Just about everyone I speak with – vendors, IT managers, even end-users – agrees on one thing about the Social Enterprise. They all say that it needs to be tied into everyday work, to what the average knowledge worker does on a regular basis. New research by ESG shows that end-users are not regular users of social tools, only occasional ones. This bodes poorly for the Social Enterprise since its real value will only come when everyone becomes a participant.
The common wisdom – an idea I share – is that social tools will become more valuable when they directly enable or enhance existing business processes. If end-users can use an internal messaging feature to find out why their expense report is held up and have the response be part of the expense report workflow record, then they will see value in it. If, instead of passing a work document around to create a piece of marketing collateral, end-users can use group document creation and micro-messaging to collaboratively build it, they will see value in it. When the Social Enterprise ceases to be another thing they have to do and becomes part of what they already do, they will see value in it.
There are two schools of thought on how to make that happen. First, that we enable enterprise applications with social tools. As the recently published ESG Socially Enabled Enterprise Solutions Market Landscape report shows, there is no end of choices for those who choose that path. At the moment, social tools tend to be part of entities in these systems and not processes but it’s a good start. This will change over time and social features will become more aligned with the processes in applications. The second idea is to use social platforms and portals as social process engines. Using these products, IT, business process managers, and even end-users themselves can create socially enabled processes. These processes may be regular, perhaps repetitive ones that end-users use repeatedly or ad hoc processes that meet a momentary need. Here there are also a plethora of choices as well.
Of course, the real value from the Social Enterprise will come from embracing both models. To start with, they are not mutually exclusive. Most enterprise applications already enable the most common and important processes an organization uses to get work done. To make these processes more efficient and agile has real business value since they are core to an organization’s operations. Building new social processes helps to finally bring software assistance to the processes that have been hard to codify. These are often collaborative, non-transactional, and sometimes informal processes that most people follow but don’t follow a predictable path. Processes such as these are more fluid and are hard to create as stepwise workflows. Social tools which embrace free form discussion and information sharing are the best way to encode these processes in a way that it enhances work.
There will, undoubtedly, be some partisan individuals that will see this as an either-or situation. That’s like arguing that chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla. Both are ice cream and ice cream is good. In the same manner, this is not a choice between two adversarial models. Instead, organizations can embrace two complementary models that cover different ground, both of which produce benefits.
So have a scoop of each – socially enabled applications and new social processes. They taste great together.