Enterprise Social Computing
by Kendrick Efta
Summary: Given the key business needs and application trends common within enterprises today, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 allows enterprises to start small and reproduce the effects of consumer-focused social computing technologies within the firewall. In addition to supporting smaller-scale “weak” social computing, MOSS allows users to scale-up to “strong” social computing scenarios that connect larger numbers of users who are widely distributed, and that generate collective intelligence within organizations. As organizations begin to see success stories and case studies take shape, they can begin to plan social computing investments that involve customers, partners, and external communities. Organizations can also seek to leverage the relationship between business decision makers and IT to adopt or develop richer sets of tools on the SharePoint platform that help to enable social computing both within and outside of the firewall.
The Web 2.0 phase of the Internet characterizes a fundamental transition from an ecosystem of static, generated Web content, to an ecosystem of applications and services that have become vibrant, thriving communities driven by user participation and promotion. These new services and applications provide rich, collaborative, social experiences to users, helping to foster collective intelligence — the “wisdom of the crowds” — and evolving the way users solve problems, shape opinions and perceptions, and interact with communities. These user experiences and the effects of these social computing capabilities have become the hallmark of Web 2.0 technologies.
Although this shift has had the most dramatic impact on consumer Web applications and services, many businesses and enterprises are still grappling with how to best reproduce the effects to the Web 2.0 consumer and social Web within the four walls of their organizations.
Enterprises have a distinct set of needs and challenges that must be considered and addressed in order for any deployment of social applications and services to be successful. Additionally, the concept of “weak” versus “strong” social software environments — especially as they relate to social structures and norms within an enterprise — can help enterprises plan for the evolution of their investments in social computing, ensuring business value as the enterprise grows and evolves. Finally, investments in platforms like Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 allow enterprises to “start small,” trying out aspects of the platform to determine what best meets their needs, and then “scaling up” the proven services and applications to meet the strategic needs of the enterprise.
Enterprise Business Needs
Many enterprises exhibit a common pattern of business needs worth considering when evaluating enterprise platforms and social software. These needs manifest themselves as “Application Megatrends” 1 (Figure 1):
Figure 1: Business Needs Influenced by Demographic and Workplace Changes
• Agility: applications that can be composed in hours or days (as opposed to weeks or months) to meet immediate business needs. The business needs for these applications are often identified and managed at a tactical level, and are often referred to as “provisional applications” — they may be discarded or retired once the business need no longer exists. Conversely, these provisional applications may serve as proofs of concept to help demonstrate the return on investment for a larger, more comprehensive solution.
• Usability: functionality and information delivered in interfaces with which the users are already familiar. For instance, if users spend a larger percentage of their work day using Microsoft Outlook 2007, users should be able to access key functionality and information from within the Outlook interface. Additionally, there is an increasing need for ubiquitous channels through which social computing information can be relayed. These may take the form of mobile interfaces, Desktop Internet Applications, or Rich Internet Applications (like Silverlight or Flash).
• “Long Tail” business needs: many small companies, or small teams within large organizations, cannot afford to build custom applications and still meet highly individuated business needs. IT organizations within these enterprises are able to address large-scale, enterprise-wide needs, but typically do not have time or budget to implement smaller projects with “niche” requirements.
Empowered access: software capabilities to enable all users, not just management or executives, to make better decisions. Empowered access may represent itself as the democratization of information within an enterprise, or simply taking advantage of a platform’s functionality to enable smart decisions and actions regardless of the role of the user. Additionally, there are “horizontal” social changes that may affect how enterprises perceive and respond to the business needs above.
• Worker demographics: The 81 million children (Tapscott, 2008, p. 16) born from 1977 through 1997 (known as “Generation Y” or “Millennials”) have begun to enter the workforce in significant numbers. These workers have been raised with technology, and many expect to adopt and find innovative uses for technology and social computing in their work just as they do in their personal lives. Conversely, the 77 million “Baby Boom” workers born between 1946 and 1964 (Tapscott, 2008, p. 16) are starting to near retirement age and exit the workforce.
Although there is a percep tion that these workers do not widely embrace technology, there is agreement that they have tremendous knowledge and experience and that social computing technology may be an excellent way to record and share their intellectual capital prior to their retirement. 2
• Next-generation workplaces: Enterprises are increasingly embracing arrangements that break with more traditional workplace infrastructure and expectations. These include telecommuting, collaboration with remote colleagues across organizational hierarchies, virtual teamoriented structures, changes in how relationships with customers and partners are managed, and an increasing presence of project freelancers and consultants participating in the “Gig Economy” as economic conditions remain unstable.
• Consumer-based social computing use cases: Many workers are active and effective participants in social computing, an have developed the expectations that consumer-based tools can and should be used within their companies. Recently, there have been widely-noted success stories 3 of social-computing deployments within enterprises based on consumer models. These success stories have fueled the conversation about how social computing can be adopted within the four walls of an enterprise, reproducing the positive effects of the consumer-based technology and helping to fulfill company business needs.
The Enterprise Challenge
Although many workers are ready to adopt the consumer socialcomputing technology to enhance productivity and enable collective intelligence, a key challenge resides with the IT departments who are responsible for the deployment and maintenance of these tools. IT departments need “Enterprise Ready” tools that are secure, controlled, compliant, and manageable. Their concerns about these areas of governance are very real. There are numerous examples of malware infecting systems, 4 of intellectual property being leaked, and of lost productivity. Additionally, many of the consumer-oriented socialcomputing services do not currently have plans to accommodate enterprise-specific uses of their services. 5 Thus, there are several key considerations that enterprises should take into account when trying to reproduce the effects of the consumer Web within the four walls:
• Successful adoption and deployment of social computing solutions is largely focused on people — their relationships, how they work together, how they communicate, and the business processes they use. The technology itself is typically a much smaller part of the solution. Understanding the needs of the people in the enterprise will greatly increase the likelihood that the technology meets those needs, and that the users understand and are bought into the benefits of the technology.
• Investigate enterprise platforms that support both “weak” as well as “strong” social computing scenarios. A recent Gartner report 6 draws the distinction between “weak” and “strong” social computing. Although every collaboration technology is social in some way, “weak” social software can supplement the preexisting connections and social interaction between individuals (e-mail, document collaboration, instant messaging). “Strong” social software encourages interaction between larger numbers of individuals with looser social connections (Facebook, Digg, LinkedIn, SlideShare, Twitter). This distinction allows organizations to identify how their business needs fit on the continuum between weak and strong social software, framing a discussion with the users in their organizations about these needs, and enabling them to plan their investment in social-computing technology.
• Don’t “boil the ocean.” Start now, leveraging the platform in place (i.e. “weak” social software), and begin to prove how social computing (i.e. “strong” social software) can help to meet business needs.
• Plan longer-term investments in social computing to engage customers, partners, and other consumer-oriented communities and services.
• Evolve approaches and capabilities for governance and compliance as needed–governance needs will change over time.
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 provides a platform and solutions framework for social-computing business needs outlined above. Although a consumer-focused solutions framework will necessarily include applications, services, and users that site outside of the firewall, for our purposes, we’ll consider only the framework for what will be supported within the four walls of an enterprise. Here’s a quick tour (Figure 2):
Figure 2: Social Computing Solutions Framework
Line of Business (LOB) Systems
It may be necessary to provide data from an enterprise’s line of business systems to an enterprise platform like MOSS 2007. These data may include Customer Relationship Management information, fiscal and accounting data, sales information, and so on. Key business processes and workflows architected on the SharePoint platform many depend upon these LOB data to successfully execute.
Enterprise Productivity Services
These services include many of the features common to both weak and strong social software, and demonstrate the key benefits of selecting a strong enterprise platform that can enable organizations to materialize both short-term and longer-term investments in the software. MOSS 2007 services include:
• Enterprise Metadata Management (EMM): central management and maintenance of corporate metadata to be leveraged in various features of the platform.
• Enterprise Content Management (ECM): management of content and assets; integration of EMM to describe and catalog content; architecture of compliance and retention policies; integration of content assets and metadata into productivity applications like the Microsoft Office 2007 suite.
• Web Content Management (WCM): management of Web-based content; management of reusable and localized content; content staging and replication; document conversion into Web-based content; creation and maintenance of key UI and branding assets.
• Business Process Management (BPM): management of business processes via workflow automation via SharePoint Designer 2007 workflows and custom-developed Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) solutions.
• Business Intelligence (BI): Excel Services, Excel Web Access, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
• LOB Integration: Integration with LOB systems via Business Data Catalog (BDC), display of business intelligence data from Excel Services.
• Enterprise search: search capabilities for content, LOB data, profiles, and search content stored in off-platform file shares and databases.
• User profiles: management of profile data, social graph and relationships, personally-managed assets associated with the profile, unified communications, presence, and Active Directory integration.
• Portal framework: core services designed to orchestrate and provide user interfaces for the above features; additionally, the framework provides features like e-mail Alerts, RSS feeds, and connectivity to Microsoft Office 2007 products like Outlook 2007 and Excel 2007. Additionally, it provides various authentication, authorization, and permissions models.
Enterprise Social Computing Features
MOSS 2007 provides many out-of-the-box social computing features that build upon core Productivity Services, enabling enterprises to begin using these features with relatively small investments in planning:
• Blogs: out-of-the-box features allow users to create their own blogs; post entries via both Web interfaces and tools like Microsoft Word 2007 and Windows Live Writer; and manage categories and metadata. Additionally, users may comment on posts. Enhancements to SharePoint’s blog functionality include the Enhanced Blog Edition of the Community Kit for SharePoint.
• Wikis: Wiki functionality that allows users to create rich stores of unstructured knowledge by quickly composing wiki pages, creating stub pages to indicate where additional content is needed, and to edit and version content over time. Enhancements to SharePoint’s Wiki functionality include the Enhanced Wiki Edition of the Community Kit for SharePoint.
• Forums and discussion boards: features to allow users to post discussion topics and replies online; integration with Microsoft Exchange allows users to continue to use the e-mail discussion groups they may still be using while also saving copies of the discussion threads online so that they’re available for indexing and can appear in enterprise Search results.
• Social core: MySite features allow users to create and maintain profiles as well as a social graph of colleagues and organizational hierarchies within the enterprise; additionally, MOSS provides features for presence as well as basic visibility into activities of peers that are part of the social network.
• Analytics: MOSS provides out-of-box usage analytics as well as event logging.
Enterprise Social Computing Clients
Although MOSS is primarily accessible via Web Brower clients, there is rich integration with the Microsoft Office 2007 productivity suite and through mobile-enabled interfaces. MOSS also includes Web Services, which can be called from other applications to integrate, process, and display data useful to users. An excellent example of this is Vista Gadgets that display custom views of MOSS data.
Examples of Social Computing Within the Enterprise
The following examples are intended to for both platform features and social computing features within an enterprise. The first two examples demonstrate solutions that fit more clearly into the “weak” social software experience, and the remaining examples are solutions falling squarely into the “strong” social software experience.
Figure 3: Collaborative Records Management: Home Page
Collaborative Records Management
This solution shows how an organization of geographically distributed subject matter experts leveraged MOSS’ collaboration features to better share large numbers of Briefing Documents among themselves (Figures 3, 4, and 5). Although this example doesn’t feature the same functionally available on consumer sites, it demonstrates the strength of an enterprise platform like MOSS in supporting “weak” social scenarios where users already know each other and work closely together. Additionally, it is an excellent example of a “provisional application” being quickly composed by workers to meet a specialized business need. Specifically, the solution:
Figure 4: Collaborative Records Management: Connecting Document Library to Outlook 2007
• Connects a SharePoint Document Library to Microsoft Outlook 2007 for offline browsing and editing.
• Provides customized views of the Document Library to enable quick scanning of information or views grouped by predefined criteria.
• Connects a Groove 2007 Workspace to the SharePoint Document Library to make relevant information available in an interface already adopted by users.
• Makes available key document metadata and descriptions via RSS feeds.
Figure 5: Collaborative Records Management: Editing a Document Offline
Leverages SharePoint Designer 2007 workflows to allow users to do a “Quick Submit” for a Brief without needing to completely populate the project brief template. Users are optionally able to use the mobile interface for the “Quick Submit” feature.
Figure 6: Call Center Questions Filtered by Vertical and Role
Figure 7: Call Center Rating Drill Down
Call Center Questions Management
This solution was rolled out to a small team of inside sales professionals who call C-level executives as part of their sales activities (Figures 6 and 7). The team had been managing all call scripts in Microsoft Word and Excel, and was looking for a way to use MOSS 2007 to allow team members to rate the effectiveness of questions and also provide subjective comments. The display mechanism ensured that call questions rated as the most effective were “bubbled to the top” of the call questions list, increasing the likelihood of using questions more effectively.
Figure 8: Social Search: Results Interface
Figure 9: Social Search: Commenting on a Search Result
Social Search: Silverlight Search Application
This social search application was designed as a prototype to demonstrate how MOSS’ enterprise search capabilities could be enhanced (Figures 8 and 9, page 27). The MOSS Enterprise Search catalog was supplemented by other search sources, as well as by social search features:
• The application UI was built in Silverlight for its rich visualization and UI; a standard ASP.NET version was developed for users without the Silverlight plug-in.
• The solution consumed custom-developed Web Services that aggregated several search catalogs into a single, master search index.
• The solution introduced social features that are common in the consumer social search and bookmark space: Users could rate search results, comment on search results, save favorite searches and links, and submit their own links into a catalog of user-generated content.
Figure 10: PKS: Home Page Features
Enterprise Social Media: Podcasting Kit for SharePoint
The Podcasting Kit for SharePoint (PKS) represents one of the best examples of a “strong” social-computing experience available on the SharePoint platform (Figures 10 and 11). Designed as a solutions accelerator, PKS enables enterprises to use podcasting and common social-computing features (ratings, comments, favorites, download statistics, user profiles, faceted browsing, mobile interfaces, taxonomy/ tagging) to manage and aggregate knowledge within organizations. PKS is distributed under Public License with its source code and is free to use if you’re already using MOSS 2007.
Figure 11: PKS Podcast Download and Details Page
1 This treatment of enterprise needs is borrowed from Scott Jamison’s presentation from the 2007 Strategic Architect Forum. These needs continue to be just as relevant, and are perhaps more immediate, given the current global economy.
2 Salkowitz, 2008, pp. 85-88
3 Appearing as presenters at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in June 2008, Don Burke and Sean Dennehy from the CIA discussed the CIA’s deployment and adoption of Intellipedia; Shawn Dahlen and Christopher Keohane demonstrated Lockheed Martin’s social software platform.
4 See Lt. General Jeffrey Sorenson’s example of finding almost 30,000 instances of malware on the Army’s host computers
5 See Mark Zuckerberg’s comment about Facebook’s focus on enterprises. He states that although Facebook is not an enterprise application, someone will make a lot of money developing a social networking app for the enterprise.
6 Nikos Drakos, 2008
Nikos Drakos, A. B. (2008). Tutorial: Social Context, Not Technology, Definies Social Software . Gartner.
Salkowitz, R. (2008). Generation Blend . Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Tapscott, D. (2008). Grown Up Digital . New York, New York: McGraw Hill.
About the Author
Kendrick Efta is co-founder and Principal Consultant of Allyis. With more than a decade’s experience conceptualizing, designing, and building enterprise solutions, Ken is responsible for driving Allyis’ innovation and thought leadership efforts as well providing strategic insight and direction for clients. Prior to co-founding Allyis, he served as a technology consultant to a number of Seattle-area businesses. Ken was recognized by Western Washington University, along with Allyis co-founders Richard Law and Ethan Yarbrough, as its inaugural “Young Alumnus of the Year.”
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