foster Effective Social Employees. ]

Chatter Topics and Expertise build on users' social and business "graphs," according to Salesforce.com. A graph in the context of social networking is a map of what and who people are interested in, as well as how all of these people and things are connected. Facebook Graph Search is based on this idea as well.

In a statement, Saleforce.com suggested how Topics and Expertise might be used: "For example, a new hire will be able to discover topic pages and groups to help her become productive within a few hours versus days or weeks." The statement continued, "Additionally, any employee will be able to identify and connect with experts in real-time, whether it is a product expert who provides insight into a development roadmap, or an influencer who drives thought leadership. Now, every employee can contribute, discover and connect like never before."

The ability to identify expertise is core to social business applications, and indeed, it's not new for Chatter. Topics and Expertise seem to up the ante, however, by automating some of that connectivity.

This, says Pombriant, illustrates the increasing need -- and growing ability -- for companies to exploit the data present in their people and systems.

"It's no secret that we are rapidly moving from an information paradigm to a knowledge-based one," he said. "That means people don't simply leverage what they know against what someone doesn't know -- a typical arbitrage situation. It does mean that people need to access and consolidate information to synthesize it into knowledge that can help move a company to make better decisions faster. This can't be done by corporate edict; it has to be done at the grassroots level of the organization in all of the decisions people make daily."

How would you rate your organization's ability to connect people with the information they need to do their job -- whether they know they need the information or not? Do you think it's a function of technology? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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