Two significant and closely related trends in enterprise computing this year are the growth of Software-as-a-service (SaaS) and social computing. By most accounts, both are gaining ground quite rapidly while still not being used for core business functions or mission critical applications in most large firms, at least not yet.
The reality is that broader social and cloud computing trends continue to evolve faster than most enterprises are able to absorb. It may be years before many organizations are comfortable with and ready to adopt either of these technologies strategically despite apparent benefits.
However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not important for organizations to closely track both of these leading computing trends (both have solid double digit industry growth) and understand the emergi
ng technologies that are likely to shape their use in key business functions in the near future. In fact, quite the contrary, particularly when it comes to Enterprise 2.0.
The potential overall impact of enterprise social computing (aka Enterprise 2.0) is significant for most organizations, at least in the medium term. The business functions that are likely to be affected and transformed by these new social business models (and its associated delivery model, SaaS) includes general purpose communication and collaboration, product development, customer relationship management,marketing, operations, and business productivity solutions. And certainly, ad hoc use and early adopters have already being doing this for years, but as we’ll see, many Enterprise 2.0 technologies are only now becoming a reality. What then, are the areas to watch and build competency in this year?
Keeping social technology in perspective
In terms of innovation, 2010 is shaping up to be another important one in the early development of social technologies in general. To get a sense of this, you can read my recent exploration of what’s happening this year with the latest consumer-oriented Social Web technologies and standards. Though the enterprise aspects of these are often far behind, that hasn’t stopped the industry from moving quickly ahead in terms of creating actual products and new business-ready solutions based on the latest lessons learned.
For organizations looking to keep current, both good timing and judicious application of new Enterprise 2.0 technologies will be needed as organizations increasingly look at their future in terms of a social computing driven knowledge economy. To do this though, we have to put them in the context of the big picture.
When I encounter a successful E2.0 project, it’s one where the process of managing the changes entailed are equally balanced with the savvy application of technology. It’s the concepts behind social computing and their application to economic activity, aka social business, that are the ultimately driver of success with Enterprise 2.0. A full solution is achieved when these ideas combine well with the technology — which is an enabler and not an end in itself — though it is important not to forget that technology does strongly shape and define the art of the possible when it comes to social computing, both in the consumer space and the enterprise.
However I still encounter tool myopia in many discussions of social computing and Enterprise 2.0. It’s sometimes too easy to focus on the specifics, like social tools and their technologies, instead of more difficult and less tangible concerns like driving usage or measuring ROI. Fortunately, this seems less pronounced than a year ago and the “soft” issues surrounding adoption and long-term success, such as community management and other important practices are now getting their due on equal footing with the often flashier and attention-grabbing social tools and technologies themselves.
Now, on to the latest developments…
Ten strategic technologies for enterprise social computing
Below are ten social computing technologies that I believe will be actively developing or maturing this year and either worth exploring or otherwise watching closely for 2010 and beyond. Note that many of these technologies are not based on standards or for which standards often don’t exist, which will be problematic for some organizations. Many of the technologies listed here are primarily embodied in new product categories and for now are represented primarily by commercial products. It likely won’t be long, however, before open source and open standards enter and play an instrumental role in many of these spaces.
- Community management tools. One of the signature realizations of the Enterprise 2.0 community in the last year and a half has been theimportance of community management in driving the success of the endeavor. Now, you don’t necessarily need tools to successfully manage an online community, but it can genuinely helps in terms of acquiring good practices as well as automating and scaling the many routine tasks that already harried and frequently overworked community managers are faced with today. The latter is because many enterprises are still learning about social computing requirements and are frequently under-budgeting this essential role. Commercial software is the norm in this space and some of the top solutions include Rollstream, eModeration, Tempero, and Essentia.
- Open identity. There are many issues swirling around enterprise identity and consumer Web identity at the moment. I’ve postulated in the past that OpenID will actually become a viable vehicle for enterprises to create a single sign-on across the Web for their workers, giving them centralized administration and control of worker identity on the Web and social media (as appropriate), especially in B2B scenarios. But is this actually starting to happen despite folks from large software companies like SAP making the business case? No, not yet, and enterprises are as much as fault as anyone for not demanding better identity integration. Instead, off-premises SaaS and cloud computing offerings are offering basic synchronization with LDAP and other corporate identity repositories. Also becoming more and more important is identity authenticity (which Twitter tried to address with Verified Accounts). Watch for a raft of social identity issues to accumulate and for new enterprise open identity solutions to attempt to address them as our identities on the Social Web increasingly compete and conflict with our enterprise identities.
- Microblogging. While wikis have been one of the more common Enterprise 2.0 tools, more popular than blogs by quite a bit from my experience, microblogs are now seen as potentially achieving a higher level of overall traction than both their heavier-weight brethren. There’s a lot to like about microblogs in business settings, along with the valuable activity streams that they generate. Gartner went on record recently saying that they believe integrated microblogging will be in 50% of enterprises in two years, though they are much less sanguine about individual, standalone microblogs. I did a detailed round-up of the space a little while back and came away with the finding that microblogs do make enterprise social media both time efficient and focused while still preserving most or all of what makes Enterprise 2.0 special.
- Social CRM. Applying social computing approaches to customer relationship management is getting quite a bit of attention these days. Services such as GetSatisfaction, Helpstream, Lithium, and many others are aimed at helping enterprises engage with their customers using social tools in new and innovative ways that can reduce support costs and improve customer satisfaction. Along the way Social CRM is also changing the very nature of the relationship that businesses have with their customers and the marketplace, from customer support or contact management processes like they exist today, to one that is more like a long-term partnership of contributing equals. Like so many Enterprise 2.0 subject areas, the big vendors haven’t really arrived in force in this domain and many firms are just opting to use tools like Twitter and Facebook for now to engage with customers while the technologies and products mature. But make no mistake, this space is approaching prime time after a couple of strong years of development and growth.
- Enterprise platforms gaining a social layer. As we’re seeing withMicrosoft SharePoint and with Salesforce Chatter, enterprise software vendors are starting to incorporate social computing features within their products at the platform level. This has a number of advantages including providing a consistent, integrated social experience in and across existing apps, unifying security and identity, and so on. For many scenarios, close integration can be more useful than standaloneEnterprise 2.0 products which might not be as connected to actual business activities. However there are disadvantages too, in that there’s often little choice in such models in terms of picking and choosing best-of-breed social capabilities. But the stage is set and social features are increasingly perceived as standard fare in modern software. Expect most large software vendors to have Enterprise 2.0 features of some kind across their products lines in the next year or two at most, which will lead to a discussion of the advent of social operating systems. For now, open source is not a real player in this space, but will likely be in the future.
- Activity streams. The output of most online social interactions is a reverse chronological list of activity, such as status updates, posted photos or videos, or shared links. The result is called an activity stream. It’s what you see when you look at a Twitter feeds, your Facebook news feed, or what your co-workers are doing on your enterprise social network home page. There are now standards developing around activity streams, and this will help the business tap into the value they offer. This includes capturing them, archiving them, and using them to further business objectives using a wide variety of practices including social analytics, community management, and compliance monitoring. Look for activity streams to become increasingly popular in enterprises as communication, learning, and situational awareness tools. I expect that standards support to make them interoperable will be of growing importance. Unfortunately, like so many Social Web developments, there are no specific standards for enterprise activity streams yet, though I do believe they will be created at some point in the near future.
- Social search, analytics, and filtering. As Enterprise 2.0 makes a much larger volume of actionable information available within organizations, there will be the growing challenge of keeping track of it and finding what you need. While we don’t want to stop this flow of information, we do need to make it manageable and useful. Unfortunately, search, analysis, and filtering tools for social computing environments are still in their infancy and few strong technical solutions exist. But as enterprises realize that employees are going to potentially spend even more time to find the information they need to do their work, some will begin seeking out and applying solutions. For social search, companies such as Coveo and Baynote are starting to offer useful enterprise products. Enterprise social analytics is finally coming in its own and some of the leading offerings include Ingage Networks, Connotate’s Enterprise 2.0 BI and IBM’s new Smart Analytics Cloud.
- Enterprise social media workflow. Those that use social media know that there’s a general workflow to the activities, from preparing content and publishing it, then promoting it, tracking the results, and participating in all the conversation that ensues. With multiple channels it can become burdensome to do all of this manually, and while consumer social media have had basic workflow automation tools for some time now, such as Ping.fm and tarpipe, only now are we seeing enterprise-class versions of these same tools. These are often getting added to existing content management workflow tools such as those from HP and the workflow and social networking capabilities of Microsoft SharePoint 2010.
- Automated compliance monitoring. One of the less discussed but more important (and often unstated) objections to Enterprise 2.0, especially for public companies and regulated industries, is ensuring that their use is compliant with all local and foreign laws, rules, and regulations. When any worker can easily disseminate information across an entire organization, or even across the world, some organizations want to be aware of problematic situations before they occur. While social media policy for workers has evolved steadily to provide upfront guidance, many companies still want to ensure they can detect compliance violations as quickly as possible before they become an actual problem. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for FRCP, Sarbanes-Oxley, European Union Privacy Laws, HIPAA, eDiscovery, etc. to be somewhat neglected in E2.0 discussions, where most of the focus initially is on benefit and not potential risk. The good news is that even though most large firms using social media today don’t actively police their users (IBM is a good example of this), I do find that most firms that already have automated compliance tools like CompliantPro are usually covered. However, expect that compliance will become an increasingly important feature of Enterprise 2.0 platforms, and firms like Blogtronix actively advertise their E2.0 apps are compliance-friendly for individual industries, like finance.
- Next-generation unified communication. Just when enterprise communication was about to get truly unified, social media showed up and fragmented it again. While instant messaging and even SMS is now usually integrated in many enterprises, microblogging, wikis, social networks, and other channels are mostly not, even from leading vendors that get social computing, like Cisco. IBM remains one of the few large vendors that has addressed this and currently supports some Enterprise 2.0 channels in its Lotus SameTime product. Relatively soon, I expect to see a new wave of enterprise unified communication products that include Enterprise 2.0 as a first class citizen. I believe that when this happens, these next-generation unified communications products may actually become a powerful driver of social computing adoption in the enterprise.
While there are certainly other interesting Enterprise 2.0 technologies, in my opinion these seem to be some of the most interesting and/or under-appreciated areas that are worth paying close attention for the near future. While I still find that so much actual Enterprise 2.0 adoption is surprisingly grassroots or otherwise local, the fact that many of these technologies above are just starting to emerge from infancy is also a major reason that social tools are taking longer to appear in the workplace than in the consumer world. Consequently, I do think most of these technologies will genuinely begin to address this disparity.