Make it easier for knowledge workers to do their jobs, and you're in for the long haul.
For the third year in a row, collaboration initiatives and social networking technologies will receive an increased percentage of IT budgets, according to Enterprise Strategy Group research.
While that finding in and of itself isn't all that surprising, peeling back the covers to see what it means just might be.
The social enterprise isn't just about supporting your marketing department's never-ending need to Tweet. Nor is it just about your sales or support groups wondering what's being said about your company's products and services.
The social enterprise is both much simpler and, at the same time, much more profound.
"Social" should be considered a consumption method. It is or will be the way your users consume your applications/data/services. They will learn socially. They will communicate socially. They will work socially.
Let's start with some basics. If yours is a big IT shop, you probably got your customer-relationship management (CRM) hands dirty with Siebel. You spent a few hundred million or a billion dollars on over-designed software that required PhDs to configure and operate. The software was far too complex to be useful to the salespeople and other knowledge workers who would have benefited from it.
Then Salesforce.com came along and put up all the CRM services you needed in 30 minutes (on their floor) and gave you a browser interface that let all of your knowledge workers start to benefit immediately. They customized it. Low and behold, the sales and marketing teams actually started using it.
Then along came Chatter, the social enterprise mechanism within Salesforce.com. Now, instead of a marketing admin hunting for customer information in a vacuum, the entire organization is able to see and use data--ask and answer questions, debate, theorize, and act on issues--in near real time. Chatter lets knowledge workers socialize on a data point, an event, a deal, a process, a meeting, and countless other things. Social takes a good tool in the hands of a few and makes it a great tool in the hands of everyone.
When SAP wanted to create the same phenomenon for users of its Business Objects business intelligence tools, it formed a partnership with enterprise social software company Jive. When asked why it did that integration deal, Jive said:
With SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand delivered as part of the Jive SBS platform, Jive customers will be able to share, discuss, and collaborate around business data more effectively, enabling smarter decision-making by a larger number of business users. Rather than relying on a handful of analysts to produce static charts that end up buried in presentations, Jive customers will gain broad access to highly customizable and interactive reports, along with the unique ability to share, discuss, and collaborate around this information.
Adding social capabilities to software platforms your company has already invested in (SAP, Salesforce.com, etc.) can extend those platforms to more people. Unlike the early days of SAP (and others), it's not about forcing the organization to bend to the demands of the application to reap the value. It's about giving people data and tools they're comfortable with and letting them figure things out from there.
They bring with them certain expectations. They expect a rich communications experience. They expect mobility and device choice. They expect that the social networking environment that they grew up with will translate into the workplace. They are creating the same pressure to transform the way we do business as previous generations did with the World Wide Web and e-mail. I see a lot of companies really grappling with how to accommodate these newer workers without alienating older ones. It also requires a shift in the mindset of managers who may not be as comfortable with social tools themselves.
It's funny to think that what we've been doing in IT organizations is automating the tasks of a 1982 knowledge worker. We have "folders" to keep our "documents" in. They even look like manila folders. The new generation doesn't think like that. What's a document? A mashup? You need information, you grab it from a Tweet stream, a blog, or some Web page.
The next generation of IT people won't think like that either. They're the ones saying: "We can get rid of five people and a pile of hardware if we just stuff this onto the cloud." They don't have the same fears. They don't share the same values. That doesn't mean they're not right, however.
The bigger truth is that the social enterprise, if nothing else, is your way to job security. Make what you have work better--for more people--and you create more value. It's as simple as that. You can fight it, but it's a fight you can't win. Or you can embrace it, and join the next generation of IT thought leaders.
Steve Duplessie is the founder and senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, a leading independent authority on enterprise storage, analytics, and a range of other business technology interests.
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