Back in June, we launched Socialtext Connect, an offering that enables companies to integrate social software with their traditional systems of record, such as ERP or CRM. The idea behind Connect is that social software should be a layer that integrates all applications together seamlessly, not a feature that is added to each standalone application
Tomorrow at 1 p.m. eastern, we’ll be co-hosting a free webinar about the social layer with Forrester Research and NYU Stern, a Socialtext customer that is integrating its critical business applications with our social software platform. Forrester’s lead Enterprise 2.0 analyst Rob Koplowitz will give an overview of how companies are thinking about the social layer, and NYU Stern’s Van Williams will give practical examples of how his organization is building one.
We look forward to hearing Rob and Van’s insights, and we’ll conduct an open Q&A at the end with attendees.
As enterprises integrate their traditional enterprise systems with social software, we have spent a lot of time thinking about how this should be done from an architectural perspective. So today, we’re thrilled that our CEO, Eugene Lee, will be speaking at the International Association of Software Architects (IASA) e-summit, sponsored by our friends at Cisco. His talk will take place at 11:30 a.m. eastern time (register here).
Back in June, we launched Socialtext Connect, an offering that utilizes open web standards behind the firewall to integrate traditional systems of record (such as CRM, ERP and document management) with social software. Connect builds what we call a “social layer” in the enterprise that enables employees to see the critical events happening across their company from both colleagues and the systems they work from, and then easily collaborate and take action on those events with flexible social software tools.
As Eugene’s talk will illustrate, we want to eliminate information silos that prevent employees from serving customers efficiently, responding to change, and accelerating their company’s overall business performance.
We hope to see as many of you as possible. If you can’t make it, please check out our whitepaper on ReadWriteWeb that shows how technologies (like Socialtext Connect) that are built on a web-oriented architecture can make it easy for you to bridge your existing applications with your social software.
As enterprises begin integrating their traditional enterprise systems with social software, we have spent a lot of time at Socialtext thinking about how this should be done from an architectural perspective. With Socialtext Connect launching in June, we have made a firm bet that open web standards will make it easier for companies to integrate applications of all shapes and sizes into their “social layer.” So we worked with our friends at ReadWriteWeb to highlight that strategy in a whitepaper, which was released today (click here to download your free copy or scroll down the page here).
The report is titled “The Social Layer: How the Rise of Web-Oriented Architecture is Changing Enterprise IT.” As the paper explains, a social layer enables employees to access information from a variety of enterprise applications and colleagues across organizational silos. In an open — yet secure — environment built on microblogging and activity streams, employees discuss, collaborate and take action on the real-time information being pumped into the social layer to serve customers better and drive new business opportunities.
We hope you enjoy it, and look forward to hearing your feedback.
If you spend any time reading about enterprise software these days, headlines and phrases like this have become pretty common:
• ”Social software is an entirely new way to work!”
• ”We can break free of the tyranny of email.”
• ”Web 2.0 is so much easier to use than those clunky old enterprise applications – and Enterprise 2.0 means we don’t have to use them any more.”
Passionate evangelism often stimulates new movements. Enterprise 2.0 has been no exception. Our company played a big part in creating the enthusiasm you see in the corporate world for social technologies, and that’s a point of pride for us. But although the enterprise social software space has enjoyed incredible growth and the pace of innovation continues at an amazing clip, it’s also important to take a long, more pragmatic view to the future, one that considers the realities of the customers we serve and the investments they’ve made in past years.
Of course it’s true that the Web 2.0 movement created a new way to think about software, stimulating all of us to ask “why do I get a better software experience from Netflix and Amazon.com than from my own IT organization?” The explosive growth of blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have given hundreds of millions of people a great willingness to share, which many Enterprise 2.0 vendors (Socialtext included) are capitalizing on. And yes, for much of the early phases of this industry, a lot has been accomplished with almost no regard for those very applications that have frustrated employees for so many years.
But it’s important to keep in mind that the real problems that enterprise social software helps organizations overcome are information and knowledge silos – that huge benefits are reaped by unlocking and releasing information and knowledge across teams, groups, departments, functional organizations, business units, and even company boundaries. We’ve made it simple (yet secure) for employees to cross those boundaries by riding the cross-organizational communications wave that social software enables, with compelling results. This is one of the most important ways that enterprise social software is more than just “yet another attempt to improve collaboration.” Yes, it’s great for team and workgroup productivity, but the greatest benefit accrues when it is explicitly and proactively spread across the gaps between organizational (and the attending information and communications) silos.
For those of us who believe in the transformative power of social software, we must now think about how to make social productivity more substantial, by weaving the ability for enterprise social software to release information and knowledge that was previously trapped in organizational and communications silos together with the transactional and workflow capabilities that 80% of IT budgets are spent maintaining – traditional enterprise systems of record (CRM, ERP, HRM, etc.) We should work with and integrate, not ignore, these enterprise applications in an holistic way.
As we undergo the challenge of rectifying the new with the old, I worry there’s some trends underway in our space that would undermine that effort. A common question that I’m asked by analysts and journalists should elucidate what I’m getting at: “Well, why don’t the big boys just add social features to their existing enterprise applications? Isn’t it a simple matter of programming to add Twitter-like functionality to an existing enterprise application, giving customers the best of both worlds?”
Indeed, traditional enterprise application vendors such as Salesforce.com with Chatter and SAP with 12Sprints have caught the “social is sexy” fever. They have bolted social features onto their existing application, trumpeting how this social skin will make their software easier and more fun to use, stickier, and more engaging.
While we have applauded their embrace of social technologies, and the validation and enthusiasm (Salesforce.com in particular) brings to the Enterprise 2.0 world, the long term consequence of an enterprise making this their social software strategy will cause us to miss the opportunity of true enterprise wide collaboration that can have a transformative effect on core business processes. That’s because if social tools are just a feature add-on to an enterprise system dedicated to a specific business function, it doesn’t look pretty when we fast-forward that movie. The end result will be a plethora of social silos or islands — groups of employees sharing and communicating in their app-specific community, walled off from the rest of the enterprise.
But wait – weren’t information and knowledge silos the very thing social software should help us remove at our companies?
Don’t get me wrong. I think Chatter is really cool… for those few companies who have every employee on Salesforce.com. But for most companies, the real value of social software rests in surfacing information and events from all their company’s various systems, and pulling that into a central stream where all of their employees, not just those housed in the sales and support departments, can collaborate, take action, and drive new business opportunities.
We believe we can avoid the fate of information silos by building a “Social Layer” in the enterprise architecture. The social layer will span all employees across all organizational boundaries, and connect them to key enterprise applications beneath it in the architectural stack. We recently introduced Socialtext Connect, which is the beginning of our approach to enabling this Social Layer.
In my next post, I’ll be drilling into some of the architectural approaches to connecting enterprise social software to existing enterprise applications – across application silos – in order to make The Social Layer a reality.
The idea behind the social layer is simple: Just like any piece of technology, social software should be a layer in your enterprise architecture that surfaces the events of a company’s systems of record — and enable employees to collaborate and take action on information (be it human or machine generated) in real-time. It was the premise behind the launch of Socialtext Connect, our offering that lets companies build their own social layer.
Here’s one excerpt from Lee’s post I especially liked:
At the base of the enterprise IT stack, we have expensive, slow-moving technology such as document management systems, ERP systems, databases and so on, which we might change every 3-5 years, if at all. They are good at the heavy lifting and underlying processes that many businesses need, but often very poor at user experience. Assuming these systems expose APIs and data sharing, which most these days do, we can layer on a slightly lighter, slightly faster moving layer of social sharing capabilities such as social networking, collaboration, micro-blogging, wiki engines, etc.
What Lee describes here as the social layer represents a far different approach than tacking social features onto each of those traditional systems of record and the select employees who have access to them, which would further reinforce the idea of walling employees off from people and information across their company that could help them do their jobs better.
If IT departments can continue to own and manage underlying enterprise IT platforms, but expose APIs and data, then business users can define, provision and run their own social applications at the top of the stack without having to defer to IT for every decision they make, or work at a slower pace and in a more constrained way than they need. Based on our experience of the difficulties of implementing social business tools within existing IT department frameworks and culture, this would be a huge win for all concerned, and where we are using this approach, we find it solves a lot of issues and concerns on both sides.
Line of business of people are critical to the success of social software because they can identify specific pain points that can be remedied by social technologies. IT plays a critical role around areas of security, compliance and architecture, and you must work with them to make social a layer, not just a feature in the enterprise architecture.
This week I had an engaging conversation with Mike Gotta of Burton Group, whose enterprise and architecture chops are as strong as anyone I know. Concerning enterprise social software, Mike says he’s seeing an increase in the breadth and depth of questions from his clients about security, privacy, control, and regulatory compliance. As I talked about Socialtext at a platform and architectural level, he encouraged me to talk about it more openly, so here goes.
Enterprise 2.0 requires much deeper thinking than merely copying Web 2.0 patterns, throwing in a little SSL and email integration, and charging money for it. In order for enterprise social software to enjoy long term success, vendors must recognize the importance of security, privacy, identity, IT policies and procedures, and architectural fit, etc. The entire team at Socialtext has deep enterprise pedigrees, and that experience has been key to the robust architectural and design choices we’ve made over the years.
In our early days, we learned a great deal about the dynamic tension between privacy and collaboration from pioneering the use of wikis in the enterprise. On one hand, we learned that too much privacy is an anti-pattern for collaboration and social software adoption. For example, if different pages in the same workspace have different privacy settings, people can get very confused about who can see or edit which content. On the other hand, we also learned that granular privacy can dramatically encourage collaboration because it helps people feel comfortable about the context of the group and the people with whom they are sharing. People naturally understand what’s appropriate to be shared in the “virtual watercooler” or “social intranet,” while the “Leadership Huddle Workspace” gives executives the confidence to discuss confidential or sensitive topics without worrying about leaks.
As we embarked on building out our complete Enterprise social software suite, we wanted to build a sophisticated privacy model into the architecture. It’s important for privacy rules and patterns of user experience to be as consistent as possible. This is key not only for enforcement, but also for adoption. I’m pretty proud of how well this has held up since we introduced Socialtext 3.0 back in September 2008, and especially since we rolled out our enterprise microblogging capability, Socialtext Signals.
To illustrate our privacy strength, take a look at how we implemented “Edit Summary,” which lets you summarize your edits to a wiki page. Some examples of edit summaries you might write: “Added links to Mike Gotta’s blog post” or “reorganized the lead paragraph.” Alongside edit summaries, we added a nice little feature called “Signal this edit”. If you choose to “signal this edit,” Socialtext sends the text of your edit summary out as a Signal (a short microblogging message) to your colleagues.– That signal will also contain a link back to the page you just edited. And it’s here where privacy safeguards are so important. What if the page you were editing was in a confidential workspace called “Acquisition Planning,” and the page was titled “Functions to be combined and reduced”? Could someone accidentally Signal this edit to the whole company?
The answer is no, and that’s because of the Socialtext platform’s underlying privacy architecture. The Signal you send, regardless of how broadly you send it (accidentally even), will only be visible to those people who have view privileges to that confidential workspace. From a technical perspective, this privacy is enforced on the server side. It is not an exercise left to the developer writing client-side code, a key to enforcing privacy rules in a consistent manner.
Privacy is a design pattern in the Socialtext platform. It applies to visibility (who can see a Signal, a group, a page) and participation (public vs. private vs. semi-private groups). This is on top of the fact that security is a core capability of our platform – whether it’s our shared hosted service, or our SaaS appliance that customers install inside their own firewalls. We’ve been thinking about and working on this for a long time – Adina Levin has written a few blog posts on the importance of privacy in enterprise social software, which I encourage you to read: Data Sharing, Context, and Privacy, What’s Different about Enterprise Twitter?, and Enterprise OpenSocial – A Year of Progress
But we never waver in our attention to these issues. We’re constantly listening to our customers and industry experts to see how we can make it better. It excites us that our customers do mission critical work inside our product, and our team constantly makes improvements in our agile development cycle to keep up with their complex privacy and security requirements.
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.