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10/30/2012
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Why Internal Social Networks Are Not Enough

CIOs must extend their internal social networks to business partners and contractors, Forrester says. But that model is still uncharted territory for most.

Enterprise Social Networks: Must-Have Features Guide
Enterprise Social Networks: Must-Have Features Guide
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Internal social networks are opening up new forms of collaboration for many organizations, but the operative word here is "internal." Companies talk about extending their social networks to business partners and contractors, but that model is still uncharted territory for most. A recent report from Forrester offers an interesting take on how the cloud might help support the transition from intrasocial to intersocial business collaboration.

In his report "Business Networks Will Push The Cloud Beyond IT," author Stefan Ried posits that cloud computing will fuel a "quantum leap" in business innovation by effecting multitenant collaboration among business partners.

Isn't the cloud being widely -- and successfully -- used today? Yes, but so far, according to Ried, the cloud has been focused on the delivery and consumption of computing resources and not on underlying business models. "Although today's CIOs value the flexibility and opex consumption model of cloud-based IT, multitenant computing architectures have really only contributed value in terms of IT operations and cost reduction," said Ried in the report.

What most CIOs are not doing, according to the report, which Ried wrote with Pascal Matzke and Michael Yamnitsky, is leveraging cloud technology to stimulate innovation in their core business.

The way to do this, say the report authors, is to build business networks. Forrester defines business networks like so:

Business networks enable business partners that exchange goods and money to collaborate and share data in real time on a single cloud platform based on trust relationship models rather than by mapping and exchanging B2B data. Business networks seamlessly span multiple business partners' systems of engagement and systems of record and can be potentially federated or combined with traditional integration or collaboration approaches for business partners that do not operate their core business on the same business network platform.

These trust relationship models are key to the business network model and seem to be what differentiate "business networks" from existing B2B collaboration frameworks. Ried acknowledges there will be concerns. "At first, the concept of collaborative tenancy, with multiple enterprises working on the same structured or unstructured data or the same business process instance, might sound unrealistic and theoretical," he wrote.

However, he added, there are several factors driving the evolution toward collaborative tenancy, including: Companies are starting to see the value of sharing data and processes; global trading relationships have increased trust between business partners; and cloud platforms consolidate faster and are more open than on-premise solutions.

Ried predicts that business networks as he has described them will emerge in the next five to 10 years. He also contends that paving the way for these networks should be an imperative for CIOs.

"While many CIOs still believe that the cloud competes with their own on-premises IT operations," he said in the report, "they should instead start to focus on the unique value of bringing cloud technology innovations into the business context of their industry and enterprise." Is your company looking to extend collaboration beyond its figurative four walls? Would a cloud model work? Please let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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