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5/15/2012
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SAP Plays Social Collaboration Game By Own Rules

SAP doesn't think it needs to beat the likes of Jive Software to win in social collaboration.

Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Are companies like Jive Software playing checkers while SAP is playing chess?

SAP hasn't necessarily set up its StreamWork product as a competitor to Jive's social collaboration software. SAP is actually a customer of Jive, albeit for the software that powers the SAP community website rather than for internal collaboration. However, in terms of getting work done inside an organization, SAP says it is playing a whole different game.

"We're in the second inning of social software," said Sameer Patel, global VP and general manager, enterprise social and collaborative software at SAP, in an interview at SAP's Sapphire user conference in Orlando. Patel was formerly a partner in the social collaboration consultancy the Sovos Group and has been a longtime participant in UBM's Enterprise 2.0 conference series.

Six years after the rise of the Enterprise 2.0 concept, organizations are still struggling to achieve the kind of "natural adoption" that social business advocates keep telling us is right around the corner, Patel said. Compared with technologies like CRM, which have become pervasive, the adoption of social software is "a fraction," he said.

Software platforms for connecting people with other people "have gotten that right, for the most part," but what's needed is a tighter connection with business processes--particularly the parts of those processes that don't fit neatly into other applications, Patel said. Although applications for CRM or supply chain and procurement are widely employed, they don't necessarily cover the entire process they aim to facilitate. Salespeople and procurement specialists still spend a large part of their day working with email or exchanging documents to fill in the cracks and manage the exceptions, he said.

[ Learn more about SAP's social strategies. See NetBase Adds Social Engagement, Starting With SAP CRM. ]

What's going to make "the next generation of useful social collaboration" different is that it will fit better "in the context of work," he said. Instead of social collaboration existing as a separate tab, workers will keep it open in their Web browsers, as it needs to be available from within all the other applications where it can be useful, Patel said.

That's where StreamWork aims to fit. For example, the current version of SAP CRM makes StreamWork collaboration available as a pane within the window for viewing a customer record. You need to buy StreamWork licenses to turn that on, but it's there waiting for you, already integrated, according to Holly Simmons, senior director of marketing for SAP's cloud collaboration and analytics products.

SAP has a natural advantage in social integration with business processes because it offers such a broad suite of enterprise applications used in so many large companies, Patel said. "The best the other players can say is that they have an API," he said.

Patel said integrations with SAP's software and cloud applications will work to the extent that they are perceived as making the underlying applications better--for example, by providing "better BI" when employees have a social mechanism for commenting on reports or questioning the validity of numbers--rather than "jamming a microblogging feature into an app."

SAP has also added another social collaboration tool, SuccessFactors Jam, featured in the Sapphire conference keynote Tuesday from Lars Dalgaard, founder and CEO of SuccessFactors and now leader of SAP's cloud initiatives. SAP announced the acquisition of SuccessFactors in December. Jam originated as a collaboration tool aimed for online training, but it has potential to emerge as a general-purpose collaboration in the cloud platform like Salesforce.com Chatter.

Patel said SAP plans to "decouple the identity layer" of these applications to make it easier to work with several applications that have social features without creating multiple social identities.

SAP's vision for StreamWork in some way mirrors the social workflow of Sparqlight and other applications that aim to reinvent work or project management according to social software rules. Patel said he would not consider StreamWork a workflow product because it does not try to confine collaboration to a predefined, structured process.

"It has an ad hoc nature. In many structured processes, it becomes necessary to get out of the structure and then push an answer back into the structured process," Patel said. In other words, compared with traditional workflows, StreamWork collaboration is user-defined.

StreamWork also is an open platform that can provide feeds into other social collaboration products. The StreamWork user interface can also embed other applications within a collaboration process, taking advantage of the OpenSocial specification, Simmons said. One she demonstrated as part of a social conversation was CollabDraw MindWave mind mapping software.

"We don't necessarily have to own the whole market" to be successful, Simmons said. Yet StreamWork will ultimately gain the upper hand by positioning itself at the center of business processes, she said. "Companies will invest where they get the most value.

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

The Enterprise 2.0 Conference brings together industry thought leaders to explore the latest innovations in enterprise social software, analytics, and big data tools and technologies. Learn how your business can harness these tools to improve internal business processes and create operational efficiencies. It happens in Boston, June 18-21. Register today!

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