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    Vision for the Social Enterprise

    When I talk with CIOs these days, there’s one question that comes up again and again: How does it all fit together? How does Social play with my Intranet? How does Social play with my document management system? How does Social play with my ERP system? How do Social profiles play with our HR directory? How does Social play with my CRM system?

    CIOs are asking these questions at level of both technical integration and user experience. They want to understand implications for the technology stack, and they want to understand how it all forms a coherent experience for their users–especially their non-power business users.

    These questions represent a big change in CIO thinking. As recently as 12-18 months ago, CIOs were still peppering me with questions about business value, use cases, and ROI. That has subsided. When it comes to enterprise social software, CIOs are no longer asking Why. They’re asking How.

    Maybe it’s my McKinsey training, maybe it’s my Meyers-Briggs type (feel free to guess), but when I see complex, interconnected questions like these, I look for a simple framework or picture that tells the whole story.

    So here goes. Tell me what you think.





      4 Replies to “Vision for the Social Enterprise”


    The difficulty with your diagram is the logical structure of layers. It’s difficult to not be affected by strong product categories like ERP that have been around for so long. And, the concepts of back and front office; structured and unstructured data… My view is that these distinctions are somewhat logically artificial. These categories arose partly because of technical limitations at the time. In my view, “social’, “documents” and “collaboration” should not be layers or bolted on to traditional software categories. (Of course, that will make the diagram a lot more difficult to conceptualize.)

    My company produces Government Resource Planning systems – it’s a laser focus on public financial management. The core software is roughly equivalent to your first 3 layers. (And, your diagram works well for government concepts). Here’s the thing: you can’t have effective transparency in government without tight semantic integration among systems that produce documents, execute transactions and enable collaboration.

    Many organizations are leveraging social media and social networking for marketing, sales, support etc. activities. The majority, so far, seem to see this as an extension of pre-social functions. The benefits of social only come when you change to be social. So, even if the physical integration followed your diagram, the notion that organizations need to become social is not visceral enough. By social, I mean operating within the network – not just broadcasting and “outreach”.

    Doug, we need to distinguish between technical architecture and user experience. From a technical standpoint, I think we will continue to see dedicated systems for things like CRM and document management. That’s partly because of legacy infrastructure, but mostly it’s because those systems do one thing and do it well. From that standpoint, I think the different layers continue to be useful. However, from a user experience standpoint it’s very important that we present workers with a seamlessly integrated experience that combines social, documents, customers, etc. In that sense, social is not a separate thing at all; it’s a common motif that runs through every use case.


    I think that there remains a struggle tightly integrating documents and transactions. For example, seamlessly providing relevant documents when working within transactional software. I’m wondering whether it is possible to provide this effectively within a user interface when the technical architectures are separate. You could be right and that the limitation of the interface is because so many vendors focus on the forms UI metaphor where attachments are presented in fields. Maybe Web 2 style interfaces could overcome this without needing some kind of tightly integrated architecture.

    Michael and Doug,
    Great discussion, and hoping to ask some clarifying questions and offer some input as well:
    1) Where do you see something like social CRM (e.g. SalesForce) fitting in. When I see an organization that is simultaneously using Google Apps and Salesforce (like Google themselves), they’re able to seamlessly connect document management to relationships along with transactions and communications. Are we headed for more of this, and if so, what other aspects of enterprise architecture will it touch?
    2) When you say that the barriers are somewhat “artificial”, can you expand on that? I don’t have a lot of experience with the technical IT side, but focus more on the collaborative systems and processes at a business/project level.
    3) Regardless of how much “social” opportunities there are, my experience has been that unless teams are building processes (and not just one-off collaborations), that a lot of time gets wasted. For example, just because my organization is using a lot of Google Docs while sharing different ideas over Yammer, etc. doesn’t mean that we’re making the most efficient use of everyone who is working on some shared data project. What role is there for business analyists in this sense, as it seems distinct from both UI, IT, and HA?


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    Weblog on gaining business results from social software.

    On this blog, Socialtext staffers and customers explore how companies can gain the most business value from their use of enterprise social software, including microblogging, social networking, filtered activity streams, widget-based dashboards, blogs and wikis.


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