Lynton Howes

The Enterprise Social Networking Boom

This article is featured in Inside SAP magazine’s Autumn 2013 edition

Inside SAP Autumn 2013

This article is featured in the InsideSAP Autumn 2013 edition (p. 43) – Click to view

The Death of Email.

That’s the provocative title of a recent article which caught my attention, the main premise of which was, of course, that the continued uptake of social communication tools in our personal lives is seeing a fairly rapid end to email, and this will be mirrored in corporations.  Now, before getting too excited about the demise of this ubiquitous but much maligned tool, remember that we have been here before.  Remember Google Wave, which promised to reinvent electronic communication, yet was quietly euthanised by Google by early 2012?  Remember the French CEO who issued a ban on email in 2011?

This time it’s different – there is something to actually take its place. Enterprise Social Networking, or ESN, is here, now, and over the course of the next five years, it’s going to revolutionise the way we work.

The Social Boom

Enterprise Social Networking is going to be huge.  According to Deloitte analysis[i], more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies will partially or fully implement an enterprise social network by the end of 2013, a 70% increase on 2011.    Gartner predicts that by 2016, 50% of large organizations will have internal social networks[ii].  Little wonder then, that SAP, IBM, Oracle, Salesforce and Microsoft are investing billions of dollars to make sure that they get a decent slice of what is going to be a very large pie.

How can we make workers as communicative, engaged and connected as they are in their personal lives?

So, is it just Facebook for business?  For some of the software available, you could say Yes, and all of them have a lot in common with the social behemoth.  They are almost universally designed to be highly intuitive, encourage networking, and have feeds and groups, messaging and notifications.  However, the more mature Enterprise Social products have a focus on file sharing and collaboration rather than games and photo tagging.  Getting stuff done, rather than just updating people.  We are now seeing streamlined integration with other software, such as learning management systems and Sharepoint, and feeds from the organisation’s ERP or CRM system, meaning that you can not only follow people, you can also follow analytics and sales opportunities, for example.

All for as little as $3 per user per month[iii].

And it means that email, which has essentially remained unchanged since the first networked message was sent in 1971, can finally be ditched. Sure, email is great for one-on-one, formal correspondence.  For collaboration, though, instant messaging and wikis, which allow for real-time communication and centralized information sharing, are far superior.  Furthermore, one of the benefits of ESN is their ability to unlock the rich veins of information normally locked in email inboxes, making relevant content accessible and searchable for the entire company.

Knowledge sharing at the next level

Knowledge sharing at the next level

A lot has happened in six years

The global ESN market was led by IBM’s Connections for the three years to 2011, though the situation has been changing rapidly, as a raft of mergers and acquisitions have taken place and other large vendors have made significant releases.

Yammer, a fast-growing networking and micro-blogging platform launched in late 2008, has claimed that 85% of Fortune 500 companies use the product; local customers include Deloitte Australia, NAB, VicRoads and Westfield.  The developers made use of the application programming interfaces (or API) from SAP to offer their customers a direct feed from SAP ERP and CRM, without asking (or requiring) permission[iv].  An Open Graph link (Yes, the Facebook API protocol!) allows the user to click on the update notification in Yammer, which will then display the relevant SAP screen in a separate tab.  Yammer was bought by Microsoft in June 2012 and it should be integrated with Sharepoint 2013 and Office 365, with single sign-on, by mid-2013.

Jive has been a serious player for a number of years (and even powers the online SAP Community Network), Salesforce’s Chatter was launched to the public in mid-2010, Oracle launched its own Social Network in late 2011, and LinkedIn has announced[v] that they are working on their own version of ESN.  It’s fast becoming a crowded space.

Enter SAP’s Jam.  Launched in October 2012, it’s a new product yet comes with the pedigree of Success Factors Jam and SAP’s previous ESN software, Streamwork, heralding a serious move by SAP into the enterprise social space.  SAP started with the principle that Social should be “something that shows up when you need it, enabling and enhancing something you are already doing.”  What SAP did was form a co-innovation council of 20 customers from different industries and worked through “day in the life of” scenarios for many different roles.  This feedback was used to embed Social into business applications where it delivers results, such as CRM, finance applications, learning and talent management.

SAP claims that their approach will solve the two key problems currently facing ESN, namely:

  1. Vague return on investment figures, inhibiting sponsorship at the executive level, and generating skepticism; and
  2. Lack of business context, leading to low adoption.  The majority of organisations are finding that only 10-20% of their eligible workforce are actively using the networks[vi].

In addition, SAP has added a series of more structured collaborative tools, such as dynamic meeting agendas, pro/con tables (to rate feedback from others) and a decision sign-off tool.  And the video capture tool means that anyone can capture and share video from a smartphone, webcam or screen recording and share it in seconds – perfect for informal learning.

Benefits for SAP Projects

At Adapt2 Consulting, we see tremendous potential to take communication and engagement to the next level for SAP projects using ESN software; in particular:

Boost collaboration on SAP projects

Boost collaboration on SAP projects

  1. Knowledge sharing.  Imagine being able to cultivate effective Super User Groups from project inception through to the BAU environment, to create solutions, share best practices and embed process changes through continuing group sharing.  And project updates without Yet Another Email; the information you need when you need it.
  2. Engagement.  Deloitte reports a turnover rate for active ESN users one tenth of those who don’t use it, which they attribute to employees feeling more engaged and recognized for their work.  Apply that to involving your project team or business users in the process change and solution design throughout the project and you have a winning formula.
  3. Onboarding.  SAP project environments are pressure-cookers at the best of times, meaning the onboarding process is often suboptimal.  ESN turbo-charges onboarding – new team members can be provisioned with the groups, connections, conversations and files they need to get cracking on day one.
  4. Learning.  Materials can be easily reviewed, kept up to date, and shared.  Trainees can be connected with key course information and the instructor before, during and after face-to-face sessions, from any device.  Groups are perfect for asking questions or sharing expertise with others.

Challenges of Social

ESN comes with challenges, and of course, the software must be viewed as a tool rather than a panacea.  In particular, employees cannot be made to use Social; they must opt-in, and the benefits will only be achieved if uptake is high enough.  Traditionally, tech rollouts, such as SAP, followed a “push” approach – workers were trained on the product and then simply expected to use it. Social requires a “pull” approach, which is best supplemented by an effective change management program, characterised by visible sponsor-level support, explaining the Why? and articulating the “What’s In it For Me?”.

Security and control is a standard concern as soon as the term Social is used, however these tools are internally-controlled, and compliance and governance features typically come standard.  In reality, the risks are similar to that of email usage, which are mitigated with policies and common sense.

More threatening for some organisations is the flattening of the organisational hierarchy that results when shop-floor staff can view and participate in a discussion initiated by the CEO.

Social is Now

Enterprise Social Networking software truly heralds the next phase of the knowledge evolution for the workplace.  The early versions mimicked Facebook and permitted networking, micro blogging and not much else; now they are integrated with SAP, Sharepoint and can largely replace email.  What’s the next phase going to bring?  One thing is certain – it’s going to seriously shake up the way we work, and has enormous potential to help our workplaces to become more collaborative, engaging, creative and productive.

What’s not to Like about that?  

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