Social is becoming embedded into applications and business processes. Soon it will cease to be a category.
It wasn't long ago that companies such as Jive and Yammer were proclaiming the era of the social enterprise. Knowledge workers no longer would be slaves to email. The best parts of social media would find their way to the workplace (sans photos of drunken friends). Knowledge and data would be found and shared with ease. Communication would be neither push nor pull but one or the other in the most appropriate times.
And indeed the social enterprise has shown its worth. Insurance giant Allstate's 10-day innovation blitzes spring to mind: Practical applications of internal crowdsourcing and collaboration techniques to inspire new business ideas have become part of Allstate's culture. In vertical industries like education, social collaboration solutions like Edmodo are re-writing how teachers and students interact and learn.
The question now isn't whether such tangible results, or even less lofty ones, are worth pursuing. They are. The challenge now is how to wire social constructs into all business practices. Soon enough, social business will simply be business as usual.
The technologies and platforms are still important, and will become more so, but companies will harness their power more in the context of business tasks and within "non-social" applications.
[ Join us at the E2 Conference in Boston, June 17 - 19, where we will feature discussions like this in our conference tracks and on our keynote stage, including some of the companies discussed here. ]
Adam Pisoni, Yammer's co-founder and now the general manager of engineering in Microsoft's Office division, talks about a future filled with context. "Social feeds are just a user interface," Pisoni says, emphasizing that social messages are encoded with information such as location, conversation participants, roles and other data often derived from mobile (and, in the future, wearable) devices. That infusion of informational structure and relevance is changing the potential of social interaction. Business users connect not for the sake of conversation (being social), but to complete a task, share knowledge and discover opportunity -- doing so with context is far more efficient and effective. Marketing opportunities might be more ripe for exploitation when, say, location and weather data are factored in, for example. (Pisoni will be part of the E2 keynote lineup, and we'll cover that ground.)
Yammer competitor Jive, another early social business leader, finished its most recent fiscal quarter with 33% year-over-year revenue growth, including strong customer renewal numbers. The vendor's latest product reflects its work on partnerships: integrations with Box.com and Salesforce.com -- to drive specific business outcomes, around shared documents and projects, or sales opportunities, for example. Jive's goal is to make other business processes work better within Jive, to make it a hub of communications to simply "get work done," a company spokeswoman says.
Salesforce is the most visible driver of social business in the context of an enterprise application, making Chatter a core service of its cloud-based CRM offering. Now, having hammered home the social enterprise message, CEO Marc Benioff is talking more about customer-centricity, where other data points, such as location awareness and identity management (read: more context), are important. "All of these things are taking us to a customer revolution, and it's the next logical step for our industry," Benioff said at a recent gathering in New York.
Just last week, Salesforce announced Communities, which brings the notion of context full circle. Collaboration systems, Salesforce says, are "disconnected from the business."
Alex Dayon, Salesforce.com's president of applications and platforms, says: "The next generation of enterprise apps are social with business data embedded at the core and accessible from any device." The goal is to deliver more data with more context to more constituents (in its case, communities of sales and marketing partners).
Workday CTO Stan Swete talks about integrating social platforms and social techniques with Workday objects. For example, Workday's HR suite features built-in commenting and exposes shared professional experiences among workers. (Swete will be a featured keynote speaker at the E2 Conference.)
Kenandy, another emerging leader in cloud-based ERP (manufacturing and financial applications), is built on Salesforce's Force.com platform, and it's decidedly social. A manufacturing company can create a purchase order, find out if the supplier has parts via Chatter and embed that interaction into the context of the purchase order. "Social in the context of doing business," is how a Kenandy spokesman phrases it. Sound familiar?
Enterprise application vendor Infor last month rolled out Infor Ming.le, a collaboration feature where users can follow not just people but KPIs, data, documents and workflows. One customer Infor cited is using the technology internally and with partners, in the context of inventory lookups, so that information about part availability, approvals and other communication is all accessible in one place.
Naturally, the pure plays such as Jive and Yammer see social interactions through the lens of a platform, whereas application vendors see that interaction through their own application viewfinders. Either way, the implicit message is that context and relevance (and, yes, Salesforce, the customer) will drive the true value of social business.