The recent Dreamforce conference (i.e, salesforce.com’s extravaganza) focused attention on “the social enterprise” or, more generally, enterprises’ uses of social technology. salesforce is evidently serious about this push, with development/acquisition investment (e.g. Chatter, Radian 6), marketing focus (e.g. much of Dreamforce) and sales effort (Mark Benioff says he got thrown out of a CIO’s office because he wouldn’t stop talking about the “social” subject) all aligned.
It’s a cool story, and worthy of attention. But I’d like to step back and remind us that there are numerous different ways to use social technology in the enterprise, which probably shouldn’t be confused with each other. And then I’d like to discuss one area of social technology that’s relatively new to me: integration between social and operational applications.
Suppose we split up social technology use cases by saying it can help you:
- Communicate and collaborate internally …
- … and also with small groups of outsiders, such as your supply chain.
- Observe, listen to, and interact with consumers (and the world at large).
The biggest buzz, of course, is around social technology that reaches out to the buying public or world at large. You can use social technology to:
- Observe and listen to consumers — i.e., classic Voice of the Customer/Voice of the Market text analytics.
- Publish to consumers, influencers, etc., via blogging, broadcast-oriented Twitter, and other social media, or go even further and …
- … communicate with consumers interactively, whether through loosely-structured interaction (e.g. Twitter), or in the more structured ways that Attensity and others provide.
I support all that, and indeed participate ferociously myself. But for now, let’s move on.
On the internal collaboration/communication side, I’d say:
- Any communication tool useful for communicating with the public may be valuable internally as well — portals, blogs, Twitter-imitators, and so on.
- Pure email “push” may not always be the best tool for point-to-point internal communication.
- Text analytics on internal communication can have a variety of uses, e.g:
- Compliance (yet another privacy intrusion, but sometimes a legitimate one).
- Internal expert-finding. (In principle, this is the traditional genuine benefit of elaborate “knowledge management” implementations, but without the burdens of traditional knowledge management. In practice, that didn’t work out so great for Tacit Software.)
- Project management.
That all gives plenty of scope for useful adoption, on both the email-replacement and text-analytic sides. But again, let’s keep going.
The relatively new to me — notwithstanding the “portals” link above — part of the social technology story is integration between social and operational applications. While at Dreamforce, I talked with two manufacturing application SaaS vendors — Kenandy and Rootstock Software. In both cases I asked “So what are you doing that’s an advance over where MRP was 20 years ago?” In both cases the main answer was “Now users can use social technology to track and communicate about particular orders or issues.”
*MRP stood for “Material Requirements Planning” and then “Manufacturing Resources Planning”, and is essentially the forerunner of ERP. By “Kenandy” I specifically mean Kenandy’s founder — ASK Computer Systems founder and thus MRP legend Sandy Kurtzig.
Good point. Of course, it can be generalized; one can communicate and collaborate around almost any kind of business process. I’ve mentioned this before in analytic contexts; it’s an important concept on the monitoring-oriented side of business intelligence and — if Oliver Ratzesberger is to be believed — in investigative analytics as well. But the operational side may actually be more important.
Some things one does in the business world actually involve using one’s body, from manufacturing products to repairing power stations to standing in a store and serving customers. Most of the rest fits into one or more of three buckets:
- Creating (a product, a marketing plan, a marketing document, a compensation plan, a program for internal use, an analytic insight, …)
- Relating (to an employee, a sales prospect, a reporter, …)
- Participating in a fairly routine business process (data entry, accounting, mortgage approval, parts ordering, …)
And why can’t we just automate those routine business processes away? Because there’s so often a need for manual intervention. And when there’s a need for manual intervention, there’s usually also an element of communicating with other people. This is almost always true in cases of trouble-shooting or exception-handling (an order is late, a system is down, the automated result violates common sense). It may be present in other cases as well (the new account calls for a personal thank you note, the food order needs to be annotated with special requests). General email is commonly an awkward medium for these communications; automated messages are worse. Newer social technologies, however, have the potential to do much better.
So what do you think? Have I drunk too much Kool-Aid, or is this stuff for real?