CIO Leadership, Big Data

The continuing rise of the social enterprise

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What was that thing before the enterprise-level social network called? It was meetings, personal calls from salespeople or perhaps even the Christmas and summer party right? These “were” the various means that we used to talk with each other and our customers before we were connected online it seems.

Of course these channels for interactivity still exist. Enterprise social networking merely seeks to augment our “personal” experiences, as we also seek to get more value out of every personal engagement as and when it happens.

Impending inevitability

As CIOs now look to the impending inevitability of implementing social tools in their organisations, we must realise that this is not just and enhancement of email or “Facebook at work”, despite what some vendors will say.

Use of enterprise social networks from sources such as Yammer, or indeed Facebook itself are an extension of a firm’s marketing voice if leveraged effectively. A report on recently suggests that:

  • More than half of firms moving to social enterprise platforms have been able to reduce marketing costs over the period of their migration.
  • By 2015, we may see as many as $30 billion worth of corporate sales resulting from use of social tools.

So where are these networks growing? Acquired by Microsoft in June of 2012, Yammer is a secure, private social network for firms to “empower employees to be more productive” through collaboration. In practice, these are the type of tools that claim to “drive business alignment and agility”, which in turn are generally hoped to reduce cycle times and improve relationships with customers and partners.

NOTE:’s Marc Benioff famously commented that he declined to buy Yammer due to its proximity to his firm’s own Chatter application. He also insisted that the firm should have remained independent and entrepreneurial and that there was no need to sell out to acquisition as it did.

So what should CIOs and architects look for in social enterprise tools?

Must-have functional factor number one is the presence of native mobile applications to support connectivity to the social enterprise hub. Unless your workforce can connect while they are on the move, you are missing a massive slice of the pie.

Positive disruption is also important. Social enterprise tools are all about breaking down silos within “traditional organisations” and opening up a new playing field for all employees (and partners and customers) to engage upon. It is, in a sense, like ripping up the organisation chart and the process plans of old and reconnecting new corporate synapses at every user touch point.

Those firms that truly embrace the social enterprise model might even progress from a point where they initially regarded customers as mere transitions, units or items on a balance sheet… to a point where a deeper personal relationship develops.

HP has been working to refine its Social Enterprise Services for more than two years now. The firm bases much of its technology development in this space around the core concept of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and the provision of tools to serve this discipline.

Frost & Sullivan analyst Joe Outlaw has taken the social CRM further and suggests that this is also an opportunity here for firms to tap in to customer-to-customer communications. If businesses can now enter into these conversations and use the right analytics software to back up their evaluation of market opportunities as they now develop, then profits can potentially be maximised.

On top of the IBM, HP,, Yammer (Microsoft) and other offerings in this space (the list is long and growing by the day), we this month hear of the Oracle Social Relationship Management (SRM) Suite. Announced by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, the database giant is actually progressing to extend social intelligence as far across its stack as it can.

With the current move to cloud the firm also recently announced, Oracle is seeking a new connected level of interconnectivity -- and, very crucially, it all has to happen in real time if it is to be of value.

“By fundamentally changing the way organisations connect with their different stakeholders, social is changing the rules of business,” said Oracle VP Thomas Kurian. “With the Oracle Social Relationship Management Suite we are empowering our customers to embrace this change by integrating the tools required to listen, engage, create, market and analyse social interactions into existing applications and services.”

But… and it’s a big but

But achieving this kind of social connectivity at the enterprise level is not necessarily plug-and-play whatever the vendors tell you. VP and principal analyst at Constellation Research Alan Lepofsky points out that even new Oracle’s social network is still not generally available. Digging deeper, Oracle Collaboration Suite and Oracle Beehive already exist as “failed attempts at collaboration” as Lepofsky sees it.

“Not only is it not available to the public, it's not even in private testing with customers. The only current deployment of OSN is Oracle's internal network, where approximately 20,000 of their employees are using it,” writes Lepofsky.

So the path to the social enterprise may be potentially paved with gold, but it’s not necessarily going to be a smooth downhill journey. Instead, this move to enterprise social might just require quite a lot of effort after all. Will social business still work for lazy introverts then? Time will tell.









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Paul Calento 255 Points | Mon, 10/22/2012 - 18:15

Key to "social enterprise" concept is finding a way for users to drive the initiatives, rather than managers that merely "buy" the solution. To date, many social initiatives use tools and approaches foreign to their users. There needs to be engagement and buy-in, along the lines of what SUPERVALU did (see Wayne Shurts interview). Start with familiarity then lather, rinse, repeat.

--Paul Calento

(note: I work on projects sponsored by and HP)

Adrian Bridgwater 22 Points | Mon, 10/15/2012 - 14:44

Thanks to everyone who has commented on this story so far. I think JohnG’s suggestions that we are on some spiralling downward trajectory into a dystopian nightmare of desensitised automation has value, but I also think that human nature is stronger than that and we may reach some kind of  “saturation point” with regard to the implementation of these tools. People will always rebel and people will always want to act as individuals, it is in our nature. Is it foolish to suggest that we will be able to assess and use these tools up only until the point that we find them useful and productive? Like many individuals who have started their own business I do not want to be part of a big company – I use social tools (like this feedback channel here) to enhance my ability to connect with the outside world just to the exact degree and amount that I want to.



John Garrett
John Garrett 0 Points | Wed, 10/10/2012 - 13:40

Is this an attempt for companies to further blur the lines between home and work life? A tool to bridge the ever deteriorating relationships that interfacing through computers has presented, a tool to reach the utopia of spending less and less time enhancing real relationships through an unemotional interface that can be switched off or on at will? I truly wonder where this will take us. Will the consistency of a brand withstand social enhancement without creating drone workers that all recite the same messages to each other and top everyone else. Will companies produce little red books? Will we all be indoctrinated or will free thought be allowed to pervade business? As you say Mr B, Time will tell.

John Dodge 1535 Points | Wed, 10/10/2012 - 14:19

Yikes, that's a pretty glum assessment about what technology hath wrought. Indeed, social media is changing customer relationships, but I see it more as an enhancement...that customers and consumers have a much stronger voice. I suppose social media does blur the lines between work and personal life, but who said these lines were supposed to exist in the first place?    

John Garrett
John Garrett 0 Points | Thu, 10/11/2012 - 10:26

Hi John, Thank you for commenting. My main point is that relationships through computers very similar relationships via letters. Did you have a penfriend as a kid and stay in touch over the years? Not many of us do and the reason for the strength of this is all to do with proximity. When humans operated in tribes constantly communicating in social and work arena's with no lines blurred, we kept the tribes small. The lines only started appearing as governance and laws became part of civilisation and we live still today to a series of rules created by our governemnts. By socialising work we become ingrained in corporate governance and the rules of those interactions are not for free minds and thus the relationships we have in these environments are not honest. The truth is powerful but the blurring of work and social will inevitably lead to personality defaults being implemented in the digital space and reality will become the haven of where we see our true selves. The lines are there because we need them, most people cannot afford to be honest when it's a question of keeping their job to put food on the table for their children. They can't be honest because the company they work for won't tolerate it. A few organisations do tolerate it and see the truth as a good thing, but they are only a few. I hope that helps to expand the point I was trying to make, but I always like a dialectic.

Pearl Zhu 90 Points | Tue, 10/09/2012 - 15:42

Enterprise social computing is definitly a trend via numerous predictions from reputable consulting firms:, I think the important thing is: always keep the ends in mind, as when enterprise use social, surely it want to improve productivity, cultivate culture of innovation, engage employees and delight customers, but pitfall may include: becomes big distraction for employees, not so popular as expected, thus, people, process, technology need be well aligned in order to achieve high performance result. thanks. 

JB Holston 2 Points | Tue, 10/09/2012 - 14:31

Thanks for the article, Adrian.  Newsgator is an interesting story in the category;  approaching 4.5 million paid seats worldwide for enterprise social networking, largely for the Global 2000.  Just completed a record quarter.  The company's experience and other research (McKinsey notable: )  suggests that the returns-to-date for ESNs for internal constituencies are multiples of those returns for external constituents.  But enteprises are increasingly looking to federate across internal and external social networks, and believe that the highest returns to ESNs will come when you can have, for example, a product manager create new product idea campaigns across all groups, then prioritize the input and move those priorities into workflows -- whose progress can then be tracked by the internal and external groups who developed and voted on the ideas in the first place.  It's early days, but the competitive returns to boundary-less, agile organizations built on ESNs are increasing...

John Dodge 1535 Points | Tue, 10/09/2012 - 18:05

Wlecome, JB..nice to see a familiar face at the ECF and to see you somewhere other than Facebook....JD

Peter Sianchuk
Peter Sianchuk 0 Points | Tue, 10/09/2012 - 14:01

A good read Adrian, thank you! In my view a lot of the challenges with “The Social Enterprise” is that companies still are only paying lip service to the concept, let alone implementation.

Perception continues that social interaction (or collaboration as I’d prefer to call it) results in time wasting. It was ok for people to catch up over a coffee, discuss football and then move onto direct work related issues but it seems a struggle to be allowed to do the same in an electronic way and yes, you are right, it is not just “an enhancement of email or Facebook at work”. As organisations continue to spread globally, or even within an office space, the ability to share, communicate and socialise has never been more important.

You talk of the positive impact re sales and marketing, I’d contend that even great benefits can realised by supporting functions, development, Support, IT, Legal, Finance – the rapid sharing of experiences, best (and worst) practices creates a natural evolution of organisational maturity, empowerment and efficiency.

I have distributed organisations around the world and encourage the use of social technologies to ensure we share information much like a “hive mind” – when other departments tap into this “mind” then the real  business benefits start to become apparent.

The world is still new to the Social Enterprise, to some it is frightening, to others it’s exciting. I choose to be excited and I enjoy the disruption as we all find our way. “The old way” is too boring for me!