Socializing Software

October 8, 2010
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Transforming business to a networked environment is mostly about changing business culture to become more social and connected but it doesn’t mean that specific tools aren’t needed to support that transformation. Two things come together to create great change, technology and culture. The social web is a driving force that is empowering people to change business culture and forcing people back to the center of activity in the enterprise.

Transforming business to a networked environment is mostly about changing business culture to become more social and connected but it doesn’t mean that specific tools aren’t needed to support that transformation. Two things come together to create great change, technology and culture. The social web is a driving force that is empowering people to change business culture and forcing people back to the center of activity in the enterprise.

To create a next generation enterprise, businesses need to take two concepts from the social web and apply them across all business functions, community / network and content / social media. There’s more to it than this simple statement of course, but fundamentally that’s the approach. Traditional enterprise software was built on the concept of managing through rigid business processes and controlled workflow. With process at the center of the design people-based collaboration was not possible in the system, instead the focus was on file-centric activities. Process, file-centricity, workflow driven systems are too rigid and are not focused on the activities that a networked business in the information era needs to carry out business in a flexible and ad hoc global hyper-connected ecosystem. A new type of software designed around people instead of process is emerging. Today businesses are facing difficult and often competing issues with enterprise systems and the newer emerging social software tools. Rationalizing both in a business IT environment that is increasingly choosing to stretch out the usable life of currently installed systems rather than upgrade or implement more modern software at the business core, while implementing / adding new modules to get needed new functionality is a real challenge. Adding social features, platforms or applications to what Netsuite CEO Zach Nelson likes to call the “enterprise hairball” is essential for competitive advantage, continued innovation and frankly to provide secure, enterprise scalable alternatives to consumer web tools that employees are already using to work around the lack of effective enterprise tools.

So how do we move to socialized enterprise software, and what is it anyway? Vendors are coming at this issue from a few different directions. Start-ups, without the baggage of current systems to modernize are generally building social platforms and / or social applications that can add needed functionality to the enterprise on top of existing systems, integrating when possible / necessary to the legacy enterprise apps. As you might expect these systems are modern, and functionally rich but have the inherent difficulty of not fitting into the context of other enterprise systems. They generally make the worker step out of the enterprise software to do the desired social activity. Traditional vendors have started down the path of adding new social functionality by building or buying some specific social software that is in addition to existing systems but mostly to date have missed the opportunity to embed the social features in the existing apps themselves. This is changing though as the social business movement gains momentum and these vendors start to see the demand for this type of functionality. This idea of embedding the social functionality into the enterprise is essential over time, even if today the only way to get useful tools is to add the software on top of enterprise systems. Let’s look at a mind map of what socialized enterprise software needs to incorporate:

The underlying architecture should be built on open standards and use current SOA technology to enable integration and broader system compatibility. The social foundations are really table stakes for social applications, necessary to enable the use of communities and content in building social business activities. Collaboration, that is people-centric collaboration is not an afterthought for social business software, it’s core functionality. Collaboration must allow real time and asynchronous communication, it must be context aware and support the need for forming ad hoc teams as necessary to deal in a flexible business environment. Teams also need a flexible definition, the days of firewall limited collaboration are over; partners, suppliers and even customers are members of the enterprise workforce and are essential for co-innovation. I’ve written quite a bit on socialytics so I won’t rehash that all in this post but there are a couple of key thoughts I’ll reinforce. Socialytics need to be embedded into enterprise software, just like collaboration and the most valuable use will often be at the intersection of enterprise data and social data. More and more socialytics will move from reactive analysis to predictive analysis as the tools get more powerful and we learn more on analyzing behavioral patterns and interactions. You will notice the mention of activity streams as well. I believe that in the short term activity streams can provide a new user experience across the top of existing enterprise software and will eventually be the UX of choice for many business activities.

If you take these basic principles and apply them to a specific software category what might that look like? I should add before we look at social CRM that I believe that the days of silo’ed enterprise software applications is also numbered. It’s getting much more difficult to talk about CRM without talking about product design software, or collaboration or… at some point the software has to flow together and provide integrated activities for getting work done, do we care that it’s CRM or PLM? Anyway, here’s a mind map of some system additions you might see on top of existing CRM functionality for SCRM:

I want to say this again, SCRM is built on top of existing CRM functionality, if you can’t do transactional CRM, you can’t do social CRM. I’m sure there are a lot of additional functions that could be added to the above, I’m just trying to show an example. You will notice some common additions across all functions, like embedded collaboration and communication channel optimization. This goes directly to the point that in many social functions one of the underlying keys is enabling conversations when, where and how the customer, partner, supplier and employee chooses, not in a rigid system that is defined by the business. We still have a long way to go to get to this point in enterprise software, but with the increasing demand from customers for enabling technology the availability of these tools should increase quickly.