Business Applications Go Social: Insider's Perspective Gives Guest Columnists a Chance to Write about Challenges and Solutions in Their Corner of the Information Technology Industry

Article excerpt

The old enterprise structure of phones, email, a traditional CRM, and a reporting-based analytics platform is becoming increasingly outdated because it no longer allows the ideal level of collaboration that today's Facebook and Linkedln-savvy workers demand.

Enterprise employees see the benefits of social sharing, instant communication, and crowd-sourcing in their personal lives, and this does not require much of a leap of logic to see the benefits of such systems in the enterprise. This social enterprise is the future of corporate structure where bureaucracy is eroded in the name of transparency and more efficient operations.

Encouraging Conversations

Entire corporate structures are moving toward a more socially informed architecture where core business applications are mirroring elements from popular social networking sites. The social environment has already infiltrated the business world, for example, with sites such as Digg and LinkedIn that allow content sharing and networking. While Skype is a communication tool, it is also fundamentally social since it allows colleagues on opposite sides of the globe to talk in real time, encouraging more personal communication that was prohibitively expensive before. These applications are more often being built with social features at their cores, not simply as an add-on or an optional upgrade. Applications including team collaboration, Web 2.0 data management tools, and new interaction tools all encourage broader conversations among team members in order to conquer complex problems.

Consumer-facing sites are beginning to influence enterprise applications, and sharing and "following" features aren't just novelties; they are ways of making business more effective. These social enterprise vendors also need to build their applications in user-friendly ways so they allow employees to quickly adopt them without a large learning curve. Even applications that are process-intensive, such as supply-chain management, are becoming more social with greater collaboration between suppliers and partners and a corresponding decrease in errors and lost productivity.

For many organizations, platforms such as business intelligence (BI) and CRM collaboration systems are ideal places for enterprises to look at more socially forward solutions. These applications are fundamentally about sharing ideas and generating business. Adding social elements to these applications means that users are fundamentally changing how they work with information.

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Sharing Information Dynamically

Instead of just using BI within a silo, where users may write a report and then share it over email, a social structure means that information can be shared dynamically with a larger group. This brings the power of crowdsourcing to the equation, where members of the operations team can add their own comments on sales data, for example, and provide insights to exceptions and offer valuable insights to the sales team that typically would not have had such feedback before such a social structure was enacted.

What about security? Of course, social sharing of company information needs controls and can't be as free-form as Facebook or Twitter. Top vendors will ensure that their security protocols meet or exceed regulatory standards and use the latest encryptions and firewalls. Social collaboration platforms should have a multiple rules setting that can allow access to only certain areas of information. This lets users engage in discussions with partners without accidentally divulging proprietary information. …