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10/31/2012
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SAP Merges Social, Structured Collaboration

SAP Jam "redefines enterprise social software" by combining an enterprise social network with structured collaboration.

Enterprise Social Networks: Must-Have Features Guide
Enterprise Social Networks: Must-Have Features Guide
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Making a more aggressive entry into the enterprise social software market, SAP is rebranding its SuccessFactors Jam social learning and collaboration tool, combining it with elements of its structured collaboration product StreamWork, and embedding Jam functionality in products including the on-premises version of SAP CRM.

Until now, the virtues of enterprise social networking have been more loudly proclaimed by others, including IBM, Jive Software and Yammer (now part of Microsoft). However, none has a solid grip on the market, mostly because this software category as a whole has yet to prove its business value, said Sameer Patel, SAP's general manager and global VP of enterprise social and collaborative software. "There's a whole slew of companies globally that have just not warmed up to this concept of social," he said. "They have not seen a direct connection with the performance objectives they have and why [adding] a blog and a wiki is going to make anything better."

SAP's approach is different, "putting the business back in social business, focusing on the process side of stuff," Patel said. SAP is not the only one that emphasizes embedding social collaboration in work processes. However, Patel argued SAP has gone farther in mapping out specific business processes that can be accelerated by social collaboration, while also providing for more structured forms of collaboration when comments in a news feed are not enough.

For example, if the social discussion revolves around the decision of whether to create a new product, ideas and arguments can be organized around a meeting agenda, a pro/con table of the advantages and disadvantages, and other tools that add structure to the decision-making process, Patel said. "The universal solution to every problem is not a forum or a feed," he said.

[ A wider social circle: Why Internal Social Networks Are Not Enough. ]

In a webcast for the announcement Wednesday, SAP provided only general guidance on pricing and packaging, with representatives saying the details are not final. In addition to the free version of Jam, which will continue to be supported, there will be two premium editions -- one with additional features such as storage and a second with greater process management capabilities.

The structured collaboration elements, which initially appeared in StreamWork, have been re-implemented with Jam as the foundation. Lars Dalgaard, the former SuccessFactors CEO who became an SAP executive board member when his company was acquired, said this is the latest step in a progression that started when his company began its first social intranet experiments then acquired CubeTree for its document collaboration technology and JamBok for its social learning and video collaboration capabilities. SAP had also begun adding social features to various applications, but now "we've consolidated all of our social aspects into the same engine," he said.

SAP Jam will be an element of SAP's cloud strategy, integrated with SuccessFactors BizX, SAP Financials OnDemand and SAP Sales OnDemand, but will also be linked to on-premises products, starting with SAP CRM. These integrations will trickle out over the next few months as part of updates to Jam and these other products. As SAP adds social features to other applications in its business suite, whether on premises or in the cloud, Jam will provide the social layer for all of them, Patel said.

Reflecting the origin of Jam within SuccessFactors, with its focus on employee performance, some of the most fleshed out examples of social business processes that SAP can demo today are for training or processes like employee onboarding. When a new employee is hired, the system is smart enough to automatically have that person assigned to follow updates from a supervisor and suggest connections with peers who hold the same or similar titles. Similarly, it can suggest interest groups on the social network for the new hire to join; and in the demo scenario, an administrator had configured the system to automatically assign new people to an employee success interest group. The idea is that after completing these initial steps, the new employee enters a social environment that is already populated with relevant content and connections.

Patel said this same functionality is available whether an organization uses SuccessFactors or a competing human capital management software product. Jam will also support common business scenarios associated with the sales process for use with SAP CRM or Sales On Demand. A demo of Sales On Demand showed how the integration goes beyond embedding streams of commentary and links in the screen for a sales opportunity, allowing the user to perform actions like creating a group associated with that activity, automatically assigning individuals associated with the account to that group and embedding structured data from the application within the social environment.

In addition, the Finance On Demand integration is exciting because "you would not think social or collaboration matters for that function, but it actually does," for processes like deciding whether or not to approve a questionable invoice or pulling together the right team of people to produce a sales forecast, Patel said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and facebook.com/thebyard

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