Avoiding Social Silos Within the Enterprise

Social networking has exploded, both for personal use and in the enterprise. As individuals of all ages and geographies become more comfortable with social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, we can only expect the popularity of similar applications for business collaboration to increase. To meet this demand, numerous vendors are adding social networking collaboration functionality to their enterprise application software. For example, Salesforce.com, SAP and Oracle have all recently unveiled new social applications for the enterprise, namely Chatter, Streamwork and Fusion Streams, respectively.

Although based on similar platforms, personal social networks and enterprise social collaboration are differentiated in many ways. One of the key differences is that when you’re chatting with your friends on Blackberry Messenger or planning an event on Facebook, the information you’re sharing is not business critical.  As a result, it doesn’t really matter that BBM and Facebook aren’t integrated—you can simply choose how much, if any, information overlap you’ll deal with from the platforms.

These “social silos” are a much more critical issue in enterprise social collaboration. In the enterprise, individuals use collaboration software to share critical data with colleagues, suppliers and customers, and also to follow business events such as sales orders and shipments. Interacting with data in this manner leads to new developments or better ways to communicate important information quickly and efficiently. For example, a sales VP can customize his Chatter platform to alert him throughout the day when orders over $50,000 are placed. But in order for this to happen, all heterogeneous data in the enterprise needs to be accessible and managed.

This integration is absolutely essential for enterprise-wide collaboration. If the sales department uses Salesforce.com but the shipping and billing is handled by SAP, there will be a fundamental communication breakdown between the finance team, working with Chatter, and the warehouse and distribution teams collaborating with Streamwork. These collaboration tools do not interoperate and consequently, real-time collaboration will be lost and the organization will be forced to revert back to the tried-and-true communication methods of email and/or phone. Without integration, organizations will lose many of the benefits of the tools for real-time collaboration and mobile enablement.

So how do you ensure that your CRM systems, HR management systems, product databases, point of sales systems, etc. are integrated so that relevant data can be seamlessly shared between them? Of course, some strategies are specific to the industry and individual company, but here are a few common challenges:

  • Enable real-time access to events from each source system. The goal of a real-time collaboration platform, like Chatter or Streamwork, is to ultimately leverage real-time communications between personnel and systems seamlessly using the new social collaborative paradigm. When gaps in information exist, these collaboration platforms break down quickly, as they can no longer be relied on as the interface by which all critical information flows. In order to be successful, access to all important real-time events both inside and outside of an organization is critical.
  • Create reusable services that couple related events into units of business logic. When independent real-time events are captured outside of context, the result is often confusing. What is this event in relation to? What is the business logic driving this event? Reusable services have always been a best practice for software. When it comes to integrating data and social silos, these best practices still apply. Social enterprise frameworks can leverage reusable services to more effectively drive processes and deliver contextual information to users.
  • Enable users to quickly define feeds of interest so they are not inundated with non-relevant events. Unwanted information can be worse than no information at all. If the signal to noise ratio of a social enterprise platform leans too heavily on the noise side, the platform no longer becomes viable. Users will quickly abandon the tool or miss critical communication that is buried. The key to solving this problem is allowing users themselves to determine what type of information is important to them. Users who are actively involved in defining this criteria are much more apt to utilize the platform as part of their daily workflow than are those who are not given a say.
  • Leverage enterprise social networks to be a two-way communication vehicle between people and processes. Enterprise social platforms are uniquely positioned as a communications conduit between personnel. This ability can extend to enterprise assets and processes as well. The integration of these processes can go much further than simply using the enterprise platform as an alert mechanism. Business processes can interact with key users via these social platforms interactively. For example, a user may be alerted to an SAP order of interest automatically with the ability to review, approve, or reject the order from within Chatter.

As our world becomes increasingly “social,” we can expect new tools and capabilities to emerge, allowing us to harness the power of social collaboration for the enterprise. In order for these to be successful, organizations need to ensure their data is fully integrated and not housed in separate silos.