Making the Business Case for Social Computing

One of the topics that I frequently discuss with customers and partners is social computing. Many companies recognize the need for social computing technologies within the enterprise but often struggle with mapping various technology options back to business needs. What follows below are some of the common requirements that I hear and some possible ways of addressing them with SharePoint and Office 2010. What do you think? Are you faced with these, or other, questions? If so, how do you respond?

Requirement: I want to be able to find people and expertise across the company and around the world.

Response: SharePoint people search, My Sites and user profiles are a great place to start. These include the ability to have data fed into SharePoint from external systems including Active Directory, PeopleSoft, SAP and other data sources -  as well enabling people to edit them within SharePoint.

Requirement: I want to encourage feedback on content contributed.

Response: SharePoint 2010 adds the ability to rate, tag (both taxonomy and folksonomy) and “like” any type of SharePoint content including blog posts, documents, wikis, videos and pages – basically anything that is stored in a SharePoint list.

Requirement: I want to have a collaborative work environment

Response: Office and SharePoint 2010 add coauthoring (simultaneous editing) in the Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote applications. SharePoint blogs and wikis have also been significantly improved in 2010.

Requirement: I want to have an internal YouTube like experience.

Response: SharePoint 2010 ships with an out of the box web part for streaming videos via SharePoint. An example of this is Microsoft’s own Academy Mobile which was originally built on SharePoint 2007. Many of these capabilities (e.g. storing videos, streaming videos, rating and tagging) are now out of the box features in SharePoint 2010.

Requirement: I want to be kept up to date on certain topics and colleagues.

Response: SharePoint 2010 produces activity feeds so you can “follow” particular people and tags. For example, you can see when a colleague in SharePoint (similar to a Facebook friend or a LinkedIn connection) tags or rates new content. You can see when anyone tags content (internally or externally) with a topic you are interested. You can also see new status updates and when people post comments on a SharePoint note board. Outlook 2003, 2007 and 2010 also now have a social connector that allows you to see SharePoint 2010 activity feeds – as well as updates from Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace or Windows Live – from within Outlook.

Requirement: I want this all to be secured and audited.

Response: Most companies don’t want their employees performing this collaboration on consumer tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Windows Live, Twitter or MySpace. Unfortunately if your company does not provide collaboration tools like SharePoint, then your employees are left to use consumer grade tools that lack the ability to securely manage and audit content as well as to apply retention policies. Think about it: would you run your corporate email system on consumer mail systems such as Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc.? Probably not. So why not use an enterprise tool like SharePoint 2010 for social computing?

Here are some additional resources and events for you to check out:

  1. The Communities examples and case studies from the SharePoint team site.
  2. Attend some of the SharePoint Saturday and user group events which often include sessions related to social computing and provide opportunities to talk with other customers and partners and share experiences and best practices.
  3. If you are in the New England area, consider attending the NewsGator social computing event that I’ll be presenting at on February 16, 2011.