Enterprise Social Networks Need Open Standards

True interoperability is the key to unlocking the potential of collaboration to make work more efficient.

Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

June 15, 2012

4 Min Read

The takeaway here: Social networks are a natural and highly effective place for our work to be accomplished. But doing so requires wider integration of business applications based on open standards, such that application providers can easily offer their software in formats like OpenSocial.

This all certainly sounds theoretically promising, but is it going to become reality? This is where the gap between the consumer world and the enterprise shows itself again: While enterprise social software increasingly supports this vision, there isn't a always dramatic pull for this from IT or the business, despite recent realizations from some early adopters that lack of integration is a major business issue.

The reasons for today's (relatively low) demand curve for enterprise social apps are challenging to divine, and not just because the technique is popular in the consumer world: Facebook is becoming the center of attention for much of our lives; certainly it's the most used service online today of any kind. It also already allows others to see what we do across the Web and in other apps, right from their activity streams, whether that's likes, comments, or Open Graph actions. In other words, what's described here is already reality, except for at work.

The growing consumerization of the world is part of the problem too. This is where new concepts invented and validated in scale on the Web eventually make their way, often awkwardly, into the workplace. Consequently, just like social media itself, there's good chance--and as we'll see, a real need--for social applications to make their way into the enterprise too. Vendors of enterprise social networks, anticipating this, have begun to enable social integration with the rest of the world. Most major enterprise social networking vendors (notably excluding Microsoft) now support OpenSocial. In short, OpenSocial is almost certainly coming to your organization and is perhaps there now, waiting for you to be ready.

To see integrated social applications working in a mature way, probably the most compelling realization of this vision (that is connecting our systems of record with our systems of engagement) comes today from Jive Software. Their Jive !App Experiences, combined with a ready app store of social applications, provides exactly this capability with a ready set of apps and an effective user experience.

Particularly compelling is their inline "!" notation, which allows users to type an exclamation point in their activity streams as they work and choose a relevant app from a pop-up menu. The resulting application experience and the data associated with it is instantly embedded in the document, discussion, status update, or blog post, for coworkers to see, discuss, and otherwise work with. The data itself is integrated back into the system of record, eliminating duplicate data and always showing the latest version.

From this, we see can how the increasingly integrated world of the social Web can be moved into the enterprise.

Below, you can see a video of this capability in action on the Jive platform and get a sense of how social networks can form an effective point of integration for the enterprise:

In this social networking-centric view of work, organizations can provide users with a catalog of applications that are already integrated in their local social environment. IT departments can also wrap their own apps in OpenSocial to make them fully interoperable socially.

While Jive Software almost certainly has the most evolved and complete social application ecosystem and capabilities right now, most of the other major providers including IBM, Confluence, and Tibbr are busy catching up. For organizations that understand this is a key way to unleash the value of social networks, we now have a emerging crop of social business platforms that can realize this vision with varying degrees of sophistication.

But the key to strategic value is this: Businesses have to understand that unification of traditional IT and social is now not just possible but reasonably straightforward and desirable. Such deep, yet lightweight, connections between our underlying systems solve many long-standing problems in enterprise information management and integration. It's also, as I mentioned above, something that practitioners in the enterprise are starting to realize is essential for social networks to be more than shiny but sometimes impractical novelties off to the sides of their organization. Instead, they can become the very center of work and where things get done and done best.

New apps promise to inject social features across entire workflows, raising new problems for IT. In the new, all-digital Social Networking issue of InformationWeek, find out how companies are making social networking part of the way their employees work. Also in this issue: How to better manage your video data. (Free with registration.)

About the Author(s)

Dion Hinchcliffe


Dion Hinchcliffe is a business strategist, enterprise architect, frequent keynote speaker, book author, blogger, and industry analyst who works with business and technical leaders in large companies to apply emerging technology to drive digital transformation and growth. He is most recently co-author of Social Business By Design from John Wiley & Sons (2012) and has personally led large-scale social business and smart mobility strategy initiatives for Fortune 500 and Global 2000 firms on three continents.

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