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Software Developers Must Target the Social Enterprise

The networking to enterprise chasm

Many firms still dismiss the importance of social networking and some of them even ban employees from using these services while in the workplace. They think that "social" starts and ends with Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other networks that might be best described as informal, consumer level and perhaps even fun.

It would be unfair to blame these old traditionalists who have dug their heels in and insisted that their traditional trading systems don't need fixing, let alone reinventing. It has been a so-called ‘paradigm shift' and a change in mindset toward social is sometimes a lot to ask for.

But that was social networking and that's not what we are talking about now. This is social business, social enterprise and social commerce in its most practical form.

The Networking to Enterprise Chasm
In between social networking and social enterprise there is arguably something of a middle ground. There are firms that have taken their ‘brand' into the Facebook consumer-level arena and forged relationships with customers quite directly. Anti-Virus protection company AVG and coffee shop chain Starbucks are just two examples of firms that have made the leap into social networking successfully, both of which now boast a large number of "fans" in this zone.

But this is not social enterprise. This is enterprise use of social networking and it's crucially important that we define this difference.

Onward from here, social enterprise would involve AVG or Starbucks or any other xyz company creating ‘social channels' inside their in-house (possibly partner connected) business systems.

What Is the Social Enterprise?
Put very simply, the social enterprise is basically Facebook at work. But the differences are important. Ram Menon is president of social computing at enterprise infrastructure company TIBCO. He asserts that although consumer-level social networking connects people effectively, it fails to connect business systems and also to make them a "part of the conversation" in the workplace.

As we now build the social enterprise (as opposed to the social network) Menon says that there have been two important stages in its growth:

Phase #1: This was the "let's just copy Facebook and rip it off" phase and many companies really did do this, i.e., cloud CRM company salesforce.com talks openly about how it has emulated all that makes Facebook great

Phase #2: This is where we really start creating an environment for work and productivity and social enterprise starts to benefit the bottom line

Who Lives in the Social Enterprise?
While the social "network" features people, the social "enterprise," according to TIBCO, is made up of more elements or objects:

  1. People
  2. Machines
  3. Business processes
  4. Locations
  5. Other enterprise infrastructure elements

"We now move to a point where machines and other parts of the enterprise can 'post' information to the social enterprise," said TIBCO's Menon. "If an EPOS cash till in Mumbai records a transaction; or if a car manufacturing plant in Chicago sends a 'job complete' event out, this data should then become part of the total information share that the business can use."

In this new world of the social enterprise, user behavior changes. We no longer "follow" events or data that are posted (as we do in the social network) - instead in the social enterprise we start to "act" upon the data that we see says Menon.

Software Developers Must Target the Social Enterprise
Returning to our headline and the suggestion that software developers must now target the social enterprise, how do we justify this claim? What we have here are social enterprise applications that carry data pertaining to business functions. Employees can openly, dynamically and collaboratively discuss issues related to defined parts of the business, and system data that will change the status of the business function is also shared in this space. This means that software application developers now have a chance to produce new apps that target, plug into and integrate with the new social enterprise system as and when a firm brings it online.

None of this will happen overnight in any firm and there is a Big Data consumption mountain to digest before we even start. CIOs should now perhaps look to the vendors actually selling ‘enterprise social' as a concept. Making sure that the vendors are eating their own dog food and using these technologies effectively on an internal basis is a good place to start.

Before that, think about lifting your employee ban on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google + (and others) at work. It really is time.

•   •   •

This post was first published on the Enterprise CIO Forum.

More Stories By Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater is a freelance journalist and corporate content creation specialist focusing on cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects software engineering, project management and technology as a whole.

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