Enterprise Social Networks: 4 Pillars - InformationWeek

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Enterprise Social Networks: 4 Pillars

Success starts and ends with integration. Here's how to finally make collaboration click.

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Twenty-three years ago, I saw a glimpse of the future. Chase Manhattan Bank's London office had launched an ambitious plan to improve collaboration among its senior loan teams. IT was rolling out a system that essentially removed paper from workflows and allowed direct collaboration with the New York office. This setup had it all -- employee directory, open wiki, robust search, integrated email and calendars, and a killer workflow. It was the very definition of an enterprise social platform, before that term was widely used. I was hooked. I thought surely it would be a home run and make 1991 "the year of enterprise social."

The product was Lotus Notes 2.0. I'm still waiting.

Enterprise social networking is the Chicago Cubs of technology -- always an also-ran and a perennial disappointment for its fans. Not that I'm bitter.

So what happened? Lotus was far ahead of the pack back in 1991, but WordPerfect/Novell, message boards, and mainframe and midrange collaboration systems were all in the hunt. They were Web 1.0 before there was a Web. Email didn't extend beyond the enterprise back then, and the first HTTP website went live that year, in December. And social? Mark Zuckerberg was 7.

The short answer is that the Web killed the original enterprise social vision, as I'll explain. Nevertheless, most IT organizations still are stuck trying to implement that old, tired dream, like a die-hard Cubbies fan insisting that this will be the year.

Enterprise social has sputtered because it has been overshadowed the last decade by three much more dominant communication options: websites, public social networking, and email. These three remain indispensable channels for how we interact globally, so any enterprise social initiative -- if it hopes to succeed -- must seamlessly integrate with the Web, your email system, and outside social networks. We're not talking about simply forwarding email notices. We mean tight, clean, two-way integration among these four pillars of collaboration, replete with single sign-on, integrated document exchanges, a unified directory, and true unified communications.

The basic goal of enterprise social is almost universally agreed on and dead simple: to help employees work more efficiently. The means to do so is enabling more collaboration and easier access to relevant data and people.

This improved efficiency is an impossible dream unless you fully integrate your social platform with the three most prevalent digital collaboration methods. That level of integration will challenge your development, data, and security teams while forcing much-needed discussions around responsibility for data. If you want enterprise social to succeed, there's no shortcut around the hard discussions and the hard work. Here are specific steps to integrate with the big three: websites, email, and social networks.

Website integration

Website integration is the elephant in the enterprise social networking room. Why do companies keep content management systems (CMS) and Web systems for customer-facing collaboration completely separate from their internal tools?

Our InformationWeek 2014 Digital Business Survey shows that 67% of organizations with 1,000 or more employees and a digital strategy have six or more public-facing websites, with a whopping 25% having more than 50. Whether business-to-business or business-to-consumer, and regardless of industry, e-commerce is one of the few consistent revenue drivers, and that growth has come from Web-centric systems.

Given the strategic business value of these e-commerce and other customer-facing website systems, wouldn't you assume they would be systematically designed to integrate with in-house enterprise social networks? Guess again. In almost every instance, "internal" and "external" systems are siloed. They have different logins, discrete conversation and support streams, and duplicative content. Worse still, the public-facing system has likely received ample funding over the past few years, while the internal platform has been starved.

Blame marketing. While it's technically not its fault, it's a symptom of the "compartmentalized view" of technology implementation that has existed for years. Web presence? That's the same as catalogues, billboards, and ads, so it belongs to marketing. Internal collaboration and productivity? Line-of-business execs and HR decide on that. Flow between the systems simply wasn't a big part of the discussions.

Look at the difference in the platforms in use. IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft all sell options for Web and internal systems. These internal systems are not exclusively designed for internal use, since they can integrate with public sites. Take SharePoint, for example. It has always had a large share of internal social initiatives, but its public website use is just 1.1%, as revealed by a Datanyze analysis of the CMS used for the top 30,000 websites as ranked by Alexa.

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Mike Healey is the president of Yeoman Technology Group, an engineering and research firm focusing on maximizing technology investments for organizations, and an InformationWeek contributor. He has more than 25 years of experience in technology integration and business ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Strategist
9/24/2014 | 12:29:39 PM
RE: Enterprise Social Networks - 4 Pillars
If any business wants to implement a successful enterprise social strategy, integrating websites, email, and social networks is imperative. CRM* is an essential aspect of enterprise social network and an important part of social selling. Great post. Thanks for sharing.


*Customer relationship management (CRM) is a system for managing a company's interactions with current and future customers
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
9/22/2014 | 6:50:42 PM
Elusive potential
Great summary of key obstacles such as email integration and strategies for countering them. I remain a believer in the potential of enterprise social (see Social Collaboration for Dummies) and suspect the technical barriers pale in comparison to organizing thinking of course social technology ought to be easy to work with - and ought to win instant adoption.

Successful users of social collaboration are out there, but they tend to work at it a little harder and more purposefully.

I think of the sales manager who told his employees to stop emailing him their reports and instead post them on Chatter where their colleagues could see how the most successful among them were closing deals and discuss how to overcome objections and appeal to different customers. A business plan for the use of social collaboration technology makes all the difference, particularly if it delivers results.
User Rank: Author
9/19/2014 | 10:43:47 AM
Re: Ouch
You heard it here: Don't let your enterprise social plan get mathematically eliminated.
User Rank: Moderator
9/18/2014 | 7:42:33 PM
Re: Ouch
Lotus was definitely ahead of its time. I think the socialization of technology and communication has been the biggest difference today.  Back then you couldn't even get folks to understand email, let alone collaborating on a proposal or document without being in the same room. 

Enterprise Social can make it back, so can the Cubs....

User Rank: Author
9/18/2014 | 5:16:07 PM
Lotus Notes and Chicago Cubs references that close together? You're killing me, Mike. Seriously, Notes had the idea. But at the time, customers thought it was complicated for collaboration.
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